Ford sat next to her, and they ate in comfortable silence. When they were done, he picked up the bottles and the empty box and disposed of them inside the marina building. He came back and again sat close enough that their arms and thighs touched. Around them, the insects hummed. The water slapped up against the dock.
Comfort sounds. “It’s a beautiful night,” Tara said softly.
“Yes,” he said, and she could feel him looking at her. He ran a finger over the strap of her lightweight, gauzy sundress, following the line over her collarbone.
Her nipples hardened. “You’re not looking at the night,” she pointed out.
“No.” Ford kept his fingers on her, stroking lightly back and forth until her thighs pressed together. In her high-heeled sandals, her toes curled a little bit. His gaze toured her body, ending at said toes, and a small smile curved his mouth. He knew exactly what he did to her. “Heard about the massage oil incident,” he said.
“Oh my god. Facebook?”
“Yeah. Look at it this way: people will be lining up to book a room now.”
She groaned, and he laughed. “It’s not that bad,” he said. “And it’s got to be better than having everyone think you’re constipated.”
“I was never constipated! And can you never bring that up again, please? Ever?”
He grinned, and something warm slid through all her good spots. She pointed at him. “Don’t you look at me like that, like you want…” Like he wanted to eat her up. Whole.
His soft laugh scraped at her erogenous zones. “Want me to tell you?”
From somewhere far off, maybe the pier, maybe Lucille’s place down the road, came music. Something slow, melodic, achingly beautiful and just a little bit haunting.
Ford rose with the fluid grace that only the totally physically fit with good knees could accomplish and tugged Tara to her feet as well.
“What?” she asked, sucking in a breath when he pulled her in against him, gently rocking them to the music.
“Are we slow dancing?” she murmured as they moved together.
“Yeah. We’re slow dancing.”
And she’d accused him of not being romantic. He was warm up against her and strong. He had one big hand low on her back, nearly on her butt, leaving her with the urge to wriggle until his fingers slid lower.
“Keep squirming,” he murmured in her ear, still moving them to the beat of the music, “and I’ll tell you what I want.”
“What do you want?” she asked, unable to stop herself.
He put his mouth to her ear and told her. In graphic detail.
And she promptly, and purposely, squirmed some more.
Ford laughed, then kissed her just beneath her ear. And then touched his tongue to the same spot. When she shivered, he did it again as his hand stroked up and down her back. It was soothing, and also arousing, as it was when he slid a hand down and cupped her. She moaned, and he let out a rough sound of his own at the feel of her. “I can’t stop touching you. I think about it all damn day and all damn night, touching you, having you touch me back.”
She felt herself completely melt in his arms. The music came to an end, and they stopped swaying. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to tilt her head up and meet him halfway for a kiss.
“Dammit,” she said when he lifted his head.
“That’s a new reaction to a kiss,” he said.
“I mean this is… romantic.” She gave him an annoyed look. “And you have some serious moves, too. Good ones.”
“Yeah?” His eyes were dark. Intense. “Well then, here’s some more.” And he covered her mouth with his.
All thinking ceased. It was as if someone switched her brain to OFF, then opened the floodgates for desire. It hummed through her body, making her nerve endings twitch and tingle. A sound escaped her throat, horrifying in its neediness, but she didn’t care. She simply pressed herself closer to him, desperately, hungrily seeking more.
More, more, more…
He pulled her in and turned her, pressing her back against a wood pylon, freeing up his hands for other things. Tara wrapped her arms around him, beneath his shirt and up the bare, sleek skin of his back, and then down to his butt.
Which she squeezed.
She couldn’t help it. It was a very squeezable butt.
Ford ran his thumb across her nipple while his mouth did something decadent to her neck. She could feel him hard and ready, and she rubbed shamelessly against him, soaking up the feel of him, his scent. She opened her mouth to speak but he nibbled her bottom lip and then kissed her again, making her moan.
“Tell me this is leading back to one of our beds,” he said a little hoarsely when they broke apart for air. “I don’t care whose.”
Everything inside her wanted to say oh yes, please. “And then what?” she asked, holding her breath.
“And then I’m going to get you naked, and make you a very, very happy woman. All night long.”
That sounded good, but she knew herself well enough to know that by morning, she’d be left fighting the emotions that being with him like this brought. She’d be all that much closer to the point of no return, at least for her heart. Ford was an amazing guy, a good guy. Maybe even The Guy for her—but not just for a night. Or were they past that now? She’d lost their place, she wasn’t sure, and more than that, she was afraid. Still so very afraid that this was out of her reach. “And then…?”
“And then all day long,” he murmured against her skin, running his hands over her body. “And then all night long again.”
Yes. Yes, she knew he could do just that. And she also knew he was missing what she was getting at. That maybe he was missing it on purpose. “Ford, wait.”
He didn’t. He was, in fact, very busy trailing wet, openmouthed kisses along her throat, silencing any protest she might have made.
And for a minute, she let him. She couldn’t help it. He kissed like heaven on earth, and before she knew it she was kissing him. When they were breathless, he cupped her face in his hands, letting his lips brush her temple, her jaw. Then he dipped his tongue into the hollow at the base of her throat, and she felt a shiver wrack her entire body. Her fingers were in his hair now, and she couldn’t let go. “Ford? And then what?”
He lifted his head. There was no mistaking the hunger and desire on his beautiful face, or the confusion as he gave one short shake of his head. “What is it?” he asked. “What do you want to hear? Tell me.”
No. She didn’t want to have to do that. “Never mind. Just quick, kiss me and shut me up.”
He did without question, and this time she had to lock her knees. Because it was too late to protect herself, far too late to worry about if she deserved to fall for him because she already had.
Oh, God. Just the thought left her wobbly. This was going to require a lot of obsessing, and maybe some more chips. Certainly a bottle of wine, and in all likelihood her sisters as well. Not for their wisdom, but to smack her upside the head for even secretly yearning for this.
“I’m sorry. I have to go,” she whispered, still plastered to him like a second skin.
She grimaced at herself for being a coward. “Early morning.”
Something in her voice must have alerted him to the impending meltdown because he let her pull away, not stopping her when she straightened her dress, or when she left him on the dock.
He let her go without a word; without asking anything of her.
And wasn’t that the entire problem in a nutshell? He let her go.
He always let her go.
“Remember, you’re unique. And so is everyone else.”
The next morning, their guests left before dawn. The woman assured Tara that everything had been great, and then asked for a sample of the oil to go.
Tara put Mia to work sweeping the wood floors, which seemed to gather dust faster than a fat dog could gather fleas. “Careful not to stir it all up into the air,” Tara told her. “It irritates Chloe’s throat, and she’ll need to use her inhaler.”
“It’s sweet that you worry about her,” Mia said.
Tara laughed. She, Chloe, and Maddie were just about anything but sweet. No, scratch that, because Maddie was sweet. Tara and Chloe? Not so much.
Mia disappeared upstairs to sweep the hallway, and Tara met with Maddie in the marina office to go over paperwork. Chloe was allergic to paperwork more than dust, so she was outside in the sun, on a yoga mat in the downward-facing-dog position. By the time Tara returned to the inn Mia was nowhere to be seen, although her broom was leaning against a wall in the upstairs hallway.
“Shh!” This came from behind the bathroom door. “She’ll hear.”
Mia’s voice, followed by Carlos’s soft laugh, and a second more emphatic “Shh” from Mia.
Dammit. Dammit, Tara thought. They were in there messing around. Now see, this was why animals ate their young. Ready to rumble, she whipped open the door and blinked.
Her daughter and Carlos sat on the countertop, separated by the sink. Mia had a laptop on her thighs, the screen facing Carlos, who was cracking up. At the sight of her, he sobered and got to his feet. “Ms. Daniels.”
Weak with relief that they weren’t having sex, Tara leaned back against the door, then realized they were staring at her. “You’re not working,” she said.
“Well, not exactly,” Mia said. “But it is about the inn.” She turned the laptop in Tara’s direction.
“Mia—” Carlos tried to block the view. “Not a good idea—”
“She’s going to find out sooner or later, and it might as well be from us.” Mia revealed the screen. Facebook, of course, the bane of Tara’s existence. She’d been forewarned by Logan, but it was another thing entirely to see it herself.
The picture was grainy and blurry, probably from a cell phone, but it was clear enough. Tara, climbing onto Ford’s boat with her basket of muffins, followed by the line:
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