“Not as much as we should.” Regret slashed through his features. “I hardly even knew I had a great-aunt Sally until she showed up on my doorstep just over two weeks ago now.”
Willa had spent a few years searching for long-lost family to no avail. She was riveted by this peek into Keane’s life. “Really?”
“Yeah. She’s my grandma’s sister,” he said, “and apparently there was some big feud fifty years ago involving the two of them falling for the same man.”
“Wow. Who ended up with the guy?”
“My grandma,” he said. “And then I guess she caught her sister flirting with him and accused Sally of trying to steal him out from right beneath her nose. It divided the family.”
“I’m pretty sure even without the scandal, we’d have all drifted apart,” he said. “We’re not much for emotion, us Winterses. We like to keep it all closed off and we’re good at it.”
She shook her head because though she knew he believed that, she’d seen him display emotion, plenty of it. Frustration and exhaustion when he’d first brought her Petunia. Anger, though he’d done his best to hide it from her, when she’d gotten the text from Ethan.
And then there’d been the sheer blast of passion and heat when he’d kissed her.
Yeah, he felt plenty. He just didn’t like it.
And that she could understand. She didn’t like it when emotions got the better of her either. The difference between him and her was that he could zip them up and walk away.
She wasn’t made like that.
After dinner, they walked some more, ending up inside the colorful and packed Marketplace in the Ferry Building. She bought a loaf of fresh bread and Keane picked up what looked like an expensive whiskey. When she started to panic that the evening was feeling way too much like a real date, she pretended to be shocked at the time and suggested she had to get home.
Keane gave no indication of being annoyed or disappointed, just took her hand and walked her back to his truck. When he drove around the block of her building, making her realize he was looking for a parking spot, the facts sunk in.
One, his five o’clock shadow had a shadow and made her physically ache with yearning to feel it brush over her skin.
Two, he had a bottle of alcohol.
Three, he was clearly planning to walk her up to her apartment.
It all added up to an uncomfortable truth—if he so much as looked at her mouth in that innately masculine, watchful way of his, she’d probably jump his sexy bones.
“Don’t worry about finding a spot,” she said quickly, reaching for the door handle as he slowed down, his gaze on a car up ahead that was getting ready to pull out. “I can get out right here.” She smiled at him brightly and hoped the whites of her eyes weren’t showing, revealing her panic. “Thankssomuchfordinner,” she managed and hopped out.
But nope, she couldn’t. She needed to get the heck out of Dodge before she did something incredibly stupid. So she ran into the courtyard of her building without looking back.
It was second nature to slow at the fountain and search her pockets. Dog treats. Her keys. And yes, a nickel, which she tossed into the water to make her usual wish.
Old Man Eddie, the homeless guy who lived in the alley, poked his head out. He was sitting on his box between two Dumpsters—his favorite spot because from his perch he could see both the courtyard and the street. He was always chipper and smiling, but tonight his smile was devoid of its usual wattage.
“Any of your wishes come true yet?” he asked.
“Not yet. Are you okay?”
He lifted a shoulder. “Waiting for my holiday cheer to kick in.”
A lot of people in the building took turns making sure Eddie had everything he needed, but mostly it was Spence, herself, and Elle in charge. They’d tried getting him into a shelter several times but he preferred his alley. She peered over and could see why he hadn’t found his holiday cheer yet: it was dark and dank. “Brought you dinner,” she said and handed him her doggie bag. “Lobster linguine. Bad for our diet, but totally amazing.”
“Thanks, dudette. What’s the hurry? Bad date?”
“Worse,” she said. “Great date.”
Clutching the leftovers, he nodded like he got it all too well. “Thanks for dinner. Think I’ll walk to the Presidio first though. All the Victorians are decorated with wreaths and lights, and some of them have baskets of candy out.”
“Be safe,” she said and watched him go, her own problems dissolving as her mind raced to find a way to help Eddie find his cheer.
And then it came to her.
Changing directions, she ran to her shop. Quickly letting herself in, she pulled down a string of lights that she’d put up along her checkout counter. She grabbed an extension cord and her staple gun too. Less than three minutes later she was in Eddie’s alley, stapling the string of lights above his spot—between the two Dumpsters.
Stepping back, she eyed her work. The lights lit the alley up in brilliant colors, warming the area and giving some cheer to it as well. Nodding in satisfaction, she left.
When she exited the elevator on the fourth floor five minutes later she was shaking with cold and so deep into her own thoughts that the tall, built shadow of a man standing there scared her nearly out of her own skin.
“Dammit, Keane,” she gasped, hand to her heart. “You startled me.”
“Did you really just decorate the alley for the homeless guy that lives there?” he asked.
“Maybe. And his name is Eddie.”
Keane’s eyes were warm and went a long way toward heating her up. So did his smile.
“Are you laughing at me?” she asked.
“I’d never laugh at a woman who decorates dark alleys and carries a mean stapler gun at crotch level.”
She looked down at the tool in her hand and rolled her eyes. “The alley looked lonely.”
“You mean Eddie looked lonely and you wanted to do something for him.”
He tipped her face up and she found his eyes more serious now. “You’re pretty amazing,” he said. “You know that?”
She squirmed a little bit at the unexpected praise but he didn’t give her any room. “If I ask you a serious question, Willa, will you give me an honest answer?”