And there were many.
His black baseball cap sat backward on his head and reflective aviator sunglasses covered his eyes. He shoved the glasses to the top of his head over his baseball cap, revealing his dark eyes filled with concern.
She felt a little dizzy just looking at him, a fact she attributed to the lack of breakfast and the weight of grief.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly and she thought maybe he wasn’t just talking about Macaroni. “What can I do?”
She was unprepared for the warmth that spread inside her at that. Unprepared and ill-equipped to handle. For weeks, inner alarms had been going off every time she got too close to him, blaring warnings at her, pummeling her with the memory of being stood up by him, and the even worse blow of him not remembering her.
But now that she’d told him about it and heard his reaction and explanation, something had happened to her mad. It was as if someone had reached out and turned the volume down. Way down.
Or maybe it’d been the kiss. It was incredibly hard to hold on to resentment for someone when you’d had your tongue down their throat. Plus, he kissed like magic.
Spence pointed to the coffee on the counter. “Make sure she caffeinates before you attempt conversation,” he warned Keane and then kissed Willa on the cheek. “I’m leaving you in good hands,” he said to her.
She stared up into his warm eyes. “How do you know?” She really hoped he had some wisdom to depart here. She needed it, bad.
Spence’s smile was crooked and just a little sad. “Because you know as well as I do, people change.”
He was referring to himself. He’d changed a lot—he’d had to in order to survive. Or maybe he’d meant the rest of them. Elle and Haley and Finn, even the far more closed-off Archer, they’d all had big changes in their lives, things that irrevocably affected them.
But actually, she thought maybe he’d meant her, because they both knew how much she’d grown since she’d opened South Bark. Through her work and the love of her friends, she’d found a direction. That had given her confidence and anchored her in a way she’d never been before.
Spence held her gaze for a minute, silently reminding her that she was no longer that meek wallflower she’d been in high school, that she knew more than anyone else things weren’t always what they seemed, that people weren’t always what they seemed, and also . . . some deserved a second chance.
Aware that Keane was soaking up this conversation, both spoken and unspoken, she blew out a breath and nodded.
“You know where to find me if you need me,” Spence said. He nodded at Keane and then was gone.
Willa realized she was staring blindly after him when the to-go cup of coffee got waved back and forth beneath her nose. She latched on to it like it was the last air in the room.
“Jesus, your fingers are frozen,” Keane said and wrapped his much warmer hands around hers on the cup, sandwiching her in his heat.
She could feel the roughness of the calluses on his hands and she liked that. He was real, very real. She took a sip of the coffee, and then another, and then finally just gulped it down, feeling the caffeine sink into her system with a soft, relieved sigh.
“Better?” Keane asked, dipping down a little to look into her eyes. “Yeah,” he said, a slice of amusement in his gaze as he answered his own question. “There you are. You don’t open for another hour, right?”
She glanced at her clock. “No, but—”
He pulled off her apron. “Love this one, by the way,” he said, smiling at the printed words I Don’t Have to Be Good—I’m CUTE! “And it’s true,” he said, grabbing her jacket from the hook by the door and wrapping her up in it. He went so far as to zip it up for her and pull her hood up over her head, tucking loose strands of her hair back out of her face.
The feel of his fingers on her temple and jaw, as rough and callused as his palms had been, should’ve felt intrusive.
Which was just about the opposite of how they felt. “Keane—”
“Shh,” he said and took her hand. “I know I’ve given you absolutely zero reason to trust me but I’m going to ask you to anyway.”
Yeah, she wasn’t really all that good with trust.
He must have seen that in her gaze because he laughed softly, not at all insulted. “Reading you loud and clear but let’s try this,” he said. “How about you forget the asshole punk I was in high school for a minute, the one who’d say or do anything to get out of practice without having to talk to anyone, okay? Go off the guy I am today, standing here in front of you. Can you trust that guy?”
This time she hesitated on the other side of the fence, and apparently not above taking advantage of that, Keane said, “Close enough,” and tugged her out the door.
Willa couldn’t believe she was doing this but apparently her feet had seceded from the States of Willa.
“Lock up,” Keane told her and waited while she did just that. Then he took her hand again like maybe she was a flight risk.
And she was. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
He laughed roughly. “Which it?”
“Any of the its. All of the its.” Feeling like a shrew, she sighed and turned to face him. “But as for the one it in particular, the one where you stood me up—”
He opened his mouth to say something and she put her fingers over his mouth. “I’m moving on from that,” she said softly. “I’m not a grudge holder—never have been, never will be—so it’s silly for me to hang on to my mad over something that you honestly don’t even remember—”
Wrapping his fingers around her wrist, he kissed her fingertips before pulling them from his mouth. “Or intended,” he said. “Because, Willa, I can promise you, I never intended to hurt you.”
Staring into his eyes, she slowly nodded. “I know.”
He held her gaze and nodded back, and then he walked her through the courtyard of her building, where he tugged her into Tina’s Coffee Bar.
The six-foot-tall mahogany-skinned barista was serving and she winked at Willa. “Been a while since you were in here with a man, honey. Didn’t like your last one, but I sure do like this one.” She gave Keane a big white smile. “And good morning to you too, sugar. Haven’t seen you much this week. How’s the Vallejo Street renovation coming?”