The trouble with mistlet.., p.13
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.13

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  one hand at the back of his neck, the other at the small of his back, fisted in his shirt. He could feel her heart pounding against his but it wasn’t until she trembled that he tipped her head up.

  She shook her head at his unasked question. “Okay, maybe you’re also a little irresistible,” she murmured. “It’s just that you’re always so . . .”

  “What?”

  “Everything.”

  He turned his palm up and entwined their fingers together, bringing their joined hands to his mouth as they swayed in sync to the music, her steps unsure and too fast. He matched her steps to his, slowing her down, looking into her eyes.

  “You’re scared,” he realized, not talking about dancing anymore.

  “Terrified,” she confessed. She wasn’t talking about dancing either. “Join me, won’t you?”

  “There’s nothing to fear here, Willa.”

  “Because we’re just two consenting adults who are hugely attracted to one another, and we both know the score. No falling. Just some good, old-fashioned fun.” Her huge eyes blinked up at his. “Right?”

  “Right,” he murmured against her lips. “But you forgot something.”

  “What’s that?”

  “You do make me laugh, and I dig that. So yes to the fun, but, Willa, nothing I feel about you is old-fashioned.” He ran the tips of his fingers lightly down her back until they came to a stop at the low waistband of her jeans, stroking the bare skin between the hem of her sweater and the denim. Another shudder wracked her and he pulled her even closer to him, their bodies forming an unbroken line from chest to toe.

  Closing her eyes, she sighed softly and tipped her face up to his. As he lowered his mouth to hers, she parted her lips for his eagerly. He swallowed her soft moan, rocking her in tune to the music as they kissed. “You do so know how to dance,” she accused softly.

  His hands traveled up her slim spine. “I know other things too. Like how much I want to touch you.”

  She laughed nervously. “Keane—”

  “Shh,” he whispered into her hair. “Later.”

  Both the street and courtyard doors of the pub were closed to the winter air, but every time someone came in or out, a breeze whisked through, brushing over their heated skin.

  When the song ended, Keane tipped Willa’s face up to meet his, rasping his thumb over her lower lip. “Thanks for showing me how to dance.”

  She sank her teeth into the pad of his thumb just hard enough to sting, making him laugh.

  She was as dangerous as Pita.

  The air around them crackled, much the way it had around Archer and Elle earlier, the heat between them pulsing and ebbing in the crowded pub. But unlike Archer and Elle, Keane knew exactly what it was.

  “I really do have to go,” Willa said.

  “I’ll walk you up.”

  “That’s . . .” Her gaze fell to his mouth. “Probably a bad idea.”

  He had to smile. “There’s no doubt.” If she wanted him to push her on this issue, she was going to be disappointed. It wasn’t his style to push. When they slept together—and God, he really hoped that was going to happen—it would be because she wanted him and she was ready, and not because he talked her into it. So he took her hand and they walked out into the courtyard.

  There really was a whole lot of Christmas going on out here. The fountain misted softly in the evening chill, lit red and green from the lights.

  Old Man Eddie was out here, manning the fire pit. He pulled a sprig of mistletoe from his pocket and tossed it to Willa.

  In return, she handed him her leftovers. “Wings,” she said. “Extra sauce.”

  “Thanks, darlin’. I love my lights. Meant a lot that you’d do that for me.”

  “Anything,” Willa said.

  And Keane knew she meant it. It was part of what made her special, and different from just about anyone he’d ever known. She really would give a stranger the shirt off her back.

  In the stairwell, Keane met her gaze. “You have plans for that mistletoe?”

  She smiled but waited until she was at the top of the stairs, turning to walk backward toward her apartment as she flashed him a grin. “Some things a man should find out for himself.”

  He caught her at her door and pushed her up against it. He had no idea if they were going to push their limits or what, but he wanted her to think of him after he walked away. To that end, he wrapped his fingers around her wrist, the one still holding the sprig of mistletoe, and raised it slowly up the wall until it was above her head, held to the wall by both of them.

  Then he lowered his head and brushed her mouth with his. And then—to torture them both—again.

  Moaning, she dropped the mistletoe and tugged her hand free to grip the front of his shirt with two fists. She was still holding tight when he lifted his head.

  “It’s the damn mistletoe,” she whispered.

  He let out a low laugh. “Babe, it’s not the mistletoe.”

  Chapter 11

  #SillyRabbit

  Willa dropped her head to Keane’s chest and thunked it a few times, hoping it would clear her thoughts. Instead, since his chest was hard as concrete, she gave herself a mini concussion. “What am I going to do with you?” she asked.

  “I’ve got a few suggestions.”

  She lifted her head and took in the heated amusement in his dark gaze. And something else too, something that stole her breath and made it all but impossible to look away. “Keane,” she whispered and shifted in closer.

  His hands went to her hips and he lowered his head slowly. A sigh shuddered out of her and she closed her eyes as his lips fell on hers. Dropping the mistletoe, she wrapped her arms around his neck, the silky strands of his hair slipping through her fingers.

  With a rough sound that came from deep in his chest he pulled her closer, his hands threading through her hair to change the angle of the kiss, taking it deeper. With one tug he bared her throat and dragged his mouth from hers only to scrape his teeth along her skin.

  She gasped in pleasure and need and probably would have slid to the floor in a boneless heap if his muscled thigh hadn’t been thrust between hers, both holding her up and creating a heat at her core that made her forget why she wasn’t ready for him.

  Her body couldn’t be more ready.

  But then he gentled his touch and nuzzled his face in the crook of her neck. Sweet. Tender. And with what sounded like a low chuckle, he pulled back.

  She struggled to open her eyes. “Wow,” she whispered.

  With a soft laugh that turned her on even more, he brushed one last kiss to her temple. “Lock up, Willa. Dream of me.”

  And she knew she would.

  Keane woke up on Sunday to a clanking, clattering that sounded like a flock of birds had gotten into his bedroom and were beating their wings against the window trying to get out.

  Sitting straight up in bed, he whipped his head to the window, expecting to see a blood bath.

  Instead he saw his shades all out of whack with a suspicious cat-size bulge behind them. Then a black face and searing blue eyes peeked from between two slats. And then four paws.

  “Mew.”

  “So you’re stuck,” he said.

  “Mew.”

  Shaking his head, he got up and attempted to separate her from the shades. She wasn’t having it. In fact, she lost her collective shit.

  “This would be a lot easier if you stopped hissing and spitting at me,” he said.

  Her ears went back and she tried to bite him.

  “Do that again and I’ll leave you here,” he warned.

  She switched to a low, continuous growl. When he finally got her loose, she stalked off, head high, tail switching back and forth, pissy to her very core.

  Shaking his head, he turned to the shades.

  Destroyed.

  He searched out his cell phone and called Sass. She didn’t pick up so he left a message. “I know it’s Sunday, but if you’re around, I could use some help. Ca
ll me back.”

  He disconnected and met Pita’s still pissy gaze. She’d come back in, probably to remind him that she was an inch from starving to death. “She’s not going to call me back,” he said.

  He tried Mason next. Also went to voice mail. Shit. He fed the heathen and hit the shower. He was halfway through when he felt like he was being watched. He opened his eyes after rinsing off his shampoo and found Pita sitting on the tile just outside the shower, staring him down.

  It wasn’t often he felt vulnerable, but he had the urge to cup himself. “Problem?” he asked her.

  She gave one slow-as-an-owl blink. “Mew.”

  She didn’t sound angry. In fact, she sounded . . . lonely. Seeming to prove that point, she actually took a step into the walk-in shower.

  “Watch out,” he warned her. “You’re not going to like it.”

  And indeed, when the water hit her square in the face, she slitted her eyes and glared at him as she retreated back to the safety zone. Lifting a paw she began to meticulously wash her face free of the evil water that had dared land on her.

  “I told you so,” he said and stilled.

  I told you so.

  It’d been a common refrain of his parents whenever he’d done something they’d considered stupid. And admittedly, he’d done a lot of stupid. Such as when he’d broken his leg in his sophomore year of college and lost his football scholarship.

  “Smarts never fail you,” his father had said. “Science never fails you. Being a professor is a job that won’t fail you. I told you that you needed a backup plan.”

  “Holy shit,” Keane muttered, shaking my head. “I just opened my mouth and my father came out.”

  Pita sneezed but it sounded like a derisive snort.

  A little traumatized, Keane got dressed and then stood there in his foyer, staring down at Pita, who’d followed him to the door. “I have to go to the North Beach job to check on yesterday’s progress,” he said. “Wait here and don’t destroy anything.”

  She gave him one blink, slow as an owl.

  “Shit.” She was totally going to destroy something. Maybe several somethings. “Listen . . .” He crouched low to look her in the eyes. “I can’t take you to kitty day care today; it’s closed. And Sass and Mason are ignoring me because it’s Sunday.”

  She just kept staring at him. Didn’t even blink.

  “Shit,” he said again and pointed to the carrier. “Your only other option is to come with me but that’s a bad idea—”

  Before he’d finished the sentence, Pita had walked right into her carrier without fuss or a single hiss.

  Shocked, he zipped up the bright pink bedazzled case and met the blue eyes through the mesh. “Look, I know you’re unhappy about all of this, but we’re stuck with each other for now.”

  She did more of that no-blinking thing.

  “How about this,” he said. “I promise to do the best I can, and in return you promise to stop taking a dump in my shoes.”

  Pita turned her back on him.

  “Okay then. Good talk.” He carried her out the door and to the truck, driving her to North Beach. When he parked on the street in front of a café two doors down from his building, a group of women stood on the sidewalk talking to each other at ninety miles an hour.

  “. . . Just wait until you bite into their warm cinnamon buns . . .”

  “. . . Couldn’t have found a better place to have your thirtieth-birthday girls’ bash . . .”

  “. . . Ohmigod don’t turn around, but there’s a hot guy at your six and he’s carrying his cat in a pink bedazzled carrier—I said don’t turn around!”

  But they’d all turned around. Six of them, smiling at him.

  Nodding at them set off an avalanche of waves and more smiles as he walked to his place.

  “Now those are buns I could sink my teeth into,” one of them murmured.

  Keane resisted running up the stairs. Entering the house, he came to a shocked stop as Mason and Sass jumped apart, looking tousled and guilty.

  They all stared at each other for an awkward beat and then Mason got very busy with his nail gun while Sass began thumbing through her work iPad as if it were on fire.

  “What the fuck,” Keane said.

  Mason accidentally discharged a nail into the floor.

  Sass went hands on hips and took the Defensive Highway. “Hey, what we do behind your back is our business.”

  “True,” Keane said.

  “And we never let it affect work,” she said. “Never.”

  “Okay,” he said.

  “I wouldn’t,” Sass added, softer now. “I love this job.”

  “Sass,” Keane said on a low laugh. “I don’t care what the two of you do on your off hours, as long as I don’t have to see it. What I meant by what the fuck is . . . what the fuck are you two doing here working but not picking up your phones?”

  “You said last week all hands on deck until we finish,” Mason said, apparently finding his voice. “Whelp, all hands are on deck.”

  “Yes, but I called you,” Keane said with what he thought was remarkable patience. “Both of you. No one answered.”

  “Because you wanted a cat-sitter,” Sass said. “And much as I do love this job, evil-cat sitting is not in my job description.”

  “Or mine,” Mason said.

  Keane stared at them. “You didn’t know that’s what I wanted.”

  Sass shifted her gaze pointedly at the cat carrier he was still carrying. “You don’t hire stupid people.”

  He blew out a breath and set the cat carrier down.

  “What are you doing?” Mason asked, eyes wide with horror. “Don’t let it out.”

  “It’s a she.”

  “It will attack me,” Mason said.

  Sass rolled her eyes. “Mas here thinks the cat is Evil Incarnate.”

  “It is,” Mason said.

  “She rubs against his legs,” Sass said. “He’s convinced that the cat is trying to establish that she’s the dominant in their relationship.”

  “She left me half a field mouse,” Mason said.

  “She’s noticed your lack of hunting skills and inability to feed yourself,” Sass told him. “She’s trying to show you how to hunt. It’s a compliment.”

  “Half a field mouse,” Mason repeated.

  Keane shook his head and unzipped the carrier. “No one leave any doors open,” he directed. Then he got Pita a bowl of water and food, and finally did his walk-through.

  Then he left Mason a list of things he wanted done and he and Pita headed back to Vallejo Street, where he strapped on his tool belt. The favorite part of any of the jobs he took on was always the woodwork. Carpentry had been his first love and it was still the thing that fulfilled him the most. On this job, he’d really gone old-school in the traditional Victorian sense, bringing back the original oak plank flooring and ornate wood trim, which was what he was working on today. Sanding and varnishing. The trim
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