Home > Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(15)

Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(15)
Author: Pippa Grant, Lili Valente

It doesn’t take long to realize why.

I reach the circle drive in front of Jace’s split-level ranch to find him sitting on the porch swing, his head buried in his hands, and his dark hair sticking up in a dozen different directions. The slump to his shoulders signals that this is bad, even worse than the time Ginger allegedly played beer pong with Bart Tompkins, only with golf balls. And her cleavage.

“What’s up, brother?” I slam out of the door, scanning the porch and the vegetable garden beyond. “Blake around? He said he was going to be out here this morning.”

“He’s around somewhere, but you’re not here to see Blake,” Jace says, followed by a heavy sigh so tortured the worry twisting in my gut ratchets up another notch. “Your tail was tingling again, wasn’t it?”

“Maybe.” I climb the four stairs to the porch. “What’s up? I passed Ginger on my way up the drive.”

He lifts his head, pinning me with a hard look. “You didn’t flip her off again, did you?”

“I didn’t flip her off last time,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I was adjusting my visor. The sun was in my eyes.”

“Adjusting your visor with your middle finger stuck out?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t remember, which is why I apologized to Ginger for the misunderstanding.” I stop in front of him, leaning back against the porch railing. “You know me better than that, Jace. I believe in minding my manners, even with people whose behavior, in my opinion, isn’t always up to snuff.”

“My opinion either,” he says, surprising me. “Which is why I told Ginger it was over. For good.”

My jaw drops, but I snap it closed again before he can see my reaction.

“Wow.” I nod, fighting to keep my enthusiasm to a minimum. Jace and Ginger have been a couple for a long time. This can’t have been easy for him, no matter how sick he is of her head games. “So…how’d she take it? She looked all right.”

She looked weirdly happy, in fact, a condition that makes more sense when Jace says, “She took it just fine. We were back together again two minutes later so there wasn’t much time to get upset.”

I fight the urge to curse aloud. “Oh. Well then…”

“Yeah, I know.” Jace pushes to his feet, pacing restlessly away across the porch. “But it isn’t like all the other times, Ryan. I was going to go through with it. I was fucking done, I swear, and it felt so good.”

I shake my head. “So what happened?”

He turns to face me, his eyes tightening around the edges. “She’s pregnant.”

This time I can’t hold back the curse, or the question I know I shouldn’t ask. “Are you sure it’s yours?”

“Yes, I’m sure, asshole,” he says, his temper flaring. “She’s exactly two months along and you know where we were two months ago.”

I press my lips together. “In Mexico. At the beach.”

“At a deserted beach,” he adds, “without another soul in sight. For ten days. There’s no way that baby isn’t mine.”

I exhale slowly. “So it’s yours. That doesn’t mean you and Ginger have to be a couple. Lots of people raise kids together, but separately.”

His features stiffen and a familiar stubbornness flickers to life in his eyes. “Yeah, I know. But despite what the rest of you think, the black sheep of the family has a moral code, too, you know.”

“I never said you didn’t. And you’re not the black—”

“And I’m not about to bail on being there for my kid just because it hasn’t always been smooth sailing with Ginger,” he barrels on. “I don’t want to be an every-other-weekend parent. I want to be there full-time, every day, every night. I don’t want to be a stranger in my own baby’s life.”

Chest aching with a mixture of empathy and pride, I nod. “I get it. Point taken. And for what it’s worth, I think you’re going to be a great father.”

Jace crosses his arms and rolls his eyes. “Right. Sure you do. Don’t lay it on too thick there, bro.”

“I’m not laying it on thick.” I rest a hand on his shoulder, waiting until he grudgingly meets my gaze before I say, “Seriously. You’ve got this. You work hard, you’ve got a good heart, and you’re a lot of fun when you’re not being a cranky bastard.”

His lips quirk. “Yeah, well…I’m working on that too. I told Ginger we have to go to therapy. Get a handle on our shit before the baby comes.”

My eyebrows shoot up so fast for a second I think I’ve popped a contact. And I don’t even wear contacts.

He laughs in response. “You should see your face. I wish I had a picture to show you the next time you tell me you’re good at poker.”

“I’m incredible at poker.”

My brother smirks. “And I’m the King of France.”

“Fine. You’re on. As soon as Dad and Mom get back from their cruise, it’s family poker night, my house. I’ll make the queso dip and you can bring a jar full of nickels for me to take off your hands.”

“I’m in,” Blake announces from behind me.

I turn to see my second to youngest brother—the only one of us with Mom’s green eyes—bounding up the porch steps, his white tee shirt and battered brown Carhartt work pants streaked with dirt. “I’ve been jonesing for a poker night.” He shoves a hand through his sun-streaked brown hair, which is past his shoulders and nearly as long as our mother’s too, and squints Jace’s way. “What’s up? You okay? I saw Ginger head out.”

“Jace can fill you in on the way.” I jab a thumb toward my truck. “I need your help. A dildo bomb exploded in downtown. I told Cassie we’d come help with clean-up.”

Blake’s lips curve into a shit-eating grin. “Cassie Sunderwell, huh? I heard you were out with her yesterday. Didn’t she used to hate you in high school?”

“Like it was her job,” Jace agrees, nudging me in the ribs. “But you know Ryan. Never met a woman he couldn’t smolder into a puddle at his feet.”

“I’m not smoldering at anyone,” I say, though I’ll admit a part of me likes the idea of Cassie in lust-puddle form because of my smoldering skills.

The other part of me, however, is still stuck on the Big Reveal.

I’ve never been with a virgin before, not even when I was one. Assuming Cassie decides she’s ready for the next step, do I have what it takes to make sure she doesn’t regret her choice? That I don’t regret it too? If Cassie and I are together, I don’t want just a fling until she heads back to California. Even two days ago, that might have been okay, but it isn’t now. She’s under my skin and it isn’t going to be easy to watch her walk away.

The responsible choice would be to part ways as friends before we make a mistake we can’t take back.

Instead, I grumble, “I like Cassie. A lot. So be on your best manners, okay? She’s already upset enough about all the Sunshine drama.”

Blake nods, his smile fading. “Of course. We won’t embarrass you, bro. At least I won’t. You know Jace has a hard time not saying stupid shit.”

“Is that right, smartass?” Jace launches into motion and Blake bolts for the truck with a laugh, proving some things never change.

But some things do.

If I take Cassie to bed, things between us are never going to be the same.

But so what? Some risks are worth taking and Cassie is worth this roll of the dice and so much more.

Fifteen

Cassie

* * *

Much like the farmers’ market the other night, Sunshine Square is once again full of people. Ryan was right—half the town turned out to help with clean-up.

The other half turned out to take pictures and protest Sunshine Toys.

I park Savannah’s bike against an old oak at the edge of the square and head toward Ruthie May, who’s already handing out job assignments and garbage bags. I do a double-take as I realize she’s standing under a birch strung with dildos tied to anal beads. It’s a Sexmas tree in June.

“Such a waste, throwing away all these perfectly good products,” she says. “But nobody wants to shop at a second-hand sex shop, no matter how much we clean and sanitize everything.”

“Where did they all come from?” I already checked the factory, and the building’s still locked tight. We’ll have to run inventory in the morning, but at first glance, it didn’t look like anything was disturbed or missing.

Ruthie May hands me a garbage bag. “Been getting reports that a few people’s orders never showed up. I’m wondering if one of our daily shipments got hijacked. But who’d steal a butt-load of sex toys just to dump them in a park? They could’ve gone to a sex therapist helping women in low-income areas. Instead, they’re trash now. All trash. What is this world coming to?”

“Cassie Sunderwell. There you are.”

The sheriff approaches from my left. He hitches his pants and gnaws on the corner of his mustache, and dread forces my heart low in my chest. I open my mouth to say something soothing, friendly, and Savannah-like—I swear, she could charm an alligator with a bee up its butt—but before I can speak, something beans the sheriff in the head.

Something long, tubular, rubbery, and very much resembling a penis.

“Hey, sorry,” a brunette teen with a friendly smile calls. She darts past, grabs the dildo, turns, and flings it back to her friends near the slide, who all shriek and dive for the missile, tackling each other to the grass.

“What…” I start.

“They’re playing dildo-ball,” Ruthie May explains. “It’s like football, but with—”

“This is an obscene display, Miss Sunderwell,” the sheriff interrupts, rubbing the side of his face.

“I have nothing to do with that game, honest.” Though I wish I had half their comfort level with handling dildos.

   
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