Holiday wishes, p.9
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       Holiday Wishes, p.9
 

         Part #4.5 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis  
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  high-pitched bark. Vinnie was up from his nap. Next came the pitter patter of paws scrambling. At the doorway between the shop and the showroom, he skidded to a stop and lifted a paw, poking at the empty air in front of his face.

  Not too long ago, her undersized rescue pup had run face first into a glass door. So now he went through this pantomime routine in every doorway he came to. And she did mean every doorway. Poor Vinnie had PTSD, and she was his emotional support human.

  When Vinnie was thoroughly satisfied that there was no hidden glass to run into, he was off and galloping again, a dark brown blur skidding around the corner of the counter like a cat on linoleum. Half French Bulldog and half Muppet, no one had ever told him that he was under a foot tall and twelve pounds soaking wet. He actually thought he was the big man on campus, and he smiled the whole way as he ran straight for Kylie, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, drool dribbling in his wake.

  Heart melting, Kylie started to bend to reach for him, but he flew right by her.

  Joe had squatted low, hands held out for the dog, who never so much glanced over at Kylie as he took a flying leap into Joe’s waiting arms. Arms that she knew were warm and strong and gave great hugs, dammit.

  Man and pup straightened, rubbing faces together for a moment while Kylie did her best not to melt. Like most French Bulldog’s, Vinnie’s expression often read glum. She called it his RBF—resting bitch face. But he was actually the opposite of glum, and the mischievous, comical, amiable light in his eyes revealed that.

  “Hey little man,” Joe murmured, flashing that killer smile of his at her pup, who was valiantly attempting to lick his face off. Joe laughed and the sound caused an answering tug from deep inside Kylie, which was maddening.

  She had no idea what was up with her hormones lately, but luckily they weren’t in charge, her brain was. And her brain wasn’t interested in Joe, excellent kisser or not. See, she had a long history with his kind, that being fast, wild, fun and . . . dangerous. Not her own personal history, but her mother’s, and she refused to be the apple who fell too close to the tree.

  “I’ll pay extra,” Joe said, still loving up on Vinnie to the dog’s utter delight. “To commission a new mirror.”

  “It doesn’t work like that,” she said. “I’ve got jobs in front of you, jobs I have to finish on a schedule. A mirror I haven’t yet even started isn’t for sale.”

  “Everything’s for sale,” Joe said.

  And how well she knew it. Shaking her head, she reached beneath the front counter and pulled a miniature tennis ball from her bag, waving it in front of Vinnie, who began to try to swim through the air to get to the ball.

  “Cheater,” Joe chastened mildly, but obligingly set Vinnie down. The dog immediately snorted in excitement and raced to Kylie, quickly going through his entire repertoire of tricks without pause, sitting, offering a paw to shake, lying down, rolling over . . .

  “Cute,” Joe said. “Does he fetch?”

  “Of course.” But truthfully, fetch wasn’t Vinnie’s strong suit. Grunting, farting, or snoring, these were his strong suits. He also often went spastic with no warning, zooming around a room in a frantic sprint until he started panting and then passed out. But he did not fetch, not that she’d admit it. “Vinnie, fetch,” she said hopefully and tossed the ball a few feet away.

  The dog gave a bark of sheer joy and gamefully took off, his short, bow legs churning up the distance. But as always, stopping was a problem and he overshot the ball. Overcorrecting to make the sharp turn, he careened right into a wall. He made a strong recovery though and went back for the ball.

  Not that he returned it to Kylie. Nope. With the mini-tennis ball barely fitting in his mouth, Vinnie padded quickly into the back, presumably bringing his new treasure to his crate.

  “Yeah, he’s great at fetch,” Joe said with a straight face.

  “We’re still working on it,” she said just as a man came out from the back, joining them at the counter.

  Gib was her boss, her friend, and her very long-time crush—though he only knew about the first two since dating her boss had never seemed like a smart idea—not that he’d ever asked her out or anything. He owned Reclaimed Woods and Kylie owed a lot to him. He’d hired her on here when she’d decided to follow her grandpa’s footsteps and become a woodworker, giving her a chance to make a name for herself. He was a good guy and everything she’d ever wanted in a man—kind, patient, sweet.

  In other words, Joe’s polar opposite.

  “Problem?” Gib asked.

  “Just trying to make a purchase,” Joe said, nodding to the mirror.

  Gib looked at Kylie. “Told you it was remarkable.”

  It was pretty rare for Gib to hand out a compliment, and she felt her chest warm with surprise and pleasure. “Thanks.”

  He nodded and squeezed her hand in his, momentarily rendering her incapacitated because . . . he was touching her. He never touched her. “But the mirror’s not available,” he said to Joe.

  “Yeah,” Joe said, although his gaze didn’t leave Kylie’s. “I’m getting that.”

  Suddenly there was an odd and unfamiliar beat of tension in the air, one Kylie wasn’t equipped to translate. Due to her parents being teens when she was born, she’d been primarily raised by her grandpa. She’d learned unusual skills for a little girl, like how to operate a planer and joiner without losing any fingers, and how to place bets at the horse races. She’d also she’d grown up into a quiet introvert, an old soul. She didn’t open up easily and as a result, not once in her entire life had two guys been interested in her at the same time. In fact, for long stretches of time, there’d been zero guys interested.

  So to have that bone-melting kiss with Joe still messing with her head and now Gib suddenly showing interest after . . . well, years, she felt like a panicked teenager. A sweaty, panicked teenager. She jabbed a finger towards the back. “I’ve, um . . . gotta get to work,” she said and bailed like she was twelve years old instead of twenty-eight.

  An Announcement to Jill Shalvis Books

  Need even more Jill Shalvis?

  Be sure to check out the rest of the sparkling romances in her New York Times bestselling Heartbreaker Bay series!

  SWEET LITTLE LIES

  THE TROUBLE WITH MISTLETOE

  ONE SNOWY NIGHT: A Heartbreaker Bay Novella

  ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE

  CHASING CHRISTMAS EVE

  Available now from Avon Books and Avon Impulse!

  And Jill Shalvis’ very first women’s fiction novel

  LOST AND FOUND SISTERS

  is on sale now!

  Bonus Scene from Sweet Little Lies

  Thank you for reading the Heartbreaker Bay series, I hope you enjoy this bonus scene with Pru and Finn. To understand this little tease, you should probably read at least Sweet Little Lies first.

  —Jill ☺

  Pru stared down at the diamond ring on her finger. It’d been there for a year, long enough that when she slid it off, like she did now, there was tan line on her finger. She ran the pad of her thumb over the whiter skin, thinking about her life before Finn and how it hadn’t really been much of a life at all.

  And then he’d come into it and turned her black and white world into full Technicolor and changed everything.

  For the better.

  So why then was she so out of sorts? She nearly jumped out of her own body when he spoke from behind her.

  “Should I be worried?” he asked.

  She hadn’t heard him come home, hadn’t heard him enter their bedroom. Anxious to see him, she turned to face him. And as it had from the very beginning, just the sight of the six-foot broad shouldered, dark eyed man drew her in and made her heart skip a beat. His eyes burned hot with an emotion she couldn’t identify. She licked her suddenly dry lips and whispered “You’re back.”

  “I am.” Holding her gaze, Finn dropped his duffle bag to the floor of their place and stepped into her, putting his hands on her
hips.

  She ran hers up his chest and into his hair as she pressed her forehead to his, breathing him in, so happy to have him back. He and his brother Sean had taken a road trip and been gone two weeks.

  It was an annual brother slash fishing thing, and she hadn’t minded.

  But what she had minded was the timing. She’d picked a fight just before he’d left, and then he’d been gone, lost to her at some isolated lake in Idaho where he’d had no reception.

  No connection to her at all.

  “I missed you,” he said.

  “Not as much as I missed you.” She drew a deep breath and then held it, unsure of how to start. She was surprised when, without another word, he wrapped his arms around her tight and pressed his face into her throat, inhaling deeply, like he needed her more than his next breath.

  It wasn’t something he’d ever done before. No, that wasn’t quite true. He’d taken comfort from her, yes, but . . . not like this, not where he actively sought it out.

  “Pru,” he whispered and lifted his head. He nuzzled into her, rubbing his scruffy jaw to hers, making a low, gruff sound that signified need and desire, and not just physical. When he finally kissed her, it was soft at first, inquisitive, letting her decide if she wanted this.

  She’d never wanted anything more in her entire life, and she let him know by pressing closer, trying to wrap herself around him so she didn’t ever have to let go. It wasn’t until she pulled back to take off her sweater that he stopped her and met her gaze.

  The honesty and lingering doubt in his eyes had Pru closing her eyes. “I wanted to tell you how sorry I was the minute you left,” she said quietly, “but I’m so annoyingly stubborn. By the time I realized that I couldn’t breathe again until I told you, you were already out of cell range.”

  He didn’t say anything to this and her heart about stopped.

  “I didn’t mean it,” she said. “What I said that day.”

  “You said that you didn’t want to set a date for our wedding.” His voice was quiet steel but she couldn’t miss the hurt.

  “I didn’t mean it like that,” she whispered.

  “Then how did you mean it?”

  “You know what the first thing people ask me when they see the ring on my finger? They want to know when we’re getting married.”

  He gave her an almost smile. “I’d like to know the same.”

  “I didn’t believe that.” She let out a long, shaky breath. “That’s why I picked the fight. I thought you wanted out.”

  He looked stunned. “Why would you think that? I asked you to marry me.”

  “Yes, but from that moment on, you never said anything more about what you wanted. You said it was up to me.”

  He opened his mouth to speak but she didn’t give him the chance to. “Because Finn, I already insinuated myself into your life. I crowded you. I gave you no choice. I never picked a date because I didn’t want to risk losing you by pushing you for more than you wanted to give. I said I’d marry you because I love you and I want to spend my life with you. If you want to stay engaged forever, that’s good enough for me. The only thing I don’t want is to lose you.”

  He stood there staring at her. When he didn’t speak, she started to turn away but he caught her.

  “Babe.” His voice stopped her. “Wait.”

  She lifted her gaze to his and felt staggered by all she saw in his eyes. Frustration. Bemusement. Affection.

  And love.

  So much love it stole her breath.

  “I thought about you the whole two weeks I was gone,” he said, “every living minute, when I was freezing my ass off on that godforsaken lake at dawn trying to catch a fish for breakfast, when Sean wouldn’t stop singing Rhianna and I wanted to strangle him, when I tried to fall asleep at night but could only think of you and wonder what you were doing, if you were changing your mind—”

  “I wasn’t.” She shook her head, her eyes burning with tears. “I wouldn’t.”

  “Good. Because sometimes I let myself remember what my world was like before you came into it and I don’t want to go back to that. I need you in my life, Pru,” he said, voice low and strained.

  “I’m in. I’m all the way in,” she breathed, tightening her grip on him. “I promise.”

  “You’re my life, Pru. I need you with me, loving me. I didn’t realize how much until I couldn’t see you every day, touch you. With you, I’m less alone, and for the first time in my life I know what contentment feels like. You want me to set the date? Fine,” he said fiercely. “I pick yesterday.”

  She choked out a laugh and he graced her with a smile that took her breath. She stepped into him and threw her arms around his neck, pulling his head down. “How about today instead?” she asked.

  “That was my second choice,” he said and covered her mouth with his.

 
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