Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(11)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(11)
Jill Shalvis

He’d shucked his suit jacket and shoved his sleeves up his forearms. No tie, top few buttons undone, the material stretched taut over his broad shoulders. With his build and the way he had of making her feel like the only person in the room, she had no doubt that if he’d been the lonely one tonight, he could flash his very easygoing, laid-back smile and draw in all the single females in the entire city.

Tonight though, standing there by himself and not “on” for any reason, he seemed . . . different. He had an air of being as exhausted as she, and maybe also a whole lot on edge, which was a very unusual look for him. And also ridiculously, disarmingly sexy.

Especially when Lollipop stopped twirling in circles and leaned against him. He squatted low and opened his arms and the dog walked right into them.

And Ivy’s words came back to Sadie. No matter how rich or intelligent you are, how you treat an animal tells me all I need to know about you . . .

She took a deep breath and admitted to herself that watching Caleb with Lollipop told her a whole hell of a lot about him.

He looked up and held her gaze prisoner in his for a beat. “Hey,” he said, voice low, a little rough. “You okay?”

“Why? Don’t I look okay?” The instant ‘tude was an auto response.

But he didn’t back off. “You look . . .” He gave a quick head shake and a small smile. “Well, if you knew what I was thinking about how you look, you wouldn’t still be standing there, you’d be running for the hills.”

Something quivered low in her belly. Dangerously attracted, she stayed right where she was.

“I’m asking,” he said, “because you look tired. You had a long day.”

She had. And how long had it been since anyone had noticed, much less worried about her? “I could say the same thing about you.”

Another small smile. “So we’re both overworked.”

“Yes,” she said. “But only one of us is underpaid.”

He came toward her. “I’m assuming we’re both starving though, right?”

She nodded. She was starving. She just wasn’t quite sure she was starving for food.

“I was thinking tacos. Ivy’s open for the street fair tonight.” He looped Lollipop’s leash around the back of a wrought-iron bench and turned back to Sadie. “But first, I opened a credit card account for us.”

She blinked. “What? Why?”

“For Poops A Lot. She’s cute, but she’s expensive as hell.” He pulled a credit card from his pocket and held it out to her.

She stared at the card without taking it. It had her name on it. And it wasn’t any old card either, it was a black AmEx card. “What the actual hell?” she asked calmly.

Okay, not calmly. Not even a little bit calmly.

“A dog’s expensive,” he said. And he did manage calm, as always. “This way if you have to buy stuff, you’re covered.”

She thought about strangling him. Instead, she said, “I cover myself.”

“I know.” Damn him for being so reasonable when she couldn’t seem to manage anything close on the best of days, of which this wasn’t one. “I’m not trying to piss you off,” he said. “There’s just no reason for you to have to cover her when I can do it.”

Okay, so he was aware he was pissing her off. Brownie points for that. But he lost points for being a stupid male. “We agreed to fifty-fifty.”

“As it pertained to physical custody,” he said. “But not monetarily. You’ve got enough on your plate right now, working two jobs and trying to build up your clientele.”

He probably had no idea that he’d just stomped right on her rawest nerve and secret fear—that no matter how hard she worked, she wouldn’t ever make it. Stepping closer, she poked a finger in his pec, which was a lot more solid than she’d anticipated. “I agreed to share custody,” she said, “but to be clear, Lollipop is the rescue, not me. I’m not a charity case.”

He grimaced and shoved a hand through his hair so that it looked like he’d just gotten out of bed. It should’ve made him look silly, but it actually had the opposite effect.

“You’re not a rescue or a charity case,” he said. “In fact, you’re one of the strongest, most capable women I know. But—”

“No,” she said. “Stop right there. Nothing good ever comes after a but.” Unable to listen to reason, her fragile ego already bruised, she poked him again, harder this time so that it actually hurt her finger, which caused a flare of irritation in his eyes. He grabbed her hand in his and held tight.

Dammit, he really did have an edge to him and that was dangerously attractive.

No longer dating the wrong-for-me guys , she reminded herself. “This is a bad idea,” she said. A colossally bad idea.”

“The shared custody or getting food?” he asked.

“Both. But especially going to eat.”

“Why?”

“Because a guy like you doesn’t . . .” She broke off, unwilling to finish the sentence she never should have started.

“A guy like me,” he repeated. “Doesn’t what?”

What part of this wasn’t he getting? “You could have anyone,” she said. “Which means not someone like me.”

“Wow,” he said quietly even though his eyes flashed anger, proving once again he was much more efficient at managing his temper than she was. “Impressive. You just managed to insult both of us in a single sentence.”

She closed her eyes. “Yeah. I’m real good at that when I don’t know what I’m doing. I lash out. I tried to warn you.” She opened her eyes and gave him this truth at least. “I think I do it to make sure I don’t have an audience for the occasionally really dumbass things I do—which I usually don’t realize are dumb until right after I’ve done them.”

He surprised her by letting out a self-deprecating laugh, like he maybe did the same thing, which she highly doubted. Then he gave a little tug on her hand, which he was still holding in his, so that she was forced to take a step into him. “You aren’t conceited enough to think you’re the only one of the two of us who has made mistakes, right?” he asked. “Because we’ve all made mistakes, Sadie.”

It was the first time he’d ever said her name and the sound of it on his lips stilled her. There were other reactions too, but nothing that should be happening out in public.

“You think we’re too different,” he said.

“To be co-dog owners?” She shook her head. “No.”

“You know that’s not what I mean. You think we’re too different for this.” He waggled a finger between them and her stomach jangled some more.

“There’s no this,” she said.

He let out a low laugh. “Did you know that when you lie, you break eye contact? It’s your tell.” He waited until her gaze flew back to his, her temper renewed, before quietly saying, “You don’t know enough about me to make that decision. And I get it. You don’t want to know enough about me, because then you might be interested.”

“Seriously,” she murmured. “Are you some kind of mind reader?”

He wasn’t feeling playful. “I’ve had a really long day, and I’m going to guess you did too. So while I get a kick out of bickering with you, I’m too hungry to keep up, so can we agree to disagree until after we get food?”

“I didn’t agree to food,” she said.

“You don’t like tacos? No problem. You pick.”

She eyed the alley, thinking that was her shortcut out of here, but he tightened his grip on her hand.

“Don’t run off,” he said.

“I don’t like it when people tell me what to do.”

“I get that,” he said. “And same. Also, I try very hard to never tell anyone what to do. But I think we need to finish this. Please .”

Another quiver from deep inside her. “I keep telling you, there’s no this.”

“Are you sure?” Very slowly and carefully, clearly giving her plenty of time to get away if she really wanted, he stepped into her, making her extremely aware that she now stood hemmed in between the alley wall and his body, neither quite touching her.

But she wanted him too. She actually ached to close that last inch between them. She didn’t do it. Instead, she lifted her chin. “I could make you a eunuch right now if I wanted.” The threat was minimalized by the fact that she whispered it, but suddenly holding on to her temper was difficult. So was talking. “Don’t think I can’t.”

“I have no doubt,” he said, still holding one of her hands. He took the other as well and squeezed gently. “I think you could probably do anything you set your mind to.”

No one had ever said those words to her, not ever, and when she felt the back of her eyes sting unexpectedly, she closed them in self-defense.

“Sadie.”

She shook her head.

“Look at me. Please?”

It was the damn please that had her opening her eyes. He’d closed the gap so that if she so much as took a breath, they’d be touching.

So she did just that. She took a deep breath, and then their bodies were up against each other, his warm and hard. Everywhere. “What’s happening?” she whispered.

“I believe you’re deciding between kicking me in the nuts and kissing me.” One side of his mouth curved very slightly as he lifted their still joined hands above her head, against the wall. “But that last part might just be in my dreams.”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Yes, it’s just in my dreams?”

She meant to say yes again, she really did. She even opened her mouth to say it, because this was insane, this incredible . . . craving she had for him. It made no sense. Less than no sense, and yet . . .

She went up on tiptoe and touched her mouth to his.

He froze for a single beat, and then he was kissing her back. And in that very moment, it suddenly made perfect sense. As his hands dropped hers and his arms came around her, she felt . . . moved, more moved than she could ever remember. It was like her entire body had just come alive and even more terrifying, her heart had come along for the ride. Again her throat tightened and her eyes prickled, but she didn’t pull away. She did the opposite. She tried to deepen the kiss but Caleb pulled back a fraction to look into her eyes, using his thumb to swipe at a tear she hadn’t even realized she’d shed.

“What’s this?” he asked very quietly, cupping her face in his big hands.

She shook her head. “I’ve got something in my eye.”

“Try again.”

“Arf!”

They both looked down at Lollipop, who had pulled the leash as taut as she could get to sit on one of Caleb’s feet and was staring up at them impatiently.

“I think she’s jealous,” Sadie murmured.

But Caleb wasn’t interested in a subject change. “Sadie.”

“What?”

“You know what.”

“Look, I don’t know what that was, okay?” She lifted a shoulder. “Temporary insanity? Stupidity? Pick one.”

He didn’t laugh. Instead, he gave another slow head shake, like maybe he didn’t know either, but then, with her face still sandwiched in his palms, with Lollipop on his foot, he kissed her again.

And then again.

Sadie . . . melted. That was the only word that worked for what happened to her. It was just that his body heat soaked into her and he smelled good, way too good, and she got drunk on it. She could feel herself curling closer, and then closer still for more. She wanted to take her mouth on a tour of his entire body, wanted to feel his muscles ripple and roll beneath her hands as she touched him. She wanted a whole hell of a lot of things, and each and every one of them shocked her.

This time when he pulled back, it took her a long moment to focus, but when she did, she found him looking more uncertain that she’d ever seen him.

“You’re right,” he murmured. “That’s definitely insanity—temporary or otherwise.” Then he took her by one hand and Lollipop by the leash and they walked down the alley to the street and to Ivy’s taco truck.

Ivy grinned and waved at the sight of them, but as per the girl code, she didn’t say anything embarrassing. She did however surprise Sadie by coming out and giving Caleb a warm hug.

“Thanks for the software update,” she said.

“Anytime.”

Ivy turned and hugged Sadie too, whispering in her ear, “That’s a good look for you, the happy glow.”

Whoa. Was that really the look she was projecting?

Ivy hopped back into her truck, all business now. “So. What can I get you?”

Caleb turned to Sadie, gesturing for her to go first. “Um . . .” She eyed the menu she had memorized. Nerves demanded she go for comfort food. “Two trailer park tacos,” she said, mouth watering at the idea of the eggs, hash browns, cheese, and maple bacon tacos.

“Double that,” Caleb said. “And add a side of grilled chicken for Lollipop, no heat.”

They ate sitting at one of the two picnic benches near Ivy’s taco truck, their view being the marina at the bottom of the hill and the bay beyond that. Sadie was jaded about a lot of things, but she never got tired of that view.

Afterward, Caleb offered to drive her and Lollipop home. She panicked. The forecast was for icy rain and record low temps, so she’d planned on sleeping in the Canvas Shop again for heat. “Why?” she asked.

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