Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(14)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(14)
Jill Shalvis

“You mean a girlie drink?” he asked.

“To be fair, I’d question any gender’s decision to order a Fuzzy Navel.”

Finn came back with their drinks and an order of fries. “To share. Play nice,” he said, looking at Sadie.

“Hey,” she said but Finn was gone. And okay, so she could see why he’d direct that at her. She and Caleb dug into the fries and she realized something else—eating deliciously, perfectly crispy fries with someone, sharing a big blob of ketchup, their fingers occasionally bumping into each other . . . it was an intimacy all on its own.

“So,” she said, watching as he sipped his drink, which made her smile because a big sexy guy ordering anything other than beer or a badass liquor was foreign to her. “I’ll play. A Fuzzy Navel?”

He shrugged. “Maybe I’m trying to get in touch with my feminine side so I can understand what a certain woman is thinking when she looks at me.”

She blinked. “Is it working?”

“No. You’re a closed book.”

She snorted. “You’re making that up. You don’t care about understanding what I’m thinking.”

“I care more than you know,” he said easily. “You’re just not open to it because you’re scared.” He paused while she absorbed the absolute truth of that statement.

“But you’re right,” he said. “I didn’t order the Fuzzy Navel to figure you out. I’ve got the feeling that nothing but time is going to help me figure you out.” He took another sip, his eyes considering her. “I ordered it because it was my grandma’s fave. She drank it whenever she was stressed, which was a lot. So now I do the same. It’s sort of my way of toasting her from whichever cloud she’s sitting on watching over me.”

Damn. That was really sweet. And when a guy like Caleb did something sweet, it was also incredibly sexy. She took another sip of her drink. “Think she was watching when you pushed me up against the brick wall in the alley and kissed the hell out of me?”

Caleb choked on his drink and set the glass down. He’d been coming out of a meeting with Hunt Investigations, the security company on the second floor, when he’d seen Sadie walk into the bar. Completely unable to resist, he’d followed her in and sat next to her. He was breaking down her walls one brick at a time—or so he hoped—but he knew he still had a long way to go.

What he didn’t know was why he insisted on pursuing this, pursuing her , when she clearly would rather pretend there was nothing between them. Maybe it was because of that , he thought with an ironic grimace. The seduction of being with a woman who didn’t want anything from him was too much to resist . . .

In any case, he couldn’t seem to stop himself. “First,” he said, “you kissed me . And second, damn woman, thanks for putting the image of my grandma in my head and ruining the moment.”

She laughed.

And God, he loved her laugh. It was deep and throaty, and she always seemed a little surprised that she could be amused.

“Why was she always stressed?” she asked.

He didn’t like to think about his past, much less discuss it, but this was Sadie, and he took the fact that she was asking as a good sign. “She was a young single mom,” he said, “and then her daughter became a young single mom with a bunch of kids. There were a lot of mouths to feed.”

She just looked at him for a long beat. “And you were one of those mouths?”

He nodded.

“What happened to her?” she asked.

He turned back to his drink. “She died when I was little.” It’d been a whole lot of years, but she’d spent the most time with him while his mom had been gone working night and day, and he still missed her.

He felt Sadie’s hand cover his. He turned his over so that he was palm up and entangled his fingers with hers.

“I’m sorry,” she said, eyes and voice warm. “I’m guessing things were rough after she was gone?”

She hadn’t pulled her hand from his, and he ran his thumb along hers. It’d been a long time since such a simple touch had meant anything to him. “My mom did the best she could. My sisters helped. They all put their heads down and did whatever they had to do to raise me and send me off to college.”

She appeared to be mesmerized by this story, by the fact that he hadn’t been born rich and successful. “And now they work for you,” she said.

“Yes.”

“So you all . . . like each other.”

He laughed. “Yes.”

This seemed to be the biggest surprise of all for her. “And you’re still close.”

He wanted to bring their joined hands up to rub his aching chest, because she clearly couldn’t compute a family unit that was tight and loved each other. “Yes, we’re close, even though they still try to boss me around. Comes with being the baby of the family.”

This got a smile out of her. “Cute.”

“Or annoying and unnecessary,” he said. “Which I tell them as often as I can get anyone to listen to me.”

“So let me get this straight,” she said. “At work you run this huge conglomerate and are a well-known venture capitalist with more responsibility than I could ever manage, but at home you’re the baby?”

“See? Annoying, right?”

She shook her head. “Still cute.”

When he grimaced, she smiled. “So how did you go from barely getting by to . . . ?” She waved her free hand up and down, gesturing to—presumably—his suit.

“I got lucky,” he said.

She shook her head. “Going to call BS. No one’s that lucky.”

Giving in to temptation, he brought their joined hands up to his mouth so he could brush a kiss over her knuckles. “Now who’s cute?” he murmured. “And yeah, I do pretty good for myself, but here’s the thing—I didn’t do it alone. I had help along the way. A lot of it. No one does it alone.” Again, he brushed his mouth over her fingers.

She stared at him, squirming just a little bit. Kind of how Lollipop looked at him when she was both afraid to come out from beneath his bed and yet wanted in his arms badly.

Caleb Parker, dog whisperer. Hopefully also woman whisperer.

“Does your mom still work?” she asked.

“She’s retired now. Three of my sisters work for me, though one’s on maternity leave. My fourth sister’s an intern for me and in grad school back east. My corporation’s big on decent hours and great benefits, so I get to make sure they have a good life after giving me so much of theirs.” He nodded to a table in the far corner of the pub. “My family’s actually here tonight, or some of them anyway. It’s date night.”

She looked over and he knew what she was seeing. A striking forty-year-old brunette seated next to a handsome black man who was feeding her something off his fork and laughing—Sienne and Niles. Kayla’s baby bump was huge. The man next to her was holding her hand and had a baby strapped to his chest. Hannah was flashing her phone around the table and everyone waved to whoever was on the FaceTime call. And only Emory was missing. She was probably who they were FaceTiming. Or maybe it was his cousin Kel. His sisters loved and adored him.

“Looks very cozy,” Sadie murmured.

Caleb laughed. “Do not be fooled by appearances. We might love hard, but we fight just as hard and as often. Give it five minutes and someone will be up in arms about something.”

“Why aren’t you with them?”

He held her gaze. “I’m busy.”

Her breath hitched and she pulled her hand free. “No, don’t let me hold you up. We’re not . . .”

He went brows up, really wanting to hear her finish that sentence.

She shook her head, clearly at a loss for words as she waved her hand around. “This is silly.”

Grabbing her hand, he gave it a gentle squeeze. “What happened in the alley wasn’t silly.”

“No kidding.” She touched her fingers to her lips as if she could still feel his kiss.

He could certainly still feel hers. “Your turn, Tough Girl.”

Her gaze went from his mouth to his eyes. “What?”

“Your turn to give me something of you.”

She blinked. “You know plenty about me.”

“Actually, I don’t.” He leaned in a little closer. Their thighs touched and he watched her breath catch again. “Give me something,” he murmured. “You owe me now.”

At that, her eyes went hooded. She pulled back, fished some money from her pocket and set it on the bar before standing.

“Running scared?” he asked.

She stilled and stared at him. “Maybe.”

Honesty at least, he thought. “I’m not looking for your state secrets.” Yet. “Just tell me . . . something.”

“Like?” she asked suspiciously.

He shrugged. “Like . . . what you sing to in the shower. Or your favorite piercing . . .” Reaching up, he ran a finger along the shell of her ear and all the tiny silver rings neatly lined up there that always made him hot. “Tell me what gets you out of bed in the morning. Or what your parents are like, and if you have nosy-ass siblings like I do. Or maybe a secret wish you have that you’ve never fulfilled.”

She bit her lower lip and he thought oh yeah , he wanted to know her secret wish.

“Hell, tell me what you watch on TV,” he said. “I don’t care. Just talk to me about you.”

“Maybe I don’t share like that.”

“Ever?” he asked.

“Anymore.”

He didn’t often get frustrated. It wasn’t in his nature, and plus he usually didn’t care enough to get there. But according to his current level of frustration, he cared more than he wanted to admit. “My turn to call BS,” he said on a rough laugh. “We share a dog. We shared a moment in the alley that included a kiss, a pretty great one. And I shared about my oddball family—more than I ever do with a woman, by the way—simply because you asked. You asked, Sadie,” he repeated. “And now I’m asking.”

She paused. “I need to rephrase. I can’t do this. We’re not going down the road you seem to think we are.”

“And which road is that?”

She looked away, glancing over at his family. “I’m not the white picket fence, two point five kids, soccer mom kind of woman,” she said quietly. “And I think you know that.”

“What I know,” he said, standing to meet her toe-to-toe, “is that a week ago I’d have laughed at the thought of having enough time in my life for a dog. Or a woman.” He ran his fingers along her jaw. “Now I find myself making time for both.”

“Your point?” she asked.

“My point is that maybe you’ll surprise yourself and find that you want to make time too.”

She shook her head. “I won’t,” she whispered.

It seemed like an automatic denial. It also seemed like maybe she regretted it the moment it left her mouth, but though he waited, she didn’t take it back.

He’d struck out. He didn’t want to accept that, but he knew enough about stubborn women to know when to push and when to fold. So he handed her money back to her, dropped his own to cover their drinks and the fries, and walked away instead of pressing. He knew what he wanted, and he wanted Sadie. She was a calculated risk, and though he’d been a huge risk taker all his life, banking on Sadie being willing to face her emotions was a loser’s bet.

Chapter 12

#ScrewUpBigOrNotAtAll

Sadie and Lollipop took the bus home and stayed up late cuddling for some badly needed body heat and equally badly needed affection.

It was another chilly night, but Sadie hadn’t wanted to sleep at the Canvas Shop tonight. Tonight, she’d wanted her own space. So she’d turned on the heat, promising herself she’d cut something out of her budget to make up for it. She didn’t yet know what that would be, but she’d figure it out. She always did.

She and Lollipop shared the couch. Sadie was pretending to be thinking about her financial situation, playing with the numbers. For instance, if she stopped eating, she could keep the heat on.

But she was just fooling herself. She wasn’t thinking about money. She was thinking about Caleb. She’d walked away from him. No, scratch that. She’d let him walk away from her.

A part of her had felt a surge of righteousness when he had. There, see , she’d told herself, you did it, you ruined it like you knew you would . Better now than later . . .

But the righteousness had faded, replaced by a cold grip on her windpipe.

She’d pushed him away.

The panic had started right around the time their conversation had taken them to a place she hadn’t intended to go. It seemed so easy for him to just be . . . him. He had no problem sharing about himself, he had no hidden shame and little to hide.

But she had plenty of hidden shame and lots to hide.

She wanted to think she could keep most of that to herself and still have him, but she’d realized while listening to his story that she couldn’t. He’d never accept less than everything from her.

So she’d had to shut this thing down.

But now there were regrets. A lot of them. She met Lollipop’s warm gaze. “How am I supposed to make big decisions when I still have to sing the alphabet in my head to get to the right letter?”

Lollipop panted happily, as always, willing to help.

“Listen, don’t look, okay? I’m about to make yet another bad decision.”

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