Author: Jill Shalvis


This was true. The whole town loved and adored Ford. Everyone did. He had effortless charm and ease, no matter what he was doing.


Or who.


“They’ve decided to try to sway the vote in his favor,” Chloe said. “There are signs up in town and everything. The one outside the post office has Ford’s high school yearbook picture. He was Class Flirt, did you know that?”


Tara stared at her. “There are not signs in town.”


“Okay,” Chloe said agreeably. “But there are.”


Tara moaned. “Okay, new plan.” She shoved the sheets at Chloe. “You’re doing the bathrooms and the beds. I’m going to town to pull down the signs.”


“How did your problems become my problems? And if you’d just pick one of the Hot Guys, the voting would be a moot point.”


“It’s not about picking one,” Tara said. “Logan wants a woman who no longer exists, and Ford wants…”


But Chloe was gone. And Tara was talking to herself. Perfect. Turning, she walked directly into a brick wall that happened to be Ford’s chest.


Chapter 13


“It’s impossible to be both smart and in love.”


TARA DANIELS


Ford’s hands went to Tara’s hips to steady her. Dipping down a little, he met her eyes with his. “I want… what?” he asked.


Tara pushed past him and headed for the kitchen.


He followed her. Of course he followed. She was annoyed with herself for allowing it, but also a little discombobulated. Her usual state around him.


“Talk to me,” he said. “I want what?”


“You tell me,” she said, going for flirty because she wasn’t at all sure whether or not she wanted to hear his real answer.


His eyes dilated. “I’d rather show you.” He reached for her but she backed up, directly into the pantry.


He simply stepped in as well and shut the door behind them. His expression resembled that of a lion stalking its prey.


“Okay, here’s the thing,” Tara said, hand on his chest to hold him off. “I meant what I told you that night after we…”


He cocked a brow.


“Were together.” She backed up a step and came up against the pantry door. “I told you I’m working on things. Things inside of me. And you—you distract me from those things.” She poked him in the chest. “So I’m asking you to stop doing that. Stop distracting me. Yes, we slept together. Hell, we have a lot of chemistry, and I was out of control that night. But I have a lot going on, Ford. We have a lot going on, so we really need to try to ignore us. Okay? No more of this dance we have going on. We have to control ourselves.”


His silence was deafening.


“Well,” he finally said. “That’s all fascinating, and informative as well. And we’re going to circle back to parts of it, especially the part where you can’t control yourself around me, but I was only trying to…” Slowly he reached out for her again and pulled a Post-it note from her back.


There were two words on it: Bite Me.


Tara groaned. “Chloe’s idea of a joke. Can we focus here?”


“I’d rather bite you.”


“Very funny. Look, I get how you might think that the natural progression would be for us to have sex again, but we can’t. I can’t.”


“Because you’re working on yourself.”


So he was listening. “Yes. And because when I’m with you like that, I’m…” She searched for the right word.


“Multi-orgasmic?”


She closed her eyes. “You’re not taking me seriously.”


“On the contrary, I’m taking you very seriously.”


Their gazes collided. Held. And something jumped in her stomach. His eyes were dark and solemn, belying his easy tone. He’d heard everything she’d said. He’d also heard everything she hadn’t said. What she didn’t know was if he agreed with her. “Someone’s going to get their emotions in the wrong place, Ford.” And by someone, she meant her. They had a track record. The last time she let her emotions get tangled up with his, it had been the most painful time of her life. People didn’t recover from that kind of screw-up; they didn’t get second chances.


“Ah,” he said quietly. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” He ran a finger over her jaw. “You’re afraid.”


“Yes. Join me, won’t you?” She gripped his shirt. “Mia—”


“Is amazing.”


“Yes.” Tara let out a breath. “She is. But that’s what I mean. We’re in danger of misplacing emotions—”


“I’m misplacing nothing.” His eyes softened, and he touched her face. “Tara. It’s not the same now.”


Because it was just sex. She swallowed the hurt. “Look, all I need is for you to agree that we should just go back to how we were before.”


“Before what?”


He knew before what. “Before we made love,” she said uncomfortably, hating him for making her say it out loud.


“At least you know that that’s what we did.” He paused. “How much of this has to do with Logan?”


“None.” She met his gaze head on. “Okay, maybe a little, but not how you think.”


“Well, that makes me feel all better.”


“I tried to explain this to you before,” Tara said with a sigh. “I’ve got some issues. And so do you.”


“I thought this wasn’t about me.”


“It’s a roundabout thing,” she said.


Ford paused. “Okay, help me out here. Who exactly is working on whose issues?”


“I’m working on mine.” She lifted her chin. “And you should be working on yours.”


“And mine are?” he asked mildly.


“Well, for one, you don’t stick.”


“What does that mean?”


“It means that you’re laid-back, easygoing, and you like your life the same way,” Tara told him. “And let’s face it, you’re good at just about everything. So when something’s hard, or difficult, or doesn’t drop into your lap, you don’t tend to work at it.”


Only his eyes reflected his tension. “You think things drop in my lap? That I haven’t had to work hard at life?”


“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I know where you came from. I know how you busted your butt to get to where you are, but sailing… face it, Ford. Sailing came easy. And Logan hasn’t been the only man in my life to find his face in the papers. You’ve been there, too. Cosmo had some really interesting things to say about your bachelor life and how you live it.”


“So I haven’t been a monk. Jesus, Tara, I was in my twenties with too much money and women throwing themselves at me. Yeah, I enjoyed it all way too much, but I also eventually grew up.”


“Yes, you got engaged after your gold medal to someone you met while training. You broke it off at the last minute.”


Something flickered in his eyes at that. Annoyance at having to explain himself, probably. Typical male. “Because,” he said, “she’d gotten caught up in the fame and fortune of the sponsorships and wanted to live in the public eye. She went nuts for the attention, and I—” He broke off and frowned. “I wanted my same old, simple life. The life I’d worked hard for.”


“You took a huge contract for sponsorship and then dropped it.”


He stared at her. “You have been reading the papers.”


Truthfully, Tara had devoured every little scrap on him over the years. “Yes.”


He was quiet a moment. “I wasn’t feeling as competitive as I’d been, and I wanted to slow down. It didn’t seem right to stick with that contract when I wasn’t going to be giving them their money’s worth. So yeah, maybe I haven’t exactly done what was expected, but I’ve always done what I felt was right.”


“And us?” Tara asked. “Seventeen years ago?”


His eyes hardened. “You’re the one who walked away.”


“Yes, but you let me.”


“What? Are you kidding me?” He shoved his hands into his hair, and arms up, muscles taut, he turned in a full circle. When he faced her again, a very rare display of temper and frustration was showing on his face. “No one has ever had any luck stopping you when you have your mind set on something, Tara, and you damn well know it.”


“But you never even tried.” Her throat was tight with remembered pain. God, the pain. She didn’t want to ever feel that scared and alone and anxious again. Yes, she’d been the one to walk, but she’d been so young and stupid. “You never even attempted to contact me.”


She’d been okay with that in the end. Because the clean break had given her the time to get over the heartbreak without having to constantly relive it. But it was bothering her now, she realized. Deeply. She knew Ford felt very strongly about her, but she wasn’t sure he felt strongly enough. Certainly not enough to want to stick for real, for the long haul. And with him, she was beginning to realize she could handle no less.


Sure, back then he’d been willing to make things work, but the promise and drive of a teenager didn’t mean that it would have. And what did teenagers know about love anyway? If he’d really been right for her, wouldn’t he have followed after her, or at least tried?


She knew he’d wanted to do the right thing by her, she believed that. And he was a good guy: reliable, warm, caring… but she could only go on what she knew. And she knew she hadn’t been important enough to him.


She had no reason to think now would be any different.


“I remember things differently,” he said quietly. “I remember that you gave up. You ran. I’d have gladly taken it to that happy-ever-after you were too guilt-ridden to allow yourself.”


She swallowed hard against both the recrimination in his voice and the truth of that statement. “What’s done is done,” she said. “And it’s not just us now. There’s Mia. We can’t play at this anymore, Ford, not when so much is at stake. She’s fragile and working through her adopted parents’ split. We can’t mess her up. We can’t.” She turned away, then changed her mind. He deserved the truth. “It’s just that if by some miracle we made this work now, then…” She swallowed hard and whispered, “then maybe we really might have been able to work it out back then, too. And that kills me, Ford. All that pain I caused… for nothing.”

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