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Cocky (Spartan Riders Book 5) by J.C. Valentine (7)













Cricket wasn’t one for the lovey-dovey shit, but he was inclined to have a woman at his side. Life could get lonely at times, especially when you were a single, not-totally-unfortunate-looking man who had everything going for him and was in the middle of the supermarket trying to figure out which tube of toothpaste out of hundreds was the right one for you.

Holy shit, why did it have to be so complicated? As more and more customers came and went while he continued to stand there reading labels as if he were illiterate or just that damn picky, he started to sweat from the social pressure.

Shit or get off the pot, as his father used to say.

See, this was what happened when you delegated certain responsibilities to outside parties. The ball got dropped, and often. Red used to be so good at keeping everything stocked for the brothers, but since Repo knocked her up, she had a serious case of mush for brains, and they were all suffering for it.

Thanks a lot, bro.

He couldn’t wait till she popped that kid out and everything went back to normal.

Narrowing his options down to four brands and five subcategories ranging in whiteness and sensitivity, Cricket extended and retracted his hand at least a dozen times before going for the minty-fresh, sensitive, extra-whitening, enamel hardening, tartar and plaque fighting one with the dentist recommended seal of approval.

Long, delicate, tan fingers with short, round, dark-purple nails connected with his as they both reached for the same rectangular box.

A startled “Oh!” and a rushed apology followed as Cricket stood tall and faced the potential toothpaste thief.

“It’s…uh…no problem,” he said slowly, his eyes soaking up the stunning creature before him like a sponge. She was average height, but there was nothing average about her. A Mayan goddess with lightly bronzed skin the color of his morning coffee after adding just the right amount of creamer dressed in a crisp white sundress that showed off every inch of her slender arms and legs. Hells bells, even her little toes were cute in their white flip-flops with their matching purple toenails and a delicate gold ring banding around the second one.

He wasn’t a toe man, per se, but he’d gladly suck each and every one of them right up.

“You go ahead,” she offered, motioning to the shelf.

Cricket shook his head as he retrieved the toothpaste and shoved it at her. “No, it’s okay. You take it. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted anyway. I’m sort of…lost.”

Puzzled, she said, “Don’t tell me you’re one of those guys whose mom still does all their shopping for them.”

Suddenly nervous, he scrubbed his hand through his hair. “Heh, well, you wouldn’t be entirely off the mark there.”

She tilted her head, a knowing smile bringing his attention to those perfectly pouty, full lips. “You see, I can always peg ‘em. My dad always said I was a good judge of character.”

Cricket thought of all the bad things he’d done in his thirty years and said, “If that’s true, then you’re about two seconds from running screaming from this aisle.”

“Why’s that?”

Self-deprecation and the dark cloud that seemed to follow him everywhere weighed down his words. “Because I’m not one of the good guys.”

She stared at him with those big, brown eyes long enough to make his cooling skin feel clammy. “Everyone has a past, maybe one they’re not so proud of, but I don’t see malice in you.”

Cricket tried to keep the surprise and sarcasm out of his voice. “Yeah, what do you see, sweetheart?”

That smile growing even wider and more brilliant, she began backing away. “Someone who should ask me to dinner later, if he’s free, so we can exchange stories.”

Cricket’s eyebrows popped, and his feet carried him involuntarily her way. Not about to let a woman like her get away, he said, “Dinner. Eight. Tomorrow night. Give me your address, and I’ll pick you up.”

She shook her head. “Give me a location, and I’ll meet you there.”

He laughed. She’d just proved she had a brain, which was highly attractive in his book. “You know the little taqueria on Main Street?”

“No, but I’ll find it.” Giving the toothpaste box a shake, she said, “Thanks for this.”

Cricket tipped his head and watched her spin on her heels and disappear around the corner. Damn, he couldn’t stop smiling. It seemed the universe had been listening earlier, and with any luck, he wouldn’t be spending any more nights alone.