Author: Jill Shalvis


“But he’s not dressed for this,” Tara said, once again eyeing Ford’s bare chest. Her pupils dilated. “There are health codes, and—”


“We won’t tell.” This from Sandy, the town clerk and city manager of Lucky Harbor. “Besides, we’re outside. He’s dressed just perfect.”


Sandy had gone to school with Ford. She’d been class president, head cheerleader, and a lot of fun. Ford smiled at her.


She returned it with a saucy wink. “My sister’s husband is looking into buying a boat,” she told him. “A fixer-upper. I told her that I’d ask your opinion.”


“It’s a good time,” Ford told her. “The market’s down so you could get a deal. If he wants my help working on it, have him call me.”


“A man who can wield a set of tools and read the market,” Rani said on a dreamy sigh.


“Yes,” Tara said, grinding her back teeth together as she looked at Ford. “Bless your heart.”


She didn’t mean it, of course, which only made him smile again. Sure, her voice was all gentle and soft, but her real feelings were visible if you knew her.


And whether she wanted to believe it or not, Ford knew her. He knew she wanted to knock him into next week.


“A moment?” Tara requested sweetly.


“Sure,” he said just as sweetly as he leaned back against the railing and got comfy.


“Alone.”


And then, without waiting for an answer, she dropped his foiled to-go goodies into a pretty bag, poured one of the glasses full of iced tea, and walked right past him, hips swinging with attitude, inside the inn.


Clearly assuming he’d follow.


He watched her go, enjoying the view, but he didn’t move. He wasn’t much into being bossed around, even by an incredibly beautiful woman who was anal retentive and a bit of a control freak.


Well, unless they were in bed. He didn’t mind then, not as long as he got to return the favor.


But there was something about Tara that drew him in spite of himself, that snagged him by the throat and held tight. Maybe it was the tough-girl exterior, which he knew barely covered a bruised and tender heart. He’d seen that heart once, and truth be told he wasn’t all that interested in going back there. But he wouldn’t mind seeing her other parts.


He couldn’t help it. She had really great parts.


And he wanted that cold iced tea, bad. Almost as much as he wanted…


Her, he realized grimly. Against all caution and sanity, he wanted her. So he followed her inside the inn.


Chapter 3


“Change is good but dollars are better.”


TARA DANIELS


Tara waited in the freshly painted hallway off the inn’s large, open living room with what she felt was admirable calm until finally, a half-naked Ford slowly strode inside.


Not hurrying.


Of course not. Ford never hurried when he could saunter. He never rushed a damn thing in his life. The big, sexy lug moved when and where he wanted.


She knew she was just damn lucky he’d decided to move at all. He was unpredictable.


Spontaneous.


Not to be confused with uncontrolled. Because Ford, for all his sense of humor and smart-ass-ness, was one of the most controlled people Tara had ever met. It was one of the few things they had in common. She did her best to keep her eyes on his, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. She’d seen him without a shirt before, of course. But it’d been a while.


Watching her watch him, he reached out and played with the lace on her collarbone. “Why are you always dressed like you’re going to a business meeting?”


“I am at a business meeting. Sort of.” She paused and admitted the truth. “But mostly I wear dresses or skirts because I don’t have a good butt in jeans.”


With a laugh, Ford stepped close, so close that she could smell the ocean on him. He was salty and tangy, and so indelibly male that Tara almost closed the last inch between them simply so that she could lick him like a lollipop. Just one lick, she told herself, from sternum to the very low waistband of the basketball shorts…


His eyes lit with wickedness, as if he knew her secret longings, but he said nothing as he leaned over her shoulder to view her backside.


Ford Walker, Resident Butt Inspector.


“Looks fine from here,” he assured her in a low, husky voice that scraped at every single erogenous zone she owned. “Damned fine.” He paused. “Maybe I should give it a hand test to be sure.” Before she could say a word, he slid a hand down her spine, heading south with wicked and nefarious intent.


With a shocked laugh, she shoved him away. “I’ll take your word for it.”


“So,” he said, recovering far faster than she. “Still constipated?”


Tara choked. “What?”


Ford lifted a broad shoulder and unsuccessfully bit back a smile. “After the other day, it got around town that you were having troubles.”


“ ‘Got around town,’ ” she repeated faintly and closed her eyes to count to ten. For peace and Zen.


Neither made an appearance.


“I think Lucille tweeted it, and it ended up on Facebook,” he said, amusement heavy in his voice. “She took the opportunity to put up a recipe to fix the problem. You take a few plums, pit them, get a blender and—”


“I’m not—” Tara broke off, glancing through the inn to the sliding glass door before purposely lowering her voice. “Constipated!”


“You sure?”


“Very!”


He grinned, and she felt conflicting reactions—her brain melting, and steam coming out her ears.


How could this be? How could he drive her so insane and make her want him with equal intensity? She didn’t understand, she really didn’t. “Here,” she said and thrust the glass of iced tea and the bag of desserts at him. “And you should know, regarding your friend request the other day at the music fest, I’ve thought about it. Us.” Fact was, she’d done nothing but think about it. But they’d failed once. More like crashed and burned, spectacularly, and she shook her head. “I can’t go there again, Ford.” The last time had nearly destroyed her. Only he seemed to have the power to do that, and she wouldn’t, couldn’t, let it happen again.


“I didn’t ask you to go there again,” he said.


She met his gaze, his giving nothing away, and she flushed because he was right. He hadn’t asked her to fall in young, crazy love; he’d only suggested they have sex. Very different. “That’s an equally bad idea. You know it, and I know it. Now please go.”


“You’re big on that word,” he noted. “ ‘Go.’ ”


His was a not-so-subtle rebuke, and an unpleasant reminder of their past. And she resented like hell that he was throwing it in her face. By leaving as she had, she’d done him the biggest favor of his life. And not for one minute did she believe he hadn’t been thrilled to see the last of her, given how she’d turned his life upside down. He certainly hadn’t chased after her. He’d just let her go. The painful memories reared up and bit her, making her voice tight. “We are not doing this now, Ford.”


“Fine. Later then.”


“Never.”


“Never is a long time,” he said evenly, calmly, and since she couldn’t find her even or calm to save her life, it pissed her off. That he could be so relaxed through this conversation made her fingers itch to pour the tea right over his damn sexy head. Two things stopped her. One, he’d be half-naked and wet, and watching the iced tea drip down that bronzed chest, with its barely there spattering of sun-kissed hair and six-pack abs, might just be too much for her to take. And that was just his upper half. Lord almighty, if his basketball shorts got wet, they’d cling to all his glory.


And there was a lot of glory.


The second problem, the real problem, was that dumping the tea over his head would show her hand to him, because she could make no mistake with Ford. He might look and act like a frat boy with no concerns beyond the next good time, but she knew better. Behind that lazy smile was a mind as sharp as a tack. She thrust the goodie bag and the glass at him.


Ford accepted both. Their hands brushed together, his tanned and big against her much smaller one. “Thanks,” he said. “I’m sure it’s perfect, as well as the desserts.”


“Are you buttering me up?”


“Trying.” He smiled. “Is it working?”


“No.” Yes. Dammit.


Through the sliding glass door, she could still hear the ladies chattering amongst themselves, and she kept her voice as low as possible. “Just drink up. You looked parched, and I don’t want you passing out.”


“Aw. You care.”


Yes. But caring wasn’t the problem, for either of them. Longevity was. His. She was no longer seventeen and looking for a good time. She wanted more. Certainly more than Ford was looking to give. She knew him, or at least she was pretty sure she did. She’d read about him over the years and followed his career. For the six months she’d been in Lucky Harbor, she’d paid attention to his current life as well.


He’d grown up, there was no doubt. Once upon a time, he’d been headed for trouble but he’d gotten it together. He was a good man who was doing exactly as he wanted for a living and making it work for himself. But he was still content to live his life c’est la vie, to let the cards fall where they might, not all that interested in keeping anything, or anyone, long term.


And then there was her real stumbling block. They’d already had their chance and had missed it. End of story. “I don’t want to make Lucky Harbor’s Facebook page again,” she said. “We don’t need that kind of publicity.”


“You care,” he repeated softly.


She paused, but there was no reason not to admit it when he’d always been able to read both her heart and her soul like a book. Once, he’d seen everything she was, and he’d made her feel like the most beautiful, love-worthy woman on the planet—at least as much as a seventeen-year-old could feel. “Yes,” she said softly. “I care.”

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