The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 46

  Author: Jill Shalvis Ford blinked blearily at his cards. “You sure?”

  “Wow. ” Mia giggled. “They must have given you some good stuff, huh, Dad?”

  Ford went still and stared her. “Did you just—”

  “Yeah,” Mia said softly. “Weird?”

  “Yes. ” He smiled at her dopily. “The absolutely best kind of weird. You should probably ask me all my secrets now. I’m mush and high. I’ll sing like a canary. ”

  Mia grinned. “What kind of secrets do you have?”

  “Deep, dark ones. ”


  “Like how I watch Hell’s Kitchen. Shh,” he said, bringing a finger to his lips and nearly taking out an eye. “And I change the locks at the bar just to mess with Jax’s head. Oh, and I push Tara’s buttons cuz I like it when she gets all pissy. ”

  Mia laughed. “You really are high. Make me understand why you two aren’t a thing again?”

  “Me and Jax? He’s engaged to someone else now, so…”

  “You know I mean Tara,” she said, still laughing.

  Ford looked at his cards as if they might hold the answer.

  “Come on, it’s not that tough a question. ”

  “Yes, it is. And didn’t I tell you all this already?”

  “No, actually,” Mia said. “You never have. Tara did. Well, kind of. But not you. ”

  Standing in the doorway, still half-hidden behind the privacy curtain, Tara covered her mouth with her fingers to avoid interrupting them.

  “It’s complicated,” Ford finally said. “But that’s also a bullshit answer, and I’ve always promised myself if I ever got the chance to know you, I wouldn’t bullshit you. ”

  He’d thought about this, Tara realized. About getting to know Mia, being with her. He’d thought about it, and he’d wanted it.

  It was to her own shame that she’d tried not to do the same, otherwise the guilt would have killed her a long time ago.

  “I’m glad, cuz I have a highly sensitive bullshit meter,” Mia said.

  A half-smile curved Ford’s mouth as he reached for the teen’s hand. “You get that from Tara, you know. You get a lot from her. Your inner strength, your determination, your brains. All your best parts actually, they come from her, not me. ”

  Tara pressed her free hand over her aching heart.

  “So would you finally just tell me?” Mia asked softly. “Will you tell me about you two, how it was back then? You know, since you’re high and all. ”

  Ford let out a long breath. “I was bad news for her, Mia. ”

  Tara’s breath caught. Out of all the things she expected him to say, that hadn’t been on the list.

  “Did she tell you that?” Mia asked. “That you were bad for her?”

  He hadn’t been, Tara thought with a lump in her throat. He’d been wonderful. Exactly what she’d needed. She’d been inexperienced, but he hadn’t taken advantage of her. And the truth was, she’d wanted him as badly as he’d wanted her. When she’d gotten pregnant, he’d felt guilty as hell.

  It hadn’t been his fault. Not all of it, anyway. There’d been two of them in his bed, and once he’d taught her how good their bodies could feel together, it’d been all she’d wanted to do with him.

  “No,” Ford said. “She never said that. ”

  “Probably because she didn’t see it that way,” Mia said.

  Ford shrugged, and hands still over her mouth and heart, Tara shook her head. She hadn’t seen him as bad for her. Ever. She’d seen past his roughness, the tough exterior, to the caring, warm boy beneath.

  “It wasn’t going to happen,” Ford said. “Us. I couldn’t have taken care of her any more than I could have taken care of you, no matter how much I wanted to. Truth is, she was made for better things than being stuck with me in this small town that she hated. ”

  “What about love?” Mia asked. “If you loved each other—”

  “We were seventeen,” Ford said gently. “We didn’t know real love. ”

  Mia made a sound that said she disagreed. Vehemently. But still out of view, Tara nodded in understanding. Maybe she would have said they’d been at least a little in love, but she wouldn’t judge him. She was the last person to judge.

  “Okay,” Mia said. “So Tara left, and you… what? You just let her go?”

  She sounded so disappointed, and Ford laughed softly without mirth. “God, you really did get so much from her. ” He paused. “Yeah, I let her go. She wasn’t happy with me over that. It took nearly six months of her being back in Lucky Harbor before she’d even talk to me. ”

  “She was mad at you for letting her walk away?”

  “Oh, yeah. And I deserved that. ”

  “But you did it out of love!” the romantic Mia said dramatically. “You thought she deserved better. ”

  “It wasn’t all altruistic,” he admitted. “I’ve tended to go the easy route. And Tara doesn’t know the meaning of the word easy. ”

  He sounded… proud, Tara thought. Proud of her.

  “And what about now?” Mia wanted to know. “Now that you’re both older and together in the same place, it might end differently. Right?”

  The ache deepened, spreading through Tara’s entire chest as a nurse brushed past her and in the room. “Okay, Mr. Walker,” she called out. “You’ve been cleared and released. You’re free to go if you have someone to help you home. ”

  Tara stepped into the room as well, and raised her hand. “That would be me. ”

  Ford’s eyes locked with hers. “Sawyer could—”

  “It was my tree,” she said, oddly loath to let anyone else help him. “It’s the least I can do. ”

  Ford took up the entire backseat of Tara’s car with his stretched-out leg, leaving the front seat for Logan, which he gleefully took.

  Sawyer picked up Mia and Chloe. He offered to take Ford as well, but Tara was still unwilling to part with him and used the excuse that he was already loaded in her car. She got behind the wheel, and nervous with both Ford and Logan watching her, took the first turn a little rough, nearly dumping Ford to the floor.

  Logan smirked and eyed Ford in the rearview mirror. “Got to lean into the turns, Mariner Man. Learn to use your body. ”

  Ford gritted his teeth. “I know how to use my body just fine. ”

  “So do I. Tell him, Tara. ”

  Tara glared at Logan. “Don’t you make me stop this car. Because I totally will. ”

  Unrepentant, Logan shrugged. Tara went out of her way to drop him off first. When she pulled up to his rented beach cottage, he slumped in the seat. “Hey. Why do I have to go home first?”

  “Because you’re the one most likely to be strangled,” she said. “By me. ”

  At that, Ford stopped scowling in the backseat and sat up a little straighter.

  “Fine,” Logan said. “But I need you to walk me in. ”


  “Maybe I’m dizzy from the meds. ”

  “Cortisone makes you dizzy?”

  He lifted his chin. “Yes, for your information, it does. I feel a little sick, too. I almost died, you know. ”

  Tara sighed, threw the car into park, and looked into the rearview mirror at Ford. “Wait here. ”

  “Right,” he muttered. “Because I might leap out of the car and make a run for it. ”

  Logan smiled evilly.

  Ford flipped him off.

  “Let’s go,” Tara said tightly to her ex. “Behave,” she said to Ford.

  His expression told her that she shouldn’t count on it. She walked Logan up the porch. Sandy was there waiting for him, looking cute and perky.

  “Oh, you poor baby!” she said, rising to her feet and moving to Logan’s side. “I heard all about it. Are you okay?”

  Of course, Logan played it up. “Well, it was touch and go there for a while. ” He shuddered. “But I’m going to make it.