“Friends,” he repeated, still unsure how he was feeling about this.
“Yes,” she said. “Friends stick.” She lifted a shoulder, as if a little embarrassed. “I guess I wouldn’t mind if you . . . stuck.”
He looked at her for a long beat, picturing the novelty of that, being friends with a woman he wanted naked and writhing beneath him. “I like the sticky part.”
She pushed him but he caught her hand and got serious. “I’m in,” he said.
Her mouth curved. “In as friends, or was that another sexual innuendo?”
“Both,” he said just to see her smile go bright again.
When it did, his chest got all tight. It told him that this was something much more than the still sizzling chemistry between them, but given the look on her face, he didn’t have to point that out. She already knew.
“So,” she said after an awkward pause. “What brings you here? You done working for the day?”
“No, my great-aunt wants to see Pita.”
Willa processed Keane’s words and felt her spine snap straight as she rushed for the door.
Keane was right on her heels and she sent him a glare over her shoulder. “You should’ve told me right away she was here!”
“I told you as soon as you stopped talking about magic and sticky.”
“Oh my God.” She was going to have to kill him. He was keeping up with her, his broad shoulders pushing the boundaries of his work T-shirt, jeans emphasizing his long legs, scuffed work boots on his feet, all combining to make her heart take a hard leap against her ribs.
Or maybe that was just him doing all of that to her.
She took another peek and their gazes locked and held. During that long beat, Willa forgot her problems with Lyndie, forgot the shop . . . hell, she forgot her own name because images from last night were flashing through her head again. The way his big, work-roughened hands had felt on her, the deep growl from his throat as he’d moved deep inside her, touching something no one else ever had. He’d taken her outside of herself and it’d been shockingly easy for him to do so, as if he’d known her all his life.
Then there’d been the sheer, unadulterated, driving need and hunger he’d caused. And fulfilled . . . And she’d put them in the friend zone.
She was an idiot, a scared, vulnerable idiot . . .
An older woman was making her way around the shop, walking slowly, maybe a little painfully, her face pinched with anxiety and concern.
“Aunt Sally, this is Willa Davis,” Keane said, introducing them. “She owns and runs South Bark.”
“Lovely to meet you,” Willa said.
The woman narrowed her eyes. “You’re the friend who has my Petunia?”
She slid a look Keane’s way. “Yes. She’s safe and sound, as always when she’s here.”
Ruh-roh, Willa thought, but before she could speak, Sally beat her to it.
“I want her back.” Keane’s aunt’s white hair was in a bun and that bun quivered with indignity. “Right now.”
“Aunt Sally,” Keane said quietly, putting his hand over the older woman’s. “Pita—er, Petunia really is very happy here, I promise you.”
“Who’s Pita?” Sally asked.
Willa laughed but when Keane sent her a pained look, she turned it into a cough.
“She wasn’t meant to be crated all day,” Sally said. “She hates being contained—”
“Oh, I don’t keep the fur babies in a crate,” Willa said. “I only take on a very select few in the first place and they stay with me or one of my employees all day. Petunia is one of those select few. And she’s really wonderful, by the way. So sweet and loving.”
This time it was Keane to choke on a laugh and then tried to cough it off.
Willa ignored him. “Petunia really enjoys being high up and viewing the world from a safe perch.”
“Yes,” Sally said with great relief, losing a lot of her tension. “She does.”
Willa turned and gestured to the other end of the store, where she had a built-in shelving unit lining the wall with an assortment of animal beds for sale, ranging from Saint Bernard–size down to small enough for the tiniest of kittens.
Petunia was on the highest shelf in the smallest of beds, half of her body overlapping on either side—which didn’t appear to be bothering her one bit, as she was fast asleep.
“Oh my,” Sally breathed, cupping her own face, which had softened with pleasure. “She looks . . . ridiculous.”
Willa laughed. “She chose the perch, and she’s perfectly content. She just came back from a walk—”
“A walk!” Sally exclaimed. “Outside?”
“On a leash,” Willa said. “One of my friends took her and two golden retrievers out together this morning. They all had a great time.”
Sally whirled to Keane, eyes bright as she reached up and smacked him in the chest. “You’re brilliant.”
Keane looked surprised. And wary. “I am?”
“And here I’ve been thinking how sad it is that you never recovered from losing Blue enough to get another pet. Blue was his childhood dog,” she said to Willa before looking back at Keane. “I thought when your mother and father gave that dog away without talking to you about it first that the loss had irrevocably destroyed your ability to love another animal.”
Keane’s expression went blank. “They didn’t give him away,” he said. “I left the back door open and he escaped. It was my fault.”
Sally shook her head. “I always wondered what hokey-pokey bologna they fed you. Keane, you loved that dog beyond reason, you’d never have carelessly left the back door open knowing your yard wasn’t fenced in.”
“How do you know this?” he asked. “You weren’t around.”
“My sister and I share a best friend. And let’s just say that Betty didn’t turn her back on me like everyone else. She keeps me updated.”
Keane still wore that blank expression, but there was something happening behind his eyes now that tugged hard at Willa’s heart.
She’d bought his party line that maybe he was a guy who didn’t feel deeply, who didn’t have a sensitivity chip. A guy who couldn’t attach. But she was starting to suspect it was the actual opposite, that he had incredible heart, he’d just been hurt. Badly.