“Well, honestly,” Pru said. “Do men learn that look at birth or what?”
“Yes,” Elle said thoughtfully. “They do. Willa, honey, don’t you dare rush over there. You take your sweet-ass time and make sure to swipe that panic off your face and smile while you’re at it. Won’t do you any good to let him know he’s getting to you.”
“See,” Willa said to Haley and Pru. “At least one of you isn’t influenced by dark, knowing eyes and a darker smile and a pair of ohmigod-sexy guy jeans.”
“Okay, I didn’t say that,” Elle said. “But I’m not so much influenced as curious as hell. Get the door, Wills. Let’s see what he’s made of.”
“He just saw me dancing like a poodle,” she said.
“Exactly, and you didn’t scare him off. He’s got to be made of stern stuff.”
Willa sighed and headed to the door.
Again Keane held the pink bedazzled cat carrier, which should have made him look ridiculous. Instead it somehow upped his testosterone levels. His sharp eyes were on her but they turned warm in a way that melted her right through her center as she moved toward him. She stopped with the glass door between them, hands on hips, hoping she looked irritated even if that wasn’t quite what she was feeling.
His gaze lowered from her face to run over her body, which gave her another unwelcome rush of heat. Dammit. Now she was irritated and aroused—not a good combo.
His mouth quirked at the saying on her apron that read Dear Santa, I Can Explain.
Drawing a deep breath, she opened the door. “You’ve got Petunia again. I hope that means your great-aunt Sally isn’t still sick.”
He looked surprised that she’d remembered his aunt’s name, or that she’d care. “I don’t know,” he said a little gruffly. “She left me a message saying that I was in charge for the rest of the week but for two days now Pita’s been happily destroying my jobsite. I’m throwing myself on your mercy here. Can you help?”
Wow. He must be really desperate since he was actually asking and not assuming. But since Petunia was a sweetheart, she knew she’d do it.
“I’ll even tell you where I went to high school,” he said, adding a smile that was shockingly charming.
Wow. He hadn’t lost his touch when it came to turning it on. “Not necessary,” she said, painfully aware of their audience.
Keane’s attention was suddenly directed upward, just above her head. She followed his line of sight and found a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the overhead display of small, portable doggy pools. Mistletoe? What the hell? She glanced behind her and what do you know, suddenly Rory and Cara were a flurry of movement racing around looking very, very busy. “When did the mistletoe go up?” she asked them. “And why?”
“FOMO,” Cara said from behind the counter.
“Fear of missing out,” Rory translated. “She was hoping a hot guy would come in and the mistletoe would give her an excuse.”
Willa narrowed her eyes and her two soon-to-be-dead employees scattered again.
“Interesting,” Keane said, looking amused.
“I’m not kissing you.”
His mouth curved. “If you take Pita for the day, I’ll kiss you.”
“Not necessary,” she said, gratified no one could see her heart doing the two-step in her ears. “I’ll take Petunia for the day. No kiss required or wanted.”
Liar, liar . . .
Keane stepped inside. And because she didn’t step back far enough, they very nearly touched. His hair was a little damp, she couldn’t help but notice, like maybe he’d just showered. He smelled of sexy guy soap, a.k.a. amazing. He wore faded jeans with a rip along one thigh and another long-sleeved T-shirt with SF Builders on the pec, so her guess that he was in construction seemed correct.
He also was covered in cat hair.
From right behind him one of her regulars came in. Janie Sharp was in her thirties, had five kids under the age of ten, worked as a schoolteacher and was continuously late, harried, exhausted, and desperate.
Today, her three youngest were running around her in circles at full speed, screaming as they chased each other while Janie held a fishbowl high, trying to avoid spilling as she was continuously jostled. “I know,” she yelled to Willa. “I’m early. But I’ll have to kill myself if you don’t help me out this morning.”
This was a common refrain from Janie. “As long as you don’t leave your kids,” Willa said. Also a common refrain. At the odd sound from Keane, she glanced over at him. “She’s only kidding about killing herself,” she said. “But I’m not kidding about her kids.”
Janie nodded. “They’re devil spawn.”
“Names?” Keane asked.
Janie blinked at him as if just seeing him for the first time. Her eyes glazed over a little bit and she might’ve drooled. “Dustin, Tanner, and Lizzie,” she said faintly.
Keane snapped his fingers and the kids stopped running in circles around Janie. They stopped making noise. They stopped breathing.
Keane pointed at the first one. “Dustin or Tanner?”
“Tanner,” the little boy said and shoved his thumb in his mouth.
Keane looked at the other two and they both started talking at once. He held up a finger and pointed at the little girl.
“I’m an angel,” she said breathlessly. “My daddy says so.”
“Did you know that angels look out for the people they care about?” Keane asked her. “They’re in charge.”
The little girl got a sly look on her face. “So I getta be in charge of Tan and Dust?”
“You look out for them.” He turned his gaze on the two boys. “And in turn, you look out for her. Nothing should happen to her on your watch, ever. You get me?”
The two boys bobbed their heads up and down.
Janie stared down at her three quiet, respectful kids in utter shock. “It’s a Christmas miracle come early,” she whispered in awe and met Keane’s gaze. “Do you babysit?”
Keane just smiled and for a moment, it stunned the entire room. He had a hell of a smile. One that brought to mind hot, long, deep, drugging kisses.
So much more . . . “No,” Willa said and took Janie’s fishbowl. “You’re not giving your kids to a perfect stranger.”