Home > Charming as Puck(14)

Charming as Puck(14)
Author: Pippa Grant

“Did your cousin set that up?”

“My dating life is none of your business.”

“The fuck it isn’t.”

There’s nothing sweet in her brown eyes now. It’s all lightning and suppressed fury. “Do you want kids, Nick? I want three. And I want a little house in the country where I can have chickens and goats and cows if I want to, and I want to go to PTA meetings and soccer games and buy matching outfits for our annual Christmas picture. And I want to fall into bed every night with a man who worships me, not someone who settled for me because I’m convenient. And that man, Nick Murphy, is not you.”

I’ve never wanted to settle down in my life, but there’s no fucking way I’m letting Kami go. I can’t explain it. Not to her. Not to myself.

But I want her.

I grab her at the waist before I realize I’ve moved, and I capture her mouth with mine. I’m devouring her lips, gripping her ass in one hand, her hair in the other, tasting the tequila still lingering on her tongue. She whimpers, but she’s kissing me back and gripping my shirt like she’ll drown if she doesn’t.

Kissing Kami is like having an ice cream sundae for dessert. Like watching the sun rise in paradise. Like holding the cup after winning the championship.

Glory. Beauty. Perfection.

Her skin is silky soft. Her tongue so eager. Those little moans and gasps when I rake my fingers over her ass utterly enthralling.

The idea that she might’ve let someone else kiss her like this tonight is enough to make my blood boil.

The idea that it was Felicity’s stalking asshole ex makes something else entirely hammer through my chest.

But Kami’s safe.

She’s with me.

She’s—“Oof.”

The sucker punch to the gut takes me by surprise.

But it’s nothing compared to the disgust curling her lip as she backs away, rubbing her hand again. “Do. Not. Kiss. Me.”

“I—” I stammer.

But I stop.

Because her chin is wobbling, her eyes are going shiny, and the disgust is giving way to pain.

Something sears my chest and leaves a hollow ache behind as she turns on her heel and marches back down the hallway. I trail after her in a daze, and even watching her march up to Ares, tap him on the shoulder, and whisper something doesn’t immediately snap me out of it.

Ares leaps to his feet. Felicity whips her head around until she finds me, her eyes going first round, then narrowing into such narrow slits that half the guys at the table squirm.

I’m pretty much a dead man.

And I don’t care.

Fifteen

Kami

I turn onto my street a while later, my veins still buzzing and the taste of Nick still lingering on my lips.

Why does he have to be such a good kisser? And so overprotective? And so—so—so Nick?

He didn’t kiss me because he loves me. Or because he ever sees me being the love of his life, or because he wants to settle down and have babies with me.

He kissed me because it’s always gotten him what he wants.

And that’s me.

Hiding in a hallway where no one else can see.

His dirty little secret.

I pull to the curb in front of my house and realize Maren and Alina aren’t the only ones waiting for me.

“This cow eat my vines!” Mr. Varga, my neighbor on the other side, is pointing angrily at Sugarbear, who Maren is holding on her leash, when I step out of my car. “Ten years! Growing ten years, gone in hour by cow!”

“I’m so sorry,” I sputter out. “She’s just a puppy. She didn’t know any better.”

Maren and Alina share a look under the street lamp.

“I’ll pay for the damage,” I add. I have no idea how much it’s going to cost me or how I’m going to pay for it, but I will.

“Pruning is good for grape vines,” Maren tells Mr. Varga. “It promotes new, fresh growth. We’ll give you some of the dog’s poop to fertilize them, and you’ll have the best grape crop of the century next summer. Organic fertilizer. Can’t beat it.”

“And it eat my trellees!” he shrieks.

“Art,” Alina declares. “I have a photographer friend. She’ll do a photoshoot of your trellis with the co—dog, and we’ll get you in Virginia Vineyards. You subscribe, right?”

“She just pooped,” Maren whispers to me while Alina works her charm on my irate neighbor. “Maybe we should take her inside for a little bit?”

I take the leash with a resigned nod. “Sugarbear, want a treat?” I ask.

She barks.

Mr. Varga scowls at me, because her bark still sounds like a moo, and I take the puppy into my house, fully aware that he’s probably ten seconds from calling animal control.

Alina joins us a few minutes later with Muffy in tow.

“I talked him down,” Alina tells me. “But you probably need to find a better place for her. Like yesterday.”

“I have an idea!” Muffy announces.

“I’m not talking to you,” I inform her from my recliner, where all three of my dogs have piled on top of me, though Tiger keeps dashing over to lick Sugarbear’s face on the couch before coming back to lick me on the face too. My phone’s plugged in next to me.

It’s a sign I have a problem that I have phone chargers in every room of my house.

Muffy holds her hands up. “He registered as Douglas Dobermeister, not Doug Dobey. I swear I didn’t know. Also, do you happen to have any lawyer friends? He’s threatening to sue me for false advertising or something.”

“Ares will take care of it,” Felicity says, poking her head into my house too. “Holy shit, that’s a cow on your couch.”

Muffy glances back at Felicity. “How many more of your ex-boyfriends do I need to avoid? I’ll need a list,” Muffy says to her.

“Forget it. I’m done,” I tell them all. “I’m going online and hitting all the dating apps.”

Alina, Maren, and Felicity all seem relieved, but Muffy’s face falls, and my guilt ratchets up to new highs to battle with the utter fury I’m feeling toward Nick tonight. Dixie licks my sore hand, and Tiger bolts to climb all over Sugarbear on the couch again.

“You know the odds of me accidentally setting you up with any more of your friends’ former stalkers is approximately 483,000 to one,” Muffy says quickly. “Even lower if you widen the geographic area around Copper Valley to include the farthest suburbs.”

“The odds are much higher than that,” Maren argues. “You can’t use the whole male population in Copper Valley, because they’re not all looking for love, and they’re not all your clients.”

“I’m just saying, even if I did a random sampling of men who aren’t my clients, the odds are seriously stacked against this happening again.”

While they argue math, Alina carries in a full wine glass and hands it to me before settling on the floor and rubbing Pancake’s ears.

And that’s when Maren turns to me and says the last thing I ever expected Maren to say. “There’s a speed dating event at Wreck’n’Roll next Tuesday.”

“Speed dating? So the pain is over sooner?”

“I’ll go with you.”

I tilt my head at her.

Her deep blue eyes don’t blink back.

“I thought you were too busy to date,” I say slowly.

She shrugs. “Sometimes you have to scratch an itch. And sometimes you realize you don’t want to wake up in your forties after putting so much into building a career that you forget to build a life.”

She is the oldest of our group, so I shouldn’t be surprised. “You think we can find our someones at a game bar?”

“No, but it’s a good start.”

“Kami. Give me one more chance.” Muffy gives me the puppy dog eyes, the ones that say you know I’m trying, and I can’t move out from living with my mother until my business gets more successful, and you have to throw back a lot of worms before you catch the shark, which is an odd thing for her to say, except it’s Muffy, so it kind of makes sense.

“The odds are against us,” I tell Muffy. “Even at speed dating, we’d probably come away more disappointed than excited.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Alina informs me. “I’m no math genius, but you’ve barely started looking. Plus, you’re smart, you’re pretty, and you’re sweet. You’re like the holy grail that all men are looking for.”

Some of the adrenaline from the wine bar rolls back onto the shore, with a few extra surf crashes added from the residual fury I’m feeling toward Nick. “I don’t want to be wanted for being smart, pretty, and sweet. That’s so…so…generic. And it sets expectations really high that I’ll stay smart, pretty, and sweet. I don’t feel sweet. I don’t want to be sweet. Sweet is passive and gets stepped all over because sweet never fights back. And one day I’ll have crow’s feet and liver spots. Which means all that will be left is smart, which we all know is code for boring, because who wants to sit around and listen to Aunt Kami talk about how she made smart decisions all through her twenties and thirties and that’s why she’s alone with just her sixteen dogs and her four cats, two parakeets, and a token sloth?”

“Oh, can I have a sloth too?” Alina asks. “They’re stupidly cute. Did you see the stuffed ones at—never mind.”

“There’s also the not-normal factor working against us,” Maren points out.

“Did you just say we’re not normal?” Muffy asks.

Sugarbear moos—I mean, barks like she, too, is offended.

“No, I’m saying we have a skewed version of normal,” Maren replies, quite politely, because I think we’d all agree that Muffy isn’t normal, though I’ve always loved her for marching to the beat of her own kazoo. “We’re so far from normal, we wouldn’t know normal if it knocked on the door and informed us it was normal.”

   
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