Authors: Tanya Anne Crosby
a short novel
Tanya Anne Crosby
Copyright © 2012 Tanya Anne Crosby
All rights reserved
Cover design by Gnarly Wool LLC
Published by Oliver-Heber Books, April 2012
LADY’S MAN is an unabridged publication of LADY’S MAN, originally published in
Cast of Characters
by NINC and Fiction Studio Books.
This work is a novella. It is not a full-length novel. Any similarity to actual persons or events, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Who arrived on this Earth like the birth of a star,
shining light into every dark corner.
Other books by
Tanya Anne Crosby
THE IMPOSTOR PRINCE
THE IMPOSTOR’S KISS
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
ON BENDED KNEE
PERFECT IN MY SIGHT
THE MACKINNON’S BRIDE
ONCE UPON A KISS
ANGEL OF FIRE
A NOTE FROM TANYA…
Something truly magical happens when you write what you know … especially if it also happens to be something you love. Lady’s Man isn’t just my debut into the world of contemporary fiction, the story takes place in a setting I know and love—the Southern Lowcountry. It’s about life, love and letting go.
This particular version of Lady’s Man is also the unabridged version of a short story I wrote for
Cast of Characters
. Cast of Characters is a true publishing event, with stories by 28 talented writers, including eleven New York Times best-selling authors. If you like Lady’s Man, I hope you’ll look for
Cast of Characters
If possession was nine-tenths of the law, possession while bare-assed naked was probably a nonissue.
Keys in hand, Annie Franklin froze just inside the threshold of the Folly Beach house she’d rented. So did the guy in the foyer with his fingers threaded through his hair and his man parts dangling, not unlike the keys in her hand. For about two seconds her gaze swept over a very startled expression and then dove helplessly downward.
“My God! What are you doing here?”
“I’m sure I could ask the same.”
Annie forced her gaze upward, meeting a pair of very blue eyes. The surprise was gone now, replaced with something more like bemusement.
Vying for a glimpse inside the house, Lady, her curious Labrador nosed the back of her thighs and Annie made a discomfited sound. “Sit girl! Sit!” she commanded. “Look, there must be some mistake! Is this 1776 East Ashley?”
Horrified, Annie dangled her keys between them. “But I have keys,” she said. He, on the other hand, had nothing—not even clothes!
“I see that.”
Annie peered down at the keys in her hand, as though they could somehow come to her defense. She’d driven a long way and she wasn’t precisely in the frame of mind to have a discussion with a naked man. “Will you please get dressed?”
“Christ!” he said, raking a hand across the scruff on his face. “Sure. You might as well come on in … looks like we have a few things to figure out.”
More than acutely aware of the mole she’d spied on his left hip, Annie kept her gaze trained on his face. “Um, yeah, but I think I’ll wait out here. If you don’t mind. Thanks,” she said. And then a little nervously, added, “I’ll, uh, just wait … on the porch.”
He looked at her as though she’d crawled out of a curio box, his expression not particularly amused, but neither was it cross and then he disappeared into an adjacent room, leaving the front door wide open.
Apparently, modesty wasn’t a virtue he was blessed with. But he got more than his share elsewhere. Someplace she didn’t really care to have imprinted like a snapshot in her head.
Chewing the inside of her lip, Annie waited anxiously on the front porch while Lady sat dutifully at her heels, staring up at her with a question in her faithful brown eyes.
At the moment, Annie didn’t have answers and not having answers, she discovered, was equally as unnerving as facing a rather large, unfamiliar penis. Whether or not he was a big dick, too, remained to be seen. But this is what she did know: A) There was a naked man in
beach house—the house she’d rented more than six months ago—the house she’d already paid for, and B) She had to have
house and no other house would do. If she couldn’t have this house, she might not find the nerve to do what she had to do. Symbolic or otherwise, the house was part of her plan and plans were meant to be followed—that’s why you made them in the first place. The instant you yanked out a single brick from the foundation, the entire structure collapsed.
Right now, Annie desperately needed structure.
“This isn’t good,” she said to Lady as she rummaged through her purse for her cell phone.
Lady contemplated her with big round eyes while she dialed the management company, intending to get some answers before the interloper returned. “Hi, this is Annie Franklin.”
“Hi, Annie! Did you find the house OK?”
Annie was so confused. “I think so.” She glanced into the house at the closed bedroom door. “But there seems to be a
“More like a big problem.” And she wasn’t just talking about the size of his package, which Annie was horrified to realize she recalled in disturbing detail. She lowered her voice. “There seems to be a man already here!” She left out the naked part for the moment.
“Seems to be?”
“No, I mean, there is a man—a guy—in the house!”
The receptionist might as well have been a parrot. “You say there’s a man at the house?”
“Uh, yeah! And he’s—well, let’s just say he’s made himself very much at home!”
“Wow, OK …” Despite the annoying parroting, there seemed to be genuine consternation in the girl’s tone. “Let me check something.”
Annie glared at the closed bedroom door while she waited.
Finally, the girl returned to the phone.
“OK, I don’t have anyone on the books and you’re the only one I’ve given keys to this morning so I can assure you that whoever’s there shouldn’t be.”
Annie expelled a breath of relief. “Thank God! I thought maybe you guys accidentally double booked or something.”
“That’s not even remotely possible,” the girl assured. “We only keep two sets of keys for that property. You have one and I have the other sitting right here in front of me … unless…”
The other end of the phone went ominously silent and Annie felt like screaming. “Unless
?” she asked as calmly as she was able.
The bedroom door burst open and out came its occupant, newly dressed in a pair of blue and white plaid shorts and a white sport shirt that nicely complemented his tan—and his pecs. But she really wished she hadn’t noticed that part.
He walked toward her, any previous trace of amusement banished from his expression. “Is that the management company?”
Annie suddenly felt a little like a deer caught in headlights. She nodded. The girl on the other end of the line was talking again, but Annie didn’t comprehend a single word she was saying.
The guy extended his hand. “Do you mind? I think I can clear this up pretty quickly.”
Annie handed him her cell phone. “Hi, this is James Heywood. Who am I speaking with?”
Annie couldn’t help but note that Mr. Heywood didn’t seem the least bit concerned by the situation. Fiddling uncomfortably with the beach house keys, she studied the numbers written in black marker on the key tab: 1776 E. A. She looked around the porch at the number on the column.
Right there in big bright-blue wooden letters was 1776.
“Hi Sandy,” he was saying, “I spoke to Mike about a month ago and explained I’d be in town for the Fourth. Can you tell me what happened here?”
Settling into a whitewashed rocking chair behind her, Annie concentrated on the one-sided conversation. Lady shoved her nose into Annie’s hand and whined. Quite honestly, Annie felt a bit like whining too.
“Unfortunately, apologies aren’t going to resolve this,” he was saying. “Is there another property available?”
Noticing the stubborn set of his jaw and the clear-headed gleam in his eyes, Annie determined he wasn’t really the sort of guy you really wanted to argue with, naked or otherwise.
His next words verified her deduction. “It doesn’t matter,” he continued. “I expect you to rectify this immediately.” Then suddenly the conversation was over. He turned to hand Annie the cell phone and walked inside, leaving the door wide open yet again.
Annie returned the phone to her ear a little uncertainly. “Uh, hello?”
“I’m so sorry!” the girl hurriedly explained. “That was Mr. Heywood!”
Annie had the sudden, distinct impression this wasn’t going to go her way, no matter how much it meant to her to have this house. “So I heard. What’s that got to do with me?”
“Well, you see, he owns that property so we can’t exactly ask him to leave. So this is definitely a problem.”
Whatever self-control Annie had maintained dissipated. “You have got to be kidding! I’ve already paid for this house! You can’t tell me I have to go home now after driving six hundred miles to get here—with my dog!” she added, completely incensed.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Franklin! We had absolutely no idea he was going to be there!”
Annie bolted to her feet. “Yes you did! I just heard him say so! Now you’re telling me I have to go?”
“This has never happened before,” the girl offered apologetically.
“But this is July Fourth weekend!” Annie persisted. “Nothing will be available! I can’t believe this,” she added, more to herself.
Full-fledged panic was on the verge of setting in. Annie’s palms began to sweat and her heart beat frantically. Her eyes were drawn to her suitcase and she stared at it, trying to regain focus, drawing on her grandmother’s strength as she listened to the girl carry on with profuse apologies.
As long as there was a plan, Annie could pretty much handle anything. But that was the problem with things like people dying and naked strangers, they were seldom part of anybody’s plan.
She felt suddenly dizzy. Luckily, Mr. Heywood returned with a glass of brown liquid—tea maybe?
In his left hand, he carried a small bowl and stooped to place it in front of Lady.
Lady tilted him a quizzical look and then another at Annie before peering down at the bowl full of glistening water.
As upset as Annie was, she realized Lady wouldn’t drink without permission so she reached down and pushed the bowl closer to her muzzle. Lady dove in at once and somewhere beyond the mounting hysteria, Annie was grateful the guy was thoughtful enough to think of her dog when she couldn’t.
He waited patiently, then handed her the glass of brown liquid and extended his hand again. “May I?”
Annie thought he wanted the cell phone back. She was too sick to her stomach to refuse. The girl was rambling on and on, saying words that really weren’t the least bit helpful.
Annie handed the phone back to Mr. Heywood and sank back into the chair with her glass of brown liquid while Lady sloshed cool water onto her toes in her eagerness to lap up every last drop. It was hot, but there was no way to tell how much of the sweat tricking between her breasts was due to stress.
“Shit,” she said, not caring what he thought about girls with potty mouths. This was a shit situation if ever she’d encountered one.
“Write her a check,” he was saying and his tone left no room for argument. “I’ll come by to get it within the hour.” He hung up the phone.
Annie looked up at him incredulously. “Just like that!” She stood, peering up at him fearlessly. “You’re going to give me my money back and ask me to go?”
He handed her the phone back. “Look, Ms …”
Annie narrowed her gaze at him. “Franklin! Do you realize there won’t be a single room or house available this weekend?” He opened his mouth to speak, but Annie wasn’t done. “And frankly, even if there is, I shouldn’t be expected to pay last-minute prices when I planned for this six freakin’ months in advance!”
He gave her an infuriating little smirk, his blue eyes twinkling far too mirthfully and said, “I wasn’t going to ask you to leave.”
Confused, Annie cocked her head a bit like Lady had just done. “You weren’t?”
“No. I wasn’t.”
“First, I’m going to look for an alternate place for you to stay. If I find one, I’ll pay for it myself to make up for the inconvenience. If I don’t, you can stay here.”
The image of his penis suddenly accosted her. “NO way am I paying to share this house with a complete stranger! I don’t care if you own the place!”
His lips twitched a little as he extended his hand. “My name is Jamie. Now we’re only sort of strangers.”
Annie didn’t immediately reach for his hand, so he held it up. “OK, hear me out. There’s an entire suite upstairs—plenty of room for both of us. We would only have to share the kitchen and living room.”
The fact that he was still grinning at her wasn’t helping. “But I paid for a whole house, Mr. Heywood, not half a house!”
“That’s the beauty of this deal, Ms. Franklin. You get to keep your money no matter what happens, and we never even have to bump into each other … if we don’t want to. There are separate stairs that lead to the upstairs suite. You can lock your door to the interior of the house and avoid me entirely. Look at it this way … this is your lucky day.”
Annie stood there, mentally recalculating her plan.
Half a house. All her money.
If he truly meant it, it was a good deal.
But she was still annoyed—maybe because he still had that much-too congenial smile on his face. She pretended to mull it over, even though there really wasn’t much to think about. The truth was that she could buy a lot of souvenirs for three thousand and three hundred dollars and it wasn’t exactly like she had much of a choice anyway.
Really, she didn’t need the entire house to set her plan in motion—just access to the river behind it. She gave him a skeptical look. “Why would you be willing to share your house and your vacation with a perfect stranger?”
“My house,” he pointed out reasonably. “I don’t recall saying I intended to share my vacation.”
A mischievous looking brow shot up. “Is there a personal interest?”