He had a dangerous, edgy air to him as the harsh kitchen light hit his taut, tense features, his eyes filled with temper and concern.
“I’m okay,” she said.
He didn’t speak until he’d made sure for himself, looking over both her and Rory before hauling Willa in close to his side and reaching for Rory’s hand.
The girl grabbed on to it like it was her lifeline and Willa knew the feeling.
Because he was her lifeline too.
“What happened?” he asked.
Willa gave him the short version and after hearing it, Keane called the police.
Behind them, Andy stirred and groaned. Keane let go of Willa and Rory and moved over him. “Get up.”
Keane shook his head, like he couldn’t quite believe what an idiot this guy was. Then he hauled Andy to his feet and pinned him against the wall so that they were nose to nose.
Andy closed his eyes.
Keane gave him a little shake until he opened them again. Keane didn’t raise his voice or give any indication of being furious, but the air fairly crackled around him. “Let’s get something straight.”
“Fuck you,” Andy said, repeating himself.
Keane put a forearm across his throat and leaned in a little, which appeared to get Andy’s full attention. “So, a couple of things,” Keane said calmly. “You’re not going to touch Rory ever again. You’re not going to talk to her, see her, or even think of her.”
Andy hesitated and Keane pressed harder, which had Andy suddenly nodding like a bobblehead.
“Same for Willa,” Keane said, still quiet. Deadly calm. “In fact, you’re not going to get within a hundred feet of either of them. Do we need to go over what will happen if you do?”
Andy shook his head.
“Sure?” Keane asked.
More wild nodding.
“Keane,” Willa said softly, setting a hand on his biceps, which felt like solid granite.
Keane let him go and Andy slid to the floor, hands protectively cupping his goods.
That’s when the police showed up.
Two hours later, Keane finally led Willa and Rory into his truck. They’d had a few tense moments when the police had first arrived before getting everything sorted out.
Meaning keeping Rory out of having to take a ride to the station.
“I’m such a screwup,” Rory said quietly from the backseat. “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”
Before Keane could say a word, Willa twisted from the front seat and reached for Rory’s hand. “Honey, no one knows what they’re doing with their life.”
“They seem like they do,” Rory mumbled. “On Instagram everyone has normal pics of family and boyfriends and . . . really great-looking food.”
“Trust me,” Willa said. “Even your most perfect Instagram friend has an asshole ex and eats chocolate cereal for dinner once in a while, okay? You’re not alone and you’re not any more screwed up than the rest of us.”
Rory choked out a laugh. “Was that supposed to be comforting?”
Willa gave her a small smile that tugged at Keane’s heart. “Yes.” She glanced over at him. “Right?”
“Right,” he said. “But for the record, I don’t like chocolate cereal. My jam is Frosted Flakes.”
At this, Rory managed a second laugh and so did Willa, both of which warmed him. He didn’t know how and he didn’t know when, but the walls guarding his heart had fallen and he’d been conquered. Hard.
Willa’s brain was on overdrive as Keane walked them upstairs to her apartment. At the front door, Rory gave Keane a hug and vanished inside.
Willa quietly shut the door to give them privacy and looked up at the man quiet at her side. “I’ll keep her here with me tonight. It won’t be the first time she’s slept on the couch.” She paused. “I wanted to thank you,” she said softly. “For tonight.”
He smiled. “You mean when you lured me here under false pretenses pretending to need help with the mistletoe when really you wanted to take advantage of my body?”
She felt herself blush. “I meant with Rory. I wish I hadn’t needed to be rescued by my . . .” She broke off.
He arched his brow, clearly waiting to hear how she intended to finish that sentence, but she’d talked herself right into a damn corner.
“By your what, Willa?” he asked softly. “The guy you’re just fucking? Your friend? Someone you care about maybe too much? What?”
Overwhelmed, and also short of air because there was a big ball of panic in her throat, she looked away.
She heard Keane draw in a deep breath. “I’m going to give you a pass on that right now,” he said. “Because we both know you have some shit to figure out. But I want you to know something and I need you to really hear it.” He tipped her face up to his. His expression was serious and just about as intense as she’d ever seen it, including when he’d had Andy pinned against the wall.
“This thing between us?” he asked. “There’s no price. I needed a cat search and rescue and you came running. You need a ride and maybe a little muscle backup to deal with some asshole, I’m going to come running. You following me?”
She chewed on the inside of her cheek, trying to figure out if the math really worked out. “I’m pretty sure I get more out of this than you do.”
He shook his head. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re stubborn?”
“Don’t forget obstinate,” she said. “And yeah, I’ve heard it a time or two.” Or hundred . . .
“I’m not looking to rescue you,” he said with quiet steel. “This, between us, has nothing to do with anything like that.”
“What does it have to do with?”
He looked at her for a long beat, clearly weighing his words. “You let people in,” he finally said. “I’ve seen you.”
She wasn’t sure where this was headed but she could tell she wasn’t going to like it. “Okay . . .”
“Your friends, you’d give them the shirt off your back. Same with the kids you hire and keep safe.” He stepped even closer so that they were sharing air. “You give them a safe haven, you let them into your life. You do the same with all the animals that come your way.” He planted his big palms on the wall on either side of her head and let out a low laugh like he was more than a little surprised at himself. “I’m saying I’ve changed my stance on relationships and commitment. I want in your damn life, Willa.”