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

Lollipop shivered and stared up at him with an expression that said she was maybe counting on him, which got him right in the feels. Interesting since he’d been utterly devoid of feels for longer than he could remember.

The thing was, he’d spent way too many of his own formative years as undersized, scared, weak, and vulnerable as Lollipop. Plus, of all the things he hated, including but not limited to tailgate drivers, loud chewers, and spam mail, people who abused animals were at the top of his list. He stood, still holding on to the dog. She was big enough to weigh at least fifty pounds, but skin and bones, she couldn’t have been more than thirty. “Maybe I’m wearing too many clothes to get an allergic reaction.”

“Your bare hands are on her and you have some fur stuck to your stubble,” Sadie said. “Here, let me take her.”

“No, I’ve got her. I’m feeling fine.” For some reason, Sadie was the only woman on the planet who could set his head spinning without even trying. Some of it was a good spin, but most of it was a different sort of spin altogether, one that left him baffled and confused—two things he’d worked hard at never feeling. He pulled out his phone and snapped a pic of Lollipop that he could send to his contacts to see if anyone had any knowledge of her.

“I can’t believe she just let you pick her up,” Sadie said. “My boss, Rocco, said he’d seen a stray around, so I’ve been leaving out a bowl of water and food, but she must be waiting until we’re gone to get to it. She doesn’t trust humans.” She cocked her head. “This would be a good time to tell me you’re Batman or something.”

“Batman’s human.”

She rolled her eyes. “My point is that you seem to have the touch.” She sounded insultingly shocked at this.

“Hey,” he said. “I have the touch in spades.”

She laughed.

“Wow, you’re judgy. I didn’t see that coming.”

“Excuse me?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m the most un-judgy person on this entire planet.”

He snorted and she looked taken aback for a quick beat, holding his gaze. Tendrils of her long, dark hair had slipped from her ponytail to cling to her face and throat. She had some blue streaks in it that matched her striking dark blue eyes. Yesterday, the streaks had been purple. The month before they’d been red. Her sparkling earrings caught the light and softened her edginess slightly—a fact he was sure she wouldn’t appreciate. He knew this because all his life he’d soaked up the details of everything around him, categorizing the tidbits into his brain’s filing system. Most people thought this trait defined him as a nerd at best, a weirdo at worst. He’d never cared much what people thought, although if he was being honest, he wouldn’t mind his early childhood tormentors and bullies seeing his current placement on the Forbes Top 100.

But whatever Sadie thought of him, he knew she had to be drawn to him on some level because she always seemed to run into him.

Although that might’ve been wishful thinking on his part.

“Look, it seems like Lollipop’s claimed you. I’m just surprised by that since . . .”

“Since . . . ?”

“Since you don’t seem the maternal type. Or the kind of man who’d get emotionally attached.” Her words hung in the suddenly tension-filled air.

“You think I don’t have emotions or the ability to attach?” he asked.

“Maybe it takes one to know one.”

His phone had been having a seizure in his pocket as the dog huddled up against his chest, eyes revealing a haunted hollowness that said she’d been through hell. And then there was the woman standing in front of him with . . . damn . . . the same haunted hollowness.

Uncomfortable with both, he rose to his feet, hoping he wasn’t risking certain death. “I’ve got to go.” Soon as he figured out how to bring the dog to a business dinner with his attorney and not croak at the table.

Sadie held out her hands. “I’ll take her.”

Here was the thing. Caleb was more allergic to accepting help than he was to dogs and that went way back, deeply ingrained from a time he hated to revisit. The women in his life considered this a huge flaw in his system. He considered it just good sense. When he hesitated to let go, Sadie gave him a long look.

“You’ve gotta go,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her, dry her off, check for injuries, feed her, keep her warm. And anyway, if you’re ‘allergic’”—she put the word in air quotes—“you don’t need the hassle. Have you ever even had a pet?”


“Not even a family pet?”

He shook his head, and he’d have sworn she actually felt sorry for him at that. He looked down at the dog, still staring up at him with those sweet amber eyes as if she totally trusted him, and again something pinched inside his chest.

“She’ll be fine with me for the night,” Sadie said. “You have stuff to do, like world domination or something.”

He opened his mouth to protest, which made no sense at all, but she took Lollipop, and with a look he wasn’t equipped to read, she vanished inside the day spa.

Sadie walked through the darkened spa, holding Lollipop as close as the thing would allow. “That was a close call,” she murmured softly. “You almost had to go home with a boy.”

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