Simply irresistible, p.29
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       Simply Irresistible, p.29

         Part #1 of Lucky Harbor series by Jill Shalvis
 
Page 29

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  “I know,” he said quietly. “But now I’m sitting on two secrets from a dead woman. Secrets that aren’t fair to either of your sisters. ”

  “You care about Maddie. ”

  “Yes, I do. ”

  “A lot. ” She leaned in and looked deep into his eyes. “She’s not just a quick lay to you. ”

  Hadn’t been for a while now, the knowledge of which had pretty much sneaked up on him. “You have to find a way to tell her,” he repeated softly. “Or I’ll find a way for you. ”

  Tara stared at him, then thrust out her glass.

  He obligingly refilled it, and she drank it down with a shudder. “I haven’t told anyone,” she whispered. “Ever. ”

  “This isn’t just anyone. It’s Maddie. She deserves to know what you’re holding back and why. And she deserves to know the domino effect of it all, the inn, the loan, the trust, all of it. ”

  Tara closed her eyes and let out a long, slow breath. “I’m just so… ashamed. ”

  Understanding that all too well, he covered her hand with his. “You were just a kid, Tara. You got in over your head and paid dearly. There’s no shame in that. You’re giving it more power by keeping it a secret. ”

  “I know. ” She pulled her scarf closer around her neck. It was green and sparkly, and very, very crooked. “She’s making you one now,” she said, seeing where his gaze had gone. “It’s multicolored. And ugly as sin, bless her heart. I need another shot, sugar. ”

  He poured, then watched her toss that back, as well. “You okay?”

  “Fan-fucking-tastic. ”

  “Liar. ”

  Tara blew out a breath. “She made me this scarf with love, and lots of it, even though I’m the one who stresses her out when I fight with Chloe. ”

  “So stop fighting with Chloe. ”

  “She wants us all to be together. ” She closed her eyes and pushed the empty shot glass his way. “Here in this town where I made my biggest mistake. ”

  “Maybe it’s time to stop looking at it as a mistake. There’s got to be something you like about being here, or you’d have left when you had the chance. ”

  She stared down at the scarf, fingering the yarn. “I’ve been cooking. ”

  “And damn well. I’m partial to those bacon bleu cheese burgers, myself. ”

  “I am good,” she said, looking both proud and a little surprised. “And somehow I agreed to work at the café and stay for the rest of the month, which is crazy, given how badly I want to be anywhere other than here. I’m working at Eat Me Café, for God’s sake. ” Lifting her head, she leveled her baffled gaze on his. “Let me repeat that. I work at a café called Eat Me. What kind of idiot does that make me?”

  “The good-sister kind,” he said. “Tell her, Tara. ”

  She closed her eyes, then opened them. They were shiny now, and he feared that she was going to cry. But he should have known better.

  “I can’t, Jax,” she said. “Not yet. I’m not ready. ”

  He let out a long breath. Not what he’d wanted to hear. He ached for Maddie, ached for what he was beginning to feel for her knowing that they’d all held so much back from her. Taking Tara’s shot glass away, he poured another glass with water.

  “She wants things we can’t give her, Jax. She wants us to be a family. I don’t know anything about family. ”

  “You’re wearing the scarf she made for you,” he pointed out. “That seems like a sisterly thing to do. ”

  “She’s been so alone. Her father’s a good man, but he’s a set designer. She spent most of her childhood on location, in the makeup and hair trailer or the production office. Her friends are all transient by the very nature of her job, changing from one project to the next. None of them have called her that I can tell. Her closest friend was her boss, and he dropped her like a bad habit when she got laid off due to the… situation. ” She put her hand over his, making him realize he was squeezing the bottle of Jack with white knuckles. “He wasn’t the one who hurt her physically,” she said softly.

  “Someone did,” he said flatly. “Someone hurt her plenty. ”

  Tara nodded and sipped her water. “Past tense, though. She’s getting stronger. You should have seen her giving poor old Mr. Jenkins what-for when he tried to rent another boat this morning. ” She smiled fondly. “She got all up in his grill, made him sign the form at her desk and say please and everything. ”

  He would have enjoyed seeing that. “She was down a quart in self-esteem and confidence when she first got here. ”

  “And that’s changing, in good part thanks to you. ” She stared into her glass. “She wants to make a go of this place. Only a complete bitch would turn her down. ”

  “Then don’t turn her down. ”

  Chapter 17

  “Learn from others’ mistakes. You don’t have

  enough time to make them all yourself. ”

  PHOEBE TRAEGER

  A few days later, Maddie headed into the tiny laundry room of the inn carrying a load of rags and towels. As an afterthought, she added in her filthy sneakers.

  “That’s a pretty flimsy excuse to get some dryer therapy,” Tara said, folding her clean clothes into perfect piles.

  “Dryer therapy?”

  “Sugar, everyone knows the shoes-in-the-dryer trick. But the dryer’s got nothin’ on the spin cycle. ” She gave a wicked smile and left.

  Maddie shook her head, then added detergent. While the load ran, she padded to the linen closet to continue cataloguing sheets and towels on the computer for inventory purposes. She’d downloaded several new programs designed specifically for running a small inn and was having more fun than she’d thought possible organizing and modernizing the place. Both Tara and Chloe were amazed and thrilled at her skills but baffled as to the happiness it gave her to organize.

  That was okay. She didn’t understand enjoying cooking or practicing yoga or making spa treatments, either. Hell, she barely enjoyed using the spa treatments.

  She glanced at her watch. For two days running, Ford had been giving her boating lessons. He was teaching her about all the marina’s equipment, how to use and care for it, but her favorite part had been learning what stern and stem meant.

  Take that, Mr. Jenkins.

  Jax was still building their new vanities at his shop, so he’d not been around during the day. She realized he was giving her the space he thought she wanted. But she’d come here to Lucky Harbor not wanting her past to count against her—which meant she had no right to count Jax’s against him.

  That was logic.

  Her heart wasn’t feeling so logical. She knew that Alex’s law degree wasn’t what made him an abusive asshole, and a lying one at that.

  Jax hadn’t lied, but he had held back. She’d be the liar if she said that it didn’t bother her.

  But then there was the biggest problem: was she ready to trust herself again with a man? Blowing out a breath, she went back to the laundry room to check on the loud clunking sound coming from the washer. Her tennis shoes. Tara’s words floated in her head—the dryer’s got nothing on the spin cycle.

  Suddenly it hit her what Tara had meant. Surely she couldn’t—could she? She glanced out the small window. No cars in the yard. She was alone.

  As usual.

  She stared at the shuddering washer and bit her lip. Then she hopped up on it. Just to disprove the theory, of course.

  Wow.

  Gripping the sides of the machine tightly as the ride began, she had to admit that Tara had been on to something.

  The thing had great rhythm.

  Eighteen minutes later, she shuddered in brief ecstasy then slumped back against the wall. Eyes closed, she stayed there catching her breath. Not nearly as good as Jax’s fingers—or other parts—but it had definitely taken the edge off—

  The washer suddenly stopped.

  In
the jarring silence, she opened her eyes. Jax stood in front of her as if she’d conjured him up, his finger on the off button.

  Oh, God. Arousal and embarrassment warred for space inside her, but she managed both with equal aplomb—she was nothing if not an excellent multitasker. “How long have you been there?”

  He stroked a damp curl off her forehead and pressed a single soft kiss to the pulse racing at the base of her throat. “Just got there. You okay?”

  Lord, the things he could do her with those lips. “Y—yes. ”

  “Sure?”

  “Uh-huh. ” She tried to look innocent. Like maybe she always just sat around. On a washer. While it was running. “Why?”

  “Because you’re all breathless and a little sweaty. ” His eyes were darkening, his voice lowering in timbre. “And you’re sitting on a washer. ”

  “Well, look at that, I am. There’s a perfectly good reason, actually. ”

  “Yeah?” he asked huskily.

  “Yeah. ” She bit her lower lip. “Except I don’t want to say. ”

  He looked at her for a long moment, his eyes hot enough to fry her brain. Bracketing her hips with a fist on either side of her, he ran his tongue along the outer shell of her ear, his voice soft and thick. “Was this one of those solo expeditions, Maddie?”

  “No. ” She closed her eyes and shivered when he lightly bit her earlobe. Oh, God. “Maybe. ”

  He groaned, and she drew in a shuddery breath. “And other than you, it’s my most successful expedition in a long time. ”

  He let out a soft bark of laughter and ran his thumb along her lower lip until her mouth trembled open, then leaned in for a kiss. “There’s nothing wrong with solo,” he murmured against her mouth. “But not solo is preferable. ”

  “Oh,” she breathed, trembling as he ran his hands down her body, his fingers grazing the sides of her breasts, then her hips and thighs.

  “Are you still thinking, Maddie? About us? Still taking a step back?”
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