They called him the Big Bad Wolf. Willa Grace Darling knew that about him. Knew there were plenty of people afraid of her neighbor.
Not your normal law-abiding citizens, of course. No. Those would find him as welcome as the warmth of a fire on a night of chilled bones and breath-frosted air.
But others who couldn’t claim a bean of a brain when it came to rights and wrongs feared his wolfish bite. As well they should.
Willa took a breath, took a moment to focus, took another to enjoy the view—a purely aesthetic undertaking, of course. She smiled, so very glad that she was a woman with an appreciation of things earthy and elemental, and watched him cross the back lawn of her cottage to the kennels where she was feeding the three dogs boarding with her at present.
The Big Bad Wolf was definitely big, though not in a hulkish sort of way. He did work out. The way his T-shirt stretched to accommodate his biceps told that tale. If truth be known, he was probably no more than six foot one or two, though the width through his shoulders and chest topping both flat abs and narrow hips gave the impression of a few extra inches.
Wolfish was a good description. Lean. Wary. Alert. One of a pack who made his way alone. Perhaps not entirely accurate, but Willa liked the capricious notion. Cocking her head to the side, she absently stroked Tic Toc, the pit-bull mix in the first pen. Together they followed Joel’s approach.
He always favored black and gray and today was no exception Black jeans. Gray T-shirt, this one emblazoned with the seal and motto of his employer. It smacked of authority, of pride in a job well done. Funny. All that from a T-shirt.
She was quite aware that clothing had little to do with that undeniable, indefinable thing that made this man a man. One she’d never been able to keep her eyes from.
Willa had lived next door to him now for going on a year. He kept an ungodly work schedule, cooking out regularly on the redwood deck he’d built behind his house, pushing himself physically, relentlessly, on marathon-length runs and endless sessions of lifting weights. She’d observed much about him but had learned little. She had yet to satisfy her unhealthy curiosity about why he never brought a woman home.
Or why, in twelve months, he hadn’t made a move in her direction when her harmlessly understated flirtation had spawned an obvious, distinct male interest.
She lowered her lashes and looked away, then lifted them and glanced his direction. He was a man’s man. But a woman’s man most of all.
His hair was light, a layering of sun-bleached blond and golden brown, though she’d been close enough the times they’d talked to see strands of pure white that put his age past thirty. And those not earned over the years were certainly earned on the job. It couldn’t be easy, law enforcement. So much danger. So many risks. She admired him for that, as well.
He got closer and she moved on to the second pen, making kissy-face with the retriever pup named Loverboy who was determined to distract her. She gave the dog a ten for effort. But it was hard to distract the distracted. Willa slanted her gaze to the side.
Joel’s gait was less fluid than usual, what with the cast he swung forward with each step and the cane he used to balance the rhythm, yet the way he moved was still worth the price of admission.
Big? Yes. Wolf? She could buy it. But she wasn’t so sure about “Bad.”
Especially with a little girl baby dressed all in white bouncing in the crook of his elbow.