Sweet little lies, p.11
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       Sweet Little Lies, p.11

         Part #1 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
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  Worth every second of the walk. Almost. Finn’s house was a Victorian-style, narrow row house. The garage was on the bottom floor, two stories above that, with steps leading up to the front door and down to a short driveway—on which sat a ’66 Chevelle.

  The sexy muscle car’s hood was up and a very sexy jeans-covered tush was all Pru could see sticking out of it. She recognized the perfect glutes as Finn’s—clearly a sign she’d been ogling said perfect glutes too much. Not that she was repentant in the slightest about this, mind you. In any case, his long denim-covered legs were spread for balance, his T-shirt stretching taut over his flexing shoulder and back muscles and riding up enough to expose a strip of navy boxers and a few inches of some skin.

  She tried not to stare and failed. “Hi,” she said.

  Nothing. He just kept doing whatever it was he was doing under the hood, which involved some serious straining of those biceps.

  She moved a little closer. “Finn?”

  More nothing, but now she could hear the tinny sound of music and caught sight of the cord from his earbuds.

  He was listening to something. Loudly. Classic rock by the sounds of it.

  She stared at him, at the streaks of grease on his jeans and over one arm, at the damp spot at the small of his back making his shirt cling to him . . . It was the kind of thing that in the movies would be accompanied by a montage of him moving in slow motion to music, the camera moving in and focusing on that lean, hard body.

  Giving herself a mental shake, Pru set Thor down, and holding his leash, shifted even closer to Finn before reaching out to tap him. But at the last minute she hesitated because once again she couldn’t figure out where to touch him. Her first choice wasn’t exactly appropriate. Neither was her second.

  So she settled for his shoulder.

  If he’d done the same to her, she probably would’ve jumped and banged her head on the hood. But Finn had better reflexes, and certainly better control over them. Still cranking on something with a wrench, he simply turned only his head to give her a level stare.

  “Hi,” she said again and bent over at the waist, hands to her knees to try to catch her breath. “That’s quite a hill.”

  He reached up and pulled out one earbud. “Hi yourself. Need an oxygen tank?”

  “You kid, but I totally do.”

  “You’re still wearing glitter,” he said with a smile.

  “Five showers since that night,” she said, tossing up her hands. “I’ve taken five showers and it’s still everywhere. And Thor has been pooping glitter for days . . .”

  Still smiling, he crouched and held out his hand for Thor. “You were quite the show the other night.”

  She chewed on her lip, not sure if he was teasing or complimenting her or not.

  “I could watch you do that every night,” he admitted.

  “What, make a fool of myself?”

  His smile turned into a full-fledged grin. “Sing and dance like no one’s watching. Live like no one’s watching.”

  And just like that, she melted a little.

  Thor was sniffing Finn’s hand carefully, cautiously, wanting to make sure this was his Finn, and finally he wagged his tail.

  “Atta boy. It’s just me.” Finn opened his arms and Thor moved in for a hug.

  Pru stared at the big, sexy guy so easily loving up on her silly dog and felt her throat go a little tight.

  “I know Archer didn’t tell you where I live,” Finn said, eyes still on Thor. “Or Spence. I mean, Spence would if he thought it was funny but they’re both pretty hardcore about having my back.”

  The hardcore part was undoubtedly true. She’d seen the three guys with each other. There were bonds there that seemed stronger than any relationship she’d ever had, a fact that played into her deepest, most secret insecurity—that she might be unlovable.

  “Elle values privacy above everything else,” Finn said, “which leaves the busybodies.” He was watching her now. “Willa or Haley?” he asked.

  “Neither.” She hesitated, not wanting to get Sean in trouble.

  “Shit.” Finn rose, Thor happily tucked under one arm like he was a football. “Eddie?”

  “Eddie?” Pru asked, confused. “Who’s Eddie?”

  “The old guy who enjoys dumpster diving, eating dope brownies, and not minding his own business.”

  Pru gaped. “I’ve been feeding him for a month now and he’s never told me his name. And I’ve asked a million times!”

  “He likes to be mysterious. And also his brain might be fried from all those brownies. You going to tell me how you found me or not?”

  She blew out a breath. “Sean. But he didn’t tell me to mess with you or anything,” she said hurriedly. “He did it because I have a favor to ask of you and needed to see you in person to do it.”

  “Sean was at the pub?”

  “Yes,” she said.

  “Working?”

  “I think so . . .”

  “Huh,” he said. “He must have fallen and bumped his head.”

  “He seemed to have all his faculties about him,” she said. “Or at least as many as usual.”

  Finn snorted and set Thor down. The dog turned in a circle at Pru’s feet and then plopped over with an utter lack of grace.

  “I brought you a present,” Pru said.

  “What?” Finn lifted his gaze from Thor to her face. “Why?”

  The question threw her. “Well, partly to butter you up for the favor,” she admitted. “I figured if I made you laugh, you’d—”

  “I don’t need a present to do you a favor,” he said, his voice different now. Definitely wary, and something else she couldn’t place.

  She cocked her head. “You know, presents are supposed to be a good thing.”

  When he just looked at her, she wondered . . . didn’t anyone ever give him anything? And suddenly she wished it was a real present and not a gag gift. But it was too late now so she slipped her backpack off and pulled the bag from inside. Seriously second-guessing herself, not entirely certain of this, not even close, she hesitated.

  He took the bag from her and peered inside, face inscrutable.

  Nothing. No reaction.

  “It’s a man’s athletic cup,” she finally said, stating the obvious.

  “I can see that.”

  “I figured if we’re going to hang out together, you might need it.”

  He stilled and then a low laugh escaped him. “What I need with you, Pru, is full body armor.”

  True statement.

  He lifted his head. “And who says we’re hanging out?” he asked, his gaze holding hers prisoner.

  She hesitated briefly. “I do.”

  His eyes never left hers which was how she saw them warm. “Well, then,” he said. “I guess it’s true.”

  Their eyes stayed locked, holding for a long beat, and suddenly Pru had a hard time pulling in enough air for her lungs.

  “So what’s the favor?” he asked.

  “I play on a coed softball league. We’re short a player tonight and I was hoping—”

  “No.”

  She blinked. “But I didn’t even finish my sentence.”

  “You’re short a player for tonight’s game and you want me to fill in,” he said.

  “Well, yes, but—”

  “Can’t.”

  She took in his suddenly closed-off expression. “Because . . . you’re against fun?”

  He didn’t react to her light teasing. He wasn’t going to play. He clearly had a good reason, maybe many, but he didn’t plan on sharing them.

  “You should’ve called and saved yourself a trip,” he said.

  “I didn’t want to make it easy for you to say no.”

  “I’m still saying no, Pru.”

  “What if I said I need you?” she asked softly.

  He paused for the slightest of beats. “Then I’d say you have my full attention.”

  “I mean we need you. The team,” she said. “We’ll have t
o forfeit—”

  “No.”

  She crossed her arms. “You said I had your attention.”

  “You have that and more,” he said cryptically. “But I’m still not playing tonight. Or any night.”

  She knew he was living life carefully, always prepared for anything to go bad. But she knew that wasn’t any way to live because the truth was that any minute life could be poof—gone. “Do you remember the other day when you caught me at my worst and saw a few of my demons?” she asked quietly.

  “You mean when the picture frame broke.”

  “Yes,” she said, not surprised he knew exactly what she was talking about, that she hadn’t been even slightly effective in hiding her painful memories from him.

  “You didn’t want to talk about it,” he said.

  “No,” she agreed. “And you let me get away with that.” She dropped her gaze a little and stared at his torso rather than let him see what she was feeling now. “Whether it was because it doesn’t matter to you, or because you have your own demons, I don’t know, but—”

  “Pru.”

  Oh thank God, he’d shut her up. Sometimes she really needed help with that. She stared at his neck now, unable to help noticing even in her growing distress and sudden discomfort that he had a very masculine throat, one that made her want to press her face to it and maybe her lips too. And her tongue . . .

  “Pru, look at me.”

  He said this in his usual low timbre, but there was a gentle demand to the tone now that had her lifting her gaze to his.

  “It matters,” he said. “You matter.”

  This caused that now familiar squishy feeling in her belly, the one only he seemed to be able to evoke. But it also meant that it was his demons eating at him and this killed her. “Softball is a problem for you,” she whispered.

  “No.” He closed his eyes for a beat. “Yeah. Maybe a little, by association.” He blew out a sigh and turning his head, stared at the sweet car he’d been working on.

  Which was when she remembered he’d had to quit playing baseball in college to raise Sean.

  God, she was such an idiot.

  “You’ll have to forfeit?” he asked.

  “Yes, but—”

  “Shit.” He shut the hood of the Chevelle and went hands on hips. “Tell me you guys are good.”

  She crossed her fingers. “You have to see us to believe it.”

  Chapter 13

  #BadNewsBears

  Not ten minutes into the game, Finn stood behind home plate wearing all of the catcher’s gear, staring at the team in complete disbelief.

  He’d been recruited by a con artist.

  He slid his con artist a look. She was playing first base, looking pretty fucking adorable in tight, hip-hugging jeans and a siren red tee with a ragged penny jersey over the top of it, heckling the other team.

  She was without a doubt, the hottest con artist he’d ever seen.

  “You suck,” she yelled to the batter, her hands curved around her mouth.

  The batter yelled back, “How about you suck me?” And then he blew her a kiss.

  Finn straightened to kick the guy’s ass but the ref pointed to the batter and then gestured he was out.

  “On what grounds?” the guy demanded.

  “Being an idiot.”

  This came from the coach of Pru’s team. Jake. He sat at the edge of the dugout, baseball cap on backward, dark lenses, fierce frown . . . a badass in a wheelchair.

  With Thor in his lap.

  Finn waited for the ump to give Jake a T and kick him out of the game but it didn’t happen. Instead, the hitter took one look at Jake, kicked the dirt, and walked back to his dugout.

  The next two batters got base hits and both made it all the way home thanks to the fumbling on the field.

  Pru’s team was the Bad News Bears.

  In the dugout between innings, Pru tried to keep morale up, clapping people on the backs, telling them “good job” and “you’re looking great out there.”

  Her rose-colored glasses must also be blinders. Because no one had done a good job and no one had looked great out there either.

  At the bottom of the next inning, Finn watched his teammates blow through two strikes in two batters.

  The third person up to bat was a twenty-something who had her dark hair up in a high ponytail that fell nearly to her ass. She was teeny tiny and had a sweet, shy smile.

  Finn did not have high hopes for her. He might have muttered this under his breath. And Pru might have heard him.

  She shot him a dark look. “Positive reinforcement only,” she told him. “Or you’ll have to go dark.”

  “Dark?”

  “Yeah.” She jabbed a thumb toward Jake, who was on the other side of her, watching the field, expression dialed to irritated as Thor snoozed on in his lap. “Like Coach Jake,” Pru said and turned to her boss. “How are we doing tonight?”

  Jake paused as if struggling with the right words. “Fuckin’ great,” he finally said.

  He didn’t look great, he looked like he was at stroke level, but Pru beamed at him and then patted his shoulder.

  Jake blew out a heavy exhale. “I’ll get you back, Prudence.”

  She gritted her teeth. “We talked about this. You only use my whole name if you want to die. Horribly and slowly.”

  “Prudence?” Finn repeated, amused by the death glare.

  “I know, hard to believe, right?” Jake asked. “It’s an oxymoron,” Jake said. “She’s anything but prudent.”

  Finn smiled. “And the ‘they’re doing great’ part?” he asked Prudence. “Are we watching the same game?”

  Jake did an impressive eyeroll, slid Pru a glare, and kept his silence, although it looked like it cost him.

  “It’s called encouragement,” Pru said. “And Jake had to go dark, meaning he can’t talk unless he’s saying something positive, on account of how he used to lower our morale so badly we couldn’t play worth anything.”

  Finn bit back the comment that they couldn’t play worth anything now but as the girl at bat stood there letting two perfect strikes go by without swinging and Jake’s expression got darker and darker, he nearly laughed.

  Nearly.

  Because he had no idea how Jake was doing it, keeping his mouth shut. Competition went to the bone with Finn and he was guessing Jake felt the same. “Is she going to swing?” he asked. “Or just keep the bat warm?”

  A strangled snort came from Jake, which he turned into a cough when Pru glared at him.

 

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