Bosom Buddies Episode Seventeen

 

Dax

“So you never did tell me. How did the big date go? You know, that night I covered your shift and you were all dressed up in the monkey suit?”

One side of my mouth curled up as I regarded Marc. “Fine. It was fine. Now listen up, because I want you to be familiar with this new list of cocktails. The holidays are just around the corner, and you know we’re going to have a shit ton of tourists in the city, staying at our hotel, hitting up this bar. That’s not even counting all of the corporate parties, weddings, and other social events.” I tapped the paper on the bar. “Read it. Learn it. Live it.”

“Uh-huh.” Marc picked up the menu and let his eyes wander down the list. “Don’t worry, boss. I’ll have time to study tonight. Looks like it’ll be pretty quiet.”

“Probably,” I conceded, tossing a used bar towel into the bin under the counter. “I’ll leave you to get down to business. I’ve got a date at home with a cold beer and Sunday Night Football.”

“Doesn’t sound like as much fun as your last date, but whatever, dude. You do you.” Marc grinned. And then, as an older couple wandered over to sit down at a nearby table, he winked at me. “Time to get to work.”

I’d just clocked out and was about to head out when Sherri, one of the restaurant servers, nearly ran into me.

“Oh, Dax! You’re exactly the man I need.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Not the first time I’ve heard that, but I have a feeling you mean it in a different way.”

She shot me a look of mock reprimand. “And you’d be right. Listen, we’re in the weeds tonight. We’re down two servers and a sous chef, and we’ve got two big parties coming in.” She lifted a small slip of white paper. “Then this guest up on the twentieth floor ordered champagne and strawberries to be delivered to her suite. Since you’re going to have to prep the bubbly anyway, would you mind taking it up along with the berries?”

I hesitated. Normally, I’d have been happy to help out my co-workers. One of the things I loved about this job at the hotel was that we all pulled together when the place got busy. I didn’t mind coming in early or hanging around to make sure the job got done. But I’d been feeling mopey and grumpy lately, and I honestly just wanted to be at home right now where I could be miserable on my own.

It was stupid, and I knew it. I didn’t even really know Coral Jennings, and we’d just shared that one kiss. Why was this bothering me so much? Why had I made an ass of myself by showing up at her signing? She’d snidely accused me stalking her, of wanting a piece of her fame pie—which was an asinine thing to say, by the way—but maybe I’d had it coming by pushing when she’d made her position clear.

Sherri was still waiting for my answer, her toes tapping impatiently. I bit back my initial inclination and nodded my head.

“Sure. Did the guest ask for a specific kind of champagne?”

Sherri lifted one eyebrow. “As a matter, they requested Cristal. 2005. Two flutes, strawberries and cream.” She rolled her eyes toward the kitchen. “Come see me when you’ve got the wine ready, and I’ll have everything else set to go.”

“Okay. Will do.” I turned to go back to the special cooler where we kept our high-end liquor.

“Appreciate you, Dax!”

I sighed and focused on the job at hand.

***

I didn’t make many room service deliveries. Most people came down to the bar when they wanted a drink, and when they ordered booze with a meal, the kitchen servers popped over to the bar to retrieve what was necessary and then added it to the cart.

Consequently, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken the service elevator upstairs. I was heading up to the penthouse suite now—swanky, weren’t we—with a wheeled cart beautifully set for two lucky someones to enjoy pricey bubbles and luscious red strawberries grown in a year-round garden within a biodome outside the city.

There were times when I felt as though I was doing okay in my life, paying my rent on time, owning my car outright, and even putting away a little something for the future. But when I came face-to-face with the luxuries we offered here at the Gwynne, I realized that I was still just a good ol’ boy from North Carolina, and I was never going to understand people who lived the high life.

The elevator dinged softly, announcing my arrival on the twentieth floor. I waited until the doors slid open and then wheeled my cart over the plush carpet to the suite’s door, where I knocked.

“Room service!”

The door swooshed open as though the occupant had been waiting for me, and when I saw who was on the other side, I understood why.

“Coral?”

She stood with one hand on the doorknob, fidgeting a little as she gazed up at me. My mouth dropped when I took in the full picture.

Her small and curvy body was covered in sheer white cloth, some kind of nightgown deal, I thought. It was the kind of thing I’d seen on television or in the movies, but none of the women I’d ever dated wore stuff like this.

But damn, Coral wore it well. The neckline plunged between her full breasts, revealing her creamy skin, and through the thin material, I could make out the dark circles of her nipples. Her short hair was tousled the same way it had been the night of the premiere, but this time, her face was bare, no makeup in sight. She didn’t need it; her gray eyes were luminous as she watched my gaze consume her luscious body.

“Hello, Dax.” Coral’s voice was husky.

“I—I didn’t know it was you. I mean, who ordered the—the room service.” I eased the cart further into the room.

“No, I specifically asked the woman downstairs to send you up without letting you know it was me. She told me you were about to go off-shift, and so I thought . . .” She shrugged, the movement causing the nightgown to ripple over her skin. “Maybe this was a good way to tell you that I’m sorry.”

“Well.” I cleared my throat. “It’s, um, the most unique and promising apology I’ve ever gotten.”

Her lips twitched, and she lifted her chin. “Dax, I’m sorry about what happened at the bookstore. I don’t . . . I shouldn’t have said that to you. I never really thought you were trying to—you know. Cash in on my fame. That was stupid. And hurtful. I think I was just reacting to—um, you pushing me. Not that you were—I mean, I know you didn’t mean to. You couldn’t know—you can’t understand. But anyway, I really am so sorry.”

“All right.” My voice sounded hollow. “Apology accepted.” I swallowed, not sure what to do next. I felt as though I’d fallen into some bizarre dream.

Coral sighed and clasped her hands behind her back, unintentionally—I thought—thrusting forward her chest. “Okay. Phew.” She smiled up at me. “I’m so glad we straightened that out.” She reached for the bottle of champagne. “Let’s celebrate by pouring some of this fine champagne and sitting down over here. Can you close the door, please? I know this is the penthouse, but I’d still like some privacy.”

“Coral.” I couldn’t believe I was doing this, but I shook my head. “What is this?”

Her hand holding the champagne flute shook a little. “What do you mean? I thought that since we cleared the air, we could . . . well.” She took a deep breath. “Like I told you, I don’t do dating or anything like that, but I like you, Dax. And I’m thinking that we could have some fun.”

“So you came up here, booked this suite, ordered room service, and met me with this—” I swept my hand in her direction. “This get-up. And you think that by saying you’re sorry, I’m going to be okay with jumping into bed with you, no strings attached.”

Coral crossed her arms over her breasts, her cheeks going pink. “I thought we could talk—I thought you were interested in me.”

“I am interested in you,” I almost bellowed, then lowered my voice as I remembered that we were in the fucking penthouse. “But for more than just a casual fuck. God, Coral, I’ve lived most of my life going from woman to woman, from bed to bed. It’s fine. It’s been fine. And then the first time I meet a woman I think could be more—a woman I want to be more to me—you won’t even think about it. You won’t even give us a try.”

“I explained all of this. I told you why.” Coral’s lip jutted out stubbornly.

“And I told you that I didn’t accept that. You threw some ugly words at me, and then you came here to, uh, apologize—” I gave the word air quotes. “—which was really just an excuse to try to seduce me.”

“Dax—” Coral began, but I cut her off, shaking my head.

“You said you could never love anyone else. You said you had your one shot at love when you were a teenager, and now you won’t even consider that maybe you’d get a second chance. You won’t think about it. I think you’re a damn coward, Coral Jennings.”

Her eyes flared. “The fuck I am.”

“You heard me. A damn coward who’s too chickenshit to take a chance on love.”

“How can you say that?” Tears filled her beautiful eyes, and I almost lost it right then, fighting the desire to sweep her into my arms and kiss her, make her feel better, take back the words I knew had stung. But if I touched her, I’d be a goner, and I wasn’t going to give in. Not when I knew we had the potential for so much more.

“I’m sorry, Coral,” I said, gentling my tone. “I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt you. But you have to know my truth, too. I’m tired of meaningless fucking. I’m tired of not having someone special in my life. Sure, I want the hot sex, but I also want long talks over meals. I want walks in the woods where we find out more about each other. When it comes to you, Coral, I want the whole package.” I took one step backward. “And because for the first time in my life, I know I want more, I’m not going to settle for anything less.”

Before I could look at her again and lose my resolve, I pivoted and walked out the door, shutting it behind me.

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Eighteen is coming next Friday, December 24th!

Is there any hope for these two?

And hey, what about Sabrina and Wesley?

There is ONE more episode of Bosom Buddies.

Don’t miss it!

What about Celeste?

If you didn’t read her story in TINSEL AND TATAS,

don’t despair . . .

TITS THE SEASON

is available here now!

Bosom Buddies Episode Thirteen

If you missed Episode Nine, read it here.

If you missed Episode Ten, read it here.

If you missed Episode Eleven, read it here.

If you missed Episode Twelve, read it here.

Dax

This was . . . intense.

When Coral had talked about showing up at her movie premiere, I’d pictured us walking into a movie theatre crowded with fans and maybe a few celebrities. As the writer, Coral wouldn’t be that big a deal I’d figured.

I was wrong.

Yeah, I’d started to get a clue when her publicity person—someone I didn’t really like from the get-go, I’ll add—started talking about image and contracts and how we should act. But I still wasn’t ready for the total onslaught of flashing cameras and shouting journalists the minute Coral stepped out of the limo.

“Coral! Over here!”

“Coral! Give us a pose, love!”

We walked a few steps and then, like a total pro, Coral paused and turned to face one side of the mobbed red-carpet. Her fingers were still gripping mine, neither of us ready to let go yet, I thought.

“Coral! Who’s your date?”

She glanced up at me for the most fleeting of seconds before she answered the last question.

“This is Dax Turner. My boyfriend.”

I’d never heard those words before, not in reference to me, anyway. No woman had ever referred to me as her boyfriend. I waited for the inevitable sense of panic that I assumed would follow, even though I knew Coral was just playing a part, just doing what we’d agreed.

But the panic didn’t come, and instead of wanting to run, I found myself wanting to do something else. And being the impulsive, grab-life-by-the-balls bastard I was, I did what I wanted.

Using the hand I was holding, I tugged Coral against me. With my other hand, I tipped up her face to mine, lowered my head, and kissed the hell out of her.

***

It was for show, or at least, that was what I’d thought. But the minute her lips touched mine, everything else in the world disappeared. Sound stopped. Time ceased to exist.

She was so soft, so yielding. So warm against me. I groaned, and she arched toward me, setting my body on fire. I thrust my tongue into her mouth, needing to be closer to her any way at all. She jerked a little as if in surprise, and then she just . . .  went with it.

I angled my head and slid one hand down to her neck, my thumb moving to caress her soft skin there. I wanted to touch every inch of that skin, to explore it with my lips—

Next to me, very close to us, someone cleared her throat in a meaningful way. And I remembered where I was and what we were doing and why we were here.

Apparently Coral realized it, too, because she flattened her hand against my chest and gently pushed me away. I blinked, still in a daze, and straightened up. Swallowing hard, I ventured a glance at her face.

She was flushed, and her lips were puffy, but otherwise, she appeared to be in control and okay. She smiled at me, and although on the surface she was still Coral Jennings, famous author, I could see the confusion and surprise just under the surface. She held onto my hand still as we both began to walk again.

“Coral! That was hot!” This time it was a tall woman holding a microphone, waving at us. “Tell us more about this guy! Where did you meet? How long have you been together?”

“Guys, guys!” Sherrell was there, smiling that shark-like grin as she herded us forward. “This is something personal, and Coral isn’t going to spill her life here on the red carpet. You’ve got your pictures. Now we’re going to join the rest of these gorgeous, talented people and enjoy this incredible film that came from the mind of this wildly talented woman!” She pointed to Coral. “Thanks for coming tonight! See you later!”

We walked the rest of the way into a huge, gorgeously decorated lobby, and once again, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. Everywhere I looked, there were familiar faces—not of people I’d met in person, but faces I’d seen in magazines, on television, in some of my favorite movies. It was so wild, so unbelievable.

“Is that—is that Deena MacMillan?” I hunched over and whispered into Coral’s ear. “Holy shit, that’s really her. I used to watch her when I was a kid.”

“Yeah, that’s her.” Coral smiled faintly. “She plays the grandmother in the movie. A real grand dame, a ball-buster. She blew me away. I even got to tell her that I’d written the character with her in mind.”

“That’s so crazy.” I shook my head.

“Want to meet her?” Coral tilted her head, and I looked down at her, really pulled my attention from the star-studded crowd around us and looked at her. She still had a fairly dazed expression in her eyes, her lipstick was gone, and her hair was a little messed-up from where my fingers had accidentally pulled it from the pins.

“Um, yeah, but first . . . Coral, about what happened outside. About the kiss.”

“No.” She shook her head. “Not here. Not now. It wasn’t—I know, Dax. I know it was just for them. For the reporters, the photographers, the . . . public.”

“Coral—” I tried to figure out how to say what I needed to tell her, but she held up a hand.

“No, Dax. Not here. Right now, we’re the actors, okay? Just play the role. Pretty soon, we’ll be sitting in the theatre, and the lights will go down, and we can relax. A little.” She slid her hand into the crook of my arm. “C’mon. Let me introduce you to some stars.”

***

Coral was wrong. She was dead wrong. Because sitting next to her in the dark theatre wasn’t relaxing or easier. If anything, it was agony.

I felt the heat of her body against my side. Her scent—some magical mix of perfume and pheromones—filled my nostrils. And all I could remember was how her lips had felt against mine, how she had tasted . . .

I wanted to feel her again and couldn’t stop myself from running my finger tips down the inside of her arm until I reached her hand. Her palm twitched beneath my touch, and then after a moment, she curled her fingers around mine.

 We sat through the entirety of the movie that way, our hands linked. I managed to pay attention to the film, to lose myself in the slowly unwinding story that was painted on that big screen, the tale that had come from the imagination of the woman whose hand I was holding. It was incredible. I couldn’t even fathom what it must be like to see people she had invented walk and talk and interact.

When the lights came up again, Coral was wiping tears from her cheeks. “Sorry,” she sniffed. “It always happens when I see my movies.”

“Don’t apologize. I’d be crying, too. Holy fuck, Coral—you did that. You made that happen. I know we don’t know each other that way, but I’m, like—I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks.” She took a deep breath, her chest rising. “Okay. We’re heading out that back exit over there—so we don’t have to see the press again. That’s standard.” She carefully disentangled our hands. “You don’t have to worry. No one will see us. We don’t have to keep up the act.”

Her voice was even, as though nothing was at all unusual. As though that kiss hadn’t happened. I followed her from a distance, trailing her out the door and into the car.

“What about your friends?” I inquired as the limo pulled away into the night.

“They’re going to the after party. I want them to have a good time, enjoy themselves . . . but it’s just not my thing. So I’m heading back to the hotel.” She offered me a smile of contrition. “You know, I’m a writer, not an actor. I can pull off a show now and then, like what we did walking in tonight. But I can’t manage hours at a party where people can come up and talked to us, ask questions—I can’t keep up the pretense that long and to that extent.”

“But Coral . . .” I trailed off. “I don’t mind. I don’t want you to miss something like this. If you want to go, I won’t. Or I’ll go if it would help you.”

“No. Seriously.” She shook her head. “I never go to the parties. They’re like torture for me. I just want to go back to the hotel and crash.”

I digested this, letting it roll around in my mind. “Want some company?”

Coral jerked her head around to stare at me. “I’m sorry?”

“Coral.” I sucked in a deep breath. “That kiss. On the carpet. That kiss was—”

“Dax, please.” She sounded pained. “I might be a babbling, awkward mess, but I’m not an idiot. I know that you did this as a favor to me. I know you felt bad about knocking me over at the hotel. I know I was pathetic when I sat at your bar. And you were such an amazing sport today. That kiss will get enough buzz that my agent will be able to negotiate me a really sweet contract for my next series.”

“Oh.” I nodded slowly. “Okay. That’s great. But what if it wasn’t all an act? What if I wasn’t pretending?”

“But you were. I mean, we both were.” She patted my arm. “And here we are.” She pointed out the window, and I realized we were pulling up in front of the Gwynn. “I figured you probably left your car here, right? So this is easiest.”

“Yeah, I did.” I fiddled with my cufflinks. “Coral, I really want—I mean, I want to talk about—”

“Good night, Dax.” Coral shifted to the far corner of the back seat. “It was a wonderful evening, and I don’t know how I can ever thank you for doing this for me.”

“I don’t want to go in,” I managed to say, trying to get nearer to her. “I want to go back with you.”

“But you can’t.” She crossed her arms and closed her eyes. “Please just go, Dax. Tonight was amazing, but whether or not we like it, it was only make-believe.”

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Fourteen is coming next Friday, November 26th!

Are Dax and Coral over? Was it only pretend for both of them?

What about Celeste?

If you didn’t read her story in TINSEL AND TATAS,

don’t despair . . .

TITS THE SEASON

will be released next month as a stand-alone. 

Bosom Buddies Episode Ten

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

If you missed Episode Four, read it here.

If you missed Episode Five, read it here.

If you missed Episode Six, read it here.

If you missed Episode Seven, read it here.

If you missed Episode Eight, read it here.

If you missed Episode Nine, read it here.

Coral

I couldn’t believe my life and my luck.

A long time ago, I’d realized that when I miraculously beat breast cancer at the age of nineteen, I’d used up all of my good fortune and lucky breaks. From there on out, I never complained when things didn’t go my way because I knew I had to be grateful to be alive at all.

Sure, I’d landed a sweet publishing deal at the age of twenty-one, but in my mind, that too was linked to my cancer. I’d started writing romance as a way to escape during chemo and radiation treatments, in the aftermath of surgeries and during hospital stays. My agent didn’t exactly exploit my disease to help land my first contract, but she was savvy enough to know that stories sell, and playing up the fact that I was a young cancer survivor definitely didn’t hurt.

Even my best friends came into my life because of my breast cancer diagnosis. We all met at a volunteer rally for Young Survival Coalition, and we’ve been joined at the hip ever since. I love Celeste and Sabrina. They’re the sisters I never knew I needed.

But there are a lot of other things that haven’t gone my way. For instance, I have a chronic case of the talkies, as Sabrina calls it—I go off on long and involved rambles, babbling while the people around me blink and try to find an excuse to get away. Also, when I’m with anyone outside of my closest friends and family, I’m the most awkward person on Planet Earth. Maybe in the Milky Way.

So was I surprised that this evening had gone the way it had? That instead of enjoying a promising meet-cute date with the hematologist, I was sitting at a bar, pouring out my troubles to a bartender whose name I didn’t even know?

Nope. That sounded about right.

***

He was cute, though. The bartender was, I mean. His hair was long, which was something I didn’t usually like in a guy. It was a light brown, and he had it tied back now as he moved around behind the bar. His eyes were a rich, deep chocolate, and I didn’t miss how steady they were on my face as I spoke. He wasn’t looking over my shoulder or even dipping his attention to check out my body. That was a nice change.

“All right,” he was saying now in response to my confession of social ineptitude. “So you’re this famous author, and you need a date to a movie premiere, and . . . what happened next?”

I wanted to throw myself onto the bar and bury my face in my arms, but that felt a little too far over the drama line. Instead, I shifted the ice I was holding to the back of my head and shivered as a droplet of water snaked down my neck.

“My friend Sabrina is a doctor here in Savannah. She works at the hospital in the oncology department, helping with clinical trials and treatments for breast cancer.” I bit my lip and took another deep breath. “She offered to set me up with this guy who just moved to Savannah. He’s a hematologist. She said he was super nice. I was all excited, thinking he might work out to be the perfect date. I had it pictured in my head . . . you know, he’d be all gentlemanly and kind, and I’d be comfortable enough not to be so very . . . me.” I grimaced. “And at first, it was fine. It was wonderful! He chose an amazing restaurant in this beautiful hotel, and he was at the table waiting for me. I made it to my seat without tripping or landing on my ass. All good.”

“You set the bar kind of low, you know.” Bartender Dude interrupted my flow. “If a great start to a date is getting to the table on your feet.”

“You don’t know my life,” I replied darkly. “The stories I could tell you . . .” I gave my head a small shake and winced again. It really did hurt every time I moved my head. Or my eyes. Ugh. “Anyway, then we ordered appetizers—or rather, he did—and right after the waiter walked away, Dr. Dopey made his pirate remark. He said—” I closed my eyes. “He told me that he’d looked me up and saw that I wrote pirate romance. And he kind of chuckled like—you know, isn’t that cute? So fucking patronizing.”

I felt the same fury rise in me that I’d experienced at the table. Dr. Dopey wasn’t the first person to sneer at my romances, but my tolerance for that kind of condescending shit was just about at an end.

“He sounds like his name should be Dr. Dick.” Bartender Dude scowled. “I mean, what the actual hell? You’re a published author who has fucking movies made out of your books. The asshole is probably just jealous of you.”

I managed a smile. “That’s really sweet, but he didn’t come across like he was insecure at all. He started pretending to talk like a pirate. He asked me if I wrote stories with peg-leg kink, or if the parrots could talk in my books. I tried to explain to him nicely that he was way off, that real, historical pirates weren’t anything like what we know from movies, but he just kept on going and going . . .” I gulped. “Until finally, I let go. I basically word vomited all of my research, and even when he tried to interrupt, I just ran right over him. I ended up by telling him that his attitude toward my work and my craft was insulting. I said, um . . .” I hunched my shoulders forward and dropped the melting ice pack on the bar. “I told him that he was a misogynistic literary snob, the worst kind of human to ever walk the earth.”

“Huh.” Bartender Dude smirked. “Sounds like he got a little of what he deserved.”

“But he didn’t even react. It was like what I said didn’t bother him one bit. The risotto he’d ordered arrived, and he started eating it. So then of course I felt guilty, and I tried to apologize, to explain, and he ignored me. That was when I knew I had to get out of there. So I told him my sister was broken down on a country road. And I don’t even have a sister. Not that he’d know that. Or care.”

“Why the hell did you feel guilty?” Bartender Dude looked aggravated. “You didn’t do anything wrong. He did.”

“Well, maybe,” I hedged. “But still. I was there to basically ask him to do me a favor, to go to this premiere with me. I was hoping we’d get along well enough that he’d seem as though he liked me on the big night. And then I threw that chance out the window, and now I’m back to square one.” Sighing again, I nudged the sopping mess of ice across the bar. “I’m done with this, thanks. And thanks for listening. I’m going to call my friend Sabrina and see if she can come pick me up. I can crash at her house tonight.”

“Hold on a sec.” He put one of his large hands over mine. “Let’s think about this. You really need someone to be your date on Saturday at this important event, right?” He rolled one shoulder. “I could do it.”

“What?” I stared at him stupidly. “What do you—I mean, why? You don’t know me. I don’t even know your real name, Bartender Dude.”

“Bartender Dude?” He raised one eyebrow.

“Sorry. It’s the storyteller in me. I have to call everyone something, and if I don’t know the actual name, I come up with one as a placeholder. That’s yours.”

“Oh, okay. Got it.” He stretched his arm toward me, holding out his hand. “I’m Dax Turner. Also known as Bartender Dude, I guess. And yeah, I don’t know you, but you seem like a nice person, and you need this one favor. I knocked you over. This is the least I can do to make amends.”

“You don’t have to make amends . . . Dax.” I tried his name on my tongue and found I liked it. “It was an accident, and like I said, it was just as much my fault. You don’t have to go out of your way to do this.”

“But maybe I want to.” He studied me now, his close perusal making my face go hot again. “I’m an adventurous guy. I like to try new things. And I’ve never been to a movie premiere before. Sounds like a blast. Just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll be your date.”

I blinked. “I can’t believe this. Maybe I actually hit my head harder than I thought. This could be a, like . . . a coma fantasy. I’m really laying in a hospital bed, and none of this is real.”

Dax chuckled. “If that’s what’s happening, what do you have to lose? Just say yes.”

I tried to think through all of this rationally, tried to come up with a reason I shouldn’t do this. “How do I know you’re not a serial killer, or a kidnapper, or . . .” My eyes widened. “A vampire?”

Dax leaned forward and rested his forearms—his very muscled, very sexy forearms if we’re being specific—on the bar. “You don’t, but since we’re going to be together in a public place at the premiere, I think you’ll be safe from all of those dangers.” His eyes were filled with amusement as he straightened and reached to his back pocket. “And here’s my ID, just to prove I’m who I say I am. You can always call the hotel and confirm that, too.” He slid a card over to me. “Here’s the number.”

“Hmmm, okay, well, it all seems in order.” I was so flustered, so completely out of my depth. I just needed to get back to someplace familiar and comfortable and process this whole crazy evening. “Uh, I’m staying at the Hyatt on Saturday. Checking in that day, and the hair and makeup people are coming there to make me look presentable. You should—I mean, you could come over there. The limo will pick us up at the hotel at seven and take us to the theater.”

“All right. Sounds good.” Dax nodded. “You should give me your cell number, too, and I’ll give you mine. Just in case anything changes and you need to get in touch.”

“Yeah, sure.” I reached for my phone. “I need to call Sabrina, anyway.” I recited my digits to him and then carefully added his number to my list of contacts.

“How did you put me in there?” He was smirking again, and the expression on his face shot something hot and unsettling straight to my core.

“I’m sorry?” My finger hovered over Sabrina’s name as I prepared to call her.

“I want to know if I’m in your phone as Dax or Bartender Dude.”

I was aware that my face was flaming red as the tip of my tongue darted out to run over my dry lips. It was as if he knew what I’d typed into my contact info next to his phone number.

“That’s definitely for me to know—and you to never find out.”

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Elevn is coming next Friday, November 5th!

And we’ll find out what happens between Coral and Dax . . .

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Get your copy now–this is the final week!

Get your copy of Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

An excerpt from THE CHRISTMAS KETTLE CAPER

Enjoy this sneak peek from

Mysteries of Christmas Past Anthology!

I was subjected to what amounted to the silent treatment on the train trip, though in truth Jenny Dee chattered and chortled enough for all three of us. Lilly maintained a stoic silence, staring out at the passing scenery as we chugged southwest in the direction of the state capitol in Austin.
I’d been surprised when Lilly suggested she might come along on the trip, but she’d sullenly said, “I spent two Christmases apart from ye, James. I’ll not spend another.”
And that was all it took. One tiny indirect mention of the Great War, and I felt my hand twitching again as memories of the horrors battled their way to the front of my consciousness.
As the train rounded a bend, I was at once thankful for Lilly’s deafening silence and annoyed by Jenny’s endless prattle.
“… but their daddy didn’t love her as much as her much prettier sister. And so she had no choice but to marry someone she didn’t love. Isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve heard, Daddy?”
The little flask in my coat pocket beckoned me, and I spared my wife only a moment’s glance before retrieving it to take a long swig of fine Irish whiskey. Her frown was searing, and I decided I must be a glutton for punishment because heaven help me, I liked the burn of both the liquor and of the woman born of the Emerald Isle.
“…so then the two sisters are on a train,” Jenny continued, curling her legs under her in her seat. “Um, I think heading for El Paso, maybe. But anyway, that’s when some dastardly robbers decide to hold up the train.”
“Jenny, sit properly, lass. You’ll muss your fine traveling dress.” Her brogue wasn’t nearly as strong as it had been when I’d met her, and certainly not as much as her grifter brother’s. But that was only because my wife had taken great care to work the accent out, despite my assurances that I much preferred her native drawl.
I sucked down another sip of the whiskey, then slipped it back into my coat as I watched our daughter ignore her mother, instead pushed up onto her knees and leaning towards the window to get a better view of the passing scenery.
“Oh, Daddy! Look at that. They’re longhorns! Do you know…”
“Sit down, Jenny!” I bellowed, smacking the arm of my chair. “Did you not hear your mother admonish you to sit?”
Her eyes were wide as saucers, and I knew that most children her age might burst into tears. But not my Jenny. She fixed me with a long, hard stare, then she carefully plopped down onto her backside with her legs out in front of her. I nodded my approval, then she crossed her arms over her chest and pivoted to look out of the window again.
It seemed I would get the silent treatment from both of my girls.

Preorder it here!!

BOSOM BUDDIES EPISODE SEVEN

 

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

If you missed Episode Four, read it here.

If you missed Episode Five, read it here.

If you missed Episode Six, read it here.

 

{Trigger Warning: this episode contains a description of an abusive situation, including violence. If this is a trigger for you, you might want to skip this one.}

Sabrina

“My God, it’s a tornado.”

The words had no sooner slipped from my lips than Wesley grabbed my arm and yanked me with him down the steps. I wasn’t sure my feet actually touched the ground; he ran so fast that the world spun around me.

Terror pounded in my veins. I knew what tornados could do. Growing up in southeast Wisconsin, I’d learned that when the dreaded siren sounded, I had to drop what I was doing and race to the basement, where we huddled until the radio assured us that it was safe to leave. We’d never been hit by a twister directly, but I’d seen the grim pictures of nearby towns that had been devastated by storms.

I was so worried about getting away from that looming funnel cloud that I didn’t even think about where Wesley was dragging me until he paused to tug open the door that led to the basement.

“Wait!” I yelled over the sound of the wind, rain, and thunder. “I don’t want to go down there.”

“Sabrina.” Wesley gripped my wrist. “We don’t have any choice. That tornado is heading this way. The basement is the only safe place.”

“But it’s horrible. There’s not even a floor. I talked with Linc about putting in a subfloor and some better walls, but he said we should focus on the main part of the house first.”

“We don’t have time to debate this. You’re coming down here with me, and that’s all there is to it.”

I opened my mouth to argue some more, and growling in frustration, Wesley bent and scooped me into his arms. Stepping down onto the top step, he slammed the door behind us and made his down into the pitch black of the basement.

It was ridiculous to be frightened, I scolded myself silently, even as I hid my face in Wesley’s shirt. It was just an old basement. But it smelled of earth and decay and mildew, and I couldn’t help feeling as though we were about to be buried alive.

***

“It’s not so bad, Brina girl.” Wesley’s breath was warm as he murmured against my ear. “Better than being upstairs and getting carried away to Oz.”

“Oz has its virtues,” I mumbled, keeping my eyes squeezed shut. “It’s all dirt down here. There are probably mice and rats and snakes.”

“Doubtful,” he answered, but I noticed that he didn’t exactly sound convincing.

“No, there are,” I insisted. “I remember my grammy’s basement in Ripon. There were mice.”

“Yeah, probably, but my point was that if there are snakes, there probably aren’t mice. Snakes eat mice.”

“Well, that’s just great.” I curled my fingers into Wesley’s neck. “Thanks for the biology lesson.”

“No problem.” He came to a stop, his back against the earthen wall, and then I felt him slide down until my feet hit the dirt floor.

“Hey!” I pulled in my legs and rolled up my body like a little potato bug. “Why are you sitting down on the ground where the snakes are slithering around?”

“There aren’t any snakes. And I’m sitting down because if I don’t, I might drop you.” Wesley brushed one hand down my back and then wrapped his arm securely around me, snugging me tight against him.

“Well, thanks for that.” I began to struggle against his embrace and then remembered the possibility of rodents and reptiles and stayed put. “Are you saying I’m so heavy that you had to get off your feet?”

“Not at all, babycakes. Just that I ran down here, and you’ve got a stranglehold on my neck. Safer for both of us if I’m sitting.”

“Okay.” I closed my eyes and let myself lean into Wesley. The one positive thing about this solid earthen basement was that I could barely hear the sounds of the storm anymore. Everything was muffled and softened. “Do you think it’s going to hit the house? The tornado, I mean?”

“Hard to say. Those things are so damn unpredictable. It could hit us. Or it could dance around and hit a bunch of other stuff.” He rolled his shoulder. “Impossible to know for sure.”

“Hmmmm.” I tried to focus on good stuff, to settle my mind, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d seen growing up. “Wesley, do you remember the year the twister hit Genessee?”

I couldn’t see him in the dark, but I could feel his body tighten. “Yep.”

“It was so bad. Up until then, I didn’t take the storms seriously, you know? I always dragged my feet about going to the cellar when the radio warnings sounded. It seemed ridiculous because they always missed us. But when that one hit so close . . . I saw the pictures. We were in . . . what, eighth grade? Seventh?”

I felt Wesley’s throat work. “Eighth. I remember because . . .” He expelled a long breath. “It was spring of eighth grade. I was playing baseball. First base, remember?”

I nodded. “Yeah. Of course. I went to every game and sat on the first row of the bleachers—until you broke your collarbone and couldn’t play.” Something inside me clicked suddenly. “Oh, my God, Wesley. You—I thought you fell down the steps. That’s what you said. But that wasn’t what happened, was it? It was him—it was your father, wasn’t it?”

His head moved slowly. “He didn’t want to go downstairs because he was watching something on TV, and my mom begged him—she said what if we got hit and he was trapped up there? I said—” Wesley’s breath hitched. “I said, let him stay up here if he’s so hell-bent on doing it. I was standing at the top of the steps of the cellar steps, and before the words were even all the way out of my mouth, he came charging at me. Knocked me down, and I heard the crack—I knew it was bad. My mom was screaming at him to stop, but he dragged me back upstairs and made me stay there with him. Forced my mother down to the basement and locked the door—she was pounding on it, yelling for me, but after a while, the wind and the storm were so loud, I couldn’t hear her anymore. I was in so much pain—I puked, and he smacked me again for doing that. And then he held me down while the twister went past us, and I prayed—God, I prayed that it would hit us, suck both of us up and end all that misery. But it didn’t. And when it passed, he gave me a kick and then left the house. I had to drag myself over to let my other out of the basement.” He was silent for a beat. “So yeah, I remember it. We were sitting in the emergency room watching the coverage that day.”

“Oh, Wesley.” Reaching up, I stroked his cheek. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I didn’t know. I was so clueless. You must’ve hated me for not realizing.”

“No way.” His response was swift, and I wasn’t sure, but it felt as though he’d brushed a kiss over the top of my head. “You were my safe spot. My happy place. If you’d been part of that, if you’d known . . . I would’ve hated that. But there is no fucking way I could have ever hated you. Not ever.”

I toyed with the collar of his shirt, my nose pressed into his neck. He smelled delicious, like sawdust and musk and the woods at sunset. It was a killer combo.

“Maybe not back then, but more recently . . .” I sighed, and Wesley shivered as my breath tickled his skin. “I’ve been a raging bitch. I acted like a spoiled kid who’d gotten her feelings hurt, and I never stopped to listen to you, to ask what happened. Why you left. I’m sorry, Wesley. So fucking sorry.”

“Hey, I told you before. Nothing to apologize for.” He cupped my cheek with one warm hand. “Second chances mean not saying you’re sorry for things that happened before.”

“Oh, really?” I teased, loving how his touch made me feel. “So you’re making the rules now?”

“I’m making that rule.” His head bent over mine. “Brina girl . . . can I ask you something?”

“Of course. Anything,” I whispered, my heart stuttering erratically.

“If I promise that I’m not going to leave town unexpectedly in the foreseeable future, could I kiss you?”

My mouth curved into a helpless smile. “That depends. Will it be as magical as it was when we were sixteen?”

His deep chuckle jostled us both. “Baby, you can count on it. All that and more. I’ve picked up some moves in the past fourteen years.”

“Then I say . . . a little less talk and a lot more action.”

Taking that as the assent it was, Wesley nudge my chin up until the back of my head rested on his arm. When he angled his mouth over mine, I was suddenly catapulted back to that young hopeful girl having her first kiss . . . and at the same time, I was me, the older and somewhat cynical woman who still couldn’t resist the man holding me in his arms.

The moment our lips touched, I knew for sure that we’d never lost any of the spark between us. Wesley groaned, and I trembled, my entire being catching on fire, needing his touch more than I needed to breathe. I arched my back, wild to be closer to him, to press my body against his and feel every subtle movement he made.

One of his hands—the one not attached to the arm that was cradling my head—wandered down to squeeze my ass and then back up toward my breasts, cupping first one and then the other through the thin cotton of my shirt. His thumb stroked the stiff tip of my nipple, and I was pretty sure that I was going to melt into nothing right then and there.

“See,” he murmured against my lips. “So much better than when we were sixteen. This is the kind of stuff that I only fantasized about doing back then.”

“Did you really?” I nuzzled his jaw and then hummed with pleasure when his lips trailed down my neck. “Did you really fantasize about me?”

“Only all day, every day.” His soft laughter rumbled again. “Took me way the hell too long to get up the nerve to actually do something about it. If I’d acted sooner . . .” He heaved out a long breath. “Let’s just say my timing sucked.”

“Hey now.” I kissed his chin. “Remember your rule.”

“Right.” His fingers slipped lower until his palm flattened over my stomach. “Brina, babe, about that second chance—”

“Wesley? Dr. Hudson? Are you down there?”

The voice calling from above jarred both of us from this sweet world where no one existed except the two of us. Dim light illuminated a slice of the basement, and I heard the clump of Linc Turner’s boots on his way the steps.

Without thinking, I jumped up from Wesley’s lap, brushing at my jeans and raking my fingers through my hair. God, did I look like I’d been making out in the basement? What would Linc think?

“Yeah, boss, we’re here. We’re okay.” Wesley rose slowly to his feet, stretching his back. “Is it all clear up there?”

“It is.” Linc hit the bottom step and squinted toward us. “Lord A’mighty, I’m glad you made it down here. I was just leaving the office when we heard the report of funnel clouds, so I called home to make sure they were taking cover, then the guys and I hightailed it to the interior bathroom.” He glanced at me. “No basement at the office, so that was the safest place. But let me tell you, after spending fifteen minutes in that space with four sweaty, dirty men, I’m putting in a storm cellar just as soon as I can.”

“I bet.” I cleared my throat. “I’d just stopped by the house, and as I was upstairs, uh, talking with Wesley, the power went out and we saw the cloud. Wesley was smart enough to drag me down here.” I couldn’t bring myself to meet his eyes yet, so I gestured toward him instead. “Note to both of us, Linc—let’s make getting this basement fixed up a priority, okay? I know we put it on the back burner, but if I’d have had to spend any more time down here than I did, I wouldn’t have been very happy.”

Too late, I heard the words that came out of my mouth and realized what they might sound like to Wesley. Shit. That hadn’t been what I meant, but going back now to clarify wasn’t going to help either of us. Linc Turner was a great guy and a hell of a restoration contractor, but I wasn’t in a hurry to share my deepest, darkest secrets with him. He didn’t need to know that I’d been in a lip lock—and more—with one of his employees.

The overwhelming stress of it all—rushing over here to spill my heart to Wesley, the storm, the basement, revisiting our past—not to mention a very hot make-out session with the guy who’d always made my insides go gooey—suddenly rolled over me, and I needed to get out of there as fast as I could.

“The tornado didn’t hit the house, right?” I asked Linc. “Nothing’s damaged? And my car’s okay?”

He shook his head. “Everything’s fine here. There are a couple of branches down, but they didn’t hit anything. The twister passed by about a mile south. Mostly, I think it stuck close to the road, though I heard a couple of farm fields might have been torn up. Let’s hope it was the ones that have already been harvested.”

“Yes, sure, let’s hope,” I babbled. “I better get out of here and check on my friends. Make sure they’re all right.” I skirted behind Linc. “House looks great, Linc. Awesome. Wonderful work. I’ll be in touch.”

With my foot on the bottom step, I paused and finally glanced back at Wesley. “Thank you. For saving me. For getting me down here. For—everything.”

It was too dim for me to make out his expression, but in my mind’s eye, I already knew that he was probably scowling.

“Sabrina—” he began, moving toward me, but I didn’t give him a chance to go on.

“See you all later!”

And then, racing like the devil himself was on my tail, I ran up the steps, through the kitchen and out the door.

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Eight is coming *next* Friday, October 15th!

But . . . Wesley and Sabrina’s HEA will have to wait a bit.

Because it’s time for the tale of

Coral’s movie premiere date!

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Releasing Today!

Get your copy of Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

1 2 3 29