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Every woman alive is given one man who is guarantee to turn her life into a monument of suck. My one man is Nick O’Shea. Every time he shows up my life gets shaken upside down and spanked.
“Untie me now, Sparky, or so help me God,” Nick says.
I smile and ignore his god-awful nickname for me. This is the absolute best day of my life. I stand over him and soak in the feeling that all wrongs in the world are about to be righted.
“Why?” I ask.
“Un. Tie. Me.” He strains against the zip ties on his wrists.
I’m not going to lie, I get a flash of pleasure deep inside at his struggle.
“Did you want some birthday cake? It’s chocolate, your favorite.” I wave a pink paper plate with a big slab of cake under his nose. Nick growls at me. Growls. My body reacts just like it did when I was fifteen and hopped up on hormones. Unconsciously I lean toward him. Enough of that. I pick up the plastic fork and shove a piece of cake in my mouth. The fudgy frosting’s thick, rich and, let’s be honest, delicious. “Mmmm. Good.”
“Sparky…” he says. His voice is low and full of warning.
“No. Nope. Not gonna,” I say.
He looks different than he did in high school. Ten years in the military made him harder. At eighteen, his jaw was softer, his cheeks fuller…his eyes had more warmth. Now, not so much. There’s a half-inch-long scar over his right eyebrow that wasn’t there before. His cheeks are sharper. His hair’s darker and he has stubble on his jaw. I’ve never seen him with a five o’clock shadow. I think about what it would feel like if I ran my fingers over it. I glance into his eyes. They’re blacker than I remember. He’s looking at me like he wants to throttle me. Oh well. I move my gaze to his shoulders. They’re thick and muscular and he’s wearing a white T-shirt that stretches over him.
Unfortunately, karma didn’t catch up to Nick and make his outside match the cynical jerk within. Nope. If I were to draw what he really looks like there’d be horns, a forked tongue, and a tail. I take another bite of cake. He watches and his furious eyes linger on my lips then move down my throat. I can feel the heat of his gaze like he’s stroking my neck. Then, his gaze slowly moves over my chest and down my body. I’m in a floral wrap dress with a low neckline. His eyes linger on my breasts, which are smashed up by my push-up bra and prominently displayed. I have the urge to cover them. Instead, I hold my ground.
“Finished?” I ask.
“Untie me,” he says.
I sigh. “Or, how about…gee, Chloe, happy birthday? It’s been such a long time. So great to see you,” I say.
He scowls. Okay, I admit that was a stretch. I don’t think Nick has ever said that it’s great to see me…except, well, once. He turns away and looks over the community room. It’s like a birthday fairy exploded and shot out hundreds of pastel balloons, streamers and confetti.
He turns back to me. “Birthdays are a scam,” he says. “Just another day for people to fail at meeting unrealistic expectations so they can continue to disappoint each other. Likewise, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Come on, Sparky.” He strains at the restraints.
I shake my head. “Hate to disappoint,” I say.
“No. Not at all.”
Nick sits in an antique wooden chair. His wrists are zip tied to the armrests and his ankles are tied to the spindle legs. What I can’t figure out is how he got himself into this situation. The chair’s in the middle of a pile of birthday gifts and he has a big red satin bow on his chest. Like he’s a gift. For me. There’s even a gift tag. Although, I’ve not worked up the courage to get close enough to read it.
I’m not sure why anyone would think that I’d want Nick O’Shea for my birthday. Even if I do live in Romeo, New York: Official Love Town, USA. People do crazy things here for romance, and usually I’m first in line for the show. Annual Romeo Soul Mate Festival, count me in. Valentine’s Day parade, I’m on a float throwing candy hearts. Cookie bake-off for Sweetest Day, yes sir-ee. I’m a diehard romantic. But this…I don’t get it.
I’ve only seen Nick once in the past ten years, and let me tell you, the last time I saw him wasn’t a happy occasion. I would’ve been okay going another decade without his presence. I lick the fudge on my fork. It’s really good. Aunt Erma outdid herself this time. The band on the stage starts to play. My birthday party’s picking up. There must be at least seventy or eighty people here. Add the decorations, and a long table full of party food, and it’s a hit.
“Happy birthday to our birthday girl, Chloe,” the lead singer of the band Rock On Romeo says over the mic. There’s clapping and long whistles. I wave and smile. Now, before you start to think I have loads of friends, let me disillusion you. My party is at my Aunt Erma’s retirement home and we invited all the residents in addition to my family and friends. So. Anyway, we’re in the community room at Water’s Edge Retirement Center. There are eight big circular tables with chairs, a stage for the band, a parquet dance floor, decorations, and lots of food and cake. I love birthdays, they’re my favorite holiday. Anybody’s birthday, not just my own. I love to celebrate and I love to show people how much I care by showering them with cards and presents. Nick’s a cynic, but I’m not going to let his negativity ruin my day.
I turn to him. “Don’t know why you’re here, sitting in my present pile,” I say, “but I’m not unwrapping until after I blow out my candles.”
“Is this payback?” he asks.
I hold back a flinch. There’s a look in his eyes. In anyone else I’d say it’s vulnerability, but Nick doesn’t do vulnerable. Or regret. “For what?” I ask. “What could I possibly have to pay you back for? The pigtails? The barbies? The flagpole?” I pause. “My wedding?”
“What? Tongue-tied?” I ask.
He shakes his head and gold flickers in his black eyes. “You’re crazy,” he says.
“Hey, I’m not the one who tied you up. Besides, it’s my birthday. I’m allowed to be crazy.” I give him a long, slow smile. The music from the band and all the conversations are so loud I have to lean closer to hear his response.
“No, Sparky. You’re crazy every day.” His eyes crinkle at the edges. This close I can see the little lines at their corners and the gold and amber flecks in his irises. I think he’s joking. There’s an almost smile on his lips. But then, it’s gone, and I’m not sure anymore. I knock away any softening I feel toward him. This is Nick I’m dealing with, not some sweet innocent puppy.
“Still not letting you go. You look good tied up, it’s always been a fantasy of mine.”
He narrows his eyes. “Really?”
“Absolutely. The Great Nick O’Shea…completely at my mercy.”
His fingers clench the armrest and he swallows. There’s a crackling tension in the air around him. Then, “When Hell freezes over.”
I lean forward, our noses almost touching, and I mock shiver. “Is it cold in here?”
He glares, then his eyes drift down to my lips. His eyelashes dip and suddenly he looks like he wants to lick my mouth. I step back. Then I carefully set my cake down on the table next to him.
“In case you’re hungry,” I say. “Some devil’s food cake for your stay in Hell.” Too bad he’s tied up and can’t enjoy it. “Eat your heart out,” I say.
Then, I walk away, swaying my hips to the music, enjoying the burn of his eyes on my back.
My latest laugh out loud romantic comedy book Chasing Romeo will be released May 25, 2021.
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