Home > Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(3)

Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(3)
Author: Pippa Grant, Lili Valente

* * *

Savannah: Oh, sweet Cass. I love you, but this isn’t like all the other times I’ve said I was running away from home. I have actually run away—I’m out of the country and loose in a foreign land—and I don’t think I’m coming back anytime soon.

I’m so sorry to disappoint you. And my beautiful employees.

Maybe I should just give the company to Ruthie May and call it a day?

* * *

Cassie: No! Not Ruthie May. She would go mad given that much power. And drive the rest of Happy Cat crazy along with her. Plus, she keeps talking about retiring.

* * *

Savannah: Olivia?

* * *

Cassie: Eh…

* * *

Savannah: I know. She’s a disaster, but I love her. She’s been my bestie since we were eight years old. I couldn’t not give her a job after her mom died.

* * *

Cassie: You’ve got a big heart. And that’s why Steve’s betrayal is tearing you apart right now. But big hearts don’t just hurt big. They also heal big. Even bigger and better than they were before.

* * *

Savannah: How did you get so wise?

* * *

Cassie: I read a lot of books. And I’ve learned a lot from watching my kick-ass little sister. You’ve weathered break-ups and heartbreak before. You can do this. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ll check in with you soon, okay? In the meantime try to have fun and see a few sights aside from the interior of every bakery in London.

* * *

Savannah: I’ll try. Thank you for babysitting my life. Everything A-okay at the house, at least? You’re comfortable and have everything you need?

* * *

Cassie: The house is great. I love being so close to the lake and the woods. I go hiking every morning before riding my sister’s obnoxious dildo-handled bicycle to work.

* * *

Savannah: Lol. I would pay money to see you on my bike, my shy little squirrel.

* * *

Cassie: When you come home I’ll ride it around the block for you. You can film it for posterity.

* * *

Savannah: If I come home.

* * *

Cassie: When.

* * *

Savannah: We’ll see. Oh, and remember Tuesday is trash day so be sure to put the bins and the recycling out at the end of the drive. With the lids on tight and the rocks beside the mailbox on top.

* * *

Cassie: Already done. I told you, I’ve got this, lady. Don’t worry about me. Everything is under control.

Three

Cassie Sunderwell

(aka an overworked computer gamer geek who needs a vacation from her vacation)

* * *

Everything is not under control.

Everything is chaos and insanity and explosions and fires and intimidating sex toys—half of which I would have no idea how to use, even if I were of the mind to do that “product research” Savannah’s been encouraging since she started making fake penises for a living—and now…him.

Him. Ryan O’Dell, Mr. Popular, star of the wrestling team, and voted Most Likely to Stay Hot For Eternity every year of high school.

Mr. Used-to-haunt-my-dreams.

Mr. And-he-did-again-last-night.

Not only has he not moved out of town, the way I’d naively assumed after not seeing him around Happy Cat my first week on the job as Savannah’s temporary replacement, he’s become a big, bossy firefighter with broad shoulders and a chiseled jaw and piercing blue eyes that have somehow gotten even bluer and more knee-weakeningly intense in the nine years since he broke my stupid teenage heart.

And the most pathetic part is that he clearly had no idea who I was…at least at first.

I’m as invisible to him as I was in high school. But at least now I know better than to think it means something when he looks at me that way, like he’d enjoy ripping my tee shirt off with his obnoxiously shiny and perfectly shaped white teeth.

Even if I have been accidentally thinking about him every minute since he showed up at Sunshine Toys yesterday…

Ryan’s sex-eyes and the dreamy way he used to say my name—like he was Mozart and my name was his most triumphant creation—are nothing but his default attract mode. Like a video game screen saver set to play a tempting part of the game, designed to lure people in to spend their hard-earned money, Ryan is always on. He’s a gorgeous man who enjoys attention and has adapted his code to draw in as much of it as possible.

If only I’d realized that sooner. But at sixteen I was so ridiculously innocent.

Compared to the sophisticated, experienced, sex-kitten-about-town you are now, the inner voice offers snidely as I gather this morning’s empty cornflakes box and the toilet paper tube to take outside to add to the recycling bins.

“Shut up, inner voice,” I mutter.

You wouldn’t be so cranky if you’d gotten laid, it answers. Like…ever.

I grimace in response. Maybe I would’ve finally lost this pesky V-card—seriously, it’s a minus five charisma penalty—if I’d gone to SuperHero*Con like I was supposed to last week. I had my Captainess America costume all ready, and I’d been chatting in an online gamer group with Flash185, a fellow coder from Detroit with a quirky sense of humor and a decently cute profile pic, about having butter beer at the hotel bar one night. I know that could’ve gone somewhere between the sheets.

Maybe it would’ve been awkward and mortifying and I probably would have laughed at inappropriate times, but at least I would’ve finally entered the adulting levels of life.

And then maybe I wouldn’t be having wild dreams starring Ryan O’Dell, dildos, and flaming sheets.

I step out the front door of Savannah’s cottage, ducking under the massive Steve The Cheater Doesn’t Live Here Anymore banner that she hung from the edge of the porch roof. After a week, it’s started to blend in with the old live oaks and magnolias up and down the street, getting droopy and relaxed in the early June heat.

I should probably take it down. Fresh starts are important, and coming home to a sign bashing her ex won’t help Savannah maintain the Zen she’s finding in Europe.

My boots squish against the damp stone walk leading to the trash cans at the curb. This is the first time in two years that I’ve been back to Happy Cat, and I can’t say I’ve missed the humid summers. I’ll take San Francisco weather any day.

But San Francisco doesn’t have hot firefighters, that inner voice pipes up.

“Pretty sure it does,” I mutter back.

None that you’ve come close enough to sniff though.

And now I’m thinking about Ryan smelling like soap and lemon and fire hose—yes, fire hose has a smell, and it’s oddly sexy—and I’m silently persuading myself that there will be no more reasons for him to come to Sunshine Toys. I’ll go to work and come straight home and our paths need never cross again. I therefore won’t have to worry about how good he smells or how fine he looks or the way my heart makes like a fainting goat every time he shoots one of his signature sex-eye stares my way.

I reach the recycling bin, and the trash can next to it chirps at me.

I blink at the brown canister on wheels.

The lid thumps, and I shriek and jump back. The lid thumps again, and this time, two glittering black eyes peer out.

“Aaaagh!” I stumble backward, trip on the curb, and land on my ass as two furry paws appear. I crab-walk back toward the house, except—thanks to my job involving sitting on my ass twelve hours a day—I can’t tie my shoes without getting winded. So basically there’s a snail beating me, and that twinge of carpal tunnel in my right wrist is protesting being asked to bear the weight of my torso.

As I scuttle sluggishly away, a raccoon pulls himself from the trash bin, wearing Savannah’s broken string of Christmas lights and dragging a bag of leftover penis lollipops from her bachelorette party that I was helpfully trying to dispose of.

“Drop it,” I hiss, slipping in the slick grass as I try to get back on my feet.

Can raccoons have rabies? And if so, is this one looking rabid? Or is that gleam in his eyes normal for a masked bandit?

He eyes my boots. I glance down, and the sparkly Thor hammer I tied to my laces for inspiration glitters up at me.

“Back,” I say as sternly as I can, because there’s no way I’m beating a raccoon in a foot race unless he trips on that string of Christmas lights.

He leaps to the ground and takes three steps toward me. I crab-walk two steps back. His beady eyes are trained on my shoes, and since I only play a superhero online or at gaming conventions, this isn’t looking good.

Maybe if I pry my boot off, I can fling it at him and make a dash for the door?

I reach for my laces and, swear on my PlayStation 4, he smirks and rubs his palms together like a super villain. As if he’s looking forward to adding my Skecher to his armful of spoils as soon as I toss it over.

This is what I get for drinking decaf. It’s like diet coffee, and who wants to sacrifice the best part of coffee? I need my caffeine.

And more exercise.

And for this raccoon to act like I’m a scary human and run away.

He tosses the penis lollipops like they’re last year’s hard drives and he has his eye on this year’s double-core processors.

“No, you want the lollipops,” I tell him. “They taste so much better than Thor’s hammer, I promise.”

He skitters closer.

I shriek and kick at him. He pauses, but only for a beat before he picks up the pace. Because, dummy me, my flailing is just making the sparkly thing on my boot flash more.

The only other weapons at hand are some pocket lint and damp grass clippings, and I somehow doubt hurling either of those will slow him down. Even if I had a rock or a garden gnome on hand, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Back in high school, I could fire a softball from third base at sixty-four miles per hour, but I’m so out of practice I almost strained my shoulder tossing a wad of paper into the recycling bin last week.

Which means I have exactly one option left.

“Help!” I yell. “Help! Rabid raccoon!”

The raccoon chitters back accusingly.

   
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