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

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

Caleb just looked at her.

“What?”

“It says Hello Kitty .”

“It’s an ego thing, right?” Sadie asked. “You’re afraid to risk your masculinity, even if it means this poor neglected sweetheart has to walk past her comfort level—”

Caleb snatched the backpack from her hands and added it to the pile that was getting worrisomely large. She laughed and pulled out her wallet, hoping her credit card wasn’t going to be rejected, but Caleb smoothly beat her to it like some sort of Knight In Shining Credit Card Armor.

Her rescue dog now officially had more possessions than she did.

When they finally got to Caleb’s car, Sadie stopped short. It looked sleek and fast and supremely spotless. “Maybe we should Uber,” she said.

“Not necessary.”

“Look, one of us isn’t exactly potty trained.”

“She’ll be fine. Get in.”

“Alright, it’s your dime.” She sank in the front passenger seat and nearly moaned. Soft supple leather cradled her, more comfortable than her own bed.

Caleb put Lollipop in the back in the crate they’d just purchased. Correction. Caleb had just purchased. He’d purchased a hell of a lot more than just a crate too. Bowls, food, leash, halter—both in matching Hello Kitty black patent leather—doggy toothbrush, toys, bed . . .

She waited until he slid behind the wheel to voice the question that had been on the tip of her tongue since he’d dropped his black AmEx card back at Willa’s pet shop. “Why are you investing so much on this dog that isn’t yours?”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he pulled out his phone, which was vibrating. “Excuse me a minute,” he said and got out to take the call. He stepped away from the car for a few minutes, completely out of sight, but before she could figure out where he’d gone, he was back and handing her a bag that smelled suspiciously like muffins. And not any muffins either, but Tina’s muffins from the coffee shop, which means they were made by Tina, the shop’s owner. Tina made the best muffins on the planet and Sadie’s mouth began to water. “What’s this?”

“Breakfast. To tame the beast,” he said, starting his car. “The rumbling’s driving me mad.”

She pressed her hands to her belly, horrified and embarrassed because it was true, it’d been rumbling since he’d woken her up, but she’d hoped he hadn’t noticed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“My stomach.” He pulled out into the street and flashed her a wry smile. “I was at the gym before this and I’m running on empty. Hand me one?”

The muffins were bite-size, meaning they were perfect. She pulled out what looked like a blueberry one and handed it to him.

Keeping his eyes on the road, he shook his head. “I don’t like blueberry. You eat that one.”

Happily , she thought and popped it into her mouth, letting out a low moan of pleasure before she could stop herself. She reached into the bag and pulled out a poppy seed muffin next and held it out, ignoring the fact that his eyes had something new in them now.

Heat.

“I don’t like poppy seed either,” he said softly and watched her as she shrugged and popped that one in her mouth as well. When she tried to hand him a lemon muffin and he again shook his head, she finally caught on.

He was feeding her.

On purpose.

Dammit.

Before Sadie could blast him for that high-handed manipulation, Lollipop began to whine. Sadie craned her neck to see the dog, who was ears and tail down, looking sad. “Think she’s jealous of the muffins?”

“No. She’s scared.” Caleb pulled over and turned to face the back, reaching in to unhinge the crate. Lollipop immediately leapt at him. Once in his lap, she set her front paws on his chest and licked his face from chin to forehead in thanks.

He stroked her, and a bunch of fur rose off the dog’s body to float around in the air, inevitably landing on the spotless leather upholstery. With an easy laugh, Caleb plopped her into Sadie’s lap. “For the way home, we’ll figure out how to use the harness seatbelt we bought, but for now do your best to hold on to her good.”

“Not we. You bought everything.” But Sadie wrapped her arms around Lollipop and tried to cuddle her in, but the dog’s eyes were on Caleb, as if maybe the sun rose and set on his broad shoulders.

Reaching over, he patted her on the head—the dog, not Sadie—and started driving again.

Lollipop immediately began whining and trying to get back into Caleb’s lap.

Without taking his eyes off the road, he reached out to pet her. This helped until he stopped touching her. Soon as he did, Lollipop held up a paw in his direction like, keep petting me!

Caleb took her paw in his big hand and kept driving.

While holding the dog’s paw.

Lollipop relaxed, even smiled as she turned in Sadie’s lap to face the windshield, now appearing to enjoy the ride.

“Are you serious?” Sadie asked.

“I think she is.”

“I meant you,” Sadie said.

“Hey, she stopped crying, didn’t she? Do me a favor and shift into third gear when I ease into the clutch so I don’t have to let go of her hand.”

Huh. Over the past year or so since Caleb Parker had first come into her orbit, she’d amused herself by coming up with all sorts of stories about him; like he probably only dated supermodels, maybe even two at a time, and she bet he didn’t leave tips when he ate out, things like that.

But the stories were starting to crumble beneath the weight of the truth.

He was actually kind of a really good guy, one who fed people he thought needed feeding and risked an allergic reaction to rescue a scared, lonely, abandoned dog. She glanced over at him. He was still holding Lollipop’s paw.

“What?” he asked, catching her staring. “Want me to hold your hand next?”

“Funny, but I’m not whining, so . . .” she quipped with a teasing tone that was in complete contrast to the way her heart kicked hard at the thought of a physical connection to him.

What the hell was happening to her?

“You nervous about something?” he asked.

“No. Why would I be nervous?” And how was he reading her at all? She had a world-class poker face that she’d worked her entire life to perfect.

“I don’t know, but I smell something burning.” He pulled into the underground parking for the vet center. “What’s got you thinking so hard?”

“Maybe I’m just a quiet person.”

He laughed softly and she had to smile. “Okay,” she admitted. “So I’m not quiet. I’m opinionated and stubborn and I like to think I know what I’m doing at all times.”

“All excellent qualities.”

Not where she’d come from. Her parents had tried all her life to squelch those very tendencies, to no avail. She’d never met anyone who could handle her at her best, much less her worst, so his comment really threw her. “Look, we’re barely acquaintances, much less friends. You don’t have to say things that aren’t true just to be nice.”

His smile faded at whatever he saw in her expression. “I never say things that aren’t true,” he said.

Sensing a serious moment, Lollipop squeezed her face in between theirs and barked.

Caleb smiled. “You want attention too, I take it. But your mama first.” He hadn’t taken his eyes from Sadie. “We good?”

Was he kidding? Her head was spinning, but she nodded. It was her automatic response, one that she gave without even thinking because she’d never admit to not being good.

He called her out on her lie. “Now who’s saying things that aren’t true?” he chided.

“How do you do that?” she demanded, baffled. “Read me like that?” No one else had ever been able to, she’d seen to it.

Lollipop barked again and jumped from her lap to Caleb’s and he opened his door and got out.

She followed. The vet center looked very expensive and she went back to worrying about that. But not as worried as Lollipop, who up till now had been trotting happily along on her new black patent leather Hello Kitty leash alongside of Caleb. He should have looked ridiculous. Instead, he looked incredibly sure of himself and damn. That was sexy.

At the door, Lollipop stopped short and froze, and then flattened herself to the ground, refusing to go another step.

“Someone just realized she got played and is at the vet,” Caleb said and picked her up.

Lollipop licked his chin and together they entered.

The vet who owed Caleb a favor turned out to be a tall curvy brunette with a sweet, welcoming smile for Caleb that had Sadie rolling her eyes. But Dr. Vicki Consuela gave Sadie the same sweet, welcoming smile and was so kind and good with Lollipop, Sadie got over herself and the fact that clearly these two had been lovers at some point—or maybe even still were.

Okay, so she didn’t get over herself, not even close. But she could keep that close to the vest. In fact, she could hold a grudge until the end of time if she wanted, and she’d come by that ability naturally from her mother, but even she wasn’t bitchy enough to do so against a woman who was genuinely a pretty great person.

Turned out, Lollipop had been born with only three legs, so she didn’t know anything else and she had no idea that she was disabled. She was a bit undernourished, but otherwise healthy. She didn’t have a microchip. Dr. Consuela got her up to date on her vaccinations, administered a deworming treatment among a few other things, each making Sadie more panicked than the last because . . . The Cost.

But watching Caleb with Lollipop, clearly enjoying his first real connection with a dog, was oddly . . . intense, and not in a negative way, much as she’d like it to be so.

“You really should microchip,” Dr. Consuela said and looked between Caleb and Sadie. “Who’s adopting her?”

“Me,” Sadie said at the very same time that Caleb said, “I am.”

Chapter 6

#BlindFaith

Shocked to the core, Sadie stared at Caleb. “What? No. You can’t adopt. You’re allergic. Look, I appreciate the ride here, very much. And I’ll pay you back for everything, I promise, but—”

“You could co-parent,” Dr. Consuela suggested.

“But we’re not together,” Sadie said for the second time that morning.

Dr. Consuela shrugged. “That doesn’t matter. Co-petting’s a new craze, actually, making it easier for people who work and have very full lives to have a pet. Sharing alleviates half of the day-to-day responsibility.”

Sadie turned to see Caleb’s reaction to this ridiculousness, positive she’d see a smile curving his mouth at the thought of them sharing the dog.

No smile. Just a thoughtful, inward expression. He was actually considering this.

“Are you off your rocker?” she asked.

“No more than you, I imagine. Do you want to keep her?”

“Yes.”

“Me too,” he said. Quiet steel. “I don’t know what I’m doing obviously, but I’m drawn to her, very much. So . . . we doing this?”

She blew out a shaky breath. “You don’t have time in your life for a dog.”

“That’s my call. Yes or no, Sadie?”

She already loved Lollipop with all her black heart and couldn’t imagine being without her. But if she said yes, she was tying herself to Caleb as well as the dog. Say no . “Yes.” Dammit .

Dr. Consuela smiled. “It’s official then. Welcome to parenthood. You can check out at the front desk.”

Sadie looked at Caleb, whose gaze was warm and did something funny to her belly. Oh boy . . .

Two minutes later they were at the front desk. They’d been offered a custom tag for Lollipop’s collar and had come up against their first joint decision—whose address to use on the tag.

“I’d like it to be mine,” she said, her need for control coming over her.

Caleb shook his head and her warm fuzzies vanished.

“Why?” she asked. “I had her first.”

He didn’t dispute that, even though she knew he certainly could’ve made the argument that he’d had her first. He just looked at her with those fathomless caramel eyes.

“What?” she asked a little temperamentally. She couldn’t help it. When he looked at her like that, like he could see all of her, the good, the bad, and the ugly, she had the urge to bury her head in the sand because again, no one had ever seen all of her. “Give me one good reason why it shouldn’t be my address on the tag.”

“Okay,” he said quietly, apparently refusing to engage her temper with his. “You don’t appear to actually be living at your place.”

She held up a hand as a surge of something ugly went through her. Pride, she knew, and ego. Both were a bitch. “Where I live and why is none of your business.”

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree there,” he said. “But for now, my point is that if Lollipop goes missing, it needs to be an address where one of us is actually living.” He reached out and covered her hand with his. “We also need a phone number listed and that can be yours. It should be yours, because as you said, she was yours first and I know how much you care about her and would want to hear right away if someone found her.”

Her anger abruptly drained for something else entirely and left her feeling off-balance and exposed and uncomfortable. She didn’t understand it, but when she was with him, she felt like she was in a lightning storm over open water. Aka, possibly in mortal danger.

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