Author: Jill Shalvis


But the real goal here was making a go of the inn. It had to be. Distracted, she miscalculated how much to crank to the left and hit the boat slip. “Sorry,” she called out as they all nearly fell to the deck. “But some assistance would be helpful!”


“You’re doing fine,” Maddie murmured.


“For a know-it-all, right?”


“Tara,” Maddie said softly, apology heavy in her voice. “I—”


“No, it’s okay.” Tara shook it off. “Really. It’s okay that you two discussed my personal life without me around to defend myself—”


“Hey, we do it right in front of you, too,” Chloe said.


Tara shook her head and moved to follow Chloe off the boat, but ended up plowing into the back of her when Chloe stopped suddenly. “What are you—”


Chloe was staring ahead, and Tara joined her at it, even letting out a soft “oh my.”


Ford stood on the deck of his racing Finn. Every single inch of him was drenched, making his board shorts and T-shirt cling to that built body as he maneuvered into his slip, his arms outstretched as he reached out to tie up the boat.


Tara had always loved his arms. They were sinewy and strong, yet capable of incredible tenderness. He gave some damn fine grade-A comfort when he put his mind to it. And his hands… they could handle rough waters or stroke her into orgasmic bliss with equal aplomb.


“You okay?” Chloe asked Tara over her shoulder without tearing her gaze off Ford.


“Yes. Why?”


“Because you just moaned.” She craned her neck and eyed Tara. “And probably you should check for drool.”


Tara gave her a nudge that might have been more like a push, then surreptitiously checked for drool. Then she went back to staring at Ford. Given the look of satisfaction on his face, he’d enjoyed his sail, and something pinged low in her gut because she’d seen that look on his face before: when he’d been stretched out above her, as intimately joined to her as a man could get.


She made another sound before she could stop herself, then bit her lip. Bending, she concentrated on tying up their boat, but her fingers wouldn’t work. “Dammit.”


Two hands appeared in her vision—big, work-roughened hands—not taking over the task, but guiding her into the correct knot. “Like this,” Ford said.


“I was fixin’ to do it myself.”


“She can do everything by herself,” Chloe told him, heavy on the irony. “Bless her heart.”


Tara straightened and shot Chloe a look, and got an eye roll in return.


“Come on, Mad,” Chloe said. “I think Tara needs a little time out.” And then she took her itty bitty bikini-clad body toward the inn, Maddie in tow.


Once again leaving Tara with Ford.


Tara flashed a vague smile in his direction without looking directly into his eyes—the key to not melting, she’d discovered—and went to step onto the dock.


Ford slid his hand in hers to assist, not letting go of her, even after she tried to tug free. He merely tightened his grip and waited her out.


With a deep breath, she tipped her head back and met his gaze. And yep, right on cue, as she took in the two-day stubble on his square jaw, the fine laugh lines around his mesmerizing eyes and the effortlessly charming smile, she melted like a glob of butter on a stack of pancakes.


“What?” he asked.


She studied his big, wet, gorgeous self and slowly shook her head. “Why couldn’t you have gone bald or gotten fat?” It really was a bee in her bonnet that he looked even better now at thirty-four than he had at seventeen. “The least you can do is burp or scratch an impolite body part, or something equally unattractive.”


His brow shot up. “You want me to scratch my ass?”


“Yes,” she said. “And maybe you could also pick your nose in public.”


His smile came slow and sure.


“What?”


“You want to jump me.”


God, yes. “Look, I have bigger problems than this, okay? Problems far more pressing than our being comfortable with each other now that we’re living in the same town again.”


Ford looked at her for a beat, then stepped into her space, crowding her up against the wall of the marina building. “I can give you something to take your mind off your other problems,” he said in a silky promise.


There was no doubt in her mind.


Sensing capitulation, he pressed his mouth to the underside of her jaw. “Just say the word.”


Word, she thought dizzily with a delicious shiver.


With a single stroke of his finger along her temple, he pulled back, eyes dark on hers as he waited.


Sex. Just sex. And it’d be great. But not enough. Not nearly enough. “No,” she said with far more resolution than she felt.


If he was disappointed, he didn’t let it show as he backed away, leaving her leaning against the wall for support, her clothes wet from his body, her body overheated to say the least.


Not a new state when it came to him.


When he was gone, Tara blew out a shaky breath and headed up to the inn. She entered the cool, fresh rooms and gave herself a minute.


“Ms. Daniels? You okay?”


Tara turned to Carlos Rodriguez, the local high school kid they’d hired for the summer to do odd jobs like moving furniture, painting, and cleaning. With his multiple visible piercings and homeboy pants that hung just a little south of civilized, they’d all been a little leery of just how good a worker he might turn out to be, but he’d done well. At seventeen, he was already six feet tall, with a lanky build that suggested he didn’t get three squares a day.


Tara knew from his application and obtaining his work permit from school that he was smart but an underachiever, and possibly a bit of a troublemaker. But that’s what happened when a kid had no authority figure in his life and was forced to work odd jobs to support himself, his younger siblings, and his grandma.


“I’m fine,” Tara assured him.


“I did the weeding and painted the laundry room.”


“Perfect. Did you eat lunch?”


“Yes.”


She bit back a sigh at the lie. “I left you a sandwich in the fridge.”


“Thanks, but—”


“No buts. Eat it.”


He turned away so she couldn’t see his face. “I’ll bring it home with me.”


Where he’d undoubtedly give it to his sisters or grandma. “Eat it here. I’ll make you more to bring home.”


He turned back and looked at her for a long beat, clearly struggling between pride and hunger. The lure of food won out, and he went into the kitchen.


Chloe came into the room from the hallway, pulling her cute little sundress on over her bikini. “Hope you’re pleased with yourself,” she said to Tara. “You chased Maddie away again. Little Miss Hates-Confrontations just up and vanished for friendlier waters.”


“There was no confrontation.”


“Are you kidding me?” Chloe said. “You’re a walking confrontation.”


“What are you talking about? You’re the one who starts everything. You never know when to just keep something to yourself.”


Chloe stood hands on hips, irritated. “Because sweeping things under the carpet and keeping everything deep inside would make me what, you? Sorry, no can do, Sis. But since you’re never going to see my side of this, maybe we should just agree to disagree.”


“Fine,” Tara said.


“Fine. And let’s not speak for a while either, at least until you can admit you’re actually wrong once in a blue moon.”


“I’d be happy to admit I was wrong,” Tara said. “If I was.”


Chloe tossed up her hands, then turned to Carlos as he came back from the kitchen, eating the sandwich. “Hey, Cutie,” she said with her usual easy charm, as if she hadn’t just been snarling at Tara. “What’s up?”


Carlos shot her a rare smile.


Chloe had that effect on men.


“Almost done for the day unless you have anything else.”


“Yes,” Chloe said. “I do have something else. Maybe you can tell my sister here that no one likes a sanctimonious know-it-all.”


Carlos divided a glance between them.


“Don’t put him in the middle,” Tara said.


“You’re just worried he’ll side with me.” Chloe turned back to Carlos. “I’ll give you a raise if you’ll also tell her she’s getting wrinkles from holding all her shit in.”


“There’s a recipe on the Facebook page for that,” Carlos said, stuffing in the last bite of his sandwich.


Oh for the love of God, Tara thought, grinding her back teeth together. “She means I’m—”


“Uptight,” Chloe said helpfully, laughing. “And could you also tell her that it’s annoying to have to look at her lingerie that she’s got constantly hanging from the shower rod?”


“Actually,” Carlos said, finally looking interested, “that wouldn’t annoy me one bit. Uh, which bathroom was that exactly?”


Chapter 5


“Never mess up an apology with an excuse.”


CHLOE TRAEGER


A few days later, Ford was at The Love Shack, out back in the small yard hosing down the tables and chairs. He had his music on low, but no matter how low he kept it, his neighbor next door—Ted the used bookstore owner—would poke his head out and ask for it to be turned down. Ford tried to picture what the guy’s house must look like and decided it was probably all Enya, cats, and houseplants.


Jax, who’d come to help, sat on top of one of the freshly cleaned tables, texting—obviously being hugely helpful.


“Working hard?” Ford asked, heavy on the sarcasm.


All hunched over so he could see his screen in the bright sun, Jax didn’t answer.


“Earth to Jax.”


“Hmm.” Jax’s dark head remained bent, his thumbs flying. “Working hard here, man.”

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