“Huh,” Eric said and looked closer at the photo.
“What?” Joe asked him.
“Well, I’m not sure but something in the workmanship reminds me of another woodworker I know.”
“Who?” Joe asked.
“A couple of years back, some guy came by trying to sell a bench. It was supposedly done in the style of your grandpa. But it wasn’t even close.”
“What did you do?” Joe asked.
“I sent him on his way, but I did take his card.” He flashed a smile. “I take everyone’s card.”
“I’d like to see it,” Joe said.
Eric snorted. “That could take a while. Like I said, I take everyone’s card and I never throw anything away.”
“But you do still have it somewhere, right?” Kylie asked. “We really need to talk to him.”
“Yes, I still have it, certainly. It might be tricky for me to get my fingers on it, but I will.” He looked at Joe. “In the meantime, Kylie knows how to get ahold of me, handsome. Don’t be a stranger.” He winked at Kylie. “And you either! Let’s lunch?”
“Absolutely,” she said, and started to say more, but Joe grabbed her by the hand.
“We’ve gotta go,” he said. “Have a good night.”
“But—” But nothing because Joe had her in the truck and down the street before she could blink. “What was that?”
He tossed the pad of paper into her lap and kept driving. “Things to do.”
“Was what we just learned enough to knock Eric off the list?”
“That, and the fact that he sold out tonight making furniture that isn’t in your grandpa’s style. Plus he’s driving a Tesla Roadster.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s an expensive car.”
“So he’s not trolling for easy money,” she said.
She sighed. “I thought you were just being rude, rushing me out of there.”
He shot her a glance. “How about clever? Isn’t it just as possible I was being extremely clever?”
“Maybe,” she admitted. “But also rude. It wouldn’t hurt you to be normal in social situations, you know.”
He ignored this, which didn’t surprise her. “It is interesting,” he said. “Eric’s yet another apprentice who’s alluded to something that happened to you on the night of the fire.”
She stopped breathing. “Of course something happened to me. My grandpa died.”
He glanced over at her, his eyes sympathetic. “I know, and I’m sorry to bring up bad memories, but are you sure there’s nothing else you want to tell me?”
“I’m sure,” she said, staring straight ahead out the windshield. “And Eric’s not going to find that card. At least not in time,” she said, watching the night as it whipped past her.
“Be patient. Have some faith.”
This had her looking at him again. “Be patient? Have faith? Are you kidding me?”
“You’ve got to leave emotions out of it or you’ll react with them instead of your brain.”
She snorted in annoyance and frustration. “Easy for you to say. You don’t have to fight anything as messy as your emotions.”
He spared her another glance. “You think I don’t have emotions?”
“I think you don’t very often give in to them.”
He was quiet at that, concentrating on the road or who the hell knew what, and she thought it was done, conversation over. Until he pulled onto her street and put his hand over hers to stop her from getting out.
“The job taught me patience,” he said. “And believe me, it came hard-won and I’ve paid the price for it. There were times when hiding my thoughts was the only thing that saved my ass, so yeah, I’m good at it. But don’t mistake that for me not having emotions or feelings, Kylie. You’ve seen me lose it over you more than once now.”
Yeah, and still, she wanted more from him. But she refused to ask for it.
Joe’s hands slid up and down her arms in a caressing touch that had her eyes wanting to close her eyes in sheer pleasure, but then he expelled a long, shuddery breath, let go of her, and got out to walk her up.
“That isn’t necessary,” she said.
“Someone’s taunting you with a personal memory and they know where you live. They’re just playing with you right now, but that could change. I’m walking you up.”
She sighed. She hated that he was logical and reasonable when she couldn’t be. “Fine,” she said and relented. “And thank you.” Then they got to her apartment, where she unlocked her door and froze at the sight of yet another envelope on the floor.
Kylie might have frozen at the sight of the envelope on her floor, but Joe didn’t. In the doorway, he put one hand on her arm to indicate she should stay while simultaneously scanning their immediate area.
She had no idea what he saw, but she didn’t catch anything out of the ordinary. Still keeping ahold of her, Joe shut the door behind them, engaged the locks, and picked up the envelope.
She started to say something, but he put a finger to his lips, scooped up Vinnie, who’d come running at them, and gently set him into her arms. Then he went through her place, flipping on lights, obviously clearing the apartment like she saw law enforcement do on TV, only even cooler.
“I don’t think whoever it is actually comes in,” she said, but Joe didn’t respond, just continued to work his way through the apartment. Kylie cuddled Vinnie close as he licked her chin, ecstatic as always to have her home. She set him down and he immediately went running for a toy to bring her. Tonight he brought his current favorite, a miniature-size tennis ball.
She obliged him by tossing it. “Fetch,” she said, ever hopeful he’d finally get it.
Vinnie pounced after the ball and . . . ran down the hallway with it and vanished. She was sighing when Joe came back to the living room.
“Open the envelope,” he said, clearly getting that she was stalling.
Predictably, it was another Polaroid. This one had her poor penguin precariously balanced on a cable car, close to falling off into oncoming traffic, and her heart squeezed. “Dammit.” She clutched the picture to her chest. “I’ve got too much crazy in my life. The photos, my missing penguin, you.”
He let out a quiet, low laugh, taking the picture to look at it. “You started it with that kiss.”
Her entire body reacted as if he’d just planted another one on her, which was annoying enough to have her go into full court press defensive. “I keep telling you, I barely remember what that kiss felt like,” she said. “Or, for that matter, the second one.”
“Yes, really,” she said, having no idea why she was baiting him. “Maybe you’re not as good at kissing as you seem to think.”
“Hmm,” he said. “Hold this for a sec.” He handed her back the picture.
She took it without thinking and then he tugged her into him and kissed her. He kissed her long and deep and deliciously hot, until she couldn’t help the moan that escaped her, until she was remembering exactly how good he was with his mouth, until she dropped her keys and the picture and threw her arms around him to hold him close.