Sweet little lies, p.33
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       Sweet Little Lies, p.33

         Part #1 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
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  Her eyes shined brilliantly. “You already have,” she whispered and tugged his mouth to hers, kissing him with all the love he’d ever dreamed of and more. So much more.

  When they broke for air, her eyes were still a little damp but also full of affection and heat. Lots of heat. “Did you really mean everything?” she asked.

  “Everything and anything.” To prove it, he pulled a small black box from his pocket where it’d been sitting for a week and flipped it open.

  With shaking fingers, she took out the diamond ring. “Oh my God.”

  “Is that ‘oh my God yes I’ll marry you, Finn O’Riley?’” he asked.

  She both laughed and cried. “Did you doubt it?”

  “Well, I still haven’t heard ‘yes, Finn.’”

  With a laugh, she leapt into his arms and spread kisses over his jaw to his mouth. “Yes, Finn!”

  Grinning, he slid the diamond ring onto her finger.

  She admired her hand. “So how pushy would it be of me to ask for something else right now?”

  “Name it,” he said.

  She put her mouth to his ear. “I’d like some more of what you gave me last night. Right here, right now.”

  Remembering every single hot second of last night, he smiled. “Yeah?”

  “Yeah.” She bit her lower lip again, which didn’t hide her smile. “Please?”

  “Babe, anything you want, always, and you don’t even have to say please.”

  Read on for a sneak peek at Willa’s story in

  Coming soon from


  She hadn’t even had breakfast yet and Willa Davis found herself elbow deep in puppies and poo. As owner of the South Bark Mutt Shop, she spent much of her day scrubbing, cajoling, primping, hoisting—and more cajoling. And she wasn’t above bribing either.

  To that end, she had a pet treat in every pocket of her cargos, which meant she smelled irresistible to any and all four-legged creatures within scent range.

  Too bad there wasn’t a biscuit guaranteed to make two-legged male creatures roll around at one’s feet, begging for a kiss.

  But then again, she’d been the one to put herself on a Man-Time-Out so she had no one to blame but herself for that.


  This from one of the pups she was bathing. He wobbled in close and licked her chin.

  “That’s not going to butter me up,” she said but it totally did and unable to resist that face, she returned the kiss on the top of his cute little nose.

  Stace, one of her regular grooming clients, had brought in her eight-week-old heathens—er, golden retriever puppies.

  Six of them.

  It was over an hour before her nine a.m. opening time but Stace had called in a panic because the pups had rolled in horse poo. God knew where they’d found horse poo in the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco. Maybe a policeman’s horse had left an undignified pile in the street.

  Two puppies, even three, were manageable, but six was bordering on insanity. “Okay, listen up,” she said to the squirming, happily panting puppies in the large tub in her grooming room. “Sit.”

  One and Two sat. Three climbed up on top of both of them and shook, drenching Willa in the process. In the meantime, Four, Five, and Six made a break for it, paws pumping, ears flopping over their eyes, tails wagging wildly as they scrabbled, climbing all over each other like circus tumblers to get out of the tub.

  “You little ingrates,” she said, unable to keep from laughing at their antics. “Rory!” she called out. “Could use another set of hands.” Or three . . .

  No answer from her employee. Either the twenty-one-year-old had her headphones cranked up to make-me-deaf-please or she was on Instagram and didn’t want to lose her place. “Rory!”

  The girl finally poked her head around the corner, the tips of her ears red with embarrassment.

  Yep. Instagram.

  “Holy crap,” Rory said, eyes wide at the sight of Willa, prompting her to look down at herself. Yep, her cargo pants splattered with suds and water and a few other questionable stains, at least one of which included cat yak from an earlier incident.

  It didn’t take a mirror to tell her that her short strawberry blonde hair had rioted and probably resembled an explosion in a mattress factory. “Give me a hand here?”

  Rory dug right in, not shying from getting wet or dirty. She took on half of the wayward pups, and in a few minutes they had all of them out of the tub, dried, and back in their baby pen.

  One through Five had fallen into the instant slumber that only babies and the very drunk could achieve. Six stayed stubbornly awake, climbing over his siblings trying to get back into Willa’s arms.

  Laughing, Willa scooped up the little man. His legs bicycled in the air, tail wagging faster than the speed of light, taking his entire hind end with it.

  “Not sleepy, huh?” Willa asked.

  He tried to lick her face.

  “Oh no you don’t,” she said. “Don’t think I don’t know where that tongue’s been.” She carried him out front to the retail portion of her shop and set him into a baby pen with some puppy toys. “Now sit there and look pretty and bring in some customers, would you?”

  The puppy pounced on a toy and got busy playing.

  Willa shook her head and moved around, flipping on the lights out here. As she did, the shop came to life, mostly thanks to the insane amount of holiday decorations she’d put up the day before.

  “It’s only the first week in December and it looks like Christmas threw up in here,” Rory said, coming into the room behind her.

  Willa looked around at the shop that was an absolute dream come true for her. “But in a classy way, right?”

  Rory sucked on her lower lip as she eyed the myriad of strings of lights and more boughs of holly than the North Pole could ever have. “Um . . . right.”

  Willa ignored the doubtful sarcasm. One, Rory hadn’t grown up in a stable home. And two, neither had she. For both of them, Christmas had been a luxury that, like three squares and a roof, had usually been out of their realm of possibility. They’d each dealt with that differently.

  Rory didn’t need the pomp and circumstance of the holidays.

  Willa did, desperately. So now at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, when after five years she finally had her shop in the black—well, mostly in the black—she went just a tad bit overboard for the holidays.

  “Ohmigod,” Rory said, staring at their newest cash register display. “Is that a rack of penis headbands?”

  “No!” Willa said on a laugh. “It’s reindeer antler headbands for cats and small dogs.”

  Rory stared at her.

  Willa grimaced. “Okay, so maybe I went a little crazy—”

  “A little?”

  “Haha,” Willa said, picking up a reindeer antler headband. It didn’t look like a penis to her, but then again it’d been awhile since she’d seen one up close and personal. “These are going to sell like hotcakes, mark my words.”

  “What are you doing—don’t put it on,” Rory said in sheer horror as Willa did just that.

  “It’s called marketing,” Willa said, rolling her eyes upward to take in the antlers jutting up above her head. Huh. “Do they really look like penises?” She paused. “Or is it peni? What’s the plural of penis?”

  “Pene?” Rory asked, and they both grinned.

  “Clearly I’m in more need of caffeine than I realized,” Willa said. “Tina’s caffeine.”

  “I’ll get it. I caught sight of her coming through the courtyard at the crack of dawn this morning wearing six-inch wedge sneakers with her hair teased to the North Pole, making her like eight feet tall. Can’t wait to get a closer look at the perfection up close.”

  Tina used to be Tim, and everyone in the five-story, offbeat historical Pacific Heights building had enjoyed Tim—but they loved Tina. Tina rocked.

  “I’ll take one of her It’s-Way-Too-Early-For-Life’s-Nonsense coffees,
Willa said, pulling cash from her pocket. Puppy treats bounced on the floor.

  “And to think, you can’t get a date,” Rory said.

  “I can get a date, I just pick the wrong ones. Hence the man-embargo. You know what? Tell Tina to make mine a double, I’m bonking already and the day hasn’t even started.”

  Nodding, Rory headed toward the back door, where she’d run through the courtyard to Tina’s coffee shop.

  “Oh, and grab us each one of her muffins too.” Willa paused. Tina made the best muffins on the planet. “Wait, make it two each. Or three. No. Shit, that’s like the entire day’s calories. One,” she said firmly. “And make mine blueberry so it counts as a serving of fruit.”

  Rory was grinning. “So a coffee and a blueberry muffin to go, and a straitjacket on the side then?”

  “You’d be in it right alongside of me, babe,” Willa responded and Rory laughed in agreement.

  When she left, Willa’s smile faded. Each of her four employees were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, and they all had one thing in common.

  The foster system had churned them up and spit them out, leaving them alone in the world.

  Since Willa had been one of those lost girls herself, she collected them. She gave them jobs and advice that they only listened to about half the time.

  She figured fifty percent was better than zero percent.

  Rory had been with her the longest. The girl put up a good front of being wry and stoic, but she was struggling. She still had the faded markings of a bruise on the right side of her jaw where her ex-boyfriend had knocked her into a doorjamb.

  Willa clenched her fists. Sometimes at night she dreamed about what she’d like to do to the guy. Castrating him was high on the list. She had a deal with one of the local vets so she could afford it too.

  In any case, Rory deserved better. The girl was tough as nails on the outside but a tender marshmallow on the inside, and she’d do anything for Willa.

  It was sweet but also a huge responsibility because Rory looked to Willa for her normal.

  A daunting prospect on the best of days.

  She checked on Six and found him asleep sprawled on his back, feet spread wide to show the world his most prized possessions.

  Just like a man for you.

  Next she checked on his siblings and found them asleep as well. Feeling like the mother of sextuplets, she tiptoed back out to the front and opened her laptop, planning to inventory the new boxes of supplies she’d received late the night before.

  She was knee-deep in four different twenty-five-pound sacks of bird feed—she still couldn’t believe how many people in San Francisco had birds—when someone knocked on the front glass door.

  Damn. She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was only a quarter after eight but it went against the grain to turn away a paying customer so she straightened, swiped her hands on her thighs, and turned to the front.

  A guy stood on her doorstep, mouth grim, expression dialed to Tall, Dark, and ’Tude-ridden, and unbelievably, her nipples stood up and took notice. This annoyed the crap out of her because her brain and body weren’t in agreement on the no-man thing.

  But damn, he was something, all gorgeous and broody and . . . she paused. There was something familiar about him. She headed to the door and froze as she got a closer look, her heart just about skidding to a stop as she realized . . . she did know him. “Keane Winters,” she murmured. The only man on the planet who could make her feel good about her decision to give up men.

  And in fact, if she’d only given them up sooner, say back on the day of the Sadie Hawkins dance in her sophomore year of high school when he’d stood her up, she’d have saved herself a lot of heartache in the years since.

  On the other side of the door, Keane shoved his dark sunglasses to the top of his head, revealing dark chocolate eyes that she knew could melt when he was amused or aroused, or turn to ice when he was so inclined.

  They were ice now. Catching her gaze, he lifted a cat carrier. A bright pink bedazzled carrier.

  He had a cat. Her body wanted to soften at this knowledge because that meant on some level at least he had to be a good guy, right?

  Luckily her brain clicked on, remembering everything, every little detail of that long-ago night. Like how she’d had to borrow a dress for the dance from a neighbor girl in her class who’d gleefully lorded it over her, how she’d had to beg her foster mother to let her go, how she’d stolen a Top Ramen from the locked pantry and eaten it dry in the bathroom so she wouldn’t have to buy both her dinner and his, as was custom for the “backwards” dance.

  “We’re closed,” she said through the glass, knowing he’d be able to hear her just fine.

  Not a word escaped his lips. He simply raised the cat carrier another inch, like he was God’s gift.

  And he had been. At least in high school.

  Wishing she’d gotten some caffeine before dealing with this, she blew out a breath and stepped closer, her eyes apparently caught in some sort of spinning vortex because they couldn’t be torn away from his as she unlocked and then opened the door. “Morning,” she said, determined to be polite. Yep, he was just another customer . . .

  But when his face showed no sign of recognition at all, she found something even more annoying than finding this man on her doorstep.

  He didn’t remember her.

  “I’m closed until nine,” she said in her most pleasant voice, although a little bit of fuck-you might have escaped.

  “I’ve got to be at work by then,” he said. “I needed to be there fifteen minutes ago. I want to board a cat for the day.”

  Keane had always been big and intimidating. It was what had made him such an effective jock. He’d ruled on the football field, the basketball court, and the baseball diamond. The perfect trifecta. The perfect all-around package.

  Every girl in the entire school—and also a good amount of the teachers—had spent an indecent amount of time eyeballing that package.

  But just as Willa had given up men, she’d even longer ago given up thinking about that time, inarguably the worst years of her life. While Keane had been off breaking records and winning hearts, she’d been drowning under the pressures of school and work and basic survival.

  It wasn’t his fault that the memories were horrific. Nor was it his fault that just looking at him brought them all back to her. But emotions weren’t logical. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I’m all full up today.”

  A muscle in his jaw clenched. Probably he wasn’t used to being turned down. “I’ll pay double.”

  He had a voice like fine whiskey. Not that she ever drank fine whiskey. Even the cheap stuff was a treat. And maybe it was just her imagination, but she was having a hard time getting past the fact that he was both the same and yet had changed. He was still tall, of course, and built sexy as hell, damn him. Broad shoulders, lean hips, biceps straining his T-shirt as he held up the cat carrier.

  His T-shirt invited her to BITE ME.

  She wasn’t going to lie to herself, she kind of wanted to. Hard.

  He wore faded ripped jeans on his long legs and scuffed work boots. His T-shirt only enhanced all those ripped muscles and every move he made exuded raw, sexual power and energy—not that she was noticing. Nor was she taking in his big, hard, toned body and expression that said maybe he’d already had a bad day.

  Well, he could join her club.

  At the thought, she mentally smacked herself in the forehead. No! There would be no club joining. She’d set boundaries for herself. She was Switzerland. Neutral. No importing or exporting of
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