“I’m not even going to ask what else you carry on you at all times,” he said, moving close, crouching at her side to stare into the cat’s half-closed-in-ecstasy eyes. “You’ve put her in a trance.”
“Most cats get a little hypnotized with pleasure when you comb them,” she said and smiled. “Actually most females.”
“Huh. Now that’s one thing about your kind that I didn’t know.”
“You think that’s the only thing?” she asked with just enough irony in her voice to have him taking a longer look at her.
“You have something you want me to know?” he asked.
“Absolutely not.” But she blushed a gorgeous color of red and he had to admit to being more than a little curious.
Apparently having had enough of the pampering, Pita climbed out of Willa’s lap.
“Hold up,” he said to the cat. He called Sally back and pointed the FaceTime call toward Pita.
Sally talked baby talk and the cat stopped and stared unblinking into the camera, listening intently.
After, Sally thanked Keane and disconnected. Pita stalked off, tail and head high.
“That was sweet of you,” Willa said.
“That’s me, a real sweetheart. And you’re welcome, princess,” he called to Pita’s retreating figure. Grabbing Willa’s hand, he pulled her upright.
Her hands went to his chest, but instead of using him to straighten herself, she held on, sliding her hands up and around his neck, rocking against him in the process.
“That thing is happening again,” she whispered.
Yeah. It most definitely was. “That ‘thing’ likes you,” he said. “A lot.”
She snorted. “I didn’t mean that. Although”—she pressed into him some more, wriggling her hips not so subtly against his erection—“I definitely noticed.”
“Hard not to.”
She snorted again at that but curious as hell, he had to ask. “So what did you mean?”
She bit her lower lip and got very busy staring at his shirt. He slid a hand up her back and into her hair, tugging until she looked up at him.
Her gaze locked on his mouth.
“I meant that thing where I want to do things to you,” she said.
He smiled. “Not seeing the problem here, babe.”
She shook her head and went to pull away. “I can’t stay. Big day. It’s the Santa Extravaganza at the shop.”
“I thought you weren’t working today.”
“I’m not. My employees handle this event for me; they always do. I’m just setting up and making sure everything looks good.”
He caught her and when she tensed, he very gently pulled her back in, giving her plenty of room to escape if she really wanted. “So I do scare you.”
“No.” She shook her head. “The only things I’m scared of are creepy crawlies and Santa Claus. Which is why I have my girls handle Santa Extravaganza for me.”
He paused. “Okay, we’re going to circle back to that,” he said, “but first, if you’re not scared of me, why are we . . . ‘not ready’ again?”
She gave a small smile that held more than a few secrets. “Maybe I’m just . . . cautious.”
Smart woman, he had to admit. “And the Santa Claus fear?”
“How are we supposed to trust a full-grown man who wants little kids to sit on his lap and whisper their deepest secrets?” she quipped.
“But you love Christmas.”
“Christmas, yes. Santa, not so much.”
“So why do the Santa Extravaganza then?” he asked.
She shrugged as if uncomfortable with this subject. “It’s a huge moneymaker and I give half the profits to the SPCA. They need the dough.” She headed to the door, scooping up Vinnie on her way out. She gave the tiniest dog on the planet a kiss on his face that made Keane feel envious as hell, and walked out the door.
At the end of the day, Keane found Pita napping . . . on his pillow. He started to remove her but she flattened herself, becoming five-hundred-plus pounds, and he blew out a breath because they both knew arguing with her was a waste of time. And in any case, she’d had a rough day and he understood rough days. “I’m going out for a little bit,” he told her. “And while I’m gone you’re not going to destroy a damn thing, right?”
She yawned, stood, plumped up his pillow with her two front paws like she was making biscuits, and then plopped back down and closed her eyes.
“Behave,” he said firmly.
She met his gaze, her own serene, and he was pretty sure he’d just made a deal with the devil.
Thinking fuck it, he headed toward O’Riley’s. Sure, there were fifty places to get dinner between his place and the pub, maybe even more than fifty, but there was never any question of where he’d end up after work.
He wanted to see Willa.
From the beginning he’d known he was fascinated by her, but he hadn’t realized it would become so much more than a physical attraction.
He still had absolutely zero idea how to process that.
It was no longer raining, but the air was frigid. Shoving his hands in his jacket pockets, he lowered his head against the wind. Entering the building through the courtyard, he stopped by the fountain when Old Man Eddie stepped out of the alley.
Eddie was at least eighty, and that was being kind—something time hadn’t been to him. He had Wild Man of Borneo shock white hair and in spite of the cold air, wore board shorts and a Grateful Dead sweatshirt that looked as if he’d been wearing it since the seventies.
“So you’re Willa’s now,” the guy said. “Right?”
Keane gave him a closer look. “Not sure how that’s any of your business.”
The guy beamed. “Good answer, man. And I like that you didn’t deny it. Our Willa, she’s had a rough go of things. But she’s picked herself up by the bootstraps and made something of herself, so she deserves only the best. Are you the best?”
Eddie simply smiled and patted him on the arm. “Yeah. You’ll do.” And then he turned and walked away.
“Rough how?” Keane asked again.
But Eddie had vanished.
Keane let out a long, slow breath. As he knew all too well, the past was the past, but it still killed him to think about Willa as a young kid, on her own.