“You didn’t do it to repay a favor.”
He says it with such certainty, I know protesting won’t change his mind. “You think you know me so well?”
“I’m beginning to.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “Willa, Kitty hasn’t left the inn since my father passed away. This morning was her first time outside in six months.”
For a moment, all I can do is stare. “Six months?”
Shane nods. “Even when my father was alive, he didn’t like her going out much. Didn’t give her the chance.” His gaze holds mine. “I know you well enough to see you’re about to make light of it, being the one to bring her out. I won’t let you.”
“I wasn’t.” I totally was. “She was very brave. That’s what I was going to say.”
He tilts his head. “No incidents along the way?”
I shrug. “She may have tried to pay the bus driver in apples.”
“It might have been an accepted form of payment the last time she rode the bus.”
We share a quiet laugh. Oh sweet Jesus, he’s funny, too? Up until now, any humor directed at me has been sarcastic or insulting. His laugh is rich and deep, reminding me of the coffee I’d drank that morning at Beshoffs and where my orgasmic coffee thoughts had led. Shane’s shoulders flexing against the backs of my knees, his stubble scraping my thighs. I feel my cheeks burning, my eyelids getting heavy. Shane notices and interprets what I can’t see, can only feel. I know this by the barely audible groan in his throat.
He takes a step forward. With a massive case of reluctance, I back up against my door so hard, it shakes on its hinges. A single one of his eyebrows raises, but he doesn’t stop moving closer. One of his warm hands rises to cup my cheek. “We’re back to that, are we?”
I don’t have an explanation. What can I possibly say? I think I’m starting to feel more than healthy lust when I’m around you. It’s too soon after Evan. We’re both leaving. Stop making me laugh, you dick. These are the scattershot thoughts pinging around in my brain, but I’m mostly thinking them to distract myself from Shane’s descending lips. To remind myself why we’re not about stolen kisses in the hallway and quiet laughs.
“Kitty told me about what happened with your father.”
Shane goes eerily still. I watch as every ounce of heat evaporates from his blue gaze. The hand on my cheek drops to his side and I miss having it there immediately. Self-hatred is a living thing clawing at my throat. I wish I could take back the words. My self-preservation wasn’t worth the haunted look I’ve put in his eyes. “What exactly did she tell you?”
“Willa,” he growls.
My heart is pounding so loud I’m surprised he can’t hear it. “He kicked you out.”
His attention is fixed on a spot above my head. “That’s all?”
He laughs and the dark quality of it is so different from his earlier one, I wince. The Shane that followed me up the stairs to say thank you is gone. And I banished him. “Here’s what I’d like to know. What was your intention in bringing it up that way?”
I do my best not to betray anything on my face, but I see a glimmer of recognition on Shane’s nonetheless.
“If that’s what you do when someone gets too close, I can see why things didn’t work out with your ex-boyfriend.”
The oxygen is sucked from my lungs. I think I actually gasp for air, but I can’t hear over the rushing in my ears. He’s 100 percent right, of course. That’s why it hurts so bad. The nature of my doomed relationship with Evan is vastly different from what’s going on between me and Shane, but the principal is the same. I can’t let anyone in. I’m broken. So I do what any self-hating coward does when they’re on the ground getting kicked. I lash out.
My face is inches away from his. Neither one of us looks capable of backing down. “What are you more upset about? Me bringing up a touchy subject, or the fact that I’m not already on my knees returning the favor from last night? Is that what you were expecting?” I fling my arms out wide. “Sorry to disappoint.”
His jaw tightens. “I bet that works with everyone else. Spouting a bunch of bullshit to change the subject.” He grips my upper arms. “It won’t work with me.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“We both know that’s a f**king lie.” He drags me up against him. “Last night you wanted me so bad you were shaking. What. Changed?”
“You.” The word explodes from my mouth. “I liked it better when you wanted me gone. At least I knew what to expect. At least I knew it wouldn’t matter when I left.”
“It matters now.” His voice is whip sharp, but the punishing grip on my arms is loosening. He’s searching my face for something and I have no idea what. “Is that what you’re saying to me?”
“No,” I whisper the lie, knowing full well what I’d just revealed. That I’m scared of getting too close when there’s an expiration date. That I’ve developed feelings for him. He’s too astute to have missed the significance. “It wouldn’t matter, anyway. I’m the girl who hurts people to keep them away. Congratulations, you just saw it live and in color.”
“You didn’t like bringing up my father. I could see that.” His thumb starts moving in soothing circles against my arm. “Same way I didn’t like bringing up your ex-boyfriend.”
I want nothing more than to lay my head down on Shane’s shoulder and let him tell me I’m not a world-class f**kup. He actually seems to believe what he’s saying. Too bad I don’t.
“You can’t fix me with a few magic words.”
“Willa.” He shakes his head. “There’s nothing to fix.”
When all I can do is stare, he plants a soft kiss on my forehead. Then he lets go of me and returns downstairs, leaving me watching him from the top of the landing.
The following day I avoid the Claymore Inn like the black plague. I’m dressed in my freshly laundered jeans and out the front door before Kitty even knocks on my door to serve tea. Yesterday, I’d inadvertently let Shane know that this thing between us isn’t quite as cut-and-dried as I’d planned. He’d hit me in my weak spot, bringing up Evan, and I’d been vulnerable afterward, or I never would have revealed such a weakness. Since I had, I wanted to put off any contact with Shane. Otherwise, I would see one of two expressions on his face.
Pity being the first one. It’s likely that Shane has zero problem having a purely physical relationship with me. I’m actually kind of a jackpot for him. I’m geographically convenient, since we’re currently living under the same roof. Plus, my imminent departure guarantees that he won’t have to suffer through a where-is-this-relationship-headed talk. Cha-ching. I’d rather walk around Dublin in a chicken costume than have that talk, too, but after what I said yesterday, he knows my detachment is an act. His, however, is not. If I see an ounce of pity on his face because of that, I swear I’ll expire of mortification.
The second option is far less likely. Shane might not pity me. He might feel the same way. This reaction is far more dangerous than option one, because I wouldn’t be able to stay away. He would suck me in like a vacuum cleaner, and I wouldn’t come up for oxygen until I have to pack for Chicago. A mere nine days from now. It would be emotional suicide.