Home > Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(9)

Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(9)
Jill Shalvis

She, unlike anyone else he’d ever met, had him off his game. She was fiercely independent and incredibly private and had a lot of walls built up around her, hiding he had no idea what. Walls she had no intention of lowering for him.

And now they owned a dog together.

He’d brought Lollipop to work with him because he hadn’t wanted to leave her alone at his house all day, but also to introduce her to his sisters and find out why the hell he wasn’t allergic to dogs. Unfortunately, Sienne and Hannah were off-site today. Kayla was on maternity leave, busy growing her second baby. And Emory was in New York, having finally gone after her dream of going to graduate school.

His two admins helped him by dog sitting during his meetings, and Lollipop soon had his entire staff in love with her. As often as he could, he sent Snaps to Sadie. She didn’t reply to any of them but he could see by the notifications that she opened each one immediately.

After work, he drove Lollipop home. Holding her hand, of course. When they got out of the car, she did her business on his front lawn. In three different spots. Seemed his dog liked to walk and poop at the same time.

“Maybe we should change your name to Poops A Lot,” he said.

She sat at his feet and panted up at him, quite pleased with herself.

Luckily for him, at that very moment his housekeeper and her teenage son came out of his place, clearly just finishing their weekly cleaning. Reaching into his pocket, he came up with two twenties and offered the dough to the kid to clean up after Lollipop. He turned to take her inside and found her eating something from the flower beds.

“Some other dog’s poop,” the kid said.

Caleb pulled out another twenty and the kid made sure the entire yard was a poop-free zone.

He was going to need more twenties.

Inside, he set up Lollipop’s bed in his living room, and then turned on the TV to make her feel comfortable. He checked his phone and found a text from Sadie.

Don’t let her sleep with you, it’s a bad habit you can’t undo.

No problem, since he had zero intention of sharing his bed. At least not with Lollipop. But not two minutes into an episode of one of his favorite car shows, Lollipop had figured out how to jump up onto the couch by climbing his legs like a jungle gym. With a proud-of-herself huff, she set her head on his thigh. “Okay, but don’t tell your mom.”

At eleven, he carried Lollipop to her bed, told her to stay, and then tried to escape to his bedroom.

Lollipop followed him.

He walked her back to her bed and then looked into her huge golden eyes. “You stay here and guard the house, okay?”

She whined softly, her tail tucked.

Hell. “Okay, I’ll guard the house. And I’ll watch TV with you for a little bit longer . . .”

Back to the couch they went. Several hours later, he found himself deep into a really great dream. A woman was in his lap.

Sadie.

She was licking her way along his jaw to his ear, whispering all the things she wanted to do to him. Oh yeah. He was all in. He opened his eyes and . . .

Came face-to-face with Lollipop, who wriggled her butt when he made eye contact.

“Okay,” he said seriously. “We need to talk. I might not have grown up with dogs, but I know I’m not supposed to cave to you. I’m the adult.” Rising from the couch, he once again walked her to her bed. “Goodnight,” he said firmly and then ruined it by kissing the top of her head.

But as it turned out, Lollipop had zero intentions of staying in the living room. It also turned out that his house was way too big. After walking the hallway from his bedroom to the living room with her no less than a hundred times, he finally figured out that his dog could out-stubborn him to the end of time. “You got that from your mom,” he said, setting up her bed next to his. He crouched down to meet her gaze. “You’re going to stay now, right?”

Lollipop panted her doggy breath in his face, smiling from ear to ear. It was impossible not to smile back. “You’re a nut,” he said fondly. Rising, he stripped out of his clothes, took a quick shower, and came out to find Lollipop watching with a worried expression that said she didn’t like nor trust water. He brushed his teeth, dropped his towel, tucked her back into her bed, and then climbed into his. He closed his eyes and . . .

Lollipop whined.

“You’re okay,” he said in the dark. “I’m right here.”

But like the backseat of his car and her bed in the living room, she wasn’t having it. He heard her move to the side of his bed and attempt to jump up.

And miss.

“Shit.” He leapt out of bed and scooped her up. She was fine, but he’d just had a heart attack. Giving up, he got back into bed. With her. She curled up against his side and was snoring before he lay his head on his pillow.

He was such a sucker.

He slept for a few hours, waking just before dawn with Lollipop asleep on his chest. He managed to check his phone without disturbing her and found a text from Sadie from around midnight the night before.

WHERE’S MY PROOF OF LIFE?

He snapped a quick pic of Lollipop and sent it off. Two seconds later, his phone rang.

“Who belongs to the abs my dog is sleeping on?” Sadie wanted to know.

“Me,” he said.

His phone buzzed. Sadie had switched to FaceTime. He hit accept and there she was, hair wild around her makeup-free face. Her eyes were . . . well, amazing. “Hey,” he said and felt a stupid grin come over his face. “You’re in my bed.”

“Funny,” she said, her tone making it clear she didn’t find him funny at all. “What the hell are you doing?”

Chapter 8

#GetAGrip

Sadie didn’t know where to look, his bare chest, those broad shoulders, the abs that she wanted to lick . . . It was a complete feast for her eyes. But no way was she going to admit such a thing.

“Morning,” Caleb said with a lazy smile and a gruff morning voice that gave her a secret thrill.

Get a grip! she ordered herself. So he looked sexy as hell first thing in the morning. So what. And so she was thinking things, really erotic things. He didn’t need to know this. “Sleeping with my dog on your bed is the exact opposite of not letting my dog sleep on your bed,” she said.

His mouth curved. “Our dog,” he said. “And she wouldn’t sleep unless she was with me.”

“But you’re naked.”

He shrugged. “That’s how I sleep.”

Oh boy. She was torn between relief and disappointment that his sheet was pooled low on his hips, hiding his goodies.

“You look pretty,” he said.

She was in an oversize T-shirt and sweats. No makeup. And she knew damn well she had circles under her eyes and was pale. Stress. But here was the thing. This gorgeous man, naked or not, impeccably groomed or not, was staring at her absolutely meaning what he said. He thought she looked good and she was going to own that. But it was going to take her a moment.

His eyes darkened and a bolt of electricity came through from his phone to hers and directly to her good parts.

Huh. Maybe she wasn’t going to need a minute after all.

“Wow,” he murmured in that husky morning voice. “Mark the date. I just rendered Sadie Lane speechless.” He paused and his eyes took her in the way she looked at red velvet cupcakes. And then his smile spread. “You want me bad.”

“Wrong. First, it’s the middle of the night and my brain isn’t running on full power.”

The combo of humor and heat in his eyes said he was onto her but too polite to call her a liar. “And second?” he inquired.

Dammit, she’d forgotten the rest of her point. “You know what? So you have superior genes. That’s just good luck. Don’t let it go to your head. Either of them.” And then she disconnected.

She needed a cold shower.

Her phone rang as she rose from her bed a few minutes later. She expected it to be Caleb again, but it wasn’t. It was her boss at the day spa, reminding her that though she thought Lollipop was very cute, she wouldn’t be allowed in the spa.

Something Sadie already knew but had hoped for anyway. She looked at the time. Damn. And then she took a deep breath and thumbed to recent calls and hit Caleb’s contact.

Which meant it was a FaceTime call instead of a regular one. He answered wearing a whole lot of wet, sleek, sinewy skin and a towel wrapped dangerously low on his hips. He shook his head and drops flew into the steam around him. “What’s up?”

“Um,” she said brilliantly, operating on maybe two brain cells.

He smiled. “Tell me the truth. You just wanted to see me naked again.”

She bit her own tongue hard to get it to behave. No sense in giving information to the enemy. “You’re not naked, you’re wearing a towel.”

“I could lose the towel.”

“Not interested,” said her mouth.

Her brain though, it was telling her a different story.

He just grinned. He knew. Dammit. She forced her gaze off his body and into his eyes.

But that was almost worse because his body, great as it was, didn’t hold her as much as his eyes did. There were secrets there, and a dark edge that gave her a shocking thrill. Caleb Parker was a man of power and wealth, and he was always, always in control. But a part of her wondered what he might be like if he lost that control . . .

Nope. Not going there. With anyone. “I need help,” she said. Not an easy admittance. “Lollipop isn’t allowed at the day spa. I need to get her from you early so I have time to drop her off at doggy day care with Willa.”

“Why don’t you save the money and leave her with me,” he said. “She can stay here for my morning meetings. I’ll pick her up and get her to you before your shift at The Canvas Shop.”

“You don’t have to—

“I want to.” He suddenly stilled and looked around him. “Shit. Hold on.” He apparently tossed the phone down on a counter because then she was looking up at steam swirling around the ceiling. She could hear him calling for Lollipop and her heart stopped.

“Did you find her?” she asked.

Nothing.

Ten long seconds later, he picked up his phone and turned it out so she could see his room. One of his pillows had fallen to the floor and that’s where Lollipop had made herself comfortable, curled up on top of the pillow like she owned it.

And him.

“Oh my God,” she said. “See? Now you’re never going to get her out of your bed.”

He scooped up the dog and went nose-to-nose with her. “You’re cute,” he said. “I’ll give you that. But listen carefully. Last night was a one-time thing.”

Sadie snorted.

Lollipop licked his nose.

“No, I mean it,” he said.

This got him another lick and he turned to look at Sadie. “She’s not listening.”

What female would when faced with the sight of him standing there in just that towel? Then she realized he was staring at her. “What?” she asked.

He gave a slow shake of his head. “Nothing. For a minute there, I thought you were softening for me.” He smiled. “But that was my imagination, right?”

She cleared her throat. “Definitely.”

She knew that he knew she was full of shit, but he let her get away with it. “Do you want to keep her company while I get ready for work?” he asked.

Well, hell. If she hadn’t softened before when he’d run through his house looking for the dog, she did so now for giving her the few extra minutes. “Yes, thank you.”

“Anytime,” he said and though people said that word all the time and didn’t mean it, she somehow knew he did.

Caleb set Lollipop back on the bed and grabbed his fallen pillow to prop the phone up it so she could see. Then he grabbed his clothes and went into the bathroom to change.

Which was a bummer. How scary was that?

Three minutes later, he reappeared in a suit looking ready to take on the world. She had no idea how he did that, but even his expression was different.

Caleb Parker was in full business mode.

“Hold on a sec,” he called to her and vanished. A minute later he was back with a length of wood, which he quickly rigged up like a makeshift ramp against the bed for Lollipop to get safely down.

Sadie was floored.

He then showed Lollipop how to use it. “Okay, so you’re going to hang out here for a few hours. I’ll come back for you at lunch. All you’ve got to do is nap and . . . do whatever dogs do during the day.”

He gave her a quick kiss on the snout and caught Sadie’s raised brow. “You want a kiss too?” he asked.

Yes . . . “In your dreams.”

“You’re already there,” he said and that shut her up.

He dreamed about her?

He scooped up the phone and moved through the house.

“The ramp,” she said carefully. “That was . . . something.”

He flashed a smile. “Something good, right?”

Try amazing . . . “You’re the biggest sucker I’ve ever met,” she said.

He laughed, obviously seeing right through her.

And he was right. She was touched beyond belief by what he’d done for Lollipop, and damn. She was having feelings, so many feelings. “You’re different,” she said.

“So I’m both the biggest sucker you’ve ever met and different. So many compliments today.”

She rolled her eyes. “Like you need compliments from me.” She paused. “You’re . . . analytical, which makes you more cut-and-dry than the average person. You’re a tactical thinker. One who can build a ramp for his disabled dog on the fly and be a sarcastic smartass at the same time.”

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