Sweet Little Lies: Heartbreaker Bay Book 1, Page 2Jill Shalvis
She stilled and then craned her neck, looking behind her.
No one there. Just herself, dripping all over his floor.
She turned back and found Finn looking quietly amused. Their gazes locked and held for a long beat, like maybe he was taking her pulse from across the room, absorbing the fact that she was drenched and breathless. The corners of his mouth twitched. She’d amused him again.
People shifted between them. The place was crowded as always, but when the way was clear again, Finn was still looking at her, steady and unblinking, those dark green eyes flickering with something other than amusement now, something that began to warm her from the inside out.
Three weeks and it was the same every single time . . .
Pru considered herself fairly brave and maybe a little more than fairly adventurous—but not necessarily forward. It wasn’t easy for her to connect with people.
Which was the only excuse she had for jerking her gaze away, pretending to eye the room.
The pub itself was small and cozy. One half bar, the other half pub designated for dining, the décor was dark woods reminiscent of an old thatched inn. The tables were made from whiskey barrels and the bar itself had been crafted out of repurposed longhouse-style doors. The hanging brass lantern lights and stained-glass fixtures along with the horse-chewed, old-fence baseboards finished the look that said antique charm and friendly warmth.
Music drifted out of invisible speakers, casting a jovial mood, but not too loud so as to make conversation difficult. There was a wall of windows and also a rack of accordion wood and glass doors that opened the pub on both sides, one to the courtyard, the other to the street, giving a view down the hill to the beautiful Fort Mason Park and Marina Green, and the Golden Gate Bridge behind that.
All of which was fascinating, but not nearly as fascinating as Finn himself, which meant that her eyes, the traitors, swiveled right back to him.
He pointed at her.
“Me?” she asked, even though he couldn’t possibly hear her from across the place.
With a barely there smile, he gave her a finger crook.
Pru’s brain wondered what her mom would’ve said about going to a man who crooked his finger at her. But Pru’s feet didn’t care, they simply took her right to him.
He handed her a clean towel to dry off. Their fingers brushed, sending a tingle straight through her. While she enjoyed that—hey, it was the most action she’d gotten in a very long time—he cleared her a seat.
“What can I get you?” His voice was low and gravelly, bringing to mind all sorts of inappropriate responses to his question.
“Your usual?” he asked. “Or the house special?”
“What would that be?” she asked.
“Tonight it’s a watermelon mojito. I could make it virgin-style for you.”
He saw God knew how many people day in and day out, and on top of that the two of them hadn’t spoken much more than a few words to each other, but he remembered what she liked after a long day at work out on the water.
And what she didn’t. He’d noticed that she didn’t drink alcohol. Hard to believe that when he had a pub menu, a regular alcoholic beverage menu, and also a special menu dedicated solely to beer, he could keep it all straight. “You kept track of my usual?” she asked, warmed at the idea. Warmed and a little scared because she shouldn’t be doing this, flirting with him.
“It’s my job,” he said.
“Oh.” She laughed at herself. “Right. Of course.”
His eyes never left her face. “And also because your usual is a hot chocolate, which matches your eyes.”
Her stomach got warmer. So did some of her other parts. “The virgin special would be great, thanks.”
The guy on the barstool next to her swiveled to look at her. He was in a suit, tie loosened. “Hi,” he said with the cheerfulness of someone who was already two drinks into his night. “I’m Ted. How ’bout I buy you an Orgasm? Or maybe even”—wink, wink—“multiples?”
Finn’s easy, relaxed stance didn’t change but his eyes did as they cut to Ted, serious now and a little scary hard. “Behave,” he warned, “or I’ll cut you off.”
“Aw, now that’s no fun,” Ted said with a toothy smile. “I’m trying to buy the pretty lady a drink, is all.”
Finn just looked at him.
Ted lifted his hands in a sign of surrender and Finn went back to making drinks. Soon as he did, Ted leaned in close to Pru again. “Okay now that daddy’s gone, how about Sex On The Beach?”
Finn reached in and took Ted’s drink away. “Annnnd you’re out.”
Ted huffed out a sigh and stood up. “Fine, I gotta get home anyway.” He flashed a remorseful smile at Pru. “Maybe next time we’ll start with a Seduction.”
“Maybe next time,” she said, picking one of the sweet, noncommittal smiles from her wide repertoire of smiles that she used on the job captaining a day cruise ship in the bay. It took a lot of different smiles to handle all the people she dealt with daily and she had it down.
When Ted was gone, Finn met her gaze. “Maybe next time?” he repeated.
“Or, you know, never.”
Finn smiled at that. “You let him down easy.”
“Had to,” she said. “Since you played bad cop.”
“Just part of the service I offer,” he said, not at all bothered by the bad cop comment. “Did you have to cancel your last tour today?”
So apparently he knew what she did for a living. “Nope. Just got back.”
“You were out in this?” he asked in disbelief. “With the high winds and surf alerts?”
His hands were in constant motion, making drinks, chopping ingredients, keeping things moving. She was mesmerized by the way he moved, how he used those strong hands, the stubble on his jaw . . .
She jerked her gaze off his square jaw and found his locked on hers. “Hmm?”
A flash of humor and something else came and went in his eyes. “Did you have any problems with the high winds and surf out there today?”
“Not really. I mean, a little kid got sick on his grandma, but that’s because she gave him an entire bag of cotton candy and then two hot dogs, and he wolfed it all down in like two seconds, so I’m not taking the blame there.”
He turned his head and looked out the open doors facing the courtyard. Dusk had fallen. The lights strung in pretty ribbons over and around the wrought iron fencing and fountain revealed sheets of rain falling from the sky.
She shrugged. “It didn’t start raining until I was off the water. And anyway, bad weather’s a part of the job.”
“I’d think staying alive would be a bigger part of the job.”
“Well yes,” she said on a laugh. “Staying alive is definitely the goal.” Truth was, she rarely had problems out on the water. Nope, it was mostly real life that gave her problems. “It’s San Francisco. If we didn’t go out in questionable weather, we’d never go out at all.”
He took that in a moment as he simultaneously cleaned up a mess at the bar and served a group a few seats down a pitcher of margaritas, while still managing to make her feel like he was concentrating solely on her.
It’s his job, her brain reminded her body. But it felt like more.
From the other side of the pub came a sound of a plate hitting the floor. Finn’s eyes tracked over there.
One of his waitresses had dropped a dish, and the table she’d been serving—a rowdy group of young guys—were cheering, embarrassing her further.
Finn easily hopped over the bar and strode over there. Pru couldn’t hear what he said but the guys at the table immediately straightened up, losing their frat boy antics mentality.
Finn then turned, crouched low next to his waitress, helped her clean up, and was back to the bar in less than sixty seconds.
“You’ve got an interesting job,” he said, coming back to the
ir conversation like nothing had happened.
“Yes,” she said, watching as the waitress moved to the kitchen with a grateful glance in Finn’s direction. “Interesting. And fun too.” Which was incredibly important to her because . . . well, there’d been a very long stretch of time when her life hadn’t been anything close to resembling a good time.
“Fun.” Finn repeated the word like it didn’t compute. “Now there’s something I haven’t had in a while.”
Something else she already knew about him, and the thought caused a slash of regret to cut through her.
Sean came up alongside Finn. The brothers looked alike; same dark hair, same dark green eyes and smiles. Finn was taller, which didn’t stop Sean from slinging an arm around his older brother’s neck as he winked at Pru. “You’ll have to excuse grandpa here. He doesn’t do fun. You’d do better to go out with me.”
Sean O’Riley, master flirt.
But Pru was a master too, by necessity. She’d had to become well versed in dealing with charming flirts at work. It didn’t matter if it was vacationers, tourists, or college kids . . . they all got a kick out of having a female boat captain, and since she was passable in the looks department and a smartass to boot, she got hit on a lot. She always declined, even the marriage proposals. Especially the marriage proposals. “I’m flattered,” she said with an easy smile. “But I couldn’t possibly break the hearts of all the women waiting for their cocktail fantasies to come true.”
“Damn.” Sean mimed a dagger to the heart but laughed good-naturedly. “Do me a favor then, would ya? If you’re going to take this one for a spin”—he elbowed Finn—“Show him how to live a little and maybe take him for a walk on the wild side while you’re at it.”
Pru slid her gaze to Finn, which was how she caught the quick flash of irritation as Sean sauntered off. “You need help living a little?” she asked him lightly. Not easy to do since her heart had started pounding, her pulse racing, because what was she doing? Was she really playing with him? It was a bad idea, the worst of all her bad ideas put together, and she’d had some real doozies over the years.
Don’t be stupid. Back away from the cute hottie. You can’t have him and you know why.
But the troubling train of thought stopped on a dime when Finn laughed all rumbly and sexy, like maybe he saved it for special occasions.
“Actually,” he said, “I’ve lived plenty. And as for taking a walk on the wild side, I wrote the book on it.” He leaned on the bar, which brought him up close and personal. Eyes locked on hers, he stroked a strand of wet hair from her temple.
She went still, like a puppy waiting for a belly rub, staring up at him, her heart still pounding, but for another reason entirely now. “What changed?” she asked, whispered really, because she was pretty sure she knew what the catalyst had been and it was going to kill her to hear him say it.
He shrugged. “Life.”
Oh how she hated that for him. Hated it, and felt guilty for it. And not for the first time when she felt overwhelmed and out of her league, she opened her mouth and put her foot in it. “You know, in some circles I’m known as the Fun Whisperer.”
He arched a brow. “Is that right?”
“Yep,” she said, apparently no longer in control of her mouth. “The fun starts right here with me. I specialize in people not living their lives, the ones letting their life live them. It’s about letting stuff go, you see.” Seriously. Why wasn’t her mouth attached to a shut-the-hell-up filter?
Finn smiled and blew half her brain cells. “You going to teach me how to have fun, Pru?” he asked in that low, husky voice.
Good God, the way her name rolled off his tongue had her knees wobbling. She could see now that his eyes weren’t a solid dark green, but had swirls of gold and brown and even some blue in them in the mix as well. She was playing with fire and all her inner alarms were going off.
But did she do any of those things? No, she did not. Instead she smiled back and said, “I could knock the ball out of the park teaching you how to have fun.”
“I have no doubt,” he murmured, and blew all her remaining brain cells.
It wasn’t until Finn shifted away to help one of his servers that Pru let out a shuddery breath. I’m known as the Fun Whisperer? She smacked her own forehead, which didn’t knock any sense into her. Ordering her hormones to cool their jets, she turned away to take in the rest of the pub.
She was immediately waved over to the far end of the bar, which she’d missed when she’d first come in because hello, she’d honed in on Finn like a homing pigeon.
Informally reserved for those who lived and worked in the building, this end of the bar was instant camaraderie as someone you knew was always there to eat or drink with.
Tonight that someone was Willa, sole proprietor of the South Bark Mutt Shop, a one-stop pet store on the southwest ground-floor corner of the building.
Willa eyed a still very wet Pru and without a word pushed a plate of chicken wings her way.
“You’re a mind reader,” Pru said and slid onto the seat next to her.
Willa laughed at the squishy, watery sound Pru made when she sat. “When you live in a city that’s all hills and rain and soggy rainbow flags you learn really fast what’s valuable. An umbrella with all its spokes . . . and a man who believes in happily-ever-afters.”
Pru laughed. “Aw. You believe in fairy tales.”
Willa smiled, her bright green eyes dancing. If you took in her strawberry red hair cut in layers framing her pretty face and coupled it with her petite, curvy frame, she looked like she belonged in a fairy tale herself, waving her magic wand. “You don’t believe the right guy’s out there for you?”
Pru took a big bite of a mouth-watering chicken wing and moaned. Swallowing, she licked some sauce off her thumb. “I just think I’d have better luck searching for a unicorn.”
“You could wish on the fountain,” Willa said.
The fountain in their courtyard had quite the reputation, as the woman she’d seen earlier had clearly known. The 1928 four-story building had actually been built around the fountain, which had been here in the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco for fifty years before that, when the area still resembled the Wild West and was chock-full of dairies and roaming cattle.
Back then only the hearty had survived. And the desperate. Born of that, the fountain’s myth went that a wish made here out of true desperation, with an equally true heart, would bring a first, true love in unexpected ways.
It’d happened just enough times over the past hundred plus years that the myth had long since become infamous legend.
A big hand set a mouth-watering looking watermelon mojito mocktail in front of her, the muscles in his forearm flexing as he moved. Pru stared at it for a beat before she managed to lift her gaze to Finn’s. “Thanks.”
She obediently did just that. “Oh my God,” she murmured, pleasure infusing her veins. “What’s in it?”
He smiled mysteriously, and something warm and wondrous happened deep inside her.
“Secret recipe,” he said while she was still gaping up at him. He turned to Willa. “And your Irish coffee.”
Willa squealed over the mountain of whipped cream topping the glass and jumped up to give Finn a tight squeeze.
Pru knew that they were very tight friends and it showed in their familiarity with each other. It didn’t seem sexual at all so there was no need for jealousy but Finn definitely let down his guard with Willa. And it was that, Pru knew, that gave her the twinge of envy.
Finn waited until Willa sat and attacked her drink before he spoke again. “Your girl Cara tried to con Sean into a drink last night.”
Willa, who’d just spooned in a huge bite of the cream, grimaced. She always had three or four employees on rotation at her shop, all of them some sort of r
escue, many of them underage. “She have a fake ID?”
“Affirmative,” Finn said. “He cut it up on my orders.”
Willa sighed. “Bet that went over like a fart in church.”
Finn lifted a shoulder. “We handled it.”
Willa reached out and squeezed his hand. “Thanks.”
Finn nodded and turned his attention back to Pru, who’d sucked down a third of her drink already. “You need your own order of chicken wings?”
What she needed didn’t involve calories. It involved a lobotomy. “Yes, please.”
“You warming up yet?”
Yes, but that might’ve had more to do with his warm gaze than the temperature in the room. “Getting there,” she managed.
The barest of smiles curved his mouth.
Idle chitchat. That’s all this was, she reminded herself. They were just like any other casual acquaintances who happened to be in the same place at the same time.
Except there was nothing casual about her being here. Finn just didn’t know it.
She’d have to tell him eventually, because this wasn’t a fairy tale. And she absolutely would tell him. But as a rule, she tended to subscribe to the later-is-best theory.
She realized he was watching her and she squirmed in her seat, suddenly very busy looking anywhere and everywhere except right into his eyes because they made her think about things. Things that made her nipples hopeful and perky.
Things that couldn’t happen.
As if maybe he knew what he could do to her with just one look—or hey, it wasn’t like her wet white shirt was hiding much—the corners of his mouth quirked.
Which was when she realized that Willa had stopped eating and was staring at the two of them staring at each other. When Willa opened her mouth to say something, something Pru was quite certain she didn’t want said in front of Finn, she rushed to beat her friend to it. “On second thought, can I double that order of chicken wings?”
“Sure,” Finn’s mouth said.
Stop looking at his mouth! She forced herself to look into his eyes instead, those deep, dark, mossy green eyes, which as suspected, was a lot like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. “Um, I think that’s my phone—” She started digging through her purse. Wrapping her fingers around her cell, she pulled it out and stared at the screen.