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Fool Me Once by Brittany Crowley (1)

Chapter 1

 

 

 

Wait just a second.

Did I hear that right?

Before I can question what the waiter just said to me, he’s heading away from the table to get me a drink.

A drink I didn’t order because he declared a hooker like me needs a Mai Tai.

It’s been a long day, and I must have heard him wrong. I was staring at him a little too much because, well, the man’s gorgeous. I’d definitely say he’s been awarded a smile that could stop traffic and eyes that are so green I want to fake being Irish to have claim over them. He has to be new, I come here all the time, and I’ve never seen him before.

I had to have heard him wrong.

My phone goes off, and when I look down, my screen lights up saying I have a new text from my mom. I grab it, unlock the screen with a swipe of my finger and then… it’s ripped from my hands.

“Your mom wants you to know she has a friend who has a son that’s perfect for you.” He looks from my phone to me with a straight face. A face that does not show he just stole a stranger’s phone and invaded their personal space. “Shall I give her a date and time?”

“Is this really happening?” I mumble to myself before getting out of my seat and snatching my phone back. “What’s your problem?”

“My problems don’t seem to be as bad as yours. Having trouble getting a date? You know, I’d be more than willing.” The waiter winks then leaves the table without my food order nor an apology. Jerk.

I quickly crane my neck looking around for the manager I know is usually hovering on the outskirts of the restaurant. This is unacceptable. First, he calls me a hooker and then goes through my phone. Another waitress flies by my table, and I try to get her attention with no luck.

Am I in the Twilight Zone?

“Here we go.” The waiter places a plate of food in front of me then eyes me expectantly with a little smirk on his lips. As if he needs to be praised like a dog.

“I didn’t order this.”

“You seemed like a meat eater to me.”

Damn him and his freaking smile. “Listen, can I switch to another waiter please?”

“Why would you want to do that?” Now he’s acting concerned? Now! He even bends down and places his hand on my shoulder further breaching the personal space etiquette.

“Gee, I don’t know. It might have to do with the fact that you called me a hooker then were texting my mom, from my phone!”

“Then you shouldn’t dress like that. You’re sending off the wrong signals to men, getting us all worked up, thinking we have a chance when really you’re buttoned up tighter than a nun.” For a second, he hesitates as his cheeks redden in embarrassment. It throws me for a loop, especially when he looks to be internally debating something.

“What’s wrong with you?” Now I’m standing, staring up at him. He’s several inches taller than me and doesn’t look like he belongs here. Even though he's beyond rude, he commands the room every time he steps into it. He has a presence that lets you know he’s somebody.

Yeah, a somebody I’d love to see with my foot up his ass.

“You’re looking at me like you’re picturing me naked, sweetheart. Do you really want to quibble over the hooker comment? Oh alright, a quickie in the booth it is. You twisted my leg.” He gets to the third button on his shirt when I realize what’s going on.

Never in my life have I ever punched somebody before today, but I punch this man in the nose with every ounce of energy in my body and to my surprise, his hands fly to his face to catch the blood that’s already started to pour out.

“This hooker takes kickboxing lessons. Next time you’ll think twice about degrading women.” I grab my purse planning to storm out of the restaurant and never come back, but actually, I remember I have to pay. What if this asshole sicks the cops on me out of some crazy revenge game because I turned him down? I wouldn’t put it past him to do it, so I throw a twenty on the table for my stupid drink and steak I never ordered.

I’m almost at the exit when a couple of burly men step in front of the door thwarting my hasty retreat.

“What now?” I yell. “Get out of my way, please.”

“Miss, Miss!” I hear yelling behind me as a skinny little man dressed in black runs towards me. “Man, you really hit him. That’ll be great for ratings.”

“Ratings?” I ask in outrage unable to process. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Ever hear of Funny Guys?”

“Does it look like I’ve heard of Funny Guys, sir? Listen, I just want to get back to work and forget about all of this. Wait…” I look around the small man to see someone checking out the sexy waiter’s nose. No, not sexy, Lex. “Is he pressing charges? Shit, I can’t go to jail.”

“No, oh no, no, no honey. Come, sit down, please.” He starts walking me back towards the asshole, so I refuse to move. “I see he really got to you. I told those boys they were pushing him too far.”

“I’m sorry but what the hell are you talking about? Does someone want to fill me in here?” I wave my hands frantically in front of the man.

“Funny Guys is a prank show on TV. Think Jackass meets Punk’d meets Impractical Jokers.” He smiles thinking he’s explained it all but what he’s really done is made my blood boil.

“This was for a stupid TV show?” I yell in disbelief. “What’s wrong with you people?” My nose begins to tingle, and I wish those bodyguards weren’t at the door because I feel the moisture start to build at the corner of my eyes.

I’m a crier. I can’t help it. When I’m overwhelmed, my body’s natural reaction is to cry. Not a trait I’m finding much use of now while trying to make an exit with my head held high.

“Wait, what? You’re going to be on TV sweetie,” he says like it’s a good thing.

“Do you even screen the people you’re pranking? If you did, you’d know I got rear-ended this morning, spilled my coffee on myself.” I point to the stain on my shirt. “Missed a meeting I had planned because of the fender bender, and now here I am. I just wanted a quiet lunch before I went home to finish work for the day.” The tears begin to spill over, they can’t be contained any longer. “The waiter called me a hooker and text my mom that I’ve found the man of my dreams. Do you know who my mom is? She’s probably planning a wedding for me and my fake Prince Charming.” I take a deep stuttering breath. “Do you know what it’s like to have a mom that wants you married so bad she’s always setting you up on blind dates? Forcing you to go out with douchebag after douchebag to make her happy?”

When I look back at the little man, he looks terrified. He doesn’t say anything, most likely out of fear that I’ll rip his head off. I realize I’ve been a little harsh and should let him off the hook.

“What’s your name?”

“R-Ralph,” he stutters.

“Well Ralph, give me your paperwork so I can get the heck out of here.”

“You’ll agree to let this air?”

“Why the hell not? I had the last say, didn’t I?” I start to laugh, and now poor Ralph must think I have a few screws loose. In hindsight, this is actually pretty funny, and if I look at it objectively, the prank was funny. He just got me on a bad day.

Twenty minutes later I’m walking into my house ready to get some work done. I’m feeling better after lunch having called my insurance company on my ride home to get my bumper looked at. Thankfully I have a Jeep and it only has a couple scratches.

I own my own small jewelry business called LEX. I know, real original naming it after myself, but it sounded cool at the time. It started as a hobby when I was a teen but turned into more when I honed my craft. I worked with wire and my pliers one day and created a one of a kind bracelet that’s known exclusively around my little beach town, Willow Creek.

The ritzy folk always want one, so they can go back home and display that they were in the wealthy vacationing spot all summer. I don’t have a problem with that because when they contact my mother about seeing my work, they commission other pieces or buy what I have on display.

My mom owns a jewelry store, and she lets me set up shop there with my own display case. Besides my house, that’s where I do the majority of my work. If someone wants a bracelet sized or to schedule a meeting, they know where to go. It’s really a win, win. I rent out space from mom and the word of mouth advertising I get from client’s drive people to the store. Mom holds her own, but I like to think I’ve helped.

I begin making some bracelets, it seems there can never be enough. When my phone rings and another jewelry store that stocks my product flashes on the screen I stop what I’m doing and answer the phone. After a quick conversation about what type of jewelry she’d like delivered, I pack up the boxes, place them in the trunk of my car and head toward her store taking the scenic route.

It’s my favorite road to drive because it follows the shore of the ocean. It’s so calming to see the waves crashing on the beach as the sun begins to descend.

I’m a small-town girl. I’ve never lived anywhere else, and I honestly couldn’t imagine moving. This is home. It may be an upscale resort town to most, but to me, it’s the quaint town I graduated high school from. The same place I met my best friend Amanda in second grade and got my first kiss under the Shadow Brook Bridge.

I start unloading the merchandise after I arrive at the jewelry store two towns over. I’m thrilled they already sold most of what I gave them a week and a half ago. They’re letting me display a few new pieces along with their favorites that sell well. Slowly but surely, my brand will expand until I have my own store. At least that’s my plan.

I’m carrying three boxes when I’m met by Mr. Clancy, the store owner. He relieves me of the top two boxes, and then I’m met with his smiling face. He’s the sweetest old man and has run this store since the sixties. His daughter is slowly taking over as he gets ready for retirement, but I don’t think he’ll truly hand over all control. He’ll always have a hand in the pot someway, or another. This place is one of my favorites I sell at solely because of him.

“Well hello, beautiful girl.”

“Hey, Mr. Clancy.”

“Hush now, how many times have I told you to call me Bernie?”

I smile, “You can tell me all you want, you’ll always be Mister Clancy to me.”

I unload all the boxes in the backroom for him and his daughter to inspect and end up getting suckered into milk and cookies. Really, it took no convincing at all. I don’t care how old you are, milk and cookies cannot be refused.

“You know, my nephew’s moving into town. Handsome young man has a good head on his shoulders,” Mr. Clancy says as I head for the exit.

“Dad, you’re overstepping,” his daughter Rachel says. “I’m sure she can handle her own love life.”

I chuckle not feeling at all bothered like Rachel assumes. “Maybe I’ll run into him sometime.” With a soft smile towards the older man, I leave the store.

I check the time after I finish and get into my car. I’m glad I brought some more merchandise because I can drop in at mom’s place on my way home. I take the ocean drive once again and seeing the setting sun on the horizon is a sight to see. The pinks and oranges mingle together beautifully, and I wish I could capture that color for a gem. I’ve been trying to somehow mingle the colors together for a few years now and haven’t quite gotten it right.

Some day.

When I get to mom’s store, I end up sizing a few bracelets and talking to a few buyers. I love hearing customer’s reactions towards my jewelry. I put so much of myself into them it’s so rewarding to see my hard work draped around a wrist or daintily hanging from a neck.

“Alright, I’m all done, Mom. I’m heading home.”

“Are you coming in tomorrow?” she questions.

“No, I have some special orders I need to get done, but you’ll see me on Wednesday.”

“And you’re still going with the whole there’s no man in your life story?”

“It’s not a story, it’s the truth.”

She gives me a wink and kisses my cheek. Why the hell would I hide someone I’m seeing from her? Does she realize that makes no sense?

I’m out the door with a roll of my eyes and dreaming of the Chinese food I’m planning on picking up on my way home. My only plans for this evening are doing nothing but sitting my ass on the couch.

I pull in the driveway of my house not even thirty minutes later to find a tiny little BMW parked in front. Suspiciously, I get out of my car and try to get into the house quickly. You can never be too careful as a female living alone no matter where you live.

“Come on.” I hear yelling before a car door slams. “Wait a second.”

Ugh. That voice. I inwardly cringe… maybe a little on the outside too and turn around slowly.

“Name calling, and theft wasn’t enough, you want to add stalking?” I accuse.

“I borrowed your phone, I didn’t steal it.” The waiter, yes you heard me right, is walking towards me and I’m ready to hightail it into my house before he can get a word in. He must see the flight reaction in my eyes.

“I’m sorry, it really was all in good fun. I should have told the guys to fuck off and leave you alone, but this is my livelihood. And if I’m being honest, you should see some of the shitty punishments they think up. You’d call a beautiful girl a hooker too if you knew what I had to do last week.”

I need to check out this show. I’m sure if it weren’t me in the restaurant I’d laugh my ass off at the prank.

“So why are you stalking me, pretty boy?”

“Carter.”

“Huh?”

“My names Carter. Carter Larue.”

“Oh.”

“Do you have a name?” he asks cocking his eyebrow.

“Of course, I do.”

“But you won’t tell me? Maybe I already know.”

“Then you already know,” I state matter-of-factly.

“You’re going to make me work for it aren’t you?”

“I’m trying to get in my house and have some dinner. I signed those stupid papers, I’m sure when the episode airs it’ll get some laughs.” When I look at him, I notice the swelling around his nose and the purple around his eyes that I’m sure will only get worse. “Damn, I got you good, huh?”

“Yeah, you sure did. Listen, I wanted to apologize. The prank seemed to really affect you, and I’m sorry it upset you so much.”

My phone goes off, and when I look at the screen, I groan. “This is your fault,” I mutter shooting a reply to my mom asking if I’d be down for a coral and gold wedding theme.

“What is?”

“My mom is planning my wedding to Prince Charming even though I told her the whole sordid tale of how that text came to be. Why did you have to send her that message? You could have literally written anything else.”

“I was speaking the truth.”

That gets a chuckle from me. “Really because I don’t recall meeting him. Please point me in his direction.” I’m still trying to calm my mother down who’s apparently received a call from my stepdad who claims to have seen a man at my house. I’m still explaining the situation when I realize Carter’s been silent for a while. When I look up, I find him staring at me, his gaze a whole new level of intensity I’ve never experienced. Especially from someone I just met and punched in the face a few hours ago.

“What?”

“You’re looking at him,” he says confusing me.

“Who?” My brow furrows, and he cracks a smile.

“The man of your dreams. I’m right here.”

 

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