The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 11

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  And south of her stomach.

  She told herself to ignore the attraction that she didn’t want, but her hormones had their own agenda. Forcing herself to tear her eyes off him, she took in the kitchen, and how it felt to use it for the first time. It felt good, she realized. Really good. And there was something else. With Ford in it, the room seemed cozy, intimate.

  And damn if he wasn’t taking up too much of it.

  The air had begun to smell like heaven, and Tara could hear the sizzle and pop of the oil. Her mouth watered. “So about this surprising me thing. ”

  “Hush,” he said, and before she could hurt him for that, he nudged her wine glass to her lips. “Just stand there and give your brain a couple of minutes off. Five minutes, Tara. Better yet, sit. ” He gently pushed her onto a barstool. “Take a deep breath. ” He waited until she did. “Good,” he said. “Now let it out, slowly. Repeat a few times. ”

  She glared at him, but continued to breathe. Slow. In and out. She drank. Breathed some more. And damn if after five minutes she didn’t feel a whole hell of a lot better about the evening. “It’s the wine,” she said.

  He refilled her glass and handed her a plate loaded with fried chicken. “It’s also the company. ”

  Tara laughed at his cockiness and took a bite of his chicken. And then moaned. “Lord almighty. ”

  He smiled. “Yeah?”

  “Oh yeah. This is amazing. ” She pointed at him. “Which you already know and which doesn’t get you off the hook. Okay, so one more time, slowly and precisely—why were you putting my spices away?”

  “Because your sisters asked me to. They asked because you’re a control freak who’ll bitch the air blue if they get left on the counter. ”

  “I am not a—” She broke off and drew in a deep, relaxing breath. She was. She really was a complete and utter control freak. Another deep breath. Another sip of wine.

  His eyes were laughing at her, which she ignored because he was back to unloading her spices. “You can’t put the basil and cumin so close to the stove,” she said. “They’ll go bad. ”

  “They need to be in easy reach, and if this place sees anything close to the kind of business I think it will, the spices won’t last long enough to go bad. ”

  She stood up and moved close to reach out and stop him, accidentally brushing against his big body. That was so supremely annoying—seriously, could he be any sexier?—that she forgot to apologize. In fact, she might have given him a little tiny shove to get out of her way.

  He held his ground, refusing to budge.

  “Everything goes bad,” she murmured, trying to reach the basil. She couldn’t have it next to the cumin—yuck.

  “Not everything,” he said, and shifted to come up right behind her, crowding her.

  Of their own accord, her eyes drifted closed and her body quivered. Because no matter how much time had passed, every part of her remembered every part of him. Gripping the countertop in front of her, she bowed her head and choked out his name as his long arms came around her.

  But instead of touching her, he grabbed the basil for her without even stretching, the tall, gorgeous bastard, and set it down in front of her.

  “The poppy seeds will start to smell disgusting if they’re not in the fridge,” she said.

  Lowering his head, he sniffed at her neck.

  “Not me,” she said with a low, helpless laugh. “The poppy seeds. ”

  “You’re right. Because you smell amazing. You always did. ”

  Oh, God. Her knees actually wobbled at that. “I smell like fried chicken. ”

  “Mh-mmm. Finger lickin’ good. ”

  Her fingers turned white on the counter. “Why did my sisters pick you to do this?”

  “Because I offered to. Jax offered, too, but he’s kitchen-challenged, so they wouldn’t let him. ”

  “I didn’t ask for help. ”

  “No kidding. ” He turned Tara to face him, his expression amused. “You’d choke on your own tongue before you asked for help. This was to be a surprise for you, Tara. A fully stocked kitchen, ready to go. ”

  That Maddie and Chloe had even wanted to do this for her touched Tara more than she could have imagined.

  “Oh, and I brought you my crepe pan. ” Ford gestured toward the island counter. “Maddie said you’d wanted to make crepes but that you didn’t have a good pan for it. ”

  She glanced at it, then let out a low breath. A Le Creuset. She pushed past him to run a reverent finger over the beautiful pan and nearly moaned. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

  He let her drool over it for a moment before speaking again. “As for why it’s me specifically doing the stocking…” He shrugged. “I know what I’m doing. ”

  Yes, this was true. Ford always knew exactly what he was doing.

  “I was just startled to see you in here is all,” she said. “Given that we… that I—”

  “Hate me,” he said mildly.

  A knot formed in her throat and couldn’t be swallowed away. “I don’t hate you, Ford. I never hated you. ”

  He was quiet a moment, just watching her. The earlier spark in his eyes was gone. “They trusted me to do this for you,” he said simply. “Just as, once upon a time, you trusted me, too. ” With that, he slid his earphones back in and dismissed her, going back to unpacking.

  She stared at his broad shoulders, the stiff back, and realized she wasn’t the only one with some residual resentment issues. Something sank low in her gut at that, possibly a big serving of humble pie. Dammit. She was a lot of things, but a complete bitch wasn’t one of them. With a sigh, she came up behind him. “Ford. ”

  Not answering, he opened another cabinet and studied the space.

  Ducking beneath his outstretched arms, she stepped in between him and the counter and turned to face him.

  He looked down at her, and she found herself holding her breath. Unintentional as it’d been, now she was standing within the circle of his arms, and more memories slammed into her.

  Good, warm, fun, sexy memories…

  Even with the wedged heels that Boyd had resented, she only came up to Ford’s chin. When he’d been seventeen, he’d been this tall, but he’d been much rangier from not having enough to eat, and also from working two, sometimes three jobs in a day. That had been before he’d gotten onto the sailing circuit and made a decent living in endorsements. Though looking at him now, one would never know money was no longer an issue. The man might drive her crazy, but he didn’t have a pretentious bone in his perfect body.

  And the body… goodness. He’d filled it out, with solid muscle and a double dose of testosterone. There was also a level of confidence, an air that said he’d listen to whatever anyone had to say but that he wouldn’t necessarily give two shits about it. She met his gaze and drew a shaky breath.

  He didn’t move. His eyes were dark and unfathomable, his body relaxed and at ease. He was waiting for her to speak, or maybe, better yet, to go away. “Thank you for doing this,” she said.

  “You’re welcome. ” His voice was lower now, and slightly rough as well, leaving her with the oddest and most inexplicable urge to reach up and put her hand on his face to soothe him.

  She’d done that for him, once upon a time. She’d been there to listen, to ease his aches, to touch him when he needed.

  He’d done the same for her.

  They’d healed each other.

  And now there was a huge gaping hole between them, and she had no idea how to cross it.

  Or if she even wanted to.

  No, that was a lie. A part of her wanted to cross it. Badly. But before she could go there, he turned away, going back to stocking her cabinets. Which he was doing simply because her sisters had asked him.

  They couldn’t have found anyone better equipped for the job. Ford had always cooked. Hell, he ran a bar and grill