Author: Jill Shalvis


He caught her with his crutch and reeled her down to the couch next to him, ignoring Sawyer’s next knock. “Stop waiting for me to let you walk away.”


She eyed him speculatively. “What should I do instead?”


Fair question, he supposed. “How about we give each other everything we can, and not blame each other for what we can’t?”


“That didn’t work out for us before.”


“Because you left without looking back,” he pointed out.


“I had a problem, if you’ll remember. I was pregnant.”


“We had a problem,” he said.


Sawyer knocked again, less politely this time. “Ignore him,” Ford said.


“I don’t run anymore,” Tara said quietly. “I stay and fight.”


“Well, good. Because—”


The front door opened, and Sawyer stood there looking pissed off. “Okay. When you’re alive,” he told Ford, “you pick up your damn phone and answer your damn door.” He took in the two of them squared off on the couch, nose to nose, with Ford half dressed and Tara looking uncharacteristically mussed up. “Need a moment?”


“No,” Tara said.


“Yes,” Ford said, holding firm to Tara so she couldn’t bail, because if he had to chase her he was going to lose and that would be embarrassing.


Without a word, Sawyer vanished into the kitchen, and they heard him foraging around in the cupboards, no doubt planning on eating Ford out of house and home.


Ford looked at Tara. “Stay and fight then,” he said. “For us.”


She looked at him with a mixture of anxiety and hope. “While giving everything I can and not blaming you for what I can’t?” she asked softly.


“That’s right.” He liked the look on her face, the one that said she was tempted.


“I like to analyze things,” she warned him. “Obsess. Think too much.”


“No,” he said straightfaced. “Not you.”


“I’m serious.”


He smiled. “Yes, I know. Look, I’m sure I’ll give you plenty to analyze and obsess over. Let’s start now. I have certain parts that need analyzing and obsessing.”


“Sawyer’s in the kitchen!” she hissed.


“He won’t listen.” Ford yawned, fighting against the sudden weight of his eyelids. “Or he’ll pretend not to, at least.”


“Your meds are making you sleepy.” She sounded concerned.


“No they’re not.” Yes, they were. But he didn’t care. He wanted her again. And then again. Maybe she’d do all the work this time, just this once. He’d owe her. He was good for it.


“Ford, I listened to what you told Mia at the hospital.”


“I know. I saw your heels beneath the curtain. So you know that I like to change the locks on Jax.”


“And that you think you were bad news for me. Or that I was made for better things than being stuck with you in a town I hated.” Her voice shook. “I never felt that way, Ford. Ever.” She shook her head. “You were very important to me. You were my best friend. I just didn’t know how to be your best friend. I didn’t know how to give myself. I didn’t learn that for a long time. When I got married to Logan, I still didn’t know, and I went the other way and gave too much. I’m only now learning the happy medium.”


Tenderness filled him. “I know,” he said gently. “And you’ve seemed happier lately than I’ve ever seen you.”


“Yes. That’s because of you.”


“Me?”


Tara smiled. “You.” She kissed him, then hopped up, pulling her hair into some complicated twist. “I have to go. Our guests at the inn need me to get a picnic dinner together.” Turning back to him, she was all put together again—cool and calm and gorgeous.


His.


He hoped.


“Ford?”


“Hmm?” he said, or he thought he did. He felt her come closer and smiled. “You smell good.”


“I love you,” she whispered.


Emotion burst through him, and he closed his eyes for a second to absorb it. He could hear her moving around as if she was at home. He liked that. A lot. Liked watching her. But then he realized he wasn’t watching her; he was looking at the backs of his eyelids.


Huh. By the time he forced his eyes open, he was alone. “Tara?”


“Not exactly. But I can put on a Southern accent and get all pissy and bossy if you want.”


Sawyer.


Ford looked around. He was still on the couch. Sawyer was leaning back in a chair eating chips and watching TV, his boots on the arm of the couch near Ford’s face.


Ford shoved them. “What happened?”


“You needed a time-out,” Sawyer said.


“Tara?”


“Gone.” Sawyer cocked his head. “You’re not firing on all cylinders.”


No shit. Tara was gone, and Ford wasn’t sure if he’d really heard what he wanted to hear—what he’d wanted to hear for a very long time—or if he’d just dreamed it. “Did she say…?”


“Say what?”


I love you… “Nothing. Forget it.”


“She totally fondled you when she kissed you goodbye. You don’t remember?”


“No.”


Sawyer shrugged and lifted the bag to pour the last of the crumbs straight into his mouth. “Your loss. A woman like that fondles me, I remember.”


Tara headed back to the inn. Although it felt as if she’d been gone all day, it had only been four hours from start to finish since she’d looked out the kitchen window in time to see Ford fall from the tree.


She never wanted to feel her heart hit her toes like that again. The run out to him had seemed to take forever, and then seeing his leg, his pain, had nearly killed her.


She thought of how she’d just left him, sated and relaxed and feeling no pain, and felt a little better. Inside the inn, she found Chloe in the sunroom, giving their guests facials. For a minute, Tara stood in the doorway watching her baby sister work, appearing both surprisingly professional and yet so sweet. Chloe had everyone laughing and smiling and completely at ease in a way that Tara could never have managed. She was still marveling over that when Chloe looked up and caught sight of her.


“Just lay back and relax now,” Chloe said to their guests, and light on her feet, moved toward Tara, pushing her out into the hallway.


“Hey,” Tara said. “Smells good in there.”


“It’s the oatmeal and honey mix in the facial. It smells delicious when it’s warmed. Don’t panic; I realize the inn doesn’t have a license for a spa, but I’m not charging; it’s a freebie. I’ll make sure to have Maddie start applying for the right licenses before I ever think about charging anyone.”


“I wasn’t going to say that.”


“Okay, what were you going to say? Let me have it. Or should I save you some time? Yes, I stole your heavy cream, but I replaced it this morning. It helps make the facial smooth.”


“I don’t mind,” Tara said.


But Chloe was on a roll. “And yeah, okay, I ate the last of your Not Yo Mama’s Apple Pie. But…” She flashed her poker-face smile. “You’re getting sex, great sex by the look of you, so in all fairness, you don’t need the pie, right? And I made brownies to replace it anyway. You can add them to your picnic dinner.”


Tara felt a little dizzy with the quick subject changes, not to mention that this Chloe—a non-lazy, responsible Chloe—was a welcome surprise. “You did?”


“Okay, no. Mia made them. That girl most definitely inherited Ford’s talent in the kitchen.” Chloe waited a sly beat, just long enough for Tara to frown before laughing softly. “And yours, of course. Anyway, the husband’s allergic to a lot of veggies, did you know that? So instead of veggie oil, Mia used applesauce, of all things. And the brownies came out fantastic. If I hadn’t seen her do it with my own eyes, I’d have sworn you made them.”


Tara shook her head. Definitely dizzy. “Chloe…”


“Yeah, yeah, yell at me for all of it later, okay? I’ve got to get back in there.”


“No, Sugar. You don’t understand.” She reached for Chloe’s hand. “I’m not mad at all. Are you kidding? You used your own spare time to do my job, you covered my ass, and you’re making the inn a day spa on top of it? You’re a lifesaver.”


Chloe narrowed her eyes. “You take some of Ford’s pain meds?”


“What? No!”


“You sure?”


“Yes! Chloe, I’m trying to say that I’m impressed. And that maybe I was too harsh when I said you never grew up. I shouldn’t have said that.”


Chloe arched a brow. “Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit. Did you almost—almost, mind you, but not quite—admit you were wrong about me?”


“Listen, I know I’ve been hard on you—”


“You were wrong,” Chloe said flatly. “Say it.”


Tara sighed. “Okay, fine. You’re right. I was wrong.”


“Wow. And you didn’t even choke on it.” Chloe grinned. “Now if only you’d get that stick extracted from your ass and admit that you’re also over your head in the love department, we’d all be able to enjoy ourselves.”


“My relationship with Mia is a work in progress.”


“I meant Ford.” Chloe leaned in and sniffed at her neck. “You smell like him, you know.”


Tara felt the heat on her face. “You should probably get back to the guests.”


With a soft, knowing laugh, Chloe headed into the sunroom. Tara blew out a breath and moved into the kitchen to get the picnic dinner together. She was planning on ham pinwheel sandwiches with brie, herbs, and nuts. She was going to call them Pigs-in-a-Wheel Delectables.


Mia came in and silently began chopping the herbs and nuts. Tara felt a little burst of pride and affection fill her. They really did work well as a team. She smiled, then felt her smile congeal when she caught a good look at Mia’s face. “You’ve been crying.”

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