Author: Jill Shalvis


What she hadn’t expected was for Boyd to be several inches shorter than her, fifty pounds heavier, and dressed in a suit. “Do you eat here for free?” Boyd asked. “Because we could stay here tonight if that’s the case.”


“Wow,” Jan whispered as Tara walked by her perpetually grumpy boss. “He’s a catch.”


Tara ignored her.


“Do you have flats?” Boyd asked. “Because looking up at you makes my neck hurt. No offense.”


Perfect. Because now they were going to have to go back to the inn after all, so she could change into flats.


It wasn’t as if she was an Amazon, she thought to herself as they walked the pier to Boyd’s car. Most men seemed to be okay with her height. Sure, once in a while she wished she was shorter so she could actually feel… petite. Protected.


Just right.


But the truth was that only one man had ever made her feel that way.


“I just really hate having a neck ache,” Boyd said.


He hated a neck ache, and she hated a headache, which she could feel coming on. This did not bode well for the evening ahead. For a moment, she looked past the Ferris wheel, eyeing the way the pier jutted from the beach into the ocean almost as far as she could see, and wished she was…


Sailing.


Ridiculous. She got into Boyd’s car. He kept his eyes on the road as he drove slowly toward the inn. Slowly, as in a-herd-of-turtles-stampeding-through-peanut-butter slowly. The guy didn’t pass a single indent in the road that didn’t require a nearly complete stop. When they finally pulled up before the inn, Tara checked for gray hair while Boyd took a good look at the place.


Tara looked, too. She was so damn proud of what she and her sisters had done here. It’d been a long haul but the beach inn looked warm and welcoming, and she couldn’t wait to see it filled with guests.


“Are you going to paint it?” Boyd asked.


“Yes.” In fact, the painters were due tomorrow. She’d been waiting for a week. If they didn’t show, she was going to get out a paintbrush and do it herself.


“Because it really needs to be painted if you want to make any money.”


“We’re aware,” Tara said as mildly as she could. “Thanks. I’ll change my shoes and be right back.”


“No, offense,” he said, getting out of the car with her. “But in my experience, letting a date out of my sight never works out well for me.”


Surprise. And if he said “no offense” one more time tonight, living wasn’t going to work out well for him.


Boyd smiled grimly. “I don’t think I make the best first impression.”


“Maybe if you didn’t require them to be shorter than you, that would help,” Tara said.


He nodded. “That’s good advice.”


They walked up the steps to the inn. “Hey,” Boyd said. “You could cook for us here; I wouldn’t mind. Grandma said you were an amazing chef. What do you suppose you could whip up?”


A major attitude, that’s what she could whip up. Bless his heart. And to make it worse, she was craving comfort food for some reason, hankering for hot fried chicken and cold potato salad like nobody’s business. Which proved that while you could take the girl out of the south, you couldn’t really take the south out of the girl. “I haven’t stocked the kitchen yet,” she said. Not to mention that she’d just spent the past eight hours on her feet cooking at the diner. “Our appliances were just delivered. I haven’t even unpacked the dishes.”


“Oh. That’s too bad.” He followed her inside, right on her heels, taking the whole not-letting-her-out-of-his-sight thing very seriously. As she moved through the bottom level on the brand new wood floors, Tara drew in a deep, satisfied breath at the scent of fresh paint and polished wood. More pride filled her, as well as something more, that sense of…


Home.


She was still basking in the surprise of that sensation when she realized someone was rattling around in the kitchen.


The place was empty tonight, or was supposed to be, but there was a light beneath the double kitchen doors and from the other side she heard the low, unbearably familiar voice that she’d have recognized anywhere.


“Oh, fuck, yeah.” Ford, speaking low and husky. “That’s the way, baby. Just like that.”


Boyd blinked at Tara. “Uh, that sounds a little like someone’s… you know.”


Yeah. She did know.


“That’s right, nice and deep,” came Ford’s voice. “Right up the center.”


Tara turned back to Boyd to tell him to wait and bumped right into him. “Stay,” she said firmly, and pushed open the door to face her sexy-as-hell intruder doing God-knew-what in her kitchen.


Chapter 6


“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”


TARA DANIELS


When Tara stepped into the kitchen, she found exactly what she’d expected. Ford: bartender, sailor, town cut-up, and overall bane of her existence.


What she didn’t expect was for him to be working.


He had his back to her and was gazing into the open cabinets, a canister of sugar in his hand as he considered where to place it.


“Ford,” she said with what she felt was remarkable calm.


No reaction. He kept doing his thing, which appeared to be stocking her shelves. She waited until he set the canister next to the salt and pepper. Good decision, she thought approvingly, but what the hell? “Okay, listen,” she said, hands on hips. “You’re in my place and—”


“Yes!” he yelled suddenly, startling her. “That’s the way, baby. Go-go-go, take it all the way!” He accompanied this with an innately male, testosterone-fueled fist pump, turning just enough that Tara could see a cocky grin cross his face.


Catching sight of her, he kept grinning as he pulled out an earphone. “Mariners,” he said. “Top of the ninth. Bases loaded. Sweet game.”


“Baseball.” Not sex on her countertops.


Ford arched a brow. “Yeah, baseball. What did you think?”


“Nothing. I don’t know.”


He flashed another grin, and this one was pure badass. It went well with the perfectly fitted and professionally distressed jeans sitting low on his hips and snug across his very nice ass. He wore battered cross trainers and a black T-shirt that managed to emphasize the strength and build of his wide shoulders and broad chest. And a certain naughty look in his eyes.


“Anyone ever tell you that your pretty, Southern belle accent thickens when you lie?” he asked.


“No. What in Sam Hill are you doing here, Ford?”


He smiled. “And also when you’re pissy.”


“I’m not pissy!”


His eyes cut to the doors behind her as they cracked open to reveal Boyd peeking his head in.


Tara gritted her teeth and introduced them. The two men shook hands while Boyd sized up the much taller Ford. “It’s the heels,” Boyd said.


Ford cocked his head. “Excuse me?”


“The reason I’m so short is that she’s in heels.”


“Of course,” Ford said after a full beat. “It’s the heels.” He looked at Tara, face bland.


She did her best not to squirm.


“Listen, Tina—” Boyd started. “We should really get going—”


“Tara,” she said.


“Tara.” He nodded. “Sorry. Anyway, we really need to get a move on if we’re going to make the early bird special.”


Right. Except she couldn’t do it. She just couldn’t. She wanted something fried, in her damn heels, with someone who knew her damn name. “I think it’s best if we make it for another night.” Like, say, never.


Boyd blinked, slow as an owl. “Is it because you have a headache? Because I have Advil in the car for when my dates get a headache.”


“Yes, it’s because of a headache,” Tara said, very carefully not looking at Ford. “A massive headache. But it needs more than Advil. I’m sorry, Boyd.”


He sighed. “It’s okay. I got further with you than any of my other dates lately. So that’s something, right?”


Ford raised a brow in Tara’s direction. She sent him a glare and walked Boyd out. When she came back into the kitchen, Ford was waiting for her, clearly amused.


“You used me to dump your date,” he said.


“ ‘Dumped’ is… harsh,” she said.


“And accurate.”


“And accurate,” she agreed and sighed. “He had bad breath.”


“Well then.”


He was laughing at her, the bastard. “This isn’t funny, Ford. I really needed a date.”


“That’s not what I would have guessed.”


“And what does that mean?”


“It means,” he said, pulling a frying pan and some oil out of her cabinets like he was right at home. “That I remember how you get when you’re uptight and anxious. I also remember the only thing that relaxed you.”


Tara had a flash to a certain long ago night on the docks, after a fight with her mother that had left her shaky and alone. Ford had found her, and in shockingly little time, had her forgetting her troubles.


Naked therapy, Ford style.


It’d worked. Tara felt heat flood her face. “Yes, well, sex isn’t on the table.”


He gestured to the pan. “I was talking about fried chicken, but your idea has merits, too. Come here, Tara.”


Said the spider to the fly. “I don’t think so.”


Ford smiled and pulled a package of chicken from the refrigerator. He located the seasonings and bread crumbs he wanted, heated the pan, and poured her a glass of wine.


Tara looked around, trying to put two and two together as to why the bane of her existence was trespassing on her territory. “I just don’t understand why you’re here.”


“I’m surprising you.” Ford poured another wine for himself, looking comfortable in his own skin as he got to work cooking for her, occasionally drinking from the glass in his big hand. He fried the chicken with the easy flicks of an experienced wrist, flashing her a look that did something funny to her stomach.

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