Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(13)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(13)
Jill Shalvis

Clara nodded. “And it’s great for Sadie’s skin tone.”

“Her tattoos will show,” her mom said. “And what will we do about her hair?”

Sadie reached for the bag of chips again just as her phone went off with a text from the Canvas Shop letting her know her next client was in.


She stood. “Sorry, gotta get to work.” She hugged Addie, and then on second thought hugged her sister, her mom, and her aunt too, even though the Lanes weren’t exactly the hugging type. Stepping back, she let out a breath, officially hugged out for the rest of the year. She was halfway out the door of the bridal shop when she heard her mom.

“But seriously, what about Sadie—?”

She couldn’t hear the rest of the question, but chances were that it was a valid one. No one ever knew what to do with her.

Three minutes later, Sadie entered the Canvas Shop. Rocco gave a jerk of his head to the back room. His version of asking her to talk for a minute.

She followed him.

He leaned back against a counter and stared at her. His black hair was wild as always and months past needing a cut. His jeans were torn up, his kickass boots battered, his T-shirt advertised his own shop, and his expression was dialed to Cranky Ass. Unlike Sadie, who only had a few very strategically placed tattoos, Rocco was inked from head to toe. Tattoos gave a history, a road map so to speak. There were prison tats. Russian tats. Drunken tats . . . Every one of them told a story and Rocco had started young.

Not Sadie. After high school, she hadn’t been able to get an apprenticeship with a tattoo artist, so she’d gotten her esthetician license instead and started doing permanent makeup instead, working at a spa that did a lot of pro bono work for cancer patients.

It’d been eye-opening. What she’d heard most often was the devastation of dealing with the aftermath and recovery, including surgical scars.

When she’d finally gotten a chance to become an apprentice at Rocco’s tattoo shop, she’d jumped on it. She’d worked under him for three years, doing whatever work Rocco had given her before getting her own clients, and she’d made her own niche. Because unlike anyone else in their shop, she specialized in covering scars.

Rocco was only five years older than her, but besides being her boss, he also considered himself her protector and her very nosy older brother.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

He handed her a brown bag from the coffee shop. It was filled with Tina’s famous mouthwatering muffins.

“Wow,” she said. “Thanks. Is it Christmas?”

“They’re not from me.”

Her heart took a good hard leap against her ribs as she realized they must be from Caleb. The night before he’d had a late work night and he’d needed her to cover Lollipop for him. She’d happily done it and hadn’t expected a reward of muffins, but she would take it.

Rocco met her gaze. “I thought you learned your lesson with the last suit.”

He was referring to her very-ex-boyfriend, Wes. She’d dated him for six months a couple of years back and he’d nearly destroyed her. No, correction. She’d nearly allowed him to destroy her. In any case, she had a rule, she didn’t talk about him. Ever. “Excuse me?” she asked in her best PMS voice.

“Don’t pull that pissy tone, you know what I’m talking about.”

Yeah, unfortunately she did. All her life she’d chosen the wrong guy. Clearly, there was something in her genetic makeup that made her go for guys who treated her much like her family did, like she was someone they weren’t quite sure what to do with.

Wes had been a lawyer, of all things. Cool and calm and unflappable. And into her. It’d been that to draw her in, and once he’d paid her even the slightest bit of attention, she’d fallen hard.

Stupid, stupid, stupid . . . “Actually,” she said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah?” Rocco pointed at her. “So why then are you using your lie voice, the one that’s two octaves above your regular voice? You’re dating Suits, just admit it.”

“I’m not dating anyone. First of all, men are stupid. Second of all, I’m a new dog mom and holding down two jobs. Do the math. No time for a man anyway. Third . . .” She’d run out of reasons, so she went with a repeat. “Men are stupid.” She jabbed a finger at him. “So you’re wrong.”

“Old Man Eddie saw you two getting all hot and heavy up against my front door.”

“That was a week ago. Your news is old.” Crap. “And Old Man Eddie smoked half his brain cells gone. He doesn’t know what he saw.”

Rocco shook his head. “You swore off men because you make bad decisions in that arena and you made me promise to hold you back.” He snatched the bag of muffins and dug in. “So this is me, keeping my promise.”

She snatched the bag back and the muffin from his fingers. “I release you from that promise.”

“Wow,” he said. “Okay, so remind me again, when you get into a mood like this, am I supposed to give you space or attention?”

“Yes,” she said.

He tossed up his hands.

“There’s nothing going on with me and Suits.”

“Really?” he asked, voice heavy with disbelief. “Because he’s been here every day this week.”

“To exchange custody of Lollipop! And let me just say, yes, fine, I’ve made some questionable choices, but I own those, okay? I stand by who I am now, and it’d sure be nice if the people in my life could do the same and have some damn confidence in me.” She pointed at him. “And you know what? If you’re in such a chatty mood, how about we talk about you and Tyler? I can see the screen on your phone and he just texted you. Twice. I thought you’d blocked him.”

Tyler was Rocco’s ex-boyfriend. They’d been together forever and then one day Rocco didn’t show up for work. He’d stayed away for two whole weeks, word being that he’d gone on an epic bender after a blow-up fight and the subsequent breakup. When Rocco had finally showed back up at work, he’d been even more surly, grumpy, and pissed off at the world than usual. And refusing to discuss anything.

That had been a month ago.

Rocco’s scowl deepened, if that was even possible. He glared at her. “My personal life isn’t up for discussion.”


He shook his head. “I can’t out-stubborn you, I don’t even know why I try. Fine, get your heart stomped on again.”

She shook her head, because that wasn’t going to happen. She was insanely careful about that very thing. Letting people in, letting them get to know her, meant revealing herself. All of herself. And her track record with that, with someone loving her for her, was zip.

As for why Caleb had gotten beneath her guard, she had no explanation for that. All she knew was that she would have to be even more careful now because no matter what she told Rocco, Caleb was working his way in through her walls with his easy confidence and just-for-her smile. She was definitely in trouble.

Or at least her heart was.

Chapter 11

By the time Sadie closed up the Canvas Shop for the evening, she was restless as hell. She and Lollipop walked the length of the courtyard in the cold misty night, the dog pouncing on a fallen leaf, barking at a lamppost, making her laugh.

It felt good to have the three-legged sweetheart for company since her own thoughts skewed dark. But even with all Lollipop had been through, she wasn’t wired for dark. Every walk was exciting, a chance for a new adventure.

Sadie’s phone beeped into the chilly silence. A missed call and a voice mail. She grimaced. Caleb had tried on more than one occasion this past week to see her for reasons other than exchanging custody of Lollipop.

She’d evaded.

Not because of disinterest but the opposite. She was too interested, and that was scary shit. She was working up to facing those fears, she just wasn’t there quite yet, so she brought up the message with her eyes half squinted.

But the message was from her sister.

Giving you a heads-up. Mom’s going to ask you to make sure your hair doesn’t have any primary colors in it for the wedding. Also, she wants your tats hidden. Your friend Addie seems to think she can add a lace panel to cover the infinity sign on the back of your shoulder, but Mom’s worried that the ink will make the lace look dirty, so she’s thinking maybe you also wear a wrap.

Sadie closed her eyes. Took a deep breath. And then opened her eyes again and texted a reply: It’s your wedding, whatever you want.

Clara’s response was, What I want is to not hear Mom say, “What about Sadie?” I’m tired of this being about you, okay? It’s my wedding.

With a pang of guilt, Sadie texted one more message: I’ll take care of it.

And then she turned off her phone because she had no idea how she was going to take care of it. Her hair was easy enough. The color was a wash-in and would come out with a few more shampoos. Her tattoos were slightly more problematic, but she loved them and wouldn’t apologize for them. She’d simply have Addie double the lace if needed.

What she couldn’t change was that she didn’t know how to be what her family wanted, and she’d lost the need to try anyway. All she knew how to do was be . . . her.

And she liked her, just the way she was.

Mostly. Okay, so she was working on that too. She could certainly start by being a little more . . . open. If she was, if she hadn’t avoided being alone with Caleb for an entire week like a chickenshit, she might’ve gotten another heart-stopping kiss.

And more . . .

Whew. Thinking of sex after not having it for three years made her a little shaky. Maybe she was hungry. Maybe she just needed French fries. Deciding that was it, she headed toward the pub, making a pit stop at the pet shop on the way. Willa was thankfully working late in the back, bathing a cocker spaniel.

“What’s up?” Willa asked, blowing kissy faces to Lollipop.

“I’m in need of French fries.”

“And you want to leave Lollipop here while you do,” Willa guessed.

“If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Willa said. “I still owe ya.”

“You don’t.”

“Yeah, I do.” Willa staggered to her feet and rubbed her baby bump. “Remember when I told you that I wasn’t feeling sexy, and that me and Keane hadn’t managed to have sex in two weeks? And you told me it was never too late to have my slutty phase, that it builds character.”

Sadie smiled. “And?”

“And last weekend, I hired a temp to take some of the overnight dog-sitting shifts. I bought some sexy stuff and seduced my husband. He was so happy, he coaxed me into hiring the new kid as a permanent addition.” She smiled. “We needed that. I mean the night before, we’d fought over the fact that he wouldn’t tell me where he’d hidden the candy I’d asked him to hide from me. I didn’t speak to him for twelve hours.”

“You’re pregnant,” Sadie said. “You were going stir-crazy.”

“To say the least.” Willa reached for Lollipop. “I’ve got her covered. Go have French fries. And a drink for me, okay?”

Two minutes later, Sadie walked into the pub. It was owned by friends of hers, the O’Riley brothers. Finn and Sean were bartending when she sat at the far right corner of the bar, which they kept reserved for the tight-knit group of friends who lived or worked in the Pacific Pier Building.

Finn jerked his chin her way in greeting. “Whatcha having tonight?”

She didn’t drink much. She preferred to eat her calories, thank you very much, but after thinking about Caleb and how much he made her ache for things she’d given up, she realized she needed more than French fries. “Whiskey. On the rocks.”

“Rough day?”

She shrugged. “A banana is a hundred calories. A shot of whiskey’s only eighty. I’m just choosing wisely.”

Someone slid onto the barstool next to hers. She didn’t need to look over to know it was Caleb. She could tell because her nipples got hard.

“How about you?” Finn asked her new barstool neighbor. “Rough day?”

When he didn’t answer right away, Sadie turned to look at him.

“More like frustrating,” he murmured, eyes on her. “Someone I wanted to talk to is playing the coy game and hasn’t returned a call.”

“Maybe it’s not about being coy,” she said. “Maybe it’s about being . . .” What? Afraid? That was weak. And she didn’t do weak. “Cautious,” she said.

“Where’s the fun in that?” As he spoke, there was a flash of something in his gaze, maybe frustration that she was being aloof. But it was instinct, a knee-jerk reaction thanks to her need to try to control her emotions, especially around him.

And for him . . .

But now that he’d had his hands on her, she was having a hell of a time controlling herself at all. And he was changing a lot of what she thought she knew of him. On the outside, he gave the world that laid-back, easygoing smile. All while holding most of himself back.

But in those sixty seconds that he’d had his mouth and hands on her, he hadn’t held anything back, giving her a glimpse of a man who had depths she hadn’t even guessed at.

“What’ll it be for you?” Finn asked Caleb.

“Fuzzy Navel.”

Finn nodded and moved away to make the drinks.

Sadie went brows up. “Did you order a Fuzzy Navel just so I’d ask you why you’d order such a thing?”

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