Sweet little lies, p.8
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       Sweet Little Lies, p.8

         Part #1 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
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  was in college studying to be an engineer.

  She was so happy for them.

  “Tim,” she said when she answered. “Everything okay?”

  “That lead you gave me on the apartment near campus, it might pan out,” he said excitedly. “They’re going to call you as my reference. If we get it, me and my friends will live there together.”

  “That would be great, Tim,” she said.

  “You know how hard it is to get a place here,” he said. “Almost impossible.”

  She did know. It’d taken a hell of a long time for her to get into the Pacific Pier building.

  “Anyway,” he said. “Thanks for the lead. It means a lot.” He laughed a little humorlessly. “We aren’t looking forward to living in our cars. Been there, done that.”

  “No worries,” Pru said, her stomach jangling unhappily at the memory. “How’s school going?”

  “Hard as fuck, but I’m in it,” he said. “Gotta go. Talk to you soon.”

  Pru disconnected and looked at Thor. “We did good. They’re going to be okay,” she marveled. “All of them.” And then she called her contact and put in a second good word for Tim, and was assured they were first in line for the place. It warmed her from the inside out to know it.

  Now you need to get okay . . .

  But she was working on that. “Come on, let’s go.”

  Thor yawned.

  “You know, I could have a cat. A big one who eats little dogs for snacks.”

  He blinked and she sighed. “Okay, I took that too far. I’m sorry.” She crouched down and hugged him in, which he graciously allowed, even giving her a sweet little lick on her cheek. “Love you too,” she murmured, kissing the top of his head. “I’m not going to get a cat.” She could barely afford to feed the two of them.

  She’d never even meant to get a dog at all, but about a year ago, she’d been walking home late one night when she’d heard a funny rumbling sound coming from behind a dumpster. She’d stopped to investigate, but the rumbling had stopped. It was only when she’d started walking again that the rumbling came back.

  Pru had walked around the dumpster. Crouching low, using the flashlight on her phone, she’d fallen back on her ass when two glowing orbs had locked in on her.

  Scrambling up to run, she realized the rumbling had stopped again and she slowly turned back. Channeling her inner Super Girl, she’d moved closer and had peered down at a scrap of fur surrounding those two huge eyes.

  Thor, underfed, filthy, and trembling in terror. It’d taken a bribe to get him out, and another before he’d let her pick him up. All she’d had on her was a granola bar but he’d not been picky. Or dainty. He’d nearly bitten her finger off in his haste to eat.

  And Pru, who’d been known to snarl herself when hungry, had fallen in love.

  Straightening now with Thor in her arms, her gaze caught on the window across the way.

  Finn’s office.

  The pub wasn’t open. The accordion doors were shut and locked, but the morning sun slanted inside. She could see Finn behind his desk, head down. He was either dead, or fast asleep.

  Both she and Thor stared at him. “I know,” she whispered to her dog. “He’s something. But you can’t get attached to him, because once I tell him everything, it’s over.”

  Thor set his head on her shoulder. He loved her no matter how stupid she was being.

  Leaving her box and Thor—his leash wrapped around a bench—to guard it, she quickly crossed the courtyard to the coffee shop.

  Tina stood behind the counter. Tall, curvy, and gorgeous, she had skin the color of the mocha latte she was serving. When it was Pru’s turn, Tina smiled. “Your usual?” she asked, her voice low and deep and hypnotic.

  “No, this one’s not for me,” Pru said. “It’s for a friend. Um, you don’t happen to know how Finn O’Riley likes it, do you?”

  Tina smiled wide. “Sugar, he likes it hot and black.”

  “Oh. Okay, um . . . one of those then.”

  Tina laughed her contagious laugh and got it ready. When she handed it over, there was a dog biscuit wrapped neatly in a napkin to go. “For Thor,” she said. “And how about some advice that you didn’t ask for?”

  Pru bit her lower lip. Was she that obvious? “Yes, please.”

  “Two things. First, don’t even try to speak to him before he’s caffeinated. That man is hot as hell and a great guy, but he’s also a bear before his coffee.”

  “And the second thing?”

  “There’s no doubt, he’s a serious catch,” Tina said. “But he’s barricaded himself off behind work. So if you want him, you’re going to have to show him what he’s missing.”

  “I’m think I’m working on that.”

  Tina grinned at her. “Because you’re the Fun Whisperer?”

  Oh, God. “You heard that, huh?”

  “Sugar, I hear everything.” Tina winked at her, making Pru wonder if that meant that she’d also heard about Pru nearly killing him. Or their first kiss . . .

  “Good luck,” Tina said. “My money’s on you.”

  Pru took the coffee and dog cookie and headed back through the courtyard. Finn was still asleep. She gave Thor his treat and put her finger to her lips. “Stay,” she said and stepped into the planter that lined the building.

  Thor ignored her and attacked his cookie.

  Pru, draped on either side by two hydrangea bushes, knocked on Finn’s window.

  He shot straight up, a few papers stuck to his cheek. His hair was tousled, his eyes sleepy, although they quickly sharpened in on her. His five o’clock shadow was now twelve hours past civilized. And holy cow, he was a damn fine sight.

  Before she even saw him coming, he’d crossed his office and opened the window, looking far more alert upon wakening than she’d ever managed.

  “What the hell are you doing?” he asked, in the sexiest morning voice she’d ever heard.

  “Got you something,” she said. “It’s not a waffle but . . .” She lifted the coffee and added a smile, trying to not look as if she hadn’t just sweat her way through the courtyard with Thor and a heavy box of painful memories—impossible since her shirt was sticking to her and so was her hair. She didn’t have to look in any mirror to know that she was beet red in the face, her usual after-exercise “glow.”

  Finn climbed out the window with easy agility. Pru backed up a step to give him room but he kept coming, stepping right into her space, reaching for the cup like a starved man might reach for a promised meal.

  Clearly the man was serious about needing coffee. She stared up at him as he took the cup and drank deeply.

  She might have also drooled a little bit.

  “Thanks,” he said after a long moment. “Most people won’t come within two miles of me before I’m caffeinated.”

  Not wanting to tell him that Tina had already warned her because she didn’t want to admit to soaking up info on him whenever and however she could, she just smiled. “How’s the hole in your chest?”

  He absently reached up and rubbed a hand over his pec, a completely unconscious but very male gesture. “Think I’m going to live,” he said.

  She eyeballed his hair and the crease on his cheek where papers had been stuck to him. “Living the wild life, huh?”

  “The wildest.” He looked past her. “So who’s the fat cat?”

  She turned and followed his line of sight to Thor, who’d curled up in a sunspot next to her box to doze. “I’ll have you know that’s my fierce, very protective guard dog.”

  “Dog?”

  “Yes!”

  He scratched his jaw while eyeing Thor speculatively. “If you say so.”

  “He protects me,” she said. “In fact, he won’t let anyone get near me. And don’t even think about trying to touch him, he hates men.”

  “Not me,” Finn said. “Dogs love me.”

  “No, really—” she started but Finn crossed the courtyard and crouched low, holding his hand out to Tho
r, who had opened his eyes and was watching Finn approach.

  “Careful—” Pru warned. “He’s like you without caffeine, only he’s like that all the time. He might nip—”

  To her utter shock, Thor actually moved toward Finn in a flutter of bravery, his little paws taking him a step closer, his tail wagging in a hopeful gesture that, as always, made Pru’s heart hurt.

  Then, unbelievably, Thor licked Finn’s fist.

  “Atta boy,” Finn said approvingly in an easy voice full of warmth and affection. “She says you’re a dog, what do you think?”

  Thor panted happily and rolled over, exposing his very soft, slightly enlarged belly.

  “What’s his name?” Finn asked, head bent, loving up on her dog.

  She glared at Thor. “Benedict Arnold.”

  Benedict Arnold ignored her completely and she sighed. “Thor.”

  Finn snorted. “A real killer, huh?”

  “Yes, actually, he—”

  And that’s when Thor strained to reach up and lick Finn’s chin. Pru couldn’t exactly blame him, she wanted to do the same.

  And then . . . her poor-sighted, man-hater of a dog climbed right into Finn’s arms and melted like butter on a hot roll. Except minus the hot roll and add a hot guy.

  “I can’t believe it,” she said to herself, watching as Thor settled against Finn’s chest like he belonged there, setting his head on Finn’s broad shoulder.

  “You were saying?” he asked on a soft laugh.

  She stared at him, a little dazzled by the laugh. And then there was that stubble and she wondered . . . if he kissed her now and then nuzzled her throat like he had the other night, would it leave a whisker burn?

  She wouldn’t mind that . . . “Do you have a dog?” she asked.

  “No, but someday,” he said, reminding her of what Willa had told her, that he wanted a house outside the city and a big dog.

  “So what are you doing today?” he asked.

  She pointed to the box. “Unpacking some more.”

  “And you say I need a fun whisperer,” he teased.

  “You were asleep at your desk,” she said. “My statement stands. You most definitely need a fun whisperer.”

  “I’ll put fun on my calendar, how’s that sound?”

  She laughed. “Planning the fun kinda takes the fun out of fun. And anyway, maybe it’s also about adventure. Spontaneous adventure.”

  “I don’t know,” he murmured, watching her as he still stroked Thor into a pleasure coma. “I can think of a few things that if planned right, would be the epitome of fun and adventurous.”

  She lifted her gaze from her dog’s contented face to Finn’s and found his eyes warm and lit with something. Amusement? Challenge? “Like?”

  He set Thor down, back in the sunspot, and rising to his full height, shifted toward Pru.

  She backed up a step, a purely instinctual move because while her body knew how badly it wanted him, her mind was all too well aware that it was a colossally stupid move of the highest order.

  He merely stepped forward again, backing her flush to the brick wall lining the courtyard.

  Her breathing had gone ragged. Even more so when he leaned into her with his hands on either side of her head. “You’re a contradiction,” he murmured. “A push pull.”

  “Maybe it’s because we’re oil and water,” she managed.

  Hands still on her, blocking her escape—not that she wanted to escape those strong arms and that talented mouth—he flashed her a hot look. “Do you want this, Pru?”

  She wasn’t one hundred percent certain what “this” was, but she was one hundred percent certain that she wanted it. And God help her, she wanted it bad, too. When she gave a jerky nod, his hand came up and cupped her jaw, his fingers sliding into her hair, his thumb slowly, lazily, rasping over her lower lip. He watched the movement with a heat that made her legs wobble.

  She swallowed hard. “We’re in the center of the courtyard.”

  “What happened to adventurous?” he murmured, his thumb making another slow, intoxicating pass over her lip.

  As always, her mouth worked independently of her brain and opened so she could sink her teeth lightly into the pad of his thumb.

  He hissed in a breath. The sound egged her on and she sucked his thumb between her lips.

  His eyes dilated to black.

  Yeah. Suddenly she was feeling very . . . adventurous. Before she could stop herself, her arms encircled his broad shoulders, her fingers sinking into his hair.

  This wrenched a low, sexy “mmmm” from him like he was a big, rumbling wildcat. A big, rumbly wildcat who clearly wanted more because he drew her up against him and lowered his lips to hers.

  Meeting him halfway, she went up on her tiptoes. He slid a hand up her back to palm the back of her neck, holding her right where he wanted her. Then and only then did his mouth finally cover hers, his kiss slow and sweet.

  After, he pulled back and looked into her eyes, smiling at whatever he saw—probably dazed lust. He kissed her again, not slow and most definitely not sweet this time. Again he ended it too soon but when he lifted his head, the rough pad of his thumb slid back and forth over her jaw while she struggled to turn her brain back on.

  “Pru.”

  And oh, that deliciously rough morning voice. It slid over her like the morning sun, and made her eyes drift shut.

  “You take the rugrat,” he said. “I’ll get your box.”

  Her eyes flew open. He was holding Thor again. “What?”

  “I’ll help you upstairs,” he said.

  Where her bed was. Oh God, had she made her bed? Wait—was she wearing good panties?

  She mentally shook herself because none of that mattered. You’re not going there with him, remember? She couldn’t, wouldn’t, because she hadn’t yet told him who she was. She wasn’t ready to do that. Because she knew that once she did, this would be over. He wouldn’t want to be friends with the woman whose family had stolen his. He wouldn’t want to make her fancy virgin cocktails or pet her silly dog.

  Or kiss her stupid . . .

  The truth was, he was the best thing to happen to her in a damn long time. And yes, it was selfish. And wrong.

  And she hated herself for it.

  But she couldn’t tell him, not yet. “I’ve got it,” she said. “Really. I’m good.”

  She just wished she meant it.

  Chapter 10

  #KarmaIsABitch

  It was rare for Finn to find himself on unsure ground. Typically if he needed something, he handled it himself. If he wanted something, he went after it.

  He both wanted and needed Pru. That was fact. The knowledge had been sitting in the frontal lobe of his brain and in the bottom of his gut, and also definitely decidedly south of both.

  It’d been like that for him since the night she’d walked into his pub dripping wet and smiled that smile at him. And then she’d nailed him with that dart and he’d kissed her, and the problem had only compounded itself.

  She drove him nuts, in the very best of ways.

  And now she’d brought him a coffee and he’d kissed the daylights out of her again. But this time she didn’t seem to want to climb him like a tree. She wanted to escape him.

  Badly too, given the sudden panic in her eyes.

  It should have been his clue to back off. Walk away.

 

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