The trouble with mistlet.., p.11
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.11

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  A small smile crossed his face. “You want to make a wish? You’ve lived here for how long and you’ve never made one?”

  “Oh, I have.” She paused. “I like to.”

  This garnered her a raised brow. “How many times have you wished?”

  She bit her lower lip.

  “More than once?”

  Well, crap. How had they gotten on this subject? “Um . . .”

  “More than . . . five?”

  “Gee, would you look at the time?” she asked and tried to go but he caught her and brought her back around, his smile now a broad grin.

  “Fine,” she said. “If you must know, I toss a coin in every time I walk by.”

  He lost the battle with his laughter and she stared at him. Seriously, he had the best laugh. “It worked for Pru, I’ll have you know,” she told him. “She wished for true love to find Finn, and then he fell in love with her.”

  And Willa had been wishing ever since, even knowing how ridiculous and silly it was.

  “So . . . you’ve been wishing for true love for who exactly?” he asked.

  She stared at him in dismay. How had she not thought this through? “Me,” she admitted, slapping her pockets because surely she had even a penny. “But I intend to fix that right now. I’ll just wish for love for someone else.”

  “Who?” he asked warily.

  She narrowed her eyes at his fear. “You. Got any change?”

  He laughed. “Absolutely not.” Then he pulled a dime from his pocket and held it up. “But how about this. I’ll wish for you.” And on that, he tossed the coin into the water.

  Plop.

  “There,” he said. “Done. Hope it works out for you.” He sounded fairly certain that it would and equally certain that it wouldn’t be with him.

  Which was good to know. Except it was also a little bit not good at all. “So you’ve never made a wish on true love before?” she asked.

  He laughed. “No. That was a first.”

  “Because . . . you don’t believe in true love?”

  To his credit, he didn’t brush off the question or try to tease his way out of answering. Seeming to understand how much it meant to her, he shrugged. “For some people, yes.”

  She nodded even as she felt a small slash of disappointment go through her. How silly was that? It wasn’t as if love had worked out for her either. But she knew what the real problem was. It was that Keane had been clear about not wanting or needing anything serious in his life and yet here she was, finally feeling ready for just that in hers.

  “And you?” he asked.

  She stared at the water because it was far easier to talk to the fountain than hold Keane’s too-honest gaze. “I’ve seen bits and pieces of it here and there. I know love’s out there.”

  His eyes were solemn, intense, as he turned her to face him. “But?” he asked quietly. “I’m sensing a pretty big but here.”

  “But sometimes I’m not quite sure it’s out there for me.”

  His gaze searched hers. “That seems pretty jaded for someone who wants everyone to believe in the magic of the holidays.”

  “Christmas has a happy connotation that brings joy and warmth. It comes every year, rain or shine. You can count on it.”

  “But not on love,” he finished for her. His hand came up and he brushed a strand of hair from her temple, his fingers lingering. “I don’t think it’s always like that, Willa. For some people, love’s real and long-lasting. Forever.”

  “For some people,” she repeated. “But not you? If you believe in love, why don’t you believe in it for yourself?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t feel things deeply. I never have.”

  She stared at him, dismayed. “You don’t really believe that.”

  “I do.”

  “But . . . I’ve seen you with Petunia.”

  He laughed. “Exactly. You’ve seen me dump her on you. I’m willing to pay a cat-sitter rather than deal with her.”

  “When you’re at work, yes,” she said. “But you’ve never once asked me to board her overnight when you were home.”

  “You board overnight?” he asked hopefully.

  She laughed and smacked him lightly on the chest. “You know what I mean. You’re frustrated by her and yet you still spend the money and time to make sure she gets good care when you’re busy.”

  “Because she’s my aunt’s cat,” he pointed out.

  “Which is yet more proof. You’re not close to your aunt but you took on her cat for her, without question or qualm.”

  “Oh, there was qualm,” he said. “Buckets and buckets of qualm.”

  “You bought me muffins,” she said softly, undeterred. “You wanted to cheer me up because I was upset.”

  “No, that was a sheer male knee-jerk attempt to make sure you didn’t cry again. As a whole, we’ll pretty much do anything to get a woman to stop crying.”

  “So what are we doing here, if you don’t, or can’t, feel things, if you don’t ever want to find The One. What do you want from me?”

  He flashed a wicked grin that made her body quiver hopefully but she snorted. “Right,” she said. “‘Animal magnetism.’”

  “Just because I don’t plan on finding The One doesn’t mean I’m not interested in The One For Now.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. But I still think you’re not giving yourself enough credit and you can’t change my mind about that.”

  “What a shock,” he murmured beneath his breath but his eyes were amused. Then that amusement faded. “From the outside looking in, I had a very traditional upbringing compared to you. Two parents, two older sisters, all college professors of science, their lives tightly run, everything entered into a planner, put in a neat little compartmentalized box.” His smile was short. “But then along came me. I didn’t fit in the box. I was wild, noisy, and destructive as hell. I was rough on the entire family and usually got left behind with a caretaker. My own doing,” he said with a head shake. “It’s not so much that I don’t get attached, as I’m not easy to get attached to.”

  Willa’s heart gave a hard squeeze. He’d learned too young that even the people who were supposed to unconditionally love you didn’t always—something she knew all too well. Only she’d compensated by going in the opposite direction and loving everything and everyone. “You didn’t get a lot of affection,” she said softly. “You weren’t shown much emotion. That’s why you think you don’t know how to feel or give it.”

  “I don’t think it,” he said. “I know it.”

  Back in high school, she’d not been aware of any of this. She’d simply set her sights on inviting him to the dance, knowing only that he’d been a solid athlete and also an equally solid student, and that kids and teachers alike had flocked to him.

  He’d had an easy smile and a natural confidence that had made him seem impenetrable at the time. Now, looking back on it, she could see that he’d used his charisma as a personal shield and she’d not looked past it.

  Which made her just as guilty as everyone else in his life.

  He nodded for her to sit on the stone bench she’d personally lined with boughs of holly and little jingle bells weeks ago now. It was early enough that few people came through the courtyard. There was the occasional runner or dog walker, but mostly they had the place to themselves. With the low-lying fog, it felt like they were all alone.

  It was incredibly intimate.

  They ate muffins in companionable silence for as long as she could stand it, but silence had never been her strong suit. Eventually her curiosity got the best of her. “When Tina said maybe you’ve grown attached to your place, why did you say not likely?”

  “I told you.” He shrugged. “I always sell them when I’m finished.”

  “Because you don’t get attached.”

  “Right.”

  “But we decided that isn’t exactly strictly true,” she pointed out.

  “No, you decided.”

  She blew ou
t an annoyed sigh.

  He didn’t ask her to translate the sigh. Clearly it wasn’t necessary. Instead, he turned his head and met her gaze. “You say more with silence than any woman I’ve ever met. Spit it out, Willa, before you choke on it.”

  Where did she start with alphas . . . “It’s your home.”

  “It won’t be a home until someone’s living in it.”

  “You’re living in it!”

  He smiled at her exasperated tone and ran a finger down her nose. “I annoy you.”

  “In so, so, so many ways,” she said on a laugh. “Seriously, you have no idea.”

  “I have some.”

  “Is that right?” she asked. “Because I’d think that annoyance is one of those messy emotions you don’t bother with.”

  His eyes darkened. “I bother with some emotions.”

  “Yeah? Which ones?”

  He calmly took the half-eaten muffin out of her hand and dropped it back into the bag.

  “I wanted that,” she said.

  “And I want this.” He moved faster than she imagined anyone as big as he was could move. Before she could so much as draw another breath of air, he pulled her hard against him, his hands fisting in her hair, his mouth seeking hers.

  The kiss started out gentle, but quickly got serious and not so gentle. His lips parted hers, their tongues touched, and she heard herself moan. His hot mouth left hers and made its way along her jaw, her throat, where he planted openmouthed kisses that made her shiver for more. If she hadn’t been sitting, her knees wouldn’t have held her up, because he kissed away her annoyance, her good sense, any ability to think, everything.

  Except her ability to feel.

  And oh God, what she felt. She could barely even hold on, she was so dizzy with the hunger ripping through her, but then he pulled back and stared at her, his hair crazy from her fingers, those chocolate eyes fierce and hot, his breathing no more steady than hers.

  She pressed her palms to his chest to try and ground herself but she still felt like she was floating on air. “Wha . . . ?” It was all she could manage. Clearly, their chemistry had exploded her brain cells. She shook her head to clear it. “Okay, I stand corrected. There are some emotions you do exceptionally well. Like lust.” She paused. He’d been upfront with her, and brutally honest to boot. They weren’t going to be each other’s The One, but they could have this. He was game.

  And in spite of herself, so was she. “Why did you stop?”

  He looked at her for a long moment, at first in surprise and then with a slow smile. He knew he’d coaxed her over to the dark side. “We’re in the middle of the courtyard,” he said.

  “We don’t have to be.” She couldn’t believe she said it but, well, she meant it. She was still plastered up against his big, hard body, emphasis on hard, and all she could think about was what he’d feel like without the barriers of their clothing.

  But Keane wasn’t making a move to take her back to his place.

  Or hers.

  Instead, he had his hands on her shoulders, holding her away from him. Embarrassed, she started to get up but he held on. “No,” she said, “I get it. You’re . . . feeling things and you don’t like to. Not for your house, not for Petunia, and certainly not for me—”

  She broke off with a gasp as he hauled her back into him, right onto his lap this time. One of his big hands palmed her ass to hold her still against an unmistakable bulge of a rock-hard erection.

  “See, you’re feeling something,” she said breathlessly. “So why aren’t we running for one of our places?”

  “Because by the time I got you there, you’ll have changed your mind,” he said. “You’ve had a rough morning. I don’t want this to be a spur-of-the-moment decision I push you into because of the crazy heat between us. And then there’s the work factor. We’re both on the clock in a few minutes and, Willa”—he held her gaze—“when we go there, we’re going to need more than a few minutes.”

  At that low, gruff tone, she went damp.

  “So,” he said firmly. “We’re going to sit here enjoying the morning and each other’s company.”

  “But . . .” She lowered her voice to a mere whisper. “We could be doing that naked.”

  He groaned and dropped his head to her shoulder as part of his anatomy seemed to swell beneath her. “It’s not nice to tease.”

  Who was teasing?

  Reading her mind, he laughed soft in his throat and it was sexy as hell. “Talk,” he said. “We’re going to talk until we both have to go to work.”

  She blew out a sigh and her gaze snagged on the nearest Christmas tree. “Did you have Christmas trees growing up?”

  “Yeah. My parents always hosted the holiday party for their entire department and the decorations had to be perfect. Which meant I could look but not touch.”

  She turned her head and met his gaze. “Why am I getting the feeling you didn’t always do as you were told?”

  He laughed again and she felt like she’d won the lottery. “I never did what I was told,” he said. “One year I sneaked downstairs in the middle of the night and tried to climb the tree.”

  “What happened?”

  “It fell over on me. Broke all the ornaments and I cut open my chin.” He rubbed his jaw, smiling ruefully. “I was a total miscreant. My parents told me I was going to get coal for Christmas that year.”

  “Did you?”

  “No, I got a one-way ticket to my dad’s brother’s ranch in Texas for the entire winter break, where I shoveled horseshit for three long weeks.”

  She searched his expression, which was calm and easy. In direct opposition to the erection nudging her butt. “You don’t look particularly scarred by that experience,” she said.

  “My uncle loved to build things. He had all these amazing tools and machinery.” He leaned back, one arm along the back of the bench, his fingers playing with the ends of her hair. She wasn’t even sure he was aware of doing it.

  “It was the first time I’d seen anything like it,” he said. “The first time I got to watch someone work with their hands. He had an entire barn filled with antique tools.” He smiled. “He gave me one, a vintage level. I still have it. Someday I’ll collect others to go with it. I definitely got bitten by the builder bug that winter. Looking back, it’s actually one of my best childhood memories.” He nudged her shoulder with his. “Now you. Tell me something from one of your past Christmases.”

  She searched her brain for a happy memory to match his. “My mom gave me a necklace when I was little once,” she said. “It had a charm with the letter W engraved in gold, with all these little rhinestones outlining the W. I loved it.” She smiled. “I wore it to school and some mean girl named Britney said it was fake and from a bubble-gum machine. She grabbed it and it broke.”

  “I hope you punched her in the nose,” Keane said.

  She bit her lower lip. “I stomped on her foot and made her cry, even though she was right. The necklace was fake. It turned my neck green.”

  He grinned and she felt the breath catch in her throat as she watched the early-morning light magnify his beautiful smile. “Atta girl,” he said.

  She laughed a little, finding humor in the bittersweet memory for the first time.

  When their coffee and muffins were gone, he stood and pulled her up with him. Her phone was going off and so was his.

  “Real life’s calling,” he said reluctantly.

  Right. She had a business to open and he had God knew what to build today, and they both had people depending on them to do their jobs. “Thanks for the muffins,” she said and started to walk off.

  He caught her.

  “We still have unfinished business,” he said in that sexy voice with the smile that made her stupid.

  “That’s nothing new.”

  He tightened his grip on her hand when she would have pulled free. “I didn’t thank you for trusting me enough to tell me about high school.”

  “I wouldn’t take it
quite as far as trusting you,” she said. “I haven’t signed on the dotted line for the trust-you program yet.”

 
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