Sweet little lies, p.9
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       Sweet Little Lies, p.9

         Part #1 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
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  But he found himself unable to do that.

  “How about I just get you upstairs with your stuff,” he said, going for as nonthreatening as possible. He bent to put Thor down so he could pick up the box but the dog had other ideas and clung like a monkey. He glanced down. “You sure he’s a dog?”

  Some of the stress left Pru at that and she laughed a little. “Yes, but whatever you do, don’t tell him.” She covered Thor’s ears. “I think that he thinks he’s a grizzly.”

  Finn met Thor’s wary gaze. The little guy really was the most ridiculous looking thing he’d ever seen. Bedraggled, patchy, mud brown fur, he had one ear up and one ear down, a long nose, a small mouth that lifted only on one side like he was half smiling, half smirking, and the biggest, brownest eyes he’d ever seen. Hell, his ears and eyes alone were bigger than the rest of him, and the rest of him didn’t weigh as much as a pair of boots. “Little Man Syndrome, huh?” he asked the dog sympathetically.

  “He just likes to be carried,” Pru said. “He likes to be tall. And he can see better too. Once you pick him up, he won’t let you put him down.”

  Finn tested this theory by once again starting to bend over.

  Thor growled. Laughing, Finn tightened his grip on the little guy. “Don’t worry, I’ve got ya,” he said and reached to pick up Pru’s box with his other hand.

  Holy shit, it weighed a ton.

  “What are you doing?” Pru asked, crouching at his side. Her voice was tight again. “I said I’ve got it.”

  “Pru, it weighs a ton. How far did you carry this thing?”

  “Not far,” she said, tug-o-warring with him. “Let go—”

  “You’re as stubborn as Thor, but I’m already here,” he said. “Let me help—”

  “No.” She tried to wrench the box from him, her expression more than a little desperate now, which stopped him in his tracks. Whatever it was in the damn box, she didn’t want him to see it, and he immediately backed off—just as she whirled from him. She lost her grip, and the box literally fell apart, the cardboard bottom giving way, the contents hitting the ground.

  “Oh no,” she breathed and hit her knees on the ground in front of a few old, beat-up photo albums, a few cheap plastic picture frames, and a glass one, which had shattered into a thousand pieces. “It broke,” she whispered.

  There was something in her voice, something as fragile as the now broken glass frame shattered in shards and pieces at their feet, and it made Finn’s chest hurt. Even more so when he saw the picture free of its frame. A little girl standing between two adults, each holding one of her hands.

  Pru, he thought, looking into those brown eyes. Pru . . . and her parents?

  Her posture said it all as she reached right into the shards of glass for the picture, carefully brushing it clean to hug it against her chest like it meant the entire world to her.

  Fuck. “Pru, here, let me—”

  “No, it’s fine. I’m fine,” she protested, pushing his hands away when he began to gather up the photo albums. “I told you I’ve got this!”

  Thor, soaking up Pru’s anxiety, lifted his head and began to howl.

  Pru looked close to tears.

  Eddie, a.k.a. Old Guy, came out of the alley, presumably to help, took one look at the mess that Finn had found himself in, and did an about-face.

  Finn gently squeezed Thor to him. “Quiet,” he said in a firm voice.

  Thor went quiet.

  Pru sucked in a breath, looking surprised right out of her impending tears, thank God. “Stop,” he said as she reached into the glass for another picture with absolutely no regard for her own safety. Unable to put Thor down and risk him cutting his paws, he held the dog tight to his chest and reached for Pru’s hand with his free one. Pulling her to her feet, he said, “Let’s get Thor upstairs and then I’ll come back and—”

  “I’m not leaving it, any of it.”

  “Okay, babe, no worries.” He whipped out his cell phone and called Archer. No way was Sean awake yet, much less up and moving, but Finn knew he could always count on Archer.

  Archer answered with his customary wordy greeting. “Talk.”

  “Courtyard,” Finn said and looked up. Sure enough Archer’s face appeared in the second-story window of his office. “We need a box.”

  “Down in five,” Archer said.

  He made it in two. Archer set an empty box down on the bench and reached for Thor, presumably so Finn could handle Pru, but Thor bared his tiny little teeth and growled fiercely.

  “Whoa, little dude,” Archer said and raised his hands. “I come in peace.”

  Satisfied he’d protected his woman, Thor went back to cuddling into Finn.

  Finn grabbed the box in his free hand and crouched in front of Pru, who had an armful of stuff. “Set everything in here,” he said.

  She hesitated and he leaned in. “It’ll be safer,” he said quietly, and she nodded and unloaded her full arms into the box.

  Archer had sent a text and Elle showed up with a broom and dust pan, which seemed incongruous to her lacy tee, pencil skirt, and some very serious heels.

  “You could’ve sent someone,” Archer said to her.

  Elle gave him a don’t-be-stupid look and smiled at Pru. “Pretty photo albums. Shame about the frame.” She swept up the glass, the line of thin silver hoops clanging on her wrist. “I’ve got some spare frames I’m not using that would love a home. I’d be glad to give them to you. Is that you and your parents?”

  Pru nodded and rose. “Thanks for helping.”

  “Don’t give it another thought,” Elle said. “Oh, and it’s girls’ night out tonight. Karaoke. Doll yourself up, Finn promised nineties glam rock band music.” Elle flashed a smile. “My specialty, so just ring if you need something to wear, I’ve got a closet full.”

  Archer snorted.

  “Okay,” Elle said, “so I have two closets full. Eightish work for you?”

  Pru, looking a little bit dazzled and probably also more than a little railroaded by Elle’s gentle but firm take-charge ’tude, shook her head. “I can’t sing,” she said.

  “Nonsense,” Elle said. “Everyone can sing. We’ll duet, it’ll be fun.”

  Pru didn’t look convinced but she did look distracted instead of anguished, and for that Finn was grateful. He brushed a quick kiss on Elle’s cheek. “Thanks.”

  She kissed him back and gave him a look that said take care of her, and he knew better than to not do what Elle wanted.

  Besides, he wanted the same thing.

  A few minutes later he got Pru and Thor upstairs.

  “Thanks,” she said quietly. “But I’m good from here.”

  Oh, he got that message loud and clear, but he was still holding both her dog and her box so he stepped into her apartment behind her.

  He could see her small kitchen and living room and the wall dividing them that had a square door right in the middle of it. It was a dumbwaiter, which cut through this whole side of the building, a long-ago leftover remnant from when the place had at one time been all one residence belonging to one of the wealthiest, most successful dairy families on the west coast.

  Finn knew this only because he’d seen the dumbwaiter in Archer’s office. Archer employed guys with major skills and they kept those skills sharp with company-wide training. Once a month that training came in the form of a serious scavenger hunt, and somehow Finn had once ended up one of the things on the list of items to gather.

  Archer’s idea of funny.

  Team One had captured Finn in his sleep once. He’d escaped before they could win though, and he’d been lucky enough to use the dumbwaiter to make his hasty exit. He’d been unlucky enough to end up in the basement in nothing but his boxers, showing up at an illicit poker game between the building’s janitor crew and maintenance crew.

  He’d joined in and won two hundred bucks, which had kept him from trying to kill Archer.

  Pru had the dumbwaiter door latched from her side. Smart girl.
That didn’t surprise him.

  What did surprise him was that there was almost no furniture in the entire place.

  “Where did you move from?” he asked.

  “Not far. Fisherman’s Wharf.”

  “You didn’t move your furniture yet?”

  “Uh . . .” She headed into her kitchen and was face first into her fridge now, leaving him a very nice view of her sweet ass in her snug yoga capris. “My place there was mostly furnished,” she said. “But yeah I have a few things left to move over.” Her tank gapped away from her front, affording him a quick flash of creamy, pale skin.

  “You work out of Fisherman’s Wharf too,” he said. “At Jake’s charter service, right?”

  “Yes.” She straightened and faced him. “He’s got that huge old warehouse on Pier 39. I both work and lived there.”

  “With Jake.” Wow, listen to him all casual, when his stomach had literally just hit his toes.

  “He’s got a lot of space. Not all of it is used for business. It’s residential too.”

  Not, Finn couldn’t help but notice, exactly an answer. He knew Jake. Knew too a little of the guy’s reputation, which was that maybe his legs didn’t work, but everything else most certainly did. That guy saw more action than Finn, Archer, Spence, and Sean all together.

  Times ten.

  “You and him . . .?” he asked calmly, while feeling anything but.

  “Not anymore.”

  Somehow this didn’t make him feel better. He was still holding Thor and the box. Pru came back toward him and took Thor, setting him down, unhooking his leash. Then she turned back to Finn and reached for the new box.

  Their hands brushed but he held firm, waiting until her eyes met his. He let his question stand. He had no idea why it mattered to him so much. Or maybe he did. In any case, he was usually good at letting things go, real good, but for some reason this wasn’t going to be one of those things.

  Finally, she blew out a sigh. “Did you think I’d kiss you if I was with someone else?”

  “Do you always answer a question with a question?”

  Making an annoyed sound, she tugged the box from his arms, her momentum taking her on a half spin from him but at the last minute she whirled back with something clearly on the tip of her tongue.

  Problem was, he’d stepped in to follow right behind her. Which was how he ended up with the corner of the box slamming right into his crotch.

  Chapter 11

  #LoveBites

  Pru felt the impact, took in where the box had hit Finn, and staggered back a step in horror. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry! Are you all right?”

  He didn’t answer. He did however let out a whoosh of air and bent over, hands on his knees, head down.

  Good going, Pru. Since you didn’t kill him the other night, you went for unmanning him and finishing the job. She quickly set the box down and hovered close, hands raised but not touching him, not sure where to touch him. Which was ridiculous. She’d had her tongue halfway down his throat. He’d seen her lose her collective shit over the photograph of her mom and dad . . . “Finn?” she asked tentatively. “Are you okay? Say something.”

  Head still down, he lifted a finger, signaling he needed a moment.

  Going gonzo with all the agitation in the air, Thor was on a yipping spree, running in circles around them both, panting in exertion.

  “Thor, hush!” she said, eyes on Finn.

  Thor didn’t hush, but she couldn’t concentrate on the dog. “I’m so sorry,” she said again, finally giving in to the urge to touch Finn, running her hand up and down his back, trying not to notice that under her fingers he was solid muscle. And thanks to his low-riding jeans having slid down his hips when he’d bent over, she could see an inch of smooth, sleek skin and it made her stupid. “I didn’t mean to crush your . . . er, twig and berries.”

  He stilled and then lifted his head. He was pale. No, scratch that, he was green, and maybe sweating a little bit to boot. But he had a funny expression on his face.

  Thor was still losing his mind, barking so hard that his upright ear bounced up and down and his floppy ear kept covering his eyes, freaking him out all the more.

  “Shh,” Finn said to him firmly but not unkindly.

  Shockingly, Thor “shh’d.”

  Finn straightened up a little bit more, but not, Pru couldn’t but notice, all the way.

  “Twig and berries?” Finn repeated.

  “Yeah, um . . .” Pru strained for another reference so that she didn’t have to spell it out. “You know, your . . . kibbles and bits.”

  The corners of his mouth quirked but she wasn’t sure if he was mad or amused. “Frank and beans?” she tried.

  At that, he out-and-out smiled. “I’m torn between giving you a break and stopping you, or making you go on.”

  Oh for God’s sake. She crossed her arms. “I suppose you have better words.”

  “Hell yes,” he said. “And when you’re ready, I’ll teach them to you.”

  Breaking eye contact, she—completely inadvertently, she’d swear it on a stack of waffles!—slid her gaze to where she’d hit him. Did it seem . . . swollen? “I’ve got an icepack if you—”

  He choked. “Not necessary.”

  “Are you sure?” she asked. “Because I really am a good medic, I promise, and—”

  He choked off another laugh. “And you’re offering to do what, exactly?”

  Uh . . . She bit her lower lip.

  “Kiss it better?” he suggested in a voice that made her get a little overheated.

  Note to self: not quite ready for prime time with Finn O’Riley.

  He gave her a knowing smirk and moved to the door. Definitely with a slight limp. “You should take Elle up on her offer for a new frame,” he said. “That picture clearly means a lot to you and she’s got some beautiful things in storage.”

  And then he was gone.

  It was a matter of pride that Finn managed to walk across the courtyard without a limp. Or too much of one anyway. He’d thought about going up instead of down, heading to the roof, the only place in the building that he could go and probably be alone, but he didn’t want or need alone time.

  Or so he told himself.

  “What’s up with you, someone knee you in the ’nads?”

  He turned his head and found Eddie in his usual place, sitting on a box in the alley. It was a good spot because from there the old man could see both the courtyard and the street.

  “Isn’t it early for you to be up?” Finn asked him.

  “It’s trash day.”

  Finn went through his pockets for extra change. Coming up with a five, he handed it over.

  Eddie smiled his gratitude.

  When a shadow joined theirs, Finn turned just as Archer appeared silently at his side.

  Archer had some serious stealth skills, earned mostly the hard way. He’d lost none of his sharp edges, which considering what he did for a living and the danger he still occasionally faced, was a good thing.

  “What happened to your boys?” Archer asked.

  Finn resisted the urge to cup his “boys” because they still ached like a son of a bitch from his collision with the corner of Pru’s box. “Nothing.”

  “Maybe he finally got laid,” Eddie said to Archer.

 

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