The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 7

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  They sailed for an hour, with Chloe sprawled out for maximum sun coverage, her fast-acting asthma inhaler tucked into the string low at her hip. Her long red waves were corralled prettily in a ponytail sticking out the back of a baseball cap that read: DARE TO BE NAUTI, and she had huge movie-star sunglasses perched on her pert nose.

  Tara looked down at herself. She hadn’t dressed special for this adventure. She’d worn thin trousers and a fitted knit top that was probably better suited for a day at the office, but it was what had been clean that morning. Besides, everyone knew that it wasn’t so much what you had in the bank, or even where you rested your head at night—it was what you wore and how you wore it. She turned to Maddie. “Tell me again why Chloe’s just lying there looking pretty?”

  “Aw, thanks, hon,” Chloe said, not opening her eyes.

  “Chloe’s going to get up now and reverse the entire process,” Maddie said. “And bring us back to the marina. ”

  Chloe sighed but obeyed and rolled lithely to her feet.

  Tara gave Chloe a very immature ha! smirk and took the sun-worshipping spot. It took another hour to get back, and she spent that time enjoying the feel of the boat rocking beneath her, the scent of the salty ocean air, and the warmth of the sun drying her damp clothes and skin. She listened while feeling smug and superior as Maddie turned her bossiness on Chloe for a change.

  “Watch your starboard,” Maddie called out when Chloe steered toward the marina as they came back in. “Starboard!”

  “What the hell’s starboard?” Chloe yelled back.

  “The right side! Watch your right side! Cripes, don’t you people retain anything?”

  Chloe slid the usually easygoing Maddie a look. “Either you had too much caffeine this morning or you didn’t get laid when you got up. ”

  Maddie rolled her eyes.

  “Didn’t get laid,” Chloe decided.

  “For your information, I got up too early to get…” Maddie lowered her voice to a whisper, “laid. And I have no idea how that matters. ”

  “It matters because you’re much more relaxed after Jax—”

  “Chloe,” Tara said, not wanting her to tease Maddie, not about this. “Not everything revolves around sex. ”

  “It does when you’re not getting any,” Chloe muttered.

  “Internal editor,” Tara said. “Get one. ”

  “I don’t want to hear from you. You could be getting plenty of the good stuff from Ford, you know that? I mean have you seen him look at you?”

  Tara sighed. “You could start an argument in an empty house. ”

  “Or on a boat,” Chloe agreed, not insulted in the least. “And nice subject change. Why does talking about sex bother you?”

  Tara shook her head. “You know that sometimes it’s okay to not talk at all, right?”

  Chloe smiled good-naturedly. “I do tend to miss most opportunities to shut up. ”

  “Hey,” Maddie said. “That would make a good quip for the recipe box, Tara. Never miss an opportunity to shut up—Chloe!” she yelped, pointing ahead. “Watch the swell—”

  Too late. The five-foot swell rose up and over the nose of the boat, splashing them all.

  “You’re not paying attention at all,” Maddie said with reproach after she’d swiped the ocean spray off her face.

  “You know what?” Chloe asked, tossing up her hands. “Sailing is too stressful for me. ”

  Maddie took over as Chloe pulled out her inhaler and took a puff.

  “Who are you writing those recipe cards for anyway?” Chloe asked Tara.

  “My daughter,” Tara said without thinking.

  “Aw. ” That made Maddie smile. “That’s sweet. Think she’ll get to read them?”

  Tara shook her head. “The adoption was closed. I can’t find her. She’d have to find me. ” She heard the wistfulness in her voice and purposely closed her mouth, not wanting to go there. She’d spent a lot of time not going there. It was her own private guilt and shame, that she’d had to give up a baby.

  “While we’re on the subject,” Chloe said, “you ready to tell us who was the father yet?”

  Tara gave her a long look. Her ex had called it her “Don’t Make Me Kick Your Ass” look.

  It didn’t daunt Chloe. “Tell the truth,” she said. “It’s Anderson from the hardware store. Yeah? Because he totally has the hots for you. ”

  “No,” Tara said. “He has the hots for Maddie. Or he did, before she broke his heart and started dating Jax. ”

  “Then it’s Ford. ” Chloe nodded. “Ford’s totally your Baby Daddy. ”

  Tara froze, then carefully, purposely, forced herself to relax. “What?”

  “Yeah,” Chloe said, and grinned. “We’ve known forever, actually. I was just pulling your leg with the Anderson thing. ”

  “Chloe,” Maddie said quietly, “you’re ambushing her. That wasn’t in the plan. ”

  “The plan?” Tara repeated. “There’s a plan? What was it, to get me out on the water under the guise of Team Building, where you could grill me?”

  “No one’s grilling you,” Maddie said gently. “We’re your sisters. Your support system. ”

  “And seriously,” Chloe said. “You doing the whole Ignore-Ford thing was a dead giveaway anyway. No one ignores a man that fine. ”

  “We’re not discussing this,” Tara said firmly.

  Chloe sighed. “I’m telling you, if we just talked instead of being repressed all the time, we’d be less grumpy. And by ‘we,’ let’s be clear. I mean you. ”

  “Not discussing,” Tara repeated.

  “Sure,” Chloe said. “Fine. How about your blind date tomorrow night? Can we talk about that?”

  Maddie was steering the boat back into the bay with more skill than Tara had shown earlier, but Tara didn’t care about that as she stared at Chloe. “How did you know about the blind date?”

  “Are you kidding? This is Lucky Harbor, remember? Ethel told Carol at the post office, who told Jeanine at Jax’s office, who told Sandy, who told Lucille that Ethel set you up with her grandson—the one coming through town for a short visit. So then Lucille tweeted it to Facebook. ”

  Tara just barely resisted groaning. After serving the ladies of the Garden Society the other day, Ethel had cornered Tara to ask if Ford was courting her. Tara had choked on one of her own lemon bars, both at the old-fashioned and quaint connotation of the word “courting” and at the question itself. First of all, nothing about Ford was old-fashioned or quaint. Not given what he really wanted from her. Tara had firmly told Ethel no, that there hadn’t been any courting—she’d kept the mutual lusting to herself—and that’s when Ethel had mentioned needing a favor.

  Tara had reluctantly agreed, and Ethel had laughed. “Oh, no, dear,” she’d said. “You don’t understand. I’m doing you the favor. I’m setting you up with my grandson Boyd. He’s a wonderful, sweet, kind man, with a great personality. ”

  Chloe was grinning, and Tara refused to say that she was already regretting her decision to accept a blind date. “So I’m going out to dinner. So what?”

  “So if you were as smart as I thought you are, you’d be having breakfast with Ford instead. ”

  Tara’s belly tightened at the thought. “I’m sure Boyd’s very nice. ”

  “You haven’t dated in how many years? Two? Three? Ten?”

  Tara didn’t bother to answer. Mostly because she didn’t actually know.

  “Nice isn’t what you need,” Chloe said. “You need—”

  Maddie “accidentally” hit Chloe upside the head with a buoy. Tara ignored the following scuffle but took over the cockpit so they didn’t all drown. The sails were down now so she motored them back to the docks, maybe hitting the gas a little more energetically than necessary. She ignored Maddie’s squeak and Chloe’s whoop and concentrated. She concentrated right into a big swell, rocki