The trouble with mistlet.., p.20
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.20

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  a big, fat loser tonight. I’m already up fifty bucks.”

  “You whined so much when you lost last week that I felt sorry for you,” Archer said. “I’m letting you win.”

  Spence shook his head. “Lying to make yourself look good is just sad. Especially since girls’ night ended and Elle isn’t even here anymore for you to show off.”

  Archer shoulder-checked Spence hard as he moved around the table to shoot.

  Spence practically bounced across the room but he didn’t look bothered in the least. In fact, he looked smug.

  Archer slid him a hard look. “You know why I want Eddie cleaned up or gone. You fucking damn well know why.”

  Spence’s easy smile slipped. “Okay, yeah. I do know.” He waited quietly while Archer shot again, and then again, each time sinking multiple balls into the pockets. “I’ll deal with it. I promised Willa the same thing because she doesn’t want her kids tempted.”

  Keane choked on his beer. “Her kids?”

  Archer looked up from the pool table and actually smiled. “She didn’t tell you?”

  Spence gave Archer a shove. “You’re an asshole.” He turned to Keane. “Not her kids. Her employees, the ones she so carefully collects to save, since there was no one to save her.”

  Keane prided himself on being cool, calm, logical. Emotions didn’t have a place in his everyday life. But ever since he’d walked into Willa’s shop that first time, he’d been having emotions. Deep ones.

  Spence’s words evoked a picture in his mind of what it had been like for Willa, leaving the foster-care system at age eighteen without anyone to take care of her. “She’s got someone now,” Keane said, surprising himself.

  Archer shot again and sank the last of his balls. “Big loser, my ass.” He pointed at Spencer. “You owe me fifty bucks. And also, if you keep opening your trap about Willa, she’s going to kick your ass.” He turned to Keane. “You mean what you just said? About Willa having someone now?”

  Keane opened his mouth but nothing came out. Until this very moment he’d truly believed that a no-commitment policy was the best thing for him. No, wait. That wasn’t exactly true. He’d been doubting his policy for a while now. Since Willa had plowed her way into his life.

  He just had no idea what to do with that realization.

  Spence laughed quietly at the look on Keane’s face. “Give him a sec, man. I think he just shocked himself more than us.”

  Truer words . . . “I’ve gotta go,” Keane said.

  “Nice job,” Archer muttered to Spence. “You scared him off.”

  “Nah, that guy can’t be scared off. He’s as bullheaded stubborn as you are. And hell, you still can’t even admit what you feel for Elle, so . . .”

  Keane didn’t hear the rest of that thought because he walked out of the pub into the chilly night. He hit the stairwell and climbed to the fourth floor, not stopping until he was in front of Willa’s door.

  With absolutely zero idea of what he thought he was doing.

  She opened after his knock wearing a tiny pair of flannel plaid PJ shorts just barely peeking out from beneath a huge hoodie. “Hey,” she said and then frowned. “What’s wrong?”

  Not wanting to get into his aunt being in the hospital or his epiphany about Willa herself, he shook his head. “Nothing. Is it still girls’ night? Are you guys having a pillow fight?”

  “No,” she laughed. “Pru wasn’t feeling good. We cut it short before we even got to dinner.”

  Keane had learned to tell her mood by her hair. The wilder the strands, the wilder her emotions, but tonight her hood was up, falling over her forehead with the words I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up to No Good across it. “Sorry you got stuck with Petunia,” he said.

  “Oh, I didn’t mind.” She turned from him to look for the cat, or so he assumed, and saw the words Mischief Managed written across her sweet ass, making him realize the sweatshirt and shorts were a matched set. Nudging her aside, he let himself in.

  Her place didn’t surprise him. He’d seen her shop and he’d had an idea that her home would somehow look the same, cutesy and colorful.

  “Mischief managed?” he asked.

  She blinked like he’d surprised her. “You know Harry Potter?”

  “Well, not personally,” he said and smiled. “But I read the books.”

  “You mean you saw the movies?”

  “No, I mean I read the books.”

  She didn’t look happy about this. Color him completely lost. “And that makes me . . . ?”

  She moaned and closed her eyes. “Bad for me. Oh so bad for me!”

  Yeah, still lost. “Can I be bad for you over dinner?” he asked. “Because I’m starving.”

  Her eyes flew open and she stared at him.

  He had no idea what she was thinking. “Are you hungry?” he asked.

  “I’m always hungry. But it’s getting late.”

  “And?”

  “And . . .” She looked boggled. “Lots of reasons.”

  “Name one.”

  “Okay . . . Well, it’s nearly Christmas. And Christmastime is usually for dear friends and family.”

  He just looked at her, not buying any of that.

  “Keane,” she said softly.

  Was he going to tell her about his epiphany about wanting more from her? Hell no. One, he had no idea what that more was. And two, assuming he could figure that out, he then had to convince her to feel the same. No wonder he’d lain low on love. This shit was hard. “You told me family is where you make it,” he said. “You told me your friends are your family. You told me we’re friends. Was any of that a lie?”

  “No, but . . .” She looked at him beseechingly. “I’m trying to resist you here, okay? I’m trying to tell myself we have nothing in common except this weird and extremely annoying chemistry that won’t go away, not even when we . . .”

  He went brows up, really wanting to hear her finish that sentence.

  “Okay, when I jumped your bones on the roof,” she finished, eyes narrowed, daring him to laugh. “But then you show up at my door, clearly exhausted and rumpled and looking . . . well, hungry, and it makes me want to do things.”

  “Things like . . . ?”

  “Take my clothes off. Okay? You make me want to take my clothes off.”

  He started to smile but she poked him again. “Don’t say it,” she warned. “Don’t you dare say that me stripping works for you.”

  “But, Willa, it does work for me. You stripping will always work for me.”

  This earned him an eyeroll. “Shock,” she said. “But friends don’t do that. They don’t, Keane,” she said when he opened his mouth. “And I was going to be okay with that. But then you went ahead and told me you’ve read Harry Potter.” She hesitated and considered him. “Which one?”

  “All of them.”

  She covered her face and moaned miserably. “All of them,” she muttered. “I’m a dead woman. You’ve just killed me dead.”

  “I read a lot,” he said, trying to improve his odds. “Not just Harry Potter.”

  “Making it worse . . .” She dropped her hands from her face. “Why are you here again?”

  “To pick up Pita.”

  “Oh yeah.”

  “And to thank you for watching her.” He paused. “With a meal because I’m starving and I want to buy you dinner. You look like the very best thing I’ve seen all day long, Willa. Can I tell you that without a disagreement?”

  She eyeballed him for a long beat. “Dinner where?”

  He bit back his victory smile. “Your choice.”

  “Sushi?”

  He manfully held in his wince. He hated sushi. “Your choice,” he said again.

  “But you hate sushi.”

  “How do you know?” he asked.

  “Because your eyes grimaced. Why would you agree to sushi if you hate it?”

  He was starting to get a headache. “Because when I said your choice, I meant it. Are we going to argue abo
ut that too? And if so, can it wait until I get some food?”

  “Sure. How about Thai?” she asked and studied his face carefully.

  He gave her his best blank face. He wasn’t crazy about Thai either but now his eye was full-out twitching. “Thai it is,” he said. “You ready?”

  She went hands on hips. “You don’t like Thai either? What’s wrong with you?”

  “Many, many things,” he said, wondering when she’d come to be able to read him so damn clearly that he couldn’t hide a thing from her. “Can we go now?”

  “Italian. Indian. Taco Bell.”

  A laugh escaped him. “Yes.”

  “Which?”

  “Willa, if you get your sweet little ass on the move, I’ll take you to all of them.”

  She bit her lower lip and stared at him, her eyes bright.

  Not moving.

  “Babe,” he said. “What?”

  “I want to go somewhere you want to go,” she said. “Can we make it your choice?”

  What he wanted was to go to her bed. Directly and without passing Go. He wanted to strip her out of every stitch of clothing and feast on her.

  For a week.

  Some of that must have shown on his face because she blushed to her roots. “Pizza,” she said quickly. “Pizza work for you?”

  “Thank Christ, yes,” he said.

  She nodded and then hesitated.

  “What now?” he asked.

  “You ever going to tell me what’s wrong?”

  “I’m getting pizza and beer.” And you, he thought. “What could be wrong? Come on.” He reached for her hand, but she evaded with a low laugh.

  “I can’t go like this,” she said. “I have to change first.”

  “I like what you’re wearing.”

  She looked at him as if he’d lost his marbles.

  “Okay, fine,” he said. “Throw on sweats and call it good.”

  “Did you come through the pub?”

  “Yes. Why?”

  “Because then people saw you. People like Spence and Archer. Maybe Elle too, if she was still there. And trust me, they watched you leave and saw that you weren’t leaving at all, that you came upstairs. They’re going to gossip about it, and then tomorrow I’ll be interrogated by the girls. Did I let you in? Did you stay? And what was I wearing? And I’ll be damned, Keane, if I tell them that I was wearing sweats.”

  He blinked. He didn’t quite follow. In fact, he needed to buy a vowel but he nodded gamely, willing to agree to anything to get food. “Okay.”

  “Okay.” She vanished into her bedroom.

  Chapter 20

  #WithASideOfCrazy

  Willa ran into her bedroom and startled Petunia, who was sleeping on her bed. “Sorry, don’t mind me,” she said to the cat and yanked off her clothes. She pulled on a pair of jeans that weren’t comfortable but they gave her a good butt, and a soft green Christmas sweater that had a reindeer on the front, and fell to her thighs.

  Which made the good-butt jeans unnecessary.

  She peeled them off and tried a pair of black leggings instead.

  Now she just looked a little lazy.

  “Shit.” She stripped again and started over.

  And then over again.

  Ten minutes later she’d tried on everything in her closet—which was now in a pile on her bed in front of Petunia—and she was in her bra and panties and starting to panic.

  Nothing worked.

  She swore a bunch more and started pawing through everything she’d already discarded on her bed, telling herself it was silly to be hung up on this. Silly and ridiculous and asinine and stupid—

  “Willa,” Keane called out, his voice shockingly close, like maybe he was heading down the hall toward her bedroom. “What are you doing, sewing a brand-new outfit?” His voice was right outside her door now.

  With a squeak, she grabbed up her huge sweatshirt and held it in front of her. “Don’t rush me!”

  He poked his head into the room, eyes half amused, half male frustration. There was at least a day of scruff on his jaw and it was sexy as hell, damn him.

  A fact that only served to annoy her.

  He rubbed his belly like it was hollow. And hell, with those ridged muscles and not an ounce of fat anywhere on him, it probably was hollow.

  “I’ve been waiting for hours,” he said, petting Petunia when she meandered over to him for a scratch.

  “It’s been ten minutes,” Willa said.

  “Feels like hours.” Keane pressed his thumb and forefinger to his eyes like he was trying to hold them into the sockets. “You ready?”

  She tore her gaze off his lifted arms and the way his biceps and broad shoulders and back muscles strained the material of his shirt. “Almost,” she said a little thickly.

  Or not even close.

  Reading her expression, he groaned and then looked around her room. “Did a bomb go off in here?”

  She eyed the mess. “Maybe.”

  “You’ve got a lot of clothes and”—his gaze locked and snagged on a lacy bra and undies—“stuff.” Then he saw the secondary pile on the club chair in the corner. “Holy shit,” he said. “How many clothes have you tried on?”

  “All of them!” she said. Maybe yelled. And then glared at him to see if he so much as dared to crack a smile. “I’ve got nothing to wear.”

  He once again took in the huge piles of clothing all over the place. “Okaaaaaay . . .”

  She sighed.

  He cut his eyes to hers, rubbing his jaw. The sound of his callused fingers against the scruff gave her a zing straight to her good parts.

  And she’d had no idea she had so many.

  “It’s just pizza,” he said.

  “And here I’m scrambling to look hot enough to ruin you.”

  He smiled at that. “Willa, I fantasize about you. A lot. And I’m good at it too. You should know that you and your daily hotness have already ruined me.”

  And in turn, he was ruining her as she stood and breathed, not that she was about to admit it. “So you’re saying I look hot to you right now,” she said.

  His gaze slid slowly over her. She was covered—mostly—by the sweatshirt she was holding to her front, but by the flash of heat in his gaze, he had X-ray vision. His expression softened. “You
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