The trouble with mistlet.., p.17
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.17

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis

  But she rarely allowed herself to think about it, much less talk about it.

  After a long beat of silence, he spoke. “When I was little, I was sent to a Catholic military boarding school one year, run by nuns and ex-marines.”

  She looked at him. “You were? How old were you?”

  “Five. Actually, not quite five. But by the time I turned ten, I was back at home in the public school system. Let’s just say, I didn’t fit in at the private school.”

  She gasped, almost unable to fathom this, even though she’d gone into the childcare system at the same young age. “Your parents sent a four-year-old away? And then left you there until you were ten?”

  He shrugged. “I was a pain in the ass. I did pay for that though.”

  “The school punished the kids?” she asked in horror.

  “Only if you were an asshole punk.” He tipped his face up to the dark night, a small smile on his lips. “I still twitch if I see a nun.”

  She fell quiet, mulling over the reason he’d shared the story. He’d wanted to be open so she would. Dammit. “I didn’t twitch when I saw Santa,” she said.

  “No,” he agreed. “You didn’t twitch. You had a full-on seizure.”

  Keane watched as Willa fidgeted. He knew she wanted to move on from this subject, and she wanted that badly too. But he felt like they were on the precipice of something, something deeper than even their sheer physical animal attraction. He also knew that this was the point where he should be running for the hills, but he didn’t want to end this here.

  She still hadn’t said a word and he resigned himself to that being it, this was as far as they went, when she finally spoke.

  “I was sent away for the first time right about the same age as you,” she said softly.

  He turned and met her gaze. “What happened?”

  “I was in the foster system on and off for most of the next fourteen years.” She paused. “My mom’s an alcoholic. She’d get it together for a little bit here and there, but not for long. Usually she’d fall for some guy, break up and fall off the wagon at the same time, and then go a little crazy, and I’d end up back in the system.”

  Christ, how he hated that for her. “Any of those ‘some guys’ dress up like Santa?”

  “Just the first one,” she said with a shudder. “After a few encounters, I finally got my nerve up and spilled his coffee on his lap. And that was that.”

  “Tell me it was fucking boiling hot,” he said.

  She smiled proudly. “Yep.”

  He hoped like hell she’d melted the guy’s dick off but either way she’d been left with a scar too. Shocking how violent he could feel for something that had happened to her twenty years ago, but violent was exactly how he felt at the moment.

  People had disappointed her. Hurt her. And damn if he hadn’t put himself in position to do the same by making it clear that what they shared was in the moment only.

  He’d never felt like a bigger dick.

  Reaching out, she squeezed his hand. Comforting him, he realized and he actually felt his throat go tight as he held on to her fingers. “How many times did you go into the system?” he asked.

  “At least once a year until I turned eighteen and was let loose.”

  His gut clenched thinking about how rough that must have been for her. “Not a great way to grow up.”

  She shrugged. “I got good at the revolving door. I’m still good at it.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You don’t attach,” she said. “And I don’t tend to lock in. At my shop, customers come and go. The animals too. Even my employees. And men. The only constants have been my friends.” She shifted as if uncomfortable that she’d revealed so much. “I should go—”

  He tightened his hold on her because no way in hell was he crawling back over the edge of this building after her. “I’m going to call bullshit on the not-locking-in thing,” he said gently. Oh yes, she was a flight risk now; he could feel her body tensing up. “You’re smart as hell, Willa. You’re self-made. You never give up, and the depth of your heart is endless. If you wanted to lock in, as you call it, you would.”

  She looked away. “Maybe you’re giving me too much credit.”

  “I doubt that.”

  He couldn’t even imagine what her early years had been like for someone like her, with her heart so full and sweet and tender. And then the foster care system, which must’ve been a nightmare. “Are you still in contact with your mom?” he asked.

  “Yes. She lives in Texas now, and we text every other week or so. It took us a while to come to the understanding that twice a month is the right amount of time for us—halfway between missing the connection and wanting to murder each other in our sleep.” She smiled, but he didn’t.


  She pulled out her phone. “No really, mostly it’s good now, or at least much better than it ever was in the past anyway. See?”


  Hi honey, just checking in. You’re probably busy tonight . . . ?

  “Translation,” Willa said. “She’s sober and also fishing.” She tried to take the phone back but he’d gotten a look at her return text and smiled.

  He read it out loud, still smiling.


  The daughter you’re trying to reach will neither confirm nor deny that she has plans tonight since you’re clearly trying to find out if she’s seeing someone. This violates the terms of our relationship. If you continue to harass your daughter in this fashion, she’ll start dating girls again.

  Keane stopped and looked at her, and when he managed to speak, his voice sounded low and rough to his own ears. “Again?”

  She squirmed a little bit and dropped eye contact. “It was a one-time thing,” she said. “A phase. And I got over it real fast when I realized girls are crazy.”

  “Guys aren’t much better,” he said.

  “No kidding.”

  He smiled as he rasped his thumb over her jaw, letting his fingers sink into her hair.

  “Keane,” she said softly. “Thanks for tonight.” She rose. “For no strings, it was pretty damn amazing.”

  He didn’t say anything to this. Couldn’t. Because he was suddenly feeling uneasy and unsure, two things he didn’t do well. Not that he said anything. No reason to reveal his own pathetic insecurities.

  She moved to the edge of the roof and turned back. “Do you need help down?”

  “Over my dead body.”

  She laughed. And with that, she vanished over the ledge.

  Keane moved over there and looked over the edge, and then had to sit down hard while life passed before his eyes. “Fuck.” It took him a moment to get his shit together, and by then Willa was long gone.


  He moved in the opposite direction, toward the door that led to the inside stairwell, consoling himself with the fact that at least there was no one to see him taking the easy way down.

  Chapter 16


  The next morning Willa stood in the back of her shop shoving down a breakfast sandwich with Cara and Rory. It was midmorning and they’d been swamped since before opening.

  Although not too swamped that she couldn’t relive the night before, the way Keane’s voice had been a rough whisper against her ear, the heat in his eyes as he’d taken control and moved knowingly inside her, his hands both protective and possessive on her body.

  When a text came in, she was tempted to ignore it, but in the end her curiosity won. It was from Elle.


  I’m going to need a detailed report of what went down last night.

  “Dammit,” she muttered, and Cara and Rory both pointed in unison to the swear jar.

  Willa pulled a buck from her pocket, shoved it into the jar, and moved to the dubious privacy of her office to stare blankly at Elle’s text.

  No one had seen her and Keane last night, she was certain of it. But when she’d climbed down the fire escape,
she’d run smack into Pru in the courtyard.

  Willa sighed and put her thumbs to good use.


  Going to have to kill her.


  Wear gloves, keep the fingerprints off the murder weapon.

  Willa had to laugh as she responded.

  My favorite part of this is that you don’t even question who I have to kill.


  The less I know, the less I can say during the interrogation.


  But seriously, where are my deets?

  When Willa ignored, and in fact deleted, the texts, Elle simply called her.

  “Houston, I have so many problems,” Willa said miserably.

  Elle laughed. “If you think having a hot guy want you is a problem, we need to talk. I’m at work right now and swamped, so I mean this in the most loving fashion I can deliver given how many idiots I’ve dealt with since dawn—did Keane screw your brains out on the rooftop last night, and if so, was he amazeballs or do I have to hurt him?”

  Willa dropped her head to her desk and thunked it a few times. Because here was the thing about Keane. He was smart. Sexy. Incredibly handsome and virile. And when he looked at her, he sent a quiver through her body in all the best possible places . . . every time.

  Being with him so intimately last night had been incredible—but in retrospect, it was a bit scary too because now her heart was invested.

  And then there was the fact that Keane didn’t intend to get invested at all.

  At least she’d set the ground rules by saying out loud that it’d been a one-time thing. That helped.

  Okay, it hadn’t helped at all but she’d been the one to instigate what’d happened up on that roof, and she had no regrets.

  “Well?” Elle demanded.

  “It was a one-time thing.”

  “Great,” Elle said. “Got no problem with that. But it isn’t what I asked you.”

  Willa blew out a sigh. “Yes and yes.”

  There was a beat of silence. “If it was so great, why won’t there be round two?”

  “He’s not round-two material,” Willa said and had to bite her tongue because she immediately wanted to take the statement back. Keane was smart and funny and sexy, and well worthy of a round two. Which meant she’d just lied to one of her closest friends in the whole entire world.

  But the truth was too hard to say out loud. The truth hurt. The truth was . . . she wasn’t sure she was round-two material.

  “Honey,” Elle said after another long beat of knowing silence. “Let me tell you something about yourself that you don’t know. When you lie, you speak in an octave reserved for dogs.”

  “I can’t do this.” Dammit, her voice was so high that probably Elle was right, only dogs could hear her. She cleared her throat. “Not now.”

  “Fine,” Elle said agreeably. “Girls’ night. Does tomorrow sound good? Pizza and wine and a little chitchat about believing in yourself, since you’re one of the very best human beings I know and love.”

  “You hate most human beings,” Willa said.

  “Proof that I mean it then. Shit, I’m looking at my calendar. Can’t tomorrow night, Archer needs my help on a job.”

  “Maybe we should have girls’ night to discuss why you and Archer haven’t—in your own words—screwed each other’s brains out,” Willa said. “Everyone knows it’s going to happen sooner or later.”

  “Well then, ‘everyone’ should be watching their backs,” Elle said grumpily. “It’s not going to happen. Ever. I’m clearing my schedule for tonight. Pizza and wine and a heart-to-heart.”

  “I’m on a diet.”

  “Me too,” Elle said. “It’s a fuel diet. I eat whatever’s going to fuel my soul, and tonight that’s going to be pizza.”

  Willa opened her mouth to claim that she was busy but Elle had disconnected. “Dammit, I hate when she gets the last word,” she muttered.

  Keane was halfway through his morning laying out wood floor at the North Beach house, while playing last night repeatedly in his brain. The good parts, not the part where somehow he’d let Willa put them into the one-night-stand category.

  No, he’d shoved that aside. Instead he kept going back to when Willa had come all over him, shuddering gorgeously in his arms, his name on her lips—

  Someone knocked on the front door for the second time. He had a crew of ten today but no one stopped working.

  “Sass,” he called out.



  Looking irritated as all hell, she stuck her head in from the hallway, jabbing a finger to the phone glued to her ear, reminding him with a scathing look that she was here ordering the window treatments.

  He blew out a sigh, dropped his tool belt, and moved toward the door himself. It couldn’t be a subcontractor; they would’ve just let themselves in. He hoped it wasn’t a neighbor complaining about the noise. He tried to keep it quiet but some things couldn’t be helped.

  Like the nail gun he’d been using on the flooring.

  He pulled open the door, prepared to politely apologize and then continue doing exactly what he’d been doing. Instead he stared in shock at his Aunt Sally.

  She was hands on hips. “I’ve had to chase you all over town. Do you have any idea how much I just paid in cab fares?”

  He stuck his head out the door, looking past her for the cab. “I’ll pay—”

  “Already done.” She sniffed with irritation. “You don’t answer your phone. Which is rude, by the way. Your entire generation is rude with this whole twittering and texting ridiculousness. No manners whatsoever.”

  Keane pulled his phone from his pocket and saw the missed call. With a grimace, he shook his head. “I was using power tools and couldn’t hear—”

  “Don’t give me excuses, boy. I’ve got one hour left before I have to be back. Where’s Petunia? Where is my sweet baby girl? That thing is scared of her own shadow. All these people and the racket must be terrifying her.”

  If Petunia was a “sweet, little thing” or “scared of her own shadow,” Keane would eat his own shorts. As for where she was, well that was going to be complicated. Knowing today would be loud as hell, he’d dropped Pita off at South Bark this morning.

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