The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 23

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  “The attic. ” Chloe snatched the yellow Post-it pad from Tara’s fingers. “Give me those. You’re grounded. ” Chloe was wearing low-riding, skinny-legged Army cargos with a red tank top and her bright red Nike trainers. She’d been a surprising help and had created a large gift basket filled with her spa treatments. But she’d clearly had enough of the bossing around because she snatched the sticky note pad.

  “Why the attic?” Tara asked, fingers itching to grab the pad back.

  Chloe wrote something on a Post-it and slapped it to Tara’s chest. Tara pulled it off and read it out loud. “They like to do it up there. ” She stared at Chloe. “Are you shittin’ me?”

  “There you go losing your g’s again, Miss Daisy. But no, I’m not ‘shitting’ you. Remember back a few months ago when you sent them to the attic to get that antique end table? They took over an hour and told you they’d taken the time to polish it?”

  Tara closed her eyes. “They weren’t—”

  “Yep. Totally doing it. ”

  Lord. Maddie and Jax were like a couple of freaking newlyweds with a case of nearly expired condoms. “I’m surrounded by children. ”

  “Not exactly children,” Chloe said. “More like horn-dog teenagers. Come on, admit it. You’d totally do it up there if you could. ”

  “No, I wouldn’t. ”

  “Oh, right. That’s me. I’d do it up there if I could. Should I pull out my phone and ask Mr. Magic Eight app if that’s anywhere in your near future?” Without waiting for an answer, she did just that, then smiled at the answer.


  Chloe slid her phone away. She’d changed her hair streaks to midnight blue. They were twisted and pulled up, holding her hair in place like a headband. “So since Maddie and Jax are taking a break—and each other—and since you don’t seem to have that kind of a break in your future, I think we deserve a break of a different kind. ”

  “Can’t. ” Tara handed over a bucket of bathroom cleaning supplies.

  Chloe frowned down at them. “Cleaning is your thing. ”

  “Not today it’s not. ”

  “What’s wrong with our teenage slaves?”

  “Carlos is cleaning the front yard, and I’m acclimating Mia to my kitchen. ”

  Chloe blinked. “Huh?”

  “Yeah,” Tara said. “In a blatant attempt to bribe her into liking me, I’m letting her bake the meet-and-greet cookies. ”

  “Wait a minute. ” Chloe narrowed her eyes. “She gets to bake cookies, and I have to do toilets? I have seniority! Where’s the justice in that?”

  “You’re completely missing the significance of my gesture. You know how important the meet-and-greet cookies are. ”

  “How could I have forgotten?” Chloe said dryly. “What an honor you’ve bestowed upon her. ”

  “Hey, she’s my daughter. ” As the word left her mouth, Tara smiled. She couldn’t help it, she liked the way it felt rolling off her tongue.

  Chloe grinned unexpectedly. “You got a kick out of saying that. ”

  “I’m just stating a fact. ”

  “Admit it, Tara. ”

  Tara nodded and let a small smile escape. “I like saying it. ” So very much.

  “So she’s baking cookies, huh?”

  “Yes. ” Tara took in Chloe’s smug smile. “What? What don’t I know?”

  “Nothing. Except that she’s not baking. She’s nose up against the living room window watching Carlos hose down the yard. ” Chloe smiled. “Acclimating. ”

  Tara sighed.

  “I saw her at the diner this morning with Ford,” Chloe said. “They seemed to be having a good time. ”

  Something inside Tara warmed a little at that. For a guy who’d grown up without much direction or authority, Ford had some amazing people skills. Caring for and about others came naturally to him. Mia would love him instantly. But along with the warm fuzzies the image of them together gave her, she also felt a twinge of regret that she hadn’t yet gotten there with Mia.

  “She has his smile,” Chloe said. “And his laugh. ”

  So Mia was laughing for him. Of course she was. Ford did things like take her out to breakfast, employing his effortless charm and likability, while Tara burned breakfast and froze up when answering the simplest of questions.

  And now she was jealous. Perfect. Jealous, because Ford made it easy to love him, and Tara… well, she didn’t make it easy for anyone to care about her; she knew that. “Get cranking on that bathroom. I’ll be making beds. ”

  “One,” Chloe said. “You have to make one bed. For our two guests, who are married. Plus they’re newlyweds. They probably wouldn’t notice if you gave them no sheets at all. Now back to me for a minute—asthma makes me exempt from cleaning. ”

  “I realize that your asthma is a free get-out-of-jail card for just about everything you don’t want to do,” Tara said. “But I bought chemical-free cleaning agents. Nothing in any of them should bother you. ”

  “Fine. Just fine then. Call me Cinderella. ” Chloe blew out a breath and looked out the window, then let out a soft laugh.


  “Nothing. ”

  Oh, it was something. Tara moved to the window. Indeed, Carlos was out there hosing down the yard.

  With Mia now at his side.

  Carlos was both tough and quiet, and for the most part, utterly unreadable. His clothes added to his bad-boy persona, but he showed up on time, and until today, had always worked his ass off.

  At the moment, he wasn’t so much working as… posturing. And although Tara had heard him utter maybe ten sentences total in the past three months, the two of them were talking nonstop.

  Carlos smiled down at Mia and entirely missed the flowerbed that he was supposedly watering.

  Mia was standing as close to him as she could get without sharing his too big, unlaced Nikes. She was also doing something Tara had heard about but had not yet seen firsthand.

  She was laughing, a warm, genuine laugh that transformed her face.

  “It’s sweet,” Chloe said.

  “No. Not sweet. ” Tara shook her head. “He’s a seventeen-year-old boy, and there’s only one thing seventeen-year-old boys want. ”

  Chloe laughed. “Wow, you’re such a hypocrite. ”

  Tara sighed and rested her forehead on the glass. “She doesn’t smile like that for me. ”

  “Of course not. She’s not hoping that you’re going to kiss her later, either. ”

  Tara sighed again, and Chloe slid an arm around her. Shocked, Tara turned her head and met her younger sister’s gaze. They’d spent summers together as kids, and the past six months in each other’s pockets, and yet Tara could count on one hand the number of times they’d touched each other in affection.

  “It’s going to be okay,” Chloe assured her with a surprisingly gentle squeeze. “She’s going to be okay. She’s happy here. ”

  At the unexpected comfort from the most unexpected source, Tara felt her breath leave her in a whoosh. “You sure?”

  “Yes. And I get the feeling she hasn’t been happy in a while. Breathe, Tara. ”

  “I really hate it when people tell me to breathe. ”

  “Then you should do more of it on your own. ”

  Tara inhaled deeply, held it, then let it out. “I just wish she’d warm up to me. ”

  “Hey, she’s here, isn’t she? It’ll come. ” Chloe squeezed her again. “Let her be. For once in your life, don’t direct. Just let it happen and enjoy the ride. ”

  Tara paused and gave her the once-over. “Look at you, being all sweet. ”

  “I know, right?” Chloe flashed a grin. “I think I’d be great at sweet, but the truth is, that’s not what I’m doing. ”

  Tara sighed. She knew that was too good to last. “Okay. What do you want?”

  “To take off next week without y