The trouble with mistlet.., p.12
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.12

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  “A wise woman.” He gave her fingers a meaningful squeeze as he reeled her in and planted a soft but scorching-hot kiss on her mouth. “But I might surprise you.”

  She watched him walk away and then sank back to the bough-lined bench so hard that the little bells tacked to either side jangled as loudly as her nerves.

  “That was interesting.”

  Willa looked up at Elle. She was wearing form-fitting black trousers, FMP’s, and a power-red fitted blazer over a white lace tee, all of which emphasized her curves and general badassery.

  “You look amazing,” Willa said. “How do you walk in those shoes without killing yourself?”

  “No changing the subject. I went to grab a coffee and saw you two pressed up against each other like there’d been some sort of superglue incident.”

  Well, crap. “Are you sure?” Willa asked. “Because it’s pretty foggy this morning and—”

  Elle pointed at her. “You know who might buy that? No one. Because that was one smoking-hot kiss. I mean I get it, the man is sex on stilts. But you keep trying to tell us you don’t like him like that so imagine my surprise to find you two out here attempting to exchange tonsils.”

  Oh God. It had been smoking hot, incredibly so. In fact, she could still feel the hard, rippling muscles beneath his shirt, the slow and reassuringly steady beat of his heart under the palm of her hand. The way it’d sped up when his mouth had covered hers.

  “Not that anyone believes you about not liking him, by the way,” Elle said. “When he showed up in Archer’s office this morning looking all hot and edgy, needing to kick some serious Ethan ass, I—”

  “Wait, what?” Willa asked, sitting up straight. “Keane went to Archer’s office?”

  Elle went brows up. “He didn’t tell you.”

  “Do I look like he did?”

  “No,” Elle murmured thoughtfully, tapping a perfectly manicured fingernail to her chin. “Which actually makes him even hotter now.”

  “For keeping secrets?”

  “For caring so much about your safety. That, or he already knows how stubborn and obstinate you are.”

  Willa shook her head. She couldn’t go there right now. “Did anyone else see the kiss?”

  Just then, Rory stuck her head out the back door of South Bark. “Okay, not that I’m judging or anything,” she called out, “but are you going to stand around all day kissing hot guys who you pretend not to like, or are we going to get some work done?”

  “I think it’s safe to say someone else saw,” Elle said dryly.

  Chapter 10

  #AllThatAndABagOfChips

  Keane went back to Vallejo Street for what should’ve been a hot shower but he decided cold would be best under the circumstances. He was pretty certain a guy couldn’t die from a bad case of needing to be buried balls deep inside a certain strawberry blonde, green-eyed pixie, but he figured the icy shower might ensure it.

  It didn’t help.

  After, he didn’t go to either North Beach or the Mission District project, both of which needed his attention. Nor did he hit his desk to unbury himself from paperwork. Instead he got busy on the finish work at the Vallejo Street house—the trim, the floorboards, the hardware for the windows and doors . . . the last of what had to be done before the place could be put on the market.

  At first, Pita watched him suspiciously from the open doorway. Then she slowly and deliberately worked her way into the room to bat at a few wood shavings. When she got too close to his planer, he stopped. “Back up, cat. Nothing to see here.”

  Instead, she sat and stared at him, her tail twitching.

  “Suit yourself.” When he looked up an hour later, she’d curled up on the wood floor in the sole sunspot and had fallen asleep. He heard the sound of Sass’s heels coming down the hallway and looked up as she appeared.

  “Bad news,” she said.

  “We didn’t get the permits for the Mission project?”

  “Worse,” she said.

  “There’s not really a Santa Claus?”

  She didn’t laugh. Didn’t snort. Didn’t ream him out for being an insensitive dumbass. Shit. “What is it?” he asked. “Just tell me.”

  “It’s your great-aunt Sally,” she said quietly. “Her doctor’s admin called here because you’re listed as her next of kin.”

  This was news to him. “What’s wrong?”

  “Apparently she needs to go into an assisted-living facility.”

  “Why, what’s wrong with her?” Answers to this question bombarded him. Heart failure. Cancer . . .

  “Rheumatoid arthritis,” Sass said. “It’s acting up and she can’t get around like she used to, taking care of an apartment or herself without help. They’ve got a facility lined up—it’s the one she wants, but there’s a problem.”

  “Killing me, Sass,” he said, pressing a thumb and a finger into his eye sockets.

  “She doesn’t have the money, Keane. She needs five grand up front for the first month.”

  “Tell them they’ll have it today,” he said.

  “You know how many zeroes that is, right? And her insurance won’t kick in until month three, so—”

  “Tell them they’ll have whatever they need, Sass.”

  “Okay.” Her voice was softer now, more gentle. “I realize you’re all alpha and manly and won’t want to hear this, but I have to say it anyway—this is incredibly generous of you—”

  “Is there anything else?”

  “Actually, yes,” she said, “and for you this is going to be the worst part, so girdle your loins, pull up your big-girl panties, and anything else you have to do to face the music.”

  “I swear to God, Sass, just tell me all of it or—”

  “She can’t have a pet at this place,” she said quickly. “Not even a goldfish.”

  Keane turned around and stared at Pita, still sleeping calmly, even sweetly, in that sunspot. He might’ve been warmed by the sight if it hadn’t been for the wrecked box of finishing nails that she’d pulled apart, which lay all around her like the fallen dead.

  “Keane?”

  Shit. He blew out a breath, dropped his tool belt, and headed to the door. “Text me the address for the place.”

  “Only if you promise me you’re not going over there guns blazing to dump that sweet little cat on them. You’ll get Sally kicked out before she’s even in there.”

  Not that he would love nothing more than to dump the antichrist on someone, anyone, but even he wasn’t that much of a bastard. “Just get me the damn info, including their phone number.”

  “Why don’t you let me handle the transfer,” she started, sounding worried. “I’ll get someone to help her pack and—”

  “I want to see the place and check up on it, okay? She doesn’t have any other family who’ll give a shit.”

  She stared at him, eyes suspiciously shiny, and Keane stilled. “What are you doing?”

  She tilted her head up and stared at the ceiling, blinking rapidly. “Nothing.” But she sniffed and waved a hand back and forth in front of her face.

  Oh, Jesus. “You’re . . . crying?”

  “Well, it’s all your fault!” she burst out with. “You’re being sweet and it’s my time of the month!”

  He wasn’t equipped for this. “First of all, I’m not even close to sweet. And second, I bought you stuff for that, it’s in the hall bathroom.”

  “See?” she sobbed and tossed up her hands. “Sweet.”

  He tried calling his aunt’s cell but she didn’t answer. He drove to the facility and checked it out. It was a nice, clean, surprisingly cheerful place. After, he went to his aunt’s and found her stressing over the arrangements, so he helped her pack and took her to the facility himself.

  He felt like shit leaving her there but she seemed relieved to have it done and clearly wanted him out of her hair, so he went back to work.

  At the end of the day his body was demanding food, so he found himself at O’Riley’s Pub seeking
their famous wings.

  And maybe also a Willa sighting.

  The pub was one half bar, one half seated dining. The walls were dark wood that gave an old-world feel to the place. Brass lanterns hung from the rafters, and old fence baseboards finished the look, which said antique charm and friendly warmth. And much like the rest of the building, there was holiday décor everywhere. Boughs of holly, strings of twinkling lights, tinsel, and a huge Christmas tree sitting right in the middle of the place.

  He wondered if Finn had let Willa loose in here. Seemed likely. Music drifted out of invisible speakers. One wall was all windows that opened to the courtyard. The street view came via a rack of accordion wood-and-glass doors revealing a nice glimpse of Fort Mason Park and the Marina Green down the hill, and the Golden Gate Bridge behind that.

  But he paid no attention to any of it. Instead, his gaze went straight to the end of the bar where the O’Riley brothers and their close-knit gang could usually be found.

  Willa was in the middle of a huddle with Elle, Pru, Haley, Finn, Archer, and Spence. As he moved closer, he could hear them arguing over several tree toppers sitting on the bar in front of them.

  “It’s my turn to decide and I think that one’s the best,” Haley said, her attention on what looked like an intricately woven angel. “Last year was Spence’s turn, and I go after Spence.”

  “No, last year was Finn’s turn,” Spence said, pointing to a ceramic star. “And I go after Finn.”

  “But it’s got to be the dog,” Willa said, stroking a stuffed Saint Bernard with holly around his neck. “He’s a rescue dog.” She caught sight of Keane and gave a quick, genuine smile. “Hey,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

  Apparently looking for you, he thought, his day suddenly not seeming so shitty.

  “We’ll have a dart-off,” Archer said, back to the topic at hand. “Three teams of two. Haley, Spence, and Willa will each pick one of the rest of us to be on their team. Best team wins choice of tree topper for their captain. Get your asses to the back.”

  When Archer gave people an order, they obeyed. Everyone got up and headed to the back room where the darts were played.

  Elle was right on Archer’s heels until he put up a hand to stop her.

  Elle went hands on hips. “What have we said about using your words?” she asked him.

  “You’re not playing,” Archer said.

  Elle looked around her like she couldn’t believe he’d said such a thing. “And since when are you the boss of me?”

  Archer pointed to her impossibly high heels. They were black and strappy and revealed her sky blue toenail polish and a silver toe ring. “No one plays darts in sandals,” he said.

  “Sandals?” She laughed. “Honey, these are Gucci.”

  “I don’t care if they’re flip-flops, it’s safety before beauty. You need to lose them to play, because I’m not risking your toes, even if you’re willing to do so.”

  “Let me be crystal clear,” she said. “Not losing the heels.”

  “Then you’re not playing.”

  “Fine.” Elle stuck a finger in his face. “I hope your team gets its ass kicked.”

  Archer looked unaffected. “Never going to happen.”

  “You’re down a player now,” Elle said.

  Archer turned to Keane. “You play?”

  Yeah, he played. He’d been a champion in his bar crawl days, but he gave a slight shrug. “A little.”

  Willa stopped in front of Keane, eyes narrowed. “A little or a lot?” she demanded. “Do I want you or Finn?”

  “Hey,” Finn said. “Standing right here.”

  Keane never took his gaze off Willa. “You want me,” he said with quiet steel.

  She flushed to her roots, and he grinned at her.

  “I beat all of you just last week,” Finn grumbled. “Even Archer.”

  There were pool tables and two dartboards in the back room. Everyone lined up at the dartboards. Archer and Haley, Spence and Finn, and . . . him and Willa.

  Haley was good, and no surprise, Archer was great.

  Spence and Finn were both off the charts.

  “See?” Finn said to the room.

  Willa . . . sucked. There was no other word for it.

  “Dammit,” she griped when her dart fell off the board.

  “I’ve got you,” Keane said and hit a bull’s-eye.

  Willa pumped a triumphant fist in the air. “Yes!” She threw herself at Keane and when he caught her, she gave him a smacking kiss right on the lips. Grinning, she stepped back. “The Saint Bernard topper it is!”

  “There’s going to be no living with her now,” Finn said. “You all know that, right?”

  Archer looked at Keane. “You can aim, you’re tough under pressure, and even better yet, you can lie. Tell me you can shoot and you’re hired—Shit,” he muttered, his attention going to the dance floor. Elle was out there, her heels still firmly in place on her feet, dancing with some guy Keane had never seen before. Dirty dancing.

  Archer moved toward them and cut in. Elle looked pissed but allowed it. Sparks flew between them and Keane turned to Willa. “Is that something new?”

  “Those two?” Willa laughed. “They fight like that whenever they’re together.”

  “Yeah, that’s not what I mean.”

  She looked confused and he grinned. “Never mind,” he said. “I’ll explain when you’re older.”

  She eyed Archer and Elle again. “They both insist there’s nothing going on.”

  He didn’t buy it but it wasn’t his business.

  Willa inhaled a deep breath. “It’s getting late. I should go.”

  “Dance with me first.”

  She laughed.

  “I’m serious.”

  Her eyes widened and she sent a startled look to the dance floor. “If you think I suck at darts, you should see me on the dance floor. I’m a really bad dancer.”

  “So am I.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Like I’m supposed to believe you’re bad at anything.”

  He flashed a smile. “How will you know unless you give me a shot?”

  “That’s one thing I really shouldn’t do.”

  “Chicken?” he asked softly.

  She narrowed her eyes. “Never.” And then she stomped off to the dance floor.

  He caught up with her just as the music changed, slowed. Slipping an arm around her waist, he pulled her in, tucking that wayward lock of hair behind her ear.

  She shivered.

  “Cold?” he asked, running his free hand along her arm, urging it up to slip around his neck.

  “No.” Her warm breath brushed his jaw as she stepped into him. “I’m starting to think you’re a little like that chocolate bar I keep in my fridge for emergencies.”

  “Irresistible?”

  “Bad for me.”

  He laughed and let the music drift over them, enjoying the feel of her warm, soft body against his, the way she gripped him tight,
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