Even when you wanted to.
“I really do love this place,” she murmured, turning in a slow circle. “It’s so warm and welcoming. If this house was mine, I’d never leave it.”
“That’s the thing, it’s not my home, not really.”
“Where is your home then?” she asked.
He paused. “I’ve not really settled on one yet.” He looked around as if seeing it for the first time. “If I was ready, I’d want it to be a place like this but for now it’s just where I sleep and work. I’ve got some small finish work to get to yet before I can put it on the market.”
She watched him as he spoke. He’d turned to watch the carrier but that wasn’t what grabbed her attention and held.
No, it was that he wasn’t buying what he was trying to sell her. Whether he really was done with the property or not, she had no idea, but she had the feeling he wasn’t ready to be done.
Maybe . . . maybe he could get attached to things after all. Things like this house. And . . . her.
This wayward, out-of-nowhere thought set off all her inner alarms. She had to work at keeping her face blank through her panic. This wasn’t going to happen. She wouldn’t allow it. Not here, not with him, because she knew from experience that once the pit bull that was her heart snapped its jaws onto something, it took a miracle to let go.
While Willa stood there reeling a little bit about her unwanted feelings for Keane, the world kept spinning on its rotation, completely oblivious to her unhappy epiphany.
It was her greatest wish that Keane would remain oblivious as well, which meant that she had to be careful because he wasn’t the sort of guy to miss much.
Luckily, Petunia chose that moment to stroll out of her carrier, nose in the air, tail swishing prissily back and forth, her entire demeanor projecting Queen Bee.
Until she saw Willa. Then she immediately let out a happy chirp and trotted over, her tubby belly swinging to and fro as she wound herself around Willa’s legs, purring.
“Ingrate,” Keane said mildly.
Willa relaxed a little. Okay, they were moving on. This was good. This was great, and she let out a long breath that caught in her throat at Keane’s next words.
“What’s the matter?”
His expression was doubtful. “It’s something. Something’s different. Is it the house somehow, or the kiss?”
Oh for God’s sake. Most men were oblivious. Why had she had to kiss the one who wasn’t?
No, they most definitely did not need to talk about it.
Petunia, clearly tired of humans, stalked off and Willa watched her go, wistful. Why wasn’t she a cat? Why hadn’t she stayed in the truck?
“Um . . . hold on a sec, my phone’s going off.” She pulled it from her pocket like she’d just received an important text. She brought up a new message and quickly typed.
She got an immediate response.
Are you just texting me gibberish so you look busy in front of someone you don’t want to talk to again? Who is it this time, that UPS guy with gingivitis?
Willa started to thumb in a response, but Keane came up behind her, right behind her, and even though he wasn’t actually touching her, she could feel his heat, the tempered strength in his big body, and she got a rush so strong her knees wobbled.
Her phone pinged another incoming text and assuming it was Elle teasing her, she ignored it. But behind her Keane wrapped his fingers around her wrist and brought the screen up so that they could see the readout.
It wasn’t Elle.
“I especially like your contact name for him,” Keane said. “The infamous Ethan?”
Willa nodded dully because really she was just stunned to hear from the guy at all after so much had happened. Ethan had started off so normal but he’d slowly morphed into a possessive, jealous, angry guy. It’d happened gradually enough that at first she thought she was overreacting. She’d reminded herself he’d been good to her, and as a people pleaser she’d doubled her efforts to make him see he had nothing to worry about.
When he’d blown up at her at the pub one night for dancing with Finn and tried to physically haul her out of the place, she’d taken a stand. Actually, she’d tossed a drink in his face and he’d screamed like a baby.
That’s when he’d been ejected from the pub by Archer.
And then Willa had ejected him from her life.
The next day she’d found her cash drawer in the shop emptied of three hundred bucks and a stack of her gift cards verified and missing.
For a long time she’d blamed herself and then she’d found her mad and had ached for an apology. But that ache had faded, replaced with some hard-won maturity. She no longer was that same woman who’d give a perfect stranger the shirt off her back. Nope, she’d care for a perfect stranger’s cat though, and at that thought, she snorted.
“It’s funny?” Keane asked.
“Not funny ha-ha. More like”—she mimed a gun with her first finger and thumb, bringing it up to her temple—“blow my brains out funny.”
Keane didn’t look amused. “This is the serial creeper, right?”
Since he seemed more than a little tense all of a sudden, she smiled to show him she wasn’t bothered by this blast from her past. Hell, she was getting used to it. “Give me a sec?”
He nodded but didn’t go away. Okaaay. So she composed her answering text with an audience:
The person you’re trying to reach has forwarded this text to the police, who are still trying to locate you. Please text your current addy and place of employment to make it easy for them but know it’s not necessary as this was a felony case and they’ll be tracking you down by triangulation of your cell-phone pings.
She felt Keane, a big, strong presence at her back. “Exactly what did this guy do to you?”
Nothing she wanted to get into right now. Or ever. “Nothing but live up to the contact name I gave him.”