Read Dead Heat Online

Authors: Kathleen Brooks

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #General, #Romantic Comedy

Dead Heat (9 page)

BOOK: Dead Heat
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“Thanks for trying to make me feel better. I know I am nothing compared to her physically, but I like to think I am a better person on the inside.”

“I think you’re much better than her, inside and out.” Cole reached across the table and pulled her hand into his. “What happened between you two? Has she always been like this?”

“Yes. She was the popular kid in school. First to have a car of her own, head cheerleader, dated anyone she wanted... Her last name was Chase, and it was the school joke that it was fun to "chase Kandi", but even better to catch her. I, on the other hand, was the tomboy on the rifle team who was a well-known virgin.”

“How could that be well known?” Cole laughed.

“You’ve met my brothers, right? They made sure I was off limits. While it made them feel better, it made me a social outcast. At the beginning of my senior year I somehow got the attention of the starting quarterback, Bill Rawlings. We started dating and my popularity shot up, not that I cared. We were the perfect couple, or so I thought. He earned a walk-on spot with the University of Kentucky football team and I was going to go to the design program there. We planned on getting engaged the night of our senior prom and then get married during the summer before football season started.” She stopped when she saw Cole raise his eyebrow at the mention of getting married.

“I know, we were really young. But in a small town like this, lots of people get married right out of high school. Anyways, prom rolls around and we get engaged, but as we are about to head out to the after party at one of the farms, Kandi comes staggering over and says it’s only fitting for the prom king to escort the prom queen to the party. Kandi’s merry minions circle around me and take me off to the party. I am there an hour and Bill still hadn’t shown up, so I just went home.”

“Ouch. He and Kandi?”

“I’ll get to that. So, he stops by first thing the next morning and said she got sick and he had to take her home, blah blah blah. In my naïveté, I believed him. At graduation two months later, Bill pulls me aside and confesses to an affair with Kandi. He tells me he wants to stay together and work things out. I forgive him and agree to it before he finishes his confession. Kandi was two months pregnant and he wanted her to live near us in Lexington until she had the baby so he could ‘do the right thing’ and look after her.”

“No. No man can be that stupid.”

Paige smiled. Somehow it didn’t hurt anymore as she told Cole about her last and only relationship. “Yes, yes they can be. So, I immediately withdrew from UK and applied for school in Los Angeles. I headed out two weeks later and didn’t come back for three years. So, that’s my embarrassing relationship story.” Paige put down the napkin she had torn to shreds.

“Well, what happened to Bill and Kandi?”

“They got married right after their son was born. She didn’t want to be fat in her pictures. They are still married. I don’t really know more than that.”

“If I am honest, I am glad it happened. It means you get to be my girlfriend now.” He winked and she laughed.

Chapter Six

 

Paige couldn’t remember ever having such a great time on a date. She had been on a lot of first dates and none of them had been this relaxed and fun. Her high was brought down when she realized it didn’t matter. It wasn’t a real first date. It was all for show. Paige and Cole approached the shop in a peaceful silence. He took her key and opened the front door.

She walked in and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. She looked around carefully. Nothing seemed to be missing. She looked closer and saw that all the displays were in order. She couldn’t figure it out, it just felt as if something was out of place. She slowly walked up the stairs behind Cole. Maybe it was just her imagination, but he seemed tense too.

He opened her door and Chuck walked out with his tail slowly wagging. He approached the top of the steps ready for his nighttime walk. Cole walked through her apartment, checking each room before coming out with Chuck’s leash in his hand.

“It’s all clear, but something seems off.”

“I know.” She looked around the shop as she walked down the stairs. “But, nothing seems to be missing.”

“Come on. Let’s take Chuck for his night time walk. Maybe things will be clearer in the morning.” Cole snapped Chuck’s flexi-leash in place and opened the door for her. Paige walked out with Chuck glued to her side. Cole shut the door and locked it before turning towards Paige.

“Where do you normally walk him?”

“We go around the block to the park behind the store. Then we just go up the stairs and into the apartment from the back,” she said as they headed down the sidewalk.

“You know, I had a really good time tonight.”
“You don’t have to say that. I know it wasn’t real for you.”
“Was it real for you?” Cole asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Before she could answer, Chuck froze. She felt the vibration of his growl running up the leash before she could hear it. As soon as Cole heard the growl, a gun appeared in his right hand and he stepped in front of her to shield her from whatever was in the park. Chuck pulled on his leash and let out a deep bark. Paige looked around and didn’t see anyone. That didn’t stop Chuck from pulling at the end of his leash. He desperately wanted to get at whoever was behind the trees.

Her first instinct was to run and hide behind Cole. But her curiosity won out and she edged her way out from behind him to stare into the unknown darkness of the park. Chuck’s growls grew more and more agitated as he lunged forward again. His chocolate brown hair stood on end down his back.

“Come out with your hands up,” Cole called into the darkness. Silence echoed around them as they waited for the person to come out.

She felt him tense and raise his gun when she heard the leaves rustle. Someone was coming toward them. Her heart skipped a beat as the rustling grew louder. Chuck was frantically pulling on his leash and Paige had to use both hands to hold him back.

“Slowly now. Hands up in the air so I can see them!” Cole yelled out as the large shrub in front of them started to move. Cole reached out with his left arm and pushed her behind him one last time. She felt him freeze and slowly moved to look over his shoulder.

“Oh shit. Run!” Chuck lunged and broke free from Paige’s grasp. Paige screamed as Cole grabbed her and shoved her away from the trees. But it was too late.

The putrid smell permeated the heavy humid air and clung to them. The lack of breeze caused the noxious gas to envelope them. Paige felt tears stream down her face and her lungs constricted as she gasped for fresh air.

“You were real handy with that gun, Cole. Good thing you were here to protect me from that skunk.” Paige coughed some more and tried to drag in a breath of fresh air as they staggered away from ground zero. “You did order his hands up. Hands, tail... same thing to a skunk, I guess,” she laughed in between fits of coughing.

“Hopefully Chuck made it worthwhile and killed that damn thing.” Cole bent over at his waist and coughed. “Here’s the mighty hunter now.” Chuck came running back over towards them with his tail wagging, skunk safely in his grasp spraying everything in range.

“Oh, Chuck!” Paige backed up holding up her hands as if to defend herself from the pissed off skunk Chuck was bringing to her. Thinking it a game, Chuck wagged his tail and trotted after her.

“No! Chuck, put him down,” Cole said in his most authoritative voice. Chuck turned his bright brown eyes toward Cole and ran over toward him. “No!” Cole tried to get away, but it was too late. Chuck had gotten close enough for the skunk to have a direct shot at Cole.

Paige laughed, but that caused Chuck’s attention to focus back on her. He began to run happily towards her, tail wagging, with his prize. Paige backed up, but Chuck just broke out into a run. There was no way she was going to let him near her. She ducked behind a large Ash tree as Chuck got near. Looking up, she grabbed the lowest branch and swung upward.

She looked five feet down at Chuck and hoped the skunk couldn’t spray her up in the perch. Chuck pranced around the tree showing her his new toy as Cole tried to get his breath back from his spraying. His eyes were bloodshot and he swiped at the involuntary tears running down his cheeks.

“Chuck, put down the skunk and I will get you a big treat,” Paige cooed to him. Chuck just wagged his tail and sat down. The skunk seemed to have given up and lowered his tail. There appeared to be a limit on how much they could spray. When the skunk stopped struggling, Chuck quickly lost interest and opened his mouth. The skunk fell from his mouth, turned his back to Chuck and sprayed him directly in the face. Who knew? Maybe they did have an unlimited supply. Chuck yelped and covered his eyes with his paws. He rubbed his face in the grass as the skunk ran for the shrubs. Paige could have sworn the skunk smiled. Chuck looked up at her, sneezed, and thumped his tail against the grass.

“Come on, let’s get this smell washed off.” Cole strode over to the tree and smiled up at her. She laid her head against the tree trunk and laughed. She had a fake boyfriend who was turning out to be perfect. And here she was, skunked. And he just smiled that very sexy smile while his eyes danced at her.

 

Paige ran up the rickety back steps and unlocked the kitchen door. She looked over the rail to where Cole was hooking up the hose. Chuck sulked a few feet away at the sight of the hose. She rushed into her kitchen and opened the pantry door. She found cans of tomato sauce and put them into a plastic grocery bag to carry downstairs. As she closed the door, she caught another whiff of herself and knew her house was going to stink. She ran back down the stairs and laughed at Chuck’s tucked tail and the glare he was casting at Cole.

“Here’s all the tomato sauce I have.” She put the bags down and started opening cans as Cole hosed him down.

She poured the first can over him and was surprised when the smell actually lessened. By the fifth can, the smell on Chuck became acceptable. Paige sprayed him with some of her locally made spritzer to cover any lingering smells. She looked down at her shirt and cringed. She and Cole and sopping wet and smelled horrible.

“My house is going to smell for weeks.”

“I don’t think it would be a good idea to bring our clothes inside right now. We should leave them out here to air out and then see if we can salvage them after a couple of washings.” Cole looked down at his shirt, shrugged, and pulled it off.

Oh my. Paige ran her eyes over his bare chest and abs. She found herself unable to tear her gaze away from him. That is, until his hand went to the button of his jeans.

“What are you doing?!” She gasped and dragged her eyes past his defined abs and muscled chest to his laughing eyes.

“I told you. We shouldn’t go upstairs with our clothes on since they are holding the majority of the bad smell.”

Paige’s mouth fell open as she watched him slide his jeans off. He stood confidently in her back yard wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs as he hung his clothes up on the railing. He turned back around and gave her another bone-melting smile.

“What? You not wearing anything under that sexy little dress?”
“Huh?”
“Take off your clothes, Paige.” His voice had dropped a little as he walked toward her, his eyes never leaving hers.

“Okay,” she said as though she were in a trance. She untied the red scarf from her waist and let it drop to the ground. Cole slowly slid his hands down her back and unzipped her dress.

They were standing so close her lips brushed his neck as her dress fell to the ground. It was a good thing she shaved this morning, she thought as she felt Cole’s fingers wrap around the back of her neck. Cole stepped forward and her lace covered breasts pressed against his wet chest. Her body hummed with his nearness and the only thing she could think about was how much she wanted his hands on her. Cole leaned forward as he pulled her closer with his hand on her neck, and gently kissed her forehead. Huh?

“I’ll let you have first dibs on the shower.” He stepped back and started to pick up her clothes.

Paige stood rooted to the ground. No, there was no way she misinterpreted that. He was being all sexy and then a kiss to the forehead? She watched as he hung her clothes on the railing and suddenly felt very self-conscious standing there in her underwear when he clearly didn’t find her irresistible. She ran up the cold metal stairs with Chuck right behind her before the shock wore off and the tears of rejection started. Cole said nothing and turned his back to the rail as she ran up it.

Paige slammed the bathroom door closed as the tears burst forth. Chuck whined and sat down on the mat in front of the bathtub, clearly upset with her tears. Paige finished getting undressed and climbed into the big bathtub and shower. She tried to wash the smell from her skin and calm down. She had read it all wrong. He was just doing his job. They weren’t really dating. She knew that.

For all the effort her brothers had put into protecting her, she was still green when it came to men. She could out-shoot them, out-drive them, and out-play them in poker. But when it came to relationships, she was lost. Her one and only serious relationship was with Bill and he had left a sour taste in her mouth. She had dated in L.A., but never for more than a month or two. Then, for some reason, she starts falling for this guy who she couldn’t stand only days before. Maybe it was all stress from the events over the past couple of days. That was it. It was just a byproduct of stress. Feeling better, she got out of the shower and dried off. She slid into an old pair of boxers and a UK basketball shirt and climbed into bed.

 

Paige woke up the following morning in a horrible mood. She knew from the second her eyes opened that she should just stay in bed. She had tossed and turned all night dreaming of different versions of the previous night. Versions which did not end with a friendly kiss on the forehead. As a result, she was wound up with no way to release the energy. It wasn’t a real relationship after all. Maybe if she found someone else she wouldn’t be so high strung.

BOOK: Dead Heat
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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