Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(2)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(2)
Jill Shalvis

Fascinated by this unexpected show of weakness in the man who’d always come off as invincible, she shook her head. “I think it thinks you’re its mama.”

He glanced around the courtyard as if to see who the dog might belong to, but there was no one.

“Arf!” the dog repeated and sat on Suits’s foot.

“Oh, I hear you, and we’re going to help you, I promise.”

“I know you must mean you and the mouse in your pocket because we ”—Sadie gestured with a finger between him and herself—“are most definitely not a we .”

Ignoring that, he got to his feet, lifting his hands at the dog, giving the universal gesture for stay . But the minute Suits raised his hands, the dog squeaked in terror and leapt back as if he’d been shoved. Off-balance with only three legs, it fell to its back, exposing its underbelly and the fact that it was a she .

Sadie didn’t easily attach. To anything. But right then and there, she fell in love with her. Not partially, but all the way in love, because neglected and mistreated meant they were soul mates. “I’m going to kill her owner.”

“Not if I get to them first.” Suits’s eyes flashed absolute fury, though his voice remained calm as he once again squatted low, trying to get his six-foot-plus frame as nonthreateningly small as he could. “It’s okay, baby,” he crooned softly. “We’re together now, for better or worse, even if you’re going to kill me.”

“What are you talking about?” Sadie asked. “She wouldn’t hurt a damn fly, much less kill you.”

Proving that, the dog slowly once again scooted toward Suits, head down, her hind end a little wiggly as she crawled close, trying to get into his lap.

The sweet hope of it had Sadie’s heart pretty much exploding in her chest.

With a sigh, Suits wrapped his arms around the dog and hugged her close. In response, the cutie-pie set her oversize head on his broad chest.

“Yeah, that’s some killer,” Sadie said, shoving her wet hair from her face.

“I’m allergic.”

Suits said this so nonchalantly that she blinked. “Is that some sort of a euphemism for ‘I hate dogs’?”

“No,” he said. “Reach into my front left pocket.”

She snorted. “You’re kidding me, right? Does anyone actually fall for that?”

“If I pass out, you’ll need my keys to play Nurse Nightingale.”

She paused, staring at his face. She saw no sign that he was teasing—very unusual for the charming, easygoing guy she knew him to be.

“I’m trusting you to not let me die,” he said as if he was discussing the weather.

“This isn’t funny.”

He met her gaze, his own more serious than she’d ever seen him. “If I don’t make it, promise me you’ll at least make up something really good for my funeral, okay? Like, I died heroically saving your sexy ass, and not because a sweet dog like this one hugged me.”

“Okay,” she said slowly, “I’m starting to think you’re really not joking.”

“I never joke about dying.”

Chapter 2

#DogDays

Caleb Parker sat on the ground getting wetter by the second as the woman stared at him, her thoughts hooded. Rain had soaked through her gray sweater with the strategic cutouts, one across the top of her breasts and two others baring her shoulders, giving peekaboo hints of skin. Her jeans were jet-black and formfitting, hugged to her curves and tucked into a pair of high-heeled boots that gave a man ideas. Sexy-as-hell ideas. Her hair was half up and half down, the drenched strands teasing her cheeks, jaw, and shoulders. She wore enough earrings and bracelets to set off a metal detector.

Her name was Sadie Lane and she was spirited and maybe also a little wild, but man. He never could take his eyes off of her.

Tonight though, he was distracted with the dog hugged up so close to his face that he was breathing in wet matted fur with each inhale. “My EpiPen’s in my car,” he said. “In the computer case on the passenger seat. Come on, you know you’ve been waiting for the opportunity to legally stab me.”

Sadie shifted a little closer, every bit as wary as the dog. “You’re making fun at a time like this?”

“What’s the alternative?”

She shook her head. “If this is some sort of stupid come-on or something—”

“If this was a come-on, you’d know it.”

She seemed massively unimpressed by this fact, her eyes deep and unreadable as always. And hey, maybe he’d only have an asthma attack. Maybe he wouldn’t go into complete anaphylactic shock, in which case he’d only need his inhaler—currently also residing in his computer case. Which reminded him, he wasn’t supposed to carry it in his case, it was supposed to be on his person. But it’d been years since he’d had any sort of serious asthma attack, even if the last one had landed him in the hospital practically on his deathbed. “I’m parked right out front,” he said.

“You need more than an EpiPen if you think I’m going to reach into your pants pocket.”

Rolling his eyes, he shifted the dog and pulled out the keys for her.

“If I do this, where am I supposed to jab you?”

“Upper thigh,” he said.

“Not your ass?”

“Definitely not my ass.”

She lifted her face to his. Raindrops were clinging to her long, dark lashes and glinting off the myriad of pretty little mismatched sparkling earrings she had running up the shell of her ear.

“Are you going to drop trou?” she asked.

He couldn’t tell if she was asking with horror or fascination, and he let out a low laugh. “Not unless you take me to dinner first.”

“Dream on, Suits.”

And there it was, the reminder that she saw him as a know-it-all, a buttoned-up suit—literally—which he supposed was completely unappealing to the tattoo artist with the dark eyes, dark hair, and dark life. And he got it. They were polar opposites, not well suited, no pun intended.

And to be honest, he wished it was anyone out here in this storm with him tonight rather than the cynical smartass who seemed to take personal pleasure in driving him nuts.

They had some friends in common, so they ran into each other occasionally, and every time it was the same—an odd instant wariness he couldn’t explain. There was also a healthy dose of irritation, at least on her end.

On his, it was mostly bafflement.

She stood there, hands on hips, probably waiting for him to stroke out. “You do realize that Lollipop’s rubbing up against you and you’re not sneezing or wheezing or anything, right?” she said.

“Lollipop?”

“It’s the last thing I ate a very long time ago, and she seems as sweet as one,” she said, still watching him carefully. “It fits. Are you or are you not dying?”

“You’re hoping you get to use the EpiPen, aren’t you?”

“Little bit,” she said lightly, but her expression was still assessing, and actually, something else as well.

“You’re worried about me,” he said, surprised enough to smile. “Cute.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m not worried, I just don’t need you keeling over. I’d have to call Emergency Services and I’m not a fan of hospitals.”

Well, they were in sync there. “I’m fine,” he said, a little shocked that it was true. Other than being drenched through and unable to feel his own frozen ass, he wasn’t exhibiting any of the allergic reactions he’d been told all his life by his mom and four sisters he’d get if he allowed a dog to get too close.

Lollipop shivered and stared up at him with an expression that said she was maybe counting on him, which got him right in the feels. Interesting since he’d been utterly devoid of feels for longer than he could remember.

The thing was, he’d spent way too many of his own formative years as undersized, scared, weak, and vulnerable as Lollipop. Plus, of all the things he hated, including but not limited to tailgate drivers, loud chewers, and spam mail, people who abused animals were at the top of his list. He stood, still holding on to the dog. She was big enough to weigh at least fifty pounds, but skin and bones, she couldn’t have been more than thirty. “Maybe I’m wearing too many clothes to get an allergic reaction.”

“Your bare hands are on her and you have some fur stuck to your stubble,” Sadie said. “Here, let me take her.”

“No, I’ve got her. I’m feeling fine.” For some reason, Sadie was the only woman on the planet who could set his head spinning without even trying. Some of it was a good spin, but most of it was a different sort of spin altogether, one that left him baffled and confused—two things he’d worked hard at never feeling. He pulled out his phone and snapped a pic of Lollipop that he could send to his contacts to see if anyone had any knowledge of her.

“I can’t believe she just let you pick her up,” Sadie said. “My boss, Rocco, said he’d seen a stray around, so I’ve been leaving out a bowl of water and food, but she must be waiting until we’re gone to get to it. She doesn’t trust humans.” She cocked her head. “This would be a good time to tell me you’re Batman or something.”

“Batman’s human.”

She rolled her eyes. “My point is that you seem to have the touch.” She sounded insultingly shocked at this.

“Hey,” he said. “I have the touch in spades.”

She laughed.

“Wow, you’re judgy. I didn’t see that coming.”

“Excuse me?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m the most un-judgy person on this entire planet.”

He snorted and she looked taken aback for a quick beat, holding his gaze. Tendrils of her long, dark hair had slipped from her ponytail to cling to her face and throat. She had some blue streaks in it that matched her striking dark blue eyes. Yesterday, the streaks had been purple. The month before they’d been red. Her sparkling earrings caught the light and softened her edginess slightly—a fact he was sure she wouldn’t appreciate. He knew this because all his life he’d soaked up the details of everything around him, categorizing the tidbits into his brain’s filing system. Most people thought this trait defined him as a nerd at best, a weirdo at worst. He’d never cared much what people thought, although if he was being honest, he wouldn’t mind his early childhood tormentors and bullies seeing his current placement on the Forbes Top 100.

But whatever Sadie thought of him, he knew she had to be drawn to him on some level because she always seemed to run into him.

Although that might’ve been wishful thinking on his part.

“Look, it seems like Lollipop’s claimed you. I’m just surprised by that since . . .”

“Since . . . ?”

“Since you don’t seem the maternal type. Or the kind of man who’d get emotionally attached.” Her words hung in the suddenly tension-filled air.

“You think I don’t have emotions or the ability to attach?” he asked.

“Maybe it takes one to know one.”

His phone had been having a seizure in his pocket as the dog huddled up against his chest, eyes revealing a haunted hollowness that said she’d been through hell. And then there was the woman standing in front of him with . . . damn . . . the same haunted hollowness.

Uncomfortable with both, he rose to his feet, hoping he wasn’t risking certain death. “I’ve got to go.” Soon as he figured out how to bring the dog to a business dinner with his attorney and not croak at the table.

Sadie held out her hands. “I’ll take her.”

Here was the thing. Caleb was more allergic to accepting help than he was to dogs and that went way back, deeply ingrained from a time he hated to revisit. The women in his life considered this a huge flaw in his system. He considered it just good sense. When he hesitated to let go, Sadie gave him a long look.

“You’ve gotta go,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her, dry her off, check for injuries, feed her, keep her warm. And anyway, if you’re ‘allergic’”—she put the word in air quotes—“you don’t need the hassle. Have you ever even had a pet?”

“No.”

“Not even a family pet?”

He shook his head, and he’d have sworn she actually felt sorry for him at that. He looked down at the dog, still staring up at him with those sweet amber eyes as if she totally trusted him, and again something pinched inside his chest.

“She’ll be fine with me for the night,” Sadie said. “You have stuff to do, like world domination or something.”

He opened his mouth to protest, which made no sense at all, but she took Lollipop, and with a look he wasn’t equipped to read, she vanished inside the day spa.

Sadie walked through the darkened spa, holding Lollipop as close as the thing would allow. “That was a close call,” she murmured softly. “You almost had to go home with a boy.”

Lollipop licked her chin.

“Aw, thank you. I bet you’re chilly. It’s a cold night already.” Sadie grabbed her discarded scarf from the employee room and wrapped it around the too-skinny dog, holding her to her chest for extra warmth. “There, how’s that?”

Lollipop blinked slow as an owl, remaining a little stiff in Sadie’s arms, and she had to laugh. “You wanted to stay with Suits, didn’t you?” She shook her head. “Trust me on this, a hot-looking package like that who’s too smart for his own good and who’s never had a single taste of failure . . .” She shook her head. “He’s pedigree. A purebred. And you and me, we’re mutts.”

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