The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 2

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  “Well, good,” Lucille said. “Because tonight’s Bingo Night at the Rec Center. ”

  Extremely aware of Ford standing way too close, Tara shifted on her wedged sandals. “Bingo’s not really my thing. ”

  “Well, mine either, honey,” Lucille said. “But there are men there and lots of ’em. A man could unwind you real nice. Isn’t that right, Ford?”

  “Yes, ma’am,” Ford said with an utterly straight face. “Real nice. ”

  “See?” Lucille said to Tara. “Sure, you’re a little young for our crowd, but you could probably snag a real live wire, maybe two. ”

  Tara had seen the Bingo Crowd. The “live wires” were the mobile ones, and using a walker qualified as mobile. “I don’t really need a live wire. ” Much less two.

  “Oh my dear,” Lucille said. “Every woman needs a man. Why even your momma—God rest her soul—used to say it was a shame you couldn’t buy sex on eBay. ”

  Beside her, Ford laughed softly. Tara very carefully didn’t look at him, the man she’d once needed with her whole being. These days she didn’t do “need. ”

  Chloe wisely and gently slipped her arm in Lucille’s. “I have friends in high places and can get around this line,” she told the older woman. “Come tell me all about all these live wires. ” She shot Tara a you-owe-me smile over her shoulder as she led Lucille away.

  Not that Tara could think about that because now she was alone with Ford. Or as alone as one could be while surrounded by hundreds of people. This was not how she’d envisioned the day going when she got up this morning and made that bargain with God, the one where she promised to be a better person if he gave her a whole day where she didn’t have to face anything from her past. But God had just reneged on the deal. Which meant she didn’t have to be a better person…

  Ford was looking at her. She could feel the weight of his gaze. She kept hers resolutely out on the water. Maybe she should take up knitting like her other sister, Maddie. Knitting was supposedly very cathartic, and Tara could use cathartic. The late afternoon sun sank lower on the ocean as if it was just dipping its toes in to cool off. She stared at it until long fingers brushed hers.

  “Tara. ”

  That was it, just her name from Ford’s lips, and just like that she… softened. She had no other word for what happened inside her body whenever he spoke to her. She softened, and her entire being went on full alert for him.

  Just like old times.

  Ford stood there, patient and steady, all day-old scruff and straight white teeth and sparkling gorgeous eyes, bringing out feelings she wasn’t prepared for.

  “Aren’t you going to offer me a muffin?” he asked.

  Since a part of her wanted to offer far more, she held her tongue and silently offered the basket. Ford perused his choices as if he was contemplating his life’s path.

  “They’re all the same,” Tara finally said.

  At that he flashed a grin, and her knees wobbled. Sweet baby Jesus, that smile should come with a label: WARNING: Prolonged exposure will cause yearning, lust, and stupidity. “Don’t you have a bar to run?” she asked.

  “Jax is there, handling things for now. ”

  Ford was a world-class sailing expert. When he wasn’t on the water competing, or listed in Cosmo as one of the year’s “Fun Fearless Males,” of all things, he lived here in Lucky Harbor. Here, with his best friend, Jax, he co-owned and ran The Love Shack, the town’s most popular watering hole. He did so mostly because, near as Tara could tell, he’d majored in shooting the breeze—which he did plenty of when he was behind the bar mixing drinks and enjoying life.

  She enjoyed life, too. Or enjoyed the idea of life.

  Okay, so she was working on the enjoying part. The problem was that her enjoyment kept getting held up by her reality. “Are you going to take a muffin or what?”

  Ford cocked his head and ran his gaze over her like a caress. “I’ll take whatever crumb you’re offering. ”

  That brought a genuine smile from her. “Like you’d settle for a crumb. ”

  “I did once. ” He was still smiling, but his eyes were serious now, and something pinged low in her belly.

  Memories. Unwelcome ones. “Ford—”

  “Ah,” he said very softly. “So you do remember my name. That’s a start. ”

  She gave a push to his solid chest. Not that she could move him if she tried, the big, sexy lout.

  And she’d forgotten nothing about him—nothing. “What do you want?”

  “I thought after all this time,” he said lightly, “we could be friends. ”

  “Friends,” she repeated.

  “Yes. Make polite conversation, occasionally see each other socially. Maybe even go out on a date. ”

  She stared at him. “That would make us more than friends. ”

  “You always were smart as hell. ”

  Her stomach tightened again. He wanted to sleep with her. Or not sleep, as the case might be. Her body reacted hopefully to the mere thought. “We don’t—” She closed her eyes to hide the lie. “We don’t like each other like that anymore. ”

  “No?” In the next beat, she felt the air shift as he moved closer. She opened her eyes just as he lifted his hand and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, making her shiver.

  He noticed—of course he did; he noticed everything—and his mouth curved. But his eyes remained serious, so very serious as he leaned in.

  To anyone watching, it would look as if he was whispering something in her ear.

  But he wasn’t.

  No, he was up to something far more devastatingly sneaky. His lips brushed against her throat, and then her jaw, and while she fought with a moan and lost, he whispered, “I like you just fine. ”

  Her body quivered, assuring herself she returned the favor whether she liked it or not.

  “Think about it, Tara. ”

  And then he was gone, leaving her unable to do anything but think of it.

  Of him.

  Chapter 2

  “Good judgment comes from bad experience. Unfortunately, most of that comes from bad judgment. ”


  A week later, the heat had amped up to nearly one hundred degrees. The beach shimmered, the ocean stilled, and Ford came back into Lucky Harbor after a sailing event he’d competed in down in Baja.

  He wasn’t on the world circuit anymore, but sometimes he couldn’t help himself. He liked the thrill of the race.

  The sense of being alive.

  He’d like to say that he’d worked his ass off most of his life to be the best of the best, but he hadn’t. Sailing had come relatively easily, as if he’d been born with the knack to read the waters and handle the controls of a boat, outguessing and outmaneuvering the wind as he pleased. He’d lived and breathed racing for as long as it’d been fun, in the process leaving blood and sweat and little pieces of his soul in every ocean on the planet.

  These past few days had been no different. And as it had been just last month in Perth, his time had been well spent, paying off big. Ford had placed in the top ten, pocketing a very lucrative purse for the honor.

  Once upon a time, it’d been all about the money. Back when he’d been so poor he couldn’t even pay attention.

  Now it was about something else. Something… elusive.

  The win should have left him feeling flush and happy, and yeah, for a brief moment, the adrenaline and thrill had coursed through his body, fooling him with the elusive, fleeting sense of having it all.

  But it’d faded quickly, leaving… nothing.

  He felt nothing at all.

  And damn if he wasn’t getting tired of that. He’d gotten back late last night, docking at the Lucky Harbor marina. He’d spent the morning cleaning up his Finn, the strict, simple design solo boat he raced in. Then he’d done a maintenance check on his thirty-two