The trouble with mistlet.., p.5
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.5

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
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  front, she stilled, and so did he because a zap of what felt like two hundred volts of electricity went straight through him.

  “What was that?” she whispered, not moving a single inch.

  He’d given this some thought so he had a ready answer. “Animal magnetism.”

  She unfroze at that, slipped out from beneath his arms to face him. “Oh no. No, no, no. That’s one thing we absolutely do not have.”

  He laughed a little because apparently she’d given it no thought at all. Not super great on the ego. “You really going to tell me you don’t feel it?”

  She chewed on that for a moment. “I’m telling you I don’t want to feel it,” she finally said.

  Welcome to my club, he thought.

  Chapter 4

  #FactsJustGetInTheWay

  The days that followed the wedding blurred together for Willa, swamped as she was with the early holiday rush. Not that she minded since the shop, like always, filled all the holes inside her, the ones her rough early years had left.

  Yep, she was completely fulfilled.

  But then she’d seen Keane Winters and something had happened, something weird and unsettling. He made her realize that she hadn’t plugged all her holes at all, that there was at least one still open and gaping inside her.

  With a groan, she got up to face her day. Her apartment was also in the Pacific Pier Building, four flights up from her shop. The place was small but cozy. The living room and kitchen were really all one room, divided by a small bar top. On the wall between her living room and short hallway that led to her bedroom was a small door that opened to a dumbwaiter, a throwback to the days when this building was one very large ranching family’s central compound. That was back in the late eighteen hundreds, when there’d still been actual cows in the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco.

  The dumbwaiter door was locked now but sometimes mysterious gifts ended up in there for her, like cookies or muffins. And then there was the time Archer had a training exercise for his men in the guise of a scavenger hunt, and one of the items required to obtain had been Finn, who’d ended up stuck in the dumbwaiter while making a run for it.

  Archer’s idea of funny.

  In any case, there was nothing in there now no matter how much she wished for some muffins, so she showered and dressed. Today’s work uniform consisted of her favorite pair of jeans, which only had one hole in a knee, and another lightweight camisole. She topped that with an easy-to-remove sweater for grooming clients.

  She wasn’t surprised when she got to work and the knock came on her shop’s door at ten minutes before opening. Nor was she surprised at the traitorous leap her pulse gave. It’d been two weeks since Keane had shown up that first morning. Since then, there’d been no rhythm or reason to the days he came in. Sometimes he’d show up for a few days in a row and then nothing for another few days. Whenever she asked about his aunt, he got a solemn look on his face but shook his head. “Not better yet,” he always said.

  Willa hated to admit she had an ear cocked every morning, wondering if she’d see him. Hated even more that she always put on mascara and a lip stain just in case. As his knock echoed in the shop, she forced herself to remain still.

  “You’re going to want a look at this,” Elle said from Willa’s right. She was leaning against the front counter sipping her hot tea. The kind she ordered in from England because she was a complete tea snob.

  “Nope, I don’t,” Willa said. She didn’t have to look because she knew what she’d see—some version of Hot Builder Guy with those T-shirts that stretched taut over his broad shoulders, emphasizing a whole lot of muscles apparently gained the old-fashioned way—by sheer manual labor. His hair would be carelessly tousled, like he hadn’t given his looks a second thought. And why should he? When you looked like that, you didn’t even need a damn mirror.

  “He looks good in clothes,” Elle said appreciatively. “I’ll give him that. Let him in, Willa.”

  “I just poured my milk,” she complained.

  “Yes, and I’m totally judging you based on your choice of plain Cheerios, you unfrosted weirdo.” Elle’s gaze hadn’t left the front door. “But holy cow hotness, Batman, really, you want to see this.”

  “Why?”

  “He’s in a suit, that’s why. My eyes don’t know what to do with themselves.”

  Willa whipped around so fast she gave herself whiplash.

  Keane’s sharp eyes were scanning the store. When they settled on her, she felt it all the way from her roots to her toes and some very special spots in between. Every. Time. “Damn.”

  “Told you,” Elle said. “I thought you said he was a carpenter of some sort.”

  “He listed himself as self-employed on my forms when he left Petunia that first day,” she murmured, unable to tear her gaze off him standing there looking like God’s gift.

  If God’s gift came carrying a pink bedazzled carrier . . .

  “I can’t decide which is the hotter look for him,” Elle said. “Hot and suited up, or hot and in Levi’s.”

  “It might be a draw,” Willa admitted.

  “So you do like him,” Elle said triumphantly.

  “No, but I’m not dead. I mean look at him.”

  “Believe me,” Elle said. “I’m looking. So are you really going to stand there and tell me you’re still not moved by him at all?”

  “Hello, did you miss the part where he not only stood me up, he also doesn’t remember doing it?” Willa asked.

  “And are you missing the part where that happened a long time ago?” Elle asked. “Because he totally stepped in and helped you at that wedding. Is it possible you’re overdramatizing?”

  “I’m not overdramatizing, I never overdramatize!” Willa stopped talking as she realized she was waving her arms, spoon in the air and everything. “Fine. It’s my red hair. You can’t fight genetics.”

  “Uh-huh.” Elle’s expression softened. “Honey, I know your past wasn’t exactly easy, but I think you’ve got him all tangled up in that emotional landmine. And before you tell me it’s none of my business, you should know that I’m only saying so because I get it, I really do.”

  Willa sighed because she knew Elle did. She’d had an even rougher time than Willa, and she hated that for the both of them. “Getting stood up like that by him during that particular time in my life was . . . memorably traumatic,” she said. “So yeah, there’s no doubt I’m projecting. But you remember the torture of high school, right? Or maybe you don’t, maybe you were popular like Keane was. I, on the other hand . . .” She shook her head. “I was invisible,” she admitted. “And it really messed with my self-esteem.”

  Elle’s smile faded. “Okay. So we stay mad at him then.”

  Willa’s heart squeezed. “Thank you,” she said and moved toward the door.

  Keane’s morning had started at dawn and had already been long, involving a near brawl with an engineer, kissing up to a client who couldn’t make up her mind to save her own life, and a way-too-long meeting with the interior decorator for North Beach, who loved to hear himself talk. Now as he stood at South Bark’s locked door, he had twenty minutes to get back for another meeting.

  Willa took her sweet-ass time opening up, and when she did, she stared at him like she’d never seen him before.

  “Keane?” she asked, whispered really, as if she wasn’t quite sure.

  “Yeah.” Who the hell else?

  “Just checking.” Her gaze ran over him slowly. “I thought maybe you had a twin or something.”

  “Yeah, and the cat hates both of us.”

  She laughed. It was unexpected, to say the least, and he stared at her. Her bright green eyes were lit up, her smile more than a little contagious. He didn’t have time for chitchat but when it came to this woman, he couldn’t seem to help himself. “I’m not kidding,” he said.

  “I know,” she said. “That’s why it’s so funny.” Her jeans were worn and faded and fit her petite curvy body like a bel
oved old friend. He loved her little top, which read Naughty AND Nice across her breasts and had teeny-tiny straps and was thin enough to reveal she was both wet and chilly.

  Her strawberry blonde hair was in wild layers, some of them in her eyes, and she knew exactly why he was there but she went brows up, wanting him to ask. This should’ve annoyed the hell out of him but instead he was amused. “Tell me you have time for Pita today,” he said, doing their usual dance, willing to beg if he had to. Yesterday Pita had used a very expensive set of blueprints as her personal claw sharpener an hour before a meeting in which he’d needed those plans.

  “You changed your work uniform,” she said instead of answering. “You’re in a suit.”

  “A necessary evil today.”

  “You look . . . different.”

  Torn between satisfaction that she was noticing his looks at all and unexpected annoyance that she’d judged him by his clothes, he didn’t answer right away. Being judged wasn’t exactly a new thing for him. He’d been judged by his parents as a kid for not being solely academic. He’d been judged in school for not being just a jock or an academic, but somewhere in the middle, and as a result, he worked hard to fit in anywhere and was proud of his ability to do so. “You judging me by my clothes?”

  “Not even a little bit,” she said in a tone that he’d heard before, the same tone that again suggested he should know what the hell she was talking about.

  “Okay,” he said. “I cave. I want to buy a vowel.”

  She glanced over her shoulder at Elle, who lifted a shoulder. “Give him hell, honey,” she said and hopped off the counter, leaving out the courtyard-side door.

  Keane didn’t have time for this. “What am I missing?” he asked, determined to figure out why she’d twice now referred to a past. And suddenly an odd and uncomfortable thought came to him. “Do we know each other or something?”

  “Why?” she asked, eyes suddenly sharp. “Do you remember me from somewhere?”

  “No.”

  Willa stared at him for a long beat and then shook her head. “No, we don’t know each other. At all. And to be clear,” she added, those brilliant eyes narrowed now, “I liked you better as a carpenter.” With that, she took Pita from him and walked away.

  At two minutes past six that evening, Keane flung his truck into park and jogged in the pouring rain across the street to South Bark.

  The front door was locked, lights off—except for the strings and strings and strings of Christmas lights wound through the inside of the shop, making it look like the North Pole at Christmastime.

  On steroids.

  And crack.

  The sign read closed but there was a piece of paper attached to it that said:

  Unless you’re an extremely rude person who’s late in picking up their precious bundle of love, use the back door.

  Gee, he thought dryly, who could she possibly be referring to . . . ? He strode through the courtyard and entered the back door to South Bark to find Willa up to her elbows in suds, bathing a huge Doberman.

  “Who’s a good boy,” Willa was saying to the dog in a light, silly voice that had the dog panting happily into her face. “That’s right,” she cooed, “you are, aren’t you? Aren’t you a good boy?”

  “Well I don’t like to brag,” Keane said, leaning against the doorjamb. “But I do have my moments.”

  She jerked and whirled around to face him. “I didn’t hear you come in.” She looked him over. “You changed.”

  He looked down at his jeans and long-sleeved T-shirt. “I ended up working on some electrical for a good part of the day until the storm hit,” he said. “I didn’t want to accidentally electrocute myself in a suit and make things easy for the undertaker.”

  She didn’t smile. “You were working on electricity in these conditions?”

  “The job doesn’t always wait for good weather. And no worries, I haven’t accidentally electrocuted myself in years.”

  She didn’t respond to this but drained the tub and wrapped Carl in a huge towel. She attached his lead to a stand. “Give me a second,” she said to Keane and vanished into the hallway.

  She didn’t go far because he heard her say, “Need a favor, can you finish up with Carl for me?”

  “Depends.” Rory’s voice. “Is his owner here?”

  “Max?” Willa asked. “No, he’s with Archer on a job but he’ll be here soon to pick up Carl, who just needs to be dried and combed through. Why? Is there a problem with Max?”

  “No,” Rory said quickly. Too quickly. “Fine,” she said on a sigh. “I can’t stop thinking about him.”

  “And I can’t stop thinking about grilled cheese,” Willa said.

  Rory laughed. “That would be a lot easier.” She paused. “He asked me out again.”

  “I see,” Willa said, her voice softer now. “Honey, he’s one of the good guys. Archer wouldn’t have him on his team otherwise.”

  “My radar’s still broken.”

  “Well, I get that,” Willa said commiseratively and then the two of them walked back into the room.

  Rory rolled up her sleeves. “I’ve got this.” She smiled at Carl. “And you’re a far better date than the marathon of American Horror Story I was planning anyway.” She kissed the dog right between the huge, pointy ears.

  Carl licked her face from chin to forehead, making the girl laugh.

  Willa gestured for Keane to follow her down that hallway to what looked to be her office.

  Pita was sprawled on her back across a wood desk, all four legs sticking straight up in the air like she’d been dead and stiff for days.

  Keane stopped short in shock.

  Not Willa. She laughed and moved to the desk to tickle Pita’s belly.

  The cat yawned wide and stretched, rubbing her face up against Willa’s wrist, and a ridiculous sense of relief came to Keane.

  He didn’t have to call Sally and tell her that Pita was dead. At least not tonight.

  “Daddy’s come to pick you up,” Willa said, nuzzling the cat.

  “Funny,” Keane said and noticed the empty fishbowl next to Pita. “Were you fish sitting again?”

  “Was,” she said and let out a slow, sad breath. “I’ve been letting Petunia have the run of the place because she’s so sweet and the customers love her, but I turned my head for a few minutes to assist Rory with some grooming and . . .” She swallowed hard. “I think Petunia was hungry.”

  His heart stopped. “Jesus. Are you kidding me?”

  “Yes.”

  He blinked at her. “What?”

  “Yes, I’m kidding you.”

  He just stared at her. “That was mean.”

  “Don’t be late again,” she said, but damn if her smug smile wasn’t lighting up his rough day like nothing else had. How she managed to do that while irritating the shit out of him at the same time was anyone’s guess. “I’m sorry I was late, I’ll pay late fees.”

  Willa shook her head. “It was only a few minutes and you were working on electricity. I wouldn’t have wanted you to rush and get zapped.”

  “Aw,” he said. “More proof that you do care about me.”

  “I care about the paycheck.”

  He laughed. “Duly noted.” He knew he should get Pita and leave. He was starving, he still had paperwork to tackle, and certainly she had things to do too, but he didn’t make a move to go.

  They were still staring at each other when a woman stuck her head in the office. Keane recognized her as Kylie, one of the woodworkers who ran Reclaimed Woods, a shop across the courtyard that created gorgeous homemade furnishings. He’d bought several things from her in the past year. He smiled in greeting as he realized she had a very tiny dog’s head peeking out the breast pocket of her denim jacket.

  “Hey, Keane,” she said and Willa looked surprised that they knew each other. “He’s a customer,” Kylie told her. “A good one.
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