JUST LIKE THAT
“I bet I can untangle you.”
At an airport baggage claim, Penny Darling looks up from her knotted mess of ear buds to find the sexiest hunk of man she’s ever seen. He’s got a military haircut, a scar through his eyebrow, and he’s rocking a pastel pink dress shirt like only a real man can. But Penny is on a man-free diet so she leaves the airport without succumbing to his delicious double-entendres…or his dreamy dimples.
PI Russ Macklin can’t take his eyes off Penny. As she sashays out of the airport with hips swaying and curls bouncing, he suspects they may share more than just sweltering chemistry. That suitcase she’s rolling along behind her? It looks a lot like his.
Because it is.
When he tracks her down, he holds her bag hostage in exchange for a date. Their night begins with margaritas and ends in urgent care, and Russ proves that Cosmo’s theory about a very particular type of orgasm was oh-so-wrong.
In Penny, Russ finds a small-town sweetheart with a very naughty side. For the first time ever, he’s thinking about picket fences. Penny finds in Russ a loving, caring man who understands the power of massaging showerheads.
But Russ is only in Port Flamingo for a week. They agree it’ll be a fling and nothing more. Because really, they can’t fall ass-over-teakettle in love just like that…
99k words. HEA. Dual POV. No cheating.
Featuring a big drooly dog named Guppy.
In my shopping cart, I’ve got assorted gifts: a box of wine, like I saw in her fridge; every kind of salt-and-vinegar potato chips they sell; a box of Dots; some Kama Sutra warming massage oil because I couldn’t fucking resist.
And that just leaves one more thing.
I put my basket down by a display of cupcakes and clear my throat. “I need to get something written on a cake.”
The baker turns around. She pulls her hairnet off her head and says, “I’m leaving for the night, sir. I can take your order, but it’ll have to be for tomorrow.”
This part can’t wait. Penny needs to know I’m not sleeping on this. She needs to know I listened to every single thing she said—every last detail, every last word.
I lean forward, putting my hands on the curved glass case. I glance at the baker’s nametag and then look her in the tired, baggy eyes. “Jacquie. It’s urgent. I fucked up, and I need to apologize.”
“The bait shop has some nice carnations. Usually.”
“Already tried that. Didn’t take.”
She gives me a stern stare, like if the blue carnations didn’t do it, I must really be in the shit.
She inhales long and hard, pursing her lips tight. “I’ve got my bowling group in twenty minutes.” She points backward toward the freezers, and I see a turquoise bowling shirt hanging on the back of a door. “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have time.” She starts undoing her apron, which is a smudgy, colorful explosion of frostings. “Like I said, come back tomorrow. I’ll be glad to do whatever you’d like then.”
I pull out my wallet and open the billfold. “I’ll pay your overtime. I’ll pay your lane fees. I’ll buy you a new goddamned pair of bowling shoes. Whatever you want.” I put a fifty on the counter, next to the crumbly remains of some free cookies. “I just need a cake, tonight, with a message written on it.”
She looks at the money and then back at me.
“Jacquie. We’re talking about…” What the hell are we talking about? Chemistry? Sparks? That feeling in my gut that I’ve never felt before? Happiness? No, it’s more than that, and there’s only one word for it. “Love, Jacquie. We’re talking about love.”
Holy fuck. As soon as I say it, I know it’s true. Just a few days with Penny and I’m saying the word I’ve never said before—the one I never thought I’d ever say at all.
She lowers her nose, crumpling her chin into her throat. “Love?”
“Love. Like love-at-first-sight, different-planet, just-like-that love.”
She sighs hard, considering the cash. And then finally she untangles her hairnet from her palm, slipping it over her crunchy curls. “Five minutes. Pick out your cake. I’ve only got time for writing, though. No extra flowers. No balloons. No decoration. No sprinkles. We’re clear?”
“Jacquie, you’re a life saver,” I say, and pull a small round cake, decorated with pink roses, from the display shelf below. I slide it across the bakery case as she reties her apron. Then she takes a pad of paper and hands me a pen.
“Print what you want. Nice and clear. No cursive. I’m not letting one of my cakes become a hashtag bakery fail, all right?” She puts on a pair of plastic food service gloves and pops the lid off the cake. She sets it on a pedestal to the left of the register.
I pick up the pen and look at the blank pad, thinking about what I want to say and how.
It isn’t Shakespeare. It’s the truth. Six words does the job. When I’m finished, I put the pad on the other side of the case. “There.”
Her gloves crinkle as she reads it, and then she recoils a little. She gives me a shame on you shake of her head. “Sir, this is a family establishment. I can’t write that on a cake.”
I pull another fifty out of my wallet. “How about now?”
Meet Nicola Rendell