Read Tangled Thing Called Love Online

Authors: Juliet Rosetti

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

Tangled Thing Called Love (4 page)

BOOK: Tangled Thing Called Love
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Scully flapped a hand toward his workshop, which had once been the farm’s woodshed. “This I got to see.”

them?” Mazie asked her brother.

“That spud gun will be perfectly safe under adult supervision.”

“Right. Except I don’t see any adults here.”

“Could I have that hair spray a second?” Scully asked Mazie.

The men and boys spent the rest of the evening tinkering with the gun. Apparently the highly flammable hair spray created the explosion that propelled the potato out of the tube. Before long they got the thing working, and now—thank you
much, Ben Labeck—it was twice as loud, making a thudding
whenever a potato shot out. When it finally got too dark to follow the potato’s trajectory, they all trooped back inside.

“Did you boys have fun?” Mazie asked Ben, not bothering to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. She and Gran had been inside, safe from mosquitoes and exploding spuds, watching old episodes of
and drinking gin and tonics.

“Yeah,” he said, grinning. “It was fun.”

Then it was bedtime. The twins galloped upstairs to show Ben his room, a spare bedroom carved out of what had once been attic space. It had sloping eaves—a hazard for a man who was over six feet tall—but skylights gave the room an illusion of lightness and airiness. It was furnished with a dresser, a pine wardrobe, and a large, comfortable bed. Since the attic was the hottest part of the house, it had its own separate air conditioner.

Gran went off to her own suite. When Mazie’s grandfather had died, Katie had had an apartment with its own kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom built onto the west side of the farmhouse for herself. Mazie’s parents, Mike and Edith, had taken over the main part of the house, which was where Mazie and her brothers had been raised. When her parents had
moved to Florida, newlyweds Scully and Emily had moved in, taking the master bedroom for themselves. When the twins were born they’d been given the room once occupied by Mazie’s brothers.

Yawning, Mazie dragged herself up to her bedroom, overwhelmed by the long day, the shock of finding Ben on her doorstep, and two gin and tonics, certain she’d be asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Chapter Six

But Mazie didn’t sleep. She tossed and turned for what seemed like hours. Ordinarily the sound of Muffin’s breathing calmed her down, but the little traitor had abandoned her for the more exciting environment of the twins’ room. She could pull a book off her shelf—maybe one from the
Trixie Belden
series she’d loved as a preteen—but that seemed like too much effort. She lay there, staring up at the Greenland water stain on the ceiling, listening to the sound of the crickets and spring peepers through her open windows. A warm, fragrant breeze fluttered the curtains.

Her door opened and someone slipped into her room. It was Ben Labeck, outlined briefly in the glow of the hall night-light. Mazie bolted upright, watching in disbelief as he tiptoed across the room.

“How did you know which room was mine?” she hissed.

“I didn’t. I accidentally walked into your brother’s room.”


“He just muttered ‘Two doors down’ and went back to sleep. So much for his sister’s virtue, huh?” He crouched down alongside her bed. “Permission to climb aboard?”

“Forget it.” This man was not getting her permission to climb aboard
. “What’s that thing you’re wearing?” It looked like the full-length ruffled bathrobe Gran left in the guest room for female guests, now stretched ludicrously across Ben’s wide shoulders, its hem dangling just below his knees.

“I only had boxers to wear. I didn’t want to walk around the house looking silly.”

“That’s good, because you don’t look silly now.”


“No, you only look ridiculous. You look like the Big Bad Wolf dressed up in Little Red Riding Hood’s granny’s clothes.”

the Big Bad Wolf, Mazie realized as his teeth gleamed in a smile, and if she wasn’t careful, he was going to eat her up. And he was way too close, so close she could smell his breath. Minty fresh. It smelled like the brand she used.
like her brand.
“You didn’t use my toothbrush, did you?” she asked suspiciously.

“The pink one? Yeah, I did. The airline lost my luggage. But don’t worry—I’m not afraid of your germs.”

Damn it! He was making her laugh and she didn’t want to laugh. He wasn’t going to charm his way back into her heart through her funny bone.

“I like your room,” Ben whispered. “This is where you slept when you were a girl?” He moved even closer. He must have showered; she could smell the soap he’d used. He was bare-chested beneath the robe, and she could glimpse the smiley-face boxers she’d given him for Valentine’s Day.

“You need to leave. Gran doesn’t allow unmarried couples to share beds. Besides, the boys’ bedroom is next door. And Sam sleepwalks.”

“I’m not leaving until you talk to me. Whoa—I can’t believe I just said that. It’s the woman’s job to say ‘We need to talk.’ If my buds ever find out they won’t let me watch football with them anymore.”

“Gee—it must be so hard to be a guy. Kind of like being a gorilla, only less humanlike.”

“Can I sit on your bed? It’s cold on the floor and my knees hurt. I’ve got sensitive knees, you know.”

Mazie bit on her comforter to stifle a giggle. She absolutely was not going to laugh.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake—you’re such a sissy.”

Taking this as an invitation, Ben hopped up. He did not sit on her bed—he scooched out a space for himself beneath the sheets, forcing Mazie to move over so her body would have zero contact with his body. He leaned back against the headboard, clasping his hands behind his head. “Much better.”

“You’re taking up three quarters of the bed,” Mazie grumbled.

“Okay—straight to the point. What happened, Mazie? All of a sudden you just stopped responding to my e-mails and wouldn’t take my calls.”

What, exactly,

Six weeks ago Bonaparte Labeck had been offered a job as a camera technician with a Los Angeles television station at a salary twice what he was earning in Milwaukee.

“The guys at the L.A. station want me to go out and talk to them,” he’d told Mazie.

“You should go,” Mazie said. “Opportunities like this don’t come every day.” Ben Labeck was a first-rate talent stuck at a third-rate TV station. She’d been happy for him. At least she’d pretended to be, because this was something he really deserved and she was determined not to rain on his parade.

“I’ll listen to their offer and be back in two days,” Ben had promised the day he’d flown off to California. “We’ll talk about it when I get back.”

He’d phoned Mazie that night, midnight her time, ten o’clock on the coast. “Pack your bags and come out,” he said, sounding happy. “They want me to start tomorrow.”

“I can’t get away just like that.” She forced a laugh she didn’t feel. “I have a job, remember? And a dog?”

“Well, quit your job. And bring Muffin with you. You can come as soon as I’ve found an apartment out here.”

Ben had called twice a day at first. They’d talked and texted and emailed. Then as Ben became busier, his calls came once a day, and then every other day. The emails dwindled. He was caught up in his new job, in meeting new people, Mazie figured. Meeting new
people, she was sure, all of them sophisticated and sexy. Probably going to parties every night. Probably going to other women’s beds every night.

“I imagined you meeting all these beautiful starlets,” Mazie began, “and I was just this dull person back home, this obligation, like the people you send Christmas cards to even though you can’t remember who they are.”

Ben laughed. “Starlets—ha. I was working sixteen hours a day, trying to keep my head above water. The technology on the coast is miles ahead of what I was used to. Everything was computers. I had to learn a whole new program; the manual was four hundred pages long. I honestly didn’t know if I could keep up.”

Feeling her reserve about to crack, Mazie folded her arms across her chest. “They couldn’t have had you working sixteen hours a day, every single day. What about weekends? And who was that woman who answered your phone?”

The woman with the bubbly voice who’d answered Ben’s phone six days after he’d left. The date was engraved on her heart.

“Oh—the Benster? I’ll have him phone you back when he gets the chance,” the woman—girl?—told Mazie, obviously trying to suppress a giggle and giving Mazie a
vision of having interrupted her and Ben in the middle of a passionate encounter. Mazie’s overactive imagination had supplied the details: Champagne. A hot tub on a condo patio with an ocean view. A nineteen-year-old blonde with size-40 breast implants. And a twin sister.

Now, in her bedroom, Ben’s silence spoke for itself. “I knew it!” Mazie cried, wrenching the blanket up to her neck.

“Okay.” Ben heaved a sigh. “I went out with a couple of women. Nothing serious. It was casual, okay?”

Casual. Went out with
. The words cut to Mazie’s heart, and the only way she could cope with the fact that he’d rejected her was to act as though she didn’t care. “A couple of women,” she repeated, staring up at Greenland. “Well, that’s your business, I guess. You don’t owe me any explanations. It’s not as though you and I made any promises.”

Not that promises were any guarantee, Mazie thought. Kip Vonnerjohn, the man she’d fallen in love with at a dewy-eyed twenty-three, had made all kinds of promises. She’d believed the promises. She hadn’t known that promises were something Kip could shrug off as easily as he could peel off his shorts. He’d cheated on her while they were engaged, he’d broken his marriage vows while they were still on their honeymoon, and he’d boinked everything in skirts during their unhappy two-year marriage.

When Kip had been murdered, with all the evidence pointing to Mazie as his killer, she’d been arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. She’d spent nearly four years behind bars, and then one day a tornado had tossed her over the fence and she’d gone on the lam.

Running for her life, she’d been live-trapped by Ben Labeck, literally taken captive in his camera van. She’d discovered that Ben had followed her trial and had never been convinced of her guilt. He’d helped her track down the man who had committed the murder, risking his own freedom to do it. What woman could have resisted a tough, brave, totally hot guy playing Sir Lancelot to her Guinevere, clearing her name and freeing her from the dungeon? Not Mazie Maguire. She’d fallen head over heels for Ben Labeck.

She’d moved in with him when she’d been released from prison. Living together hadn’t worked out very well, though. What she’d needed at the time, Mazie had discovered, was independence. Her own space, time to rediscover who she was. She’d
rented a small apartment a few blocks from Ben, and they’d continued seeing each other. Seeing each other exclusively, as far as she knew; it was an unspoken agreement between them.

Mazie had once blurted out that she loved him, but Ben hadn’t said it back.

That was okay, she’d thought. You couldn’t force someone to love you. But because she loved Ben, she’d wanted him to be happy. If that meant his leaving her, going on to bigger and better things—then that was a sacrifice she had to make for him.

The sacrifice had nearly killed her. The thought of Ben in another woman’s arms had made her feel so wretched she could barely force herself to get up in the morning. If it hadn’t been for having to take care of Muffin, she might not even have bothered.

“I stopped answering your messages because I was dumping you. To save you the trouble of dumping me,” Mazie said airily, hoping her voice didn’t betray the agony she’d endured. She’d lost everything else, and all she had left was her pride.

“Mazie,” Ben said, moving closer. His thigh touched hers, sending an erotic shock all through her body. She willed herself to move away, but her treacherous body turned toward him instead. His hands slid up and down her arms, rough and calloused on her skin. He pulled her up against him so that the side of her face scraped his chin. The airline must have lost his razor too, because his jaw was bristly. “I liked L.A. The guys I worked with were fine. The money was great. And the weather. And the golf.”

“Right. And the women.”

“The women? Okay, California produces beautiful women the way Iowa produces corn. The only problem was that none of those women was—”

Mazie’s door was suddenly flung open. A small figure stood there, staring at them.

“Sam?” Mazie whispered.

Yeah, it was Sam, the red-haired twin, Ben saw in the dim hall night-light. His eyes were wide open but glazed. “Where are the cookies?” he asked. Then he walked across the room, climbed into bed on Mazie’s side, crawled under the covers, and fell asleep.

“I think you may have to change your sheets,” Ben said, then added, “I was afraid it was your granny with a gelding knife.”

“She doesn’t use knives anymore. Too old-fashioned. She just puts estrogen pills in guys’ coffee.”

Ben hoped she was joking, then decided she had to be, because if he’d been doped he wouldn’t have had a raging hard-on.

“Could you take him back to his room?” Mazie asked sweetly.

Ben got out of bed, wincing as his bare feet hit the cold wood floor. He didn’t want to leave Mazie’s warm bed and warmer body, but he didn’t know how much longer he could restrain himself. It was torture, having her only a fraction of an inch away, smelling her hair, seeing her breasts through her thin nightie, yet being afraid to make the wrong move. If this had been one of their usual quarrels, he would have used a hands-on strategy to coax her out of it, but he sensed that hands-on might be a game spoiler at this stage of wooing her back. He didn’t want Mazie to think he was just after sex. Well, that too, but he wanted the air cleared first.

Ben was not feeling that kindly toward Sam right at the moment, because the kid had just wrecked his plans. His conversation with Mazie would have gone like:

BOOK: Tangled Thing Called Love
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