Home > Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(7)

Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(7)
Author: Pippa Grant, Lili Valente

Ryan’s smiling at all of us like we’re highly amusing, albeit a little crazy. “I like lemonade on my cone,” he says.

“Ooooh,” Ruthie May and Olivia say together.

“I’ll text Savannah,” Olivia adds.

“Psh,” Ruthie May replies. “Don’t bother her. We can handle this on our own. Cassie, we need you to approve lemonade-flavored lube.”

“Approved,” I say, desperate to change the subject before my already flaming cheeks ignite with embarrassment. “Can we—”

“Help! HELP!” a terrified young voice shrieks from the other side of the market.

I turn to see the two teen girls who just snagged sno-cones from our booth dropping to their knees on the ground beside the glass blowing booth. Ryan takes off at a run, leaving George Cooney’s leash in Olivia’s mostly-capable hands. After a beat of hesitation, I race after him, in a huffing-and-puffing, can’t-keep-up-with-fit-people kind of way.

I don’t know exactly why I’m running, except I have this awful feeling that I need to go. I need to see what’s happened. I need to make sure everyone is okay. Maybe it’s paranoia, but between the fire at the factory and the fear that someone will find out we’re serving lubed-up sno-cones, my control issues are revved up in a major way.

One of the teenagers—the brunette with the curly ponytail—is pawing through her mother’s purse. Her younger sister is crying. Their mother is on the ground, clutching at her throat while her cheeks turn red. She fights to pull in a breath while her eyes stream tears and a crowd gathers.

By the time I reach the scene, Ryan’s already at the mother’s side, talking calmly to one of the girls. “Coconut,” Curly Ponytail says. “She’s allergic to coconut.”

My lungs freeze, and a slow panic builds in my chest.

Coconut. Coconut oil is the base ingredient in all of Savannah’s lube.

And it was all over the sno-cones. I quickly scan the area, spotting three half-empty sno-cone sleeves in the grass not two feet away.

Ryan grabs the mom’s purse and dumps it out beside the suffering woman. It only takes him a minute to find what he’s looking for—an Epi-Pen.

Before I can look away, Ryan rips off the top of the needle and jabs it firmly into the woman’s thigh, hard enough for it to punch through her jeans into her skin, all while murmuring to her in a comforting way completely at odds with his assertive jabbing.

Swallowing hard, I press a fist to my chest and ignore the woozy spinning of my head, willing myself not to pass out as I remind myself that not all needles are evil. Some needles save lives, like this one.

Still, I’m grateful when Ryan glances over his shoulder, looking relieved to see me, and says, “Cassie, call 9-1-1.”

I nod and hurry to do his bidding, so glad that he’s here. He just saved this woman’s life.

After my team and I put it in horrible danger.

Throat tight with regret, I tug my phone from my back pocket and place the emergency call.

Six

Cassie

* * *

Four hours later, I’m staring at my phone in Savannah’s serene living room, willing the device to tell me that I don’t really have to fill Savannah in on what InstaChat has already dubbed the Sunshine Sno Lube Disaster.

Despite the spa-like atmosphere with the comfy loungers, soft lighting, lavender-vanilla diffusers, and mood music that pipes in every night from seven to midnight like magic—apparently Olivia gave the room a makeover as a divorce present—my blood pressure is around the same stage it was last month at work when our team discovered a bug in Space Vikings Invade Butte forty-eight hours before launch.

We fixed the game.

But I don’t know if I can fix everything that’s falling apart at Savannah’s company.

It’s not just the lube fire or the farmers’ market disaster. Morale is low and shipments are behind schedule, and I don’t know how to fix it. I’m not used to dealing with people or products. I’m a code squirrel who lurks in my cozy den until my portion of the project is complete before emerging to troubleshoot with the other squirrels. I spend maybe ten percent of my job interacting IRL and the rest chatting with my team via video call or, better yet, while we’re killing zombies in some post-apocalyptic virtual city. I am completely out of my element in Savannah’s closely connected, highly collaborative work environment.

I miss San Francisco.

I miss my condo and my game set-up in my spare bedroom, with the PS4 and the dual-core tower.

I miss going three hours without someone mentioning something to do with sex and reminding me I’ve never had any.

And I miss being able to text my sister without mentioning a lube incident or having to assure her that no one at her company has died. Yet.

I can’t let everything fall apart while she’s gone. Even if she’s serious about selling, no one will want Sunshine if it has a string of misfortunes hanging around its neck.

Someone knocks on my door, and I cringe.

Please don’t be the mayor. Or Gerald Hutchins. Or Olivia.

Bless her heart, Olivia tries, and I love her almost as much as I love Savannah, but I really don’t want to know what’s going on with my star chart. As far as I’m concerned it’s pretty obvious I was born under a bad sign.

When I fling open the door, I’m ready to shout No comment! and slam it shut—Ruthie May texted that there were some paparazzi in Atlanta who occasionally come down to Happy Cat if something’s going on with Savannah, since she’s still a public figure—but the sight of Ryan throws me off my game.

I immediately glance down at his feet for the raccoon. The last time I saw George Cooney, he was sliding down Main Street on his fuzzy butt, assisted by mango-lime lube he’d liberated from a pump bottle during the near-death commotion with the allergic tourist.

But the trash panda troublemaker is nowhere to be found. “George Cooney hitting the sack early tonight?”

“George is off on a walkabout,” he says. “But he’ll be back, I’m not worried.”

I lift my gaze back to Ryan’s face, taking in the view on the way. The man looks ridiculously gorgeous in a soft gray tee shirt and faded black jeans. Damn… Biceps like his should be illegal. Or at least come with a warning—likely to induce unexpected drooling in women, gay men, and basically anyone with a pulse.

Ryan lifts a sweating mason jar of something that looks suspiciously like homemade lemonade. “Thought you could use a pick-me-up. You holding up okay? You went a little pale when needles entered the picture today.”

He’s watching me like he’s not sure if I’m going to fall apart or tell him where he can stick his lemonade, and something about the uncertainty is a kick to the gut.

Neither of us are the same people we were in high school. And he can’t hurt me again, because I’m leaving to go back to my normal life in San Francisco.

As soon as Savannah gets back.

Which will hopefully be before I run out of vacation time at work.

I give him a small smile. “I’m not the one who almost died, so I think I’m pretty okay.”

“She wasn’t going to die.”

“Not on your watch?”

“No, not on my watch.” He grins, oozing with self-confidence, making him about ten thousand watts hotter than he was two seconds ago.

I remind myself that he can’t help that he was born with a smile that could ignite a thousand panties and a natural charm that makes him popular without even trying. But I can control how close I let him.

Though surely there’s nothing wrong with accepting a friendly lemonade.

I mean, he brought it all the way over from his house to mine. And he’s checking on me, when it’s basically my fault that a woman went into anaphylactic shock at the farmers’ market—not to mention what happened to his raccoon—so maybe we can be friends.

Because this is ridiculously sweet of him.

I open the door wider and accept the lemonade. “Thank you. Did you want to…” I gesture inside.

His smile broadens, and he steps past me into the house. “Sure. Thanks.”

“I’m sorry about George running off,” I say.

Ryan takes a seat on a lavender settee, legs spread wide, holding his own mason jar. “He really will be back,” he assures me. “The leash is just for show when he follows me out of the neighborhood. Special town ordinance just for George.”

I shouldn’t be surprised, but my eyebrows still shoot up.

He laughs. “Been in San Francisco so long you forgot how things work around here?”

“Apparently.” I sip the lemonade. The sweet, tangy liquid hits my tongue, and my eyes slide shut. “Oh, wow, this is delicious.”

“Yeah?”

“Please tell me it’s not iced lube.”

He laughs. “Not unless my grandma was way ahead of her time. Old family recipe.”

“Right. That makes way more sense.” I take a big gulp, because wow, this really is the best lemonade I’ve had in years.

“Don’t tell me they don’t have lemonade in San Francisco.”

“Not like this. But they have sourdough bread and Peet’s Coffee on every corner, so I get by.”

“You like it out there?” He’s watching me with that friendly grin, his gaze occasionally dipping down to my breasts, and I glance down too, just to make sure I’m not dribbling anything.

I appear to be in the clear, but I refuse to read anything into his wandering gaze or the fact that he knows where I live. I’d think it was weirder if he didn’t. Even I can tell you where ninety percent of my graduating class and all their siblings ended up after high school. It’s a Happy Cat thing. We gossip.

“I do like it,” I tell him. “There’s a ton to do in the city, I’m an hour from wine country, and the weather’s perfect all year round. At least for me. I love jackets and unpredictable fog.”

He smiles, appearing amused and bemused at the same time. “That’s all it takes to make you happy?”

   
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