The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 33

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  The women all hooted and hollered. “Nice eight pack!” Amy said. She was a waitress at the diner, and tonight she was also Sandy’s fearless wingman. In her late twenties, she was tall and leggy and blonde, and in possession of a smile that said she was not only tough as hell, but up for dealing with whatever came her way. “Your turn, Ford,” she said with a grin.

  This produced even more ear-splitting woo-hoos. Ford looked at Sawyer, who raised his beer in a go-for-it toast.

  Oh hell, no. “We’ve had this conversation,” Ford told whoever was listening, which was exactly no one. “I’m not going to show you my stomach. ”

  This only made them all yell louder.

  Logan grinned. “You’re afraid of the competition. It’s okay; no worries. ”

  Goddammit. Ford wasn’t afraid of shit. So he lifted his shirt.

  The crowd went crazy.

  Sawyer shook his head.

  Ford sighed.

  “Nice,” Amy said. “I declare a tie. ”

  Sandy was on the fence. “I don’t know. I think we need more examples. ”

  At this, Amy grinned wider and turned to Ford and Logan. “You heard her, boys—whip ’em out. Sandy, you gotta tape measure?”

  Ford, who’d just taken a drink from his Coke, choked. Sawyer smacked him on the back, hard.

  “Worth a shot,” Amy said with a shrug.

  Sandy smiled and nudged her shoulder to Logan’s. “Never mind the poll, Logan. Besides, Tara’s not the only woman in town. You know that, right?”

  He sent her a slow smile. “She’s not?”

  “Nope. ” Sandy scooted a little closer to him. “And you can be my superhero any time. ”

  At two a. m. , Tara was still lying in bed, gazing at the clock. In a few hours, she needed to be wide awake and making breakfast for their guests’ last day, but she couldn’t relax enough to sleep.

  And this time, it had nothing to do with Chloe’s snoring, because Chloe wasn’t even home yet. She’d gone out with Lance and friends, and they were God knew where, doing God knew what.

  Maddie was at Jax’s, safe and sound. One worry off Tara’s plate, but she had plenty more. She’d caught Mia and Carlos in the marina building earlier. She wasn’t sure exactly what she’d interrupted since they’d leapt away from each other faster than she could blink, but the guilt on their faces had been disturbing.

  Short of firing one of them or locking Mia in a chastity belt, what could she do without looking like a first-class hypocrite of the highest order?

  And then there was Ford. A small part of her wanted to be cuddled up with him right now. Okay, a big part. She fluffed her pillow and once again tried to fall asleep. It didn’t happen. She started wondering if the bills had gotten sent out, and if she had gas in her car, and whether or not she had fresh peaches for tomorrow’s pie. And where was Chloe, dammit? Rolling out of bed, she picked up her cell phone. “You’d better be okay,” she said to Chloe’s voice mail, then hung up and padded into the bathroom, where she took a hot bath. Thirty minutes later, warm and toasty, she climbed back into bed to try again.

  Her heart tripped when she saw her cell phone, blinking multiple missed calls on the nightstand. The last time that had happened in the middle of the night, Chloe had been arrested with Lance for staging a sit-in at one of the Washington logging companies up on Rascal Pass. “Be okay,” she whispered to Chloe as she accessed her messages, her pulse pounding. “Please be okay so I can kill you myself. ”

  The first message was indeed from her sister. “I’m fine,” came Chloe’s voice. “I’m alive and playing paintball at an all-night venue—don’t wait up. And Jesus, stop worrying, I’m a big girl. ”

  “Oh sure,” Tara muttered to no one. “I’ll just stop worrying. Cuz it’s that easy. ”

  The next message surprised Tara into dropping her irritation.

  “Tara,” came Ford’s voice, not quite sounding like his usual laid-back self. “Yeah, so I thought you should know that I don’t think I’m a bad idea. I mean I can be bad, but I can be good, too. I can do good things… lots of very good bad things…” His voice was all low and husky, and combined with the words, had heat slashing through Tara’s stomach. “But,” he went on with deliberate slowness. “I don’t think I can be your superhero. ”

  At that, she pulled the phone away from her ear to stare at it. Superhero? Where had that come from? In the background, she could hear loud music and lots of laughter. Probably The Love Shack.

  “I’m maybe, possibly a little drunk,” he said, and shock reverberated through Tara. Ford wasn’t a drinker. His biological father had been, and one of his stepfathers, and it’d turned him off of alcohol. Plus, for as easygoing as he was, he liked his control.

  A lot.

  “So this superhero thing,” he went on. “All the skills I have, you’ve already seen. I’m guessing I do okay in the body department, because you seem to like it well enough. After all, just a few nights ago you were licking my—”

  At this point, there seemed to be a scuttle with the phone, and Tara could hear Sawyer in the background saying “just hang up, man, or I’ll do it for you and consider it a public service. ”

  “Back off,” came Ford’s voice, and then there was another tussle. “Some people have no fuckin’ manners,” he said, slurring slightly. “I want you to know that if I could be your superhero, I totally would. But there’s no way my ass is gonna wear a pair of tights, not even for you. ” He paused thoughtfully. “I could do sex slave, though. That seems like a fair trade, right?”

  Tara laughed and covered her mouth in utter surprise. The man was clearly drunk and uncharacteristically out of control, and yet he could still make her laugh. And if the truth was known, in the bedroom Ford had never failed to command anything less than her full attention. Which meant he had it backward. She was a slave to him. To his hands, his mouth…

  “What I’m trying to say is that I’ll always be there for you, Tara. You need someone to help you, I’m your guy. You need a couple or three orgasms? I’m your personal toy. You need to let off some steam, someone to yell at, I’ll be your doormat. Wait. Skip that. I’m not a good doormat—Hey,” he said to someone else. “Back the fuck off—”


  Tara was looking at her phone when the last message came on. “Goddammit. Logan’s still here, and he stole my phone. Fucker. He had his shot with you and blew it. ” His voice lowered again. “He doesn’t see you like I do, Tara. All in charge and bossy and sexy as hell with it. He wants you barefoot and pregnant. Nothing wrong with that, but you’re more. So much more…”

  Tara felt her throat tighten as the message ended. He did see her. The real her. She took a minute to gather her thoughts, then decided she couldn’t possibly not call him.

  He picked up just before it would have gone to voice mail. “Hey,” he said, sounding rougher than he had in his messages. “It’s late. You okay?”

  “I was going to ask you the same thing, Sailor. ”

  “I’m good,” he said. “But I could be better. ”

  “Need a ride?” she asked.

  There was a beat of surprise. “You’d do that?”

  “Yes,” she said without hesitating.

  “Would you do it for Logan?”

  She closed her eyes and decided to give him the truth. “Not without killing him first. ”

  “But you wouldn’t kill me?”

  “Maybe just maim or dismember. ”

  “Bloodthirsty,” Ford said, sounding cheered by the thought.

  “Yeah. ” She hesitated. “Ford, about Logan. ”

  “Is this the part where you tell me you and I have been nothing but a mistake?”

  “No. It’s the part where I tell you that Logan’s not a factor between us. ”

  Another beat of surprise. “Okay, keep talking. ”

  She let out a huf