She still hadn’t said a word and he resigned himself to that being it, this was as far as they went, when she finally spoke.
“I was sent away for the first time right about the same age as you,” she said softly.
He turned and met her gaze. “What happened?”
“I was in the foster system on and off for most of the next fourteen years.” She paused. “My mom’s an alcoholic. She’d get it together for a little bit here and there, but not for long. Usually she’d fall for some guy, break up and fall off the wagon at the same time, and then go a little crazy, and I’d end up back in the system.”
Christ, how he hated that for her. “Any of those ‘some guys’ dress up like Santa?”
“Just the first one,” she said with a shudder. “After a few encounters, I finally got my nerve up and spilled his coffee on his lap. And that was that.”
“Tell me it was fucking boiling hot,” he said.
She smiled proudly. “Yep.”
He hoped like hell she’d melted the guy’s dick off but either way she’d been left with a scar too. Shocking how violent he could feel for something that had happened to her twenty years ago, but violent was exactly how he felt at the moment.
People had disappointed her. Hurt her. And damn if he hadn’t put himself in position to do the same by making it clear that what they shared was in the moment only.
He’d never felt like a bigger dick.
Reaching out, she squeezed his hand. Comforting him, he realized and he actually felt his throat go tight as he held on to her fingers. “How many times did you go into the system?” he asked.
“At least once a year until I turned eighteen and was let loose.”
His gut clenched thinking about how rough that must have been for her. “Not a great way to grow up.”
She shrugged. “I got good at the revolving door. I’m still good at it.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t attach,” she said. “And I don’t tend to lock in. At my shop, customers come and go. The animals too. Even my employees. And men. The only constants have been my friends.” She shifted as if uncomfortable that she’d revealed so much. “I should go—”
He tightened his hold on her because no way in hell was he crawling back over the edge of this building after her. “I’m going to call bullshit on the not-locking-in thing,” he said gently. Oh yes, she was a flight risk now; he could feel her body tensing up. “You’re smart as hell, Willa. You’re self-made. You never give up, and the depth of your heart is endless. If you wanted to lock in, as you call it, you would.”
She looked away. “Maybe you’re giving me too much credit.”
“I doubt that.”
He couldn’t even imagine what her early years had been like for someone like her, with her heart so full and sweet and tender. And then the foster care system, which must’ve been a nightmare. “Are you still in contact with your mom?” he asked.
“Yes. She lives in Texas now, and we text every other week or so. It took us a while to come to the understanding that twice a month is the right amount of time for us—halfway between missing the connection and wanting to murder each other in our sleep.” She smiled, but he didn’t.
She pulled out her phone. “No really, mostly it’s good now, or at least much better than it ever was in the past anyway. See?”
Hi honey, just checking in. You’re probably busy tonight . . .?
“Translation,” Willa said. “She’s sober and also fishing.” She tried to take the phone back but he’d gotten a look at her return text and smiled.
He read it out loud, still smiling.
The daughter you’re trying to reach will neither confirm nor deny that she has plans tonight since you’re clearly trying to find out if she’s seeing someone. This violates the terms of our relationship. If you continue to harass your daughter in this fashion, she’ll start dating girls again.
Keane stopped and looked at her, and when he managed to speak, his voice sounded low and rough to his own ears. “Again?”
She squirmed a little bit and dropped eye contact. “It was a one-time thing,” she said. “A phase. And I got over it real fast when I realized girls are crazy.”
“Guys aren’t much better,” he said.
He smiled as he rasped his thumb over her jaw, letting his fingers sink into her hair.
“Keane,” she said softly. “Thanks for tonight.” She rose. “For no strings, it was pretty damn amazing.”
He didn’t say anything to this. Couldn’t. Because he was suddenly feeling uneasy and unsure, two things he didn’t do well. Not that he said anything. No reason to reveal his own pathetic insecurities.
She moved to the edge of the roof and turned back. “Do you need help down?”
“Over my dead body.”
She laughed. And with that, she vanished over the ledge.
Keane moved over there and looked over the edge, and then had to sit down hard while life passed before his eyes. “Fuck.” It took him a moment to get his shit together, and by then Willa was long gone.
He moved in the opposite direction, toward the door that led to the inside stairwell, consoling himself with the fact that at least there was no one to see him taking the easy way down.
The next morning Willa stood in the back of her shop shoving down a breakfast sandwich with Cara and Rory. It was midmorning and they’d been swamped since before opening.
Although not too swamped that she couldn’t relive the night before, the way Keane’s voice had been a rough whisper against her ear, the heat in his eyes as he’d taken control and moved knowingly inside her, his hands both protective and possessive on her body.
When a text came in, she was tempted to ignore it, but in the end her curiosity won. It was from Elle.
I’m going to need a detailed report of what went down last night.
“Dammit,” she muttered, and Cara and Rory both pointed in unison to the swear jar.