His lips curved. “You said that already.”
She laughed nervously, feeling sixteen and stupid all over again, but seriously, if his voice got any lower she was going to embarrass herself here. It was so deep and husky that she could feel his words. “I . . .”
He waited for her to speak but honestly, she had nothing. Not a single thought in her head.
He smiled, a wicked, naughty smile, and the hand in her hair slowly pulled her head back. And then he lowered his perfect mouth to hers in a devastatingly slow and unhurried kiss, sealing his lips to hers as one powerful arm curled around her hip to keep her in place.
Pulsing waves of heat unfurled inside of her and she gave a helpless moan, prompting him to tighten his grip on her and deepen the connection with a better angle and a lot more tongue.
She’d started this, she’d been in charge, but she was no longer even remotely in control. For a beat she let her fingers wander, eliciting a rumbly groan from deep in his throat, the sound incredibly erotic. Then she pulled back and stared up at him.
“I have no idea what I did to deserve that,” he murmured quietly, stroking a finger along her temple. “But I’m going to drop Pita off now before this goes too far.”
Their gazes held and she could see the humor shining in his, crinkling at the edges. Right, she thought. Good. One of them could still think.
“Okay?” he asked, which was when she realized she had two fistfuls of his shirt, holding him to her.
“Sure.” She made herself loosen her grip, smoothing out the wrinkles she’d left, and again she could feel his tight abs through the cotton. Very tight.
She wanted to lick him like a lollipop.
But he didn’t want this to go too far. Not with her. She needed to remember that. Maybe she should write it down so she didn’t forget. She was nodding to herself like a bobblehead when he said her name and then waited until she looked at him.
“Not that I don’t want it to go too far,” he said, his gaze revealing heat and the raw power she was getting used to seeing in those dark depths when he looked at her. “But not in my truck, Willa. Not with you.” He got out of the car and waited while she did the same. Then he picked up the carrier with Petunia in it and with his other hand, grabbed hers.
“It’s okay,” she said quickly. “I can wait here.”
“Don’t chicken out now,” he said, looking amused. “You can satiate your curiosity and check to make sure I’m not double booked tonight all at the same time.”
She tried to pull free of his grip, but he had her, and she laughed a little to herself—the sexy jackass—as he nudged her inside ahead of him.
She immediately forgot why she was mad. The main level was rich with Victorian architectural details: beautiful trim, a crafted stairway with ornate wood railings and stairs. Gorgeously charming light fixtures hung in the entry and living room, paying homage to the period style of the home.
“Wow,” she murmured, taking in the surprisingly wide-open space that was still liberally protected from the renovation with tarp runners across the hardwood floors. She could see into the open kitchen and den as well as the still unfinished loft above and to the left. The dining room and living area were clearly being used as office space.
What she didn’t see was a single Christmas decoration. “You said you live here?” she asked.
“There’s no holiday decorations.”
“No.” He couched low to set down the carrier and unzipped it. Rising to his full height, he stared down at the thing, hands on hips as if braced for warfare. “I have three projects going right now. This is one of them.”
She looked around in marvel. “How did you get started doing this?”
“The short of it is that I begged, borrowed, and stole the money for the first fallen property and then kicked some serious ass to not lose my shorts over the deal.”
“Fallen?” she asked.
“In that first case, a foreclosure. I slapped some lipstick on it and quickly turned it around for a small profit, emphasis on small.” He gave a quick smile. “I got better as time went on.”
“Someone had to walk away from their home?” she asked. “And you gained from that?”
“They chose to walk,” he said pragmatically. “The bank wanted their money back. I ate mac and cheese for an entire year to make it work.”
Okay, she got that. Because as he’d told her, you make money however you make money. She took in the gorgeous, incredible details of his work and marveled at his talent. “It’s amazing.”
“You wouldn’t have said so if you’d seen it before,” he said. “It was just about a complete teardown. I’ve had this place the longest. It’s taken the most work of any other project. I really need to get it on the market, should’ve already done it by now.”
She was boggled. “How could you get rid of this place? You put such heart and soul into it.”
“It’s worth a lot of money,” he said, not giving a lot away although there was something to his body language, the set of his wide shoulders maybe, that told her she wasn’t getting the whole story.
“The profit will go into my next project,” he said.
And yet he hadn’t sold it. Possibly it meant too much to him, and she could certainly see why. “Maybe you’re attached to it,” she said.
He shook his head in surprise. “I don’t get attached.”
She looked at him. “Ever?”
“There’s no place for it in my world.”
“Huh,” she said, thinking of all of her attachments. Her friends, who were also her family. Rory, Cara, and all the others she hired and took on. “I get attached to everything and everyone,” she admitted.
This took her aback. “What does that mean?”
He glanced at her and laughed softly. “I’ve seen you in action, Willa. It seems that once you make a friend, you keep them until the end of time. Same thing with animals. I’m pretty sure you’ve never met a two-legged or four-legged creature you don’t fall for. You collect hearts and souls like most women collect shoes.”
“Hey. I collect plenty of shoes.” And anyway, he was only partially right. Maybe she did collect hearts and souls, but she didn’t keep them. Being a foster kid had taught her that all too well. You only borrowed the people—and animals—you loved. You didn’t get to keep them.