The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 6

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  “There you are,” one of her guests said slyly. “Everything okay?”

  Tara smiled. “Absolutely,” she said, taking her own advice—fake it until you make it.

  Chapter 4

  “A conclusion is the place you get to when you’re tired of thinking. ”


  Two days later, Tara woke up when someone plopped down on her bed. “It’s Wednesday,” Maddie said, adding a bounce to make sure Tara was up.

  “It’s also the crack of dawn. ” Tara pulled her pillow back over her head and turned over. “Go away. ”

  Maddie yanked off the pillow. “Wednesday. ”

  “Sugar, you’d best at least have coffee brewing. ”

  Maddie reached over to the nightstand and handed her a cup.

  Tara sat up and sipped, repressing the sigh that wouldn’t help anyway. Maddie had decreed Wednesdays to be “Team Building Day. ” The three of them had to spend every Wednesday together from start to finish until they learned to get along.

  It was no surprise that they didn’t. They’d grown up separately, thanks to the fact that Phoebe had loved men.

  A lot of them.

  Tara’s father was a government scientist who’d come into Phoebe’s orbit and not known what hit him. After their divorce, Tara had lived with her father. Actually, her father’s parents, since he’d traveled so much. Tara had spent only the occasional summer with Phoebe, before her mother had inherited the Lucky Harbor Inn, so those visits had consisted mostly of camping and/or following the Grateful Dead tour.

  Maddie’s father was a Hollywood set designer. He’d also taken Maddie with him when his relationship with Phoebe had gone kaput. Maddie hadn’t come back for summers, so she and Tara had been virtual strangers when Phoebe had died.

  Chloe had no idea who her father was and didn’t seem to care. The only daughter raised by Phoebe, she had traveled around at Phoebe’s desire. As a result of that wanderlust upbringing, Chloe tended not to worry about convention the way her sisters did. She didn’t worry about much, actually. She lived on a whim.

  Unlike Tara, who lived for convention, for order. For a plan.

  When Phoebe died and left her daughters her parents’ inn, not one of them had intended to stay. And yet here they sat over six months later: the steel magnolia, the mouse, and the wild child.

  Having a Team-Building Wednesday.

  This was their third month at it, and the days still tended to be filled with bickering, pouting, and even all-out warfare. Today, Tara guessed, would be more of the same, but for Maddie’s sake she gamely rose and dressed.

  First stop—the diner for brunch. Tara took grief from Jan, the woman who owned the diner. Tara’s boss was fifty-something, mean as a snake unless she was taking money from a customer, and liked Tara only when Tara was behind the stovetop.

  Which she wasn’t at the moment.

  Tara managed to get them seated with only the barest of snarls. Chloe ordered a short stack and consulted with the Magic Eight app on her iPhone, asking it if she was going to have a date anytime in the near future. Maddie ordered bacon and eggs with home fries and talked to Jax on her cell about something that was making her blush. Tara ordered oatmeal and wheat toast, and was busy calculating the balance in her checkbook. If that didn’t explain their major differences right there, nothing could.

  Afterward, in the already blazing sun, they walked the pier for the purpose of buying ice cream cones. In Maddie’s case, they also went for getting on the Ferris wheel she’d once been so terrified of. They did that first, holding Maddie’s hand. They might not see eye to eye on much, but some things could be universally shared, and ice cream and Ferris wheel rides were two of them.

  Lance served them the ice cream. In his early twenties, he was small-boned enough to pass for a teenager, and thanks to the cystic fibrosis slowly ravaging his body, had a voice like he was speaking through gravel. He and Chloe were good friends, or more accurately cohorts, trouble-seekers of the highest magnitude. Lance tried to serve them for free, but Chloe refused. “We’ve got this,” she told him firmly, then turned to Tara expectantly.

  Maddie snorted.

  Tara rolled her eyes and pulled out her wallet.

  “I’ll pay you back,” Chloe said.

  “You always say that,” Tara said.

  “Yeah? How much do I owe you?”

  “One million trillion dollars. ”

  Chloe grinned. “I’ll get right on that. ”

  Tara looked at Maddie.

  “You spoil her,” Maddie said with a shrug.

  “Shh, don’t say that,” Chloe said. “She’s right here. ”

  Tara knew she wasn’t exactly known for the warm, loving emotions required to spoil someone, and that she could come off as distant, even cold. This actually surprised her because she didn’t feel distant, although she’d like to try being so sometime.

  It’d be nice not to worry about things like money, or the future, or her sisters. And Tara did worry continuously, about Maddie and Chloe more than anything else—like whether Maddie was getting over her abusive ex and if Chloe would ever get over her inability to show or trust love.

  Because of the these things, Tara stayed in Lucky Harbor longer than planned. Or so she told herself.

  “So what’s next?” Chloe asked as they walked back to the inn. “I wore my bathing suit in hopes of getting a tan. ”

  “We’re going sailing,” said the Team Building Day’s president.

  “We went sailing last week and nearly killed each other,” Chloe said.

  “We went canoeing last week,” Maddie corrected, “and Tara nearly killed you because you tipped her over, and she’d been having a good hair day. Keep your hands to yourself and you’ll survive today’s Team Building Adventure. ”

  “Hmm,” Chloe said, sending a long, steady look in Tara’s direction as they boarded the Cape Dory Cruiser, the sailboat that had come with the marina.

  They’d also inherited kayaks, canoes, a fishing boat, and one dilapidated houseboat. Most of these equated to some modest rental income, and they were determined to wring every penny out of the place that they could.

  They had to, seeing as they’d gone through money with alarming speed to get everything up and running. Maddie’s savings was gone. Tara’s, too. It was a small price to pay, she reminded herself, for a new lease on life. A life that was lived the way she wanted, and not for anyone else.

  “Tara,” Maddie said, pointing, “you’re in the cockpit. ”

  “Yes!” Chloe triumphantly pulled off her skimpy sundress, revealing an even more skimpy red bikini beneath. “Time to sun, ladies. ”

  Tara motored them out of the marina and looked at Maddie for further instructions.

  “Point the bow into the wind,” Maddie said. She was the only one who knew what she was doing, having taken a few lessons from Ford.

  Tara had taken lessons from Ford, too. But that had been seventeen years ago, and the lessons she’d taken had nothing to do with sailing.

  “What?” Maddie asked, making Tara realize she was smiling at the memory.

  “Nothing. ”

  “That’s more than a ‘nothing’ smile,” Chloe noted.

  Tara ignored her.

  “Into the wind,” Maddie repeated to Tara.

  Tara looked around to figure out which way the wind was coming.

  “Quickly,” Maddie said. “Or you’ll swamp us. ”

  Tara didn’t know exactly what that meant but it didn’t sound good. The boat was lurching heavily to the right and then the left on the four-foot swells; the wind was whipping her hair from all directions so she had no idea exactly which way was “into the wind. ”

  “West!” Maddie yelled. “To the west. ”

  “Okay, okay,” Tara said, having to laugh at the sharpness in the former mouse’s