By Jill Shalvis
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Two Men Are One Too Many . . .
Tara has a thousand good reasons not to return to the little coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington. Yet with her life doing a major crash-and-burn, anywhere away from her unfulfilled dreams and sexy ex-husband will do. As Tara helps her two sisters get their newly renovated inn up and running, she finally has a chance to get things under control and come up with a new plan for her life.
But a certain tanned, green-eyed sailor has his own ideas, such as keeping Tara hot, bothered . . . and in his bed. And when her ex wants Tara back, three is a crowd she can’t control-especially when her deepest secret reappears out of the blue. Now Tara must confront her past and discover what she really wants. If she’s lucky, she might just find that everything her heart desires is right here in Lucky Harbor.
Table of Contents
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"There is no snooze button on life."
Muffin?" Tara asked as she walked along the long line of people waiting on the pier to enter Lucky Harbor's summer festival. "Have a free Life's-a-Peach Muffin?"
The large basket was heavier than she'd anticipated, and the late afternoon June sun beat down on her head in tune to the Pacific's thrashing waves beating the shore. Perspiration beaded on her skin, which really chapped her hide. It was the steel magnolia in her. Perspiring wasn't just undignified, it contradicted her never let 'em see you sweat motto.
Telling herself that she was merely glistening, and hopefully looking luminous while she was at it, Tara amped up her smile and kept going. At least her sundress was lightweight, the material gauzy and playful against her skin. She'd bought it to look sophisticated and elegant. And to boost her confidence.
This was a tall order for a dress.
"Muffin?" she asked the next woman in line.
Mrs. Taylor, the owner of the local craft and supply shop, looked the basket over carefully. "Are they low-fat?"
Before coming to Washington state, Tara had spent most of her life just outside of Houston on her grandparents' ranch, where holding back the use of butter and lard was considered sacrilegious. Low-fat? Not exactly. She gave a brief thought to lying, but she didn't want to be struck dead by lightning—it would ruin her good hair day. "Definitely not, sorry."
"Do you know the calorie count?"
Tara looked down at her beautiful muffins, fat and soft and gently browned, each perfectly baked and undoubtedly overflowing with calories. "A gazillion," she said. "Per bite."
"I'm surprised at you," Mrs. Taylor said disappointedly, "promoting cholesterol consumption like this."
Tara had read somewhere that it took less effort to be nice than bitchy. And since she was all for energy conservation, she let her mouth curve into a smile. "Actually, what I'm promoting is the renovation of the inn my sisters and I are opening in two weeks—" She broke off when Mrs. Taylor held up a polite finger and pulled out her vibrating phone.
Tara had a finger of her own to hold up, but since it wasn't a polite one, she refrained. She moved on, assuring herself that the continuous swallowing of her pride since coming to Lucky Harbor only felt like it was going to kill her, but surely it wouldn't.
"Muffin?" Tara asked a new section of the line, handing them out as people expressed interest. "Y'all want a free Life's-a-Peach muffin?"
Each had been painstakingly wrapped in cellophane with a folded flyer for the Lucky Harbor Beach Inn tucked into a ribbon. It was part of Tara's mission, and that mission was different than it'd been last year. Last year, she'd wanted peace on earth and a manicure that lasted a full two weeks. This year, things were more basic. She wanted to be able to pay her bills at the end of the month without robbing Peter to pay Paul, and maybe to feel like she was in control of her own life.
That was all.
Just a single month in which her ends met her means. Thirty days during which she wasn't constantly in angst over the arrival of a paycheck.
Or lack thereof.
The sun continued to beat down on Tara as she walked the length of the pier. Behind her, the sharp, craggy cliffs were cast in shadow. Out in front, the surf continued to pound the beach, shuddering the pier beneath her feet. She passed the beauty shop, the Eat Me Diner where she worked four nights a week, and then the arcade, ice cream parlor, and the five-story-high Ferris wheel.
The crowd grew around her, seeming to surge in closer. It was as if the entire state of Washington had showed up for the Summer Arts and Musical Fest, but that wasn't a surprise to Tara. The only thing the people of Lucky Harbor liked more than their gossip was a social gathering, and there would be plenty of both to be had tonight. A warm night, good music, dancing, drinking… a recipe for a good time, no doubt.
"I'll most definitely take a muffin," Chloe said, appearing at Tara's side.
At twenty-four, Tara's sister was the baby of the family, and as such had inherited all the free-spiritedness—aka wildness—of their mother, Phoebe Traeger. Chloe wore snug hip-hugging cargo shorts and a sunshine yellow tank top that required sunglasses to look at. Her glossy dark red hair was streaked with twin hot-pink highlights, one down each temple, the rest cascading down her back in a perfect disarray of waves to give her a just-out-of-bed look.
She could have been a cover model.
Well, except for the fact that she was five foot three in her high-tops and had absolutely no discipline nor inclination to follow instructions. Chloe was freshly back from a two-month trip traveling through Miami Beach's high-end hotel spas, where she'd put her aesthetician license to good use while fine-tuning her own natural skincare line. And probably also finding trouble, as was Chloe's habit.
Tara was just glad to have her back in Lucky Harbor. She'd worried the entire time Chloe had been gone. It was a lifelong thing for Tara, worrying about her troubled baby sister.
Chloe, looking tan and happy and sporting a new Chinese symbol tat on the inside of her wrist that she'd refused to translate, bit into a muffin and let out a heartfelt moan. "Damn, Tara, these rock. Can you tell me something?"
"If you're going to ask me if the muffins are low fat," Tara said, "you should know I'm running out of places to hide all the dead bodies."
Chloe laughed. "No, I can feel my arteries clogging even as I swallow, and I'm good with that." She licked the crumbs off her fingers. "Just wanted to know if you noticed Ford making his way toward you."
Tara turned to follow Chloe's gaze and felt her breath catch. Ford Walker was indeed headed her way, moving sure and easy, his long-legged stride in no hurry. Which was a good thing, as he was stopped by nearly everyone that he passed. He didn't appear to mind, which made it damn hard to dislike him—although Tara still gave it her all.
"You ever going to tell me what's the deal with you two?" Chloe was digging into a second muffin as if she hadn't eaten in a week. And maybe she hadn't. The perpetually broke Chloe never seemed to worry about her next meal.
"There's no deal with me and Ford."
Chloe's low laugh rang in Tara's ears, calling her out for the liar she was. "You know what you need?"
Tara slid her a look. "A trip to some South Pacific island with no sisters named Chloe?"
"Hmm. Maybe for Christmas. For now, you need to relax. More yoga, less stress."
"I'm plenty relaxed." Or she had been until she'd looked at Ford. He'd gotten stopped again and was talking to someone in the line behind her, but as if he felt her appraisal, he turned his head and met her gaze. An odd tension hummed through her veins. Her pulse kicked up as well, not quite into heart-attack territory, but close enough. "Totally, completely relaxed," she murmured.
"Uh-huh," Chloe said, sounding amused. "Is that why you're hugging the basket so tight you're squishing the muffins? Or why you compulsively cleaned the cottage from top to bottom last night?"
"Hey," Tara said in her own defense. "There was a lot of dust, which would have aggravated your asthma. And, if you remember, it's only been two weeks since you've landed in the hospital unable to breathe thanks to nothing more than a pollen storm. So you're welcome."
Chloe rolled her eyes and turned to the woman behind her in line. Lucille owned an art gallery in town and was somewhere between seventy and two hundred years old. She wore white-on-white Nikes and her favorite track suit in hot, Day-Glo pink. She took a muffin, bit into it, and sighed in pleasure. "Tara, darling, you're as amazing as you are uptight."
"I'm not—" Oh, forget it.
Lucille looked her over from eyes lined thickly with blue eye shadow. "Pretty dress. You always dress so nice. Ross? Wal-Mart?"
Actually, Nordstrom's, Tara thought, back from her old life when she'd had a viable credit card. "It's several years old, so—"
"We have a question," Chloe said to Lucille, interrupting. "Tell me, does my sister look relaxed to you?"
"Relaxed?" Taking the question very seriously, Lucille studied Tara closely. "Actually, she looks a little constipated." She turned to the person who came up behind her, but Tara didn't have to look to see who it was because her nipples got hard.
At six-feet-three inches, Ford was pure testosterone and sinew. His build suggested one of those lean extreme fighters but Ford was too laid-back to ever bother being a fighter of any kind.
He wore low-slung, button-fly Levi's and a white button-down shoved up to his elbows, yet somehow he managed to look as dressed up as Tara. His brown hair was sun-kissed, his green eyes sharp, his smile ready. Everything about him said ready, from his tough build to the air of confidence he wore like other men wore cologne. Half the people in Lucky Harbor were in love with him.
The other half were men and didn't count.
Tara was the odd person out, of course. Not only was she not in love with him, he tended to step on her last nerve.
There was a very good reason for that.
Several, in fact. But she'd long ago given herself permission to pretend that the thing that had happened between them hadn't happened.
"We're trying to figure out what's wrong with Tara, dear," Lucille told him, having to tilt her blue-haired head way up to meet his eyes. "I'm thinking constipation."
Ford looked as if he wanted to laugh.
Tara ground her teeth. "I'm not—"
"It's okay," Lucille said. "It happens to the best of us. All you need are some plums and a blender, and you—"
"I'm not constipated!" Great. Now everyone within a thirty-foot radius was privy to the knowledge.
"Well, good," Lucille said. "Because tonight's Bingo Night at the Rec Center."
Extremely aware of Ford standing way too close, Tara shifted on her wedged sandals. "Bingo's not really my thing."
"Well, mine either, honey," Lucille said. "But there are men there and lots of 'em. A man could unwind you real nice. Isn't that right, Ford?"
"Yes, ma'am," Ford said with an utterly straight face. "Real nice."
"See?" Lucille said to Tara. "Sure, you're a little young for our crowd, but you could probably snag a real live wire, maybe two."
Tara had seen the Bingo Crowd. The "live wires" were the mobile ones, and using a walker qualified as mobile. "I don't really need a live wire." Much less two.
"Oh my dear," Lucille said. "Every woman needs a man. Why even your momma—God rest her soul—used to say it was a shame you couldn't buy sex on eBay."
Beside her, Ford laughed softly. Tara very carefully didn't look at him, the man she'd once needed with her whole being. These days she didn't do "need."
Chloe wisely and gently slipped her arm in Lucille's. "I have friends in high places and can get around this line," she told the older woman. "Come tell me all about all these live wires." She shot Tara a you-owe-me smile over her shoulder as she led Lucille away.
Not that Tara could think about that because now she was alone with Ford. Or as alone as one could be while surrounded by hundreds of people. This was not how she'd envisioned the day going when she got up this morning and made that bargain with God, the one where she promised to be a better person if he gave her a whole day where she didn't have to face anything from her past. But God had just reneged on the deal. Which meant she didn't have to be a better person…
Ford was looking at her. She could feel the weight of his gaze. She kept hers resolutely out on the water. Maybe she should take up knitting like her other sister, Maddie. Knitting was supposedly very cathartic, and Tara could use cathartic. The late afternoon sun sank lower on the ocean as if it was just dipping its toes in to cool off. She stared at it until long fingers brushed hers.
That was it, just her name from Ford's lips, and just like that she… softened. She had no other word for what happened inside her body whenever he spoke to her. She softened, and her entire being went on full alert for him.
Just like old times.
Ford stood there, patient and steady, all day-old scruff and straight white teeth and sparkling gorgeous eyes, bringing out feelings she wasn't prepared for.
"Aren't you going to offer me a muffin?" he asked.
Since a part of her wanted to offer far more, she held her tongue and silently offered the basket. Ford perused his choices as if he was contemplating his life's path.
"They're all the same," Tara finally said.
At that he flashed a grin, and her knees wobbled. Sweet baby Jesus, that smile should come with a label: WARNING: Prolonged exposure will cause yearning, lust, and stupidity. "Don't you have a bar to run?" she asked.
"Jax is there, handling things for now."
Ford was a world-class sailing expert. When he wasn't on the water competing, or listed in Cosmo as one of the year's "Fun Fearless Males," of all things, he lived here in Lucky Harbor. Here, with his best friend, Jax, he co-owned and ran The Love Shack, the town's most popular watering hole. He did so mostly because, near as Tara could tell, he'd majored in shooting the breeze—which he did plenty of when he was behind the bar mixing drinks and enjoying life.
She enjoyed life, too. Or enjoyed the idea of life.
Okay, so she was working on the enjoying part. The problem was that her enjoyment kept getting held up by her reality. "Are you going to take a muffin or what?"
Ford cocked his head and ran his gaze over her like a caress. "I'll take whatever crumb you're offering."
That brought a genuine smile from her. "Like you'd settle for a crumb."
"I did once." He was still smiling, but his eyes were serious now, and something pinged low in her belly.
Memories. Unwelcome ones. "Ford—"
"Ah," he said very softly. "So you do remember my name. That's a start."
She gave a push to his solid chest. Not that she could move him if she tried, the big, sexy lout.
And she'd forgotten nothing about him—nothing. "What do you want?"
"I thought after all this time," he said lightly, "we could be friends."
"Friends," she repeated.
"Yes. Make polite conversation, occasionally see each other socially. Maybe even go out on a date."
She stared at him. "That would make us more than friends."
"You always were smart as hell."
Her stomach tightened again. He wanted to sleep with her. Or not sleep, as the case might be. Her body reacted hopefully to the mere thought. "We don't—" She closed her eyes to hide the lie. "We don't like each other like that anymore."
"No?" In the next beat, she felt the air shift as he moved closer. She opened her eyes just as he lifted his hand and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, making her shiver.
He noticed—of course he did; he noticed everything—and his mouth curved. But his eyes remained serious, so very serious as he leaned in.
To anyone watching, it would look as if he was whispering something in her ear.
But he wasn't.
No, he was up to something far more devastatingly sneaky. His lips brushed against her throat, and then her jaw, and while she fought with a moan and lost, he whispered, "I like you just fine."
Her body quivered, assuring herself she returned the favor whether she liked it or not.
"Think about it, Tara."
And then he was gone, leaving her unable to do anything but think of it.
"Good judgment comes from bad experience. Unfortunately, most of that comes from bad judgment."
A week later, the heat had amped up to nearly one hundred degrees. The beach shimmered, the ocean stilled, and Ford came back into Lucky Harbor after a sailing event he'd competed in down in Baja.
He wasn't on the world circuit anymore, but sometimes he couldn't help himself. He liked the thrill of the race.
The sense of being alive.
He'd like to say that he'd worked his ass off most of his life to be the best of the best, but he hadn't. Sailing had come relatively easily, as if he'd been born with the knack to read the waters and handle the controls of a boat, outguessing and outmaneuvering the wind as he pleased. He'd lived and breathed racing for as long as it'd been fun, in the process leaving blood and sweat and little pieces of his soul in every ocean on the planet.
These past few days had been no different. And as it had been just last month in Perth, his time had been well spent, paying off big. Ford had placed in the top ten, pocketing a very lucrative purse for the honor.
Once upon a time, it'd been all about the money. Back when he'd been so poor he couldn't even pay attention.
Now it was about something else. Something… elusive.
The win should have left him feeling flush and happy, and yeah, for a brief moment, the adrenaline and thrill had coursed through his body, fooling him with the elusive, fleeting sense of having it all.
But it'd faded quickly, leaving… nothing.
He felt nothing at all.
And damn if he wasn't getting tired of that. He'd gotten back late last night, docking at the Lucky Harbor marina. He'd spent the morning cleaning up his Finn, the strict, simple design solo boat he raced in. Then he'd done a maintenance check on his thirty-two-foot 10R Beneteau, which he'd slept on last night rather than drive up the hill to his house on the bluffs.
Moving on from his boats, he worked on the Cape Dory Cruiser docked next to his Beneteau as a favor to Maddie Moore.
The favor had been a no-brainer. Maddie was one of Tara's two sisters, and together with Chloe, they ran and operated the marina and inn. And when a pretty lady like Maddie asked Ford for help getting her boat to run, he did his best to solve her problem. Even if said pretty lady was sleeping with his best friend Jax.
The problem with the Cape Dory had been a relatively easy fix. It hadn't been properly winterized, and condensation had formed on the inside of the fuel tanks.
The repair, along with some other things, had taken several hours in the unbearable heat, but Ford hadn't cared. It'd occupied his brain and kept him from thinking too much—always a good thing.
As a bonus, getting his hands dirty had done more for his mental health than the racing had. He loved wrenching. It was something else that came easy to him and gave him great pleasure.
When he'd finished, he pulled off his trashed shirt and washed up the best he could in the marina building. Then he headed across the property to the inn, looking for a big, tall glass of ice water.
Sure, he could have just gone home, but Tara's car was out front, and he… hell. She tended to look right through him, and in return, he liked to drive her crazy. Home was a short drive on the best of days, and a vast improvement from being ignored by her. He toyed with coming right out and asking what her problem was, but he realized that if she said, "You, Ford, you're my problem," he'd still have to see her daily for the duration of her stay here in Lucky Harbor. And that would suck.
This was at least the hundredth day he'd come to this "realization," and he was no closer to figuring out what to do than when she'd first come back to town six months ago. So mostly, he'd steered clear. It'd seemed the easiest route, and he was all about the easy.
But today he had a gift to deliver. Lucille had cornered him when he'd stopped by his bar last night to check in after his trip, handing him a wooden box with the word RECIPES written across it.
"Can you give this to Tara for me?" she'd asked. "Don't peek."
So, of course, he'd peeked. There'd been nothing inside but plain—and blank—3×5 index cards. "For her recipes?"
Lucille snapped the box shut, narrowly missing his fingers. "No."
Ford recognized the spark of trouble in Lucille's rheumy eyes. There was no bigger gossip or meddler in town, and since Lucky Harbor was chock-full of gossips and meddlers, this was saying a lot. Lucille and her cronies had recently started a Facebook page for Lucky Harbor residents, bringing the gossip mill to even new heights.
"Okay, spill," Ford said, pinning her with a hard look that wouldn't slow her down—she was unstoppable and unflappable. "What are you up to?"
She'd cackled and patted him again. "No good. I'm up to no good. Just see that Tara gets the box."
So that's what he was doing.
Delivering the box to Tara.
She wouldn't be happy to see him, that was for damn sure. Her eyes would chill and so would her voice. She'd pretend they were virtually strangers.
And in a way, they were. It'd been a damn long time since they'd known each other, and the past was the past. He wasn't a guy to spend much time looking back. Nope, he liked to live with both feet firmly in the present, thank you very much. He didn't do regrets, or any other useless emotions for that matter. If he made a mistake, he learned from it and moved on. If he wanted something, he went about getting it. Or learned to live without it.
Of course, as it pertained to Tara, he'd made plenty of mistakes, and he wasn't all that sure he'd learned much except maybe how to bury the pain.
He'd gotten damn good at that.
But lately, whenever he caught a glimpse of Tara in those look-but-don't-touch clothes and that hoity-toity 'tude she wore like Gucci, he had the most insane urge to ruffle her up. Get her dirty. Make her squirm.
Preferably while naked and beneath him.
Ford swiped the sweat off his forehead with his arm and strode up the steps to the inn. A two-story Victorian, it'd been freshly rebuilt and renovated after a bad fire six months ago. There was still a lot to do before the grand opening: painting and landscaping, as well as interior touches, and the kitchen appliances hadn't yet been delivered. Still, character dripped from the place. All it needed were guests to come and fill it up, and Tara, Maddie, and Chloe could make a success of it.
As a family.
To the best of Ford's knowledge, the whole family thing was new to the sisters. Very new. And also to the best of his knowledge, they weren't very good at it. He just hoped they managed without bloodshed. Probably they should put that into their business plan and get everyone to sign it: Murder Not Allowed. Especially Tara.
- "Hot, sweet, fun and romantic. Pure pleasure!"—Robyn Carr, New York Times bestselling author
- "It felt like I was part of the story, part of Lucky Harbor. What a great place to be!"—NightOwlRomance.com
- "Jill Shalvis is a total original! It doesn't get any better."—Suzanne Forster, New York Times bestselling author
- "Shalvis writes with humor, heart, and sizzling heat!"—Carly Phillips, New York Times Bestselling Author
- "Fall in love with Jill Shalvis! She's my go-to read for humor and heart."—Susan Mallery, New York Times bestselling author
- "Clever, steamy, and fun! Jill Shalvis will make you laugh and fall in love."—Rachel Gibson, New York Times bestselling author
- "Shalvis makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me sigh with pure pleasure."—Susan Andersen, New York Times bestselling author of Playing Dirty
- "A Perfect Ten! Tara and Ford have some seriously hot chemistry going on and they make the most of it in THE SWEETEST THING. Trust me; you'll need an ice-cold drink nearby."
- On Sale
- Mar 27, 2018
- Page Count
- 384 pages