“No, that was a sheer male knee-jerk attempt to make sure you didn’t cry again. As a whole, we’ll pretty much do anything to get a woman to stop crying.”
“So what are we doing here, if you don’t, or can’t, feel things, if you don’t ever want to find The One. What do you want from me?”
He flashed a wicked grin that made her body quiver hopefully but she snorted. “Right,” she said. “ ‘Animal magnetism.’ ”
“Just because I don’t plan on finding The One doesn’t mean I’m not interested in The One For Now.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. But I still think you’re not giving yourself enough credit and you can’t change my mind about that.”
“What a shock,” he murmured beneath his breath but his eyes were amused. Then that amusement faded. “From the outside looking in, I had a very traditional upbringing compared to you. Two parents, two older sisters, all college professors of science, their lives tightly run, everything entered into a planner, put in a neat little compartmentalized box.” His smile was short. “But then along came me. I didn’t fit in the box. I was wild, noisy, and destructive as hell. I was rough on the entire family and usually got left behind with a caretaker. My own doing,” he said with a head shake. “It’s not so much that I don’t get attached, as I’m not easy to get attached to.”
Willa’s heart gave a hard squeeze. He’d learned too young that even the people who were supposed to unconditionally love you didn’t always—something she knew all too well. Only she’d compensated by going in the opposite direction and loving everything and everyone. “You didn’t get a lot of affection,” she said softly. “You weren’t shown much emotion. That’s why you think you don’t know how to feel or give it.”
“I don’t think it,” he said. “I know it.”
Back in high school, she’d not been aware of any of this. She’d simply set her sights on inviting him to the dance, knowing only that he’d been a solid athlete and also an equally solid student, and that kids and teachers alike had flocked to him.
He’d had an easy smile and a natural confidence that had made him seem impenetrable at the time. Now, looking back on it, she could see that he’d used his charisma as a personal shield and she’d not looked past it.
Which made her just as guilty as everyone else in his life.
He nodded for her to sit on the stone bench she’d personally lined with boughs of holly and little jingle bells weeks ago now. It was early enough that few people came through the courtyard. There was the occasional runner or dog walker, but mostly they had the place to themselves. With the low-lying fog, it felt like they were all alone.
It was incredibly intimate.
They ate muffins in companionable silence for as long as she could stand it, but silence had never been her strong suit. Eventually her curiosity got the best of her. “When Tina said maybe you’ve grown attached to your place, why did you say not likely?”
“I told you.” He shrugged. “I always sell them when I’m finished.”
“Because you don’t get attached.”
“But we decided that isn’t exactly strictly true,” she pointed out.
“No, you decided.”
She blew out an annoyed sigh.
He didn’t ask her to translate the sigh. Clearly it wasn’t necessary. Instead, he turned his head and met her gaze. “You say more with silence than any woman I’ve ever met. Spit it out, Willa, before you choke on it.”
Where did she start with alphas . . . “It’s your home.”
“It won’t be a home until someone’s living in it.”
“You’re living in it!”
He smiled at her exasperated tone and ran a finger down her nose. “I annoy you.”
“In so, so, so many ways,” she said on a laugh. “Seriously, you have no idea.”
“I have some.”
“Is that right?” she asked. “Because I’d think that annoyance is one of those messy emotions you don’t bother with.”
His eyes darkened. “I bother with some emotions.”
“Yeah? Which ones?”
He calmly took the half-eaten muffin out of her hand and dropped it back into the bag.
“I wanted that,” she said.
“And I want this.” He moved faster than she imagined anyone as big as he was could move. Before she could so much as draw another breath of air, he pulled her hard against him, his hands fisting in her hair, his mouth seeking hers.
The kiss started out gentle, but quickly got serious and not so gentle. His lips parted hers, their tongues touched, and she heard herself moan. His hot mouth left hers and made its way along her jaw, her throat, where he planted openmouthed kisses that made her shiver for more. If she hadn’t been sitting, her knees wouldn’t have held her up, because he kissed away her annoyance, her good sense, any ability to think, everything.
Except her ability to feel.
And oh God, what she felt. She could barely even hold on, she was so dizzy with the hunger ripping through her, but then he pulled back and stared at her, his hair crazy from her fingers, those chocolate eyes fierce and hot, his breathing no more steady than hers.
She pressed her palms to his chest to try and ground herself but she still felt like she was floating on air. “Wha . . .?” It was all she could manage. Clearly, their chemistry had exploded her brain cells. She shook her head to clear it. “Okay, I stand corrected. There are some emotions you do exceptionally well. Like lust.” She paused. He’d been upfront with her, and brutally honest to boot. They weren’t going to be each other’s The One, but they could have this. He was game.
And in spite of herself, so was she. “Why did you stop?”
He looked at her for a long moment, at first in surprise and then with a slow smile. He knew he’d coaxed her over to the dark side. “We’re in the middle of the courtyard,” he said.
“We don’t have to be.” She couldn’t believe she said it but, well, she meant it. She was still plastered up against his big, hard body, emphasis on hard, and all she could think about was what he’d feel like without the barriers of their clothing.
But Keane wasn’t making a move to take her back to his place.