Author: Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay #4
Release date: September 26, 2017
(Sub)genres: Contemporary Romance
Buy: Amazon US ~ Amazon UK
Run for the hills temporarily. That’s Colbie Albright’s plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie’s so over it that she’s under it. She’s also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she’s pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won’t be a stranger for long.
Spence’s commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn’t have to worry about the powerful–okay, crazy hot chemistry–he’s got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself… just because she’s gorgeous and a great listener just because she gets Spence immediately doesn’t mean he won’t be able to let Colbie go. Does it?
and hope for a miracle.
Now the clock’s ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.
The elevator doors opened onto the fifth floor, Spence’s private floor. He guided Colbie off the elevator into a lobby with four doors. One led to the stairwell—which Elle came out of with Daisy Duke in tow, perfectly behaved now, of course.
Two more doors led to Spence’s private penthouse apartment and office. The last one opened directly into his gym. They went through that door, and while Elle flicked on lights and hit the alarm pad to enter his code, Spence heard Colbie gasp. He turned back quickly to find her staring in awe out the windows at the sun setting over the bay.
“Wow,” she breathed, still shaking but taking the time to eye the 180-degree vista of the city as she hugged herself in his jacket. He knew that from where she stood, she could see the rest of Cow Hollow, and past that, Fort Mason Park, the Marina Green, and the bay.
And he thought it was pretty wow too. He loved this view. It was one of the many reasons he’d bought the building in the first place.
I wouldn’t be able to work out to this view,” she said.
“Never gets old for me either.” Spence pulled out his phone to crank up the heat from his app before remembering he hadn’t dried the phone out yet. He had to actually use the control panel on the wall before going to her at the window. When he was stuck in his own head and unable to get anywhere with his work, he liked to stare out at the city that was more home to him than anywhere else had ever been.
“I love it,” she breathed. “I feel like from right here I can see all the way to the ends of the Earth.”
He knew what she meant. Out beyond the bay stretched the Pacific Ocean in all its deep-blue majesticness, clear to the gently curved horizon.
“I could so write to this view,” she went on in a hushed, amazed voice and turned to Elle, who was working out her thumbs—on her phone. “This is such a great building. I saw the pub downstairs. And the coffee shop and that cute reclaimed-wood furniture place. What else is there?”
“More shops and businesses,” Elle said, her thumbs still going, Daisy Duke at her side falling asleep standing up. “An eclectic mix on the first and second floors. Residential apartments on three and four.”
“I don’t suppose you have any apartments available for a short-term rental?” Colbie asked hopefully. “I’m only going to be here until Christmas Eve but would happily pay for the whole month to stay here.”
“Sorry,” Elle said. “But no.”
Spence met Elle’s gaze. She was the mother figure he didn’t need, the bossy-as-hell sister he’d never asked for, and his favorite and most important employee, but she was also a colossal pain in his ass. “What Elle means,” he said, “is that she doesn’t know of anything offhand but I’m sure she could check it out for you.”
“Hmm,” Elle said and nudged a trembling Colbie toward the shower area. “The restroom’s through that door. Fresh towels under the sink. Go get warmed up.”
Colbie, apparently too cold to further argue, nodded. She shut the door behind herself and they heard the lock click into place.
Cute, sexy, and smart.
“Are you kidding me?” Elle asked him, keeping her voice low.
“Don’t ‘what’ me. You know what. You’re in the middle of saving the world right now for Clarissa, remember? So please tell me what the hell you think you’re doing.”
They heard the shower come on from inside the bathroom. “Look,” he said, trying to not picture Colbie stripping out of her clothes. “I got her into this mess. This is the least I can do.”
“No,” she said. “The least you could do is give her a hundred bucks for her trouble and send her on her way.”
“Cold, Elle, even for you.”
“Did you even get a last name on her? Or what she does for a living? Did you vet her in any way?”
“For what?” he asked. “I’m the one who ruined her day, not the other way around.”
“And how about the way she reacted to you even thinking about touching her phone? Did you notice that little red flag?”
“Of course. And I wouldn’t have let a stranger touch my phone either,” he said. “Hell, I barely let you touch it.”
“You know what I’m getting at,” she said. “Maybe she has something to hide, Spence.”
Or maybe she was in trouble. She’d denied that but he couldn’t help but think of her sweet eyes and the haunted depths he’d seen in them. “She needs a place to stay. Give her the empty furnished apartment I’m holding on the third floor.”
“We don’t do short-term rentals here. By your own decree.”
“We do today.”
There was a beat of silence. Since Elle was never silent, it had to be shock.
“You hold that open for a reason,” she finally said.
“Yeah, and so far Eddie’s refused to come in off the streets, hasn’t he?” Yet another problem he hadn’t been able to solve, which tightened the ever-present knot in his chest. “Make the rent cheap because she’s a struggling writer—she probably doesn’t have much money.”
Elle’s mouth fell open. “She’s a writer? Are you kidding me?”
“Not a reporter,” he said. “A fiction writer.”
Elle just continued to stare at him. “Are you even listening to yourself?”
“Look, I got her knocked into the fountain and it’s butt-ass cold out there, and she rolled with it.” He remembered Colbie’s throaty laugh and it made him smile even now. “She’d been a really good sport about it.”
“Maybe she had a good reason,” Elle said. “Maybe she was trying to get close to you. Hell, maybe she is a reporter and the whole thing’s a setup.”
“Come on,” he said. “She couldn’t have known Daisy Duke would send her sprawling into the fountain. This happened on my property—I’m making it right, end of story.”
“Fine.” Elle pulled out her phone, which had gone off four thousand times in the past four minutes. “But I’d like to remind your stubborn ass that you’ve not been yourself since this whole media thing. You need to be more cautious about connecting with a stranger who appeared basically out of nowhere.”
“She’s not running a con on me.”
“I’m not saying she is, but we both know you’ve been screwed over, twice if we’re counting, and you haven’t come to terms with the betrayal yet. So just be careful, okay? That’s all I’m saying.” She pointed at him. “And remember, you’re the smartest person in this building and probably the smartest person I’ll ever meet. Use your powers for good.”
He had to laugh. “Ditto.”
She blew out a sigh, gave him a quick hug, and then she and Daisy Duke were gone.
Spence let his smile slip as he walked across the room to check the thermostat again. He’d heard what Elle had to say, and he got it. He was still stinging, and he wasn’t himself. Added to that was the project for Clarissa. The unfinished project. It was critical work, more important than anything he’d ever done, and it was kicking his ass. He was on a deadline and could feel it breathing down his neck every single day that passed. He could afford no break in his concentration and efforts.
A problem now that 99 percent of his brain had short-circuited over the thought of Colbie naked in his shower…
He heard the water go off and he pictured her wrapping herself in his towel. Dripping wet… Shoving his hands in his pickets, he moved to the window and looked out at the view that had so impressed her. Once upon a time he couldn’t have imagined living in a place like this, much less owning it. But he’d conquered the shitty hand that life had dealt him.
And he’d do it again if he had to.
The bathroom door opened, and even better than h is fantasy, Colbie emerged from a cloud of steam, her willowy body wrapped in one of his towels, her exposed skin gleaming and dewy damp. Her hair had been piled on top of her head, but wavy strands had escaped, clinging to her neck and shoulders.
He couldn’t tear his gaze off of her. There was just something so uncalculated about her, so…natural and easy. She was like a beacon to him, which was both crazy and more than a little terrifying.
Clearly not seeing him against the wall, she moved with an effortless grace to the suitcase she’d left at the door. Bending low enough to give him a near heart attack, she rifled through her things, mumbling to herself that she should’ve researched more about how to be a normal person instead of how to kill someone with an everyday object.
“Do you kill a lot of people, then?” Spence asked.
“Motherforker!” she said with a startled squeak of surprise, whirling to face him, almost losing her grip on the towel.
Five days a week, Spence worked out hard in this gym. Mostly to outrun his demons, but the upside was he could run miles without losing his breath. But he lost his breath now.
And that wasn’t his body’s only reaction.
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