Home > Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(4)

Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(4)
Author: Pippa Grant, Lili Valente

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” I protest. “You’re the one stealing my garbage and getting aggressive about it.”

I swear the little monster rolls his eyes before hunching down in prelude to a pounce. I’m bracing myself to have my eyes clawed out when a calm voice behind me says, “George, back off.”

A calm, masculine, I dreamt-about-that-sexy-rumble-all-night voice…

The raccoon pauses.

My heart doesn’t. It slams against my ribs while I tell myself that’s not Ryan behind me. It’s his voice twin. Someone who sounds exactly like him. And who smells like soap and lemon and fire hose and can control raccoons with his varmint-whispering skills.

“Put the anal beads back and stay out of Savannah’s trash,” he continues.

I gape at the Christmas lights draped around the raccoon’s body.

No wonder I couldn’t find the outlet plug.

The raccoon—George, apparently—shuffles back around to the other side of the trash can and reclaims the penis lollipops, but makes no move to put the anal beads draped over his shoulders back in the trash.

I turn slowly, first noting that there’s a black truck parked in the driveway next door that I haven’t seen before.

And now there’s a big, broad, sleepy-eyed Ryan O’Dell bending over me. “You okay? George is mostly harmless. Likes shiny things, though.”

He offers a hand, and I eyeball his long, blunt fingers.

“You know the raccoon,” I say, easing out of my crab-crawl position. My back twinges sharply, and I wonder if I should add yoga or something to my daily hikes around the lake while I’m here on vacation.

“George Cooney? We go way back. He adopted me when he was just a kit.” We both look back at the raccoon, who grins as he waddles around to Ryan’s side. “Did Savannah mention the rocks on the cans? That helps keep him out of the trash.”

“Oh. The big rocks.”

“Yeah. The big rocks. We learned that the hard way after she tossed out a bunch of half-melted dildos last year. George planted them in our vegetable garden. Was real torn up when they didn’t grow.”

“Did you remember to fertilize them regularly?”

He laughs, that easy rumble of his that always made me feel ten times funnier than I am.

But I’m not funny. Ryan just likes to laugh. He has the easy-going charm thing down pat, which was part of the reason I didn’t recognize his voice right away yesterday. The Tough Firefighter tone coming from him was a surprise.

A sexy surprise, that I do my best not to think about as Ryan says, “No, we didn’t. That must have been where we went wrong. But we ended up with a bumper crop of cucumbers. Hoping for the same this year. You’re welcome to grab a few once they get ripe.” He hooks a thumb at the cottage next door with a wink that turns my panties inside out. “Now, come on, let me help you up.”

He holds his hand out again, fingers spread wide to reveal white scar tissue between his right thumb and forefinger. It’s something new, like that faint white line on his cheek, and it sends a jolt of worry through my chest. Fighting fires is a dangerous job and no matter how deeply this man mortified me when we were kids, I don’t like the idea of him being in danger.

I don’t like it one little bit.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Fine. I’m fine.” I scramble to my feet on my own, feeling like a fool.

Clearly, Ryan O’Dell still gets under my skin.

And Savannah should’ve warned me about her neighbor.

“Cool. Large rocks. Cucumbers. Got it.” I dust my butt as his gaze dips down to my chest, and I realize I’m wearing my Space Vikings Invade Butte game launch party tee.

The one the printer screwed up that reads Space Vikings Invade Butt instead.

I clamp my arms over my chest, trying desperately to cover the worst of it without being too obvious. I love a goofy tee as much as the next girl, but not in front of this man, who already thinks I’m the saddest nerd ever to crawl out from under an old Atari. “I’m sure Savannah will be back soon. I won’t have the chance to mess up the trash much longer.”

“You think she’s coming home that fast?”

No. “Of course. She’s having a fabulous time abroad, but she misses Happy Cat and the office.”

Even the raccoon gives me the yeah, right, crazy lady eyeball while it rubs against Ryan’s leg like a cat.

He grunts. “Interesting. She mentioned selling it before she left.”

Dammit. I hate hearing that—more evidence that Savannah might be serious about giving up on Sunshine Toys.

But she was born to run this company. Some people think she peaked professionally before Savannah Sunshine went off the air—Van played a child sleuth in the hit series for eight years, and yes, there are pitfalls to being the sister of a Hollywood starlet—but there’s more in her big heart and amazing brain than acting talent. She’s truly passionate about helping women lead sex- and pleasure-positive lives. She was outraged when she learned that eleven percent of women in the U.S. have never had an orgasm and vowed to right that heinous wrong or die trying.

Van’s the Joan of Arc of sex toys. It’s a calling for her, one she’s going to come back to—I hope.

“She also mentioned taking out billboards from Atlanta to Orlando with pictures of Steve below the headline Cheating Bastard,” I point out to Ryan. “But she didn’t. She’s coming back, and everything will be fine.”

“Uh-huh.” He nods carefully. “Well, if it’s not, let me know if I can help out in any way. Savannah’s a good neighbor and friend. I hate that things ended so badly for her and Steve.”

I snort. “I’m not. I got bad vibes from that man the moment I met him. I thought I had to be wrong, because she was so happy, but apparently not. I’m glad he’s out of her life for good.”

Ryan’s shoulders slump in what looks like relief. “Right? Me too. He makes my skin crawl.”

I nod with unconcealed enthusiasm, too thrilled to meet someone else who wasn’t blindsided by Steve’s misbehavior to play it cool. “Yes! Right off my body. It’s something in his eyes or his sneaky little mouth or—” I break off with a shudder. “I don’t know, but it’s wrong. It’s all wrong.”

“Preaching to the choir, Sunderwell.” Ryan lifts a palm in the air in a silent amen. “But people around here think he hung the moon for keeping the biggest bank in town from closing a few years ago so I figured my gut was wrong.”

I shake my head. “Nope. Your gut was dead on.”

“Your gut and my gut,” he says, lips curving on one side. “Sound like they’ve got more in common than a person might think.”

“Yeah, well,” I laugh, suddenly acutely uncomfortable. “Every microbiome is its own unique universe, so probably not, but…”

He frowns. “ A micro what?”

“Biome. It’s the, um…combined genetic material of the microbes living in our gut that aid in digestion and other metabolic activity. They’re a counterpart to our genetic material, but actually outnumber the genes in our own genome by about a hundred to one, so…”

Ryan’s lips turn down as he nods. “Wow.”

He sounds as unimpressed by my nerd vomit as his raccoon, who has flopped onto his back and is tugging at the hem of Ryan’s jeans as if to say, “Please can we ditch the geek, and go home and feast upon peen lollies together in manly silence?”


What am I even doing standing here talking to Ryan O’Dell? Who cares if we happen to see eye-to-eye on one stupid thing? Ryan and I have about as much in common as Space Vikings and vegan buffalo chicken wings, and I have a new exercise routine to keep up with. Every second spent chit-chatting with him is a second I’m not walking around the lake getting fit.

“So, anyway, have fun with your raccoon. And Van’s trash.” I stand up straighter. “I should get going.”

He’s still watching me with that intense gaze that keeps dropping to my shirt.

Or my lips?

I probably have a milk mustache or something. That’s my life since I came back to my hometown, one embarrassing interlude after another, interspersed with occasional explosions.

I turn to make my escape into the woods, where no one will care what I’m wearing or how sloppily I ate my cornflakes, when Ryan speaks again.

“Good to see you again, Cassie.”

Damn it. I might not be teenage Cassie anymore, and he’s definitely not teenage Ryan, but the way my body reacts to my name on his lips is exactly the same. He still has the power to make me melt on command.

Another reason to get out of here. Now.

I can’t let myself take a single step down the road to Crushville with this man. I refuse to set myself up for a refresher course in heartbreak.

So I just nod at him before I tromp back to the trailhead with my head held high.

“Being hot as a fire truck doesn’t make him worth wasting one second of your time,” I whisper to myself. “You’ve got better things to do than mess with Ryan O’Dell.”

Liar, my inner voice replies.

I need a new inner voice.



* * *

The Wild Hog is as exciting as it ever is on a Tuesday night. Some rednecks with more beer in their bellies than sense are fighting in the corner over who cheated at pool. Emma June, Ruthie May’s granddaughter, and her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Tucker, are apparently on tonight, making out in their usual booth by the bathrooms. And Ruthie May is holding court with the Happy Cat Gossip Queens at two tables pushed together in the center of the room.

Meanwhile my little brother—the oldest of my three younger brothers—is behind the bar, scowling while he yanks the taps and tops off Coke glasses. Jace glances my way, adds a don’t start, jackass sneer to his bad attitude, and disappears into the kitchen.

I make my way through the bar, answering questions about yesterday’s lube fire, which will be a hot topic in Happy Cat until something more exciting happens. Like Sunshine Toys releasing their holiday line-up or a new petition to kick the company out of town starts circulating. We used to fight about installing windmills by the highway or who cooks the best catfish, but lately, it’s been all Sunshine drama all the time.

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