The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 9

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  Ford narrowed his eyes. Once upon a time, Jax had been a hotshot lawyer who wore designer suits and drove a Porsche, but these days he stuck with Levi’s, tees, a beat-up old Jeep, and the laziest dog on the planet. He spent his days renovating and his nights doing Maddie, and he’d never seemed happier. Ford walked behind him to read what he was typing. “ ‘That’s very naughty, little girl; you know what happens to naughty girls,’ ” Ford read out loud. “Looks like work all right. ”

  Unrepentant, Jax grinned and hit SEND. “Hey, a relationship is work. ”

  “Yeah, I bet all the sex is killing you. ”

  “You ought to try it sometime. ”

  “Daily sex?” Ford asked.

  “A relationship, you dumb ass. It’s been a while since… what was her name? That hot snowboarder you dated last winter?”

  “Brandy,” Ford said and felt a fond smile cross his mouth.

  “Yeah. Brandy. ” Jax smiled. “I liked her. ”

  “That’s because she always hugged you hello and she was stacked. ”

  “Hey, she was also very nice,” Jax said. “Why did you two break up again?”

  “Because her mother kept instant messaging me, asking when I was going to marry her. ”

  “Which sent you into flight mode,” Jax said. “And what about Kara, the one you actually did almost marry?”

  “That was a long time ago. She…” Got a little fame crazy. His fame crazy, back during his serious racing days. “Didn’t work out. And you know all this already. ”

  “Still haven’t heard a compelling reason for you to be alone,” Jax said, “except that weird inability-to-commit thing you’ve got going. ”

  “I do not have an inability to commit. ”

  “Whatever, dude. ”

  “I don’t!”

  “No? Then find someone to be with and let it work out for you. ”

  “Yeah, I’ll get right on that. ”

  Jax slid his phone into his pocket and gave him a once-over. “You’re in a good place, so why not?”

  Ford knew damn well that his life, at least on the surface, was in a good place. He had everything he needed, and the ability to get things he didn’t. Which was about as different from his childhood as he could get, having grown up wild and reckless and not giving a shit.

  Good thing Jax and Sawyer had. Given a shit. The three adolescent best friends had stuck together like thieves, having each other’s backs through thick and thin. And there’d been a lot of thin. They’d been each other’s family, and still were.

  But it wasn’t as if Ford didn’t believe in relationships. He did. In fact, he’d had his share of good ones. He just hadn’t had one that had stuck.

  His own fault, as Jax was not so subtly pointing out.

  “How about Tara?” Jax asked.


  “Let me rephrase. You ever going to tell me about the thing with her?”

  “What thing?”

  Jax shook his head in disgust.

  Fine. So they all knew there’d been a thing. A huge thing. That one long-ago summer Ford had never been able to forget. He’d been working his ass off, living on his boat so as not to put a bigger burden on his grandmother, and feeling pretty alone and shitty while he was at it. Jax had been sent off to some fancy camp by his father, and Sawyer, the third musketeer, had gone to juvie for some fairly spectacular and innovative “borrowing” of a classic Mustang that unfortunately had belonged to the chief of police at the time.

  Ford had been left to his own devices, and even working his fingers to the bone at any and all odd jobs he could get hadn’t kept his mind busy enough. There’d been long, hot nights alone on his boat until Tara had shown up.

  With one glare of her angry, whiskey eyes, Ford had lost a piece of his heart.

  He’d softened her up. She’d done things for him, too, but making him soft hadn’t been one of them.

  They’d burned hard and bright that summer. And when Tara had shown up on his boat in tears, pregnant, they’d had two very different knee-jerk reactions. His had been that they could make it work. They could make a family, a real one. He’d drop out of school and marry her.

  But Tara had different ideas. She’d known that she needed to let the baby go, that she couldn’t offer it any kind of life. Between the two of them, only she’d been grown up enough to see past her own grief. She’d explained to Ford that they couldn’t do this, that the baby deserved more than either of them could provide.

  And she’d been right. They’d done the right thing. Ford knew that. He’d always known that, but losing the baby had been hard.

  Losing Tara had been even harder.

  When she’d shown up in Lucky Harbor again after seventeen years, the emotions he’d capped off had easily surfaced again, shockingly so, but he hadn’t worried. He’d known she was only in town to inspect the inn Phoebe had left them. He figured she’d be in and out.

  But here it was, six months later, and she was still poking at his old wounds just by being here. He scrubbed a hand over his face. It’d taken him a long time to be okay about all that had happened, but it still haunted him when he let it. He’d done the right thing by signing away his rights to his daughter, he had. He’d done the right thing for both the baby and Tara. But there was always the regret.

  Since that time, he’d done his damnedest to live his life in such a way that there were no more regrets, so that he called the shots. And yeah, maybe he did so to the point of being too ready to just let things go.

  And people.

  He shrugged. It’d all worked out fine. Or it would have, but now Tara was back in his world, and in no apparent hurry to leave.

  She’d lived her life very carefully, with purpose. She was a woman who knew what she wanted. And what she didn’t. Ford knew he belonged firmly in the latter category.

  Worked for him. He was an unhappy memory to her. And a risk, a bad one. He got that. But defying all logic, their attraction was still strong.

  “You look like you just had a Hallmark movie moment with yourself,” Jax said.

  Ford ignored him and turned to the gate as someone came through.

  Carlos. The kid often came by looking for extra work in spite of the fact that he already worked at the inn and also bussed at the diner, on top of going to school and being head of his grandmother’s household.

  A situation that Ford understood all too well. “Hey. Need some hours?”

  “No, I’m good,” Carlos said. “I’m on at the inn today. Maddie sent me into town to get some stuff. She asked me to come by and tell you that tonight’s the night. ”

  Ford nodded. “Tell her to consider it done. ”

  “Consider what done?” Jax asked.

  “The inn’s appliances were delivered today,” Ford told him. “Maddie asked me to stock their kitchen tonight, as a surprise for Tara. ”

  Jax raised a brow. “Really?” he said, his tone suggesting that he found this little tidbit fascinating.

  “Like you don’t know that Maddie burns water,” Ford said. “And Chloe would probably booby-trap the place just to irritate Tara. So Maddie asked me to do it. It’s no big deal. ”

  “I just find it interesting that you’re helping the woman that you claim to not be interested in,” Jax said in his annoying, lawyerly logical voice.

  Ford had never claimed not to be interested, and Jax knew it. He’d simply refused to talk about it.

  “Maddie said to remind you that it’s a surprise,” Carlos said. He grimaced and shuffled his weight, looking uncomfortable now. “She said I should mention that twice, since you don’t always take direction well. ”

  Jax grinned proudly at this. “That’s my woman. ”

  “And she said you’re to stay out of it,” Carlos said to Jax in apology. “She said… ah, hell. ” The kid pulled a piece of paper from his pocket.