Home > Charming as Puck(15)

Charming as Puck(15)
Author: Pippa Grant

I open my mouth to argue, except I started my week by finding a home for a calf that was put in a professional hockey player’s condo, and I just punched one of my best friend’s ex-boyfriends for calling me a bitch and insulting my cousin on a blind date.

“That’s crazy,” Muffy says. “You four are all totally normal.” She shoots a glance at Felicity, the ventriloquist married to a giant of a silent hockey player, and adds, “Okay, most of you are normal.”

“How many women do you know who have half of a professional hockey team in their contact list?” Alina asks, clearly agreeing with Maren’s assessment.

Muffy opens her mouth, peers at the four of us, then closes it with a frown.

“Exactly,” Alina says with a sigh. “That’s not normal. And Maren’s two degrees of separation from Beck Ryder.”

“Former boy banders who are now underwear models don’t really count, do they?” Maren wrinkles her nose.

“Boy bands totally count,” Muffy says eagerly.

Maren rolls her eyes. “Everyone on the entire planet is at most six degrees of separation from some kind of celebrity. But I’ll give you that we talk to more men with six-packs and swollen bank accounts in any given week than most women do in a lifetime.”

“I see tons of normal men at work,” I say.

“Would you date any of them?”

“It’s really not right to date patients.”

“Your patients are animals,” Alina points out. “I don’t think it’s unethical for you to date doggy daddies. You’re making excuses.”

I sink lower in my seat, disrupting all three of my dogs, because she’s right.

Brown-haired, green-eyed hockey goaltenders are my biggest weakness, and they’re in short supply. Which means if I’m serious about finding a future, I need to get out there and look more.

Dixie climbs out of the pile to lick my face while Tiger dashes for another round of playing with the sleepy cow-puppy.

“Do you think hypnosis would help me get over him?” I ask.

“I think speed dating will help you take the first few steps,” Maren replies. “Plus, we get to do it over Skee-Ball. Even if the dudes are duds, we get to have some fun.”

“All right. Speed dating it is.”

Felicity gives me a funny look but stays silent.

Actually, she’s been really silent for most of the time since she walked in the door.

“Are you firing me?” Muffy asks.

“Yes,” my three friends chorus together.

Now I’m wincing. I’ll text her later and tell her she has one last chance, but I want to know his full name and see a picture before I agree to it this time.

“The Badgers are playing the Blades tonight,” Alina announces. “Who’s up for watching?”

All of us are, naturally.

We’re a little crazy like that.

Not that I should be watching hockey right now. But at least it’s better than thinking about the growing problem with Sugarbear.

And the growing problem with Nick.

Felicity settles on the other side of my recliner. “I might have an idea for Sugarbear. But I don’t know if I like it.”

I look at the cow-puppy, who’s drifting off to sleep on my sofa with Tiger sprawled across her snout. “Will she be safe?”

“Definitely. And it’s not permanent, and you can still see her. Let me look into it tomorrow, okay?”

“Thank you,” I whisper.

I don’t add for everything, because it’s Felicity.

She knows.

Sixteen

Kami

Tuesday morning, after a covert early morning walk for all four of my dogs, I get to the clinic just as a flower delivery truck is pulling out of the parking lot behind the building. I’m trying to remember if I’ve forgotten anyone’s birthday when my mom meets me at the back door, cup of coffee in hand and eyebrows even higher today than they were yesterday.

“Oh, shit,” I mutter. “What now?”

“I don’t know who your mystery man is, but when I was your age, I wouldn’t have been rolling my eyes over thirty bouquets of roses. Actually, when I was your age, I didn’t know anyone with the money to send thirty bouquets of roses.”

I’m cringing before I walk into the break room, where, sure enough, vases overflowing with pink roses are covering every horizontal surface. There are still three teddy bears left that we weren’t able to find homes for yesterday, and now I’m wondering if there’s symbolism in the pink.

It’s not red, so it’s not love.

Not that I’m operating under any delusions that Nick loves me.

He just can’t do anything small.

Including apologize.

But he also didn’t drop to his knees last night and offer to marry me and give me babies and worship me every day for the rest of his life.

No, he did the Nick thing and distracted me with what he can offer—physical pleasure.

I sigh.

Maybe I’m being too hard on him.

But I’m not asking him to change. I’m just asking him to let me go so I can find someone who can give me what he can’t.

Mom’s watching me over her World’s Greatest Vet mug.

“Why do I feel like the bad guy when all I want is someone to love me?” I ask the room of roses, because it hurts too much to look at my mom when I ask it.

Dad adores her. He’s an astrophysicist—yes, my brother followed in his footsteps—and he thinks she hung the moon, that there’s nothing she can’t do. She’s the only person in the world he’ll put aside articles on groundbreaking discoveries in astrophysics for.

“This isn’t love?” she asks gently, gesturing to the pink roses in the crystal vases.

“This is guilt.”

“So…these aren’t from any of your dates that Muffy found you?”

And now I’m cringing harder. My hand is a little bruised, but nothing so bad that I can’t do my job today.

I’m spared answering and explaining all about Nick by my phone ringing. I pull it out and check the display.

It’s a local number I don’t recognize, and I actually have enough battery to get through a conversation without having to plug in to Mom’s charger in the corner, so I swipe to answer and head for my locker to put my coat and purse away. “Hello?”

“Ms. Oakley?”

“Yes?”

“This is Officer Badcock with Copper Valley Animal Control. I need to ask you a few questions, please.”

Oh, shit.

Oh, fuck.

I give Mom the I gotta run gesture and take off for the parking lot.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m pulling up at my house just behind an animal control van. Mr. Varga is looking on from his front window. Mrs. Ostermeijer is peering out too, and I have no idea how many neighbors across the street are watching.

I text Felicity quickly before I get out, asking if she’s looked into that temporary solution for Sugarbear yet.

The animal control officer climbs out of his truck, and I hop out of my car too.

The next thing I know, I’m blabbing my entire life story to him.

At least the part starting with finding Sugarbear in Nick’s apartment—hell yes, I’m name-dropping—and improvising the part about being the Thrusters’ official vet and ending with the part about how she’s such a good cow, I refuse to let her be made into ground beef.

Once I get past talking about the donkey, and the ducks, and the pygmy goats, I can’t tell if I’m losing him or if he’s making a note to visit the Thrusters’ management.

“The penguins?” he says on a sigh.

“I, erm, heard that was the last straw with the coaches,” I offer. “There shouldn’t be any more animal pranks.”

With the press release they put out yesterday about the players volunteering once a week for the next four weeks at various pet shelters around the city, I’m almost positive this really is the end.

“I’ll take her to work with me and find her a forever home by the end of the week,” I promise Officer Badcock.

And that’s how I end up with Sugarbear riding along in my Mazda, her head hanging out my back window, on my way back to work for the second time that morning.

Mom just shakes her head while I tie the cow puppy to the Employees only parking sign at the back of the lot near the only patch of grass we have.

My phone dings, and I glance down to see another text from Nick.

I’m sorry.

I ignore it—and the lump in my throat and the hot sting in my eyes—and shove my phone into my back pocket.

Nick never says he’s sorry. Never.

“No chance of patching things up?” Mom asks while she scratches Sugarbear behind the ears.

“I just don’t see us with a real future.”

Not one where we both get what we want.

My phone dings again, and this time, I ignore it.

I’m sorry too.

I’m sorry that I can’t see anything clearly when he’s around. I’m sorry that I forget my own name when he kisses me. And mostly, I’m sorry that I ever thought he could feel the same way about me.

Seventeen

Kami

Because Felicity is freaking magic, she calls just before lunch with good news. She definitely has a place Sugarbear can stay for a week or two. After work, I load up my temporary puppy in the back of my car again—using Nick’s Cherokee is out of the question so long as I’m trying to get over him—and head over to the Belmont district.

Felicity’s gaping as I pull into the long drive of her parents’ house with Sugarbear hanging her head out my back window.

“That cow really does look like a dog,” she says, as if she doesn’t have a pet monkey at her place. Yep, a real pet monkey. Long story.

“You saw her with my real dogs last night. Wouldn’t surprise me if they taught her to play catch too,” I tell her.

She cracks up, and the tightness in my chest loosens. “The neighbors will love that.”

   
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