Willa had the look down.
“This one?” Willa repeated. “Oh my God.”
Spence opened his mouth but Willa shook her head and pointed at him.
“No,” she said. “You know what? This is really all my own fault.”
“No, it’s not,” Archer said firmly. “Ethan was an asshole serial creeper—”
“I meant it’s my fault that I’m friends with you two!” And then without so much as glancing over, she jabbed a finger in Keane’s face, nearly taking out an eye. “He isn’t a date,” she said. “He isn’t a future date. And he sure as hell isn’t a past one.”
Keane opened his mouth but then shut it again. This was the second time now she’d referred to a past between them. He was so busy mentally rewinding the conversation that he nearly missed Spence and Archer taking off. He didn’t, however, miss Spence’s sympathetic glance as he left.
“Listen,” Willa said when it was just the two of them. “I’m grateful for your help, very grateful actually, but—”
“How do you know I’m not a future date?” Well, hell, he hadn’t realized that had bugged him so much.
Willa looked just as flabbergasted. “I just know,” she finally said. “I—” She broke off when a little boy not more than four years old tugged on her apron. She immediately smiled, a warm, sweet smile that dazzled Keane more than it should as she hunkered low to be eye-to-eye with the kid.
“Hey, Keller.” She straightened his mini tux jacket. “You look handsome tonight.”
“My daddies say they’re ready.”
“Perfect, because so are we.”
Keller tipped his head way back to look up at Keane. “You’re wearing funny shoes for a wedding.”
“They’re work boots,” Keane told him. “And speaking of footwear, yours are on the wrong feet.”
Keller looked down at his shoes and scratched his head before tipping his head up again. “But I don’t have any other feet,” he finally said.
Fair enough, Keane thought but Willa helped the kid sit down and fix his shoes. Then she went back to being an adorable but utter tyrant, bossing everyone into doing her bidding. No one complained. In fact, everyone seemed happy to jump to her every command.
He could use her on his jobsites.
Ten minutes later the wedding was taking place, complete with marriage certificates that each dog put a paw print on, and a video recording by Rory. There’d apparently been a registry as well because a stack of wrapped gifts from South Bark sat on a table.
“I’ve just run out of those bedazzled leashes,” Willa was saying to someone, consulting an iPad after the ceremony. “But I’ll be happy to take an order.”
Yeah, Keane was starting to see a whole other side to Willa and her entrepreneurial skills. And he had to admit, he liked this side of her. She was smart as hell, but surrounded by all the fluff as she was, she’d nearly fooled him.
After, when the crowd thinned and then dissipated altogether, he stuck around and helped her with the takedown.
“This isn’t necessary,” she said.
“Because I’m not a present or future?”
She gave him a long look and then turned to struggle with the archway.
Moving in close to help, he reached around her to add his strength to separate the two pieces of the arch. Her back to his front, she stilled, and so did he because a zap of what felt like two hundred volts of electricity went straight through him.
“What was that?” she whispered, not moving a single inch.
He’d given this some thought so he had a ready answer. “Animal magnetism.”
She unfroze at that, slipped out from beneath his arms to face him. “Oh no. No, no, no. That’s one thing we absolutely do not have.”
He laughed a little because apparently she’d given it no thought at all. Not super great on the ego. “You really going to tell me you don’t feel it?”
She chewed on that for a moment. “I’m telling you I don’t want to feel it,” she finally said.
Welcome to my club, he thought.
The days that followed the wedding blurred together for Willa, swamped as she was with the early holiday rush. Not that she minded since the shop, like always, filled all the holes inside her, the ones her rough early years had left.
Yep, she was completely fulfilled.
But then she’d seen Keane Winters and something had happened, something weird and unsettling. He made her realize that she hadn’t plugged all her holes at all, that there was at least one still open and gaping inside her.
With a groan, she got up to face her day. Her apartment was also in the Pacific Pier Building, four flights up from her shop. The place was small but cozy. The living room and kitchen were really all one room, divided by a small bar top. On the wall between her living room and short hallway that led to her bedroom was a small door that opened to a dumbwaiter, a throwback to the days when this building was one very large ranching family’s central compound. That was back in the late eighteen hundreds, when there’d still been actual cows in the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco.
The dumbwaiter door was locked now but sometimes mysterious gifts ended up in there for her, like cookies or muffins. And then there was the time Archer had a training exercise for his men in the guise of a scavenger hunt, and one of the items required to obtain had been Finn, who’d ended up stuck in the dumbwaiter while making a run for it.
Archer’s idea of funny.
In any case, there was nothing in there now no matter how much she wished for some muffins, so she showered and dressed. Today’s work uniform consisted of her favorite pair of jeans, which only had one hole in a knee, and another lightweight camisole. She topped that with an easy-to-remove sweater for grooming clients.
She wasn’t surprised when she got to work and the knock came on her shop’s door at ten minutes before opening. Nor was she surprised at the traitorous leap her pulse gave. It’d been two weeks since Keane had shown up that first morning. Since then, there’d been no rhythm or reason to the days he came in. Sometimes he’d show up for a few days in a row and then nothing for another few days. Whenever she asked about his aunt, he got a solemn look on his face but shook his head. “Not better yet,” he always said.