Author: Jill Shalvis


“I’m working.”


“Really? Because it seemed like maybe you were looking for me.”


Dammit. “Why would I do that?”


He gave that soft laugh, the one that always made her quiver. “Because you want me bad.”


God. She looked around to make sure Jax couldn’t hear them, but he’d turned his back and was setting up. “I already had you,” she whispered.


“Yes,” Ford said. “Hence the bad part. Walk with me.” Without waiting for her to refuse him, he took the basket out of her hands and set it behind the bar. With a hand low on her back, he directed her through the throng of people, with the sounds of the music and laughter all around them. The Ferris wheel was slowly revolving, going round and round.


Like her life.


“You know that Carlos thinks he loves Mia.”


“Yes. But they’re too young for love.”


Ford’s mouth curved slightly. “That thought would have pissed you off at seventeen.”


True. Tara rubbed her temples. “Okay, I’m going to take heart in the fact that they seem to be smarter than we were. Her adoptive parents did a good job of raising her.”


“Yeah.”


They were both silent as they passed the Ferris wheel, and Tara knew that they were each thinking, thank God that Mia’s parents had done such an obviously amazing job. Tara was grateful to them, so damn grateful. “And did you know that Sawyer and Chloe are circling each other like two caged tigers?”


“That’s actually just Sawyer who’s the caged tiger. Chloe’s in the center of the ring with the whip, toying with him.”


“I’m sorry.”


Ford shook his head. “Sawyer’s a big boy.”


They slowed in front of the ice cream parlor, which was having a tasting party. Lance stood behind the counter offering samples of everything they had. “What’ll it be?” he asked them.


Tara pointed to the double fudge chocolate, which melted in her mouth.


“If you liked that, try this one.” Lance handed over another tiny spoon. “It’s Belgian dark chocolate.”


“Oh Lord.” She moaned as she swallowed the heavenly taste. “How about that one, what’s that?” she asked, pointing to another chocolatey-looking concoction.


“Chocolate E. For ecstasy. Careful with it,” Lance warned with a wink at Ford. “They call it pure sin.”


Tara tested it and moaned again. She’d never had anything so delicious in her life.


“Want a cone with that?” Lance asked.


Indecision. They were all so amazing that she had no idea how she was going to pick. “Wait, I didn’t taste the chocolate butter toffee,” she murmured, and Lance patiently offered her another tiny spoon.


She was in mid-heavenly sigh when she felt Ford shift close behind her, his mouth brushing her ear. “Moan through one more sample,” he warned in a thick husky whisper, “and I’m dragging you to the closest dark corner on the pier. And Tara?” His breath was warm against her skin, making her shiver. “By the time I’m done with you, you won’t remember your own name.”


She couldn’t remember her own name now. “That’s a pretty outrageous threat,” she managed.


“Yes, and if you’re very lucky, I’ll wait until we’re alone to carry through on it.”


She turned to face him just as he reached past her to accept his own tiny spoon sample from Lance. Eyes on hers, Ford licked at it slowly.


Tara’s thighs quivered.


“Order your ice cream,” he told her, and took another lick.


Later she couldn’t remember what she ordered. All she remembered was Ford holding her hand on the walk back through the crowd, with need and hunger and desire pounding through her veins instead of blood.


By silent agreement, they headed directly to his car. He drove them to the marina and to his boat. Still silent, they boarded.


The moon was nothing but a narrow sliver on the water, lapping quietly at the boat as they turned to each other.


Chapter 24


“For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism. Ignore it.”


TARA DANIELS


There was only the faintest glow of a quarter moon on the water. The night had a hushed quiet to it—with the exception of Tara’s heavy breathing and low moans.


Ford’s favorite sounds of all time.


They lay on his bed. As Tara thrashed beneath his hands, he slowly drew her to the very edge of sanity, watching, enthralled, as she began to come undone.


She wasn’t alone in that.


Always when with her, he was completely undone, stripped down to raw, bare soul. From her first day back in Lucky Harbor, it’d been exactly as he remembered, and something he’d never forgotten in all these years.


His gaze wandered down her gorgeous body, long and curvy, and spread out across his bed for his viewing pleasure, and he actually ached.


She opened her eyes. “You’re looking at me like…”


“Like you looked at the ice cream earlier?” he asked with a smile. “Yeah, I am. I’m hungry for you, Tara.”


Stretching out, she lifted her arms above her head, giving him silent permission to taste whatever he wanted. Something he’d been wanting to do for days—eat her up from head to toe and then back again, until she came for him. Again and again. He started at her throat, tasting every single inch of her, nibbling certain interesting spots, stopping to tease whenever she gasped or wriggled. “So sweet,” he murmured against her skin. “You’re so damn sweet.” By the time he got to her belly button, she was fisting the sheets at her side and murmuring his name in a chant, a prayer, a warning to hurry the hell up.


It made him laugh. “Just lay there and take it, Tara.” Take me… “Give me the control. I’ll get you where you want to go, I promise.”


“I—Ohmigod,” she managed when he drew her into his mouth and gently sucked, his hands sliding beneath her sexy ass to hold her still. “Don’t stop,” she demanded.


Still trying to be in the driver’s seat. “Please,” he corrected. “Don’t stop, please…”


She slid her fingers into his hair, tightening them to an almost painful grip, holding him to her, making him laugh again. “Say it,” he demanded.


“Don’t stop, please,” she ground out, doing her best to make him bald.


“See?” he murmured. “Sweet as hell.” And he didn’t stop. Not until she begged him to.


Nicely.


• • •


Afterward, Tara fell asleep curled into Ford’s side, one hand tucked beneath her chin, the other across his chest.


He lay there, relaxed and boneless, listening to her breathe, not wanting to move. Not wanting her to stir and remember that she was trying to hold back from him. Because then she’d get up, get dressed, and walk away.


She was good at that.


And he was good at letting her.


He had no one but himself to blame for that. Bad genes, bad childhood—all excuses and he knew it. And they no longer cut it.


Tara’s coming back to Lucky Harbor had been circumstance. Her staying in town even more so. No one would argue that their connection wasn’t still there, possibly even deeper than before, but she was holding back, and he couldn’t blame her.


She’d been burned.


He knew that. He got it. Hell, he’d even been one of the ones to burn her. Up until now, he’d been willing to give her all the time she needed, because the truth was that he’d needed time, too. Time to deal with some of his own past mistakes. Time to understand that he was in this for the long haul.


Because she made him. She made him laugh. She made him feel. She made him think. She made him happy.


She made him… everything.


And with that everything, she also made him vulnerable. Bone-deep, scary-as-shit vulnerable. Just as gun-shy as she was.


Christ, he really hated that about himself.


With a sleepy sigh, Tara stirred and untangled herself.


“Don’t,” he said.


She lifted her head in surprise. “Don’t what?”


He drew a deep breath. “Don’t go. Stay the night.”


She smiled softly, and he knew by the light in her eyes that his words meant something to her, said something important. A step in the right direction, that light said, and he smiled back.


But she still climbed out of the bed. “I can’t stay tonight. I have to go check on the inn.” She slipped back into her dress and bent over the bed to kiss him. “ ’Night, Ford.” Then she was gone, her heels clicking on the deck as she walked away in tune to the only other sound Ford could hear—the roaring of his own racing heart.


Okay, so she’d left a little abruptly, but she’d kissed him first. A step in the right direction, he told himself again, and there, alone in the dark, smiled.


The next morning Tara rose and showered, determined to make their guests the most outstanding breakfast they’d ever had. She would burn nothing. First, though, she went to wake Chloe as Chloe had requested—but her bed was empty. Tara hadn’t heard her come in after rock climbing, but most likely she was already in the inn kitchen making a mess.


Resigned, Tara walked to the inn, let herself into the kitchen, and prepared to be annoyed.


But the kitchen was empty. Huh. Tara called Chloe’s cell, but it went right to voice mail. She tried Maddie next.


“ ’Lo?” came Maddie’s sleepy voice. “Who’s dead?”


“Is Chloe with you at Jax’s?” Tara asked.


“It’d be a bit crowded here in his bed if she was. Why?”


“I don’t think she came home last night.”


“From rock climbing? Crap.” Sounding more awake now, Maddie asked the question already on Tara’s mind. “You suppose she’s in jail again?”


“Anyone’s guess.”


“I’ll be there in fifteen.”


“No,” Tara said. “You took the late shift here last night. I’ll handle this.”

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