Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(5)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(5)
Jill Shalvis

It was four a.m. when he gave up on the pretense of sleep. He checked his phone because yes, his world started early, but he was really just hoping for another pic from Sadie.

Nothing.

He wasn’t big on social media. He didn’t use Facebook or Twitter, but he had an Instagram account so he could keep up with his family and friends, and occasionally post, as he had last night. He searched for Sadie and found her account.

It was filled with her own sketches and pictures of the tattoos she created.

Her work stunned him. She was an incredible artist.

But there was nothing about her personally, and nothing more on Lollipop. He then got distracted by a text from his cousin Kel. They were the same age and had gone to school together through fifth grade. When Kel’s mom had been tragically killed, Kel and his sisters had been shipped off to relatives in Sunshine, Idaho. Kel was now a small-town sheriff and rancher who worked even more than Caleb did, if that was possible. They tended to keep in touch via short, usually obnoxiously rude texts.

Kel: I suppose you already banked seven figures on the day that’s barely begun.

Caleb: And I suppose you’ve already chased a few cows away from the single intersection in Sunshine.

Kel: Going for donuts next. My work’s never done . . .

Caleb: You’re going to go soft. Hope your women don’t mind.

Kel: I’ll show you soft next time we step into the ring.

Caleb was grinning when he switched to work, making his way through a long list of e-mails that had come in overnight. He employed entrepreneurs, investment bankers, financial advisers, research analysts, investors, business process developers, and more all over the world. After skimming through, checking in on various projects, he scanned through the day’s headlines for articles, interested mostly in his portfolio companies, competitors, and the industry in general.

Since he was by now wide-awake, he checked in on Naoki’s status and then hit the gym for a quick workout. He’d renovated the place, but hadn’t returned it to the dojo it’d once been because it wouldn’t be the same without Naoki’s presence. He had a few different sparring partners. Today it was Spence. They’d met a decade ago in the government think tank they’d both been recruited to right from college, and had gone on to be occasional business partners.

But today they were partners of a different sort. They each had thirty minutes, and they used every one of them in the ring pummeling the shit out of each other. They were both trained in martial arts and fairly evenly matched, but today Spence was taking a beating. When he hit the floor for the third time in a row, Caleb stood over him, hands on hips. “What’s wrong with you?”

Spence grimaced and remained flat on his back. “I don’t know.”

“I bet I do.” Caleb stepped back. “You and Colbie ran off and got hitched in the Bahamas and stayed there for two weeks. You’ve got honeymoon-itis. Translation, you’ve had your brains—and brawn—fucked out.”

Spence grinned up at him unabashedly. “Good deduction, Sherlock.”

Caleb shook his head and turned away. “You’re no good here. A twelve-year-old could take you today—”

That was the last word he uttered before Spence hooked a foot around his ankle and tugged. In the next breath, Caleb was eating the mat.

“You were saying?” Spence asked mildly, still flat on his back.

“Shit.” Caleb stared up at the ceiling and had to laugh. “We’ve both lost our minds.”

“Well we know where mine went. What’s your excuse and does it have anything to do with that cutie-pie tattoo artist?”

Ignoring the question, Caleb rose to his feet.

“It does,” Spence said smugly as he stood too. “Colbie said that Molly said that Elle said she saw you in the courtyard with Sadie last night in the rain looking pretty cozy.” He made a move to once again knock Caleb’s feet out from under him, but Caleb struck first and leveled Spence flat.

“Touchy.” Spence gasped and sucked air back into his lungs. “And also, I am right. I love being right.” He sat up, holding his hands out in front of him, signaling a peace treaty. “Look, it’s been a while since you’ve had a woman in your life, right? And I’m not talking about that hot start-up CEO in New York you hooked up with last month or the sexy pilot you boinked for like a week the month before that. I’m talking about someone you attempted to keep around and be with—out of bed as well as in it. And trust me, I know. It’s not easy.”

Caleb knew that Spence was referring to the troubles he’d had before he’d met Colbie. Women had come after him for either his connections or money. Caleb too had some of that in his past, but he had a secret weapon called The Coven—aka, his sisters. Ever since a woman had stalked him years ago after a blind date, they’d taken to vetting anyone new in his life to within an inch of theirs. They’d become professional stalkers, weeding out the bad seeds with an eager ruthlessness that would’ve scared Caleb if they hadn’t been on his side.

“But it’s no reason to just give up on any kind of a real relationship,” Spence said.

“Marriage isn’t for all of us.”

“I get it,” Spence said. “You’re opposed to daily sex and someone fawning over you day and night.”

Caleb gave him a get real look. “Colbie ‘fawns’ over you day and night, huh?” He pulled out his phone. “Let’s just ask her . . .”

Spence winced and pushed Caleb’s phone down. “Christ, don’t call her. Okay, so maybe she doesn’t fawn. Maybe sometimes she wants to kill me. Whatever. It’s still a lot of sex, man.”

And sex was good. Actually, sex was great. For a while after Caleb had first found success, women had suddenly wanted a piece of him. And after being the asthmatic geeky loser all his life, he’d definitely made the most of it. But eventually he’d realized it wasn’t about him, but about what he could do for someone, and that had gotten old.

It wasn’t as if he yearned for someone to take care of him. That was the last thing he wanted. So he’d taken a step back and now he didn’t even really see the opportunities anymore. He just sort of flirted and charmed his way through life, and he was good with that.

A trainer had come through and tossed them each a towel. “I wouldn’t mind having a lot of sex,” he said wistfully. “There’s this woman who comes in for weight training and she acts like she’s into me, but I never know how to start a conversation with her without looking like the annoying dude trying to hit on her while she works out.”

“You could always drop a weight on your foot and ask her to take you to the hospital,” Spence said.

“Or,” Caleb said, “you could let me drop a weight on your head, seeing as you must have forgotten that I expect you to never hit on a woman in this gym where you work, ever .”

The guy winced and nodded like a bobblehead. “Right. Got it. Okay, I’m just gonna . . .” He gestured vaguely to another area of the gym and scampered off.

Spence slid him a look. “Not a bad idea, you know. Sadie’s come here before, right? You could drop a weight on your foot and—”

“Shut up.”

“Or on your head,” Spence said.

“Okay, we’re done here.” Caleb exited the ring.

“Hey, I’m just trying to be helpful—”

“You’re the opposite of helpful, Spence.”

“You could just wish on the fountain in my building.”

Spence owned the Pacific Pier Building, and hell no would Caleb be wishing on it. Setting aside that the fountain was only one hundred feet from where Sadie worked, there was also the myth associated with that fountain that said if you wished for true love with a true heart, it’d be granted. It’d happened to enough people he knew to be worrisome, including Spence and Colbie.

So yeah, he’d be staying far away from that fountain.

He took a quick shower in the locker room, dressed for his work day, and then headed to the Pacific Pier Building, making a quick stop and a phone call. Walking through the cobblestone courtyard, he stared at the fountain. It wasn’t that he had anything against the idea of love. Exactly. But love tended to come with things like responsibility and an openness he didn’t have time for right now.

He knew what he was worth monetarily. He had accountants for that and reports. What he didn’t know and couldn’t tangibly measure or print a spreadsheet for was what he was worth emotionally . By his own calculations, not much.

Not that it mattered, since he wasn’t going there. As for where he was going with this inexplicable attraction with Sadie , he had no clue. So much for being a so-called genius.

The day spa wasn’t open yet, and neither was the Canvas Shop. But he could see a glow of low light coming through the slats in the drawn shades.

Someone was in there. It wouldn’t be the shop’s owner. It was only six thirty a.m. and Rocco had never met a morning he liked. Caleb stepped closer to the window and cupped his hands around his eyes for a better look.

The interior of the tattoo shop was unique, which lent to its success. The place was done up in soft warm soothing colors, the walls filled with the artwork of the artists who worked there. There was a half wall separating out a waiting/reception area with comfy love seats and a coffee table with tattoo art books and magazines. A glass-front refrigerator was against one wall, filled with water, juices, sodas, and snacks, available to all. Beyond the half wall was the work area. There were six lux chair beds, three on one side of the room, three on the other. The overhead lighting was a combination of hanging open lanterns and strings of white lights that gave off both a warm glow and enough light to work efficiently.

He could just barely see the lower half of the worktable in Sadie’s corner. And a leg and a bare foot with midnight blue toenails and a tiny delicate silver ring around one of those toes.

Sadie.

Caleb hesitated before knocking, not wanting to startle her. But he was on borrowed time, so in the end, he knocked as lightly as he could.

The foot jerked.

Barking sounded.

Then the foot hit the floor, attached to the rest of the body that came with it.

Sadie, wearing loose-fitting black pj bottoms with skulls all over them, a heart-stopping pale gray camisole top, and a deranged expression on her face that said she’d been sleeping and sleeping deeply and was slightly confused.

The dog at her feet wasn’t. Lollipop caught sight of Caleb and came running toward the window at a surprising speed given she was working with only three legs. She scratched at the door to get to him, wide-awake and clearly trying to bark the situation under control.

Sadie continued to just stare at him as if in a stupor, making no move toward the door.

Clearly she was sleeping in the shop for whatever reason, and he wished he knew why. If he came right out and asked, he knew she’d shut down so he did his best to look nonthreatening. He held up the two coffee to-go cups he’d picked up from the courtyard coffee place. He sipped one, licked his lips, and smiled enticingly.

Apparently caffeine was the way to her heart, because that’s what got her moving to the door. Turning back for a moment, as if to look and see if he’d been able to watch her sleeping, he caught sight of a small, almost dainty infinity sign tattooed on the back of her shoulder. Then she was holding his gaze again as she unlocked and opened the door.

“What the actual hell,” she said, voice thick and raspy.

And sexy. He could see more of her than he ever had before, including the pretty script tattooed around her ankle. Thanks to his prescription sunglasses he was able to read, The things that make me different . . . That was all he caught before the words wrapped around her ankle out of sight, but he knew the quote from Winnie the Pooh.

The things that make me different are the things that make me . . .

Caleb set down the coffees on the magazine table and hunkered low to greet Lollipop. She was maybe thirty pounds of pure happiness given how she wriggled all over, trying to get closer to him.

“It’s the middle of the night,” Sadie said.

Caleb opened his mouth to speak, and was French-kissed by Lollipop. “Thanks,” he said and then spoke to Sadie. “It’s six thirty.”

“Like I said, middle of the night. Why are you here?”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“So you thought you’d make sure I couldn’t either?”

He handed her one of the two hot coffees and found himself amused when she snatched at it like it was the elixir of life. After a few deep pulls of the magic potion, she drew a deep breath and let it out.

“So,” he said. “Not a morning person, huh?”

“I would be if mornings started at noon.” She drank deeply again and the rest of the fog faded from her eyes, replaced by surprise. “You added the exact right amount of vanilla cream.”

He nodded.

She was watching him carefully. “Feels like a bribe.”

He raised a brow. “Why would I need to bribe you?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

Still balanced on the balls of his feet with the dog plastered up against the front of him, he shrugged. “I wanted to see you.”

“You mean you wanted to see Lollipop?”

He lifted his gaze and met hers. “Her too. And I’m not sold on that name.”

“She’s a stray. What would a guy like you care about her name?”

He paused, stroking Lollipop, learning how she liked to be touched—which was basically in every way possible. “A name’s important. Has she eaten?”

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