I’d hoped to be wearing a bra on the day that I fell in love.
After all, love was a momentous occasion. Fates collided. Stars aligned. The princess met her prince, and they lived happily ever after…while wearing every appropriate undergarment.
Apparently, that wasn’t in the cards for me.
No butterflies fluttered in my tummy. In fact, summer in Butterpond meant a haze of mosquitoes that flitted around any star-crossed lovers. And I had no flush of heat teasing my unmentionables. Only a knotted stomach courtesy of the discount, ready-made cheeseburgers purchased from Barlow’s Market for the bridal party.
At least I did fall head over heels. Unfortunately, I’d tripped in a literal sense. I’d scraped my bare toes, crumbled to the sidewalk, and tore the bridesmaid’s dress ankle to thigh. The pins held the waist in place, however; we had not yet secured the sleeveless corset with the requisite double-sided tape. I smacked the ground and revealed my twin frustrations to the entirety of Main Street.
In that moment of accidental, public indecency, I fell in love. Well, give or take a couple of frantic heartbeats.
I wasn’t a complicated girl. All I asked for was a little preparation before I gave my heart to a stranger. The right clothing. A well-behaved dog who hadn’t stolen my bra and bolted down the street.
What was the saying? No shirt, no shoes, no heartbreak?
Well, romance in Butterpond wasn’t dead. It just needed a spritz of DEET behind the ears, an antacid, and a pair of pasties to cover my princesses, all-too-eager to meet Prince Charming.
And maybe a prettier dress.
Most women waited for the wedding to meet a man. I gave it a whirl during the dress fittings. Unfortunately, the petticoats had won the day.
Layers upon layers of ruffled lace puffed from my nether regions.
How in the hell had this fashion ever attracted a lover?
It was hard enough for men to find their way around down there, so what did we do? Hundreds of years ago, women shimmied into a cone of sandpaper knitted together to form a damn net, and then we expected a man to navigate our twists and turns while foraging through an obstacle course of chiffon, delicate stitching and starched silks.
This wasn’t fashion. It was cruelty—to both adventurous suitor and the girl sweating her booty off under the layers.
But the bride thought petticoats would be unique. Like my ass needed the extra padding. I didn’t have hips for days—I had curves for weeks. And while I was proud of my figure, I would not allow my future soulmate to suffocate somewhere inside those ruffles.
Lord have mercy, we’d never find him under there.
The petticoats and skirts had gone up. The top had rolled down. And my mongrel of a dog played hide-and-seek with my underwear.
If it had been any other occasion, Ambrose would have heeded the desperation in my voice. But on this day, my border collie tested his boundaries and the textile strength of my last good bra. What should have been a white flag of surrender was now his chew toy.
“Ambrose, get back here!”
My dog knew to look both ways before crossing the street, but not to steal the undergarments of the woman who provided his nightly kibbles. Not the wisest of decisions. Then again, it wasn’t wise for me to dart into traffic after him.
A lone, dusty pickup truck attempted to turn into the nearby parking lot. He tapped his breaks, mercifully stopping before he struck me. It saved him quite a lot of paperwork with Sheriff Samson, and it prevented me from making the front page of the Butterpond Gazette for the second time. Local Animal Control Officer Tranquilized By Her Own Dart had been one of the better headlines in the recent year. I did not need to add yet another accident to my repertoire…even if it would look great under the engagement announcement between my father and his bride-to-be.
Who was I kidding? Anything would look better than the picture of my fifty-eight-year-old father and his twenty-two-year-old future wife.
A woman two years younger than me.
I preferred vehicular homicide to mingling with my future stepmother and her sorority sisters. Even chasing Ambrose—and my bra—was a welcomed escape. The bride-to-be, Chloe, had drowned her wedding jitters in a morning’s worth of sangria, and I’d escaped when the conversation had shifted to garters.
In particular, which garter my father was most likely to enjoy removing with his teeth.
And while I loved discussing my father’s sex life and his disastrous mid-life crisis with Chloe, for my own sanity, it was better for me to wrestle with a four-ton pickup truck then a one-hundred-and-ten-pound ginger coed who thought it would be the cutest if I started calling her mum.
The dusty pickup narrowly avoided me as he squealed into the parking spot, though I still dodged and hopped onto the sidewalk, fluorescent orange dress wafting up over my head courtesy of a quick gust of wind.
I’d always imagined meeting the love of my life a few different ways. Not that I spent that long planning it, but a girl had to be prepared. For instance, a pen pal seemed most romantic. Followed by a casual encounter on a sunlit beach. Hell, I’d even left my phone number with the county deputy who had the cadaver dog.
But I never thought I would fall for the man of my dreams as he pulled into one of Butterpond’s three prized handicap spaces.
I wasn’t one to judge, but I knew the temperament of a small town. Butterpond’s tenuous peace was largely influenced by the happiness of the elderly population. Whether it was honoring double coupons at Barlow’s Market, offering free tartar sauce at the church’s Friday fish fry, or storming the municipality’s monthly meeting to prevent a tyrannical limit on birdfeeders, keeping the golden generation happy generally kept the rest of Butterpond sane.
But finding that an able-bodied, young, exceedingly handsome man had parked in one of their three reserved spots? Well, that would result in nothing short of anarchy at the monthly meeting. A crisis we couldn’t afford as the township was still reeling from last month’s battle royale between the historical society, crochet club, and an overbooked gazebo in the park. Families were torn apart, tapestries were unwoven, and some wounds could not be mended with formal apologies…especially when half of the combatants were armed with knitting needles.
Butterpond could not survive another careless mishap.
And this man did not belong in handicapped spot.
He belonged in my heart.
…Just as soon as he moved the truck.
This hopeless romantic was also a firm believer in the rule of law. As Animal Control Officer, it was my duty to ensure certain regulations were followed. Unfortunately, that zeal was one of the reasons I was no longer permitted a TASER.
Nevertheless, righting this wrong wouldn’t require a weapon of any sort—only a smile, a phone number, and a saucy little wink.
I marched to the pickup truck, knocked on the window, and convinced myself that this was not only my good deed for the day, this was karma. Fate. Cupid’s arrow.
In the instant he looked at me, it was over.
This man was a mountain of mouth-watering, tummy-tightening, knee-shakingly perfect muscle. The sort of bad boy any woman would have let park in her spot. Hell, a smart girl might’ve hoped for a fender bender too.
No wonder he parked in a handicapped space. Who would’ve ever told him no? A man as intense and dashing as he was not only absolutely intimidating, he was unapproachable, dangerous, and just the sort of man a father warned his daughter to avoid.
Then again, my father didn’t have the best judgment anymore.
Love at first sight had never seemed so naughty. I’d expected soft words and hazy warmth. Instead, my mouth dried. Other parts of me did not. This was not the wholesome, fuzzy fairytale I thought it would be.
Dark hair. Dark eyes. He was the sort of man who knew he was sexy.
He also should have known he didn’t belong in that handicapped spot.
And yet, there he was. Testing the limits of society, common decency, and my patience.
His ass didn’t deserve to be kicked. Honored, more likely. Maybe displayed in a freaking museum. But Butterpond had no museums. It did have rules though. Rules a man like him should have understood.
His broad shoulders and buzzed hair revealed a honed discipline, worthy of that chiseled jaw and his perceptive eyes. This man had come to Butterpond, but he looked ready for war.
And he stared straight through me. Into me. Memorizing my every panted breath.
He moved from the truck. His combat boot crunched against scattered gravel. Hell, the world shook under his stride. Probably surrendering. I never thought that a single step could be a declaration of war, but the man moved with such a lethal grace and deliberation that I should’ve retreated.
Instead, I lost myself in the camouflage green of his eyes.
That darkness concealed everything—his thoughts, his personality, his desires. He towered over me, edging from the truck only to slam the door with a righteous indignation. As if he couldn’t see the flamboyantly blue line designating the spot as handicapped.
I tried to speak. Swallowed my tongue instead. A wave of heat crashed over me. It was a good thing Chloe hadn’t wanted her bridesmaids to wear a corset as well. I needed every last breath I could muster.
And it was lost the instant he spoke anyway.
His voice dropped like an artillery shell. Deep and heavy, gruff and impatient. His voice was an explosion of sensuality. I couldn’t breathe, let alone speak.
His eyebrow arched with frustration, irritated by the bridesmaid blocking him against his truck.
I had no idea what to say or how to say it. But that had never stopped me before. I didn’t believe in awkward silences, pauses, or considering the best thing to say before I said it. There was no greater honesty in the world than awkward small talk.
After all, it was confidence that had earned me the contract to rid Butterpond of its crippling geese infestation. If that didn’t boost a girl’s self-esteem, nothing would.
It was hard to seduce a man with the mere glance. So, I cocked my eyebrow too. Edged a little closer. Offered him a smile.
“You know,” I said, biting my lip. “This is a handicapped space.”
A sensual amusement teased his words. “Then it’s a good thing I parked here. A sweet girl like you might cripple a man.”
I was a goner.
That was it.
Every happily-ever-after had to begin somewhere. Ours was here—in a parking lot outside of Butterpond’s little commercial district, under a summer sun near an illegally parked vehicle.
I leaned against his Dodge. My chestnut skin contrasted against the fierce red paint. He seemed to appreciate the darkness. Or at least, appreciated how it caressed his truck. Unfortunately, my skin was at odds with the obstinate orange of the bridesmaid’s dress, practically bludgeoning happiness down everyone’s throats. Still, his jungle green eyes traced my every hidden curve.
I didn’t know if he wanted to move the vehicle or me, but I’d take him for a ride anywhere he wanted to go.
But this man didn’t look the least bit ashamed of what he’d done. He glanced at the truck, the spot, and the proximity to the nearest buildings. Wasn’t like Butterpond had an expansive commercial district. We had the tailor, the market, the hardware store, and a park that was temporarily closed while I dealt with a few animal control issues in the shape of some moderately aggressive geese. The usual for Butterpond.
I gave him a little shrug. “Shouldn’t you…” I pointed to a nearby space. “You know…”
Was this a man who followed orders or issued the commands? Either way, he made the conversation difficult. The dark promise of his voice swirled a naughty heat in my tummy.
I squirmed, captured by my own smile and desperate to earn his. He offered me nothing else, preferring to watch as I nibbled on my fingernail. I gave a little suckle of my dark finger and shuddered with a quiet giggle.
“Will you switch spots?” I asked. “Because…”
The man’s smirk was casual, almost patronizing. He appraised the fluorescent orange of my bridesmaid’s dress. Somewhere beneath the tulle, petticoats, and lace, he might have imagined tying a couple knots of his own.
“I don’t think I want to go anywhere, sweetness.” His voice lowered. “Not unless you’re coming with me. You expecting the rest of the bridal party anytime soon?”
Oh, he was dangerous. Sexy, charming, and a bit of a renegade if his parking preferences were any indication. I hid my embarrassment with a quick brush over my hair. The two twin puffballs were still tethered to my head by virtue of a couple bobby pins on each side. The pigtails were cute. He must have thought so too. His gaze lingered over the puffs.
Trying to figure me out? Well, that would be easy—especially over a candlelight dinner.
“I think I have a little time,” I said. “The bride is still wrestling with the five pounds she’s gained since the last fitting.”
I nearly pointed to the shop, though I caught myself as Ambrose pranced up the sidewalk, tossing my bra into the air before tearing at it with a vicious shake of his head.
He could keep the damn thing.
My heart gave a little flutter, much preferable to the enraged pounding when I’d chased Ambrose across Main Street. I gave the man a quick shrug.
“Looks like it’s just us, stranger,” I said. “Well, us and your truck.”
He agreed with the devilish wink. “Looks that way.”
“So…are you going to move?”
His laugh was a rumbling tease. “I’d move Heaven and earth for you, sweetness.”
I giggled. “I meant your truck. From the handicapped spot.”
I hadn’t expected his amusement. He shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be quick.”
He reassured me with a grin. “Don’t worry. I’m not often quick.”
I hummed. “Not exactly what I meant.”
“I’d be happy to demonstrate.”
Oh, he was most definitely trouble.
I wagged a finger. “No need. I’m a very trusting person.”
“Obviously, or you wouldn’t be talking to me.” The gruff challenge of his voice tickled deep in my belly.
“I’m also a brave woman.”
“Don’t lie,” he said. “You’re very foolish little girl.”
I arched an eyebrow. “That so?”
“Very risky to harass me about how I parked my truck.”
I could handle myself. “I’m not harassing you. I’m just doing my job.”
“And what’s that?”
I winked. “I have multiple talents. One is a perplexing ability to always locate magnetic north. The other is an unwavering enforcement of right and wrong within this community.” I tapped the truck. “So why don’t we move this out of the handicapped spot, and I’ll point us towards Butterpond’s northernmost café. You can buy me a cup of coffee, and I can tell you all about my other, more interesting abilities.”
“There’s no good coffee in Butterpond,” he said. “Unless you count the swill they serve up at Ruby’s station. Couldn’t even pay me to drink that when I was overseas. We made better coffee out of sand.”
Huh. He knew his way around Butterpond.
I crossed my arms, studying his face again. I didn’t recognize him, but he spoke about the town as if he’d been here before.
I shrugged. “Coffee is like sex. Is it ever really that bad?”
“I wouldn’t know. Never had bad sex.”
That I believed. “Little cocky, aren’t you?”
“Don’t let your eyes deceive you, sweetness. This body’s not for making war.”
“Making love then?”
He laughed, a dark and tantalizing rumble. “Never made love either. Life’s too short to take it slow, don’t you think?”
I hummed. “Starting to believe it.”
“Tell you what, sweetness. Let’s skip Ruby’s. Take a ride with me, and I’ll make sure you get plenty of good coffee in the morning.”
Damn. That wasn’t just a proposition. It was an invitation.
And I had no idea what to say do it.
A man like that—a man that strong, gorgeous, and utterly wild? Was he military or just a warrior? He offered more than a little reconnaissance. Hell, he’d be a damn siege.
I could flirt with the best of them, but I had no idea what to expect from a stranger like him. How to handle myself. What to do.
Retreat was one option, but part of me wanted to get down and dirty in the trenches.
“Sounds good,” I winked. “I gotta finish up with the dress fitting, but afterwards…”
“Don’t bother getting dressed.”
Oh, this man was bad. “Tell you what. You move the truck. I’ll forget the underwear.”
Easy enough to do when my dog still had my bra.
He glanced up the street. Searched the empty sidewalks. He wouldn’t find many people. The residents of Butterpond had all received the same warning. They avoided the town center while I struggled to manage the goose situation.
He shrugged. “I think the truck is fine right where it is.”
He was sexy, and he already knew how to push my buttons. It wasn’t so much the refusal to move the truck, it was his tone. Callous. Righteous.
As if he dared me to argue.
Well, at least I’d have a good story to tell our grandchildren—the time when grandma hauled off and hit grandpa for being such a stubborn jackass.
Unfortunately for him, I’d had a long day. It was a struggle between my dog, the petticoats, and the front-row seat to the disaster that would be my father’s wedding. The frustrations culminated into this exact moment, coupled by a rather urgent need to use the bathroom. I had to take a stand on something.
And I chose the handicapped spot.
I planted my feet. “You’re really not going to move your truck?”
“Are you really going to make me?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” I said. “This is Butterpond. This is a community. People care here. Lives matter. Handicap parking is sacrosanct.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“We reserve them only for the elderly, infirm, and those who really need to pee.”
I couldn’t tell if he was amused or annoyed, but his eyes narrowed. “So, sweetness. What are you gonna do?”
I didn’t want to do it. He was handsome. He was confident. I was certain he would be the best sex I’d ever have. But he was wrong. And no matter how attractive, suave, or utterly dashing he was, polite society dictated that I needed to preserve Butterpond’s natural order.
Which meant I needed to lie. But it was for a good cause.
I’d only grabbed the essentials when I’d chased after Ambrose. In this case, I’d packed my badge.
I retrieve the wallet from my dress, flashed the silver, and allowed the brief glint of metal to intimidate my handsome stranger.
“If you really want to play this game, we’ll take it downtown,” I said.
My threat was as ineffective as it was truthful. The downtown was currently overrun with Canadian geese, and Sheriff Samson had made it perfectly clear he would not respond to any minor problems or traffic violations until he could safely walk from his car to his office without a barrage of feathers, web feet, and aggressive, breeding waterfowl.
The badge should have intimidated him. Hell, it would have intimidated me. Then again, I was rarely on the opposite end of the law. The only time I’d ever seen the inside of a jail cell was when I had to bail Ambrose out. Twice. My dog liked shiny things. Had he not been a herder of geese, he would have made an excellent cat burglar—seemed a genuine conflict of interest for a border collie.
My obstinate, future lover wasn’t amused. He stared at me, a sort of deliberate, intense gaze that might have looked death in the eye once or twice in the past. But I had the law on my side…which was good as I had very little dignity remaining.
I crossed my arms if only to ensure the dress stayed miraculously wrapped around my torso. My kingdom for some double-sided tape.
“Is that supposed to impress me?” he asked.
“Just move the truck.”
I meant to return my badge safely to my dress, but he grabbed it before I could hide the wallet.
I leapt into the air, but he held the badge over my head. His eyebrows rose as he read the lettering.
“What the hell are the Geese Police?” he asked.
I’d often fielded that particular question, but my responsible and prompt service usually alleviated any concerns. I attempted to swipe the badge once more. No dice.
“You can’t make me do anything,” he said. “You only have authority over geese.”
I huffed. “That’s not what it means. Please, give my badge back.”
“Or what? You’ll send the pond after me?”
I never thought falling in love would be so aggravating. “That’s my business. The geese police are a valued organization in this community.”
“No shit?” He snorted. “What the hell do you do?”
“I humanely heard geese away from public spaces.”
“No, really.” He snickered. “What do you do?”
He was less Prince Charming and more of a pain in my ass. “I just told you. I have a company. My dog and I are hired to rid commercial and private spaces of any migratory geese which may cause a public nuisance.”
I didn’t appreciate the laughter. But he didn’t need to lean against his truck, slap the side, and stomp his foot.
“You’re not a real cop,” he said.
I set my jaw. “And you’re not actually handicapped.”
And something told me I’d just stepped over a line.
It was one of those moments when time stood still, the ground opened under me, and I didn’t have the benefit of Cupid’s arrow to stop my heart. He didn’t take his eyes from me. Just slowly reached down, gripped his pant leg, and lifted.
A gleam of white greeted me. A solid, plastic prosthetic leg.
I’d fucked up before, but usually my worst screw ups were resolved with a quick trip to the hospital for a rabies shot. This time? I didn’t think they made a vaccination for stupidity.
And I was now the biggest idiot in Butterpond.
My handsome stranger?
Marius freaking Payne.
The Marius Payne.
The Navy SEAL. The Navy SEAL who’d just returned home. The Navy SEAL who had nearly lost his life in a firefight.
His return was the only gossip in Butterpond which could compete with the scandalous, salacious tale of my father marrying his college intern.
I’d just insulted a wounded veteran.
So much for that coffee.
“Marius?” Now would have been the perfect time for the dress and petticoat to swallow me whole. “Marius…I had no idea it was you.”
His eyebrow arched. “Are you always this kind to strangers?”
“Seriously. I didn’t mean to insult you. Or your parking.”
Or the leg he’d lost overseas.
He crossed his arms. “No. It’s fine. I thought maybe this time I could park in the handicap spot without anyone noticing.”
Shoot. I gestured towards the truck. “It’s fine. Take it. You totally earned it. Or, at least your leg did.” Why was I still talking? “Losing your leg earned you the spot.”
His voice bled arrogance. “You’re right. That spot should be saved for other people in this town.”
“No. I’m wrong. I’m very, very wrong.”
He ignored me. “I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. My leg was hurting today.”
Oh God. “Marius, I’m—”
“And I thought maybe, just maybe this once…I’d take the easy way out.”
My humiliation turned to mortification. Marius didn’t seem to mind. His tone roughened, mostly a tease with a hint of accusation. His shrug was anything but friendly.
“I was in a hurry today,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would see me take the spot. Figured I’d get in and out without any questions. Without any judgment.”
“I’m not judging you. I promise.”
“Don’t apologize. The geese police are well within their rights to inspect every handicap spot in Butterpond.”
I grimaced. “It’s not actually part of my job description.”
His smile turned cold. Sexy as hell, but just as condescending as if he had patted me on the head. “I can’t imagine a better use of your time.”
I could. It involved downing another mimosa, spending my last hour with Chloe and her ragtag band of sorority sisters, and escaping the dress fitting before they giggled about more parts of my father’s anatomy. Afterwards, I’d imagined spending a wild and regretless night tangled in Marius’s arms.
I should have offered him my number and panties when I had the chance.
I sweetened my tone. “I really am sorry.”
Marius chose not to accept my apology, and he did so with the cock of his head and a flex of his arms.
“I should be thanking you.” He actually winked at me while his words twisted with irritation. “Hell, it’s only an extra ten feet to walk. When I lost my leg, I crawled through a half-mile of mud, blood, and shrapnel to find help. Ten feet is nothing.”
Was he serious? His tone had shifted. Hostile. Hollow. Then, just as quickly as he’d grunted, it was gone.
“No, sweetness. I gotta adjust to this leg sometime. What better way than walking through a parking lot and blistering what remains of my stump?”
He flinched at the word. So did I.
“Look.” I sighed. “I said I was sorry. I didn’t know it was you, and I wasn’t trying to insult you.” A quick insult sizzled through me. This wasn’t the greatest of seductions. “Will you please accept my apology?”
Now, I was really irritated. Served me right for chasing the first pretty face I saw.
“You know, the only reason you have a great butt is because you’re all asshole.”
“Uh-oh,” he laughed. “Geese police brutality.”
I frowned. “I don’t know how long you’ve been out of normal civilization, but when somebody is genuinely apologetic, accepting their apology is the right thing to do.”
Marius narrowed his eyes. “And accosting me in the middle of the parking lot? Is that the right thing to do?”
“It’s probably the only way a man like you would learn some manners.”
Marius stepped closer, edging me against his truck. His gaze hunted me, an undignified and wild scrutiny that should have humiliated me. No civilized man looked at a girl with such a brazen, unrelenting eagerness.
But I wasn’t intimidated. I squared my shoulders and puffed my chest, mostly to prevent the material from slipping over my curves and revealing more than my unfortunately timed sense of justice.
His smirk darkened his features. I shivered as he spoke.
“If this had been any other day, at any other time…” He leaned in close. “I’d fuck some politeness into you.”
I gritted my teeth. “And had this been any other day, at any other time, I would have let you do it.” No sense hiding the truth. He could probably read it in the tease my hips and bite of my lip. “But, since you can’t take a simple apology, I doubt you’d be satisfied with anything else.”
Marius chuckled. “On the contrary. I would be extremely satisfied.” He dared to reach for me, grazing a single finger over my bare arm. Goosebumps prickled me, summoned by the tiniest, softest hint of his hand. “And you’d be satisfied too.”
“You think awfully highly of yourself for a man who can’t even park his truck right,” I said. “Let’s just say, I’m not expecting you to be very straight.”
His eyebrow cocked. “You wanna find out?”
“If you can promise me a conversation as charming as this one.”
He crossed his arms. “Don’t plan on doing a lot of talking.”
“You’re a man of action then?”
“I don’t have a lot of practice on one leg. Wouldn’t mind testing it out.”
I snorted. “Seems like you lost the best part of you overseas. Did they amputate your tact too?”
Marius laughed. “What’s left is in working order. Care for a demonstration?”
I rolled my eyes. “Please. A man like you? With all that talk and swagger? You’d call in an airstrike and be gone by morning. I need boots on the ground, soldier.”
“Sailor.” He corrected me.
I shrugged. “Then I need oars in the water, sailor.”
He liked this game. Unfortunately, so did I. He edged a little closer, nudging my chin up to meet his gaze.
A girl could eventually find her way out of those eyes, but a smart one would pretend to get lost just to stick around for a little longer.
“You can protest all you want…” He winked. “But a pretty thing like you? You’re just begging to be invaded.”
“I don’t want to be pulling shrapnel out of my bed tomorrow morning.”
“Just wait till you see the caliber of my rifle.”
I baited him with a downward glance. “It’s probably no more than a pistol.”
“Sweetness, I’m packing a cannon.”
That I could believe. Marius was a walking, talking, flirting mass of muscle. Man enough for two men, and yet the wrong man for me.
So why was my mouth watering?
“I got a feeling this battle would be over quick,” I said, attempting to push away from the truck.
Marius didn’t let me leave.
I should’ve called for backup. Should have retreated.
Instead, I faced the insurgency with little more than a smirk.
“You better start digging those trenches, baby girl. Prepare yourself for a long deployment.”
“And you should radio back to base,” I said. “There’s no way you’re getting close to this foxhole.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“Can’t believe I wouldn’t be interested in someone so rude, vulgar, and...” I raised my chin. “Ungentlemanly?”
“No. I can’t believe a girl like you is gonna act insulted.”
“What you mean a girl like me?”
“A girl who’s looking for a man to rip off that hideous dress, pin your ankles behind your head, and not leave the bed until the mission is accomplished.”
He was right.
He didn’t have to know it.
I wagged a finger at him. “I don’t know how they did things in the military, but I’m a respectable sort of girl. Not a one-night stand.”
“We could go for two, three nights,” Marius said. “I got nowhere to be.”
“What can I say? I guess I’m not interested in your type of seaman.”
“Nor am I. one of the few reasons I’m glad to be out.”
Cute. At least he was cute. “I’m looking for the real deal. Fairytales. Romance. Not a fumbling grope in a hotel room.”
Marius didn’t blink. Was it confidence or arrogance? “I don’t fumble. I fuck. And I get the job done.”
I grinned. “Then it’s a good thing you lost a leg and not your faithful hand.” I blew him a kiss. “Welcome home, hero. I’ll make sure everyone knows you can park wherever you want…except my bed.”
I gathered my skirts, fighting with the petticoat as I turned to storm away.
And, of course, Ambrose picked that exact moment to regain his obedience. The border collie proudly trotted directly to Marius. The bra dropped at his feet. My stomach went with it.
Marius grabbed the bra before I could dive for it. He lifted it, glanced at me, and patted Ambrose’s head. The damn dog barked.
“Good boy.” He swung the bra around his finger. “Just what I was looking for.”
I stiffened, Marius didn’t offer it back. He opened his truck door and leaned inside. A handicap placard was tucked against the console, but he crumpled it and tossed it into my hands. In its place, he hung the bra, proudly displayed on his rearview mirror.
“There.” He admired his handiwork. “Now I accept your apology.”
He slammed the door to his truck and locked it. With a wink, and hardly a limp, he pushed passed me and headed towards the hardware store.
So, that’s how we were going to play this? “Welcome back, Marius Payne. I hope I never see you again.”
“Don’t worry, sweetness.” He waved a lazy hand but didn’t look back. “You’ll be thinking about me tonight.”
It wasn’t just that he was right. It was how right he was.
This was not how it was supposed to happen.
I hadn’t waited my entire life to meet that one special man only to have him steal my underwear and insult me in the same breath.
Cupid got it wrong. The fates had their wires crossed. The stars had collided then aimed for my forehead.
I was not going to fall in love with Marius Payne.
…But a little crush never hurt anyone.