The trouble with mistlet.., p.26
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.26

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  and really nosy, and very bossy and convincing!”

  He tried to take it all in. “So the sexy sweater, the mistletoe, the text . . . all of it was some sort of plan to seduce me?”

  “And the no-bra thing,” she said. “Don’t forget that part.”

  He pulled her up to her feet. “I really liked that part,” he admitted. “But Jesus, Willa, I’m an easy lay when it comes to you. You could’ve just told me.”

  “I’m sorry,” she whispered again and stepped into him, her eyes on his, warm and worried. “But for all my big talk, I’m not very good at . . . well, talking.”

  Her phone went off again. “Oh my God,” she said. “Give it to me so I can tell them to knock it off.” She stretched to reach it and Keane tried to not enjoy the mouthwatering view of her bent over the table. He wanted to reach out and push the skirt up, biting back a groan at the thought of the view that would give him.

  And then he realized that she’d taken a call, not a text, and her voice was off. Scared, and urgent.

  “Rory, where are you—” She broke off, her body unnaturally still and filled with tension. “Are you hurt?”

  Keane went to her bedroom and grabbed her new undies from her dresser.

  “On my way,” she was saying in her phone. “Text me with the exact address. I’m coming for you.” She disconnected and whirled in a circle, clearly looking for her things.

  Keane held out the undies and then picked up her purse and keys for her.

  “Always one step ahead of me,” she murmured, stepping into the panties. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to—”

  “I’ll drive.”

  “No, Keane, I’m not going to ask you to—”

  “You didn’t ask,” he said and nudged her out the door.

  Thirty-eight agonizing minutes later, Willa glued her face to the passenger window. “This one,” she said, rereading the address she’d gotten from Rory. “Dammit.”

  “What?”

  “This is her ex-boyfriend Andy’s house.” The pit of anxiety in her gut grew. “The one who put that bruise on her face all those weeks ago now.”

  Keane turned down the street. It was narrow, lined with apartment buildings that had seen their heyday decades ago.

  There were no spots available on the street.

  “Just stop here,” Willa said, unhooking her seatbelt, leaping out before Keane could get the truck into park. She heard him swear behind her. “I’ve got this,” she said over her shoulder. “I’ve got her. We’ll be right back out.”

  “No, Willa. Wait—”

  But she couldn’t wait, not another second. She ran up the walk and into the building. She’d never been here before but she knew from the text that Andy lived in apartment 10.

  With her phone in hand and the knot of fear in her gut growing, she knocked on the door.

  It swung open, revealing a dark, cavernous room she couldn’t see into. “Rory?” she whispered.

  A soft whimper was the only reply. Anxiety and worry drove Willa forward, hand out to combat the fact that she couldn’t see. “Rory?”

  A light came on further inside the place, illuminating a kitchen. Rory appeared in the doorway, giving Willa a frantic “come here” gesture.

  Willa rushed toward her through the still dark living room, her relief short-lived when she tripped over something on the carpet and went sprawling.

  Rory gasped and ran forward, helping her to her feet. “Hurry! Move away from him!”

  The anxiety and worry had turned into bone-melting fear. Ignoring the burning in her hands and knees, Willa let Rory pull her into the kitchen. “Please tell me I didn’t just trip over a dead body.”

  “Not dead.” Rory paused. “I’m pretty sure.”

  Willa gripped Rory’s arms and looked her over. There were no noticeable injuries. “Are you okay?”

  “I think so.”

  “What happened?”

  Rory bit into her lower lip. “Andy got a job and said he was making bank. He said his boss had offered me a part-time job too and that he’d pay cash, a lot of it. All I had to do was show up and be, like, the receptionist or something. Only when I showed up, there was no office. Turned out it wasn’t an office job at all. The boss takes people out for bungee jumps off the bridges and Andy assists. I was supposed to greet the ‘clients’ and take their money. But that’s illegal, I know it is, and when I said so, the boss fired both me and Andy on the spot. And then Andy took me here instead of home and we got in a big fight about it.”

  “Still waiting on the part that explains his prone body on the living room floor,” Willa said.

  “It turned out we disagreed about other stuff too,” Rory said, averting her gaze. “Like on the definition of the word no, so . . . I showed rather than told.” She paused. “With a knee to his balls.”

  Willa’s heart stopped. “Did he touch you?”

  “Only a little,” Rory said. “And that’s when I dropped him to the floor. But he hit his head on the corner of the coffee table going down.” Her face fell. “Which is my fault, right? Am I going to go to jail?”

  “No,” Willa said firmly, grabbing Rory’s hand. “It was self-defense—” She broke off when Rory let out a startled scream but before Willa could react, a hand wrapped around her ankle and tugged.

  For the second time in as many minutes, she went down and then blinked up into Andy’s menacing, pissed-off face.

  Damn, those spiked cuffs would have come in handy about now . . .

  “You,” he grated out, staring down at her with a frown like maybe his head hurt. And given the wicked slash across his eyebrow, it probably did.

  “Let me go, Andy.” Willa said this with a forced calm that she absolutely did not feel. In fact, it took real effort to speak at all with her heart thundering in her throat. “The police are on their way.”

  “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

  Willa struggled, but it was futile so she went with Plan B and jammed her knee up between his legs.

  Andy’s eyes widened as he let out a squeak and slowly fell off her, curling into a fetal position.

  “Well if I didn’t break his nuts, that sure did,” Rory whispered.

  Willa rolled to her hands and knees, but before she could stagger upright she was yanked to her feet by a large shadow of a man who moved with the silent lethalness of a cat.

  Keane.

  He had a dangerous, edgy air to him as the harsh kitchen light hit his taut, tense features, his eyes filled with temper and concern.

  “I’m okay,” she said.

  He didn’t speak until he’d made sure for himself, looking over both her and Rory before hauling Willa in close to his side and reaching for Rory’s hand.

  The girl grabbed on to it like it was her lifeline and Willa knew the feeling.

  Because he was her lifeline too.

  “What happened?” he asked.

  Willa gave him the short version and after hearing it, Keane called the police.

  Behind them, Andy stirred and groaned. Keane let go of Willa and Rory and moved over him. “Get up.”

  “Fuck you.”

  Keane shook his head, like he couldn’t quite believe what an idiot this guy was. Then he hauled Andy to his feet and pinned him against the wall so that they were nose to nose.

  Andy closed his eyes.

  Keane gave him a little shake until he opened them again. Keane didn’t raise his voice or give any indication of being furious, but the air fairly crackled around him. “Let’s get something straight.”

  “Fuck you,” Andy said, repeating himself.

  Keane put a forearm across his throat and leaned in a little, which appeared to get Andy’s full attention. “So, a couple of things,” Keane said calmly. “You’re not going to touch Rory ever again. You’re not going to talk to her, see her, or even think of her.”

  Andy hesitated and Keane pressed harder, which had Andy suddenly nodding like a bobblehead.

  “Same for Will
a,” Keane said, still quiet. Deadly calm. “In fact, you’re not going to get within a hundred feet of either of them. Do we need to go over what will happen if you do?”

  Andy shook his head.

  “Sure?” Keane asked.

  More wild nodding.

  “Keane,” Willa said softly, setting a hand on his biceps, which felt like solid granite.

  Keane let him go and Andy slid to the floor, hands protectively cupping his goods.

  That’s when the police showed up.

  Two hours later, Keane finally led Willa and Rory into his truck. They’d had a few tense moments when the police had first arrived before getting everything sorted out.

  Meaning keeping Rory out of having to take a ride to the station.

  “I’m such a screwup,” Rory said quietly from the backseat. “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”

  Before Keane could say a word, Willa twisted from the front seat and reached for Rory’s hand. “Honey, no one knows what they’re doing with their life.”

  “They seem like they do,” Rory mumbled. “On Instagram everyone has normal pics of family and boyfriends and . . . really great-looking food.”

  “Trust me,” Willa said. “Even your most perfect Instagram friend has an asshole ex and eats chocolate cereal for dinner once in a while, okay? You’re not alone and you’re not any more screwed up than the rest of us.”

  Rory choked out a laugh. “Was that supposed to be comforting?”

  Willa gave her a small smile that tugged at Keane’s heart. “Yes.” She glanced over at him. “Right?”

  “Right,” he said. “But for the record, I don’t like chocolate cereal. My jam is Frosted Flakes.”

  At this, Rory managed a second laugh and so did Willa, both of which warmed him. He didn’t know how and he didn’t know when, but the walls guarding his heart had fallen and he’d been conquered. Hard.

  Chapter 25

  #DontStopBelievin

  Willa’s brain was on overdrive as Keane walked them upstairs to her apartment. At the front door, Rory gave Keane a hug and vanished inside.

  Willa quietly shut the door to give them privacy and looked up at the man quiet at her side. “I’ll keep her here with me tonight. It won’t be the first time she’s slept on the couch.” She paused. “I wanted to thank you,” she said softly. “For tonight.”

  He smiled. “You mean when you lured me here under false pretenses pretending to need help with the mistletoe when really you wanted to take advantage of my body?”

  She felt herself blush. “I meant with Rory. I wish I hadn’t needed to be rescued by my . . .” She broke off.

  He arched his brow, clearly waiting to hear how she intended to finish that sentence, but she’d talked herself right into a damn corner.

  “By your what, Willa?” he asked softly. “The guy you’re just fucking? Your friend? Someone you care about maybe too much? What?”

  Overwhelmed, and also short of air because there was a big ball of panic in her throat, she looked away.

  She heard Keane draw in a deep breath. “I’m going to give you a pass on that right now,” he said. “Because we both know you have some shit to figure out. But I want you to know something and I need you to really hear it.” He tipped her face up to his. His expression was serious and just about as intense as she’d ever seen it, including when he’d had Andy pinned against the wall.

  “This thing between us?” he asked. “There’s no price. I needed a cat search and rescue and you came running. You need a ride and maybe a little muscle backup to deal with some asshole, I’m going to come running. You following me?”

  She chewed on the inside of her cheek, trying to figure out if the math really worked out. “I’m pretty sure I get more out of this than you do.”

  He shook his head. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re stubborn?”

  “Don’t forget obstinate,” she said. “And yeah, I’ve heard it a time or two.” Or hundred . . .

  “I’m not looking to rescue you,” he said with quiet steel. “This, between us, has nothing to do with anything like that.”

  “What does it have to do with?”

  He looked at her for a long beat, clearly weighing his words. “You let people in,” he finally said. “I’ve seen you.”

  She wasn’t sure where this was headed but she could tell she wasn’t going to like it. “Okay . . .”

  “Your friends, you’d give them the shirt off your back. Same with the kids you hire and keep safe.” He stepped even closer so that they were sharing air. “You give them a safe haven, you let them into your life. You do the same with all the animals that come your way.” He planted his big palms on the wall on either side of her head and let out a low laugh like he was more than a little surprised at himself. “I’m saying I’ve changed my stance on relationships and commitment. I want in your damn life, Willa.”

  While she was still reeling from that, he pulled something from his pocket.

  A key.

  “What’s that?” she asked, her heart starting a heavy beat.

  “A key to the Vallejo house.”

  “Why—why would you give me a key?”

  He shrugged. “For the next time you and any of the girls need to all crash together since I have extra beds. Or if there’s a leaky sink . . . or hell, say you buy a pizza and need someone to eat half of it.” He smiled. “I’d be happy to be that someone.”

  She stared at him. “I can’t just let myself into your house,” she said.

  “Why not?”

  Yeah, her body said. Why not? “Because that’s a big step,” she said carefully.

  “It doesn’t have to be.” His expression was leaning toward frustration. “It’s just a damn key, Willa.”

  She stared down at it and nodded. And then shook her head. “It feels like a lot more.”

  “What it is, is up to you.”

  She stared at it some more, shocked at how much one little key could weigh. And then a low oath came from Keane and suddenly the key was gone from her palm as fast as it had appeared.

  “You know what?” he said, jamming it back into his pocket. “Never mind—”

  “No, you just took me off guard—”

  He shook his head. “Forget it. Another time maybe.”

  Chest tight, unsure of what the hell had just happened and which one of them was to blame for the sudden chasm that had opened so wide between them that she couldn’t possibly cross it, she hesitated. She had no idea what to say. “’Night,” she finally whispered.

  “’Night.”

  Well, she’d walked herself right into a corner now, hadn’t she, leaving her no choice but to go inside and shut the door. She immediately turned to it, palms on the wood. Her heart felt heavy,
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