The trouble with mistlet.., p.7
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       The Trouble with Mistletoe, p.7

         Part #2 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
 

  gorgeous and expensive. The one in front of them had some scaffolding wrapped around it, which didn’t take away from the absolutely gorgeousness of the place.

  “Wait here,” Keane said and reached behind him to grab the cat carrier. “I’m just going to run the antichrist inside before we go so she doesn’t have to sit in the truck during dinner.”

  “You live here?”

  “It’s one of my renovation projects. It’s also my office and where I temporarily park my head at night.”

  “It’s beautiful,” she breathed, unable to take her eyes off of it. “One of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen.”

  He smiled. “Thanks but you should’ve seen it when I first got ahold of it several years ago. You wouldn’t have given it a second look.” He started to get out of the truck but then hesitated. “You’ll still be here when I get back, right?”

  She wanted to see inside that amazing house. “You could take me with you to guarantee it.”

  “I trust you,” he said.

  She didn’t buy that for a second. What she did buy was that he didn’t want her to go inside. “You leave dishes in the sink?” she asked. “Clothes all over the floor? Or maybe you’ve got someone in there waiting on you . . .” She was just joking but she didn’t like thinking it could be true.

  “You mean a woman?”

  Well when he said it like that, it did sound dumb. “Never mind,” she said. “Do what you have to do.”

  He stilled a beat and then set the carrier down again and leaned in close to her. With one hand on the headrest at the back of her head and the other on the seat at her opposite hip, he caged her in, his face an inch from hers.

  Smiling.

  The ass. He was temptation personified and he knew it. And also, he smelled good. She had no idea how he’d managed to work all day long doing what he did and still smell amazing, but he did. She closed her eyes, making herself sit still instead of doing as she wanted—which would’ve been smushing her face into the crook of his neck and inhaling him like she was a third grader with a bottle of glue.

  “You want to come upstairs, Willa?” he asked, voice pure sex.

  What she wanted was to put her hands back on his chest now that she knew it was as hard as it looked. Instead she gripped either side of her seat with white knuckles. “Of course not.”

  “I think you do. I think you want something else too.”

  “What I want,” she said as coolly as she could, “is dinner as promised.”

  “Liar,” he chided softly.

  “Well that’s just rude, calling your date a liar.”

  “So it is a date.” His tone was very male and very smug. It should’ve pissed her off but instead it did something hot and erotic to her insides.

  Clearly knowing it, he smiled at her and then dragged his teeth over his lower lip as he contemplated her.

  Gah. She wanted to do that. And she wanted to do more too. She wanted him shockingly badly and suddenly she couldn’t remember why she shouldn’t. She tried to access her thought processes on the subject but her brain hiccupped and froze. Which surely was the only reason she let go of the death grip on her seat, slid her fingers into his hair, and . . . brushed her mouth over his.

  He didn’t move, not a single muscle, but when she pulled back, his eyes had gone dark as night, piercing her with their intensity.

  “Don’t read that the wrong way,” she whispered.

  “Is there a wrong way to take it when a beautiful woman kisses you?”

  “Um . . .”

  He laughed low in his throat, like maybe she delighted him, and then he mirrored what she’d done. He slid his hands up her throat and into her hair, intensifying the pleasure already wreaking havoc inside her body so that desire laced its way from her chest to her stomach, and then much lower.

  “Um . . .”

  His lips curved. “You said that already.”

  She laughed nervously, feeling sixteen and stupid all over again, but seriously, if his voice got any lower she was going to embarrass herself here. It was so deep and husky that she could feel his words. “I . . .”

  He waited for her to speak but honestly, she had nothing. Not a single thought in her head.

  He smiled, a wicked, naughty smile, and the hand in her hair slowly pulled her head back. And then he lowered his perfect mouth to hers in a devastatingly slow and unhurried kiss, sealing his lips to hers as one powerful arm curled around her hip to keep her in place.

  Pulsing waves of heat unfurled inside of her and she gave a helpless moan, prompting him to tighten his grip on her and deepen the connection with a better angle and a lot more tongue.

  She’d started this, she’d been in charge, but she was no longer even remotely in control. For a beat she let her fingers wander, eliciting a rumbly groan from deep in his throat, the sound incredibly erotic. Then she pulled back and stared up at him.

  “I have no idea what I did to deserve that,” he murmured quietly, stroking a finger along her temple. “But I’m going to drop Pita off now before this goes too far.”

  Their gazes held and she could see the humor shining in his, crinkling at the edges. Right, she thought. Good. One of them could still think.

  “Okay?” he asked, which was when she realized she had two fistfuls of his shirt, holding him to her.

  “Sure.” She made herself loosen her grip, smoothing out the wrinkles she’d left, and again she could feel his tight abs through the cotton. Very tight.

  She wanted to lick him like a lollipop.

  But he didn’t want this to go too far. Not with her. She needed to remember that. Maybe she should write it down so she didn’t forget. She was nodding to herself like a bobblehead when he said her name and then waited until she looked at him.

  “Not that I don’t want it to go too far,” he said, his gaze revealing heat and the raw power she was getting used to seeing in those dark depths when he looked at her. “But not in my truck, Willa. Not with you.” He got out of the car and waited while she did the same. Then he picked up the carrier with Petunia in it and with his other hand, grabbed hers.

  “It’s okay,” she said quickly. “I can wait here.”

  “Don’t chicken out now,” he said, looking amused. “You can satiate your curiosity and check to make sure I’m not double booked tonight all at the same time.”

  She tried to pull free of his grip, but he had her, and she laughed a little to herself—the sexy jackass—as he nudged her inside ahead of him.

  She immediately forgot why she was mad. The main level was rich with Victorian architectural details: beautiful trim, a crafted stairway with ornate wood railings and stairs. Gorgeously charming light fixtures hung in the entry and living room, paying homage to the period style of the home.

  “Wow,” she murmured, taking in the surprisingly wide-open space that was still liberally protected from the renovation with tarp runners across the hardwood floors. She could see into the open kitchen and den as well as the still unfinished loft above and to the left. The dining room and living area were clearly being used as office space.

  What she didn’t see was a single Christmas decoration. “You said you live here?” she asked.

  “Temporarily.”

  “There’s no holiday decorations.”

  “No.” He couched low to set down the carrier and unzipped it. Rising to his full height, he stared down at the thing, hands on hips as if braced for warfare. “I have three projects going right now. This is one of them.”

  She looked around in marvel. “How did you get started doing this?”

  “The short of it is that I begged, borrowed, and stole the money for the first fallen property and then kicked some serious ass to not lose my shorts over the deal.”

  “Fallen?” she asked.

  “In that first case, a foreclosure. I slapped some lipstick on it and quickly turned it around for a small profit, emphasis on small.” He gave a quick smile. “I got better as time went on.


  “Someone had to walk away from their home?” she asked. “And you gained from that?”

  “They chose to walk,” he said pragmatically. “The bank wanted their money back. I ate mac and cheese for an entire year to make it work.”

  Okay, she got that. Because as he’d told her, you make money however you make money. She took in the gorgeous, incredible details of his work and marveled at his talent. “It’s amazing.”

  “You wouldn’t have said so if you’d seen it before,” he said. “It was just about a complete teardown. I’ve had this place the longest. It’s taken the most work of any other project. I really need to get it on the market, should’ve already done it by now.”

  She was boggled. “How could you get rid of this place? You put such heart and soul into it.”

  “It’s worth a lot of money,” he said, not giving a lot away although there was something to his body language, the set of his wide shoulders maybe, that told her she wasn’t getting the whole story.

  “The profit will go into my next project,” he said.

  And yet he hadn’t sold it. Possibly it meant too much to him, and she could certainly see why. “Maybe you’re attached to it,” she said.

  He shook his head in surprise. “I don’t get attached.”

  She looked at him. “Ever?”

  “There’s no place for it in my world.”

  “Huh,” she said, thinking of all of her attachments. Her friends, who were also her family. Rory, Cara, and all the others she hired and took on. “I get attached to everything and everyone,” she admitted.

  “No kidding.”

  This took her aback. “What does that mean?”

  He glanced at her and laughed softly. “I’ve seen you in action, Willa. It seems that once you make a friend, you keep them until the end of time. Same thing with animals. I’m pretty sure you’ve never met a two-legged or four-legged creature you don’t fall for. You collect hearts and souls like most women collect shoes.”

  “Hey. I collect plenty of shoes.” And anyway, he was only partially right. Maybe she did collect hearts and souls, but she didn’t keep them. Being a foster kid had taught her that all too well. You only borrowed the people—and animals—you loved. You didn’t get to keep them.

  Even when you wanted to.

  “I really do love this place,” she murmured, turning in a slow circle. “It’s so warm and welcoming. If this house was mine, I’d never leave it.”

  “That’s the thing, it’s not my home, not really.”

  “Where is your home then?” she asked.

  He paused. “I’ve not really settled on one yet.” He looked around as if seeing it for the first time. “If I was ready, I’d want it to be a place like this but for now it’s just where I sleep and work. I’ve got some small finish work to get to yet before I can put it on the market.”

  She watched him as he spoke. He’d turned to watch the carrier but that wasn’t what grabbed her attention and held.

  No, it was that he wasn’t buying what he was trying to sell her. Whether he really was done with the property or not, she had no idea, but she had the feeling he wasn’t ready to be done.

  Maybe . . . maybe he could get attached to things after all. Things like this house. And . . . her.

  This wayward, out-of-nowhere thought set off all her inner alarms. She had to work at keeping her face blank through her panic. This wasn’t going to happen. She wouldn’t allow it. Not here, not with him, because she knew from experience that once the pit bull that was her heart snapped its jaws onto something, it took a miracle to let go.

  Chapter 6

  #HitMeWithYourBestShot

  While Willa stood there reeling a little bit about her unwanted feelings for Keane, the world kept spinning on its rotation, completely oblivious to her unhappy epiphany.

  It was her greatest wish that Keane would remain oblivious as well, which meant that she had to be careful because he wasn’t the sort of guy to miss much.

  Or anything.

  Luckily, Petunia chose that moment to stroll out of her carrier, nose in the air, tail swishing prissily back and forth, her entire demeanor projecting Queen Bee.

  Until she saw Willa. Then she immediately let out a happy chirp and trotted over, her tubby belly swinging to and fro as she wound herself around Willa’s legs, purring.

  “Ingrate,” Keane said mildly.

  Willa relaxed a little. Okay, they were moving on. This was good. This was great, and she let out a long breath that caught in her throat at Keane’s next words.

  “What’s the matter?”

  “Nothing.”

  His expression was doubtful. “It’s something. Something’s different. Is it the house somehow, or the kiss?”

  Oh for God’s sake. Most men were oblivious. Why had she had to kiss the one who wasn’t?

  No, they most definitely did not need to talk about it.

  Petunia, clearly tired of humans, stalked off and Willa watched her go, wistful. Why wasn’t she a cat? Why hadn’t she stayed in the truck?

  “Willa.”

  “Um . . . hold on a sec, my phone’s going off.” She pulled it from her pocket like she’d just received an important text. She brought up a new message and quickly typed.

  Her:

  Alskjfa;oiw;af;o3ij;asjfe

  She got an immediate response.

  HeadOfAllTheThings:

  Are you just texting me gibberish so you look busy in front of someone you don’t want to talk to again? Who is it this time, that UPS guy with gingivitis?

  Willa started to thumb in a response, but Keane came up behind her, right behind her, and even though he wasn’t actually touching her, she could feel his heat, the tempered strength in his big body, and she got a rush so strong her knees wobbled.

  Her phone pinged another incoming text and assuming it was Elle teasing her, she ignored it. But behind her Keane wrapped his fingers around her wrist and brought the screen up so that they could see the readout.

  It wasn’t Elle.

  AssholeExDONOTAnswer:

  Miss you.

  “I especially like your contact name for him,” Keane said. “The infamous Ethan?”

  Willa nodded dully because really she was just stunned to hear from the guy at all after so much had happened. Ethan had started off so normal but he’d slowly morphed into a possessive, jealous, angry guy. It’d happened gradually enough that at first she thought she was overreacting. She’d reminded herself he’d been good to her, and as a people pleaser she’d doubled her efforts to make him see he had nothing to worry about.

  Classic mistake.

  When he’d blown up at her at the pub one night for dancing with Finn and tried to physically haul her out of the place, she’d taken a stand. Actually, she’d tossed a drink in his face and he’d screamed like a baby.

  That’s when he’d been ejected from the pub by Archer.

  And then Willa had ejected him from her life.

 
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