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Page 16

She covered her face. “Oh my God.”

“God had nothing to do with it,” he said smugly. “Kylie, you kissing me like that was hot as hell and . . .”

She dropped her hands and stared at him. “And . . . ?”

He held her gaze prisoner. “The thought of you not remembering it the same way made me crazy.”

Oh, she remembered it the exact same way. The memories of it were imprinted on her brain much as the Polaroids she’d been receiving. First having drinks with her friends, and then at some point realizing that most of them were paired up and in love, and she’d felt . . . alone. Needing air, she’d stepped outside into the courtyard.

Joe had been there looking dark and dangerously alluring. She’d tossed some change into the fountain like a tourist and he’d laughed with her, making her feel . . . well, less alone.

Then she’d done something wild, at least for her. She’d taken him by the hand and pulled him into the alley. And the rest was history. “I’m not going to do that again,” she said. “Kiss you.”

“Okay, how about I kiss you again then?”

He was infuriating. And way too sexy. She stormed off the elevator. Joe followed, still smiling, the ass. He knocked on an apartment door.

“I forgot to ask,” she whispered. “Which one of the apprentices is this?”

Joe didn’t have time to answer before the apartment door opened, revealing a man who looked older than time itself. He was ninety if he was a day, hunched over a cane.

“Mr. Gonzales,” Joe said respectfully.

“Eh?” Mr. Gonzales asked. “Speak up, boy!”

Kylie recognized him from years ago when he’d worked at her grandpa’s shop after a late-in-life career change from carpenter to furniture maker. She waved at him. “Hi, Mr. Gonzales. Remember me? You were my dad’s first apprentice. I was just a kid, maybe five years old?”

“I remember you.” He blinked at her through his spectacles. “You were a runny-nosed, whiny little thing who rode her bike through the shop and knocked my work over.”

And he’d been a grumpy, curmudgeonly old man even back then, but she kept that to herself.

“Never saw you after your grandfather died.” His voice softened. “It was awful what happened, to the both of you.”

She felt Joe look at her, but she kept her face averted from his, heart feeling tight.

“We’re wondering if you’re still doing any woodworking,” Joe said.

Mr. Gonzales laughed so hard he would’ve toppled over if Joe hadn’t steadied him. “Haven’t left this apartment in several years. The only woodworking I do is picking my teeth with a toothpick. Can’t even take a shit in peace anymore.” He gestured to a bag attached to him at the hip.

Joe winced and nodded. “Thank you for your time, sir.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. If you show up again, bring me some of that greasy fried food from the deli on the corner.”

“Done,” Joe said.

Mr. Gonzales slammed the door on their noses.

Joe looked at her. “What did he mean, sorry for what happened to the both of you? You said you weren’t hurt in the fire.”

Kylie didn’t want to go there with him. Not now, not ever. Just thinking about the horrific warehouse fire gave her nightmares, even all these years later. “I wasn’t.” She started walking. “I’m sure he just meant he was sorry for my loss. I told you that there was an elderly apprentice and he didn’t need to be investigated.”

Joe was unapologetic. “I like to cover all the bases myself.”

She shook her head. “And clearly, you’d already looked into him. “You knew he was two hundred million years old when you said I could come up with you.”

“To be fair, I never said you could come up,” he reminded her. “I said I wouldn’t stop you.”

“Whatever!” she exclaimed, tossing up her hands. So he’d only pretended to trust that she could take care of herself. She should have known. Shaking her head at the both of them, she headed straight to the stairwell. No way in hell was she taking the elevator back down.

“You afraid of getting stuck or afraid you’re going to jump me again?” Joe asked.

She ignored him. Which was, admittedly, getting harder and harder to do.

Chapter 8


By six o’clock the next day, Joe was exhausted after fourteen hours on the job. Still, and against his better judgment, he met Kylie at the courtyard as she’d insisted by text.

She had her huge bag over her shoulder and Vinnie in her arms, who snorted in excitement at the sight of him. Kind of how Joe felt like doing at the sight of Kylie. Instead, he ruffled the top of Vinn’s head. “Hey, little man. Whatcha up to?”

“He’s been very busy,” Kylie said. “He ate one of my socks. And in other not so surprising news, he’s constipated.”

As if on cue, Vinnie farted audibly.

“Nice one,” Joe told him on a laugh. “Bet you feel better now.”

“Sorry.” Kylie grimaced and fanned the air with her hand. “I don’t dare leave him at home alone. What’s our plan?”

Joe ignored the “our.” “I’ve a lead on two more of the apprentices. Jayden and Jamal Williams.”

“Yes, they’re brothers,” she said. “They’re the ones I told you left the country. They went to England a few years ago.”

“They’re back and in business together, right here in San Francisco. I’m going to go check out their warehouse.”

She looked surprised, but nodded. “Then let’s go.”

He put a hand on her arm to stop her. “There’s no ‘let’s,’” he said. “I’ll go. You and Vinnie can wait in the comfort of your place and—”

“I’m not good at waiting, Joe. I probably should’ve warned you about that.”

He didn’t bother sighing. Or trying to stop her as she turned to walk through the alleyway, stopping to talk to Old Man Eddie, the homeless man sitting on an upside crate near the Dumpster.

An original hippie, Eddie looked like Doc from Back to the Future. He wore a tie-dyed shirt and board shorts that he’d probably had since the sixties. He’d lived in the alley forever, and in spite of many people’s loving efforts to get him into a place of his own, he’d held firm.

He said he was meant for the great outdoors.

Playing a game on the phone that Spence, his grandson, had forced on him last year, Eddie looked up and winked at Kylie. “Hey, darlin’.”

“How are you? You warm enough out here? The nights have been pretty cool.”

“Well, I sure wouldn’t complain about having the dough to buy a new sweatshirt,” he said wistfully.

Kylie patted Old Man Eddie on the hand, a sweet smile on her face as she reached into her bag. Joe started to open his mouth to stop the cutest pushover he’d ever seen from giving away her own hard-earned cash because one, he knew Spence made sure Eddie had everything he could ever need, and two, Eddie’s usual MO was to con money out of the cute ladies he charmed—and he could charm a snake—and then use the money for the weed he liked to bake into his homemade brownies.

But Kylie surprised both men by saying, “I gave you a twenty last week, which we both know you used to buy pot, so this time I have something better than cash . . .” She pulled a black hoodie from her backpack. It had a peace sign in the colors of the rainbow on the front. “Got it in your size too.”

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