My short story about April and Kenneth — Hope you like it!

He’s a lying, cheating bastard, I think to myself. And I’m stuck with him for the rest of my life. I roll over and looked into Kenneth’s face. He has lipstick on his collar, and he doesn’t care if I see it. He never does. He’d dragged himself back to the hotel room at four in the morning. Here we are in Scotland for a “last effort to save our marriage” trip, and he disappeared last night. I didn’t have to ask him where he’d been.

I get up and take a shower, and wrap myself in a towel. I am in Scotland. Our daughter is with my mother for a few days, and I am not going to waste my time on Kenneth. He just isn’t worth it. I should have known this when my ex-boyfriend admitted to me at mine and Kenneth’s wedding that Kenneth had been sleeping with my maid of honor. But I had just said I do. And we had a baby on the way, so I stuck it out.

Kenneth rolls over and groans. “Come back to bed,” he says, his voice scratchy.

“No thank you.” I rummage around in my suitcase, trying to find something comfortable that I can wear for sight seeing.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, swiping a hand down his face.

“What do you think is wrong?” I take my clothes into the bathroom and put them on. I don’t want Kenneth to see me naked, not anymore. He isn’t worth my time. He isn’t worth my breath. He isn’t worth… anything.

I come out and he’s sitting on the edge of the bed. “Are you going to act like this the whole trip?” he asks.

“Where were you last night?” I bite out.

He hesitates for a second. “I met some people in the bar and, since you were tired, I hung out with them.” He doesn’t look at me when he says it, and I know he’s lying. He always is. If his mouth is open, he’s lying. “Seriously, April,” he growls. “Is this how it’s going to be?”

I heave a sigh. “Is it?” I ask.

He groans and gets up, brushes his teeth, and gets dressed. “Where are you going?” he asks.

“Sight seeing.” I pull my hair back into a ponytail and glare at him, daring him to try to join me.

He ties his sneakers. “I’ll come with you.”

I shrug. I don’t care.

We’re staying at an old bed and breakfast in Scotland. It has the old Scotch feel to it, and I stop at the front desk to see if they have any tourist brochures.

“Good morning,” I say to the man behind the counter.

He lowers his chin slightly at me, and shoots Kenneth a glare. Kenneth is oblivious to it all. “What are yer plans for the day, lass?” the old man asks.

I’m going to ditch my lying, cheating soon-to-be ex-husband and then go see the sights. “I’m going to walk around the town, I think. Can you make any suggestions about places to visit?”

He eyes Kenneth for a moment, until Kenneth walks around the corner. “Everythin’ all right, lass?” he asks.

“No,” I admit. “But it will be.”

An older woman gets up from where she was sitting at a desk behind him. “Perhaps ye should tell her about the falls, love,” she suggests, putting her arm around his waist.

The man jerks, looking surprised. “Like that, is it?” he asks. He smiles softly down at her.

She nods. “I believe so.”

The man takes out a piece of paper and draws a quick map for me. “It’s not on any of the walking trials, and it’s a wee bit of a nuisance to get ta it, but if ye’re up for it, it’ll be worth it.” He nods toward Kenneth when he comes back in the door. “Be sure ta take him with ye so he can keep ye safe.”

“Is it dangerous?” I ask.

“Only fer those who are not pure of heart,” he says, winking at me. “Legend has it that many a liar, cheater, and some general arse-holes have fallen to their deaths from the bridge.” He grins. “Perhaps ye’ll get lucky and he’ll tumble inta the rocks,” he whispers.

I laugh.

I thank them and walk toward the door. The old man calls out to me, “Go canny, lass, aye?” he says. “The lass who guards the bridge can be a wee bit fearsome.”

“The lass?” I ask.

“Aye,” he says. “Rumor has it that she killed her husband dead. Tossed his body right off the bridge, where he tumbled ta his death.”

“Oh.” The hair on my arms stands up. “Why did she do that?”

“She caught him with a hoor or five,” he says. He shrugs. “Canna let that pass without comeuppance.”

I snort. They have no idea.

I take the map, and Kenneth follows me quietly toward the exit. He doesn’t open the door for me, and he looks put out, until he sees a woman walk by with short shorts. His eyes follow her, so I just keep walking. He comes with me, but not until he’s done thoroughly disrespecting me.

I pick my way down the trail, following the map the man gave me. The trail is hidden in some spots, and I have to search to find it. Go canny, the man said. Be careful.

Kenneth grunts as I let a branch go and it hits him in the face. He swipes it back. “Would you be careful?” he snarls.

I once thought Kenneth was all I ever wanted. I gave up a sure thing, Matthew Reed, to be with Kenneth. Biggest mistake I ever made. But at least I got my daughter out of it. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

I stop when I see it. There’s a rushing river, and a large bridge. Water shoots off the rocks, and tiny rainbows fill the air from the spray of the water on the rocks. It’s beautiful. Mesmerizing.

I wait, and stare, and wonder what the heck I’m doing with the asshole who can’t keep his dick in his pants, wasting time, wondering where he is or who he’s with.

Suddenly, a woman appears on the other side of the bridge. She has long hair that has tumbled down over her shoulders, and she’s wearing a corset and a long dress. Maybe she’s part of a reenactment? She’s dressed in what I imagine could be old Scottish garb.

“Who’s that?” Kenneth asks.

I shrug, and walk to the edge of the bridge. She walks slowly toward us, her gaze on Kenneth.

“Good morning,” Kenneth says to her, and he’s using that voice I hate, the one that has an invitation in it.

She drops into a curtsy.

“How cool is that?” Kenneth says, punching my shoulder lightly.

The woman turns to face the rail, and I step up beside her. Kenneth stands between us, but he’s more interested in the woman than the scenery. He’s trying to look down her bodice.

“Rumor has it that the bridge can see into the soul. That it kens the heart of a person, good or bad,” she says quietly.

“And what does the bridge do about such individuals?” I ask.

“The good are allowed ta pass. Many a bad person has fallen to his death.”

“Kind of like trolls who guard the bridge?” Kenneth snorts.

She wraps a lock of hair around her finger and twists. “Do I look a troll ta ye, sir?” she asks?

“You’re the keeper of the bridge?” I blurt out.

“For many a year now.” She smiles at me. Her expression goes serious. “Do ye want fer me ta take him?” she asks me.

I laugh. “Oh, you definitely don’t want him,” I say, waving a breezy hand through the air.

She laughs, too. “Oh, I believe I do.”

Kenneth has the gall to look flattered.

“I’ll leave you two to it, then,” I say, and I turn to go back the way I came.

“Be certain,” she calls to me.

“I’m certain!” I yell back over the rush of the water. I’m certain that I would be happy if I never saw him again.

Suddenly, a huge rush of air pushes me back from the bridge. I turn back, and watch as the woman takes Kenneth by the arm and jerks him against her. He goes willingly, his lips touching hers.

I feel nothing. Nothing. So, I know that my marriage is over, at least. Relief hits me.

But then the woman stumbles against him, and she and Kenneth fall over the rail of the bridge wrapped in one another’s arms. I run to where they were standing and look over the edge. I watch them go end over end, and suddenly, there’s a thump as they hit the rocks below. Kenneth lies still, and I see that his arms and legs are canted at odd angles. His eyes stare blankly ahead.

The woman gets up and brushes herself off. She waves at me from below. “Ye’re welcome!” she calls. She smiles at me and walks into the forest.

I jerk awake and look around the room. Kenneth is lying beside me and he has lipstick on his collar. We’re in bed at a bed and breakfast in Scotland, where we were making a last ditch effort to save our marriage. Or at least I was. But that dream…

I get up and get dressed. I want to go home to my daughter. I want to be done with Kenneth.

I pack quietly and quickly, and he sleeps through it. I pull my suitcase to the door and give him a final glance. I’m done. So done.

I step into the hallway and close the door. I breathe in a sigh of relief. I haven’t felt this calm in a really long time.

I go to the desk and check out. The old man is behind the counter and he smiles at me. “Was yer stay all that ye expected, lass?” he asks.

“That and more,” I say.

“Will yer husband be joining ye?” he asks. “Or will he remain with us for a few days?” He smiles kindly at me.

“I have no idea what he’ll do.” And I really don’t care. I have a flight to change, and a baby to return to.

“Oh, if he stays, perhaps we can show him the falls,” the old lady says from behind the man. She walks up and puts her arm around his waist.

“The falls, ye say?” he asks her, grinning. He kisses her forehead. “I’ll be sure to send him in that direction.” He nods.

I grin as I go out the door. I know it was just a dream. But it was a dream I needed.

“Oh, lass!” the man calls to me.

I turn back. “Yes?” I say.

“Best of luck to ye,” he says. He winks at me.

I think about it a minute. “Who is the lady on the bridge, may I ask?”

He raises his brow. “Oh, ye saw old Madge, did ye?”

I nod. “We met briefly. Who is she?”

“She’s a local legend. Rumor has it that she had a lying, cheating husband, and she shoved him to his death from that very bridge.”

I nod and shrug. Makes sense to me.

“She’s been luring unsuspecting men to their deaths ever since. Only those who deserve it, mind ye.”

I laugh. Those who deserve it.

I shove out the door and walk into my brand new life.

“Go canny!” the man calls me to me.

“I will.”

Unedited chapter one of OO

Young casual couple isolated on white

Release date 8/20/14

Available for preorder on iBooks!   https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/only-one/id906542226?mt=11&uo=4&at=1l3voVk

Nick

 

Sunlight streams through my window and offends the backs of my eyelids. I look over at the blond head that’s tucked against the pillow next to mine. Who the heck is that? I brush her hair from her face and groan inwardly. How the hell did Jack get in my bed? Her name is Jackie, and I’ve known her all my life. Sometimes I wake up, and she’s found her way into my bed. I don’t even remember inviting her into it last night, but that’s not always necessary in Jack’s world. She does what she wants, when she wants.

My guess is that things weren’t great at home and her dad started swinging again, so she came here. That part doesn’t bother me. Why she’s in my bed is a whole other topic. I let her sleep and roll out of bed.

I’m just glad I wore boxers when I went to bed. Not that Jack hasn’t seen me naked. I’ve seen all of her, and she’s seen all of me, but that’s just because she gets drunk often and I have to drag her naked ass home. We never have and never will have sex. Ever.

We’re best friends, with no jealousy. Our relationship is free and easy, and we’re not territorial when it comes to relationships with other people. That’s what’s so great about us. Sometimes the loneliness overtakes me and I cave in to the need to feel someone close to me. Jackie doesn’t mind. I’m a guy and I absolutely hate to be alone. Sometimes the quiet becomes more than I can bear.

I walk into the kitchen and find my roommate Malone with his hand in the cookie jar. Literally, elbows deep in my mom’s Winnie the Pooh container. He grins at me, a lock of his dark hair falling over his eye. “Morning,” he says, and then he crams a handful of cookies in his mouth.

When he’s done chewing, he looks at me and waggles his brows. “Jack find you last night?” he asks.

“Apparently,” I mutter. “Who let her in?”

“I couldn’t leave her outside,” he says.

“Why did she pick my bed?”

He shrugs. “She was wrecked.”

She always is. “Next time, put her on the couch, will you?”

He looks at me sheepishly. “I tried that last night, but she wanted you, man.”

Yeah, but I don’t want her. At least not permanently. Not for more than what we already have. “Did Marty come home last night?” I ask. I don’t know why I feel the need to check up on our last roommate. She doesn’t even sleep here every night. She’s older than we are – 21 compared to our 19. She’s like the mother we never wanted when she’s here, making us clean up behind ourselves and put the toilet seat down. But she pays her rent, and that’s all I need. I can’t afford this place by myself, no matter how many jobs I have.

I look around. It’s not much, but it’s mine. I remember when my parents bought it. They were so proud. It’s a trailer in a lot about the size of a postage stamp, but it’s on the coast and it’s valuable to me just because of the memories.

“Haven’t seen Marty,” Malone says. He goes and knocks softly on her door and then opens it and sticks his head in. “Nope,” he says. “Not here.” He scratches his bare stomach. “I think I’m going back to bed.”

“Did you eat all the cookies?” I lift Pooh’s head and look down. He left me some Oreo dust. “Jackass,” I mutter.

He laughs and goes into his room. The door closes behind him.

I sort through the mail on the counter and get excited when I see a letter from Patty Michaels. I open it up and look at the check. Mrs. Michaels pays me to keep up her yard when she’s not here. Usually, she just sends a check each month – a generous check – and I never hear from her otherwise, unless I need to meet the exterminator or something for her. But a note falls out of the envelope.

 

Nick,

I’ll be arriving after graduation. Can you be sure the AC is serviced and tidy up the yard? We’ll see you in a week!

Best,

Patty Michaels

 

My heart drops all the way down to my toes. If the Michaels’ are coming to the beach, then that mean’s Carrie’s coming back to the beach. Carrie is their daughter. She hasn’t been here in at least three summers. Not since her parents separated.

Carrie is the one who got away. She was my first kiss. My first snuggle with a girl with boobs. My first boner in the arms of a girl. My first love. She was fourteen and I was fifteen the last time I saw her. Can you fall in love that young? My heart says you can.

Carrie was different from anyone I ever met. She could make me laugh and make me cry all in the same breath. One glance from her and I knew what I wanted for the rest of my life.

I’d seen the example of what love could be in my parents, so I felt like I knew it when I found it. Then she left and never came back. Life went on, but it hasn’t been the life I wanted. Or at least not after my parents died.

I jerk myself from my memories and look at Mrs. Michaels’s note again. Carrie’s coming back to the beach. I whistle as I go back into my room. Jack snuggles into my pillow, and I realize she’s not wearing anything but her panties. The covers are pushed down around her feet and she’s on her stomach, her arms tucked down at her sides.

I sit down on the side of the bed and brush her hair back. She mumbles something I can’t understand.

“Jack,” I whisper.

She doesn’t stir.

“Jack,” I say a little louder.

She moans into my pillow but doesn’t open her eyes.

“Jack!” I shout. She opens her eyes and looks at me, squinting against the sunlight. I trace a little circle against her back. “Hey, pretty girl,” I say. She smiles into the pillow, but she still doesn’t move. “You have to get out of here.”

“Where am I supposed to go?” she asks.

“I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay in my bed.” I mean it. She can’t, because Carrie is coming back. I’m not sure what day, but I sure as hell don’t want her to find Jack in my bed when she does get here. “Where are your clothes?” I ask.

She shrugs.

“Did you have clothes on when you got here?”

She sits up, clutching my sheets against her chest. “I don’t remember,” she admits.

“You have to stop doing that,” I warn.

“I know.” She flops back down against my pillow.

I ruck one of my shirts up in my hands and slip it over her head. She sticks her arms in the holes and tries to close her eyes again. “Out!” I say. I pull her legs over the side of the bed and tug on the shirt she’s wearing until she sits up. “Now.” She stands up, tilting on her wobbly legs like a newborn colt. She walks toward the door. “Hey, Jack,” I say softly. She looks back at me, her eyes mere slits.

“What?” she asks.

“You have to stop doing this to yourself, okay?” I say.

“I know.” She doesn’t say more than that. She just walks out of my room in my shirt and her panties. I watch her, because I don’t want her to leave looking like this. But I have a feeling I know where she’s going. Just like I thought, she goes to Malone’s room and pushes his door open. I hear her say something to him, and then the bedsprings squeak.

I follow her and peek inside the room. She’s under the covers and his arms are wrapped around her. I don’t know why she didn’t just start out in his room. I very softly close his door. He’ll take care of her.

I have to get ready for Carrie. What if she has a boyfriend? What if she doesn’t remember me? What if she’s no longer the person I remember? Why didn’t she send a card or condolences when my parents died? Why didn’t she come back? Ever?

I have a lot to do to get ready. So I start by changing my sheets. Then I have to get the AC serviced at Carrie’s house. I still have a picture on my dresser that we took in a photo booth three years ago. It’s a strip of four photos. Carrie has her tongue out in one, her lips pursed in a kiss in another, and one with her lips pressed to my cheek. The last one is her looking into the camera lens while I stare at her. I wonder if she’s changed. And how much.

 

 

Carrie

 

I cover the mouthpiece and try not to breathe heavy enough for them to hear me. “I already made arrangements to have the beach house opened and everything. Just let me have her this summer,” my mom pleads. Her voice breaks over the line.

Please don’t let her have me this summer, I think to myself. I don’t want to go.

I haven’t seen my mother in four years. Not since she decided to leave our family. She met a man she loved more than us and one day, she just left. It was sort of like she never existed once my dad got over his temper-fit. He threw all of her things, or at least what she left in the house, onto the fire pit in the backyard and sang Living on a Prayer at the top of his lungs until nothing was left but a hangover and ashes.

Dad groans. “Where are you taking her?”

Her voice is quiet. “I thought we’d go to the beach.”

Dad heaves a sigh. “Patty,” he says on a breath. I can imagine him squeezing the spot between his eyes at the top of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.

“We had a lot of good memories at the beach,” she says, her voice soft and so familiar that it makes my gut ache. But she’s not my mother any more. She’s that woman who left. She’s that woman who never came back. “You could go with us, if you’re worried,” she says. Her voice sounds… hopeful? I don’t even know how to describe it.

“You know I can’t do that,” he says.

“Would your girlfriend mind?” she asks.

Dad doesn’t have a girlfriend. He never did after she left, but I get the feeling he told her differently. “She wouldn’t approve,” he says.

“Oh,” Mom breathes. “But I could still get Carrie? For the summer? This is the last time I’ll ask. I won’t be able to darken your doorstep after this.”

What does that mean?

“You’ll never have to deal with me again. Just let me have this last season. Please?” Her voice breaks.

“Patty,” Dad breathes. And I hear his bedsprings squeak through the phone. I can almost imagine his knees going weak, because that’s what she does to him.

“John, please?” she begs.

“Okay,” he says on a heavy exhalation. “Fine. You can have her for the summer. If… things weren’t… like they are… I would never allow it. You know that, right?”

“Yes,” she says quietly. “I know that. And I understand why.”

“I have one condition,” he says.

“What is it?”

“You have to tell her about your diagnosis before you two leave. And you have to promise to send her home the minute you’re too sick to take care of her.”

What? What’s he talking about?

“I’ll tell her.”

“We’ll tell her together.”

I step into Dad’s bedroom doorway, the phone still clutched to my ear. He’s sitting exactly like I imagined, with his index finger and thumb pressed against the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed. “You’re going to tell me what?” I ask.

“Carrie!” Mom gasps.

Dad jumps to his feet. “How long have you been listening?”

I let the cordless phone drop down to my side. “Long enough,” I say.

I can hear my mother calling my name from down by my knee.

“We didn’t want you to find out this way,” Dad says, rushing toward me.

“Find out what?” I grit out, punctuating the words with clenches of my jaw.

Dad speaks to the phone and not to me. “You should come over, Patty. Now.”

He nods and mumbles, turning away from me to talk quietly with her for a minute. Then he turns back.

“She’s on her way.” He tosses the phone onto his covers.

“What’s going on, Dad?” I ask. My heart is thumping like a crazy woodpecker lives inside my chest.

“She’s on her way, and she should be the one to tell you.”

“Tell me what?” I finally yell. He stops and looks at me. His eyes are kind. They’re always kind. Dad wears glasses and has sandy blond hair. He has a bit of a potbelly that he can’t get rid of, no matter his diet, so he doesn’t worry about it. Right now, his face is bright red and he looks like he just ran a mile.

“Your mom has cancer, Carrie,” he says and he winces as the words come out of his mouth. He opens his arms and I fall into them. He catches me, just like he always does. All I can think as I sob into his shoulder is that I’m glad he told me before she gets here, because if she knew I cared if she lives or dies, she would have power over me again. Dad holds me close and lets me get it all out. When I’m done, I stand back and wipe my eyes.

“Is she dying?” I ask. I bite the inside of my cheek, calmed by the metallic taste of blood when I bite too hard.

He nods. “Yes, this will be her last summer.”

“Are you sure?” I wait. The clock on the wall ticks. One. Two. Three. Four.

He nods. “I’m sure.”

“Good,” I bite out.

“You don’t mean that,” he scolds.

“Yes, I do.”

I go into my room to compose myself. My mother is on her way over to tell me she’s dying and I have to spend her last summer with her. But my mother died in my heart three years ago when she left. I refuse to mourn her twice.

I have almost enough time to fix my hair and my makeup before she arrives. I hear the knock on the front door, but I refuse to go out until they make me. Mom and Dad talk softly in the kitchen and I can smell coffee brewing. My mom is a coffee fanatic, but my dad hates it.

A knock sounds on my door. “Hey, Carrie,” Dad calls. I don’t answer, so he cracks the door and sticks his head inside. “Your mom wants to see you,” he says. He shoots me a glare when he sees that I’m in my jammies under the covers.

“What?” I ask, throwing my hands up.

“Get up,” he says. He’s suddenly that dad. He’s one that has a sharp tone and a never-say-die attitude. When he’s that dad, I have to listen. I throw my book down and toss the covers back. I stomp past him, just because I can. “Carrie,” he says softly.

“What?” I ask when he grabs my arm to stop me.

“Never mind,” he says. He shakes his head. He motions for me to proceed. “You don’t have to make this difficult, you know?” he asks my back as he follows me down the hallway.

“I’m not the one who made it difficult,” I hiss back over my shoulder.

Then I see her.

I stop.

She’s sitting at the table with a mug of coffee cupped in her hands. She looks up at me, and there are already tears in her eyes.

“Hi, Carrie,” she says quietly. She doesn’t get up or move toward me or reach out for me in any way.

“Hi, Patty,” I toss back. I go to the fridge and get a bottle of water.

Dad winces but Mom chuckles. I didn’t expect that.

The last time I saw my mom, she was pleasantly plump. She wore Spanx and loose-fitting shirts and pants with elastic waistbands.

Now she’s not her.

She’s someone else.

She’s someone skinny with short, patchy blond hair that sticks out at odd angles. She raises her hand and absently strokes across the top of her head when she sees me staring at it. I step closer to Dad. I want him to touch me. I want him to ground me. I want him to make it all right. But he just hitches his hip on the counter.

Mom clears her throat. “So, about the summer,” she says. She swallows so loudly that I can hear it.

“About the summer,” I parrot. I don’t know what else to do or say. I lift my water bottle to my lips and take a drink.

“So, you don’t want to go with me, do you?” she asks. She looks hopefully up at me.

“No.”

“You’re eighteen. I can’t force you.” She shrugs.

“I can,” Dad murmurs. I look up at him and he glares back at me. I want to stick my tongue out at him, but he’s that dad right now.

“We can go sailing,” she sings. “We can fly kites. You always did like to fly kites.”

“When I was eight.”

“We can take long walks on the beach. You used to love to look for sea shells.”

“When I was five.”

“Some of your friends still live there.”

“Which ones?” I ask, before I remember that I’m supposed to remain aloof.

“Amber and Rose.” She looks up at me from lash-less eyelids. “And that boy you used to like.”

“When I was fourteen.”

“We could leave right after graduation. I’ll pick you up, and we can all go to dinner to celebrate, and then we can go to the beach.”

I look up at Dad. “Are you going, too?” I ask.

He shakes his head and pretends to sort through the mail. “Not this time.”

But isn’t this supposed to be the last time?

“So, it’s settled,” Mom sings again. She swipes a hand beneath her nose and sniffles. “We’re going to the beach.”

“Yay,” I say, deadpan.

“Carrie,” Dad growls.

I force the corners of my lips to turn up. “Yay,” I sing, pumping my fist in the air. “We’re going to the beach!” I look up at Dad. “Can I go back to my room now?” I ask.

He glances toward at my mother and she just shrugs. He leans over and kisses my forehead. He smells like woodchips and aftershave.

I start toward the hallway, and my mom’s voice calls to me.

“Carrie,” she says. I look back toward her. “I think I’m supposed to tell you that I’m dying and that this will be my last hurrah and that I want you to share it with me. But I’m just going to tell you that I want to spend the summer with you, even if you act like this the whole time, because I’ll take what I can get.”

Tears start to burn my eyes and I blink them back furiously. “I’ll go,” I whisper.

Dad puts his hands on my shoulders from behind and squeezes. “But she vows not to enjoy a single minute of it.”

Mom laughs. But it’s a sound with no joy in it at all. “I’ll take it.”

I nod and run toward my room. I go inside it and lean heavily against the wall. I leave my door cracked so I can hear what they’re talking about. But they’re so quiet that I can’t hear a thing. I do know, however, that my mom doesn’t leave until the early hours of the morning.

Proving Paul’s Promise

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Young casual couple isolated on white

Friday

 

I’ve heard that the best way to get over one man is to get under another. With that said, I doubt this is what the speaker had in mind. A hand squeezes mine tightly. It was pretty stupid of me to allow them to be in the room with me for this part because I’m feeling terribly exposed, despite the fact that my lower half is draped with a sheet. There’s just something about having my legs up in stirrups and the top of a woman’s head visible between my thighs that makes this all awkward.

It should be beautiful, and really, it is. It’s just…odd.

I have Cody on my left and Garrett on my right. They lean toward one another to kiss over my head, and Garrett uses his free hand to wipe a tear from Cody’s cheek.

The doctor looks up from her perch down below. “You doing okay up there?” she asks.

I squeeze my eyes shut. “Fine,” I say.

Garrett leans down and kisses my temple, his lips lingering there. “Thank you for doing this,” he whispers vehemently, and emotion swells within me.

“Thanks for letting me do this,” I say back. I tip my face up, and he presses a soft kiss to my lips. There’s no passion in this kiss whatsoever. There’s only emotion and gratitude and a type of affection like I’ve never known.

Cody squeezes my shoulder. These guys make the cutest couple. They have been together for about twelve years, and after three failed adoptions, they wanted more than anything to have a kid. They didn’t even ask me. I volunteered to be their surrogate. I’m healthy, I’m young, I’m in love with the type of love they have for one another, and I wanted to give them their own baby.

We used a donor egg and a mishmash of their sperm. The donor egg is so I could stay as far removed from the situation as possible. The mishmash is so they won’t know who the father is. They’ll both be fathers. All I know is that I don’t want to be a mom. But I’m willing to let the little guy cook in my uterus for nine months or so. Then I will gladly hand him over to these wonderful men, and they will be able to raise their own child.

I wince as the doctor cranks the speculum down and pulls it from my vagina. She lifts my feet from the stirrups and rolls her chair back. “Friday,” she says. That’s my name. Friday. Like the day of the week. It’s not the name on my birth certificate, but it fits me better than that old relic of my former life ever did. “In about ten days, I want you to come in for a blood test.”

Cody rubs his hands together. He’s so excited that I get all teary again. That could be the hormones they used to get me on a cycle similar to that of the egg donor, but either way, I’m much more emotional than on a normal day. “Ten days until we find out if we’re going have a baby!” Cody squeals.

A grin tugs at my lips as Garrett helps me sit up. I feel a lot better with the gown covering all my girly bits, instead of having my hoo-ha up in the air for everyone to see.

“I can go to work today, right?” I ask.

She nods her head. “The only thing you can’t do is have an orgasm.”

Heat creeps up my cheeks, so I slap my palms against them. “Oh no!” I cry. “What am I going to do without my daily orgasms?”

Garrett holds up two fingers. “Twice on Sundays.”

“Don’t do any heavy lifting or any strenuous exercise. And no warm baths,” the doctor says. She looks at the tattoo on my knee with keen interest. It’s a spider web with a baby rattle in the middle. “Interesting,” she says, more to herself than to me. Hell, she already saw the one on my inner thigh.

I cover my knee with my hand, and she jerks her gaze away. I have tattoos all over my body. I love them, and each one tells a story. I drew most of them, and they all mean something to me. I know people with tattoos have a lot of stigmas attached to them, but I just like art, and I like to wear art on my body. Judge me if you want to, because I don’t care.

“I have to get back to work,” Cody says, and he leans over to kiss Garrett on the lips. Then he kisses my temple and leaves, his smile big and bright.

Garrett hangs out with me while I change clothes behind the curtain. I can hear his feet hitting the side of the exam table he’s sitting on. He’s like a giddy little kid with his feet swinging back and forth. “Where do you have to go when you leave here?” he asks.

“Work,” I say as I pull my dress down over my head. I like vintage clothes, and today is no different than any other day. I wonder how I’m going to be able to pull off the vintage look when my belly is big and round. I am not sure vintage-inspired maternity clothes will be easy to find.

“Don’t you want to take the rest of the day off?” he asks. “We could go shopping. Buy some baby stuff.”

“Tempting,” I say. Honestly, it sounds like hell. “I’ll leave that to you and Cody, if you don’t mind.”

“Fine,” he tosses back harshly, like he’s annoyed, but I know he’s not. “Let me buy you lunch, then. And I’ll walk you back to Reed’s.”

Reed’s is the tattoo parlor where I work. The idea of him walking me there makes me surprisingly joyful. “Will you be sure to kiss me before you leave?” I ask. I grin as I put on my delicate shoes with the tall heels that I love so very much. They match the dress.

“Why?” he asks, instantly suspicious. He jerks the curtain back as I pull my hair from the neck of my dress. He grins. “Which of the Reeds are you hoping to make jealous?” He narrows his eyes at me.

I start to tick them off on my fingers. “Logan is married and has a baby on the way. Pete is with Reagan. Matt is married and knocked up his wife. With twins!”

“So that leaves Sam and Paul.” He appraises me shrewdly.

Kissing Sam would be like kissing my brother. Paul, on the other hand…

“Mmm hmm,” Garrett hums. “It’s the big one, right?”

“He’s not that big,” I mutter to myself.

“Are you kidding?” he shrieks. “He’s fucking huge.” He grins. “I bet the rest of him is just as big.”

Sometimes having a gay man as a really good friend has its advantages. Because a straight man would never wonder how big Paul Reed’s dick is. “I wouldn’t know,” I murmur. His baby mama would, though, because he still sleeps with Kelly. That part makes my gut ache.

“Does he still walk you home at night when the shop closes?” Garrett asks.

I shrug. “One of them does.”

“Does he still try to kiss you?” Garrett sings. He’s like a damn woodland creature with his giddiness. I expect him to break out into song any second.

“That only happened once,” I say. It was the kiss that rocked my world, though. I pick up my purse and step out into the room.

“And?” He makes a rolling motion with his finger as he opens the door for me and we walk through the hallway. He checks us out, pays the bill, and we step into the sunshine.

“And what?” I huff as I put on my sunglasses and pretend like I don’t know what he just asked.

“The man laid one on you and you still have to see him every day, Friday. How’s that going?” He takes my hand in his and threads his fingers through mine as we wait for the subway. The baby doctor’s office is on the good side of town. And Reed’s is not. It’s in the area that I love more than anything.

“Fine.”

He gapes at me, his mouth hanging open. “That’s all I get? Fine?” He points to my belly. “You might have my baby in your uterus, and that’s all you’re going to tell me?”

I cover his mouth with my hand. “You don’t get any say over any part of my body except for that baby that may or may not be growing in there.”

“Oh, that was cold,” he says. But I have quite effectively changed the subject.

He talks about nurseries and bottles and clothes and all the things I don’t even want to know about until we get to Reed’s. When we get there, he stops in front of the shop, cups his hands around his eyes, and looks through the glass into the room.

“Yep,” he says with a grin. “It’s showtime!” He takes my hand and opens the door. The grin falls off his face, and he replaces it with a look of aloofness. It’s uncanny how he can do that. He minored in theater many years ago, though, so I guess it makes sense. He’s a teacher now.

I drop my bag behind the desk at the front, which is where I usually work. I design the tattoos, and sometimes I do the actual tattoo part. I’m still learning how to do that, but drawing is my thing. That is where my skills lie—I’m an art major at NYU, after all. Or at least I was until I graduated two weeks ago. Now I’m just a possibly-knocked-up soon-to-be-homeless person. Oh crap. I haven’t told Garrett and Cody about my living situation yet.

Paul looks up from where he’s doing a tattoo on a guy’s shoulder, and he frowns. “Morning,” he says, looking from me to Garrett and back. Garrett swells up in size. Honey, no matter what you do, you will never look as big or as tough as Paul Reed.

“Morning,” I chirp back.

Logan is here, too, and he smiles at me and waves. Logan is deaf but can speak, and we all learned how to sign many years ago. I wave back.

Who’s that? he signs at me and points to Garrett.

I put my hand on Garrett’s shoulder. “Garrett, this is Paul, and the quiet one there is Logan.”

Logan stands up and shakes Garrett’s hand. Paul just grunts.

“Nice to meet you,” Garrett says. He turns to me and tips my face up. He leans down close to my ear and says, “I bet he’s fucking huge.” I laugh and try to turn my face away, but he just holds me there with his thumbs beneath my chin and his fingers splayed toward my ear. Then his lips touch mine.

He’s actually a really good kisser, and I kind of envy Cody a little bit, because if he goes after sex the same way he’s going after this fake kiss, Cody’s getting it pretty good.

The only thing about it…there’s no spark. Not a single one. It’s just warm, wet lips sliding across mine, and a really quick touch of a tongue. I pinch his side, and he laughs against my lips and pulls back. He drags his nose up and down the side of mine.

“Cody is going to love it when I tell him about this.” I stab him in the side with my index finger, and he bends over, trying not to laugh.

“Remember what the doctor said,” he tells me, facing me and speaking quietly. “No orgasms. Not even ones offered by great big studly tattoo artists that make you sweat.” He waves a hand in front of his face like a fan. “He makes me sweat a little bit, too.”

I hear a clatter behind us as Paul throws down his tattoo gun and stalks toward the back of the shop. He pulls the privacy curtain closed behind him.

Logan looks up at me, grins, and just shakes his head.

Garrett kisses my forehead, lingering there for a second. “In ten days, you might be my baby mama,” he says, his body rocking against mine as he chuckles.

I punch his shoulder and point toward the door.

Next time he fake kisses me, I have to remember to tell him not to use tongue. I wipe the back of my hand across my mouth and watch him leave. He waves and blows me a kiss.

Logan throws up a hand to get my attention. You’re playing with fire,he warns. He jerks his thumb toward the curtain. He’s pissed. He must not want Paul to hear him or he would be talking instead of signing.

I wave a breezy hand at him. He’ll have to get over it.

He looks toward the curtain. You should go talk to him.

Why?

Because he still has a client out here, and he had to leave because you were sucking face with the other guy.

Crap. Paul walked away with a client in his chair. With a half-finished tat. He has no right to be angry.

Logan’s brow arches, and he shakes his head.

Well, he doesn’t.

Quit being a baby, he signs. He jerks his thumb toward the curtain again. Go talk to him.

I heave a sigh and go to get Paul out of his snit.

 

 

Paul

 

I can’t fucking believe she brought that man here. To my shop. Where I work. Hell, it’s where I live.

I lean against the counter and balance myself on my palms. My forehead rests against the upper cabinet, and I force myself to take a deep breath and count to ten. It was all I could do not to jerk him off her and show him the door. With my foot up his ass.

One of my brothers left shit on the counter that should have been put away, so I clean up and slam the cabinet door. That feels a little better, but not much. I can just imagine that douche in the front of the shop. He’s probably got his hand all the way up her shirt by now.

I slam another door.

The curtain rattles behind me, and a breeze tickles the back of my neck as someone walks into the space. “Not now,” I grind out.

“Then when?” she tosses back.

Great. It would be her that came to get me. I knew it was her. No one else makes the hair on my arms stand up or gives me fucking chills. Not to mention that the perfume she wears gets to me before her voice does. It reaches across the room, creeps up my nose, and wraps itself around my heart. I lower my head and grit my teeth. “Go away, Friday,” I say.

“You have a client waiting,” she says, as though I don’t know.

“I’m aware.”

“Then what the fuck are you doing?” she asks.

Friday is the only one who talks to me like that in my shop. She calls me on my shit, and she has since the day she first walked in here. She was eighteen years old, and she had just started at NYU. She walked in looking like she was lost, and I hired her on the spot when she told me what was wrong with the tattoo on the side of my neck. She told me how she would change it and that any good artist would have known that it was placed wrong. She pulled out a sheet of paper and drew a quick sketch of a new design.

“Want a job?” I’d said.

“Yeah,” she’d replied. “But only if you’ll fix that fucking tattoo so I don’t have to look at that monstrosity every fucking day.”

I’d grinned. Hell, the thought of it still makes me grin. Logan had fixed the tattoo that day, and she’d started working for me. That was four years ago. Four fucking years of looking at her beautiful legs and red lips. Every. Single. Day. Four years of watching her and wanting her. Four years of lusting over Friday. Four years with her busting my chops.

“I’ll finish in a minute,” I say. I heave a sigh and drop heavily into a chair. Friday wears me the fuck out.

She puts her hands on her hips and glares at me. “Why?”

“Why what?” I force myself to look at her face instead of her rack. She has the most beautiful rack I have ever seen, and I’ve been looking at it long enough to know.

“Why are you back here instead of out there working?”

Because I couldn’t watch you sucking face with that douche. “I told you, I’m taking a break.” I give her a what-the-fuck look. If I let her think she’s gone mental, I can blame it all on her, right?

“But why?” she asks. She stomps that little foot of hers, and it immediately draws my attention to her feet, and then up her legs, and then… God. I swipe a hand down my face. “Why, Paul?”

“Who’s the douche?” I ask, instead of telling her how I’m feeling.

“What douche?” She still has her hands on her hips.

“The one who had his tongue down your throat.” I glare at her. But she doesn’t back down. She never does.

“His name is Garrett,” she mumbles. She is suddenly really interested in looking at the magnets on the fridge.

“Garrett is a fuckwad. Tell him to keep his dick in his pants the next time he comes in my shop.”

She blows out a breath and raises her finger to point at me, and I can tell she’s about to ream me a new one.

“Weren’t you fucking somebody else last week, Friday?” I blurt out. I want to take it back immediately because it hangs there in the air between us like a bomb about to explode.

“What?” she asks, and her voice goes soft.

“Last week it was a different guy who took you to lunch.” I grumble to myself and get up, pretending to clean the counter.

She thinks it over. “You mean Cody?”

“How many are there?”

She blinks hard. What the fuck? Friday never cries. Ever. I take a step toward her, and she steps back, putting her hand up like she’s going to push the air around me back. “How dare you?” she breathes. A tear falls over her lashes, and she swipes it away and then looks down at the back of her wet hand like she doesn’t know what the fuck a tear is.

“Friday,” I say. I step toward her again. I soften my voice because I have no idea what to do. I have never seen this Friday before. I have only seen the one who can eat my balls for lunch. Hell, she’ll feed my balls to me if I piss her off enough. And make me like it. Four years and I have never seen her shed a tear.

She turns around and runs into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. I lean my ear against the door and listen, but I can’t hear anything over the sound of the fan. I knock. She doesn’t answer.

“Dammit,” I swear. I lean my forehead against the door.

“Leave her alone,” I hear from behind me.

I turn around because Logan is talking. “I can’t,” I say to him. I knock again, but she doesn’t answer.

“Just leave her the fuck alone,” he says again. He’s pissed, I can tell. “You have a client.” He waves toward my customer like he’s Vanna Fucking White. “Work to do. So, you might want to get to it.”

I heave a sigh and look at my client. “Just a moment,” I say.

“Take your time,” he says with a grin. He’s loving the show, apparently.

I pull my keys from my pocket and fit the key in the lock. I hesitate long enough for Logan to notice.

“You shouldn’t,” he warns.

I know I shouldn’t, but I am.

I turn the key and let myself into the room. I find Friday washing her face.

“What the fuck, Paul!” she cries. She turns back to the mirror and dabs beneath her eyes. She looks at me in the mirror. “Get out.”

I close the door behind me and lean against it. “Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” she bites out. But another tear slides down her cheek. “Fucking hormones,” she says as she swipes it away.

All this because she has her period? I know better than to say that out loud. “Oh,” I say instead.

She turns to face me, hitching her hip against the sink. She crosses her arms beneath her breasts, which pushes them up and makes little pillows over the top of that low-cut dress she’s wearing. My God. I look up at her face. She smirks at me. I like a smirking Friday a lot better than one who’s crying because I don’t know what do with tears. Not from her.

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” I blurt out when she just glares at me.

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Fuck me, Friday,” I breathe. I swipe a hand down my face again and growl to myself.

She faces the mirror and starts to put on her lipstick. “I tried to do that and you didn’t want to,” she says. She purses her lips and kisses toward the mirror. The move shoots straight to my dick. “So, you, Mister I Am Jealous, don’t get to tell me who I can and can’t sleep with.” She looks directly into my eyes in the mirror. “So, I can sleep with Garrett. I can sleep with Cody.” She throws up her hands. “Hell, I can sleep with both of them at the same time, if I want.” She glares at me. “And you don’t get to have any say-so about it.” She walks toward me. “You can’t say a word because you didn’t want it.” She gestures toward the front of her body. “You said no to all this, so you don’t get to have an opinion.”

“I didn’t say no,” I mumble.

“You kissed me and then you tried to take it back!” she yells.

Okay, I like Friday yelling. I like it so much more than Friday crying. “I didn’t try to take it back!” I slap my palm against the wall, but she just looks at my hand, smirks, and rolls her eyes. “I just… Never mind.”

“Just what?” she asks.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s over and done with.”

“Yep,” she says, letting her lips pop on the P. “Over. Done.” She dusts her hands together. “So you don’t get to go all Neanderthal when someone else kisses me.”

“I just…” I shake my head. “I had something I needed to take care of.”

“Don’t you mean somebody?” She smirks and shakes her head. “Was it Kelly you had to take care of? Heaven knows Kelly needs to come more than I do.”

Did she just say come? I shake the thoughts away. They’re not going to get me anywhere.

Friday tolerates my daughter’s mother, but I don’t think she’s ever really liked her. “It actually was Kelly I needed to take care of,” I say. I may as well lay all my shit bare. Friday cried, for God’s sake.

She lets out a heavy breath. “You kissed me, and then you went and got some from Kelly?”

Her voice is soft. She’s… What is she? Is she hurt?

“No, I didn’t go and get some from Kelly. I went and broke things off with Kelly.” I take a step forward until I’m towering over her and she has to tip her head back to look at my face. “I had to go and tell her that I kissed you and that you rocked my fucking world.”

She freezes, so I take a chance and put my arm around her, pulling her against me.

“What?” she breathes. She turns her face up to mine.

“I haven’t slept with Kelly since before I kissed you. I don’t want to sleep with Kelly. I have you on my fucking mind, and I can’t get you out. So, I went and broke things off with Kelly. Completely.”

She blinks her brown eyes at me. Blink. Blink.

“Then I came back to see you, but you were pissed. You wouldn’t let me in. You said ‘no fucking way, you stupid son of a bitch.’ And you told me to go home. So, I went. Alone.”

Blink. Blink.

“Kelly and I weren’t dating. We were just friends with benefits. Or parents with benefits. Whatever. Now we’re just Hayley’s parents.”

Blink. Blink.

“I went and told her that we couldn’t do that anymore, and she understood.”

“You told her?” she whispers. “That you…what? What did you tell her?”

“I told her that I can’t stop thinking about you.” I brush her hair back from her forehead. I kissed Friday that one time when I walked her home and she invited me inside, and we both knew what she was offering, but I don’t think I’ve ever just held her in my arms. I like it. She lays her palms flat on my chest, like she needs to steady herself.

“I have a thing for you,” I admit. I wince inwardly because it sounds so lame.

“A thing?”

“A big thing.”

Her gaze drops.

“Not that thing.” Although now that she’s looking down at it, it’s ready to rise to attention. Fucking attention whore. I tip her chin up. “But,” I say.

“But what?”

“Then you showed up with that first douche. And then that second douche. And I had just changed my whole life for the possibility of you. But you had moved on. Quickly.” I drag my fingertips up and down her bare arms, and chill bumps rise. She shivers. “So, yeah, I’m mad. Sorry.”

“You don’t sound sorry.”

“I’m not.”

She laughs, and the sound of it shoots straight to my heart.

“Am I too late?” I ask. I wait, with my heart in my throat.

She steps back from me. “Paul,” she says. Her voice cracks. “I’m so sorry.”

I don’t need to hear any more. I go out and start my machine up and get back to work. I hear her move around in the shop, and I glance up at her every once in a while, but she gets busy with clients, drawing tattoos, and she ignores me. She doesn’t look in my direction. Not even once. Not for the whole rest of the night. And when it’s closing time, Logan volunteers to walk her home. I let him.

Chapter Two of Proving Paul’s Promise – Unedited

If you missed chapter one, you can find it here.

Preorder on iBooks:   https://bit.ly/1k2EGVG

 

Image

 

Paul

 

I can’t fucking believe she brought that man here. In my shop. Where I work. Hell, it’s where I live.

I lean against the counter and balance myself on my palms. My forehead rests against the upper cabinet, and I force myself to take a deep breath and count to ten. It was all I could do not to jerk him off of her and show him the door. With my foot up his ass.

One of my brothers left shit on the counter that should have been put away so I do it and slam the cabinet door. That feels a little better, but not much more. I can just imagine that douche in the front of the shop. He’s probably got his hand all the way up her shirt by now.

I slam another door.

The curtain rattles behind me and a breeze tickles the back of my neck as someone walks into the space. “Not now,” I grind out.

“Then when?” she tosses back.

Great. It would be her that came to get me. I knew it was her. No one else makes the hair on my arms stand up or gives me fucking chills. Not to mention that the perfume she wears gets to me before her voice does. It reaches across the room, creeps up my nose, and wraps itself around my heart. I lower my head and grit my teeth. “Go away, Friday,” I say.

“You have a client waiting,” she says, as though I don’t know.

“I’m aware.”

“Then what the fuck are you doing?” she asks.

Friday is the only one who talks to me like that in my shop. She calls me on my shit and she has since the day she first walked in here. She was eighteen years old and she had just started at NYU. She walked in looking like she was lost and I hired her on the spot when she told me what was wrong with the tattoo on the side of my neck. She told me how she would change it and that any good artist would have known that it was placed wrong. She pulled out a sheet of paper and drew a quick sketch of a new design.

“Want a job?” I’d said.

“Yeah,” she’d replied. “But only if you’ll fix that fucking tattoo so I don’t have to look at that monstrosity every fucking day.”

I’d grinned. Hell, the thought of it still makes me grin. Logan had fixed the tattoo that day and she’d started working for me. That was four years ago. Four fucking years of looking at her beautiful legs and red lips. Every. Single. Day. Four years of watching her and wanting her. Four years of lusting over Friday. Four years with her busting my chops.

“I’ll finish in a minute,” I say. I heave a sigh and drop heavily into a chair. Friday wears me the fuck out.

She puts her hands on her hips and glares at me. “Why?”

“Why what?” I force myself to look at her face instead of her rack. She has the most beautiful fucking rack I have ever seen, and I’ve been looking at it long enough to know.

“Why are you back here instead of out there working?”

Because I couldn’t watch you sucking face with that douche. “I told you I’m taking a break.” I give her a what-the-fuck look. If I let her think she’s gone mental, I can blame it all on her, right?

“But why?” she asks. She stomps that little foot of hers. But that immediately draws my attention to her feet, and then up her legs, and then… God. I swipe a hand down my face. “Why, Paul?”

“Who’s the douche?” I ask, instead of telling her how I’m feeling.

“What douche?” She still has her hands on her hips.

“The one who had his tongue down your throat.” I glare at her. But she doesn’t back down. She never does.

“His name is Garrett,” she mumbles. She is suddenly really interested in looking at the magnets on the fridge.

“Garrett is a fuckwad. Tell him to keep his dick in his pants the next time he comes in my shop.”

She blows out a breath and raises her finger to point at me, and I can tell she’s about to ream me a new one.

“Weren’t you fucking somebody else last week, Friday?” I blurt out. I want to take it back immediately, because it hangs there in the air between us like a bomb about to explode.

“What?” she asks, and her voice goes soft.

“Last week it was a different guy who took you to lunch.” I grumble to myself and get up, pretending to clean the counter.

She thinks it over. “You mean Cody?”

“How many are there?”

She blinks hard. What the fuck? Friday never cries. Ever. I take a step toward her and she steps back, putting her hand up like she’s going to push the air around me back. “How dare you?” she breathes. A tear falls over her lashes and she swipes it away, and then looks down at the back of her wet hand like she doesn’t know what the fuck a tear is.

“Friday,” I say. I step toward her again. I soften my voice because I have no idea what to do. I have never seen this Friday before. I have only seen the one who can eat my balls for lunch. Hell, she’ll feed my balls to me if I piss her off enough. And make me like it. Four years and I have never seen her shed a tear.

She turns around and runs into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. I lean my ear against the door and listen, but I can’t hear anything over the sound of the fan. I knock. She doesn’t answer.

“Damn it,” I swear. I lean my forehead against the door.

“Leave her alone,” I hear from behind me.

I turn around because Logan is talking. “I can’t,” I say to him. I knock again, but she doesn’t answer.

“Just leave her the fuck alone,” he says again. He’s pissed and I can tell. “You have a client.” He waves toward my customer like he’s Vanna Fucking White. “Work to do. So, you might want to get to it.”

I heave a sigh and look at my client. “Just a moment,” I say.

“Take your time,” he says with a grin. He’s loving the show, apparently.

I pull my keys from my pocket and fit the key in the lock. I hesitate long enough for Logan to notice.

“You shouldn’t,” he warns.

I know I shouldn’t, but I am.

I turn the key and let myself into the room. I find Friday washing her face.

“What the fuck, Paul!” she cries. She turns back to the mirror and dabs beneath her eyes. She looks at me in the mirror. “Get out.”

I close the door behind me and lean against it. “Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” she bites out. But another tear slides down her cheek. “Fucking hormones,” she says as she swipes it away.

All this because she has her period? I know better than to say that out loud. “Oh,” I say instead.

She turns to face me, hitching her hip against the sink. She crosses her arms beneath her breasts, which pushes them up and makes little pillows over the top of that low cut dress she’s wearing. My God. I look up at her face. She smirks at me. I like a smirking Friday a lot better than one who’s crying, because I don’t know what do with tears. Not from her.

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” I blurt out when she just glares at me.

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Fuck me, Friday,” I breathe. I swipe a hand down my face again and growl to myself.

She turns to face the mirror and starts to put on her lipstick. “I tried to do that and you didn’t want to,” she says. She purses her lips and kisses toward the mirror. The move shoots straight to my dick. “So, you — mister-I-am-jealous — don’t get to tell me who I can and can’t sleep with.” She looks directly into my eyes in the mirror. “So, I can sleep with Garrett. I can sleep with Cody.” She throws up her hands. “Hell, I can sleep with both of them at the same time, if I want.” She turns to face me. “And you don’t get any say-so about it.” She walks toward me. “You can’t say a word, because you didn’t want it.” She gestures toward the front of her body. “You said no to all this, so you get no say.”

“I didn’t say no,” I mumble.

“You kissed me and then you tried to take it back!” she yells.

Okay, I like Friday yelling. I like it so much more than Friday crying. “I didn’t try to take it back!” I slap my palm against the wall, but she just looks at my hand, smirks, and rolls her eyes. “I just… Never mind.”

“Just what?” she asks.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s over and done with.”

“Yep,” she says, letting her lips pop on the P. “Over. Done.” She dusts her hands together. “So you don’t get to go all Neanderthal when someone else kisses me.”

“I just…” I shake my head. “I had something I needed to take care of.”

“Don’t you mean somebody?” She smirks and shakes her head. “Was it Kelly you had to take care of? Heaven knows Kelly needs to come more than I do.”

Did she just say “come”? I shake the thoughts away. They’re not going to get me anywhere.

Friday tolerates my daughter’s mother. But I don’t think she’s ever really liked her. “It actually was Kelly I needed to take care of.” I say. I may as well lay all my shit bare. Friday cried, for God’s sake.

She lets out a heavy breath. “You kissed me and then you went and got some from Kelly?”

Her voice is soft. She’s… what is she? Is she hurt?

“No, I didn’t go and get some from Kelly. I went and broke things off with Kelly.” I take a step forward until I’m towering over her and she has to tip her head back to look into my face. “I had to go and tell her that I kissed you and that you rocked my fucking world.”

She freezes, so I take a chance and put my arm around her, pulling her against me. “What?” she breathes.

“I haven’t slept with Kelly since before I kissed you. I don’t want to sleep with Kelly. I have you on my fucking mind and I can’t get you out. So, I went and broke things off with Kelly. Completely.”

She blinks her brown eyes at me. Blink. Blink.

“Then I came back to see you, but you were pissed. You wouldn’t let me in. You said ‘no fucking way, you stupid son of a bitch.’ And you told me to go home. So, I went. Alone.”

Blink. Blink.

“Kelly and I weren’t dating. We were just friends with benefits. Or parents with benefits. Whatever. Now we’re just Hayley’s parents.”

Blink. Blink.

“I went and told her that we couldn’t do that anymore, and she understood.”

“You told her?” she whispers. “That you… what? What did you tell her?”

“I told her that I can’t stop thinking about you.” I brush her hair back from her forehead. I kissed Friday that one time when I walked her home and she invited me inside, and we both knew what she was offering, but I don’t think I’ve ever just held her in my arms. I like it. She lays her palms flat on my chest, like she needs to steady herself. “I have a thing for you,” I admit. I wince inwardly, because that sounds so lame.

“A thing?”

“A big thing.”

Her gaze drops.

“Not that thing.” Although now that she’s looking down at it, it’s ready to rise to attention. Fucking attention whore. I tip her chin up. “But,” I say.

“But what?”

“Then you showed up with that first douche. And then that second douche. And I had just changed my whole life for the possibility of you. But you had moved on. Quickly.” I drag my fingertips up and down her bare arms and chill bumps rise. She shivers. “So, yeah, I’m mad. Sorry.”

“You don’t sound sorry.”

“I’m not.”

She laughs, and the sound of it shoots straight to my heart.

“Am I too late?” I ask. I wait, with my heart in my throat.

She steps back from me. “Paul,” she says. Her voice cracks. “I’m so sorry.”

I don’t need to hear any more. I go out and start my machine up and get back to work. I hear her move around in the shop, and I glance up at her every once in a while, but she gets busy with clients, drawing tattoos, and she ignores me. She doesn’t look in my direction. Not even once. Not for the whole rest of the night. And when it’s closing time, Logan volunteers to walk her home. I let him.