Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(6)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(6)
Jill Shalvis

“Yes,” she said. “About four times her weight. Then she pooped twice that.”

Caleb rubbed his jaw to the top of Lollipop’s soft head, which she tucked into his neck. “You bathed her,” he said.

“To help warm her up last night. We showered together. It was quite the adventure.”

Annnnnnnddd now he was picturing her in the shower. Lollipop squirmed to be freed and he let her go.

She immediately set about chasing her tail. She bashed into a wall and then a chair, which didn’t slow her down.

“Why is she chasing her tail?” he asked.

“Because she can.”

Lollipop stopped chasing her tail and toppled over. She panted for a few beats and then . . . went back to doing wheelies, stopping every few circles to smile up at him. She was excited to see him, he realized, and while she continued to go absolutely bonkers, he felt that same odd tightening in the region of his chest as he had last night. When she toppled over again, he scooped her up.

She immediately starting swimming through the air with her three legs, trying to get to his face, so he pulled her closer. She settled right in and set her head on his shoulder, and his heart rolled over and exposed its underbelly. He actually didn’t even know what to do with all the feelings. How the hell did people do this? “I thought I’d take her to get checked out,” he said. “Make sure she’s okay, and then—”

“I’m not giving her back to whatever asshole deserted her on the streets,” Sadie said.

“Agreed. But I want to get her to a vet and go from there.”

“How are you going to get her into a vet this early?”

“I’ve got her an appointment at seven.”

She just stared at him. “I can’t have this conversation in my pj’s.”

“And you’re in your pj’s because . . . ?”

“Give me five minutes,” she said instead of answering.

He had no idea what kind of conversation required a change of clothing, but he’d grown up with four sisters. He wasn’t stupid. He just nodded and she vanished into the back. But five minutes, his ass. He’d never met a woman who could get ready to go out the door in less than an hour.

But sure enough, five minutes later, she reappeared in a soft-looking black sweater and jeans snugged to her curves with some strategic frayed holes in one thigh and the opposite knee, giving him peekaboo hints of skin. They were tucked into kickass boots that made a man think about what she’d look like in just those boots. She’d added some makeup and piled her dark hair on top of her head, her blue highlights once again emphasizing her blue eyes.

“Impressive,” he said while thinking why are you sleeping in the shop?

“You have your superhero armor,” she said, nodding to his suit, “and I’ve got mine.”

He wondered why she needed armor. He wondered a lot about her. “I was referring to the fact that you really only took five minutes to get ready for your day.”

She shrugged. “I’m different.”

She absolutely was. And he was starting to realize how much he liked it. “Are you living here?”

“No.”

“You clearly slept here last night,” he pointed out.

She shrugged. “I do that sometimes when I work really late, that’s all.”

Okay. But he knew she rented an apartment in the Tenderloin, which wasn’t very far away. But if money was the problem, she’d no doubt be worrying about the cost of a vet and probably also about having another mouth to feed.

Another pang in his chest, except this time it was for the two-legged female in the room. He wanted to offer to help in some way, in any way, but she was so damn prickly, he didn’t dare risk her pride. “How about I take her? The vet’s a friend of mine who owes me a favor.”

“What did you do, get him on the QVC or something?”

He had to laugh. “Just what exactly is it that you think I do for a living?”

“You’re one of those genius Shark Tank investors who backs cool inventions.”

He laughed. “That’s actually shockingly accurate.”

She shrugged. “Ivy told me about some of what you and Spence have done together, and that now you’re also doing something for NASA. You’re working on a trash pickup system for space.” She paused, seemed to be embarrassed that she knew so much about him, and crossed her arms. “Or whatever.”

He went brows up. First, he’d never seen Sadie anything but utterly comfortable in her own skin. And second, Ivy was a friend of his as well. She operated The Taco Truck outside the building, and her food was amazing. When she’d recently run into some trouble with the person who’d owned the truck before her, Caleb had offered a lucrative business deal. Now she was the sole proprietor and he a silent partner on a deal that had turned out to be beneficial to them both. She got to be her own boss and he got the best food on the planet whenever he was here at the Pacific Pier Building.

He’d known Ivy and Sadie were tight, that didn’t surprise him, but what did was that he’d been the topic of discussion between them. “Until yesterday, you and I have barely said two words to each other. Why would you be gossiping about me?”

“It wasn’t gossip.” But she looked away, unable to hold his gaze.

Even more fascinating.

“My point being,” she said, “that you’re probably too busy taking over the world to go to the vet.”

“I’ve made the time.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “What if you pass out from the still-to-be-seen dog allergy?”

“I’ll manage.” He scooped up Lollipop, who gave him a cheerful lick on his chin.

“I’m coming with.”

“Why?”

She shrugged. “If you stop breathing, who’s going to give you mouth-to-mouth?”

He stopped and met her gaze. “Are you saying you would?”

“I’m saying I don’t want you dead, is all.”

He’d take it.

Chapter 5

#HelloKitty

Sadie had no idea what she thought she was doing. Apparently she’d decided on love at first sight with Lollipop, and no matter that she had zero business adopting a dog, she was going to do it anyway.

But if the guy wanted to take Lollipop to the vet, she should let him. She didn’t need to go.

But she wanted to.

The reasons for that were far too complicated to contemplate so she grabbed her bag and her keys. She was hugely grateful to Rocco, the owner of the Canvas Shop, because he had a full bathroom here, including a very tiny shower. This was mostly because Rocco lived an hour south of San Francisco with some of his motorcycle club brothers and didn’t always go home after being out all night doing his thing and before coming to work.

No one was supposed to sleep here but he’d broken that rule for her a few times now and she knew he didn’t mind. He understood the problem with being a young tattoo artist. You didn’t do it for the money, you did it for the love of the art. And in her case, the need to help other women like herself, who had scars they wanted to keep hidden, whether from abuse, surgeries, accidents, self-harm . . . whatever. The reasons weren’t nearly as important as the work itself.

But it didn’t pay well, at least not yet.

Hence her second job at the day spa. She’d promised herself it was temporary and only until she built up her clientele at the Canvas Shop, but working two full-time jobs was harder than she’d thought.

And yet it was necessary. Her rent had just gone up several hundred dollars a month and her car had decided now was a good time to need a new everything. So she’d used her utility money for a mechanic, which meant taking buses until her car was finished. To pay the bill, she’d given up cable and turned off her heater, which was the real loss. TV she could do without. But no heat in the coldest February in San Francisco on record was a new low, even for her. Not to mention everyone else she knew was pairing up and buying homes and starting families, and yesterday she’d gone to sleep at eight so she wouldn’t have to buy dinner.

Sometimes life really bit a girl on the ass. Thankfully she had enough padding there to take the hit. Still, she’d slept in the Canvas Shop two nights running in order to not freeze to death, hoping no one would notice.

Rocco had tried to give her an advance on her pay. It’d been an incredibly sweet thing for him to do, which was funny because Rocco wasn’t sweet. In fact, he’d gotten seriously pissed off when she’d called him that, growling something about how he’d “put a lot of fucking time into training her and just didn’t want it to go to fucking waste when she fucking froze to death in her fucking stupid apartment.”

She checked her bag to make sure she had her wallet, which she did, but unfortunately, breakfast had not mysteriously appeared. She lifted her head to say she was ready and found Caleb sitting on the floor roughhousing with Lollipop without any apparent care for yet another undoubtedly insanely expensive suit.

One, she would never understand rich people. Two, when had she started to think of him as Caleb and not “Suits”?

And three . . . she had a correction. He wasn’t roughhousing with the dog. He was actually being very gentle and careful with her as she rolled on her back in clear ecstasy at the attention, a wide smile on her adorable face.

And what girl wouldn’t be smiling at having Caleb Parker’s hands all over her?

Her . That’s who, she reminded herself. “Let’s get this over with.” Her stomach growled, loudly, and she tried to talk over it so he didn’t notice. “I’ve got to be at the spa by eight thirty.”

Caleb glanced at his watch, scooped up the dog, and without use of his hands, still rose easily to his feet. Sadie had made a makeshift leash, a length of rope she’d found in the back. Caleb took the leash and opened the door for them, pausing to let Sadie pass through first. She wanted to say stop being nice to me, I don’t know what to do with nice! But that was far too revealing, so she held her tongue.

They made a pit stop at the pet shop at the other end of the courtyard on their way out. Willa, the store owner greeted them with a sweet smile and a warm hug for Caleb. A careful warm hug because her pregnancy bump was just starting to show.

“I can’t thank you enough,” she told him, brushing a kiss to his jaw. “You’re a miracle worker.”

“The website’s working then?” he asked.

“Working and making me a mint! Taking this shop online was brilliant. I owe you.”

“You don’t,” Caleb said firmly. “You paid for the work.”

“There’s no way I paid your guy his real price. I got a discount, a deep one.”

“You can pay me back with dog advice,” Caleb said. “We stopped by for some supplies for this cutie here.”

Before Willa could respond, a huge Doberman came galloping from the back and jumped up on Caleb.

“Oh shoot!” Willa cried. “Carl, down! Caleb’s allergic, don’t touch him!”

“It’s okay.” Caleb staggered back a step from Carl’s weight. “Apparently, I’ve outgrown the allergy.”

“Well I’m still sorry you got jumped,” Willa said. “I’m dog sitting today.”

“No worries. If I get taken down by a hundred-pound mass of happiness, then that’s how I go.”

“And slobber,” Willa said, pulling a napkin from her pocket and surreptitiously swiping it down Caleb’s trousered thigh. Then she spent a few minutes gushing over Lollipop before getting down to business, showing them what they’d need. “And think about one of these carriers,” she said, pointing to doggy backpacks. “With only three legs, she’s bound to get tired quickly, and then you can carry her home when needed.” She hugged Caleb again, sent Sadie another friendly but curious smile. “Is this . . .” she waggled a finger between Caleb and Sadie “. . . something?”

“No,” Sadie said.

“Yes,” Caleb said.

They stared at each other, Sadie with her eyes narrowed, Caleb looking amused. “We seem to have rescued a dog,” he said to Willa, eyes still locked on Sadie’s.

“But not together together,” Sadie said and sent Caleb a dirty look.

“A very important distinction,” Willa said, smiling.

Dammit. “No, really,” Sadie said. “We just rescued her last night, haven’t even talked about what’s next. We only need a few things . . .” Damn. She was saying we an awful lot . . .

Willa rubbed her baby belly and met Caleb’s gaze. “The reluctant ones are always the best, trust me.” Then she was gone, off to help another customer.

Sadie stared at Caleb.

Caleb raised his hands. “Hey, don’t look at me.”

“She was matchmaking.”

“That’s what Willa does.”

“Not for me. I’m not . . . matchable.”

“Noted,” Caleb said. “But for the record, I disagree. You’re 100 percent matchable.”

Because that made her feel both flattered and incredibly wary, and because she never knew what to do with either of those emotions, she turned to dog backpacks and pulled out a shiny neon pink one.

“No way,” he said.

With a shrug, she went for a leopard print next.

“Seriously?” he asked.

With a small smile, she picked up the one she’d had her eyes on the whole time. A black patent leather one with a large white cat face sticking its tongue out at the world. Underneath in bold print it said Hello Kitty .

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