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by Ashley Ladd
Description: If science teacher Samantha Wagner isn't blowing up a science lab, she's screwing up another blind date. Worse, she's only undertaken the dating world to get her unavailable engaged best friend Dylan out of her every thought and most especially to purge him from her heart. Unfortunately, everything backfires in her face and the more Dylan rescues her, the deeper the heart trouble she finds herself. Rating: Contains sexual content, adult language.
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: March 2006
56 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [196 KB]
Reading time: 127-178 min.
"Waste not." High school science teacher Samantha Wagner whistled merrily and peered into the swirling mass of pickle juice at the bottom of the jar she'd just emptied. Grinning at her treasure, she poured the remaining contents into a larger container for use in class experiments.
Munching on the last pickle, she curled up on her couch and graded test papers. When a drop of the juice plopped onto a paper, she scowled and wiped it off. Moaning, she shook her head at some of the dillies the students had concocted as she colored the exams with seas of red. Obviously some foreign language must have spewed from her mouth during her lectures or why else weren't all of her kids getting A's and B's? What normal kid wouldn't comprehend her pickle juice allegories? She couldn't make things any easier or more interesting.
A huge grin spread across Sam's face. Only one person ever knocked like that. Dylan ... "Come in."
"You eating those nasty things again?" Dylan wrinkled his nose and tugged one of her curls.
"Bite me." Glaring into his impish eyes, she took a giant bite of the cucumber which was getting a bad rap.
"Ouch!" Dylan jumped back as if she'd suddenly spurted fangs. "Have mercy, woman."
Grinning wickedly, feeling as if her eyes glowed red, she licked off the juice that had the audacity to dribble down her chin. "Uhm, sorry." She wasn't in the least sorry. Just like she imagined he wasn't sorry that his ultra low-slung tool belt was the makings of many naughty fantasies ... "
"Yeah. Sure." Dylan stared at her mouth, too long, too intently.
She squirmed and wanted to kick herself for her devilish impulse. A high school drop out white boy wasn't her type, and more over, he was her best friend, so why was she flirting?
Best friends were off limits. In particular he was off limits as she wasn't into multicultural relationships. Normal relationships were hard enough to keep going, but the added burden of meshing cultures while trying to keep her own alive, was too much to handle.
Embarrassed, she rose to her feet and tossed the bad boy into the trash. "Better?"
Dylan's blue eyes twinkled and his mustache twitched with mirth. "Not particularly."
Her neighbor's lawnmower erupted and Dylan looked in the direction of the sound.
Blessing the distraction, she followed his gaze. Surprised, she glanced down at her watch. "It's not the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, is it?"
Dylan's brows wiggled as he ambled out onto her appalling excuse for a porch. Then he frowned and pointed at a piece of splintering wood. "Hurricane season's coming. I should shore those beams up before a storm hits."
Alarm jolted her into perusing her mental calendar. Her forehead furrowing, she joined him and peered at the dry rot. "You really think so? Grandmother let the house go toward the end." And Sam didn't have sufficient funds to fix it up. Her heart falling, she chewed her bottom lip.
"It's either that or risk losing part of your house. It won't stand up to a category three. A two might even do it in if the wind hits it wrong." Slipping a tape measure from his tool belt he took measurements and muttered to himself.
"How much do you think it'll set me back?" Her pride sagging, she tried to choke back the financial worries. Hello second job...
"We'll talk about that later." Sighing heavily, Dylan whipped off his baseball cap and ran his fingers through his silky hair. "We'll get the supplies and I'll get it done for you."
Squaring her shoulders, she faced off against him. She tilted her head to look up the four inches into his eyes. "I already owe you a ton of favors. I'll pay you the going rate. Either tell me or I'll hire someone else."
Dylan froze in place for several seconds and then he treated her to an inscrutable gaze. "I said I'm going to do it. We'll work something out."
Pursing her lips, she let the subject drop--for now. She'd repay him somehow. The man was too nice for his own good.
Navigating to safer territory, she asked cheerily, "Soda? Lemonade?" She opened her fridge stocked with a variety of drinks.
"Got any orange?"
Hating the stuff, she stretched her lips down. "No. How about lemon-lime?"
"I was about to whip up a little something for dinner. Would you like to join me?"
"To go with those pickles, huh?" Dylan sauntered back into her house and closed the door.
Sam wrinkled her nose at him and stuck out her tongue as she carefully handed the tin can to him. "For that I'm going to hold you down and make you eat pickles."
In four long strides, Dylan closed the gap between them, and towered over her. He took a swig of his soda as he stared down at her with narrowed eyes. "Promises, promises. Moi was mean to you? I fixed your wheels and I'm going to fix your house. Now how is that being mean to you?"
Playfully, she rapped the big old teddy bear on his broad shoulders. "I take it back. I won't make you eat pickles. That just leaves more for me."
"What's this obsession with pickles?" He spread his palm on the refrigerator door and closed it. "Did you eat this many pickles while you were still with Jamal? Or is this some kind of mental breakdown?"
Breakdown? He thought that slimy green toad of an ex-fiancé had reduced her to going on a pathetic pickle binge? How wretched did he think she was? "I need more pickle juice for my science experiments," she said, as if he'd understand. She also looked at the little bulge around her tummy in disgust. "And they're very low in calories."
"Science experiments? Those poor kids." He clucked his very erotic tongue, stealing her breath.
She thwacked him again, and ordered herself to breathe. "Those lucky kids love me and my pickle juice, thank you very much." She nodded very forcefully to back up her point. For good measure, she anchored her fists on her hips and stood stiffly at parade rest.
His gaze heated up and slid over her stomach. "Don't tell me you're dieting, skinny."
Skinny? She'd left skinny behind at least twenty pounds ago and was closing in on pleasantly plump. The average human had enough fat on them to make seven bars of soap, so that meant she must have at least nine or ten bars of soap hanging on her frame. Having a full time man had made her complacent about her weight among other things. It was time to get back in fighting shape now that she had rejoined the rank of single women. Besides, she felt funny traipsing around her new gym lugging a spare tire around her belly while all the bathing beauties modeled their flat abs. Still, bless his soul, she loved him even more for lying so outrageously.
"You told me not to tell you." She pulled a diet root beer off the counter and popped open the top. Then she slid a glass around him to get ice from the automatic ice dispenser on the fridge door. At least he wasn't blocking that.
"So? Can you stay for dinner?"
"Can't. I'm late for another job. I just had a moment to stop by." He began to back away.
"Oh! I almost forgot." He chanced a couple steps back toward her, but his hesitancy hung rife in the air. "Jamal seems to think you're avoiding him. He wants you back, you know."
Highly annoyed, she pasted a smile on her lips. She knew all right and she didn't want the conniving cheat back. Since Dylan had been Jamal's friend first, she couldn't very well go slamming the dude, however. "Jamal and I have gone our separate ways and I'm extremely pleased with my life at present."
He waited for her to say more and when she didn't, he pursed his lips. "Well, don't be surprised if he calls or shows up. You're warned."
She adopted her widest, most innocent smile and beamed up at him. "Thanks. Do you think he likes big, mean, son-of-a-bitch attack dogs?"
Dylan frowned. He ran his hand through his rumpled hair and squashed it down with his baseball cap. "Ouch! Is that a hint for me to keep out, too?"
She rolled her eyes up at the silly man. "Do you really think I'm psycho enough to sic a dog on my best friend?"
Merry mischief danced in his eyes. "Well, you are pretty psycho...."
Picking up a meat cleaver, she chopped a slab of her roast with zeal. "Just when it comes to cheating, no good exes."
Eyeing her warily, Dylan backed up. "Uh, I have to vamoose. I've got a side job waiting. I'll price the supplies and let you know how much they'll run."
"Coward," she mumbled under her breath, trying to toss off the weight of his stare. She sliced and diced until she'd made hamburger instead of stew chunks. "I thought you had to skedaddle?"
"What are your plans tonight?" Dylan ambled to the front door. Watching her closely, his hand hovered on the knob.
"Oh, something absolutely fascinating and scintillating--I'll watch a romantic movie and cuddle up to my test papers. Fun, fun, fun," she drawled. "Just me and Denzell."
He grimaced. "A chick flick and homework. Sounds like a blast."
"Okay, we both have work so I'm officially booting you out. Ta ta." She wiggled her fingers at him.
He tilted his cap. "You and Denzell have fun."
"Don't go cutting off anything important." She paused for a strategic moment. "You'll need all those fingers to fix up my porch." * * * *
Dylan stopped outside Samantha's door, feeling a tug to turn around and join her for dinner, chick flick or not. Hoping that he'd misread the time, he glanced down at his watch and grimaced. "No time. I'm late." The thought of the bronze beauty cozying up to Denzell by her lonesome settled like a rock in his stomach.
When he arrived at his job twenty-five minutes later, he hammered with more ferocity than necessary. He slammed two by fours around making such a ruckus he drowned out his taunting thoughts.
Halfway through the job, his cell phone rang and with a sigh, he flipped it open. "Dylan here."
Jay, the realtor who'd contracted him for this job said, "Hey, dude. How's the repair coming? Can you squeeze nine more jobs into your schedule? How fast can you get to them?"
Nine? "Whoa! How fast and how big are you talking about?" His need for cash warred with his need for rest. Sam's porch flashed in his mind and he tried to calculate how much time that would take.
"They need to be repainted and re-carpeted before they can go on the market. Some need roof repairs and drywall work...."
Holy ... Dylan massaged his aching neck. "You need a serious work crew for those kinds of jobs."
"Well, hire yourself some help and we'll work up a contract. I'll fax the specs to you. I need these done yesterday. I don't like being caught with our pants down in hurricane season."
And he didn't like the idea of Sam's house being substandard, either. But he couldn't afford to piss off such a good client. "I know a couple guys that do good work. I'll see if they want to make some extra cash."
"Good. Call me soon as you look that over."
The phone went dead and Dylan shook his head as ideas bombarded him. As he rolled paint onto the new drywall, he considered his options aloud. "One--I turn down the work because I'm too busy. Two--I ask a couple friends if they want extra work and I split the money with them. Three--I hire a few guys and start my own company...."
Start my own company. He'd be a contractor.
His gut clenched. Could a high-school drop out run a successful business? Although he knew his carpentry stuff, he couldn't operate a computer. He didn't know if he was ready to give up the safety net of his day job. But the appeal of being his own boss, of building a future, lured him.
When he was finally able to drag himself into the shower a few hours later, he scrubbed the hardened paint out of his hair. Anxious to draw up a budget and a business plan, he fiddled with it till the early hours of the morning. He rubbed his bleary eyes and tried to stifle the last in a long line of yawns. "Hot damn! This might actually work."