Author: Jill Shalvis


He looked at her for a long moment, clearly surprised at the admission. Then he broke eye contact and downed the iced tea she’d given him in approximately two huge swallows. Letting out a heartfelt sigh of appreciation, he smiled down at her from his towering height as he handed back the glass.


Which was another thing. She wasn’t petite. She was five-seven in her bare feet, but today she was wearing three inch heels, and she still felt small next to Ford.


Small and… feminine. “Okay, then.” Tara set the glass aside and turned him toward the front door, ignoring the way her hands tingled at the feel of his biceps beneath her fingers, hard and warm. “This has been fun,” she said. “But buh-bye now.”


“What’s your hurry? Afraid you’ll be unable to keep from having your merry way with me?”


Since that was far too close to the truth for comfort, she nudged him again, a little harder now. “Shh! If the women hear you talk like that, I’m going to blame you.”


“Not my fault. You’re the one who can’t keep her hands off me.”


She looked down and realized her fingers were indeed still on him, practically stroking him. Crap. She snatched her hands back and searched for her dignity, but there was little to be found. “I didn’t say it would be your fault. I said I’d blame you.”


He laughed. “Since when do you care what anyone thinks of you?”


“Since I want to impress these women—all of whom have connections and will hopefully send their family and friends here to the inn. So please. Please, Ford, you have to go. You can mess with my head another time, I swear.”


From outside on the deck, the women were still talking and their voices drifted in. “Lord alive,” someone said, possibly Ethel. “I’m still having a hot flash. If this inn comes with that man walking around like that, I’ll shout recommendations for this place from the rooftops.”


Ford’s gaze met Tara’s, and he slowly raised a brow.


“Oh, for God’s sake.” She gave up trying to push him out. “It’s your damn body, that’s all!”


“I have charm, too,” he cajoled. “Let me back out there, Tara. It’ll help, you’ll see.”


And here was the thing she knew about Ford. He never made pie-crust promises. His word was as good as money in the bank. If he said he’d help, he would.


She could trust him.


Problem was, she couldn’t trust herself.


Not even a little bit. Leaning back against the wall, she covered her eyes, thinking that not looking at him might help clear her thoughts.


Except that he planted a hand on the wall next to her head and leaned in.


“Stop that,” she said weakly when he leaned close. “You’re all…” Delicious. “Sweaty.”


He sidled up even closer, so that their bodies were brushing against each other. “You used to love it when I got all sweaty.”


Oh yeah. Yeah, she had. She’d loved the way their bodies had heated and clung together. She’d loved how they’d moved together, she’d loved…“That was a damn long time ago,” she said, ruthlessly reminding herself how it’d ended.


Badly.


Eyes holding hers prisoner, Ford remained against her for an interminable beat before finally taking a slow step back, still far too close for comfort.


She busied herself by grabbing the empty glass and striding back out onto the deck to refill it. She smiled at her guests and said, “I’ll just be one more moment.”


“Take your time, honey,” someone replied. “I certainly would.”


Doing her best not to grimace, Tara once again entered the cool interior of the inn.


Ford was almost at the front door, but he turned when she said his name. She watched the surprise cross his face when he took in the refilled tea. He moved back toward her and never took his gaze off her face as he accepted the glass.


“Why?” he asked.


“Because you looked like you’re still thirsty.”


His mouth quirked. “Thanks. But that’s not what I meant.”


Tara exhaled in an attempt to hold it together. No, she knew that. “You make me forget my manners. I hate that.”


“Can’t have you without your manners.” He ran his fingers over her jaw, his eyes at half-mast as he took in her expression. “You ever remember it, Tara? Us?”


She’d done little but remember. Her emotions had long ago been shoved deep down, but being back in Lucky Harbor had cracked her self-made brick walls, and all those messy, devastating emotions came tumbling down every single time she looked at him.


She’d first arrived in town, a pissed-off-at-the-world seventeen-year-old, banished here by her father and her paternal grandparents for the summer, and she’d resented everything about Lucky Harbor.


Until her second night.


She’d had a simple but particularly nasty fight with her mother. Tara hadn’t known Phoebe well, which hadn’t helped. The fight had sent Tara sulking off to the marina, where she’d run smack into another seventeen-year-old. A tall, laid-back, easygoing, sexy-as-hell Ford Walker.


He’d been sprawled out on one of his boats, hands behind his head, watching the stars as if he didn’t have a care in the world. One slow, lazy smile and an offer of a soda had pretty much been all it’d taken for her to fall, and fall hard.


He hadn’t been like the guys back home. He hadn’t been a rancher’s kid or a cowboy. Not an intellectual or the typical jock, either.


Ford had been the bad boy and the good-time guy all in one, and effortlessly sexy. He’d drawn her right in, making her laugh when she hadn’t had much to laugh at. His eyes had sparkled with wicked wit and a great deal of promised trouble, and yet he’d also been shockingly kind. They’d gone out sailing by the light of the stars and swam beneath the moon’s glow.


She’d escaped to his boat every night after that.


As unbelievable as it seemed, they’d truly been just friends. She’d come from a broken home and had all the emotional baggage that went with that, including anger and confusion and restlessness.


She’d felt… alone.


Ford had known what that was like. His parents had split up when he was young, too, and his father had taken off. His mom had remarried a few times, so he also knew how tenuous “family” was.


But he’d been far more optimistic than she, possessing a make-your-family-where-you-can mentality. And actually, she’d loved that about him. She’d loved a lot about him, including the fact that he’d been a bit of a troublemaker and had encouraged her to step outside her comfort zone.


It hadn’t taken much encouragement. That’s when they’d become more than friends.


They’d gone for a long sail, dropped anchor… and their clothes. They’d made love—her first time.


Not his.


Ford had showed her just how good it could be, how amazing it could feel, and for that one long, glorious month of July, Tara had found herself hopelessly and thoroughly addicted to his body.


He’d felt the same about her; she’d seen it, felt it. There’d been no spoken vows of love between them, but it’d been there. They’d been lovers in every sense of the word.


A very grownup word, lovers. And given that Tara had ended up pregnant and giving the baby up for adoption before hightailing it back to Texas, she hadn’t been ready for all that went with being grown up.


No matter what Ford thought, neither of them had been.


Tara hadn’t come back to Lucky Harbor after she’d had the baby, not once in all these years. She’d moved on. She’d gone to college. Traveled. Sown some wild oats. She’d even fallen in love. Logan Perrish had been charming, funny, and accepting, and a huge NASCAR star. Tara had married him, and, determined to get things right, she’d done everything in her power to fit into Logan’s world of whirlwind travel, press, billboards, and cereal boxes.


She’d lived and breathed the part of a celebrity wife, always on the go, doing whatever it took to make Logan love her as much as he loved his racing world.


Even when it had all failed, she’d still stuck in there. She’d made a commitment, and she’d faked it.


Fake it until you make it; that had been her motto.


But somewhere along the way, she’d lost herself. It seemed she always lost herself. And what made it even worse was that Logan hadn’t been a bad guy, just the Wrong Guy.


So she’d escaped back to Texas once again, to lick her wounds in private, struggling to remember who she was—a woman who’d lived through some bad things and still persevered.


A woman who wouldn’t lose herself again.


The steel magnolia within her had finally served Logan divorce papers. Due to his celebrity status, they’d had a prenup, of course. Without kids to complicate things, she’d willingly walked away free and clear. Still Logan had insisted on giving her a very fair settlement, which she had used every last bit of when she and her sisters had needed money for the inn.


She was now a take-no-prisoners sort of woman, and maybe also a don’t-get-too-close-to-me woman. It was necessary, in order to keep her heart protected and safe.


And to keep herself pain free.


Unfortunately, she’d just broken her own rule by tangling with Ford. Problem was, when it came to him, her mind and body appeared to be at war.


Want him.


Hold him at arm’s length.


Want him…


The ongoing battle was complicated by the fact that she now lived within a stone’s throw of him. As she knew all too well, Ford was lethal up close, especially when he wanted something.


And he’d admitted to wanting her. Her body, anyway.


He was just watching her now, and when she said nothing, he slowly shook his head, a bittersweet smile twisting his lips. “Thanks again for the tea,” he said, and when the door shut behind him Tara drew in a shaky breath and let it out slowly, struggling for her equilibrium. As always, she eventually found it, and once she had, she headed back outside to the deck.

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