The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 39

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  Again she could leave it, or give him the truth. “Because my life had fallen apart, and I really had nothing to go back to. ”


  “And…” Dammit. “Because I like being a part of a unit. I like being with my sisters, even when we fight. ”

  A very small smile played at the corners of his mouth. “And?”

  She stared at him, feeling a little… exposed. “Isn’t this getting a little deep for you?”


  “Yes. Drawing me out, asking all of life’s burning questions. Not your usual M. O. when we’re alone like this. ”

  Ford looked into her face for what felt like a very long time, not saying anything. “I need you to do something for me,” he finally said.

  She shook her head. “Oh, no. I already told you, no monkey business. ”

  She expected a smile at that, but instead there was a spark of very rare temper in his eyes. “Don’t paint all men with the same brush as your ex-husband or your father,” he said.

  “They’re both good men,” she reminded him.

  “Yes, but also by the very nature of their lives, selfish, even neglectful. ”

  “It was their jobs,” she said, defending them. “They both traveled and were gone all the time because of their jobs. ”

  “It’s about choices. I’m different, Tara. And you need to remember that. Maybe even take a chance on it sometime. A real chance. ”

  Her heart was suddenly in her throat. “We’ve tried that. ”

  “We should try again. ”

  Oh, God. She wanted to. “You wouldn’t know what hit you,” she whispered.

  The corners of his mouth curved slightly. “I never do when it comes to you. ”

  “I need to be getting back. ”

  “It’s been fifteen minutes. You owe me forty-five more. I’d think after working as hard as you have, you’d enjoy this. ”

  She watched as he adjusted their direction slightly so they glided easily through the swells. “I’m used to hard work. ”

  “And not so used to fun,” he said.

  “No. ” Tara eyed the horizon, clear and wide open. Gorgeous. “But you’re right, I am enjoying this. It’ll fill my fun quota for the whole week. ”

  Ford slid an arm around her and pulled her in close, brushing his mouth to her temple. “I bet we could come up with something even better for you. ”

  “Like old times?”

  “If you like. ”

  She tipped up her head and met his gaze, seeing both the heat and the teasing there, and felt her stomach quiver. “I’m not that same girl,” she warned him. “The one who used to live her days just to be with you and have fun every night. ”

  “I know. You grew up. Became a smart, amazing woman. But you’re still just going through the motions, not allowing for enough fun. ”

  “No monkey business,” she reminded him, her voice far too unsteady to convince herself, much less him, dammit.

  Ford just smiled. “What if you’re the one to start it?”

  “I won’t be,” she said with far more confidence than she felt.

  He was still looking amused, and she couldn’t blame him. She had a history of being very weak where he was concerned. Very weak. And then there was watching him handle the boat, looking quite in charge and at ease as he did so. He stood legs apart, braced for the wind whipping at him. The sun gilded his tanned skin, reflected off his sunglasses. He wore a USA T-shirt and navy blue board shorts just past his knees, which clung to his every line and muscle as he moved with such innate grace that it was hard to believe that he was so big.

  “Sheet it in?” he asked.

  She was proud to be able to lean over and pull the sail in tight. She was halfway there when a swell hit and leveled her with a wall of water, leaving her dripping from hair to toes and gasping for breath.

  Ford grinned. “You’re supposed to duck. ”

  Tara narrowed her eyes. “Do you have any idea how long it took me this morning to have a good hair day?” She squeezed the water from it, but it was too late. The frizzies were upon her, she could tell. “I mean you get to wash, shake, and go, and come out perfect while you’re at it. But look at me. ”

  They both looked at her. Her blouse was thin and wet, and working like a second skin now. Ford had been smiling during her little tirade, complete with hand waving. The corners of his mouth had twitched into the promise of an amused smile, but that was replaced by something darker and hungrier now as he set the controls and stalked toward her.

  “Oh, no you don’t. ” She backed up a step and pointed at him. “You stay right there. Or—”

  Ford kept coming. “Or what?”

  “Things’ll happen,” she said, slapping a hand to his chest. “Naked things. Really great naked things, but no. ” She shook her head. Be strong. “I’ve gotten it out of my system, Ford. I mean it. ”

  He reached for her. She tried to step back but she had nowhere to go. “Okay, well, maybe not all the way out of my system,” she admitted, “But we have this little chemistry problem—it’s not anyone’s fault. We just have to stay strong. Ford!” she gasped when he caught her up against his warm, hard body.

  His rich laugh washed over her and felt like a touch, a kiss. “Stop,” she said weakly. “You’re getting me all worked up. ”

  He dipped his head and rubbed his jaw to hers. “I love it when you get all worked up. Your eyes flash, and you say what you’re really thinking. ”

  “You’re all wet now. You realize that?”

  “Mmm, I think that’s you. ” He rocked his body to hers. “Tell me just how wet you are. Slowly. In great detail. ”

  “You’re impossible. ”

  “Incorrigible, too,” he said. “And like you said, wet. Maybe I should strip. ”

  Oh, yes. “No!” But she slid her arms around his neck. “What is it with you and stripping?” She snuggled into him. Lord, she was so damn weak. “How much time is left?”

  He tossed his head back and laughed. “Thirty minutes. ”

  She blew out a breath. “Probably I only need ten to fifteen. ”

  He was still grinning. “Is this you starting it?”

  She looked into his eyes. God, she missed this. The fun. The teasing. The laughing. Talking…

  Him. “If I say yes, are you going to hold it against me?”

  “Yes,” Ford assured her. “I’m going to hold it against you for every single one of those minutes we have left. ” He dropped anchor and pulled her below deck, nudging her along toward his bed.

  As if Tara needed nudging. She was practically running. She hit the mattress and rolled to her back, watching as Ford slowly peeled his wet shirt over his head. He untied his board shorts and let them slide off his hips to join the shirt on the floor.

  She heard herself moan as she took him in, one glorious inch at a time, and there were a lot of glorious inches.

  “I love your uptight, prissy clothes. ” That said, he stripped her right out of them until she was in just her peach lace bikini panties. He dropped to his knees beside the mattress and shot her a bad-boy smile. He gripped her ankles in each hand and leaned in to kiss her calf before slowly working his way up.

  She was writhing by the time he got to her inner thighs.

  He hooked his thumbs in the lace at her hips and slid it down her legs, stroking a thumb over what he’d revealed. “Pretty,” he said silkily, then lowered his head and worked his usual magic. And, as it turned out, she didn’t need fifteen minutes. She only needed five.

  “In me,” Tara demanded when she could breathe again. She sat up, trying to pull him over her.

  But he wouldn’t be budged.

  Or rushed.

  “Shh,” he said, not sinking into her. Dammit. Instead, he put a hand to her chest and pushed her back down on the bed. Before she could work up her