“Hey, Keane,” she said and Willa looked surprised that they knew each other. “He’s a customer,” Kylie told her. “A good one. Listen,” she went on in a rush, her hand cupping the puppy’s head protectively. “I’m watching this little guy for a friend.”
“Adorable,” Willa said, moving closer to touch. “Breed?”
“Hard to say, he’s only three weeks old. He’s still bottle-fed too, but I’m thinking Chihuahua.”
Not what Keane was thinking, not with those paws that were nearly bigger than his ears.
“It’s too cold for him, I think,” Kylie said. “He shakes all the time. I’m worried he’s going to rattle the teeth right out of his head. All two of them.”
“I’ve got just the thing.” Willa pulled what looked like a stack of tiny doll sweaters from a bin by her desk.
“You’re a lifesaver,” Kylie said, taking four, one of which was a Santa costume. “Bill me.” She turned to Keane. “When you get a chance, stop in. I just finished that reclaimed wood furniture set you saw me working on, what, six months ago now?”
She flashed a smile, blew a kiss to Willa for the sweaters, and then was gone.
Willa slid him a look as she opened her laptop and hit some keys. “I saw the look on your face when you saw the dog sweaters. I make more money on dog sweaters, bedazzled collars, tiaras, and dog weddings than I do from anything else.”
“You make money however you make money, Willa. It’s a good thing.”
She paused and looked at him for a long beat, like she was testing his genuineness.
“When I saw you in action at that wedding,” he said, “I was impressed. People and animals are important to you and you run a really smart business from that.”
“Animals ground me,” Willa said quietly. “But yeah, I did my homework before I opened this place to make sure I could make a living at it. It’s turned out better than my wildest dreams.”
“You should be proud of yourself and what you’ve built here.”
She paused, looking a little startled, like maybe no one had ever said such a thing to her before. And then she abruptly changed the subject, like she’d just realized she was being nice. “Any news on your aunt?”
He shook his head. “I’m not sure.” It was a hell of a thing to have to admit because he was a guy who prided himself on always having the answers, or at least being able to get them. But the truth was, as it pertained to his family, he’d never known much.
He also hadn’t given it a lot of thought until Sally had shown up on his doorstep just over two weeks ago now, leaning on a cane with one hand, her other clutching Pita’s pink carrier. He’d taken the cat because she’d seemed so frail and worried, and he’d wanted to alleviate some of her stress.
He’d never expected to still have the cat.
Willa scooped Pita up from the desk and the damn cat nuzzled right into her neck. And for the first time in his life, Keane found himself jealous of a cat. “Seriously, what’s your secret with her? You wear tuna as perfume?”
Willa laughed, a soft musical sound, and nuzzled the cat right back. “Let’s just say I speak her language.”
“Yeah? What language is that?”
“Something a man like you wouldn’t understand.” She kissed Pita’s face and gently coaxed her into the carrier. “The language of loneliness.”
Keane felt something shift in his chest and go tight. “You might be surprised.”
She stared at him for a beat and then suddenly got very busy, zipping up the carrier, looking anywhere but at him, and he realized she was embarrassed. He slid his hand over hers, stilling her movements. “Have dinner with me.”
She blinked in surprise.
Yeah, he was just as surprised.
“I’m sorry,” she said haltingly. “I shouldn’t have—Honestly, I wasn’t angling for a date—”
“I know,” he said. “But I’m standing here because I want to keep talking to you, only my stomach is growling and demanding sustenance. Come on, Willa. We’re both off work and neither of us are wearing wedding rings. Let’s go eat.”
She stared at him. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“It doesn’t seem like a smart idea,” she said.
She hesitated and he wanted to ask her about what Archer and Spence had alluded to that night, about her ex being a complete asshole, but that was none of his business. It didn’t mean that he didn’t want to hunt up the guy and teach him a lesson.
“Lots of reasons,” she finally said.
She opened her mouth and then closed it. “I can’t really seem to come up with a single reason.”
“Because there isn’t one,” he said. “Look, if I was Elle, would you go out to dinner with me then?”
“Of course. She’s my friend.”
“And Spence? Or Archer? If I was one of them, would you eat with me?”
“Again,” she said, eyes narrowing. “Yes.”
“But not me.”
He took the cat carrier from her hands and set it on her desk. Then he stepped in so that they were toe to toe and dipped down a little to look right into her eyes.
She sucked in a breath. And that wasn’t her only reaction either. Her pupils dilated and her nipples went hard against the thin material of that cute little shirt with the cute little straps.
She’d been very busy distracting him with her sharp tongue and quick wit, so he’d almost missed it. But this insane attraction he had for her? She felt it too. “Tell me what to do here,” he said quietly. “I know you’re hungry. I can hear your stomach growling louder than mine.”
She slapped her hands over her lower belly, her fingers first bumping into his abs, which jumped at her touch.
“Dammit,” she said, her eyes wide on his, the pulse at the base of her throat going batshit crazy. “It’s a noisy beast.”
“So let me feed it,” he said.
“Maybe I don’t like you.”
“Haven’t yet decided,” she admitted.