The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 18

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  It was terrifying as well, because the opportunity for an epic failure had never been greater. It wasn’t as if she had a great track record succeeding at… well, anything.

  But there was always a first time. This was what she told herself. It gave her hope. With the phones starting to ring and bookings coming in, and with Chloe still coming and going and Maddie feeling in over her head, they’d put out an ad for another part-time employee. They already had interviews set up with a few high school students hopefully willing to do grunt work relatively cheaply.

  Plenty of the Lucky Harbor curious stopped by: Lucille toting recipes, Lance and Tucker proposing the possibility of delivering ice cream on the weekends from their shop, Sawyer to mooch coffee—the inn was on his way to work and he preferred Tara’s coffee to the station’s.

  If nothing else, the distractions soaked up some of the terror over the upcoming opening, and took up all of Tara’s available brain space, leaving none for her other problems.

  Such as her man problems.

  That she could even think that phrase—man problems—was as amazing as it was ridiculous. She never had man problems.

  She never had men!

  To her surprise, Logan had been serious about staying in town. He’d rented a small beach cottage a few miles up the road and had come by each day. Tara had no idea what to make of that. Her entire marriage had been about her chasing him. It felt odd, to say the least, that things were reversed.

  As for Ford, he was around. He’d served her drinks the other night when she’d gone to The Love Shack with Chloe and Maddie. He’d been at the marina yesterday working on his boat.

  But there’d been no one-on-one conversations between them. And given that she knew he was all too aware of Logan being in town, she got the unspoken message.

  He wasn’t going to press, push, or fight for her. Shock. Ford never pressed, pushed or fought. Things either came right to him, like moths to a flame, or they didn’t.

  Not being a moth, Tara was on her own to do as she pleased. She just wasn’t exactly sure what would please her.

  Okay, big fat lie. She knew what would please her, and that was one Ford Walker, served straight up. But hell if she’d go through that again….

  A week after their not-so-awkward morning after, Tara headed out at the crack of dawn to return his crepe pan, which she’d used and loved. She needed to buy herself one the next time she had a couple hundred bucks lying around.

  It took ten minutes to drive to his house, ten minutes she told herself she didn’t have to spare. She should have given him the pan back at the marina. That would have been the logical and reasonable thing to do. Except as it applied to Ford, Tara didn’t have a logical or reasonable bone in her body.

  At least his house was easy enough to get to. He lived on the bluffs above the inn. As the sun rose over the mountains, casting a pink glow over the morning, she parked and headed up his walk. A small part of her secretly hoped she caught him in bed. But that really was a very small part.

  The bigger part hoped he was in the shower.

  She looked around and realized that she didn’t see his car, which pretty much rained on the waking-him-up parade. Wondering where he was—or who he might be with so early—put a hitch in her step.

  None of your business, she told herself. None. She blew out a breath, opened her cell phone, and called him.

  “Hey,” he said in his usual sex-on-a-stick voice. “Miss me?”

  She ignored both that and the floaty feeling the sound of his voice put in her stomach. “I’m returning your pan,” she said. “I’m on your porch. ” She paused, hoping he’d tell her where he was.

  “Let yourself in,” he said and gave her the code to unlock the door.

  “Where should I leave it, in your kitchen?”

  “Or on my bed,” he said.

  “You want the Le Creuset on your bed,” she repeated, heavy on the disbelief.

  “No, I want you on my bed. What are you wearing?”

  She pulled the cell away from her ear and stared at it. “You did not just ask me that. ”

  “Never mind,” he said. “I’ll just picture you how I want you. ”

  “And how would that be?” The words popped out of her before she could stop them, fascinated in spite of herself.

  “Hmm,” he mused silkily. “Maybe a French maid outfit. ”

  “That’s…” She struggled a minute with why the thought turned her on. “Outdated and anti-feminist,” she finally said, a little weakly. “Not to mention subservient. ”

  “I like the subservient part,” Ford mused. “A few ‘yes sirs’ would be nice. ”

  “You are one seriously warped man. ”

  “No doubt. ” His voice was low and sexy, and it made her forget herself, made her forget that all he wanted was her body. Especially since at the moment, she wanted his.

  “I can be there in twenty minutes,” he said, a smile in his voice.

  “No. Don’t even think about it. ” Tara ignored the flutter in her belly. She couldn’t help it. Even when he was being a Neanderthal, he still turned her on. Sure, she’d just been fantasizing about catching him in the shower, but that had been just a fantasy. She needed to live firmly in reality. “We’re done with that. ”

  “Bet I can change your mind. ”

  “I have no doubt,” Tara said. God, she needed help. “But you’re a nice guy, so you won’t. ”

  “I’m not that nice a guy. ”

  Great. Just great. “You’ve been an absent guy. ”

  He was quiet a moment. “Didn’t see a need to complicate anything for you. ”

  Like a reunion with Logan. Tara drew in a deep breath. “You ever think that sometimes complications are worth the trouble?”

  “No. ”

  Quick and easy and brutally honest. It was Ford’s way. She’d have to think about that later. Right now, she punched in his front door code and listened to the lock click open. “Are you sure you don’t want me to just leave the pan on the step?” she asked. “It’d be safe. ” In Lucky Harbor, just about everything was safe.

  Except her heart, she was discovering.

  “Are you afraid to step inside my lair?” Ford teased.

  “Ha. And no. I’ll leave it on your table. ”

  “Ten-four. ” He paused. “Are you going to snoop around while you’re in there?”

  “No. ” Maybe. “What would I snoop around in?”

  “I don’t know. My underwear drawer?”

  The last time she’d touched his underwear, he’d been wearing them. But just the thought of him in his BVDs brought a rush. “No,” she said quickly.

  Too quickly, because he laughed softly. “You can if you want to,” he said, lowering his voice. “You can do whatever you want, Tara. Flip through my porn, eat the enchiladas I made last night from Carlos’s abuelo’s recipe…”

  “Wait. ” She promptly forgot about underwear, porn, and jumping his bones. “Carlos gave you his abuelo’s recipe? I’ve been asking him for it forever. ”

  “Yes, but do you take him out on the water every week and teach him to sail? Or teach him how to pick up girls so as to achieve maximum basage?”


  “You know, first base, second base—”

  “Ohmigod,” she said. “You are such a guy!”

  He was laughing now. “Guilty as charged. ”

  Tara sighed. “So it’s a boy’s club; is that what you’re saying?”

  “Uh huh. And I’m glad to say that you do not have the right equipment to join. ”

  “I want that recipe, Ford. ”

  “Only men are allowed to have it. It’s been handed down that way for generations. ”

  “You’re making that up. ”

  He didn’t say anything, but she could practically hear him smiling. “Please?” she asked