Author: Jill Shalvis


“Are you going to fire me? Cuz I’d really rather have that ass kicking. Sir.”


“Call me ‘sir’ again and I will.”


“So we’re okay?”


“Hell, no. You had your hands on my daughter. I want to tell you that if you so much as think about touching her again, I’m going to make sure they never find your body.”


Carlos paled a little, and Ford let out another breath. “But I can’t do that, either.”


The kid nodded. Yeah, he could really get behind Ford not doing that. “Why?”


“Because Mia’d be pissed at me, and I just got her in my life. And because I was seventeen once and incredibly stupid and selfish. Far more than you, actually.” Ford paused. “Look, I realize you’re just having a summer fling here but Mia—”


“No.”


Ford arched a brow at the seriousness and vehemence of that single syllable. “No?”


“No, I’m not just having a summer fling.”


“So where do you see this thing going? Because you know she’s leaving for Spain when the summer’s over. For a whole year. That’s a lifetime for a guy your age. I don’t want her hurt.”


“I’m not going to hurt her. I love her.”


Ford looked into Carlos’ dark eyes. Whatever a seventeen-year-old could possibly know about love, Carlos meant it. Shit. “Okay, new game plan. If you touch her—”


“They’ll never find my body?”


“Just don’t. Don’t touch her at all. Ever.” Ford sighed. “Someday you’re going to have a daughter and then you’ll understand.”


“Actually, I understand now. And what about Ms. Daniels?”


“What about her?”


“Maybe I’m not forty-four or whatever,” Carlos said. “But she’s a real nice lady. What about her getting hurt?”


Ford was so surprised that words nearly failed him. “Thirty-four. And I don’t intend to hurt Tara. Ever.”


“So…”


“I’m in this,” Ford said, “to the end.”


Carlos looked shocked.


But not as shocked as Ford himself was. He scratched his jaw. “Huh. I didn’t see that one coming.”


Carlos shook his head. “Does anyone?”


Tara was once again peddling muffins. Mia had started off doing it, but she’d wanted to wander around, so here Tara was. “Double the Pleasure Blueberry Muffins,” she said, handing them out, not slowing down enough to engage in conversation until someone came up behind her and grabbed her with two strong arms, snagging a muffin in each hand.


Logan.


He bit into a muffin. “Mmm, damn you’re good. Hey, I have some photographers coming in tomorrow from People. I made the Hottest 100 List. Your bartender ever do that?”


She shot him a look, and he laughed. “You know, I even miss your Don’t-Make-Me-Kick-Your-Ass expression. Anyway, People’s bringing a few models in bikinis to drape themselves over a prop car to pose with me. Thought maybe you’d want to take their place.”


“Oh, I would,” Tara said drolly. “Except hell hasn’t frozen over.”


He grinned. “Okay, I guess I’ll have to make do with the models then.”


“Yeah, I bet that’s going to be real tough.”


Logan tugged on her hair. “I’m still holding out hope for me, Tara. For us.”


But the “me” had come before the “us,” and it always would. Logan was a good guy, just not the right good guy for her. She knew that. On some level, she’d always known that. “Logan—”


“Hold that thought, darlin’. My fan club’s calling.”


She watched as he stepped away to be engulfed by a group of women that included Sandy and Cindy.


With a helpless laugh, Tara turned and found Chloe standing there.


“Want a reprieve?” Chloe asked, reaching for the basket of muffins.


“Yes,” Tara said. “But what’s wrong with this picture, you offering to help?”


Chloe ignored that and handed out a few muffins with a welcoming smile that Tara couldn’t have pulled off to save her life.


Sawyer came walking through the crowd. He was in uniform, talking on his cell when Chloe purposely stepped into his path. “Muffin, officer?”


He stopped and looked down at her, and Tara held her breath. These two hadn’t exactly seen eye to eye on… anything. Sawyer was six-foot-three and more than a little intimidating, but the petite Chloe just smiled sweetly up at him as if she hadn’t been a thorn in his side since she’d first come to town. “They’re Double the Pleasure Blueberry Muffins. Take two and quadruple your pleasure. Officer.”


He never looked away from Chloe’s face. “You make them?”


She laughed. “Why? You afraid?”


“Depends. Answer the question.”


“Ah,” Chloe said. “You think I poisoned them.”


“Maybe just the ones you saved for me.”


Chloe slowly eyed him from head to toe and back again. “It’d be a sacrilege.”


Tara almost choked.


Sawyer didn’t react, other than to slowly remove his sunglasses. “What are you up to?”


She reached over and plucked an invisible piece of lint from his pec. “If I have to tell you,” she murmured, “I’ve gotten rusty.”


Sawyer’s gaze locked on hers. From five feet away, Tara felt the blast of heat between them, and it nearly knocked her back a step. She had no idea why Chloe was playing with him, why she was jerking his chain, and she had even less of an idea why Sawyer put up with it. But there was a shocking amount of tension there that she hadn’t noticed before.


Sexual tension.


Sawyer’s radio squawked. Eyes still on Chloe, he didn’t move.


“You have to go,” Chloe said lightly, as if nothing had happened. She handed him a few muffins. “Stay safe now, you hear?”


Sawyer looked at her for a long beat, clearly perplexed and suspicious of her unexpected niceness, poor guy. “You,” he finally said, putting his sunglasses back on, “are a menace.”


Chloe smiled and nodded. “Yes. Yes, I am. Don’t you forget it now. Buh-bye.” She slid her arm in Tara’s and steered her away.


“What was that?” Tara whispered.


“Me giving away a few muffins.”


“I meant the messing with the poor guy’s head.”


Chloe lifted a shoulder. “It’s a give-and-take situation.”


Tara slid her a glance. “Meaning?”


“Meaning maybe his head isn’t the only one being messed with.” Not explaining that cryptic statement, she continued to hand out muffins.


“Chloe—”


“I don’t want to talk about it.”


“Then can we talk about why you’re helping me?” Tara asked.


“What, a sister can’t help another sister?”


“Yes, if she wants something.”


“Well, I don’t,” Chloe said, sounding hurt.


Crap. “Okay, that was rude,” Tara admitted. “I’m sorry.”


Chloe grinned. “Wow, Maddie’s right. You are a lot more mellow now that you’re boinking Ford. I hadn’t really noticed. I do want something. I want tonight off to go rock climbing, if you’ll wake me in the morning. I’m giving a big spa day tomorrow at the Seattle Four Seasons.” She smiled at the guy coming up to her side and handed him a muffin. It was Tucker, Lance’s twin.


“We’re leaving in half an hour,” he said.


“Are we going to get arrested again?” Chloe asked hopefully.


Tucker laughed. “No. This time we really do have permission to be on the Butte. I’m going to go get the gear ready, while Lance works the booth. Jamie and Todd are coming too.”


Tara held back her negative comment. She adored Lance and Tucker, but not Jamie’s cousin Todd. When he was around, bad things tended to happen.


“Well, then,” Chloe said, unconcerned, “I should help.” She looked at Tara, who nodded, then handed back the basket and headed off.


“Be careful,” Tara said and knew that, of course, she wouldn’t be. She looked down at the basket, feeling alone. Both of her sisters had other people in their lives. Tara had neglected to achieve that for herself. An oversight on her part. She’d been so busy trying to make the inn a success, and making sure not to lose herself this time, that she hadn’t managed to cultivate many friends here.


Okay, that wasn’t quite true. She’d made plenty of time for one person in particular—too much time.


Ford, of course. It always came back to Ford.


She realized that while thinking of him, she’d walked up to his booth. She shouldn’t have been surprised, since with him and only him, she seemed to know exactly who she was.


And who she wasn’t.


Jax was behind the bar though, not Ford, and she told herself it was silly to be disappointed.


“What’ll it be?” Jax asked with a friendly smile.


“Oh, I…” She hadn’t come for a drink. She’d come for a peek at the man she couldn’t stop thinking about. She looked casually around.


Jax raised a brow. “Want a hint?”


Tara felt a tingle at the back of her neck and closed her eyes. “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?”


“Yep.”


With a sigh, she turned around to face Ford. He was looking comfortable and relaxed in a Mariners’ baseball cap, cargos, and a T-shirt that said SAIL FAST, LIVE SLOW.


He shot her a slow smile that spread warmth to parts of her that didn’t need warming. “Hey,” she said casually. Wow, look at her all composed. Tranquil. “Well”—she backed away—“I hope you get a good crowd tonight.”


Not fooled, he stepped in her path. “Going somewhere?”

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