Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(16)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(16)
Jill Shalvis

He sighed. “It’s hard to meet the good ones.”

“That’s because they don’t usually frequent the dives you frequent. Go to Target. The female to male ration is ten to one and they’re already looking for things they don’t need.”

He laughed and rubbed a hand over his eyes.

“You’re tired,” she said.

“I’m on a case I hate. It’s a divorced couple and they’re fighting over custody of their three kids. The husband wants physical proof she’s cheating.”

“Seems to be the theme of the day.”

“Yeah.” He shook his head. “I got the proof, unfortunately—a recording of her having sex with someone else.” He brought something up on his phone.

It was a recording. A woman was moaning softly.

“Maybe she’s just eating something good,” Sadie said. “Like cheesecake.”

He gave her a look of disbelief.

“Hey,” she said. “I moan like that when I’m eating cheesecake. The right cheesecake’s better than sex.”

“Baby doll, then you’re not having the right kind of sex.”

No kidding. She was having zero sex.

The moaning on the recording got a little louder and then there was a softly panted “oh yeah, right there . . . that’s it, don’t stop, please God, don’t stop!”

Sadie froze. She hated the word triggered , but that’s exactly what happened to her. She was thrown back to a time she didn’t want to revisit, but her mind didn’t care. “Turn it off,” she whispered. She pointed at his phone. “Stop it.” Her heart was pounding and she was having trouble drawing in enough air. She felt . . . icky. And ashamed. Not a good combination for her. Horrified, she pushed Cal. “Turn. It. Off,” she said again, or she thought she did, but she actually wasn’t sure the words came out. Her reaction was startling, even to herself, but that they were taking this woman’s life out of context, making it dirtier than it was, seemed incredibly wrong and unfair.

And Sadie knew all about things not being fair.

Very few people knew about her past. She knew if people did know, she’d be judged just as she’d judged the woman on the tape. And at the thought, a renewed rush of blood roared in her ears and her limbs went leaden, and she knew exactly what it was. The therapist she’d seen for five years had laid it out for her.

An impending anxiety attack.

And Cal still hadn’t turned off the tape. She snatched his phone, tapped the screen to cut it off and stared at him, breathing a little too hard. Shaking her head, she moved around the cot to walk away, needing a moment. She yanked the curtain aside and—

Came face-to-face with Caleb.

Lollipop was at his side, looking very happy. Not Caleb. His usual easygoing expression was nowhere in view. His eyes were tight, his mouth a little grim as he took in the sight of her. He looked beyond her to Cal still sprawled out in her chair, shirt off, pants unzipped and dangerously low on his hips, which had been the point since that’s what she’d been working on.

She turned back to Caleb, who’d turned away without a word and was heading to the door.

What the hell?

“Sadie,” Cal said behind her, sitting up. “I’m sorry. I clearly hit a nerve for you and I . . . I’m sorry. I was out of line.” He shoved his phone away. “You okay?”

She swiped a hand over her eyes and realized that her hand was shaking. “Yes.”

“Is that your boyfriend? I think he thought we were the ones having sex.”

She stared at him and then whipped out of the cubicle. “Hey,” she called to Caleb.

He had Lollipop on a leash and with one hand on the door, he craned his neck and met her gaze, eyes unreadable and cool, mouth grim and tight.

Yep. Cal was right. That was exactly what Caleb thought, that she’d been having sex. With a client. At work. With other people in the place.

Unbelievable.

There were so many, many things wrong with that, she saw red. Furious, she strode across the floor until she was right in his face. Which was far better than shaking like a coward who didn’t like to face her own dark, secret, twisty past.

But now that she was standing there right in front of him, so much bubbling inside her that she thought she might implode, she couldn’t find any words.

Caleb just looked at her, no smile, no soft “hey” like usual, nothing. With a single shake of her head, she whirled on her heel and strode through the shop. “Need a minute,” she said tightly to Rocco.

Rocco, fluent in the language of moodiness since he was the king of moodiness, gave her a single curt nod.

He’d hold down the fort.

She ran out the back door, around to the courtyard and straight for the stairs. She could’ve taken the elevator, but she had too much electric toxic energy flowing through her.

Five sets of stairs later, she exited onto the roof through a door only a select few in the building knew about, much less had access to, gasping for breath.

Up here, she was on top of the world.

She could see down to the marina and the glorious red of the Golden Gate Bridge against the azure blue of the bay. She could see the infamous Alcatraz, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Coit Tower on Nob Hill, and the new massive Salesforce tower. She turned in a slow circle, taking in the amazing three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view as she worked at slowing her breathing, trying to consciously control her wildly ricocheting thoughts.

Still feeling shaky, she moved to the small love seat in the far corner that that owner of the building, Spence Baldwin, had brought up here. He liked to stargaze.

Sadie liked to be alone.

She sank to the love seat and covered her eyes, knowing the truth. She’d lost her collective shit, and oh how she hated that. It signified a weakness, and more than anything, she hated to be weak.

And yet she was. Three years ago, she’d been so proud of herself, feeling like she’d conquered her past, come to terms with herself. She’d moved on with a clean slate.

But then she’d met Wes. And as ashamed as she was to admit this to herself, he’d set her back. Not at first. For the first four months, it’d been great. He’d had his life together and that had been attractive to her. But work had gotten rough for him and he’d gotten moody, taking it out on her one night as he’d stripped off the tie and suit jacket she thought she loved so much.

He’d said some cruel things that night, such as he couldn’t talk to her about what was important to him because she wasn’t like normal people, meaning she didn’t worry about job security or save for the future because the future didn’t seem to mean anything to her.

None of which was actually true. At least, not true anymore, because she’d been changing, growing up, maturing, and those things had become important to her. But hearing him throw her old faults in her face had been devastating. She’d escaped into her bathroom, stared at herself in the mirror, and hadn’t recognized the face staring back at her.

Her plain brown hair because Wes had thought the use of “not hair” colors such as streaks of purple meant mental instability.

No piercings except the two small hoops in her ears.

Spray tan because he thought her skin too pasty white.

Face just a little bit gaunt because he didn’t believe in desserts and felt they were too big of a weakness for her.

Ashamed at what she’d done next, of the memories assaulting her, Sadie leaned her head back against the love seat on the roof and closed her eyes.

But she couldn’t erase the movie playing in her head. She’d tugged her sundress up, exposing her upper thigh. She’d had her two scars tattooed over by then and she loved those tattoos. Not willing to ruin them, she’d pressed a razor blade to the skin just beneath the second tattoo.

She hadn’t cut herself since age seventeen and that she’d let herself be so affected truly humiliated and horrified her. But that wasn’t even the worst part of that night. Nope, it had been when she’d heard a husky male moan and looked up.

Wes standing in the bathroom doorway, videoing her on his phone, his eyes dark with excitement.

He’d fetishized her cutting.

She’d never felt so exposed in her life, and that was saying something given the time she’d spent locked away, the forced therapy, the poking and prodding of doctors to soothe her freaked-out mom.

Unable to sit still, Sadie rose to her feet and stared up at the sky. With about a half hour until dark, it was a kaleidoscope of colors. A few clouds, one of which looked like an elephant floating lazily across the sky. Another looked like a pepperoni pizza, which reminded her that she was hungry again.

And far too antsy to sit.

Rising, she took the few steps to the corner of the building, liking the wind on her face. Almost without thinking about it, she rubbed the phantom ache at the top of her thigh.

“Sadie.”

Startled, she simply reacted to the low voice that came from just behind her, twisting, her arms coming up into a defensive pose as she led with a roundhouse kick designed to land right at a man’s groin.

That man being the last man she wanted to see right then. Caleb.

Chapter 14

Caleb dodged the foot aimed at his family jewels, instead taking Sadie’s deceptively hard kick to his right upper thigh. “Damn, woman,” he said, fascinated as he rubbed the spot where he most definitely was going to bruise. “You’ve got moves.”

She didn’t seem impressed by his opinion. Or by him. And he knew he’d set them back more than a few steps with whatever that had been downstairs. She was pale, her eyes hollow. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, allowing her to keep the distance she’d put between them.

Without responding, she crossed her arms over her chest and turned away, going back to staring out at the setting sun. She was wearing a long black knit skirt that had a slit up the back and clung to her hips and legs. Her top was sheer black and gauzy, fitting loose over a soft gray camisole that hugged her like a second skin. She wore kickass boots, which matched the kickass expression on her face. If she was trying to intimidate the world, the fuck-off-and-die ‘tude was a nice touch.

An icy breeze blew over them and he saw her shiver. He came up behind her, making sure to let his footsteps make enough noise that she knew he was coming. Stopping a few inches back, he shrugged out of his jacket and said, “You’re chilled. I’m going to put my jacket on your shoulders.” He waited a beat, but she didn’t respond so he covered her shoulders.

She immediately slid her arms into the sleeves and hugged the material close to her. “Thanks,” she said quietly. Begrudgingly.

“She speaks,” he said lightly, when he was feeling anything but light. “Sadie. Look at me?”

She hesitated but turned to face him. Her face was closed off. She was always so tough and impenetrable, and yet in that moment also heartbreakingly vulnerable. And damn if that didn’t get him right in the gut because if anyone understood having to be tough on the outside to protect yourself, it was him. “I upset you. I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“Why?” he repeated. “Because we’re friends and—”

She laughed mirthlessly. “Seriously? Friends? Because five minutes ago you believed I was having sex with a client. You actually thought I’d do that, on a job—” Breaking off, she shook her head and closed her mouth.

“Listen,” he said quietly. “I didn’t start this conversation by saying I was very smart as it pertains to women.”

She snorted her opinion of that.

“And whatever I thought when I first walked up to your workstation,” he said. “It was a knee-jerk reaction and a bad one. In my defense, the sounds coming from behind the curtain . . . They really sounded like—”

“A woman eating cheesecake?” she asked.

He smiled. “No one sounds like that eating cheesecake.”

“I do.” She gave him a look, an indecipherable look. “Good cheesecake is better than sex.”

He realized she was testing him, and that was fine. One, he wasn’t going anywhere. And two, he was going to always be himself—honest, if not brutally so. “If that’s true, then the people you’ve been with are idiots.”

“It was a recording,” she said. “My client’s a detective and he was just messing around through the pain of getting a tattoo, playing a tape of potential evidence that he never should’ve played for me.”

“Okay,” he said. “So that explains that.”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t explain your reaction, or why you’d believe it of me.”

Good point. He met her gaze and gave her that honesty he wasn’t sure she was ready for. Guess he had some testing of his own to do. “I told you once that I have a bad habit of assuming the worst,” he said. “I wasn’t making that up. I assume the worst and go to a dark place.”

“To mull things over,” she said.

So she did remember. “And often, I’ll sabotage a good thing when I have it.”

She stared at him for a beat. “Why?”

He shrugged. “I guess because I don’t like being vulnerable.”

“Me either. And I guarantee you, my dark place is darker than yours, so I get that too.” She paused. “We were a good thing?”

His heart took a good hard kick at the past tense. “Yes. Sadie—”

“I’m sorry I kicked you.”

He was surprised and relieved at the words, but he shook his head. “No. Don’t be. I like knowing you can defend yourself.”

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