The trouble with mistlet.., p.33
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.33

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  “Yeah,” he said, hands on her ass, rocking her into him, loving the gasp that wrenched from her throat. On a mission now, he began to tug her even closer, his gaze locked on his target . . .

  “Wait,” she gasped, crawling off of him, running naked to her duffel bag on the floor. “I have another present for you.”

  “Mmm,” he said watching as she bent over to rifle through the duffel. “You’re giving me a gift right now—”

  She grabbed his discarded shirt and pulled it over her head. Then she whirled and ran back to him, jumping on him like a kid on . . . well, Christmas morning. “Open!” she demanded.

  The bag was bright red. He peeked inside and pulled out a pair of . . . boxers with eyeballs covered in glasses all over them.

  “Interesting,” he said.

  “Crap!” She snatched back the boxers and stuffed them in the bag again. “Those are for Haley.” She ran to her duffel again and came back with another bright red bag, same size as the other.

  This time he pulled out a box of joke condoms that said Size Matters! Think Big! He laughed and reached for her. “This here’s a present that needs to be shown how to use—”

  “No, wait!” she said, laughing as she evaded him. “That’s Pru’s!” And she once again exchanged the bag. This time she peeked into it first and sighed. “Okay, this is it.”

  He took in her shaky smile and the way she was fiddling, and realized she was nervous. Setting the present aside, he sat all the way up, stuffed the pillows behind his back, and then pulled her into his lap. “Better,” he said and reached for the present again.

  When he pulled out the vintage tape measure, he let out a long breath. “Is this—”

  “From the turn of the twentieth century,” she said. “It’s got a lightweight brass casing with a conversion table on the other side. After you told me about that time you spent working with your uncle and how much you liked his antique tools, this felt like something you might like.”

  “Love,” he said, marveling at it. It was amazing. “Where did you get it?”

  “I found it at an antique store on Divisadero Street.” She shifted uncomfortably, clearly embarrassed. “It’s not much, and I’m not even sure it really works, I just—”

  He leaned forward and kissed her to shut her up. Pulling back only a fraction, he held her gaze. “It’s perfect. You’re perfect.”

  She bit her lower lip and smiled. “Good. Let’s get up. I’ve got something in my bag for Petunia before she gets picked up—”

  “She’s not getting picked up.”

  “She’s not?”

  “No,” he said. “I called Sally and said the cat had to stay because I have a mouse problem.”

  She choked out a laugh. “You didn’t.”

  “I didn’t,” he agreed. “I told Sally the cat had to stay because she belonged here in this house, that I’d fallen in love several times over and I needed both my girls here with me.”

  Willa let out a shaky breath. “I’m not going to get tired of hearing that anytime soon.”

  “Mew.”

  They both looked over at Pita sitting in the doorway. “She’s demanding sustenance,” Keane said.

  Willa laughed and slid off him. “I’ll go feed her. I’ll be right back.”

  He heard her move into the kitchen. Heard her pad to the bin of cat food and stop.

  He knew why. Knew exactly what she’d found. And two seconds later she came racing back into the room, a blur of red hair and soft, sweet skin as she jumped him for the second time that morning.

  Straddling him, she beamed down at him, her eyes shimmering brilliantly.

  “What?” he asked innocently.

  She held out the robin egg blue box. “Tiffany’s?”

  “Are you going to quiz me or open it?”

  She slipped the silver ribbon off the box and slowly lifted the lid. Gasped. “Oh my God,” she whispered as she gaped at the platinum chain with a W encrusted in diamonds. “You remembered about the necklace my mom gave me when I was little.” Tears gathered in her eyes as she let him put it around her neck.

  This one was most certainly not going to turn her neck green.

  “It’s beautiful,” she said, staring down at it. “It’s the most thoughtful gift anyone’s ever given me.”

  “Looks good on you.” He pulled her over him and softly caressed her until she pulled back.

  “Have you ever made love beneath a Christmas tree?” she murmured.

  “No, but I’m in.” Catching her against him he rose and then threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold, palming a sweet cheek. “I’m all about starting a new tradition.”

  She was laughing as he carried her to the still undecorated tree and together they crawled beneath it to lie on their backs. Her hand slipped in his as they stared up at the tangle of branches. “To new beginnings,” she said.

  He came up on an elbow and cupped her face. “Forever, Willa?”

  She tugged him over the top of her. “Forever.”

  Announcement

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  ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE,

  the next book in New York Times bestselling author

  Jill Shalvis’s Heartbreaker Bay series

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  And look for Max and Rory’s story,

  ONE SNOWY NIGHT,

  a Heartbreaker Bay novella

  from Jill Shalvis

  On sale from Avon Impulse

  November 8, 2016!

  Excerpt from Accidentally on Purpose

  #TakeMeToYourFearlessLeader

  It was a good thing Elle Wheaton loved being in charge and ordering people around because if it wasn’t for the thrill of having both those things in her job description, she absolutely didn’t get paid enough to handle all the idiots in her world. “Last night was a disaster,” she said.

  Her boss, not looking nearly as concerned as she, nodded absently. He was many things and one of them was the owner of the building in which they stood, located in the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco.

  A detail he preferred to keep to himself. In fact, only one other person knew his identity, but as the building’s general manager, Elle alone handled everything and was always his go-between. The calm, kickass go-between, if she said so herself, although what had happened last night had momentarily shaken some of her calm.

  “I have faith in you,” he said.

  She slid him a look. “In other words, ‘fix it, Elle, because I don’t want to be bothered about it.’”

  “Well, and that,” he said with a smile.

  She refused to be charmed. Yes, they were best friends and yes she loved him, but her love most definitely had limits. “Maybe I should recap the disaster for you,” she said. “First, the little lights in every emergency-exit sign in the entire building went out at midnight and then stayed out so that when Mrs. Winslow in 3D went to take her geriatric dog out in the middle of the night, she couldn’t find the stairwell. Cut to Blackie then letting loose in the hall just as Mr. Nottingham from 4A—who was sneaking out of his mistress’s apartment in 3F—slipped in the mess.”

  “You can’t make this stuff up,” he said, still smiling.

  Elle crossed her arms. “Mr. Nottingham broke his ankle, requiring an ambulance ride and a possible lawsuit. And you’re amused.”

  “Come on, Elle. You and I both know life sucks golf balls if you let it. Gotta find the fun somewhere.” Spence handed her a hot tea. “Here. You look like you’re down a quart.”

  “My life isn’t normal.”

  “Forget normal,” he said. “Normal’s overrated. Now drink your favorite poison—caffeine.”

  “Hey, I could survive without it if I needed to,” she protested and then paused. “I just can’t guarantee anyone else’s safety.”

  “Exactly, so why take chances?”

  She smiled but she was still taking what had happened last night personally. She knew everyone in this b
uilding, each and every business on the first and second floor, each tenant on the third and fourth floor, and she felt responsible for all of it.

  And someone had been hurt on her watch. Unacceptable. “You do realize that the fire system equipment falls under security,” she said. “Which means our security company failed us.”

  Spence’s amusement faded. “Elle—”

  “No, listen, a year ago now you sought me out for this job, making me your chief CYA. Part of Covering Your Ass means this is my problem to handle as I see fit. And we both know I’m very good at what I do. And what I’m going to do is go discuss this matter with the head of our security company, one pain-in-my-ass Archer Hunt.”

  Spencer grimaced. “At least let me clear the building before you two go at each other.”

  “There won’t be a fight,” she said. “I’m simply doing my job running this building and that includes managing our security company.”

  “Yes, technically,” Spence allowed. “But we both know that Archer answers to no one but himself and he certainly doesn’t consider you his boss.”

  She smiled and mainlined some more tea, the nectar of the Gods as far as she was concerned. “His problem, not mine.”

  Spence sighed and stood. “He’s not going to enjoy you going off on him this early half-cocked, Elle.”

  “Ask me if I care.”

  “I care,” Spence said. “It’s too early to help you bury his body.”

  Elle snorted. Her and Archer’s . . . antagonistic relationship was well documented. Archer thought he ran the world, including her.

  But no one ran her world except her. “If everyone would just do what they were supposed to and stay out of my way . . .” she said, trailing off because Spence was no longer listening to her. Instead he was staring pensively out the window, prompting her to his side to see what had caught his interest.

  A woman stood in front of the fountain courtyard below, staring into the water.

  “Oh for God’s sake,” Elle said. “Would you just ask her out already? What’s wrong with you? You’ve never been shy before. Go work it.” She gave him a little nudge. “Hot genius mechanical engineers slash geeks are in right now.”

  Spence didn’t respond and Elle rolled her eyes. “How come men are all idiots?”

  This got his attention and he snorted. “Because women don’t come with instruction manuals.” Pushing away from the window, he eyeballed Elle carefully. “You good now?” he asked. “All murderous urges gone? Because I’ve gotta go.”

  “Right,” she said with a nod. “Can’t let anyone know you’re Batman.”

  When he was gone, Elle finished her tea, applied some lip gloss—for herself, mind you, not for Archer—and left her office, taking her time walking the open hallway. She loved this building and never got tired of admiring the unique architecture of the old place, the corbeled brick and exposed iron trusses, the long picture windows of each unit, the cobblestone courtyard below with the huge fountain where idiots came from all over the city and beyond to toss their money and wish for love.

  She was on the second floor, far north corner, from which if she pressed her nose up against her window, and if there wasn’t any fog, she could see down the hill to the Marina Green and the bay, and a very tiny slice of the Golden Gate Bridge.

  She tried to play it cool, but even after a whole year it was a thrill to live in the heart of San Francisco like this. Although she hadn’t grown up far from here, it’d been a world away.

  Around her the building was still. It was early so nothing was stirring.

  As she passed the stairwell, the door opened and Trudy, the woman in charge of housekeeping services, came through. “Elle,” she said in surprise. “Need anything, honey?”

  “Nope, I’m good.” Good and mad but though she adored Trudy, the woman couldn’t keep a secret to save her life. “Just taking in the nice morning.”

  “Oh, that’s a disappointment. I thought maybe you were looking for that hottie with the nice package, the one who runs the investigation firm down the hall.”

  Elle nearly choked on her tea. “Nice package?”

  “Well, honey, I’m old, not dead.”

  Elle watched the woman walk away and shook her head. She moved down the hall and stopped in front of the door with a discreet sign: Hunt Investigations.

  The investigative and elite security firm worked cases for criminal investigations and insurance fraud, amongst others, carried by Archer’s reputation, no ads or marketing required. Basically they were finders and fixers, independent contractors for hire, and not necessarily tied by the same red tape as the law.

  Which worked for Archer. Rules had never been his thing.

  She opened the door and let herself into the reception area, which was much bigger than hers. Clean, masculine lines. Large furniture. Wide-open space. A glass partition separated the front from the inner offices.

  The check-in counter was empty. The receptionist wasn’t in yet; it was too early for Mollie.

  But not for the other employees. Past the glass Elle could see part of the inner office. A group of men, five of them, entered from a private entrance. They’d clearly just come back from some sort of job that had required them to be locked and loaded, since they looked like a SWAT team.

  Elle literally stopped short. And if she was being honest, her heart stopped too because sweet baby Jesus. The lot of them stood there stripping off weapons and shirts so that all she could see was a mass of mind-blowing bodies, sweaty and tatted and in all varieties of skin colors.

  It was a cornucopia of smutty goodness and she couldn’t tear her eyes away. In fact, she couldn’t speak either, mostly because her tongue had hit the floor. Worse, her feet took advantage of the state of her frozen brain, moving her to the interior door, where she practically pressed her face up against the glass.

  Someone must have seen her because they buzzed her in. They all knew her. After all, her job required her to work closely with the security firm, and therein lay her deepest, darkest problem.

  Working closely with Archer Hunt was dangerous in oh so many, many ways, not the least of which was their history, something she did her best to never think about.

  She was greeted with a variety of “Hey, Elle” and “Mornin’,” and then they all went their separate ways, leaving her alone with their fearless leader.

  Archer.

  It’d been a long time since they’d let themselves be alone. In fact, she’d always actively sought out ways to not be alone with him and given how successful she’d been, she could only figure he’d been doing the same.

  Not looking particularly bothered by this unexpected development, Archer met her gaze straight on. He hadn’t unloaded his weapons or his shirt and stood there in full utility combat gear, complete with a Glock on one hip, a Taser on the other, and two pistols strapped to his legs. His Army hat was backward on his head. The handle of a butterfly knife stuck out of a pocket in his cargoes, and he had two sets of cuffs and a stun gun strapped to his belt. An urban warrior, wired for sound with a two-way and a Kevlar strapped across his chest and back, telling Elle that wherever they’d been, he hadn’t just come back from Disneyland.

  She managed to be both horrified and turned on at the same time, but if life had taught her one thing the hard way, it was how to hide her thoughts and emotions. So she carefully rolled up her tongue.

 
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