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

Lollipop licked her chin.

“Aw, thank you. I bet you’re chilly. It’s a cold night already.” Sadie grabbed her discarded scarf from the employee room and wrapped it around the too-skinny dog, holding her to her chest for extra warmth. “There, how’s that?”

Lollipop blinked slow as an owl, remaining a little stiff in Sadie’s arms, and she had to laugh. “You wanted to stay with Suits, didn’t you?” She shook her head. “Trust me on this, a hot-looking package like that who’s too smart for his own good and who’s never had a single taste of failure . . .” She shook her head. “He’s pedigree. A purebred. And you and me, we’re mutts.”

Lollipop sighed and Sadie could hear the disappointment. “Fine. You liked him better than me. I get it.” There’d definitely been something about the way his arms had so carefully and gently held the dog that had opened Sadie up to him for a moment. But only for a moment.

She startled at the sound of a knock on the front door. Peering out into the stormy night, she saw the tall, dark, and drenched Caleb Parker and reluctantly opened up. “What?”

He smiled, and this disconcerted her until she realized he was smiling at Lollipop.

Not her.

And Lollipop was bicycling her three paws like crazy, trying to ride the air over to him.

“Can I?” he asked, but then reached out and took Lollipop without waiting for a response.

The dog immediately set her head on Caleb’s shoulder and Sadie saw something she had never seen before.

Caleb Parker softening.

She was shocked. She’d never seen any sign of softness from him, ever. Amusement, yes. Cynicism, yes. Charm, yes. And on top of all of that, there was also always a sense of impenetrable . . . maleness. He was at the top of the food chain and he knew it. Since she had no idea what that was like, it put her at a disadvantage, which in turn made her feel on edge. “Maybe she’s drawn to your perfume,” she said.

“I don’t wear perfume.”

“You sure?” She sniffed. “Because you definitely smell like . . .”

A very sexy guy, dammit. No matter what she told herself, she was not indifferent to him, not even close. In fact, she was hugely attracted and didn’t know what to do with the unexpected rush of heat he always caused.

He gave her a look, silently daring her to speak her thoughts. As if she would. “Expensive,” she finally said.

He laughed. Laughed. “Don’t judge me by my clothes,” he said mildly and snuggled the dog close.

Snuggled. The dog. Close.

A phone buzzed. Hers this time. Thinking it was just her mom, she pulled the phone from her pocket to hit ignore but it wasn’t her mom. It was a text from her first tattoo client of the night. She was letting Sadie know she was nearly at the Canvas Shop. She shrugged. “Having a job’s great until you actually have to go,” she quipped, tucking her phone back into her pocket.

Caleb kissed the top of Lollipop’s bedraggled head. “You’re going to be okay.”

She licked his nose. “Ruining your breed’s badass image,” he teased. “Remember to guard the pretty lady for me, okay?”

“The pretty lady guards herself,” Sadie said.

Caleb, still looking into Lollipop’s eyes, smiled. “Yeah, she’s as badass as you are and I’ve got no doubt she can take care of herself, but have her six anyway, alright?” He ruffled Lollipop’s fur. “I’m counting on you.”

“Hand her over,” she said. “We both have to go.” When he hesitated, she leaned in. “Is that a rash on your neck?” She pretended to take a closer look, when instead she was trying to inhale that unique scent that might as well be orgasm in a damn bottle. “Yeah,” she murmured, “it is. Is your tongue getting thick? Are you breathing funny? You are, right? Gimme your keys.”

Caleb gave her an impressive eye roll and handed her Lollipop.

“Why did you come back anyway?” she asked.

He pulled money from one of his pockets and handed it over to her.

“Whoa,” she said, taking a step back. “What the actual hell?”

“For Lollipop. Food, bed, whatever.”

“I don’t need your money.”

Taking advantage of her full hands, he stuffed the money into one of her front jeans pockets. The sensation of his fingers sliding in made her go utterly still as their gazes met.

And held.

And then, with a self-mocking half smile, as if he was in on a joke that she’d missed, he turned and vanished into the night.

Several hours later, Sadie had finished with her clients and was curled up with Lollipop in the Canvas Shop with a bag of popcorn she’d nuked in the back room. Nothing said self-care more than absurd amounts of ranch-flavored popcorn with extra butter. She was happily munching through it when she got a text from a number that wasn’t recognized by her phone. It said:

Proof of life pic?

Suits. Wanting to finish her How I Met Your Mother episode on her laptop first, she ignored him. The problem was that TV shows like this often made her feel as if everyone could come clean with their real feelings, but in reality people swallowed their feelings and let them rot them from the inside out.

So she switched it up to a murder documentary. “Nothing better than cuddling with your dog and watching stories about people getting their heads cut off with a steak knife,” she told Lollipop.

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