Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(8)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(8)
Jill Shalvis

“Aw,” the vet tech behind the front counter said with a smile. “This is one lucky dog. You guys are so great together.”

Sadie opened her mouth to say for the third time that day that they weren’t together, but Caleb beat her to it.

“We’re not together,” he said easily as he handed over his fancy credit card.

She stared at him and he ignored her staring at him.

Five minutes later they were back in Caleb’s car. He’d quickly settled the bill and neither of them spoke another word as he belted Lolliop into her Hello Kitty dog harness seatbelt.

“You guys are so great together . . .”

Sadie knew why that had freaked her out more than a little bit, but she had no idea why Caleb had suddenly backed off. All she knew was that the more she thought about it, the more it chapped her ass. She was a damn catch!

Well, she would be a damn catch once she got her life together. Not that she wanted to be a catch . . .

Good Lord. She was so messed up in the head.

Caleb, who hadn’t yet started the car, was watching her think too hard, one hand at the back of her headrest, the other on the steering wheel. “Okay, spill it,” he said. “First you were annoyed when I suggested we were a team for Lollipop, and now you’re annoyed when I don’t say it. Help me out here. What’s going on?”

What was going on was that in the close, intimate interior of the car, the scent of him came to her. Sexy smelling soap, something citrusy and outdoorsy, and the man himself, which—dammit—was even better than the muffins he’d fed her for breakfast.

“Talk to me, Sadie.”

“Arf!” Lollipop said.

Caleb smiled and his gaze flicked to the rearview mirror. “Not you.” He turned back to Sadie. “You . You talk to me.”

“Aren’t you late for your morning world domination or something?”

His fingers left the headrest and wrapped around a stray strand of her hair. “World domination’s on hold at the moment. Right now I’m doing this.”

“This?”

“Yes, this. With you. Whatever the hell it is. I don’t understand why you so carefully weigh everything you say to me. Don’t hold back, Sadie. It’s not like you. Just say your piece.”

“Alright,” she said. “I don’t understand why you’d want to share a dog with me.”

“Because I’m willing to take what I can get.”

“Of Lollipop?” she asked.

He didn’t answer that, just held her gaze and her heart flip-flopped. He was willing to take whatever he could get of her? She had no idea what that even meant, or how to feel about it. “So why then were you so quick to tell the vet tech we weren’t together?” she asked.

He raised a brow. “Should I have said otherwise?”

“Of course not,” she said, though he sure as hell could’ve hesitated at least a little bit. “But just so you know, I’m a catch.”

His mouth quirked, but his eyes stayed serious. “I have no doubt, Tough Girl.”

Was that sarcasm? “Not that you’ll ever find out. I don’t date guys like you.”

“You mean nice?”

“I mean gazillionaires.” Though she hadn’t made nice all that much of a priority either. Another reason she’d given up men. She had no nice meter, at all.

He let his smile through. “But you’re thinking about it now. About us.”

“Am not.” Look at her with all the lies today. He was very close. And very big and sexy. He hadn’t shaved for at least several mornings and the stubble on his lean jaw was scarily enticing. Also, that crackalicious scent of him should be illegal. And why her mind had gone down this path with him, she had no idea. “This is all your fault.”

He laughed, the soft one that always scraped all her good parts. “Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night,” he said, and with one last playful tug on her hair, he started the car and pulled out into the street.

Lollipop immediately lost her shit, whining with escalating volume until she was sobbing.

“I can’t,” Sadie said, her heart cracked open. She reached back and clicked open the dog’s seatbelt, and in a single blink, Lollipop was in her lap, holding out her paw for Caleb.

He took it in his hand and shook his head. “Apparently I’m highly trainable.”

No way was that actually true. She turned away from the adorable sight and stared out the window. When they pulled up to the Pacific Pier Building, she reached for Lollipop’s leash, but Caleb put a hand on her arm. “How were you planning on dividing up the days for Lollipop’s custody?”

She bit her lower lip. Much as she didn’t want to admit it, especially to him, she was grateful to have someone to share the responsibility with. “We could switch off days,” she suggested, wanting to be fair. “I could keep her for twenty-four hours and then you do the same. Does that work?”

“Sure,” he said. “I can take the first shift. You’ve got a full schedule today, right?”

“Yes, but I’m sure you do too.”

“We’ll be okay,” he said easily.

“You’ve never had a dog before,” she reminded him. “Trust me, it’s harder than it looks.”

He shrugged, clearly not worried.

Fine. She let go of the leash. “Send proof of life pics.”

“Sure.”

“No, don’t just placate the silly dog lady,” she said. “Promise me.”

He met her gaze, his own solemn now. “Something you should know about me. When I give my word, I give my word. I don’t go back on it.”

There was something in the air now. Tension. A sexual tension, but also . . . more. “Never?” she breathed.

“Never.”

It’d always been important to her that she hold her own and go toe-to-toe with . . . well, everyone. But especially Caleb, a guy used to running his world and getting his way. Still, she looked away first because she didn’t believe him. Couldn’t. No one kept their word all the time.

With a gentle hand on her jaw, he brought her face back around. “You don’t believe me,” he said. “But you will. You can trust me, Sadie. I’ll have Lollipop back to you tomorrow morning.”

And then he was gone.

She put a hand to her jaw where he’d touched her and stood there like an idiot for a long beat. What had just happened? Nothing, she decided. Nothing at all, and with fifteen minutes to spare, she headed for the southeast corner of the building where The Taco Truck was parked.

Ivy was in her truck. A five-foot-two-inch dynamo of a cook with a personality much bigger than her petite frame, she was sassy, funny, smart, and a taker of absolutely no bullshit. Sadie knew she could count on Ivy’s opinion straight up.

“What’ll float your boat this morning?” Ivy asked.

Sadie eyed the chalkboard menu on the side of the truck. Every single thing on the menu was amazing, which she knew from experience. “An egg, cheese, and bacon soft taco—make that two , and a side of what do you think of Caleb Parker?”

Ivy froze in surprise. “Well,” she finally said. “I think he’d go better with today’s special, which is my spicy chorizo and fried egg breakfast taco.”

Sadie rolled her eyes.

“I’m not kidding,” Ivy said. “Caleb Parker’s ridiculously hot. You know that feeling when you meet someone and your heart skips a beat?”

“Yeah,” Sadie said. “It’s called arrhythmia and you can die from that shit.”

Ivy laughed. “Why are you asking me about Caleb?”

No use keeping it a secret. There were no secrets in this building. “Because we rescued a dog and I think we’re going to share her.”

“You’re going to adopt a dog with a man you’ve been calling Suits all year in order to avoid saying his name?”

“Ridiculous, right?” Sadie shook her head. “I’d rather catch a Razor scooter to my ankle twenty-five times in a row than ever catch feelings for anyone ever again, and yet . . .” She spread out her arms. “Here I am, feeling all the damn feelings,” she admitted.

Ivy set her knife down. “You’re serious. Okay. Wow. That doesn’t happen often. You’re so picky, I thought you’d never want another guy.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m picky,” Sadie agreed. “Too picky. But last night I watched my new dog look for the perfect place to poop for like thirty minutes, so I’ve decided to rethink some things.”

“Good to know,” Ivy said. “And the dog’s adorable by the way. I saw Caleb’s post. Let me make you my special—on the house—and we’ll talk, okay?

“But I don’t know if I’ll like spicy chorizo and fried egg breakfast tacos.”

“Have some faith, woman. I’m making it, which means you’ll love it. So let’s hear it. Don’t skip anything.”

Sadie sighed. “I don’t know where to start.”

“With the feelings!” Ivy demanded, brandishing her knife for emphasis.

“But I don’t know what to say about the feelings. It’s like on the outside, I’m cool as a cucumber. But on the inside, I’m more like . . . a squirrel in traffic.” When Ivy laughed, Sadie shook her head. “It’s dumb. I feel dumb.”

“Hold on.” Ivy’s smile slowly faded. “It’s not dumb. It’s just that you’ve never shown much interest in any guy in all the time I’ve known you, so it struck me as funny that you’d then pick a guy at the highest level of expertise end of the spectrum, that’s all. I mean just last week, you told me to never be the chaser. To always be the one who’s chased. That I’m the tequila, not the lime. I loved that because it implied you were badass enough to never let your feelings get in the way. But, Sadie, feelings aren’t always bad.”

“They are in this case,” Sadie said. “Caleb’s so far out of my league that I can’t even see the league.”

“No. No ,” Ivy repeated softly. “It’s not that, not even close.” She drew a deep breath and looked around to make sure no one was near. “I mean yes, he’s shockingly easy to look at, but he’s also—”

“Oh hell,” Sadie said. “He’s an asshole, right? He kicks kittens? Doesn’t leave tips? Wears lifts in his shoes? Don’t tell me he wears the male equivalent to Spanx. Is there a male equivalent to Spanx?”

“God, I hope not.” Ivy shuddered as she worked on Sadie’s order. “Honestly? He’s just a good guy.”

Sadie shook her head, even though she’d been thinking the same thing earlier. “Not possible. Nice guys are urban myths. They’re extinct, if they ever even existed.”

Ivy shrugged. “I’m inclined to agree with you, but one apparently survived.”

“He’s got flaws. He can’t be perfect.”

“Oh, I didn’t say perfect,” Ivy said. “No penis-carrying human is perfect. But in spite of his flaws, or maybe because of them, he really is just a good guy. He’d be a good guy for you.”

“How do you know?”

“I have this test,” Ivy said and handed Sadie a basket with her two tacos. “No matter how rich or intelligent you are, how you treat an animal tells me all I need to know about you. And look at how he treated your dog.”

Damn. That was a good rule. Sadie took a bite of her breakfast taco and moaned. “Oh. My. God.”

“Right?” Ivy asked with a smile.

Sadie couldn’t get enough or stop eating. “I want to marry these tacos and have their babies. And seriously, you believe Caleb’s a good guy, just like that?”

“Yeah. Call it blind faith.”

Sadie shook her head. “I don’t have the capability for blind faith.”

Ivy watched her inhale the second taco she’d claimed to not want and smiled. “I think you might be wrong about that.”

Chapter 7

#AreYouKiddingMe

Caleb headed into work, which had always been his happy place. He could lose himself there; solve problems, create solutions, whatever was needed and not give his personal life—or lack of one—a single thought.

Not the case today. Today he couldn’t multitask to save his life. All he could do was think about Sadie. The people in his life tended to fit into mental compartments. Employees. Friends. Dates. His family. And in spite of the overabundant richness his life had turned out to be, and all the good people in it, he was alone. He’d never put it into words before, the restlessness in him, but he did so now.

He was sick of being alone.

And Sadie knew what that was like. He’d seen it with how she interacted with her coworkers and friends. They cared about her, but they didn’t understand her, and because of that, she kept a part of herself from them.

He recognized that. He understood that.

As a general rule, he didn’t do denial. He was attracted to her, hugely so. What he didn’t know was what to do with it. The things in his life balanced and added up. But not Sadie. She wasn’t an account or a number or a company. She was a complicated person who represented a puzzle that he couldn’t seem to solve.

Some of it was just sheer physical chemistry. But it was also more. He . . . liked her, a lot. He wanted to know more about her, wanted to spend time and see where this thing went.

Did she feel the same way? He had absolutely no idea. She was very good at hiding her emotions when she wanted to—even more than him, and that was saying something.

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