Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(3)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(3)
Jill Shalvis

Lollipop sighed and Sadie could hear the disappointment. “Fine. You liked him better than me. I get it.” There’d definitely been something about the way his arms had so carefully and gently held the dog that had opened Sadie up to him for a moment. But only for a moment.

She startled at the sound of a knock on the front door. Peering out into the stormy night, she saw the tall, dark, and drenched Caleb Parker and reluctantly opened up. “What?”

He smiled, and this disconcerted her until she realized he was smiling at Lollipop.

Not her.

And Lollipop was bicycling her three paws like crazy, trying to ride the air over to him.

“Can I?” he asked, but then reached out and took Lollipop without waiting for a response.

The dog immediately set her head on Caleb’s shoulder and Sadie saw something she had never seen before.

Caleb Parker softening.

She was shocked. She’d never seen any sign of softness from him, ever. Amusement, yes. Cynicism, yes. Charm, yes. And on top of all of that, there was also always a sense of impenetrable . . . maleness. He was at the top of the food chain and he knew it. Since she had no idea what that was like, it put her at a disadvantage, which in turn made her feel on edge. “Maybe she’s drawn to your perfume,” she said.

“I don’t wear perfume.”

“You sure?” She sniffed. “Because you definitely smell like . . .”

A very sexy guy, dammit. No matter what she told herself, she was not indifferent to him, not even close. In fact, she was hugely attracted and didn’t know what to do with the unexpected rush of heat he always caused.

He gave her a look, silently daring her to speak her thoughts. As if she would. “Expensive,” she finally said.

He laughed. Laughed. “Don’t judge me by my clothes,” he said mildly and snuggled the dog close.

Snuggled. The dog. Close.

A phone buzzed. Hers this time. Thinking it was just her mom, she pulled the phone from her pocket to hit ignore but it wasn’t her mom. It was a text from her first tattoo client of the night. She was letting Sadie know she was nearly at the Canvas Shop. She shrugged. “Having a job’s great until you actually have to go,” she quipped, tucking her phone back into her pocket.

Caleb kissed the top of Lollipop’s bedraggled head. “You’re going to be okay.”

She licked his nose. “Ruining your breed’s badass image,” he teased. “Remember to guard the pretty lady for me, okay?”

“The pretty lady guards herself,” Sadie said.

Caleb, still looking into Lollipop’s eyes, smiled. “Yeah, she’s as badass as you are and I’ve got no doubt she can take care of herself, but have her six anyway, alright?” He ruffled Lollipop’s fur. “I’m counting on you.”

“Hand her over,” she said. “We both have to go.” When he hesitated, she leaned in. “Is that a rash on your neck?” She pretended to take a closer look, when instead she was trying to inhale that unique scent that might as well be orgasm in a damn bottle. “Yeah,” she murmured, “it is. Is your tongue getting thick? Are you breathing funny? You are, right? Gimme your keys.”

Caleb gave her an impressive eye roll and handed her Lollipop.

“Why did you come back anyway?” she asked.

He pulled money from one of his pockets and handed it over to her.

“Whoa,” she said, taking a step back. “What the actual hell?”

“For Lollipop. Food, bed, whatever.”

“I don’t need your money.”

Taking advantage of her full hands, he stuffed the money into one of her front jeans pockets. The sensation of his fingers sliding in made her go utterly still as their gazes met.

And held.

And then, with a self-mocking half smile, as if he was in on a joke that she’d missed, he turned and vanished into the night.

Several hours later, Sadie had finished with her clients and was curled up with Lollipop in the Canvas Shop with a bag of popcorn she’d nuked in the back room. Nothing said self-care more than absurd amounts of ranch-flavored popcorn with extra butter. She was happily munching through it when she got a text from a number that wasn’t recognized by her phone. It said:

Proof of life pic?

Suits. Wanting to finish her How I Met Your Mother episode on her laptop first, she ignored him. The problem was that TV shows like this often made her feel as if everyone could come clean with their real feelings, but in reality people swallowed their feelings and let them rot them from the inside out.

So she switched it up to a murder documentary. “Nothing better than cuddling with your dog and watching stories about people getting their heads cut off with a steak knife,” she told Lollipop.

Ten minutes later she got another text.

When someone doesn’t text me back within five minutes, I assume they’re dead and will send out the proper authorities.

Sadie snorted, snapped a pic of a freshly bathed and fed and sleeping Lollipop, and texted it back to him. She then entered him into her contacts as Do Not Even Think About Falling For This Guy.

Not thirty minutes later she was scrolling through Instagram when she saw a pic that Ivy had liked. It’d been posted by one Caleb Parker. It was the one he’d taken of Lollipop in the courtyard earlier with the caption: Was mugged tonight by this vicious killer and fell for her hard. Not sure what I’ve gotten myself into . . .

Sadie found herself smiling and ordered herself to stop it. Because the truth was, she wasn’t sure what she’d gotten herself into either.

Chapter 3

#TemptationWalking

Since he wasn’t dying, at least not tonight, Caleb made his dinner meeting at a restaurant in the financial district with his attorney, who also happened to be one of his four sisters. The restaurant had a view of the bay and great food, but his mind wasn’t on either.

Hannah looked at him in shock. “Why are you all wet?”

“Because it’s raining.”

“Smartass.” She handed him a stack of files and ate his nachos while he signed several new contracts for various partnership and new venture agreements.

“Could’ve done this in the office in the morning,” he said, pushing the files back to her.

“But then I couldn’t have eaten your nachos.”

“I pay you a fortune. You can buy your own nachos anytime.”

She shook her head. “My own nachos would come with calories. If I eat yours, the calories don’t count because they’re yours. You see?”

He stared at her. “Where did you get your law degree again? Online?”

“You know where. Stanford. Because you paid for it.” She scooped his last chip, stuck it in her mouth, and licked the cheese off her thumb. “Thanks for that, by the way. How’s Naoki?”

“Going to see him after this.”

“Long day,” she murmured.

“They all are. I’m fine,” he added when she started to open her mouth again.

“But—”

“Hannah.” He put his hand over hers. “We dreamed of this, remember? Of not living week to week? And here we are.”

She let the worry drain from her eyes and smiled. “And here we are.”

Thirty minutes later, Caleb hit his last stop of the day. This one was personal, and something he did as often as he could. The steep streets were no joke in the Russian Hill neighborhood, not that he could get a spot on the street if he wanted one. He pulled into the small alley spot reserved for him next to a Victorian building, took a deep breath, and headed inside.

The woman at the reception counter smiled in welcome. “Mr. Parker, he’s waiting up for you.”

“Caleb,” he said, as he did every time. “How’s he doing?”

Her smile faded a little. “Depends on the day. You got today’s doctor’s report?”

“Yes.” And it hadn’t been good. “He’s comfortable?”

“Absolutely,” she said with conviction and he nodded with relief and headed down the hall.

The old mansion had been renovated several times in the past hundred years, most recently about five years ago, and turned into a very cushy top-notch retirement home.

One of the night nurses met him in the hallway. “Just brought him his tea,” she reported. “Thanks for having it sent special from the UK, since we couldn’t find it here for him.” She patted his arm. “Don’t worry, it came in anonymously. Your secret’s safe, Mr. Parker.”

“Caleb,” he said. “And how did you know I’d sent the tea?”

“Because I’ve seen you with him. You’d do anything for him.” She paused. “Including buying this facility and renovating it to higher specs for specific needs so you could ensure the best possible home in which to keep him safe.” She smiled. “He’s lucky to have you.”

Actually, she had that backward. Caleb had been lucky to have Naoki in his life. When the nurse continued on her way down the hallway, he entered the room.

The old man was sitting in the chair in front of the window, a throw blanket across his legs. He turned and eyed Caleb with suspicion. “Who are you?”

A pang pierced through Caleb, the same pang he got every single time at that question. Why, he had no idea. Naoki hadn’t remembered him at first sight in at least two years.

Caleb stepped into the room. He’d left his still-wet suit jacket and tie in the car. He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off.

The old man’s gaze dropped to Caleb’s torso, slowly taking in the tattoos. Naoki had many himself, a lot more than Caleb, but the living trees on the backs of their left shoulders were a near-identical match. So was the Japanese character just beneath them. Naoki, whose name literally meant tree , smiled at the sight of it, which cut through the barriers of dementia and age-battered memories.

Caleb returned the smile and shrugged back into his shirt, covering his own family emblem on the inside of his left bicep and the lettering down his right side that read Carpe Diem . He took one of the chairs at the small table near the bed and brought it to the window, then turned it around to straddle it as he eyed his old sensei.

“I know you?” Naoki asked, his voice tremulous with age.

Caleb nodded. Once upon a time, Naoki had saved his life. Actually, he’d saved Caleb’s life many times over if he was keeping count. And Caleb always kept count.

“You have some of the same tattoos as I do,” Naoki said.

“Yes.”

“You’re . . .” The old man’s eyes crinkled with a smile. “You’re the boy who ran into my dojo because other boys, bigger and meaner boys, were chasing him.”

Hating the memory, Caleb nodded.

“You were beat all to shit,” Naoki remembered. “You had no idea how to defend yourself.”

Caleb nodded again. “Beat all to shit” was putting it mildly given that he’d had a broken arm, a battered face, and a concussion—that time.

“I taught you to fight,” Naoki said.

“You did. It took a while.” He’d been small. And asthmatic. And weak.

“You’re big and strong now,” Naoki said, eyeing Caleb’s build. “I bet no one messes with you anymore.” He seemed pleased by this. “What became of you? I never saw you again.”

This wasn’t true. Caleb had gone to that dojo every single day that year. And the next year. And the year after that. He’d learned discipline, he’d learned self-control, he’d learned so damn much from this very small, very frail man that it hurt his heart to be here.

But he came anyway. Because once upon a time, this man had been everything in Caleb’s small life, and now for the rest of his, he’d want for nothing. “Do you need another blanket?” Caleb asked. “Are you warm enough?”

Naoki waved this off. “Tell me about my dojo. No one here can tell me anything about my life, and—” He shook his head. “I can’t remember. The dojo’s still there, yes?”

“Yes, and it’s very successful.” Only a partial lie. Naoki had been forced to sell the dojo back when Caleb had been seventeen due to financial problems in a downturned market and shitty economy. The place had been turned into a gym and gone through many owners before Caleb had been able to buy it back almost a decade ago.

Naoki yawned. His eyes drifted shut and his head fell forward.

Caleb watched him sleep for a few minutes and then stood up to help him into bed. The minute he moved, Naoki’s eyes flew open and once again narrowed on him.

“Who are you and what do you want?” he demanded.

A nurse entered the room before Caleb could speak. Naoki pointed at him. “I told you, no male nurses!”

She smiled easily at Naoki. “I’m sorry, sir, but he’s not—”

“No worries.” Caleb moved to the door. “I’ll leave you in good hands. Sleep well.” He paused in the hallway, reminding himself he’d gotten a good five minutes this time. It was more than he’d had in months.

Not ready to go home, he ended up at his offices, which occupied a ten-story building in the financial district. All was quiet and mostly dark. He encouraged his employees to go home after eight hours. It had nothing to do with paying overtime and everything to do with making sure his entire team had a life, which was hopefully made easier by generous benefits packages, including paid leave for philanthropy efforts.

His office was on the tenth floor. He went straight to the tall windows overlooking the city and wondered where Sadie and Lollipop were now. Were they dry and fed?

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