Head Over Heels (Lucky Harbor Series #3)by Jill Shalvis
Breaking rules and breaking hearts
Free-spirited Chloe lives life on the edge. Unlike her soon-to-be married sisters, she isn't ready to settle into a quiet life running their family's newly renovated inn. But soon her love of troubleand trouble with love-draws the attention of the very stern, very sexy sheriff who'd like nothing better than to tame/b>… See more details below
Breaking rules and breaking hearts
Free-spirited Chloe lives life on the edge. Unlike her soon-to-be married sisters, she isn't ready to settle into a quiet life running their family's newly renovated inn. But soon her love of troubleand trouble with love-draws the attention of the very stern, very sexy sheriff who'd like nothing better than to tame her wild ways.
Suddenly Chloe can't take a misstep without the sheriff hot on her heels. His rugged swagger and his enigmatic smile are enough to make a girl beg to be handcuffed. For the first time, instead of avoiding the law, Chloe dreams of surrender. Can this rebel find a way to keep the peace with the straitlaced sheriff? Or will Chloe's colorful past keep her from a love that lasts . . . and the safe haven she truly wants in a town called Lucky Harbor?
This touching, character-rich, laughter-laced, knockout sizzler is the latest in Shalvis's award-winning series."—Library Journal, starred review"
A Perfect Ten! A truly fun and engaging tale from beginning to end."—RomanceReviewsToday.com"
Hot, sweet, fun and romantic. Pure pleasure!"—Robyn Carr, New York Times bestselling author on Simply Irresistible"
I adored this book. The sisters are such beautifully created characters, but when you add in the other people who reside in Lucky Harbor, I am ready to pack up my things and move there."—CoffeeTimeRomance.com on Simply Irresistible"
It felt like I was part of the story, part of Lucky Harbor. What a great place to be!"
—NightOwlRomance.com on Simply Irresistible"
Shalvis writes with humor, heart, and sizzling heat!"
—Carly Phillips, New York Times Bestselling Author
Meet the Author
New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill's bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit her website for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.
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Read an Excerpt
Head Over Heels
By Shalvis, Jill
ForeverCopyright © 2011 Shalvis, Jill
All right reserved.
“If at first you don’t succeed, destroy
all evidence that you tried.”
It wasn’t often that Chloe Traeger beat her sisters into the kitchen in the morning, but with Tara and Maddie currently sleeping with the town’s two hottest hotties, it’d been only a matter of time.
And in the name of fairness, Chloe hadn’t actually gotten to bed yet, but that was just a technicality. With a wide yawn, she started the coffee. Then, gathering what she needed, she hopped up onto the counter—hissing in pain from her throbbing legs. The quiet in the kitchen soothed her as she mixed ingredients together for her natural antibacterial cream. Given how loudly she lived her life, the silence was a nice start to the day.
Especially today, which promised to get crazy quickly, though not much could out-crazy last night. Later in the afternoon, she’d be doing her esthetician thing at a high-end spa in Seattle, but first she had to put in some time here in Lucky Harbor at the B&B that she ran with her sisters.
The fact that her days were centering around work instead of play had her shaking her head with a rueful smile. Oh, how things change. Only a year ago, she’d been free as a bird, roaming happily from spa to spa at will, with no real ties. Then she and the half-sisters she’d never really known had inherited a dilapidated, falling-down-on-its-axis beach inn. With absolutely no knowledge of what to do with it.
Hard to believe how far they’d come. They’d renovated, turned the place into a thriving B&B, and now Chloe, Tara, and Maddie were real sisters instead of strangers. Friends, even.
Well, okay, so they were still working on the friends part, but they hadn’t fought all week. Progress, right? And the fact that Chloe had been gone for four of the past seven days working at a five-star-hotel spa in Arizona instead of here in Washington didn’t count.
Chloe looked down at the organic lavender oil she’d just “borrowed” from Tara’s stash for her cream and winced.
Probably she could work harder on the friend thing…
Out the window, waves pounded the rocky shore in the purple light of dawn as she yawned again and stirred the softened beeswax and lanolin together with the lavender oil. When she was done, she carefully poured the cream into a sterile bottle. Then, still sitting on the counter, she tugged the legs of her sweat bottoms up to her knees, cringing in pain as she began to apply the antiseptic to the two long gashes on each of her calves. She was still sucking in a pained breath when the back door opened.
Sheriff Sawyer Thompson.
He practically had to duck to come in. He was in uniform, gun at his hip, expression dialed to Dirty Harry, and just looking at him had something pinging low in Chloe’s belly.
He didn’t appear to have the same reaction to her, of course. Nothing rippled Sawyer’s implacable calm or got past that tough exterior. And he did have a hell of an exterior. At six feet three inches, he was built like a linebacker. But in a stunning defiance of physics, he usually had a way of moving all those mouth-watering muscles with an easy, male, fluid grace that would make an extreme fighter jealous.
Stupid muscles, Chloe thought as something deep within her tightened again from just looking at him. Some complicated combination of annoyance and reluctant lust. Last she’d checked, they had developed a sort of uneasy truce, meaning he lived by his rules and she lived by hers. Mostly this meant two different roads to the same conclusion, but there’d been some…misunderstandings.
Not wanting to explain last night—which would undoubtedly lead to another misunderstanding—she quickly yanked her sweatpants legs down to hide her injuries, shooting him the most professional smile in her repertoire. “Sheriff,” she said smoothly.
The guarded expression that he wore as purposefully as he did the gun at his hip slipped for a single beat as he looked around. “Just you this morning?”
“Yep.” Her smile turned genuine as Chloe enjoyed achieving what few could. She’d knocked that blank expression right off his face. She knew that was because he hadn’t been expecting her. It was usually Tara who made the coffee every morning, coffee so amazing that Sawyer routinely stopped by on his way to work for a cup instead of facing the station’s crap.
“Tara’s not out of Ford’s bed yet,” she informed him.
The mention of his best friend and Chloe’s sister in bed together made him grimace. Or more likely, it was Chloe’s bluntness. In either case, he recovered and strode to the coffeemaker, his gait oddly measured, as if he was as tired-to-the-bone as she.
The county police and sheriff departments played weekly baseball games against the firefighters and paramedics, and they’d had one last night. Maybe Sawyer had played too hard. Maybe he’d had a hot date after. Given how women tried to get pulled over by him just to get face time, it was possible. After all, according to Lucky Harbor’s Facebook page, phone calls to the county dispatch made by females between the ages of twenty-one and forty went up substantially whenever Sawyer was on duty.
His utility belt gleamed in the bright overhead light. His uniform shirt was wrinkled in the back and damp with sweat. She was wondering about that when he turned to her, gesturing to the coffeepot questioningly.
Heaven forbid the man waste a single word. “Help yourself,” she said. “I just made it.”
That made him pause. “You poison it?”
From her perch on the counter, she smiled. “Maybe.”
With a small head shake, Sawyer reached into the cupboard for the to-go mugs Tara kept there for him.
“You’re feeling brave, then,” she noted.
He lifted a broad-as-a-mountain shoulder as he poured, then pointed to her own mug steaming on the counter at her side. “You’re drinking it. You’re a lot of things, Chloe, but crazy isn’t one of them.”
She suspected one of those “things” was a big pain in his very fine ass, but she shrugged.
Sawyer leaned his big frame against the counter to study her. Quiet. Speculative.
Undoubtedly, people caved when he did this, rushing to fill the silence. But silence had never bothered Chloe. No, what bothered her was the way she felt when he looked at her like that. For one thing, his eyes were mesmerizing. They were the color of melting milk chocolate but sometimes, like now, the tiny gold flecks in them sparked like fire. His hair was brown, too, the sort that contained every hue under the sun and could never be replicated in a salon. At the moment, it was on the wrong side of his last cut and in a state of dishevelment, falling over his forehead in front and nearly to his collar in back. The lines in his face were drawn tight with exhaustion, and she realized that he probably hadn’t been headed in for his shift as she’d assumed, but just finishing one. Which meant that he’d been out all night, too, fighting crime like a superhero.
And yet somehow, he still managed to smell good. Guy good. She didn’t understand it, but everything about him reminded her that she was a woman.
And that she hadn’t had sex in far too long. “Seems a little early, even for you,” she noted.
“Could say the same to you.”
Something in his voice caused the first little niggle of suspicion in her brain and put her on alert. “Got a lot of things to mix up for the day spa I’m running later,” she said.
His eyes never wavered from hers. “Or?”
Crap. Crap, she’d underestimated him. He was onto her, and the nerves quivered in her belly. “Or what?” she asked casually, shifting to get down off the counter, not looking forward to the pain at the contact. But Sawyer moved before she could, blocking her escape. His hips wedged between her legs, one hand on her thigh, the other on her opposite ankle, holding her in place.
“Romantic,” she said dryly, even as her heart began to pound. “But I should get breakfast first, don’t you think?”
“You’re bleeding through your sweatpants.” He shoved the sweats back up her legs to her knees, careful to avoid the wounds. As his eyes fixed on the deep gashes, the only sign he gave that he felt anything was the bunching of his jaw.
Chloe tried to pull free, but he was twice her size and tightened his grip on her thigh. “Hold still.” He looked over the injuries, expression grim. “Explain.”
“Um, I fell getting out of bed?”
He lifted his head and pinned her with his sharp gaze. “Try again, without the question mark.”
“I fell hiking.”
“Yeah,” he said. “And I have some swamp land to sell you.”
“Hey, I could be telling the truth.”
“You don’t hike, Chloe. It aggravates your asthma.”
Actually, as it was turning out, living aggravated her asthma.
Sawyer bent to look more closely, pushing her hand away when she tried to block his view. “Steel,” he said. “Steel fencing, I’m guessing. Probably rusted.”
Her heart stopped. He knew. It seemed impossible—she’d been so careful—but he knew.
“You need a tetanus shot.” He straightened his big frame but didn’t move or let her go. “And a keeper, too,” he added tightly. “Where are the dogs, Chloe?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Except that she did. She knew because she’d spent the long hours of the night with her best friend, Lance, procuring the very six dogs he’d just mentioned.
AKA stealing them.
But in her defense, it had been a matter of life and death. The young pit bulls belonged to a guy named Nick Raybo, who’d planned on fighting them for sport. What Chloe and Lance had done had undoubtedly saved the dogs’ lives, but had also been good old-fashioned breaking and entering. And since B&E wasn’t exactly legal…
Sawyer waited her out, and for the record, he was good at it. As big and bad as he was, he had more patience than Job, a result, no doubt, of his years behind the badge and hearing every outrageous story under the sun. And like probably thousands before her, Chloe caved like a cheap suitcase. “The dogs are with Lance,” she said on a sigh.
He stared at her for one stunned beat. “Jesus, Chloe.”
“They were going to die!”
His expression still said one-hundred-percent cop, but there was a very slight softening in his tone. “You should have called me,” he said.
Maybe, she thought. “And you would have done what? They hadn’t begun the fighting yet so you couldn’t have taken the dogs off the property. And they were going to fight them tonight, Sawyer.” Even now it made her feel sick. “They were going to pit them against each other. To the death.” Her voice cracked a little on that, but he didn’t comment as he once again bent his head and studied the gouges on her legs.
He was right about how she’d gotten them. It’d happened when she’d crawled beneath the fence behind Lance as they’d made their escape. She held her breath, not knowing what Sawyer might do. He could arrest her, certainly. But he didn’t reach for his cuffs or cite her Miranda rights, both good signs in her book.
“These are deep,” was all he said.
She let out a breath. “They’re not so bad.”
“You clean them out?” He ran a long, callused finger down her calf alongside one particularly nasty gash, and she shivered. Not from pain. Maybe it was her exhaustion, or hell, maybe it was just from having him stand so close, but the stoic, tough-guy thing was sort of doing it for her this morning. He was a little on edge and sweaty, and a whole lot hot and sexy, and utterly without her permission, her brain rolled out a “Stern Cop and the Bad Girl” fantasy…
She blinked away the image of him frisking her. “Yeah?”
His expression a little wary now, he repeated himself. “Did you clean these out?”
He slid her a look, and she smiled innocently, but clearly she needed to have her hormone levels checked when she got her tetanus booster for this injury because she was way too aware of the heat and strength of him emanating through his uniform. Not to mention the matching heat washing through her, which was especially annoying because she had a personal decree that she never dated uptight, unbending men—particularly ones with badges.
The back door opened and Chloe jumped. Not Sawyer. Nothing ruffled him. Hell, he probably had sex without getting ruffled.
No, she thought, glancing up into his eyes. That wasn’t true. Sawyer would have no qualms about getting ruffled, and a little shiver racked her body just as her sister Maddie walked into the kitchen, followed by her fiancé, Jax.
Not too long ago, both Tara and Chloe had nicknamed Maddie “the mouse,” but she’d outgrown that moniker in spades since coming to Lucky Harbor. Now Maddie took one look at Sawyer wedged between Chloe’s thighs and stopped short so fast that Jax plowed into her back. “What’s this?” she demanded.
Chloe couldn’t blame anyone for the shock, as typically she and Sawyer didn’t share space well. In fact, usually when forced into close proximity, they resembled two tigers circling each other, teeth bared.
“Whatever it is,” Jax said, taking in the scene, “it looks like fun.” Jax was tall, lean, and on a mission as he poured himself a coffee and came directly toward Chloe, reaching for the drawer beneath her right thigh. “Can you move her leg?” he asked Sawyer. “I need a spoon, man.”
Mouth still agog, Maddie plopped down into a chair. She waggled a finger between Chloe and Sawyer. “So you two are…?”
“No!” Chloe said and shoved at Sawyer, who still didn’t budge, damn him. The two-hundred-plus lug was bent over her left calf again—the worst one—his hair brushing the insides of her thighs. She told herself not to think about how the silky strands would feel on her bare skin, but she totally did, and shivered again.
Sawyer looked up at her and she did her best to look cold instead of turned on. “You might actually need stitches,” he said.
With a horrified gasp, Maddie hopped up to come look. Seconds later, Chloe had her sister, her sister’s fiancé, and the man she didn’t quite know how to categorize at all, standing far too close, staring at her injuries. She tried to close her legs but couldn’t and tossed up her hands. “They’re just scratches!”
“Oh, Chloe,” Maddie murmured, concern creasing her brow. “Honey, you should have called me. What happened, and where else are you hurt?”
Sawyer’s gaze ran over Chloe’s entire body now, as if he could see through her sweats. A very naughty part of her brain considered telling him that the scratches went all the way up just so he’d demand a more thorough inspection.
Bad, bad brain. Because at just the thought, her chest tightened, and she had to reach for her inhaler, thanks to the asthma that always kept her slightly breathless.
And sexless. “It’s nothing,” she said. “I’m fine, all right? Back up.”
Sawyer gave Jax a light shove away from her. “She and Lance rescued six dogs from the McCarthy place last night,” he said to Maddie, ratting Chloe out without qualm.
Maddie shook her head, clearly horrified. “Chloe. God. That was…crazy dangerous.”
Hearing the worry in her voice had guilt tugging at Chloe. She couldn’t believe how much she’d grown to care about the two strangers that were her half-sisters, or for that matter, about Lucky Harbor and the people in it. The fact that she’d let down her guard enough to care at all was new.
For most of her childhood, it had been just Chloe and her mom, and the lessons had been clear: Connections weren’t meant to last past the overnight camping pass. Only traditionalists let themselves get trapped by things like boring relationships or full-time jobs. The special people were destined to spread their wings and live life fully and freely.
Like Chloe and Phoebe.
“Raybo is crazy,” Maddie said, moving to get coffee. “It could have gotten ugly.”
Chloe wished Sawyer would move, too, and gave him a nudge with her foot. Actually, it might have been more like a kick. Didn’t matter, he was a mountain and didn’t move.
“It’s awfully hot in here,” Maddie said, and opened the window.
“It’s called sexual tension.” Jax sent an eyebrow wiggle in Sawyer and Chloe’s direction.
Humor from the peanut gallery.
Sawyer sent Jax the sort of long, level look that undoubtedly had bad guys losing control of their bowels, but Jax just smiled. “If I was going to make that move on a woman, I’d at least have bought her breakfast first.”
Chloe nodded. “That’s what I said.”
Maddie plopped into Jax’s lap to cuddle up to him. “You made plenty of moves on me before you ever bought me breakfast.”
“I’m not making moves,” Sawyer said. Maddie and Jax stared pointedly at his position between Chloe’s thighs. He lifted his hands from her as if he’d been burned, backing up with his hands in the air. “Okay, I’m going to bed now. Alone.”
“You know what your problem is?” Jax asked. “You don’t know how to have fun. Haven’t for a long time.”
“Does this”—Sawyer pointed in the general vicinity of Chloe’s lower body—“look anything like fun to you?”
Jax choked back a snort, and even Maddie bit her lower lip to hide a smile.
“Jesus,” Sawyer said with a small head shake. “You know what I mean.”
Yeah. He’d meant the sorry mess Chloe had made of her legs, as well as the risks she’d taken last night, but she said “hey” anyway in token protest. Because dammit, her lower half could be lots of fun.
If she ever got to use it, that is.
“If things don’t seem right, try going left.”
One week later, Sawyer Thompson walked into his bedroom, dropped his gun and cell phone onto the nightstand, and glanced at his bed. It’d been a hell of a day, and the only thing that could have saved it would have been a woman waiting for him.
With nefarious intentions in mind.
He should have thought ahead when he’d broken it off with Cindy a few months back. But after four dates, the sweet, quiet, unassuming middle school teacher had already been unhappy going out with a guy who was on call just about 24-7.
He couldn’t blame her. But nor could he change for her.
Needing a hot shower, he stripped and stood beneath the spray. Pressing his palms to the tile wall, he dropped his head and let the water bead over his aching neck and shoulders. Today should have been a day off, but the county was perpetually understaffed, and fellow sheriff Tony Sanchez had taken a personal day to help his wife take their newborn twins for a checkup. This left Sawyer covering not just Lucky Harbor but two neighboring small towns as well.
By midmorning, he’d faced a dead homeless guy slumped on a park bench—natural causes, according to the ME—and delivered a newborn out on Highway 37 from a woman in labor who somehow thought it was a good idea to drive herself to the hospital with contractions only one and a half minutes apart.
After that, there was still time left in his day to break up a barroom brawl, deal with a domestic dispute call, and his favorite, rescue a five-year-old and his puppy from a muddy storm drain.
The shower removed the residual dirt clinging to him from that last call, but it didn’t revive him or numb the unrest coiling in his gut. A pizza and a beer might make a dent, but he didn’t have time for that. Earlier he’d heard a rumor that Nick Raybo had procured more dogs and was planning a midnight event. Sawyer was going to make sure that didn’t happen. Maybe he’d get pizza and beer afterward with Ford and Jax. Either of his best friends would join him no matter the time, but Sawyer knew he’d be shitty company tonight.
And in any case, what he really craved was a woman to bury himself in, and it wasn’t sweet Cindy who came to mind as he soaped up. Nope, against all the reason and logic that he prided himself on, he wanted the one woman whose favorite pastime seemed to be pushing his buttons.
The thought of it, of having Chloe, was about as crazy as his week had been. She was obstinate, impulsive, trouble with a capital T…and damn. Hot. She was also a walking-talking reminder of a part of his life he’d given up—the wild part. There was a lot of sexual attraction, but no future. Because while he was a permanent fixture in this town, Chloe was just a sexy little tumbleweed blowing through.
The day after the dog-nabbing incident, there’d been an article in the opinion section of the local paper about recent vandalisms and petty theft in the area. The anonymous writer had gone on to include a list of people in town known for trouble seeking, and Chloe had been on it.
Not a big surprise.
He wondered if she’d been disturbed or upset by it. It wasn’t in her nature to worry about what people thought of her. But he bet her sisters had been. They were trying to generate good press for the B&B, not negative.
Of course, if he’d arrested her for trespassing, B&E, and theft, that would have been negative press. And a personal hell for him since Tara and Maddie would have skinned him alive. Which was not why he hadn’t arrested her, he told himself. He hadn’t arrested her because…shit. Because for the first time in his adult life, he’d chosen to look the other way, and it didn’t sit well.
He’d seen her several times this week. Once when she’d been coming out of the urgent care with a Band-Aid on her arm from her tetanus shot, and then again riding her Vespa on the highway, her long, wild red hair billowing out behind her, her helmet and Hollywood-style sunglasses hiding most of her face.
And yesterday he’d run into her at the grocery store just as she was pulling a bottle of vodka from the shelf, which she’d assured him was for work.
He’d laughed. He’d only been in the store to grab a sports drink on the way to his weekly baseball game, but he’d immediately forgotten about that, standing there in the aisle feeling…alive. “Work,” he said. “The vodka’s for work.”
“It cleans glass like nobody’s business. And if applied topically, it works as a great preservative. And did you know that used as a non-topical application, it’s the perfect man cure?”
“A few shots, and you’re cured of wanting one.”
He shook his head now at the memory. How in the hell she managed to make him want to both kiss her and run like hell was beyond him. He stepped out of the shower, dropped his towel, and pulled on fresh clothes before going back out. When he was on duty, he drove a department marked SUV. His personal vehicle was a truck. Both were equipped for whatever came his way, and tonight, going low profile, he took the truck. Lucky Harbor was basically a tiny little bowl sitting on the rocky Washington State coast, walled in by majestic peaks and lush forest. It was all an inky shadow now.
Nick Raybo had ten acres of land out at Eagle’s Bluff, deep into the forest. It was rugged and isolated out there, perfect for all sorts of illegal dealings and a favorite place for partiers.
But that’s not where Sawyer headed first.
At this time of night, his truck was the only vehicle on the road as he headed down the hill into town. The moon peeked through the clouds, hanging low and wan. It cast a pale glow over the Pacific Ocean churning against the rocky terrain off to his left. The pier was dark, the town was dark, and his thoughts were darker still.
He’d been raised here, though he used the term “raised” loosely. It’d been just him and his father, Nolan Thompson, a blue-collar union man who believed in hard work, Jim Beam, and ruling with an iron fist.
Or in Sawyer’s case, a wicked long leather belt.
It hadn’t helped much. Sawyer had been just about as wild as they came, which made it all the more amusing to those who knew him best that he now wielded a badge.
He drove through town and onto the narrow road that led to the Lucky Harbor Beach B&B. The inn was a Victorian, freshly painted and renovated, lit up warm and welcoming for guests. Pulling around to the back of the property, he idled in front of the small owner’s cottage where Chloe lived.
The lights were off.
Sawyer hoped like hell that meant she was sleeping and not up at Eagle’s Bluff with Lance in the middle of another Two Stooges act that could get them killed this time, but his luck wasn’t running that way. A quick swipe of his flashlight didn’t reveal her Vespa.
Exhausted and doing a slow burn at the thought of what Chloe might be up to, he got out of his truck to check around. To his relief, he found her Vespa parked on the side of the cottage.
On the way back to his truck, he flicked his light to the front door, taking in the potted plants thriving there and the yoga mat leaning against the wall. When she was in Lucky Harbor and not working at a spa somewhere around the country, Chloe liked to do yoga on the beach at sunrise. He’d seen her on that very mat, lit by the morning sun glinting off the waves, her tanned, toned limbs bent in impossible ways that made him think of other, better ways to bend them. Chloe on her mat was not only a huge turn-on, but an anomaly. She was blithe and breathless, literally, both from her free-spirited nature and from her severe asthma—the one exception being when she was doing yoga, the sole thing in her life that required a deep, calm stillness. Most likely that was what drew her to it.
He had no idea what drew him to her.
Okay, not true. She had a sharp mind, an even sharper wit, and used both to drive him up a wall as often as she could.
She was good at it.
He was good at letting her.
Shaking his head at himself, Sawyer turned to go just as someone cried out, the sound cutting through the night. He was at the front door, gun in hand, when the cry came again.
Not a pain-filled scream, he realized. Not one of terror either, but of passion. Loud passion, he corrected as she did it again.
Jesus. Closing his eyes, Sawyer dropped his head to the door, wishing like hell he wasn’t here, listening to Chloe in the throes of what sounded like wild animal sex.
When the scream came a third time, a ridiculously over-the-top porn-star wail of epic proportions, it was accompanied by a low, husky, unmistakably male voice.
Definitely time to get the hell out of there. Sawyer turned on his heel to do just that, but the porch light suddenly flickered on, fully illuminating him to whoever was peeking out the peephole. A second later, the bolt clicked and the front door whipped open.
Grimacing, he turned back. Chloe stood in the doorway, her best friend, Lance, at her side, both fully dressed, thank Christ.
Lance ran the ice cream shop on the pier with his brother, Tucker. He was in his mid-twenties like Chloe, but painfully thin and pale from the cystic fibrosis that had been ravaging his body all his life.
Next to him, Chloe seemed to glow, the embodiment of health and exuberance. Her shiny, dark red hair was in wild waves tonight, loosely flying past her shoulders except for the few long bangs that framed her face. She was beautiful enough to be a model, but missing the compliant gene. Chloe had never met a direction or a command that suited her.
She wore a soft, black hoodie sweater that clung to her breasts and dark, hip-hugging jeans tucked into high-heeled boots that gave off a don’t-fuck-with-me air but made him ache to do just that. There was a wildness to her tonight, hell, every night, and an inner darkness that he was drawn to in spite of himself.
It called to his true inner nature, the matching wildness and darkness within him, which he’d tried to bury a long time ago. Ridiculously relieved that she wasn’t having sex, Sawyer backed up to go. She was home, safe and sound, and that was all he cared about.
“Sawyer? What are you doing here?”
Good question. He opened his mouth with absolutely no idea exactly what he planned to say, but Lance suddenly staggered and put his hand to his head.
Chloe instantly slid an arm around Lance’s narrow waist to steady him. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” Lance said, pushing free. “Got up too fast, is all.”
“Here, sit.” Ignoring his resistance, Chloe gently pushed Lance back inside, to the couch in the small living room. With a hand on his shoulder, she lifted her face to Sawyer, leveling him with her dark green eyes.
A jolt went through him, a zap of something he didn’t care to name.
“What can I do for you, Sheriff?” she asked.
Yeah, Sawyer, what can she do for you? He searched his brain. “You can explain breaking the noise ordinance.”
Lance laughed softly.
“Noise ordinance?” Chloe asked. “I broke the noise ordinance with my pretend orgasm?”
“You did sound like a mule stuck in a tar pit,” Lance said helpfully.
“A mule—” Chloe choked on a laugh. “Okay, no one who’s heard the real thing would ever even think of comparing me to a mule.”
This information didn’t help Sawyer at all. “Is that right?”
Chloe’s gaze locked on his. In the sudden charged silence, Lance cleared his throat. “This is weird. I’m going to the kitchen now, while the two of you finish…whatever the hell this is. Call for me if you’re going to need bailing out, Chloe.”
“Sure,” she said, her gaze never leaving Sawyer’s. “I’ll let you know if I end up in cuffs.”
Lance grimaced. “Okay, never mind. Don’t call me.”
Chloe laughed, but Sawyer was stuck on the mental image of her in his cuffs. If he’d been half the cop he liked to think he was, it wouldn’t, couldn’t, cause such an erotic rush.
Something came into Chloe’s eyes that told him she knew exactly where his mind had just gone—and that just maybe hers had gone there, too. The temperature in the room seemed to shoot up, but the sound of a harsh coughing in the kitchen, hard and relentless, like someone was dying, sent a chill down Sawyer’s back.
Chloe rushed into the kitchen, instantly all soft, warm, caring woman, in a way that Sawyer had never seen directed at him. When he followed, he found her murmuring something for Lance’s ears only, reaching for him.
Lance, clearly not willing to be babied, held her off, pounding a fist to his own chest to try to catch some desperately needed air. When he’d finally recovered, he looked over Chloe’s head at Sawyer. “If you’re here to make sure she’s not going to Eagle’s Bluff tonight, the coast’s clear. She’s not going.”
“Wait— What?” Chloe said, dividing a look between both men. “Nick has more dogs?”
Lance’s face went blank. “Had.”
Sawyer sighed. “You took them already.”
“That would be breaking and entering, and stealing,” Lance said.
Ah, Christ. Sawyer didn’t know whether to be relieved that Lance hadn’t dragged Chloe into it again, or be pissed off that he’d once again taken matters into his own hands instead of letting Sawyer handle it. He settled on pissed off because it was easier. “It has to go through proper channels to get it stopped permanently. You know that.”
“Proper channels are too slow for the dogs,” Lance said unapologetically.
“If you get caught with them, Raybo will press charges.”
Lance shrugged. He didn’t care. And why should he? The guy was already facing a virtual death sentence with the CF, which left him hell bent and determined to say “fuck you” to karma whenever possible.
Chloe was giving Lance a dark look. She was pissed. But Lance just shook his head. “Like you needed another mention in the paper as a troublemaker.”
“I don’t care what people think, Lance. I care about you. And those dogs.”
“You care what people think of the inn. You care that people whispering about you might keep the inn from getting good word of mouth. You care that it could hurt your sisters.”
Chloe let out a breath. “Yeah. I do.”
The sudden scent of acrid smoke had Sawyer frowning, and turning on his heel, he headed back outside. Beyond the inn and the cottage was the ocean. He couldn’t see it in the dark, but he could hear it pounding the shore. Off to the left was the marina building and dock, and beyond that, woods. The trees were thick as feathers, growing right up to the waterline in some spots. He couldn’t see a fire, but he could sure as hell smell it. It was illegal to have a campfire without a permit, not to mention they were in the middle of high fire season, but suddenly from somewhere beyond the tree line came an undeniable glow.
Sawyer turned back to the door, nearly plowing over Chloe, who’d come out after him. It was automatic to reach for her, to grip her arms until balance was restored, but for a beat, they were plastered to each other. Her hair brushed his jaw, her soft breasts pressed against his chest, and as tended to happen with her, he felt something stir inside him other than a frustrated indifference.
She murmured a soft, nearly inaudible apology but didn’t pull away.
“My fault,” he said, looking down in her face. “Who’s in your woods?”
“Tucker and some of his friends,” Lance said from behind her.
Tucker was Lance’s older brother, which meant the friends with him were Jamie and Todd, and aside from the fact that Todd and Sawyer went way back, to a time Sawyer preferred not to think about, the combo of those four guys usually spelled mayhem. “They have a permit?”
Right. No permit. “They doing anything illegal out there besides the campfire?” Sawyer asked.
“Maybe drinking beer.”
Perfect. When Todd drank, he became the King of the Terminally Stupid. The others were never far behind. Sawyer stepped off the porch, stopping when Chloe followed him. He grabbed her wrist, his thumb brushing the very small tattoo she had there at her pulse point, an Asian symbol he didn’t know the meaning of.
“I want to come with—”
“No,” he said, knowing the smoke would bring on her asthma. “Wait here.”
At the command, her face closed, and for a moment he wished…
Hell. He had no idea what he wished when it came to her. She twisted him in fucking knots. It used to be they just rubbed each other the wrong way, but lately he’d been extremely caught up in rubbing her the right way. Which actually, when it came right down to it, made him the King of the Terminally Stupid.
“It’s always darkest before dawn. So if you’re going to steal your neighbor’s newspaper, that’s the time to do it.”
Chloe held Sawyer’s steely gaze with one of her own, though she got a crick in her neck doing it. He was big, armed to the teeth, and if the flash in his eyes meant anything, his irritation level was on the rise.
Nothing new when it came to her.
To be fair, she’d certainly earned his wrath on several occasions, back when she’d first arrived in Lucky Harbor. But she’d grown up over the past year and was learning—or trying anyway—to curb her impulsive, reckless behavior. Having grown up with a mother whose only consistent passion had been following the Grateful Dead, Chloe hadn’t learned a whole lot about roots or long-lasting relationships. Or long-lasting anything for that matter. But she was working on it, on becoming more aware of both herself and how her actions affected others. And also what it meant to care. There was no doubt that she was still a work in progress, but then again, she’d never claimed to be anything but.
And slightly tamed though she might be, she could still dig in her heels with the best of them. So when Sawyer commanded her to “wait here,” the urge to do the opposite was strong.
It would appear that she wasn’t quite as grown up as she thought.
In response to her unspoken reaction, the very corners of Sawyer’s lips twitched. Not quite a smile. More like a grimace to go with the faint lines of stress around his eyes and mouth and the tension in his shoulders.
He was tired. From the look of it, he’d already had a hell of a long day, which only added to the ruffian edge to him. He wore a button-down untucked over the gun at his hip, and jeans that fit him perfectly across the butt. Yes, she’d checked.
And let’s not forget the testosterone and pheromones and all around general air of badassness. He was a man always ready for anything, anytime, and he wasn’t someone to tangle with. Something she knew all too well. He was intense, hard, unyielding, and—
“The smoke, Chloe. Stay back because of the smoke.”
—and uncompromisingly fair. With a sigh, she nodded.
He gave her one last long look and walked toward the woods. She’d never been drawn to ridiculous displays of naked courage or sheer brawn, but Sawyer really brought it to a whole new level.
“You’re drooling,” Lance said dryly, having stepped up to her side.
She ignored him, not taking her eyes off the spot where Sawyer had vanished. No, she wasn’t drooling, but something just as bad. She was tingling. It’s okay, she told herself. A woman would have to be dead not to feel anything when she looked at Sawyer Thompson, and Chloe wasn’t close to dead.
Yet, she thought wryly, feeling the smoke begin to invade her lungs. Twice a day, she took meds to control her asthma, but she also carried a fast-acting inhaler for the in-between times when she hit trouble—like now. She pulled it out of her pocket and took a puff. Then she looked over at Lance. “Where’s your sweatshirt? Your lips are blue.”
They both knew his lips weren’t blue because he was cold, but Lance obligingly went back inside for his sweatshirt. “You’re so predictable, Chloe.”
Chloe was many things. She was a sister, a friend, an esthetician. She was a wanderer and an adventurer. She was also hard-willed, stubborn as an ox, and quick to temper. But one thing she wasn’t, was predictable. “Take that back,” she said.
“Predictable,” he repeated. “Among other things.”
“Such as?” She stepped off the porch but stopped when Lance grabbed her wrist.
“You’re staying,” he said. “I don’t want to get arrested tonight for aggravating an officer.”
“He won’t arrest you for that.” But he was right, there was no reason to piss Sawyer off. And yet, dammit, staying went against the grain. Like so many other things in her life. It was her asthma’s fault. It held her back, and because of it, she tended to push the envelope too far in other ways. She understood that, from the outside looking in, it might seem like she had a secret death wish, but she didn’t. It was just that when she was in the midst of an asthma attack, she often felt so close to death that she, well, dared it. But she just wanted to run or dance or laugh hard, or have sex without needing an inhaler and possibly an ambulance.
Not exactly a common problem, but one that often left her straddling a fine line between socially acceptable behavior and the wild yearnings her mother had always encouraged. Her sisters wanted her to stop pushing those boundaries and settle down a little. And it was that which bothered Chloe more than anything. The message was simple: If she wanted to be accepted, even loved, by those she’d come to care about, she’d need to change. But dammit, she wanted to be accepted just as she was, imperfections and all. “Predictable,” she said like it was a dirty word.
Lance sighed and put a hand over hers. “Okay, maybe not predictable so much as…”
He laughed softly.
He got her, and always had. So it really sucked that they had no chemistry together. “Lance?”
She squeezed his fingers. “I’m really annoyed that you aren’t sexy.”
“Gee, thanks,” he said dryly.
“To me, I mean.” She nudged her shoulder against his. “I want to want you. You know?”
Lance slid a hand to her ass. “Give me ten minutes and I’ll change your mind— Oof,” he said when she elbowed him, but he laughed good-naturedly. He knew. They both knew. First of all, he was like her brother and had been since the day they’d met. And second, he was totally, completely, pathetically hung-up on one of the cute nurses at the medical center where he spent far too much of his time.
Not that he’d ever do anything about it.
“What woman would be attracted to a sick guy with a looming expiration date?” he’d asked her once.
Which left it just the two of them against the world.
Not having sex.
A low-lying fog was rolling in off the water, slipping through the night toward them like silvery fingers. Through it, several shadows appeared, materializing into the outlines of men. Todd, Tucker, and Jamie, with bad attitude in every line of their bodies.
Sawyer was behind them.
As they came closer, Chloe saw that Todd was holding a piece of paper. Normally he was also one of those easy charmers who could convince a nun to give up her habit. He’d certainly turned it on her as often as possible—not that it’d ever gotten him anywhere. But now he displayed none of that charm, passing by the porch without a word, heading around to the side of the marina where they’d parked. Jamie went with him.
Not Tucker. He stopped and looked up the porch steps at his brother, an odd tension simmering between the siblings. “You okay?” Tucker finally asked, and when Lance nodded, he gestured the way Todd and Jamie had gone. “Then let’s go, we’re out of here.”
Lance’s gaze slid to the retreating stiff shoulders of Todd and Jamie with unease, and Chloe grabbed his hand. “You promised to stay and try out my chest rub to see if it helps you breathe easier, remember? I’ll drive you home after.”
When Tucker left without another word, Lance squeezed her hand, then dropped it. “I’ll be inside,” he said, and with one last look at the still silent Sawyer, vanished into the cottage.
Chloe turned to the sheriff. The shimmering tension between them certainly wasn’t sibling-like. Nor was it going to disappear anytime soon, which meant she had two choices: Get used to it or fight it.
Because Sawyer was the last man on earth that she should ever get involved with, option number two was the smart route.
Returning her gaze evenly, he waited. He never spoke more words than absolutely necessary, and this drove her batshit crazy. “What happened out there?”
“I ticketed Todd for the illegal bonfire.”
“He was the one who started it.”
She paused. Todd was one of those guys who could talk his way into a bank vault with nothing but a smile, and then walk out with all the money, leaving the bank manager happy to have been ripped off. He was also a native Lucky Harbor guy, and the residents were very fond of their own, troubled son or no.
Sawyer was native too, and just as well liked, if not more so. “You ticketed him even though everyone lights illegal bonfires out there?”
“Not in a high fire hazard season, they don’t,” he said.
“It’s almost October.”
“Fire season,” Sawyer repeated.
“So…if I lit a campfire, you’d arrest me?”
“Ticket,” he corrected. “Not arrest. Not for a first offense.”
What was wrong with her that the stern cop thing he had going on was doing it for her? Huh. Maybe she didn’t want to fight this attraction so much as test its boundaries. “What if it was my second offense? Would you frisk and cuff me then?”
His eyes darkened. “What is it with you and my cuffs?”
“Well, if you don’t know,” Chloe said as demurely as she could, “I don’t want to corrupt you.” She made to go inside, but Sawyer snagged her sweater and tugged her back.
“Not so fast,” he said and studied her, giving nothing of his thoughts away. “You’re playing with me,” he finally decided.
“I don’t like games, Chloe.”
No shit. She’d known him for nearly a year now, and yet she didn’t know him at all. He kept everything extremely close to the vest, which she could admit made her quite envious, as she was completely incapable of doing the same.
“What were you and Lance up to earlier?” he wanted to know.
“Popcorn. Chatting. Stuff.”
“I mean with the Meg Ryan orgasm impersonation.”
She hesitated. This was going to be embarrassing. “I’m not sure you’re going to understand.”
“Okay, well, sometimes the cottage creaks at night, you know?”
“It’s probably the wood and joints settling.”
“Yes, but it’s the ‘probably’ part that gets me. At night, it’s…loud.”
“And you sleep here alone now.”
“Yes.” Maddie had moved in with Jax, and in fact, was marrying him in two months. Tara had moved out as well to live with her boyfriend, Ford. The three sisters worked out shifts when they had overnight guests, but for the most part, Chloe took care of anything that came up because she was the one without a life. “Sometimes it sounds like there’s a…ghost.” She waited for him to laugh, and even gave some thought to all the ways she might hurt him if he did, but he didn’t.
He just looked at her meditatively. “You could tell your sisters you don’t like sleeping here alone.”
Hell, no. She’d already managed to stir up negative press; she wasn’t going to bring more chaos. “They have more on their plates than I do. I’m not going to add worry or grief to it by telling them I’m afraid.” And she wished like hell that she wasn’t telling him either. “It’s no big deal. It’s just that I read one Stephen King too many, and sometimes, I get a little freaked is all. Lance knows that and comes over, and we make up funny stories to go with my ghost.”
“Tonight we decided the ghost died here at age ninety-nine. A virgin.”
“A ninety-nine-year-old-virgin ghost.”
“Hey, it’s not as unlikely as you might think. Anyway, she can’t go on to her afterlife until she has an orgasm. So she stays here, granting wishes. Tonight Lance wished for a long, normal life, and…” Her throat tightened because Lance could wish all he wanted but it wasn’t going to happen for him. And God, how she hated that, hated it so damn much that sometimes she couldn’t breathe just thinking about it. “So assuming the ghost grants his wish,” she said softly, “in return, we were trying to give her the orgasm she’d never had.”
His mouth twitched. “A fake orgasm.”
“Yes, well, it’s the best we had.” She didn’t know how she felt about Sawyer catching her silly show, or what the hell he could have possibly thought when he’d heard her screaming.
Or why she cared…
But she did. And in return, he nodded in understanding. It didn’t exactly go with the tough, unflappable cop image she’d always had of him, a guy who followed the rules and a set path for life like a map, no veering. Black and white, always.
He certainly wasn’t someone who would get her need to live saturated in color.
Lance poked his head out and showed her that he was holding the chest rub. “Ready to take me home?”
Nodding, Chloe turned from Sawyer.
“Chloe,” he said. “You’re staying away from Eagle’s Bluff tonight.”
She glanced back, not surprised he’d bring it up again, and even less surprised that it was a command and not a question. “Sure.”
“I mean it, Chloe.”
He was back to being all cop. It defined him. It suited him. It must be nice to know what defined you, what suited you. “I know you do, Sheriff.”
He let her go, and she got on the Vespa, putting on her helmet. Lance got on behind her and slid his arms around her waist. Chloe revved the engine and hit the gas, glancing into her side mirror.
As they pulled away, she could see Sawyer standing there watching them go in the growing fog.
“Why was man created before woman? Because you always need a rough draft before the final copy.”
Chloe got up before dawn, when the sky was still inky black. Every October was fire season but this October, drier than any in recent history, made it all the more dangerous. Still, there were some benefits to a dry fall, and taking advantage of it, she dressed in yoga pants and a long-sleeved tee and took her mat to the beach to work out. When she was on the road, she did yoga in some of the fanciest hotels in the world, but here, with the rhythmic pulsing of the waves crashing onto the rocks, the seagulls squawking, the sand crunching beneath her mat—this was her favorite.
Afterward, she walked. She didn’t usually do that, couldn’t if her chest was too tight, but she had the time this morning and needed to burn some energy.
Everything was quiet, not a single soul stirring except the seagulls and the pounding surf, but she knew her way well enough by now to get along in the predawn. Lucky Harbor was a picturesque little beach town, nestled in a rocky cove with an eclectic mix of the old and new. The main drag was lined with Victorian-style buildings, most painted in a variety of bright colors. There was a long pier that jutted out into the water, lined with a café, a few shops, an arcade, and a Ferris wheel. Since Chloe wasn’t ready to face her day, she walked the pier to the end, standing in one of the far corners between two benches so that she could feel surrounded by the ocean below.
She gave herself a Titanic moment, closing her eyes, raising her face to the salty, still chilly air. To the east, the dark sky was tinged slightly purple with the coming day.
It was hard to believe that she was still here in Lucky Harbor. A year ago, she, Tara, and Maddie had been living their own lives, rarely connecting, so different. Whether that was due to the mysteries of genetics from their three different fathers or simply the fact that they’d been raised separately, Chloe didn’t know. Their mom, Phoebe Traeger, had been the embodiment of a true, free spirit. She’d kept to the road, found love—often—then had moved along. Nothing had stuck to Phoebe, not even her two eldest daughters. Nothing except Chloe. Chloe had been her one concession to a traditional life, if you could consider being schooled in the back of a VW bus and eating most of their meals in soup kitchens traditional.
Tara’s father had taken Tara with him when he and Phoebe’s relationship had deteriorated. Maddie’s father had done the same when she’d come along a few years later. Chloe couldn’t say what her own father had done or felt, as she’d never known him. Phoebe hadn’t talked about him and had always dodged Chloe’s questions by claiming Chloe was a gift from a life well lived.
Ahead of Chloe, the Pacific Ocean was a deep, choppy sea of black, meeting the metallic sky. The entire vista was framed by rocky bluffs, misty and breathtaking. She stood there and wondered at her fondness for this place, which seemed to anchor her like no other. She’d been fond of places before, lots of them, but she’d never had a connection like the one she’d had with Lucky Harbor.
When she heard footsteps come up behind her, she instinctively grabbed her inhaler like it was Mace and whirled around.
Sawyer stood there all rugged and damp from exertion and looking damn gorgeous. He took in her ready stance and then the inhaler, held out like a gun. “Going to shoot me with that?”
Chloe shoved the inhaler back into her waistband. “What are you doing?” It was a stupid question, born of nerves. He was dressed in sweatpants and a T-shirt, breathing heavy but not overly labored. Clearly he’d been running, which caused a yearning to well up within her to do the same. But running would be like stepping out in front of a speeding car—deadly.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Of course.” It was easier to think of Sawyer as a badge. A sanctimonious authority figure, and an irritating one at that. But whether she liked it or not, there was more to the man, much more. Yeah, he was tough, stoic, and impenetrable, but once in a while he’d reveal more, like the way his eyes filled with concern when he’d seen her injuries after rescuing the dogs, not to mention how he’d let her stretch the letter of the law that night. “I’m always okay,” she said. “Tell me what happened last night at Eagle’s Bluff.”
He gave her one of his patented “yeah right” looks.
Okay, so he was still more irritating than intriguing. Good to know. “Come on, Sheriff. It’ll be on Facebook if anything went down, so you might as well spill.”
The threat was legit. Lucille ran the local art gallery and Lucky Harbor’s Facebook page with equal enthusiasm. In fact, her updates were practically required reading for Lucky Harbor residents. She reported on the happenings in town, each detail joyfully chronicled, the juicier the better.
“We found no dogs on the premises,” he said.
He shifted to go, but she asked the question that was tweaking her curiosity. “So why did you stop?”
“Why didn’t you just keep running when you saw me out here?”
Not a blink. Not even a shrug.
“Sheriff Sawyer Thompson,” she murmured. “Communication master.”
The very corner of his mouth turned up slightly. It knocked her off balance a little.
“Let me guess,” she said. “You couldn’t resist me.” She couldn’t say why she was poking the bear, but maybe it was her version of running…with scissors. “You saw me, and you couldn’t resist me, and so you stopped to…”
“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?” she asked. “I mean, we don’t like each other. We don’t have anything in common. Whatever would we do with each other?”
His eyes heated at that, and in reaction, her nipples contracted to two tight beads. Hmmm. Apparently they could do plenty. But before she could process that, he took a step back as if to go.
“I scare you,” Chloe said.
“Hell, yeah,” he admitted, shocking a laugh from her. He wasn’t afraid. Nothing scared him. But she’d learned not to tangle with the good sheriff unless she was on her A-game, and that wasn’t the case at the moment. Being in Sawyer’s presence took all of her concentration so that she didn’t accidentally give herself away. Because the truth was, in spite of the overwhelming odds of the two of them being a major train wreck if they ever got together, she wanted him.
It was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever wanted.
After all, he was rigid where she was flexible. He was black and white, and she was all the rainbow in between, and they didn’t go together.
Not that her body cared about logic. He was the most virile, potent, testosterone-filled guy she’d ever met. Sex with him would be fireworks, thunderstorms.
But even she knew that she wasn’t ready for prime time with Sawyer Thompson. “I have to go.”
“Now who’s scared?”
“No, I have to get back to the inn.” It was nearly seven, and she needed to beat her sisters there. They hadn’t had any guests last night, but Tara was adamant that someone always be available, even at the ass crack of dawn.
Someone being Chloe, naturally.
“Know what I think?” Sawyer asked.
Excerpted from Head Over Heels by Shalvis, Jill Copyright © 2011 by Shalvis, Jill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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