Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(4)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(4)
Jill Shalvis

And why did he care?

He was rubbing his aching forehead when he heard someone come into his office.

“You look exhausted.”

He turned to face his oldest sister, Sienne, who was his right hand when it came to work.

And his left. “I’m fine,” he said, wondering how many times a day he told that to one sister or another. “And busy,” he said pointedly.

She snorted and came in. “You’d say you were fine even if you had a limb falling off. When you were little and bullied all the way home from school, you’d stagger into the house bleeding at seven years old and say you were ‘fine.’ When you were so sick you couldn’t get enough air in your lungs, leaving you with black circles under your eyes and perpetually short of breath, you were ‘fine.’ And now, these days, with your world worth so much and a billion balls in the air at all times, you’re still ‘fine.’”

“And I’m neither bleeding nor wheezing for breath,” he said.

“I’ll call Mom if I have to.”

He dropped his head and laughed while rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m thirty-two and you’re forty, and you’re really going to call Mom and tattle on me?”

“Hey,” Sienne said, “I’m thirty-nine for two more months and you know it, so say forty again and die. And yeah, I’d call Mom. She’s the only one who could ever talk any sense into you.”

“Mom’s on that cruise in Greece, the first vacation we’ve talked her into ever. Leave her out of this.”

“You talked her into it by buying her the ticket and guilting her into going by saying you didn’t want the money to go to waste.” Sienne gave him a reluctant smile. “Which was incredibly deceptive of you. I feel so proud. It was also sweet, given that you spend a fortune supporting all of us these days.”

“You earn your keep,” Caleb said. “But even if you weren’t, it’s my turn, remember? I was a hell of a burden on you guys.” For years. And he could say they’d all moved on without being scarred, but he’d be lying. He knew this was where his inability to accept help or let anyone take care of him in any way came from. He took care of himself these days, thank you very much. “I’ll never forget all you did for me.”

She set her head on his shoulder and together they both stared out the large window at the San Francisco night. “You were never a burden, Caleb.”

He shook his head. “The doctor and hospital bills said otherwise, as did Mom’s bankruptcy.”

“You were a preemie with medical problems, and then an asthmatic little kid who wheezed for every breath and was beat up for it, and when I think about those days,” she said, fisting her hands, “I still want to murder people.”

“Sienne.”

“Well, I do,” she said fiercely, her hand entangling with his. “I know you work so hard because you want to give back to us. You think we sacrificed so much for you—”

“You did.”

“What we Parkers do for each other, we do out of love,” she said, voice still iron. “And don’t you dare taint it by suggesting you owe us.”

“Sienne—”

“No. And one more thing before I shut up. None of what happened when you were young, not you being sick and not us barely being able to afford your medical care, none of it was your fault.”

He squeezed her fingers and met her gaze. “It wasn’t any of yours either, and yet you all put your life on hold for me.” They’d done whatever they’d had to, including working as many jobs as it took to keep them all together.

Sienne opened her mouth, but he pointed at her. “You promised to shut up now.”

“I lied.”

“Knew it was too good to be true.”

She smiled. “I’ll change the subject to work, how’s that? Two things. You’re updated with today’s progress and tomorrow’s meetings.” She nodded to the iPad on his desk. “Check your files for all the reports.”

She was his director of operations. Not an easy job, and neither was working for him. But compared to some of the things they’d been through together, the job and his business were a walk in the park. “Thanks.”

“Just trying to earn my ridiculously high paycheck,” she said. “Don’t want to be a burden, or have you sacrificing resources for your sister.”

He slid her a glance. “Sarcasm?”

“No. Irony. I don’t want to ever hear again that you feel guilty thinking we sacrificed for you. Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

She studied him a beat. “I think you actually believe that.” She shook her head. “But I see a restlessness in you lately. You’re not happy.”

He turned back to the window, uncomfortable that she could read him so well. “I’m not un happy.”

Her voice softened. “You’re working too hard. You logged something like eighty hours last week. You need to pass some of that work down to the rest of us. Take some time for yourself.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“You always say that,” she said. “You need to stop thinking and do.”

“You need a life too.”

“I’ve got one,” she said with a secret little smile that told him things were going well with her husband, Niles. “It’s your turn.”

He thought of Sadie in the courtyard tonight, hair and clothes plastered to her with rain, her eyes holding all her secrets. She was as independent as they came, fiercely so, and didn’t need anyone. That was damn attractive to a man like himself. And then, as if he’d conjured her up, his phone buzzed with an incoming FaceTime call from her, making his heart leap. “I’ve got to take this.”

Sienne nodded and headed for the door. Turning his back on her, he answered and found Lollipop staring at him through the screen. She was dry and her eyes were bright, tongue lolling. She seemed much happier than she had earlier.

“She wanted to say goodnight,” came Sadie’s amused voice. “I told her that you were likely out on the town with a date, living the high life to match your suit, but she still wanted a goodnight kiss from Daddy.”

Caleb smiled. “Are you using our child to ask if I’m seeing someone?”

Sadie’s face appeared behind the dog’s. She too was dry, though she didn’t seem nearly as happy to see him as Lollipop. “I’m most definitely not asking,” she said.

He smiled.

“I’m not!” she exclaimed. “I don’t care if you’re seeing someone.”

His smile widened.

She pointed at him. “Knock it off. It’s absolutely none of my business who you’re with.”

“Because you don’t like me, right?”

“Oh good, you know. That makes it way less awkward.”

He laughed, but at the sound behind him, he had to shake his head. He should’ve known nosy-as-hell Sienne wouldn’t actually leave.

“Um, don’t look now,” Sadie said, eyes on something over his shoulder. “But there’s a woman behind you wearing an expression that says maybe you are on a date.”

“Ignore her,” he said.

“Don’t be rude.” Sienne pushed her way in closer to look at Sadie. “I’m Sienne Parker, Caleb’s sister. And you are . . . ?”

“Now who’s being rude?” Caleb murmured. “Sadie, my sister Sienne. Sienne, this is Sadie, who works in the Pacific Pier Building.”

“So this is about . . . work?” Sienne asked.

“No,” Caleb said and didn’t further explain, hoping to cut off his sister’s curiosity at the knees. “And you were just leaving, remember?”

“Yes, but I forgot to give you this.” Sienne handed him a food container and a fork. “My famous homemade baked mac and cheese.”

He slid her a look. “You know I’m not ten anymore, right?”

“Physically, no. Mentally?” She smiled. “There are whole days . . .”

He snorted and took the container and the gesture for what it was. The mac and cheese was his comfort food, always had been. There’d been times when they’d lived off boxed mac and cheese because it’d been cheap. When things had gotten better, Sienne had learned to make it from scratch, though these days she usually had to be bribed to do so.

Sienne gave him a long look he couldn’t quite decipher and left.

“Arf!”

Lollipop was back on the screen, demanding attention. Caleb certainly had enough women in his life demanding attention, but he felt a pinch in the region of his heart and smiled at her. “Hey, baby, how you doing?”

Sadie poked her head around Lollipop’s. “We’d be doing better if someone had made us mac and cheese.”

“I deliver,” he said without thinking and . . . the call disconnected and his screen went dark.

Sadie grimaced and shoved her phone into her pocket. “He was going through a tunnel,” she told Lollipop. “Bad connection.”

Her phone buzzed.

Crap.

She pulled the phone back out of her pocket and looked at the screen. Do Not Even Think About Falling For This Guy was FaceTiming.

She bit her lower lip. “Dammit,” she said and answered. “I’ve got bad reception.”

“Clearly,” Caleb said dryly.

He was still in his office, a big-ass fancy one at that, with floor-to-ceiling windows behind him and an incredible view of the city at night. And he was kicked back in his chair, coat and tie gone, sleeves rolled up, eating the mac and cheese, and making her mouth water.

“Wow,” she said, going for sarcasm rather than reveal how it’d felt to get a glimpse into his and his sister’s relationship, which seemed far more real and open and honest than she’d ever had with any of her family. “Spoiled much? I mean you can get a box of mac and cheese for what, a buck?”

But her teasing quip had the very opposite effect than she’d imagined. Caleb’s face closed up to her, including his warm eyes and contagious smile. All gone in a blink.

“You don’t know enough about me to go there,” he said lightly.

“Go where exactly?” she asked. “I was just teasing.”

“You were judging. Again.”

Since that might very well be true, she shut her mouth and put Lollipop back in front of her. “Just say goodnight.”

“Because, let me guess, you have to go.”

Okay, so he was onto her. Still, she held his gaze and stood her ground because holding her ground, small as it might be, was what she did. “I do have to go, I’ve got an early morning. And . . .” She blew out a sigh. “I’m sorry. For hanging up on you.”

“But not for the judging?”

Dammit. “Maybe a little for the judging. But I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I’m probably not done judging you. I mean I’ll try to work on it, but it’ll be a process.”

His mouth quirked. “Fair enough.”

“And you’re sorry too, right?”

“For . . . ?”

“For assuming the worst of me when I was just kidding around.”

He stared at her for a beat. “I do tend to assume the worst and then go to a dark place to mull that worst over.” He paused and some amusement came back into his eyes. “I’ll try to work on it.”

She gave him a small smile of her own. “It’s okay. I’ve been to some pretty dark places myself.” An understatement. A huge understatement. And why she’d even told him such a thing about herself, she had no idea. It made her itchy because really, what the hell was she doing? Flirting with him? It sure felt a whole lot like exactly that and this made her even itchier.

Flirting led to intimacy, even love. But she’d never been loved for who she really was and she was pretty sure she never would be. So she wasn’t about to go looking for it, and in fact she probably wouldn’t even recognize it if it hit her in the face. It was why she’d given up on men three years ago. And in those three years, she’d not found herself interested, not once. She’d promised herself she’d take a long break from hurting people and getting hurt. She’d needed to figure out her own shit.

And yet here she was, tempted by a hot smile. “I’ve really gotta go.” And this time when she disconnected, she also turned off her phone to avoid any further temptation.

A temptation she hadn’t seen coming.

Chapter 4

#SharkTank

When Caleb finally dropped into bed at midnight, he was reeling in a lot of ways, not the least of which was why couldn’t he take his mind off a certain pair of deep, haunting eyes?

Not the dog’s, though her eyes had been pretty great.

But Sadie . . . Sadie and that wary, hooded, steely blue gaze that said don’t get too close .

It made him want to do just that.

It was confusing. They’d had interactions in the past, none of which had been anything like tonight. She was both what he’d expected and also . . . not at all what he’d expected. He’d seen a side of her that he’d never seen before, that fierce protectiveness over Lollipop, as well as her own vulnerability—which she’d done her best to cover up with a toughness and a sarcasm that he knew and expected.

The night had been one surprise after another. He’d forgotten to ask Sienne or Hannah why he hadn’t been allergic to the dog. He supposed it was possible he’d simply outgrown the allergy. The bigger question was . . . what was he going to do about this strange and bewildering and undeniable attraction he had for one Sadie Lane?

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