Willa hated to admit she had an ear cocked every morning, wondering if she’d see him. Hated even more that she always put on mascara and a lip stain just in case. As his knock echoed in the shop, she forced herself to remain still.
“You’re going to want a look at this,” Elle said from Willa’s right. She was leaning against the front counter sipping her hot tea. The kind she ordered in from England because she was a complete tea snob.
“Nope, I don’t,” Willa said. She didn’t have to look because she knew what she’d see—some version of Hot Builder Guy with those T-shirts that stretched taut over his broad shoulders, emphasizing a whole lot of muscles apparently gained the old-fashioned way—by sheer manual labor. His hair would be carelessly tousled, like he hadn’t given his looks a second thought. And why should he? When you looked like that, you didn’t even need a damn mirror.
“He looks good in clothes,” Elle said appreciatively. “I’ll give him that. Let him in, Willa.”
“I just poured my milk,” she complained.
“Yes, and I’m totally judging you based on your choice of plain Cheerios, you unfrosted weirdo.” Elle’s gaze hadn’t left the front door. “But holy cow hotness, Batman, really, you want to see this.”
“He’s in a suit, that’s why. My eyes don’t know what to do with themselves.”
Willa whipped around so fast she gave herself whiplash.
Keane’s sharp eyes were scanning the store. When they settled on her, she felt it all the way from her roots to her toes and some very special spots in between. Every. Time. “Damn.”
“Told you,” Elle said. “I thought you said he was a carpenter of some sort.”
“He listed himself as self-employed on my forms when he left Petunia that first day,” she murmured, unable to tear her gaze off him standing there looking like God’s gift.
If God’s gift came carrying a pink bedazzled carrier . . .
“I can’t decide which is the hotter look for him,” Elle said. “Hot and suited up, or hot and in Levi’s.”
“It might be a draw,” Willa admitted.
“So you do like him,” Elle said triumphantly.
“No, but I’m not dead. I mean look at him.”
“Believe me,” Elle said. “I’m looking. So are you really going to stand there and tell me you’re still not moved by him at all?”
“Hello, did you miss the part where he not only stood me up, he also doesn’t remember doing it?” Willa asked.
“And are you missing the part where that happened a long time ago?” Elle asked. “Because he totally stepped in and helped you at that wedding. Is it possible you’re overdramatizing?”
“I’m not overdramatizing, I never overdramatize!” Willa stopped talking as she realized she was waving her arms, spoon in the air and everything. “Fine. It’s my red hair. You can’t fight genetics.”
“Uh-huh.” Elle’s expression softened. “Honey, I know your past wasn’t exactly easy, but I think you’ve got him all tangled up in that emotional landmine. And before you tell me it’s none of my business, you should know that I’m only saying so because I get it, I really do.”
Willa sighed because she knew Elle did. She’d had an even rougher time than Willa, and she hated that for the both of them. “Getting stood up like that by him during that particular time in my life was . . . memorably traumatic,” she said. “So yeah, there’s no doubt I’m projecting. But you remember the torture of high school, right? Or maybe you don’t, maybe you were popular like Keane was. I, on the other hand . . .” She shook her head. “I was invisible,” she admitted. “And it really messed with my self-esteem.”
Elle’s smile faded. “Okay. So we stay mad at him then.”
Willa’s heart squeezed. “Thank you,” she said and moved toward the door.
Keane’s morning had started at dawn and had already been long, involving a near brawl with an engineer, kissing up to a client who couldn’t make up her mind to save her own life, and a way-too-long meeting with the interior decorator for North Beach, who loved to hear himself talk. Now as he stood at South Bark’s locked door, he had twenty minutes to get back for another meeting.
Willa took her sweet-ass time opening up, and when she did, she stared at him like she’d never seen him before.
“Keane?” she asked, whispered really, as if she wasn’t quite sure.
“Yeah.” Who the hell else?
“Just checking.” Her gaze ran over him slowly. “I thought maybe you had a twin or something.”
“Yeah, and the cat hates both of us.”
She laughed. It was unexpected, to say the least, and he stared at her. Her bright green eyes were lit up, her smile more than a little contagious. He didn’t have time for chitchat but when it came to this woman, he couldn’t seem to help himself. “I’m not kidding,” he said.
“I know,” she said. “That’s why it’s so funny.” Her jeans were worn and faded and fit her petite curvy body like a beloved old friend. He loved her little top, which read Naughty AND Nice across her breasts and had teeny-tiny straps and was thin enough to reveal she was both wet and chilly.
Her strawberry blonde hair was in wild layers, some of them in her eyes, and she knew exactly why he was there but she went brows up, wanting him to ask. This should’ve annoyed the hell out of him but instead he was amused. “Tell me you have time for Pita today,” he said, doing their usual dance, willing to beg if he had to. Yesterday Pita had used a very expensive set of blueprints as her personal claw sharpener an hour before a meeting in which he’d needed those plans.
“You changed your work uniform,” she said instead of answering. “You’re in a suit.”
“A necessary evil today.”
“You look . . . different.”
Torn between satisfaction that she was noticing his looks at all and unexpected annoyance that she’d judged him by his clothes, he didn’t answer right away. Being judged wasn’t exactly a new thing for him. He’d been judged by his parents as a kid for not being solely academic. He’d been judged in school for not being just a jock or an academic, but somewhere in the middle, and as a result, he worked hard to fit in anywhere and was proud of his ability to do so. “You judging me by my clothes?”