The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 38

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  The next morning Ford took Mia out for a long sail. He’d discovered that his daughter liked early mornings, as he did, so they left just before the crack of dawn and caught the sunrise. He taught her how to motor away from the marina and then point the bow into the wind, how to work the mainsail with the halyard and crank it around the winch when she needed to, in order to get it hoisted. He had her unfurl and furl the jib and pull it out with the sheets, and now she stood in the cockpit, hands on the wheel, the sail billowing in front of her, the wind whipping her hair from her face, looking happy and carefree.

  Just watching her reminded Ford of a young Tara and warmed a place inside him that he hadn’t even realized was cold.

  She caught his eye. “What?”

  Smiling, he shook his head. “I’m just sitting here thinking how glad I am that you came looking for answers. ”

  “I don’t have them all yet,” she said.

  He loved her bluntness and hoped growing up didn’t beat that out of her. “All you have to do is ask. ”

  Mia steered into the wind like a pro, her face thoughtful. Then she suddenly ducked as they hit a swell. The spray hit Ford right in the face, making her laugh out loud, a beautiful sound.

  “You’re a quick learner,” he said, swiping his face with his shirt. “Jax still can’t pull that off. ”

  She grinned with pride. “Tara said you were the best of the best. ”

  “She did?”

  “Yeah. ” She nudged him with her shoulder. “She likes you. ”

  Ford laughed, but Mia didn’t. She just looked at him earnestly. “I have a couple of questions now,” she said.

  “Okay. Shoot. ”

  “The first one might seem intrusive. ”

  “Ask. ”

  “Do I have any genetic diseases to look forward to?”

  “No. Well, unless you count orneriness,” he said. “My grandma’s ninety and ornery as hell. ” He smiled thinking about her. He’d have to fly her up before the summer was over so she could meet Mia. “She’ll love you, though. What else?”

  “Are you afraid of anything?”

  “No. ”

  She rolled her eyes. “That’s a typical boy answer. Everyone’s afraid of something. Spiders? Snakes? Heights?”

  “Actually,” he said, “frogs. ”

  She stared at him. “Shut up. ”

  “No, it’s true, and it’s all Sawyer’s fault. We were ten. We’d told his dad we were staying at my place, and my grandma that we were staying at his, and then we went camping. ”

  “By yourselves?”

  “Yeah. That night he loaded my sleeping bag with frogs. When I got in, they crawled all over me. Slimy suckers. ” He shuddered. “To this day I can’t stand them. ”

  She was smiling, but then her smile faded, and she studied him in that careful way that she’d inherited from Tara. “Are you really not afraid of anything else?”

  He felt his own amusement drain as well. She was being serious, and she deserved for him to be as well. “Actually, there is one thing. ”

  Her gaze searched his. “What?”

  “I was afraid I’d never get to meet you. ”

  Her eyes shone brilliantly, those beautiful, heartbreaking eyes. “Lucky for you I found you then,” she whispered.

  “Lucky for me,” he repeated softly.

  Since Mia was scheduled to work at noon, eventually they headed back to the marina. Ford had her reverse their original process with the mainsail and jib, then motor back into the marina and dock. He stood over her as she tied up, but she had no problems, and pride burst from his chest. She was a natural.

  Tara came out of the marina office, a few files in her hands. When she saw the two of them standing on the dock, she stopped short.

  She looked tired and stressed, and Ford knew she had good reason. She’d been working at the inn and the diner, and working two jobs was stressful for anybody. And here he stood with Mia, the two of them clearly back from a sail, looking carefree, like they didn’t have a responsibility in the world.

  For years, Ford had purposely cultivated that perception. After the way he’d grown up, he liked living low-key and easygoing. No stresses, no worries. He enjoyed not caring too much about anything. You could care about whatever you wanted: your family, your next meal, whatever, and it didn’t amount to squat if you didn’t have the means to obtain it.

  He realized that having a daughter in his life should have been a threat to that lifestyle, or at the very least disturbed him. But it didn’t. And he also didn’t feel the same terror that he knew Tara felt about getting involved in Mia’s life. In fact, he relished it, because here was a kid who needed them. In return, he needed her, too.

  They belonged to each other by blood. No one could take that away.

  “Nice day for a sail,” Tara said.

  Mia grinned as she hopped off the boat. “Yep. You two should go out. ”

  “Oh,” Tara said, backing up a step. “I can’t. We’re really busy, and—”

  “Chloe and Maddie are at the inn, right?” Mia asked, giving Ford a sly look.

  Oh shit, Ford thought, Look at her go.

  “And I’m betting you already have dinner on,” Mia said to Tara. “Yeah?”

  “Berry Sweet Turkey and Cranberry Quiche,” Tara admitted.

  “See?” Mia nudged Tara toward the boat, giving Ford go-for-it eyes over Tara’s shoulder.

  His daughter, the smart, beautiful master schemer.

  “Everything’s handled,” she was saying to Tara, “so go, and I don’t want to see you back here for at least an hour, young lady. You hear me?”

  Ford had to bite back his smile. Oh, yeah. They were being horribly manipulated by a girl half their age. “Come on,” he said to Tara, taking her hand. “Let’s do this. Let’s go for a quick sail. ”

  “But you just went. ”

  “I could go all day long. And besides, like Mia said, it’s perfect out there. An hour, Tara. Let’s take an hour. ”

  “I have things to do. ”

  “You always do. ” He slowly but firmly reeled her in. “Chicken?” he asked softly, pressing his mouth to her ear.

  “Of course not. ”

  “One hour,” he repeated, then propelled her on board with an arm around her waist.

  Mia was beaming. “Gotta run,” she said and ran like hell up to the inn.

  Tara craned her neck to watch her go. “That girl’s going to make a great lawyer. ”

  “No doubt. ”

  Tara turned back and met Ford’s gaze, hers troubled. “I’m worried that we’re leading her on, setting her up for disappointment. ”

  “You need to stop worrying about things you can’t control. In fact, stop thinking altogether. For the next hour, your only job is to live in the moment. In the moment of a gorgeous day and…” He smiled. “Not such bad company. ”

  She hesitated, and he gently tugged on a strand of her hair. “What’s the matter? Still don’t trust yourself with me?”

  When she winced, telling him that was exactly what it was, he laughed. “An hour, Tara. That’s all. How much trouble can we get into in one hour?”

  She gave him a look of blatant disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”

  Ford smiled the most innocent smile in his repertoire. She didn’t buy it, but she nodded. “Okay,” she said, poking him in the chest. “But no monkey business. ”

  “Define monkey business. ”

  “No nakedness. ”

  “Well, damn,” he said. “There goes the strip tease I had planned. ” He gestured for her to step ahead of him into the cockpit, but she hesitated and gave him a speculative once-over.

  “Are you good at it?” she asked.


  “No. ” She laughed. A glorious sound. “Stripping. ”

  He felt his grin split his f