Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(10)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(10)
Jill Shalvis

He laughed. “Sarcastic smartass. Well, it takes one to know one.” He looked at her, eyes warm. “And you’re different too. Different good, by the way. You’re a puzzle, one I can’t seem to solve. That doesn’t happen often.”

“You can’t solve a woman,” she said.

He laughed again, and she thought she could get very used to that sound. Even addicted. So not good.

With their FaceTime call still connected, he went out what she assumed was his front door. She couldn’t see much but she had no problem hearing the sudden howling. And not just little howls either, ear-splitting howls of death. “Oh my God,” she said. “What’s wrong, what happened to her?”

Caleb quickly unlocked the door and stepped back inside. The howls immediately stopped and Sadie heard the pitter-patter of uneven paws as they skidded across the hardwood floors. And then Caleb was mobbed.

“She okay?” Sadie asked as he crouched low and hoisted the dog in his arms.

“Yes. I think she was just sad that I left. Listen,” he said to Lollipop. “You can’t howl like that. People’ll think I’m killing someone in here.” He set the dog on the phone and rose to his feet, and then suddenly Sadie’s view went topsy-turvy.

He’d dropped the phone.

It hit the floor, bouncing close to Lollipop, who leapt straight up into the air and, with a terrified expression, went scrambling out of sight.

“Shit,” Caleb muttered and then he called out to Lollipop in a gentler voice. “It’s okay, baby, it was just my phone . . .”

“Someone must have thrown things at her,” Sadie said, her chest tight.

“I know.” He was already moving, clearly going after her. “Lollipop?”

A noise alerted them both, a whimper really, and tugged at all of Sadie’s very new and very raw emotions.

“She’s under my bed,” Caleb said and dropped to his knees.

Lollipop was back as far as she could get, huddled up against the wall, cowering.

“Aw, no, baby,” he murmured. “Don’t be scared. No one’s going to hurt you, I promise.”

Lollipop just stared at him with those huge soulful eyes and Sadie could hardly breathe.

“I get it now,” Caleb said softly. “You don’t like to be alone. And some asshole wasn’t nice to you and probably threw things at you. That life’s over, okay? You can come with me to work. You liked it there, remember? My admin has that beef jerky you love.”

Lollipop didn’t budge except for the very tip of her tail which wagged once. She wanted to believe but she couldn’t.

Sadie’s throat burned. She knew just how the dog felt.

Caleb set the phone down low so Lollipop could see Sadie. “Talk to her,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

He reappeared in less than a minute with some deli meat and cheese. After coming out from beneath the bed to scarf it down, Lollipop appeared to forget her trauma.

Caleb met Sadie’s gaze via the phone. “So she can be bribed.”

“You just fed her a fortune in fancy cuts of meats and cheeses,” she said. “Anyone could’ve been bribed with that. Hell, I’d have jumped into a stranger-danger van for that.”

He smiled. “Good to know that too. I’ll bring you some when I bring Lollipop.”

She rolled her eyes and disconnected.

And then proceeded to think about him for the rest of the day.

A few minutes later, Caleb and Lollipop were in his car, finally heading to work, holding hands, one of them smelling like turkey and cheese and drooling on the passenger window.

Twenty minutes later they were in his building heading for Sienne’s office instead of his own. Hannah was there too and he gestured to the dog at his side in her harness and black patent leather Hello Kitty leash. “Take a good look at this,” he said to his sisters. “What is she?”

“You have an MBA from Stanford,” Hannah said. “I think you know what a dog looks like. Did you hit your head at the gym this morning? And why are you in possession of a dog?”

“The question isn’t why,” he said. “It’s how am I able to be with a dog in the first place. In the same room. Me not dying.” He squatted down beside Lollipop and she wriggled in happiness at him. “I mean, look at her. She was abused, abandoned, and has not a single clue that she’s got an owie. Also, I just used the phrase ‘she’s got an owie.’ What the actual hell?”

They both just stared at him, boggled, as they shook their heads.

He drew in a deep breath and studied his closest confidantes. “Someone tell me why I’m not allergic to dogs.” He pointed to Hannah. “Go.”

“Um . . . you outgrew it?” she asked.

“Bullshit.” He turned to Sienne.

Sienne shook her head at Hannah and then moved to Caleb. She squatted low to pet Lollipop, who surprised everyone by affecting a protective stance in front of Caleb and growling low in her throat.

Sienne didn’t take it personally. She smiled and rose. “She doesn’t want another woman touching her man.”

“I’ve known her all of two days,” Caleb said. “It’s not that—” Before he could finish the sentence, Lollipop sat on his feet.

“Cute,” Hannah said. “She’s claimed you.”

Out of patience, he shook his head. “One of you has a business MBA and the other was third in her law class. I want answers.”

“Okay, fine,” Sienne said. “You were allergic to everything back then. You eventually outgrew most of your allergies. It was more that a dogiiogou eventually outgrew most of your allergies. 'Sadie. red out from a black face. and in makeup, looking put together for onc didn’t fit our lifestyle.”

He stared at her as the truth hit him with the force of a two-by-four. Back when he’d been a kid, they couldn’t have handled even one more mouth to feed. His mom and sisters had had their hands full just keeping a roof over their heads and him healthy and alive. And like always when he remembered what it’d been like, he felt a gratitude fill him that those days were long over. Letting out a breath, he nodded. “Well, she fits my lifestyle now.”

“You’re really going to keep her?” Sienne asked.

“Yes. Well, half of her,” he corrected. “I’m sharing custody.”

Sienne’s eyes sharpened. “With who?”

“Whom,” Hannah corrected.

“Whom isn’t relevant,” Caleb said.

“So it’s a woman,” Sienne said. “Just tell us.”

He laughed. “Are you kidding me? Last time I was interested in someone, you put her through all your search programs and cyberstalked her.” No way was he subjecting Sadie to that.

“Which turned out to be a good thing, since she was also cyberstalking you,” Hannah said. “She was looking to get herself a MRS degree and become Mrs. Parker so she could spend your money.”

“Maybe,” he allowed. “But I was still just having a good time, until you went all Sherlock on me and delivered the report about her every indiscretion, including the time she’d cheated on a spelling test in the third grade.”

“Well, I thought you should know,” Sienne said in her best fuck-off-and-die voice.

“Sienne.” He squeezed her hand. “Just the other day, you told me it was my turn to get a life. Did you mean it?”

“Of course I did.”

“So then, maybe that’s what I’m doing.”

“Maybe?”

“Definitely, so back off.”

“Caleb—” Sienne started and he shot her a look that told her he was done talking about this. He had no problem defending his feelings for Sadie, but they were too new right now and not for public consumption. His phone was vibrating in his pocket, but he waited for Sienne to acknowledge that he was serious. She stared back and then let out a sigh.

“Fine,” she said. “It’s your life.”

“Try to remember that.”

With a nod, she left. Hannah followed. Lollipop had made herself at home and was sprawled out on the floor beside his desk, her Hello Kitty leash flashing in the light as he answered Spence’s phone call. “Sorry,” he said. “I was in a meeting.”

“With The Coven?” Spence asked.

“Half of them. Introduced Sienne and Hannah to the new woman in my life.”

“Sadie?”

“Lollipop. Jesus.”

Spence laughed and said something that Caleb missed because Lollipop started barking at something beneath his desk. He got down and looked.

“Problem?” Spence asked.

“There’s a Skittle under my desk. She’s apparently convinced it’s the enemy, but she isn’t sure, so you can imagine the stress she’s under.”

Lollipop headed to the door, in a sudden hurry.

“Oh shit,” Caleb said, rising. “Gotta go—”

Too late. Lollipop was hunching into position on his rug.

“Oh shit?” Spence asked.

Caleb sighed. “Literally.”

Just before lunch, Sadie checked her phone, wondering how Lollipop was managing. Actually, that was a big fat lie. She was wondering how Caleb was managing. He’d left her a text.

Do Not Even Think About Falling For This Guy: Poops A Lot is living up to her name.

Sadie: I’m trying to imagine you in those fancy suits, scooping poop.

Do Not Even Think About Falling For This Guy: Attractive, right?

Do Not Even Think About Falling For This Guy: And she just farted so loud she scared herself. She got upset when I laughed. My attorney and director of operations are demanding hazard pay because the stench is so bad.

Sadie: Are you making your attorney and your director of operations dog sit while you rule the world?

Do Not Even Think About Falling For This Guy: I only rule the world on the odd days of the month. And my attorney and director of operations are two of my four sisters. They’re older than me, so I’m not sure they really get the hierarchy here. One just told me she’s going to tell our mom I was rude to her.

Sadie laughed and a couple of her coworkers stared at her in shock. She rarely laughed here at the day spa. Honestly, she rarely laughed in general. But Caleb brought it out in her. He was nice to dogs. He employed his sisters, and not just as office staff, but in high-powered positions. He’d fed Sadie. He’d paid for her dog’s vet bills.

Their dog’s vet bills, she reminded herself.

It was a struggle to remember he was practically still a stranger. Everyone had their armor. Hers was obvious, it was her bad attitude, and she’d been unapologetic about that.

Your bad attitude isn’t your only armor , a part of her brain whispered. And that was certainly true. She hid behind the colorful streaks she liked in her hair, behind the shiny sparkly jewelry she favored, behind the clothes that said back the eff up . . . Even her tats hid something—her old cutting scars, for example. And the not so old ones.

Do Not Even Think About Falling For This Guy: Just took Lollipop on a quick walk at a pet park on our way to you. She chased someone’s cat. I don’t think she meant to, she just lost her mind for a second. She nosed the cat in the ass and got bitch-slapped. She’s not hurt, not that you could tell by her sobbing. She’s having a rough day, currently sitting in my lap holding my hand. Be there in a few.

He’d taken Lollipop to a pet park. He held her hand whenever she got scared. Damn. The man was dangerous to her heart and soul.

Which made him the very opposite of perfect . . .

Chapter 9

#DogKissesSolveEverything

A few days went by, during which Sadie had too too many hours on the job and not enough hours sleeping. Tired didn’t come close to describing how she felt. She’d just spent about ten hours on her feet, leaning over clients, more than a little uptight about getting everything just right. Being an artist was one thing. So was selling your art. It was subjective, and that was okay.

But being an artist and selling the art that you literally inked onto a person’s skin couldn’t be subjective.

It had to be perfect.

She’d texted Caleb asking if she could have Lollipop tonight even though it wasn’t her night. The truth was, she felt lonely and needed the company. It was unlike her to admit she needed anything, but somehow texting Caleb didn’t make her feel as vulnerable as she might have with anyone else.

Which made no sense.

He’d let her know he would meet her at eight p.m. near the pub.

At ten minutes till, she walked the length of the courtyard, slowing to wave at Old Man Eddie, who lived in the alley. Spence, his grandson, had tried unsuccessfully to relocate Eddie to an apartment in the building, but Eddie preferred the alley. He waved back. “How’s it going, cutie-pie?”

This was his nickname for most of the females who passed by. Probably because he couldn’t remember any of their names. “Good,” she said. “How you doing? How’s the new girlfriend?”

He scratched his head, his wild Einstein hair standing on end. “She dumped me. Twice. Women should come with instructions.”

“What would be the point of that?” Sadie asked. “I’ve never actually seen a man read any instructions.”

Eddie was laughing as she walked on.

And a minute later, she found Caleb looking pained as he watched Lollipop on a leash chasing her tail until she fell over.

And though Sadie had thought it was Lollipop she needed that night, she knew she was at least partially wrong. Because it wasn’t the dog who caught her attention and held, but the man.

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