Author: Jill Shalvis


“Mmm,” he said, and took immediate control of the kiss, mating his tongue with hers, torturing her with every stroke.


She retaliated by rotating her hips, taking him deeper, and was rewarded when he breathed her name raggedly. She met each of his movements with a thrust of her own, until it became a struggle to remain in control. She could feel the flutter low in her gut, feel the heat starting at her toes and working its way north.


Definitely losing it…


As if he knew her body better than she did, Ford slipped his hands out of hers and grabbed her hips, forcing a rhythm that made both them quiver. Startled at the rawness, the utter rightness, she lifted her head and stared at him.


He met her gaze. In fact, he never looked away as they rode each other to climax. She burst first, falling forward onto his chest, panting for air as he followed her over.


“Good Christ,” he muttered sometime later. His eyes were closed as he caught his breath, his entire body relaxed except for the hand he had clamped possessively on her ass. “We’re going to kill each other.”


A distinct possibility.


She buried her face against his neck. “Okay, now I really have to go,” she said, but didn’t move. Couldn’t.


He pressed his mouth to her temple. “We do have a few minutes left…” His fingers dipped between her thighs.


Her entire body quivered, but she shook her head.


With a sigh, he sat up, lightly smacking her butt as he rolled off the bed and strolled casually to the tiny bathroom.


She found herself just sitting there watching him. Finally she shook herself and stood up, wrapping the sheet around her. Her clothes were scattered across the place.


“What’s with the modesty now?”


She turned in time to watch him walk—bare ass nekked—across the room toward her. “I’m… cold,” she said and made him laugh softly.


“Tara, I’ve seen every inch of you. Hell, I’ve kissed every inch of you. You don’t need to hide it.”


“Yes, but it’s really light out.”


He grinned and tugged the sheet from her. “I like it that way.”


She fought to stay covered. “Well of course you do; you’re perfect.”


His eyes softened as he won the battle and tossed the sheet behind him. “So are you.”


Chapter 22


“Death is hereditary. Make sure you enjoy each day before it catches you.”


TARA DANIELS


Tara was walking up from the marina just as Chloe pulled in on her Vespa. “Look at you,” Chloe said, pulling off her helmet. “Glowing again.”


Tara ignored that as she opened the door to the cottage, then promptly froze.


Maddie was sitting on their small couch in the living room, staring openmouthed at Jax, tears running down her cheeks.


Jax was on his knees at her side, holding her hand.


“Oh, God,” Tara said, hand to her chest. “What’s happened, what’s wrong?”


Chloe came up beside Tara, took in the sight, and immediately slid her hand into Tara’s. Tara squeezed it reassuringly, even as her heart landed in her stomach. Not a single one of them were up for another crisis.


Jax dropped his forehead to Maddie’s knee. His shoulders were shaking, and Tara stopped breathing.


“Tell us,” Chloe whispered, gripping Tara’s fingers hard enough to crack them. “Maybe we can help—”


Jax made a sound. Not of sorrow, Tara noted, and narrowed her eyes.


He was laughing.


When he lifted his face and met Maddie’s gaze, his own softened, and he stroked her cheek, wiping away her tears. “I should have known we’d do this by committee. Should we consult the Magic Eight app or take a vote?”


Maddie laughed through her tears. “Oh, no, it’s too late for that—I already said yes.” She lifted her hand.


Which was weighted down by a sparkling diamond.


“Oh!” Chloe cried and jumped up and down. “I vote yes too, and that’s majority. Majority rules!”


“Like I would have voted no,” Tara said as she and Chloe stepped forward to hug Maddie. “Sorry we interrupted.”


“Actually,” Maddie said. “We were done with the proposal. We were just going to…” She blushed. “Negotiate some terms.”


“For?”


Maddie and Jax smiled at each other, and their looks were so heated that Tara felt like her eyebrows went up in smoke.


“Aw.” Chloe grinned. “You were totally going to do it, right there on the couch.” She grabbed Tara and dragged her back to the front door. “Just pretend we never showed up. Carry on.”


“We can’t now,” Maddie said, laughing. “You’ll know.”


“Yes,” Chloe said. “And also, we’re never going to sit on that couch again, but don’t let that stop you, Ms. Attack-Her-Boyfriend-in-the-Attic.”


“Hey,” Maddie said, still beet red. “What about Tara in the pantry with her two men?”


Tara sighed. “Not a true story,” she said to an avidly listening Jax. “Logan and I haven’t been together like that in over two years.”


Chloe grinned at Maddie. “Notice she didn’t deny having Ford ‘like that.’ She’s totally doing him. I mean look at her. Hello, she’s still glowing. Sex is so great for the skin. Wish I could come up with a skincare formula that gives that same glow. I’d make bank.”


Maddie studied Tara’s face and grinned, too. “Oh yeah, she’s definitely doing Ford.”


Jax looked pained. “Okay, you’ve got to stop saying that. Bad visual.”


Maddie laughed and hugged him close. “Here, baby, let me give you another one to replace it with.” She whispered something in his ear and then gently but firmly kicked her sisters out of the cottage, locking the door behind them.


That afternoon, Ford was behind the bar finishing up his monthly inventory. Jax usually helped, but he didn’t show up until after it was finished. “Thanks for the help,” Ford grumbled, then took in the wide, goofy-ass grin on Jax’s face. “What?”


“You’ll see,” Jax said cryptically, and vanished into the back to do some paperwork.


The place was filling up when Maddie came in wearing a goofy grin that matched Jax’s.


“Only one man I know who can put that smile on your face,” Ford said.


Maddie laughed, something that had once upon a time been very rare. “Or potato chips.”


Ford grinned at her. “What’ll it be, Beautiful?”


“Oh, I don’t know…” She set her hand down on the bar and nearly blinded him with a diamond.


“Jesus, you need sunglasses to look at that thing.” And although he’d already seen the ring—Jax had shown him yesterday—Ford hugged her tight, then lifted her hand and smiled. “Hard to say no to a ring like that.”


“Maybe it’s just plain hard to say no to me.” Jax came in from the back carrying a tray of clean glasses. He took one look at Maddie flashing the ring and smiled from ear to ear. He set down the glasses and hopped over the bar to yank her into his arms. “Hey, wife.”


“Not yet, I’m not,” she said, laughing as she shifted into him. “You have to get me down the aisle first.”


“It’s going to happen.” Jax lowered his lips to her ear, whispered something that made her blush, then kissed her.


And kissed her.


“Get a room,” Ford said and nudged them out of his way, their mouths still fused.


They vanished a few minutes later, and Ford figured that he’d be lucky if Jax surfaced sometime tomorrow. It wasn’t a problem; neither he nor Jax was scheduled to actually tend bar tonight. But since Sawyer had a date too, Ford was left on his own with no plans ahead of him. In the old days, he’d have found himself some trouble.


Or a woman.


Neither appealed. So he got in his car and drove, and found himself at the inn. Carlos was in the yard, hosing out a big pot burned black.


“What happened?” Ford asked.


“Tara burnt the stew.”


This was so odd that it took a moment to process. “She did?”


“Earlier. She said she was distracted. And now she’s added pissed to the list.” Carlos looked around to make sure they were alone. “If you don’t have to go in there, maybe you shouldn’t. No offense, but you tend to make things worse.”


Ford had a feeling he’d already made it worse, that maybe she’d burned the stew when they’d been out on the water. “Does she need dinner for the guests? I can go pick something up.”


“No, she’s whipping up some fancy burgers right now. She’s putting some really stinky cheese and seasonings in with the meat and calling them gourmet. She told me if I wrinkled my nose one more time she was going to rearrange it for me.” Carlos let out a rare smile because, as they both knew, Tara could barely reach his nose. “Mia’s helping her.”


When the kid said Mia’s name, a special quality came into his voice that Ford recognized all too well. Carlos was completely and helplessly wrapped around his daughter’s pinkie.


They walked into the kitchen together, smelling the burned stew before they crossed the threshold. There was a fan going, and two candles, but they weren’t helping yet. The room itself looked like an explosion in Hell’s Kitchen. The counters were cluttered with cooking utensils and ingredients, and a temperamental Tara stood at the stove, spatula in hand. When she caught sight of Ford, her eyes narrowed and her grip on the spatula tightened as if she was fighting the urge to smack him with it. “You,” she said.


“Me,” he agreed lightly. A few hours ago, she’d been naked and panting his name. Now she was back to the Steel Magnolia.


“Sugar,” Tara said in a voice that was pure Pissed-Off South. “You need to go far, far away.”


A few weeks ago, he’d have taken that to mean she didn’t want to see his face within a six-hundred-mile radius. Now he knew the truth. He distracted her. He could live with that. “Came to see if I can help.”

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