Kylie Masters watched him walk into her shop like he owned it while simultaneously pretending not to notice him. A tricky balancing act that she’d gotten good at. Problem was, like it or not, her attention was caught and captured by the six foot, leanly muscled, scowling guy now standing directly in front of her, hands shoved in his pockets, body language clearly set to Frustrated Male.
She sighed, gave up the ridiculous pretense of being engrossed by her phone, and looked up. She was supposed to smile and ask how she could help him. That’s what they all did when it was their turn to work the front counter at Reclaimed Woods. They were to show potential clients their custom-made goods when what they really wanted was to be in the back workshop making their own individual projects. Kylie’s specialty was dining room sets, which meant she wore a thick apron and goggles to protect herself and was perpetually covered in sawdust.
And she did mean covered in sawdust. Wood flakes dusted her hair and stuck to her exposed arms, and if she’d been wearing any makeup today, they’d have been stuck to her face as well. In short, she was not looking how she wanted to be looking while facing this man again. Not even close. “Joe,” she said in careful greeting.
He gave her a single head nod.
Okay, so he wasn’t going to talk first. Fine. She’d be the grown-up today. “What can I do for you?” she asked, fairly certain he wasn’t here to shop for furniture. He wasn’t exactly the domesticated type.
Joe ran a hand through his hair so that the military short, dark, silky strands stood straight up. He wore a black T-shirt stretched over broad shoulders, loose over tight abs, untucked over cargos that emphasized his mile-long legs. He was built like the soldier he’d been not too long ago, as if keeping fit was his job—which, given what he did for a living, it absolutely was. He shoved his mirrored sunglasses to the top of his head, revealing ice blue eyes that could be hard as stone when working, but she knew that they could also soften when he was amused, aroused, or having fun. He was none of those three things at the moment.
“I need a birthday present for Molly,” he said.
Molly was his sister, and from what Kylie knew of the Malone family, they were close. Everyone knew this and adored the both of them. Kylie herself adored Molly.
She did not adore Joe.
“Okay,” she said. “What do you want to get for her?”
“She made me a list.” Joe pulled the list written in Molly’s neat scrawl from one of his many cargo pants pockets.
—Puppies. (Yes, plural!)
—Shoes. I lurve shoes. Must be as hot as Elle’s.
—Concert tickets to Beyoncé.
—A release from the crushing inevitability of death.
—The gorgeous wooden inlay mirror made by Kylie.
“It’s not her birthday for several weeks,” Joe said as Kylie read the list. “But she told me the mirror’s hanging behind the counter, and I didn’t want it to be sold before I could buy it.” His sharp blue eyes searched the wall behind her. “That one,” he said, pointing to an intricately wood-lined mirror that Kylie had indeed made. “She says she fell in love with it. Not all that surprising since your work’s amazing.”
Kylie did her best to keep this from making her glow with pleasure. She and Joe had known each other casually for the year that they’d both been working in this building. Until two nights ago, they’d never done anything but annoy each other. So that he thought of her as amazing was news to her. “I didn’t know you were even aware of my work.”
Instead of answering, his eyes narrowed at the price tag hanging off the mirror, and he let out a low whistle.
“I don’t get to set the prices here,” she said, irritating herself with her defensive tone. She had no idea why she let him drive her so crazy with little to no effort on his part, but she did her best to not examine the reasons for this.
Joe had been special ops and still had most of his skills, skills he used on his job at an investigation and securities firm upstairs, where he was, for the lack of a better term, a professional finder and fixer. He was a calm and impenetrable badass on the job, and a calm, impenetrable smartass off it. On the worst of days, he made her feel like a seesaw. On the best of days, he made her feel things she liked to shove deep, deep down, because going there with him would be like jumping out of a plane—thrilling, exciting . . . and then certain dismemberment and death.
While she was thinking about this and other things she shouldn’t be thinking, Joe was eyeballing the opened box of chocolates on the counter, which a client had brought in earlier. A little card said Help Yourself! and his gaze locked in on the last Bordeaux—her favorite. She’d been saving it as a reward if she made it all day without wanting to strangle anyone.
Mission failed. “It’ll go right to your hips,” she warned.
He met her eyes, his own amused. “You worried about my body, Kylie?”
She used the excuse to look him over. Not exactly a hardship. He was lean, solid muscle. Rumors were that he’d done some MMA fighting right after his service and she believed it. He was perfect and they both knew it. “I didn’t want to mention it,” she said, “but I think you’re starting to get a spare tire.”
“Is that right?” He cocked his head, eyes amused. “A spare tire, huh? Anything else?”
“Welllllll . . . maybe a little junk in the trunk.”
He out-and-out grinned at that, the cocky bastard. “Then maybe we should share the chocolate,” he said and offered the Bordeaux to her, bringing it up to her lips.
Against her better judgment, she took a bite, resisting the urge to also sink her teeth into his fingers.
With a soft laugh that told her he’d read her mind, he popped the other half into his own mouth and then licked some melted chocolate off his thumb with a suctioning sound that went straight to her nipples, which was super annoying. It was February and blistery outside but suddenly she was warm. Very warm.
“So,” he said when he’d swallowed. “The mirror. I’ll take it.” Reaching into yet another mystery pocket, he pulled out a credit card. “Wrap it up.”
“You can’t have it.”
At this, he studied her with a hint of surprise, like maybe he’d never been told no before in his life.
And hell, looking like he did, he probably hadn’t been.
“Okay,” he said. “I get it. It’s because I never called, right?”
She pushed his hand—and the credit card in it—away. But not before she felt the heat and the easy strength of him, both of which only further annoyed her. “Wrong,” she said. “Not everything’s about you, Joe.”
“True. This is clearly about us,” he said. “And that kiss.”
Oh hell no. He didn’t just bring it up like that, like it was some throwaway event. She pointed to the door. “Get out.”
He just smiled. And didn’t get out.
Dammit. She’d grounded herself from thinking about that kiss. That one drunken, very stupid kiss that haunted her dreams and way too many waking moments as well. But it all flooded back to her now, releasing a bunch of stupid endorphins and everything. She inhaled a deep breath, locked her knees and her heart, and mentally tossed away the key. “What kiss?”