Author: Jill Shalvis


“So you told me nothing?”


“Not my finest moment,” he admitted. “Look, this is going to be a challenge for us, but it can work. Tell me you know that, that you still feel something for me.”


“I feel lots of things for you, Nick. Probably too much. But that doesn’t change anything.” She turned away from him to the controls and adjusted their course. “It’s just too complicated,” she whispered. “You shouldn’t have come.”


“I’ll always come for you.”


Chapter 7


Mia kept her eyes on the horizon, but she didn’t have to turn around to know that Nick was there, right at her back, so close that a sheet of paper wouldn’t have fit between them.


“Anchor us,” he said.


Her heart sped up, in reaction to both his low, sexy voice and his proximity. Her body always reacted to his like this. Zero to sixty. This condition wasn’t improved when he brushed a kiss to her jaw, and lingered. “Nick—”


His mouth slid over her throat, his warm palm settling on the nape of her neck to hold her steady. “It’s my turn to be the boss, Mia.”


She had no idea what it said about her that this made her quiver in anticipation, but she hurriedly steered them into a quiet, deserted bay and dropped anchor.


Turning her to face him, Nick took her hands in his and directed them to his chest. Unable to help herself, she let them wander. She loved his body. Lifting her head, she found his eyes on hers.


“Do you want this?” he asked quietly. “Do you still want me?”


“Yes,” her mouth said without her brain’s permission.


With a groan, he pressed her against the controls, pinning her there with his deliciously warm body. His mouth skimmed over her jaw to her lips as his big, warm hand palmed her breast. With a sound that said it wasn’t enough for him, he slid his hands beneath her sweatshirt and thin tee. Another sound escaped him at finding her braless, this one of rough, male appreciation while his thumb strummed over her nipple. “God. God, I missed this,” he said, his lips hovering over the pulse beating frantically at the base of her neck. “I missed you.”


She didn’t want words. She wanted him to banish the hurt, just for a little while. Rocking into him, she reached for the zipper on his jeans. “We have to be quick.”


Catching her hands, he pinned them on either side of her.


“Nick—”


“My turn,” he said firmly, and dropped to his knees in front of her.


Pushing up her sweatshirt, he cupped her breasts, leaning in to take a nibble of her quivering abs. “Mine,” he said, untying the sweats.


She had no idea if he meant the sweats, or herself. Had no idea how she felt about that either.


Okay, so that was a total fib. She knew exactly how she felt about it. She’d just gotten a rush that was a millimeter short of an orgasm.


When he tugged the sweats down, she gasped.


“Commando,” he said huskily. “My favorite.”


“I was sleeping, and I don’t like wearing underwear when I sleep.” A little panicked, she searched their immediate surroundings. How had she gone from so hurt to so nearly naked? “Uh…”


“No one’s around,” he assured her. “Not for miles. Relax, Mia. This is for you.”


Relax? She had no idea how she was supposed to do that with her emotions seesawing, not to mention the fact that her pants were at her thighs and Nick’s hands were cupping her ass, pulling her to his mouth, and— “Ohmigod.” She slid her hands into his hair, holding him to her because his mouth—good Lord, his mouth. It took her an embarrassingly short amount of time to come, which she decided to attribute to adrenaline and not to his considerable skills or the fact that she was still helplessly in love with him.


When her knees buckled, he caught her. Feeling incredibly emotional, and far too vulnerable, she tried to push him away. He simply and devastatingly pressed a sweet kiss to her hipbone. Then just beside her belly button.


She stared down at him, nearly choking on her heart. “Nick.”


He tugged off her sneakers and then her clothes, and surged to his feet. “I need you, Mia.”


He did. She could feel his erection pressing against her through his jeans. She let her hand glide down his chest, his abs, and then she palmed him.


He groaned but took her hand. “Not there.” He slid their entwined fingers back up to his chest against his heart. “Here.”


Undone, and unable to resist, she went up on tiptoes and kissed him, long and deep. They’d do this, and she’d hold the memories warm and safe inside her forever.


Nick pulled a condom from his wallet and Mia freed his essentials—and oh how she loved his essentials—and then he lifted her up. “Wrap your legs around me,” he said, and when she did, he slid home.


And in that moment at least, her world was complete.


* * *


He was going too fast with her, Nick knew it. But the pent-up lust and longing had drawn them into this explosion of deep, wet kisses and slick, needy bodies, and he couldn’t slow himself down. When she came, shuddering in pleasure, his name on her lips, she took him right over the edge with her.


They ended up on the floor of the houseboat flat on their backs, staring up at the sky through the skylight, panting for breath, trying to recover. He wasn’t even sure he could move, but somehow he managed to pull her into him, holding her to his side, gliding a hand up and down her satiny, still-damp skin. She shivered at his touch and arched into him as if needing more, and he discovered he could move plenty. Catching her hands in his, he rolled, tucking her beneath him.


She stared up at him, her eyes two fathomless pools, and he felt his heart give a hard kick to his ribs.


She was it for him.


“Mia,” he said quietly, brushing her hair from her face, breathing deeply of her scent—part shampoo, part satisfied woman. “I love you.” He kissed her before she could respond because he wanted her to absorb the words and believe. He kissed her as if he could breathe the truth into her lungs.


But she eventually pulled back. “I don’t need promises, Nick. I never did. I just wanted you here with me. For now.”


For now. A guy’s dream, those two words. But he’d come to realize that he wanted more, so much more. He wanted her heart.


Chapter 8


By the time they got back to the B&B, Mia had received no less than ten calls from her mom and aunts, and Nick could feel her pulling away.


On the porch of the B&B, she turned to him, face solemn. “Today was wonderful, Nick.”


There was an unsettling finality to her words, like she was saying good-bye. Did she think he would just go home now that he’d gotten laid?


“I’ll never forget it,” she said.


Yeah, she did. She expected him to go. “I want to stay, Mia.” He ran his hands up her arms and felt her tremble at his touch. She closed her eyes and he cupped her face, running the pads of his thumbs over her cheekbones. “I know you don’t quite believe in us right now,” he said, “but I believe enough for the both of us.”


“Nick—”


Maddie burst out of the B&B. “Thank God,” she said at the sight of Mia. “Someone I can boss around.”


“What do you need?” Mia asked.


“Everything. A builder, a gopher, an errand runner…No offense, honey, but your mama’s gone off the deep end. Her elevator isn’t hitting the top floor, she’s a few fries short of a Big Mac Meal, she—”


“I can hear you!” Tara yelled from the open window.


Maddie winced, then leaned in and lowered her voice. “Help me. Chloe’s this close to killing her, and if she goes to prison, I’ll be the only one left to deal with her.”


“Sure,” Mia said. “Whatever you need.”


“Me too,” Nick said.


Both women stared at him in surprise.


“But you’re leaving,” Mia said.


Nick shook his head.


“Either way, you’re a guest,” Maddie told him. “And guests don’t help.”


He’d spent much of his life telling himself he didn’t need a family, but right then, for the first time ever, he’d have loved to have been included as a family member and not a guest. “I want to help.”


Maddie stared at him for a long beat, but apparently she decided to take him at his word because she put him to work. Hours later, he and Jax had assembled a big white tent and outside heaters to keep the guests warm, set up all the tables, including hanging mistletoe at each one, assisted Tara in the kitchen, and run around town picking up more Christmas trees and decorations by demand of Chloe herself. He even set up the trees with Carlos. They didn’t speak much, but they didn’t brawl either, so that was a bonus. Halfway through, Carlos’s girlfriend, Theresa, showed up with a basket of cookies, which Carlos reluctantly offered to share with Nick.


Not a martyr, Nick dug in. “If you have a girlfriend,” he asked, mouth full of delicious chocolate chip cookie, “what the hell was earlier about?”


Carlos shrugged. “Still care about her.”


“You have a girlfriend,” Nick repeated.


“Yeah, but you never really get over your first love.”


Nick chewed on that statement along with the cookie. His first love was Mia, too. And since he couldn’t imagine moving on or forgetting her, he finally nodded his understanding.


The rehearsal dinner was a blur, and afterward Mia vanished with her mom and aunts doing…whatever girls did the night before a wedding. Nick was politely shown to his room at the B&B.


He got up early the next morning, made himself useful some more, and knew he’d won over at least half the clan when Tara made him a big breakfast and Maddie hugged him for all he’d done to help out.


By the time the guests showed up and the ceremony began, he was hungry for a peek at Mia.


And then she was walking down the aisle in a beautiful forest-green dress, flowers in her hands, hair flowing behind her in the slight breeze, a warm smile on her face. Just looking at her, Nick ached. She was a part of him. The very best part.

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