The trouble with mistlet.., p.30
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.30

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  He just smiled and she nearly had an orgasm on the spot. “I . . . I don’t know if I can write them down,” she admitted.

  “Sure you can. Close your eyes, think of something you’ve always wanted to try, and write it down.” He waited expectantly.

  She stared at him. “Now?”

  “I will if you will.”

  Ten minutes later when her morning alarm went off, she had five fantasies written out. So did Keane.

  “Time to get up,” she said.

  “Babe, I’m already up.”

  She rolled her eyes. “What’s it called when you sext over FaceTime?”

  He flashed a grin. “Sex-Time?”

  She laughed. “You just made that up.”

  “No.” He smiled. “Yeah. Show me under the shirt, Willa.”

  She wasn’t going to admit that his soft demand gave her the very best kind of shiver. “Keane.”

  “Come on, show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”

  “Is there anyone there with you?” she asked.

  He turned his phone so she could see that he was in his bedroom at Vallejo Street, alone except for Pita sleeping on his pillow.

  “I thought she wasn’t allowed on your pillow.”

  “She’s not,” he said. “But apparently she’s the ruler and I’m just her bitch.” Then his face was back in the screen. “Show me,” he said.

  She lifted the hem of the shirt high, did a little shimmy, and then dropped the material back down.

  Keane’s eyes were so hot she was surprised her screen didn’t melt. “That’s going to get me through a very long day,” he said, voice low and reverent.

  She laughed. “You could get porn up on your phone anytime you want. Hell, you could probably get any woman in your contact list to send you nudie pics.”

  “I don’t want any woman. I want you.”

  Her heart skipped a beat at that. “The feeling’s mutual.”

  He smiled. “Have a good day, babe.”

  “You too.” And with her heart lighter than she could remember feeling, a burgeoning hope blooming in her chest, she disconnected and went to work.

  Willa did think of Keane, but not about the sexual fantasies.

  Okay, she thought about those. A lot.

  But mostly she thought about the man he’d grown into and how much that man had become such an integral part of her life in one short month.

  When an older couple came into the shop to buy treats for their miniature schnauzer, finishing each other’s sentences and holding hands like they were newlyweds, she had to ask. “How long have you been together?”

  They grinned in unison. “Fifty years,” the man said. “Fifty of the best years of my life.”

  “When you find the right one, honey,” the woman said, her eyes on her hubby, “don’t ever let go.”

  “Ever is a long time,” Rory noted thoughtfully when the couple was gone.

  Which was funny because ridiculously, Willa was suddenly thinking how much comfort was in the thought of forever . . .

  She almost called Keane to tell him she thought maybe she’d figured some things out, namely that she realized she wanted in.

  She wanted him.

  But she didn’t trust herself not to mess it all up over the phone so she sent a short text inviting him to the gang’s private Christmas party at the pub that night, ending it with a please come.

  By the time she closed up the shop and changed for the party, she hadn’t gotten a response from him, and wasn’t sure what that meant.

  She walked into the pub a little off her game, but she’d made Keane wait for her to figure things out—she could certainly do the same for him.

  The pub was closed to the public; tonight was just a family thing. Spence, Finn, Archer, Elle, and Haley, Pru, and Sean, Finn’s younger brother, who was doing his best to adult these days now that he’d hit the ripe old age of twenty-two.

  Finn poured Willa a glass of wine. The rest of the gang was at least a round ahead of her, everyone greeting her with hugs and cheer, and she felt her throat go tight with love. She was so damn lucky to have these people in her life.

  “Where’s Keane?” Pru asked. “You invited him, yeah?”

  She nodded. “I left him a text.”

  “Does that mean you’ve decided to stop fighting yourself and your heart and go for it?” Pru asked.

  Willa never thought the admission would be difficult but she was still surprised when her eyes filled as she nodded.

  “Alcohol!” Elle called out. “Stat! Another one of us is about to go down the rabbit hole.”

  Finn and Pru, the first ones “down the rabbit hole,” grinned wide.

  Then Finn and Sean served them a feast that—no surprise given the fearless and competitive nature of the guys—turned into a chicken-wing-eating contest.

  Spence won, though Willa had no idea how he did it. He was as tall as a tree with the lean muscled build of a runner, not a single ounce of extra meat on him.

  And yet he put away twenty-five wings.

  “Twenty-fucking-five,” Archer said in awe as he counted the pile of bones on Spence’s plate. “Ten more than your closest competitor.” He looked at Finn. “That’s you, man. You going to keep going, or forfeit so we can crown him?”

  Finn looked down at his place and inhaled as if he was fortifying himself.

  “Forfeit,” Pru said for her man. “What,” she asked at Finn’s look. “None of them have to sleep with you tonight. As the lone person who does, I vote you’re done, before you explode.”

  “Yes!” Spence thrust a fist in the air triumphantly and then let out an impressive burp. “’Scuse me.”

  Willa had been sneaking covert glances at the door, hoping to see Keane, but he was still MIA.

  They moved on to their annual Christmas Karaoke Championship, first fortified by another round of heavenly spiked eggnog. And if Willa kept looking to the door every few minutes, no one called her on it—although she caught Elle and Archer exchanging more than one worried look, which she ignored.

  The prize for karaoke was the same as for the wings—bragging rights for the entire next year.

  And everyone wanted those bragging rights. Bad.

  The girls got up and did “Moulin Rouge.”

  Spence and Finn did “Purple Rain.”

  But then Archer, seeming unaffected by the alcohol they’d consumed—although the Santa hat sitting askance on his head was clear evidence that he was very relaxed—sang “Man in the Mirror” and brought down the house.

  Afterward, he came back to his seat, tipped back his chair, and gave them all a rare grin.

  Elle was staring at him oddly. “How much have you had to drink?”

  “He’s drinking virgin,” Finn said. “He said he’s our DD tonight.”

  Elle’s eyes widened. “So you’re completely sober,” she said to Archer. “And you can sing like that? How did I not know you can sing like that?”

  “You don’t know a lot about me.”

  He said this mildly but Elle blinked like he’d slapped her.

  Ignoring this reaction, Archer reached past her to grab a handful of cookies that Haley had baked herself. “Are these as good as they look?”

  “Better,” Haley said while Willa rubbed the kink in her neck, the one she’d gotten by taking too many peeks at the damn door.

  “We do karaoke all the time,” Elle said to Archer, apparently unable to let it go. “You’ve never sang like that before.”

  “Sure I have.”

  “Never,” she said adamantly. “You could go on any singing show in this country and win.”

  “No shit,” he said easily. “But I don’t want to sing for a living. I want to catch the idiots and asshats of the world for a living.”

  “Why would you choose such a dangerous job when you could literally stand there and look pretty and sing?” Haley asked.

  Archer shrugged. “Because I’m good at catching the idiots and asshats of the wor
ld,” he said. “I’m not all that good at looking pretty.”

  “You just like wearing at least three weapons at all times,” Elle accused.

  “That too,” he agreed and went for more cookies. “Isn’t it time for gifts yet?”

  He was referring to their annual White Elephant/Secret Santa gift exchange. The rule was simple—the gifts had to be under twenty bucks, not that this stopped them from competing like it was for a pot of gold.

  It all started out very polite, with each of them setting their wrapped present in a pile. Then, like calm, civilized adults, they took turns choosing and unwrapping one.

  But in ten minutes flat—a new record for them—it turned into a wrestling match when Haley jumped on Archer’s back and bit his ear to keep him from getting the Star Wars shower curtain that she wanted so badly.

  “Okay,” she said ten minutes later, the shower curtain safe in her hands. “That didn’t happen.”

  “Spence already put it on Instagram,” Elle said.

  “Dammit!”

  There was another scuffle over some bacon toothpaste and then they all shared another round of eggnog.

  Willa drank her third and took yet another glance at the pub doors.

  “You okay?” Pru asked her.

  “Yes.” She shook her head. “Actually, no, I’m some distance from okay. I mean I thought I was fine, you know? I was alone and I was good at that. I’d given up men and that was working for me—until, of course, the sexiest of all the men in all the world named Keane made me forget my no-man decree, and now . . .” She shook her head. “And now I’m not good at alone anymore.”

  “You could switch things up and come to bat for my team,” Haley suggested. “But you should know, women are even harder to deal with than men, trust me.”

  “I don’t want a team,” Willa said. “No more sexy times, which really sucks because me and Keane were good at it, really good. Okay, so he is the one who’s really, really, really, really good—”

  “Uh, honey,” Elle said and drew her finger across her throat signaling Willa that she should stop talking now.

  But she wasn’t done. “You know what? I think I’ll be my own team. I’ve got a good shower massager, I’ll take care of my own business.”

  Normally this would’ve gotten her a big laugh, but instead each of her dearest friends in the world was looking at her with varying winces and grimaces on her face. Oh shit. “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” she whispered.

  “Little bit,” Spence said.

  She didn’t look. She couldn’t; someone had glued her feet to the floor.

  Finn topped off her drink and hugged her tight. “It’s not as bad you think.”

  No. It was worse.

  Elle leaned in. “Hey, guys like women who can take care of their own business.”

  Archer appeared to choke on his own tongue.

  Pru smacked both him and Finn upside the back of their heads and pulled Finn away. “Kitchen,” she said firmly.

  Haley quickly stood. “I’ll go with you. Spence?”

  “Yep.” Spence’s gaze slid past Willa for a beat and then he lowered his voice. “You let us love you, Willa. But maybe it’s time to expand your horizons beyond the core group, you know?”

  “But you haven’t,” she said desperately.

  “Trying and failing isn’t the same as not trying,” he said. And then he walked away, nodding at the man behind her.

  Willa could feel Keane, but she wasn’t ready to look.

  “Whatever you do,” Elle said quietly, “do it from your gut and take no prisoners.” She watched Spence walk away. “I’m going after him,” she said. “You know this is a rough time for him. Unless you need me to stay and kick ass and take names . . . ?”

  “I’ll be okay,” Willa said bravely.

  The only one left, Archer set his beer down and looked at her. It was hard to take him seriously with the Santa hat. “Let me guess,” she said miserably. “Follow your heart or something Hallmark-y like that, right?”

  This had Archer letting out a rare laugh. “Fuck, no.”

  She let out a low laugh too in spite of the panic choking the air from her lungs. Of all her BFFs, Archer was the most closed off. King of his own island and no one had a set of the laws but him.

  “I was going to say run like hell,” he said, “but Keane looks like he can catch you with no problem at all.” His smile faded and he ducked down a little. “But if you’ve changed your mind and don’t want to be caught, you give me the bat signal and I’m there, okay?”

  She looked into the eyes of the man who would do anything, and she meant anything, to keep his friends safe. “Okay.”

  And then she was alone in the bar with the only man who’d ever really snagged a piece of her heart. Slowly she turned and faced him.

  He looked utterly exhausted. It must be raining again because his hair was wet, his long dark lashes spiky. He hadn’t shaved that morning. And probably not the morning before either.

  “I’m sorry,” he said.

  She blinked. “For what?”

  “A lot of things but let’s start with tonight. I wanted to be here earlier, I intended to be, but . . .” His eyes were dark, his expression was dark, and her heart immediately stopped.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked, thinking please don’t let it be Sally . . .

  “Pita’s gone again, but this time I think she got out of the house.”

  She gasped. “What?”

  “There were people going in and out all day and I was working in the attic and . . . shit.” He shoved a hand through his wet hair, leaving it standing on end. “I fucking lost her.”

  “Why didn’t you call me sooner?”

  “I did. You didn’t answer. I figured you were pissed that I hadn’t shown up. I came here to beg you for help—”

  “I didn’t hear my phone—” She slapped her pockets. Empty. She turned in a slow circle looking for her purse, which she’d left on the bar unattended. She ran over there and pulled out her phone and saw the missed calls. “I’m so sorry.” She headed for the door. “Let’s go.”

  Chapter 29

  #MakingAListAndCheckingItTwice

  Keane drove them to Vallejo Street, his mind filled with worry about Pita but still having enough room to enjoy the way Willa looked tonight, which was smokin’ hot. “I’m sorry about taking you away from your Christmas party.” He slid her a lingering look. “I like the dress.”

  She looked down at her little red dress. Emphasis on little. “I wore it for you.”

  He felt a knot loosen in his chest and met her deep green gaze. “The invite. Was that just to the party? Or into your life?”

  She nibbled on her lower lip but held his eyes prisoner.
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