The trouble with mistlet.., p.2
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.2

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  moving with an unusually easy grace for such a big guy.

  The cat was continuously howling now so she quickly unzipped the carrier, expecting the animal inside to be dying giving the level of unhappiness it’d displayed.

  The earsplitting caterwauling immediately stopped and a huge Siamese cat blinked vivid blue eyes owlishly up at her. It had a pale, creamy coat with a darker facial mask that matched its black ears, legs, and paws.

  “Well aren’t you beautiful,” Willa said softly and slipped her hands into the box.

  The cat immediately allowed herself to be lifted, pressing her face into Willa’s throat for a cuddle.

  “Aw,” Willa said gently. “It’s alright now, I’ve got you. You just hated that carrier, didn’t you?”

  “What the ever-loving hell,” Keane said, hands on hips now as he glared at the cat. “Are you kidding me?”

  “What?”

  He scowled. “My great-aunt’s sick and needs help. She dropped the cat off with me last night.”

  Well, damn. That was a pretty nice thing he’d done, taking the cat in for his sick aunt.

  “The minute Sally left,” Keane went on, “this thing went gonzo.”

  Willa looked down at the cat, who gazed back at her, quiet, serene, positively angelic. “What did she do?”

  Keane snorted. “What didn’t she do would be the better question. She hid under my bed and tore up my mattress. Then she helped herself to everything on my counters, knocking stuff to the floor, destroying my laptop and tablet and phone all in one fell swoop. And then she . . .” He trailed off and appeared to chomp on his back teeth.

  “What?”

  “Took a dump in my favorite running shoes.”

  Willa did her best not to laugh out loud and say “good girl.” It took her a minute. “Maybe she’s just upset to be away from home, and missing your aunt. Cats are creatures of habit. They don’t like change.” She spoke to Keane without taking her gaze off the cat, not wanting to look into the dark, mesmerizing eyes that didn’t recognize her because if she did, she might be tempted to pick one of the tiaras displayed on her counter and hit him over the head with it.

  “What’s her name?” she asked.

  “Petunia, but I’m going with Pita. Short for pain in the ass.”

  Willa stroked along the cat’s back and Petunia pressed into her hand for more. A low and rumbly purr filled the room and Petunia’s eyes slitted with pleasure.

  Keane let out a breath as Willa continued to pet her. “Unbelievable,” he said. “You’re wearing catnip as perfume, right?”

  Willa raised an eyebrow. “Is that the only reason you think she’d like me?”

  “Yes.”

  Okay then. Willa opened her mouth to end this little game and tell him that she wasn’t doing this, but then she looked into Petunia’s deep-as-the-ocean blue eyes and felt her heart stir. Crap. “Fine,” she heard herself say. “If you can provide proof of rabies and FVRCP vaccinations, I’ll take her for today only.”

  “Thank you,” he said with such genuine feeling, she glanced up at him.

  A mistake.

  His dark eyes had warmed to the color of melted dark chocolate. “One question.”

  “What?” she asked warily.

  “Do you always wear X-rated headbands?”

  Her hands flew to her head. She’d completely forgotten she was wearing the penis headband. “Are you referring to my reindeer antlers?”

  “Reindeer antlers,” he repeated.

  “That’s right.”

  “Whatever you say.” He was smiling now, and of course the rat-fink bastard had a sexy-as-hell smile. And unbelievably her good parts stood up and took notice. Clearly her body hadn’t gotten the memo on the no-man thing. Especially not this man.

  “My name’s Keane by the way,” he said. “Keane Winters.”

  He paused, clearly expecting her to tell him her name in return, but she had a dilemma now. If she told him who she was and he suddenly recognized her, he’d also remember exactly how pathetic she’d once been. And if he didn’t recognize her then that meant she was even more forgettable than she’d thought and she’d have to throw the penis headband at him after all.

  “And you are . . . ?” he asked, rich voice filled with amusement at her pause.

  Well, hell. Now or never, she supposed. “Willa Davis,” she said and held her breath.

  There was no change in his expression whatsoever. Forgettable then, and she ground her back teeth for a minute.

  “I appreciate you doing this for me, Willa,” he said.

  She had to consciously unclench her teeth to speak. “I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for Petunia,” she said, wanting to be crystal clear. “And you’ll need to be back here to pick her up before closing.”

  “Deal.”

  “I’ve got a few questions for you,” she said. “Like an emergency contact, your driver’s license info, and”—God help her, she was going to hell if she asked this but she couldn’t help herself, she wanted to jog his memory—“where you went to high school.”

  He arched a brow. “High school?”

  “Yes, you never know what’s going to be important.”

  He looked amused. “As long as I don’t have to wear a headband of dicks, you can have whatever info you need.”

  Five extremely long minutes later he’d filled out the required form and provided the information needed after a quick call to his aunt—all apparently without getting his memory jogged. Then, with one last amused look at her reindeer antlers a.k.a. penis headband, he walked out the door.

  Willa was still watching him go when Rory came to stand next to her, casually sipping her coffee as she handed over Willa’s.

  “Are we looking at his ass?” Rory wanted to know.

  Yes, and to Willa’s eternal annoyance, it was the best ass she’d ever seen. How unfair was that? The least he could’ve done was get some pudge. “Absolutely not.”

  “Well we’re missing out, because wow.”

  Willa looked at her. “He’s too old for you.”

  “He’s thirty. What,” she said at Willa’s raised brow. “You’ve got the copy of his driver’s license right here on the counter. I did the math, that’s not a crime. And anyway, you’re right, he’s old. Really old.”

  “You do realize I’m only a few years behind him.”

  “You’re old too,” Rory said and nudged her shoulder to Willa’s.

  The equivalent of a big, fat, mushy hug.

  “And for the record,” the girl went on, “I was noticing his ass for you.”

  “Ha,” Willa said. “The devil himself couldn’t drag my old, dead corpse out on a date with him, even if he is hot as balls. I gave up men, remember? That’s who I am right now, a woman who doesn’t need a man.”

  “Who you are is a stubborn, obstinate woman who has a lot of love to give but is currently imitating a chicken. But hey, if you wanna let your past bad judgment calls rule your world and live like a nun, carry on just as you are.”

  “Gee,” Willa said dryly. “Thanks.”

  “You’re welcome. But I reserve the right to question your IQ. I hear you lose IQ points when you get old.” She smiled sweetly. “Maybe you should start taking that Centrum Silver or something. Want me to run out and get some?”

  Willa threw the penis headband at her, but Rory, being a youngster and all, successfully ducked in time.

  Chapter 2

  #OpenMouthInsertFoot

  Two mornings later, Willa’s alarm went off at zero dark thirty and she lay there for a minute drifting, dreaming . . . thinking. When Keane had returned for Petunia the other night, she’d been with a client so she hadn’t had to deal with him.

  But she’d made sure to look her fill.

  And that bothered her. How could she like looking at him so much? Maybe it was because he was so inherently male and virile he could’ve walked right off the cover of Alpha Male magazine, if such a thing had existed.

/>   The thing was, she wasn’t supposed to care what he looked like, or how sexy his low-timbered voice was, or that he was taking care of his aunt’s cat in spite of not liking said cat.

  Because hello, ditched for the dance . . .

  “Gah,” she said to her bedroom and rolled over, sticking her head beneath her pillow.

  She was too busy for a guy. Any guy. She had work and work was enough. She loved having the security of a bank account, when once upon a time she’d had nothing of her own and only herself to rely on.

  She was proud of how far she’d come. Proud to be able to help kids who were in the same situation she’d once been in.

  When her alarm went off, she jerked awake and groaned some more but rolled out of bed, blinking blearily at the clock.

  Four in the morning.

  She hated four in the morning as a general rule but today was an early day. She needed to hit the flower market and get some shopping done for an event she had going that night and also for her upcoming in-store Santa Extravaganza pet photo shoot, an annual event where customers would be able to get their pet’s photo taken with Santa. It was a big moneymaker for her, and half of the profits went to the San Francisco animal shelters.

  She dragged a grumpy Rory with her, where they bought supplies for the night’s event, the photo booth, and additional foliage to boot.

  “What’s all that for?” Rory asked.

  “More Christmas flavor.”

  Rory shook her head. “You’ve got a serious problem.”

  “Tell me something I don’t know.”

  They got back to the shop by six thirty a.m. and went to work. Sitting cross-legged on the counter of her shop with a sketch pad, Willa mapped out the evening’s event, a wedding she’d been hired for as a wedding consultant, designer, and officiator.

  For two giant poodles.

  At seven on the dot, her friends Pru, Elle, and Haley showed up with breakfast, as they did several times a week since they all lived or worked in the building. Currently they were decimating a basket of Tina’s muffins before scattering for their various jobs for the day. Haley wasn’t yet in her lab coat for her optometrist internship upstairs, and had cute bright red spectacles perched on her nose. Pru wore her captain’s attire for her job of captaining a tour boat off Pier 39. Elle was the building’s office manager and looked the part in a cobalt blue suit dress with black and white gravity-defying open-toe pumps.

  Willa looked her part too. Jeans and a camisole top despite the fact that it was winter. She kept her shop warm for the animals and her arms bare for when she was bathing and grooming.

  The current discussion was men, and their pros and cons. Pru had a man. She was engaged to Finn, the guy who ran the Irish pub across the courtyard, and a really good guy along with being one of Willa’s closest friends. So needless to say, Pru sat firmly on the pro side. “Look,” she said in her defense of love. “Say you really need some orgasm RX, you know? If you’re in love with someone, he’ll go down on you and expect nothing back because he knows you’d do the same for him. Love is patient, love is kind.” She smiled. “Love means oral sex without the pressure to reciprocate.”

  “Love is keeping batteries in your vibrator,” Elle told her and the rest of them laughed, nodding. They all had a long list on the con side for men. Well, except for Haley, who dated women—when she was so inclined to date at all.

  Although Willa had to admit, she did like the idea of orgasm RX . . .

  “Yes, but what about spiders?” Pru ask. “A man will get the spiders.”

  There was a silence as the rest of them contemplated this unexpected benefit to having a man.

  “I learned to capture and safely relocate,” Haley finally said. “For Leeza.”

  Haley’s last girlfriend had been a serious tree hugger. And a serial cheater, as it turned out.

  “I just use the long hose on my vacuum cleaner,” Elle said, looking smug. “No awkward morning-after conversation required.”

  “This is about Willa today so don’t get me started on you,” Pru told her. “You and Archer cause electric fires to break out when you so much as pass by each other. Remind me to circle back to that.”

  Elle shrugged it off. “You’ve heard of opposites attract?” she asked. “Well me and Archer, we’re a classic case of opposites distract. As in we don’t like each other.”

  They all laughed but choked it off when Elle gave them each a glacial look in turn.

  Okay, so everyone knew she had a secret thing for Archer—except Elle herself apparently.

  Well, and Archer . . .

  Willa was just grateful to not be the center of attention anymore, although she wished they’d go back to the fascinating morning-after discussion because she hadn’t had a lot of awkward morning afters. She tended to complicate her bad choices in men by sticking too long instead of running off. Maybe that was where she’d always gone wrong. Maybe next time she was stupid enough to give another guy a shot, it would be a strictly one-time thing. And then she’d run like hell.

  “Tell me the truth,” Pru said. “When it comes to me waxing poetic about mine and Finn’s relationship, on a scale of one to that friend who just had a baby and wants to show you pics for hours, how annoying am I?”

  Willa met Elle’s and Haley’s amused gazes and they each murmured a variation of “not that bad.”

  Pru sighed. “Shit. I’m totally that new mom with baby pics.”

  “Hey, knowing it is half the battle,” Elle offered and being a master conversation manipulator, looked at Willa. “Tell us more about this guy with the cat.”

  “I can tell you he’s hot,” Rory said as she walked by carrying a case of hamster food. “Like major hot. And also Willa remembers him from high school. He stood her up for some dance, but he doesn’t remember it or her.”

  “Well how rude,” Haley said, instantly at Willa’s back, which Willa appreciated.

  “I don’t think he was being rude,” Rory said. “Willa had been bathing puppies and looked like a complete train wreck, honestly, all covered in soap suds and puppy drool and maybe some poop too. Even you guys wouldn’t have recognized her.”

  “I looked how I always look,” Willa said in her own defense. “And that part about high school was confidential.”

  “Oops, sorry,” Rory said, not looking sorry at all. “I’ll be in the back, grooming Thor.”

  Thor was Pru’s dog, who had a penchant for rolling in stuff he shouldn’t, the more disgusting the better. Pru blew Rory a grateful kiss and turned to Willa. “So back to hot-as-balls guy. More info please.”

  Willa sighed. “What is there to say? We went to school together and he never noticed me back then either so I should’ve known.”

  “How well did you know him?” Elle asked, eyes sharp. She was the logical one of the group, able to navigate through any and all bullshit with ease.

  “Obviously not well,” Willa said, hunching over her sketch pad.

  “Hmm,” Elle said.

  “I don’t have time to decipher that hmm,” Willa warned her.

  “You remember when Archer and Spence threatened to castrate your ex?”

  Spence and Archer were the last members of their tight gang of friends. Spence was an IT genius. Archer an ex-cop. The two of them together had some serious skills. And yes, they’d stepped in when Willa had needed them to. “That was different,” she said. Ethan had been an asshole, no doubt. “Keane’s never going to be an ex, asshole or otherwise, because we’re never going to be a thing. Now if we’re done dissecting my life, I’ve got a lot to do before tonight’s wedding.”

  She’d stayed up late working on the tuxes her client wanted the
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