Authors: Alice Clayton
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #General
“Oh, fudge, really?” I said, covering my face.
He laughed, grabbing my hands and placing them back in my lap. “What’s with the fudge?”
“Hmm?” I asked, not paying attention to his words since his hands had just been on my skin. Something my skin apparently enjoyed immensely, as it was all zingy now.
“You just said ‘oh, fudge, really,’ and when you dropped a bag of dog food earlier I’m pretty sure you said ‘fudge it.’ So . . . fudge?”
“Oh, yeah, well. That’s a holdover from my mother. A lady never swears, you know. It’s simply not done,” I answered, making my voice go higher and poshier.
“Ah, so fudge means . . .” He trailed off.
“Yeah, fudge means . . .” I echoed.
“What does it take for you to say the real word?” he asked, his blue eyes teasing.
“I have to be pretty worked up,” I admitted, becoming aware of every single point of contact between us, everywhere the right side of my body was connected with his left side. Thigh, yes. Hip? Uh-huh. Elbow? Hell, yes. “So, I look like your ex, huh?”
I’d just thrown a virtual bucket of water on us both. Whew.
“Oh—yeah, a bit. Same long blond hair, same green eyes, but you’re a bit taller and slimmer than her.”
“Hmm. I’m surprised that Marge has been playing matchmaker, then.”
“I know, could she be more obvious? Every morning when I get to work, she greets me with an update on how things are going up here, how pretty you are, and how she wonders why no one has taken you out and shown you the town. I usually get another update at lunchtime.”
“Oh my God, I’m so embarrassed,” I moaned, lying back into the truck bed. His face appeared over mine.
“Don’t be embarrassed; she does it with everyone. I’ve just never been in her sights before.”
“If she knew that I’d just bro—that my fiancé and I had just broken up, she wouldn’t be so quick to play matchmaker,” I said, digging my hands into my hair. “Setting up two people who’d be sooooo on the rebound is not good.”
“Yes, rebounding off each other sounds like a terrible idea.” He chuckled quietly, and I peered up into his face through my fingers.
a terrible idea. Which is why you and I, Mr. Blue Eyes, are not going to let Marge be in charge.” I scrambled to sit up, pushing my paint-encrusted hair out of my face. “This would be a mistake of epic proportions. Especially if you started dating some new chick who looks just like the girl who just . . .”
“Fudged me over?”
“Yes. Can you imagine? Everyone would be talking.”
“But I bet you’re nothing like her. Unless you’re a pageant girl too. That
be just too weird.” He laughed.
Instant quiet. I looked up at him with wide eyes and a guilty expression.
He wrinkled his forehead.
I lifted my arm in answer. Elbow elbow wrist wrist.
“What? No . . .” he breathed, looking horrified.
I patted him on the cheek. “You sweet, sweet boy.”
After a moment he fell back into the truck bed, groaning. Which quickly became laughter. Which I joined in, two new, not-rebounding friends laughing like fools under the new moon.
“Chloe! Great to hear from you—I’ve been wondering how you’ve been doing!” Clark said.
“So far, so good. Sorry I didn’t get to see you longer when you were down here for the wedding.”
“No problem, you had a lot on your mind. How are things down in San Diego?”
“I assume okay, but I’m in Monterey now. I’m moving here, actually.”
“Holy mackerel.” I could hear him processing. After a few seconds, “Okay, tell me how
My cousin and I were only a few months apart, and were thick as thieves when we were kids. I used to spend summers up in Mendocino with his family when I was little, before the call of the pageant got to my mother and we started spending our summers driving around California, entering me into Little Miss Anything & Everything with a Crown. As we grew older we grew apart a bit, but a family reunion our senior year in high school brought us back together, and we’d become close again.
Both being an only child, we’d missed out on that sibling bond, and over the years we’d become honorary sibs to each other.
When I’d visited Clark a few weeks before the wedding, I’d given voice to some of the cold feet I was having, which I’d written off as just a case of the jitters. He listened; he’d always been a good listener. And while at the time I felt that getting married was still the right thing to do, he was one of the few who would understand why I couldn’t go through with it.
I’d also met his Vivian on that trip, or Viv as she preferred to be called. She was a piece of work—a little rough around the edges, but she seemed a perfect match for the steadfast and somewhat buttoned-up Clark. The night after I’d left Mendocino was apparently the night things changed for them; ever since then, it’d been a whirlwind romance. According to Clark, she was the cat’s meow. And they were already living together. I remember when he called to tell me.
“Wait, hold up. You’re moving in?” I asked, incredulous. “It’s only been . . .” Fudge, I sucked at math. “It hasn’t been very long.”
“True, but it’s kind of perfect, actually.”
“If you’re sure you know what you’re doing,” I cautioned, not wanting him to get his heart broken. My cousin was sweet, kind, and hopelessly old-fashioned when it came to love. Apart from the “living in sin” bit.
“Chlo, have you ever known me to do anything impulsive?”
“And that’s exactly why I’m doing this—so just be happy for me.” He laughed, and I was taken with the excitement in his voice. He did seem really happy.
Now he told me, “And we’re learning to can vegetables! Vivian’s been trying to figure out how to replicate her Aunt Maude’s recipes, especially her famous homemade pickles. Our kitchen
is full of cucumbers and glass jars, and I’m pretty sure we both smell like vinegar.”
“Whatever makes her happy, right?” I laughed, knowing my cousin. He was the type of guy who’d do anything for the woman he loved. Including smelling like salad dressing.
“But enough about us; tell me what’s going on with Monterey. I’m happy to have you in my half of the state.”
“I know! You guys will have to come down for a visit and see me. Remember that place in Long Beach I told you about, Our Gang?”
I filled him in on everything I’d been up to, and as I told my story, I realized that I’d really done a lot in such a short time. He was interested in the shelter, and was impressed with how much work we’d completed already. He shared my father’s concern about aggressive dogs, but overall he was happy for what I had going on.
“You know, Viv has been talking about wanting to get a dog . . .” he mused.
“As soon as we’ve got some ready to be adopted, I’ll let you know.” I was excited to think of this becoming something real. Something that was mine, that I’d worked hard for.
I’d never really given much thought to what I wanted to be when I grew up. Strange, yes, but everything seemed so predetermined. There’s nothing wrong with being a wife and a mother, when you choose it. Only a few girls I went to school with truly
for that. They couldn’t wait to have babies and build homes and start a life with their own family unit. Their paths were clear, and they were honest with themselves.
But most of the girls I went to school with? I always got the sense that they were rushing toward that life because they thought the good life was something that was just handed to
them. And believe me, if you were young and beautiful, there were scores of men who were interested in arm candy. And sometimes arm candy turned into wife candy. That was the endgame—that was the pinnacle. Marriage was just a means to an end.
I’d hoped to marry a man I loved. And now, listening to Clark talk about Viv, I thanked my lucky stars once again that I’d panicked and fled the morning of my wedding. One day I might crave pickles, and I’d love to think I’d be craving pickles with a man who also wanted to learn how to make pickles. Charles would have just bought pickles. Nothing wrong with that. But I wanted something a little more homegrown.
As Clark the Pickler and I ended the call, I agreed to keep in touch about a dog that might be right for them, and he agreed to keep me up to date on their ongoing adventures. I sat back in my chair in the breakfast nook, coffee cup in hand, and thought about what I wanted to eat for breakfast. I’d been buying donuts too often lately, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed that my pants were feeling a little more snug than they used to.
I headed over to the fridge and began poking around, deciding to make an omelet. I was just starting to chop up some onions when I heard a car in the driveway. I’d gotten used to workmen coming at all hours of the morning, but on a Sunday? I looked down at my nightgown, and hastily tied my robe around me. Which I was glad to be wearing, when I saw the truck coming around the corner with the Campbell Veterinary Hospital decal. And before I knew it, I saw Lucas climbing out of the front seat dressed in old jeans and a paint-splattered T-shirt, carrying a bucket of painting supplies.
I waved at him through the kitchen window, and he approached.
“What’s going on?” I called through the window screen.
He held up his bucket. “You told me you needed help painting, so here I am.”
“But I haven’t even had breakfast yet!”
“Great!” He set the bucket down in the yard and grinned. “I’m starving!”
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” I mumbled under my breath, and pointed him toward the front door. As I walked, I saw him following me around the side of the house, each huge window providing me with another glimpse of this dangerously charming guy. I tightened the ties on my robe, and opened the door.
“Good morning, Rebound,” he grinned, stepping up onto the porch. “Nice,” he complimented, his eyes raking over my nightgown and robe.
My hand gripped the knob.
knob. “Well, I was hardly expecting company this morning,” I answered. “And don’t call me that. No one is rebounding anything.”
“Hmm,” was his reply, then he looked past me into the house. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“You’re used to getting your way, aren’t you?”
“Pretty much,” he replied, letting loose the grin.
I smiled back in spite of myself and waved him in. “Come on, then; hope you like omelets.”
“I love them.” He followed me into the house. “Whoa, time warp,” he exclaimed, taking in the retro styling.
“Oh, yeah, wait till you see the kitchen. It’s where orange Formica went to die.” I laughed, pointing out some of the more kitschy features. “I still can’t believe you came to paint.”
“We made a deal last night, and I intend to honor my commitments,” he replied, leaning in a bit closer. “Unlike my ex.”
“Ouch. I winced, a tiny ball of awful bubbling up unexpectedly.
“I shouldn’t say that. It makes me seem pathetic, doesn’t it?”
“Pathetic, no, not at all,” I said, tightening my ties a little more. “But maybe it was the best thing? I mean, obviously it was hell, but wasn’t it better to find out before rather than after?” I asked, and not just to Lucas. Justifying to the universe a little?
“Pretty and practical,” he mused, smiling down at me. “You’re lethal, you know that?”
My breath caught as I looked up at him through my lashes, peeking at the cute in front of me.
“You’re blushing,” he murmured, and I turned toward the kitchen, knowing he’d follow.
“Let me blush while I make breakfast,” I said, keeping my tone light.
“Challenge accepted,” he said, stepping into the kitchen behind me.
“No challenge was offered. You can’t accept something that wasn’t offered,” I said, taking a position on one side of the enormous kitchen island. I leaned forward a little, my robe falling open just slightly.
“Lethal,” he whispered, leaning against the island on the other side, eyes a bit dazed.
“I’m going back to my onions now, okay?”
“Do it,” he breathed, and a maniacal giggle escaped my lips.
Shaking my head, I turned to the stove. “Can you grab the butter from the fridge? Top shelf, on the right.”
“Got it. Need anything else in here?”
“The cheddar cheese, actually, bottom drawer.”
“Cheese doesn’t go in the bottom drawer.”
“Sure it does.”
“No, it doesn’t. Vegetables go in the bottom drawer. Cheese goes in this small drawer here, marked Dairy,” he insisted, pointing it out to me. “But you’ve got—good lord, are you hoarding pudding?”
“You. Get. Outta there.” I laughed, tugging at his arm and moving him away from my stash.
“Seriously, I’m pretty sure that’s all the chocolate pudding in town. You some kind of doomsdayer?”
“What?” I asked, grabbing the cheddar cheese and shooing him away from the fridge.
“You know, like those guys who hide out in bunkers and squirrel away canned food and guns in case of a zombie apocalypse. Except you’re going to fight the zombies with pudding,” he explained as I marched him to the table in the breakfast nook and sat him firmly in a chair.
“Yes, that’s exactly my plan. However did you guess?” I replied deadpan, batting my eyelashes at him. “You want bacon in your omelet?”
“Of course,” he answered, and I started whisking eggs and crumbling up bacon I had left over from yesterday. I began sautéing the onions in a bit of butter, then turned to ask him why he had nothing better to do on a beautiful Sunday morning than paint my barn, when I noticed he’d disappeared.
“Lucas?” I asked, and he popped his head out from the pantry.
“Holy hell, there’s another case of pudding in here! And seven, no, eight boxes of chocolate Pop-Tarts!”
“Okay, that’s it. Get out of my pantry; you’re a pest!” I shouted, marching him once more to the table. “Don’t make fun of my consolation chocolate.”
“Your what?” he asked, confusion all over his gorgeous face. Oh, man, I was in trouble.
“My consolation chocolate. I went through a breakup. I’m entitled. Besides, you should have seen the diet my mother had me on to fit into my wedding dress. Ugh.” I cracked eggs angrily into a bowl and whisked with a vengeance. “I am