Authors: Liz Stafford
Copyright © 2012 by Liz Stafford
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or shared in any form, including but not limited to: printing, photocopying, faxing, recording, electronic transmission, or by any information storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from the authors or holders of the copyright.
This book is a work of fiction. References may be made to locations and historical events; however, names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination and/or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), businesses, events or locales is either used fictitiously or coincidental. All trademarks, service marks, registered trademarks, and registered service marks are the property of their respective owners and are used herein for identification purposes only.
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Jim & Zetta,
This is dedicated to anyone who’s loved from afar—and whose dream finally came true. I am not one of those people. My dream man found me. But that’s okay too.
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This work of erotica contains adult language and sexually explicit scenes, which are smoking hot. This book is intended only for adults, as it is defined by the laws of the country in which the purchase is made. Keep this book out of the hands of under-aged readers.
Carlton raked his fingers through his beard, then dumped bedding into the last cage. Dragon flicked his tail and tilted his head to watch. “There you go, old boy.” Carlton dropped the lid on top. The clatter had Dragon hissing and retreating to the mass of greenery in the corner. “Sorry, bud,” he said again. Not fair to take out his mood on the lizards. It wasn’t their fault Carlton had gotten into this situation. He finished cleaning the remaining nineteen cages and/or aquariums. He threw the dirty bedding in the trash and flung the bag of wood chips into the hall closet.
Why couldn’t the freaking Patriots have won the Super Bowl? They had the talent. They had the edge. And more than anything, they were favored to win by three and a half points. The game should have been in the bag, then he wouldn’t be forced to go out with some bag named Wanda.
With a name like hers—a minus-point on his dating chart—she’d have been subjected to ridicule and pranks her whole school life. It would’ve scarred her forever. He had no doubts it had. After all, she was in her mid-thirties and had never been married. That said it all, didn’t it?
He’d known a Wanda back in high school. A real dog. He was embarrassed to remember once loudly comparing her to a pug. So, another Wanda had come into his life. Carlton guessed this was his payback. He believed in payback. You did something wrong, sooner or later it came back and bite you in the ass. This was his ass-bite.
Okay, it was only one date. He’d take her someplace dark. Then get her home by nine saying he had to work early at the clinic. He didn’t. He never worked on Saturdays; the younger vets got stuck with that gig.
Too bad this wasn’t a regular date; he really needed to get out. He’d been cooped up too many nights lately, commiserating with his bosses. Rianna and Tonya were trying to buy a parcel on the outskirts of LA to enlarge the animal hospital and somebody was stalling the permits.
Damn. Twenty minutes till he had to pick up Wanda in Glendale. He jammed his arms into his Pats
jacket sleeves, gathered car keys from the counter and raced out the door. He was only going seven miles an hour over the speed limit when a car shot through the intersection on his left. Carlton spun the Venza to the right. The front tire banged the curb. Even so, the other car’s bumper thumped into his. What the hell did they think they were doing?
The bright silver Mercedes S550 squealed to a stop just inches in front of him. The driver leaped out and raced back to his car. She was a tall, blonde bombshell—did they call ’em bombshells anymore? Carlton didn’t know. He’d sure as heck never dated one. He climbed out of the car, prepared to give her hell. She feathered a hand over his bumper, stood erect, spun around and, without even making eye contact, was gone.
Carlton examined the bumper, and then his right front tire. No outward damage but probably the alignment was gone to hell. He got back in the car and followed the directions to Wanda’s place a block away. Nice enough middle-class building. A plus-point for her. He hurried up the steps to the door with the big number 3 on it, smoothed his beard and rang the bell.
The door opened. And there she stood. Silhouetted by light from the living room, he couldn’t see much except she was quite tall—close to six feet—and had an unruly mass of hair. She wasn’t fat but couldn’t be called thin by any means. Blocky might be a good description. A minus-point.
“Yes?” said the woman.
As she stepped aside he got a glimpse of a beak of a nose. Yikes. Another minus. “Come in.”
Her voice was nice. Smooth and pleasant with no accent. Beyond the point of no return, he stepped into the apartment. It smelled like lilacs, which was nice. The place was well furnished and clean. Another point in her favor.
“Come sit a moment.”
In the blue-light from the television, he could see her better. Man, she hadn’t aged well at all. Glenn had said she was in her mid-thirties, but this woman looked fifty at least. Ten minus-points. Good thing he’d reserved a table at Patchouli’s—it had lots of dark corners.
He sat on the edge of a micro-fiber sofa totaling up the pluses and minuses that were, so far, heavily in the minus category. She had remained standing. He knew it was a ploy to keep the upper hand…to be the alpha. Fine. Just get the freaking night over with. Man, was he going to kill Glenn big-time.
“Nice weather lately,” was all his brain could think of saying. The dumb-ass comment prompted him to start a plus-minus list for himself.
“It is,” she said, “mild for this time of year.”
“What did you think of that Super Bowl?”
Her frown said she was the only person on the face of the planet who hadn’t watched the game. Okay, so he couldn’t make general conversation. A minus-point for him.
Shoot, since when did
have a dating chart?
“Um, we have a seven o’clock reservation,” he said.
“Wanda will be right down. She’s running a little late.”
She stepped forward. “I guess I should’ve introduced myself. I’m Beverly, Wanda’s mother.”
Her mother? Wanda still lived at home? Minus-points pierced him like bullets and warning alarms blared so loud in his head that he couldn’t help slamming his hands to his ears.
“Are you all right?”
He lowered his hands and clasped them in his lap. “Huh?”
“You look like you’re about to throw up.”
“No. No, everything’s fine.” While Beverly went to shout for Wanda to hurry, Carlton began restoring the ten minus-points he’d given for misinterpreting her age and living situation, till he realized he might be minusing again in a minute anyway.
Steps sounded on the stairs. She was wearing heels. Walked without hesitation. Plus-point. A shadow appeared on the wall. Carlton stood, swiped his palms on his thighs and stepped toward the hallway.
Wanda had been nervous all day. So nervous she’d misfiled the paperwork on the Tender Hearts Clinic expansion. So nervous, her panties were soaked all day. So nervous, she’d sideswiped a guy and actually left him standing in the street. Thankfully there’d been no damage to his car or she would be in even worse trouble when the cops come to the house.
But she couldn’t be late. She’d had her eye on Carlton Roberts since their sophomore year in high school. She’d watched his journey through vet school. He made it to the top of his career, worked at a prestigious clinic here in LA where they called him the Bearded Dragon—not for his personality but for his rescue efforts toward the much-maligned reptile. His picture in the clinic’s newspaper ad showed he hadn’t changed in all these years. Except for the beard, which Wanda thought gave him character.
He’d never been married. Had one close call though. The woman had left him at the altar. Wanda thought the woman needed her head examined, but all in all, leaving him was a good thing. As he remained single, Wanda’s day could come.
So, this was her chance—her only chance, no doubt. She would not screw it up; hence the mad Toyota-swiping dash home tonight.
She fluffed her hair off her shoulders wondering if she should’ve worn it up. People said it looked better up. But the doorbell rang and putting it up would’ve made her even later so she pinned up each side in gold barrettes. Wanda slipped into two-inch heels. She’d planned on higher heels—liking the way they made her legs look, but at five foot ten, she feared towering over him. Nothing men liked less than—well, there were probably lots of things men liked less, she just hoped she didn’t find out about any of them tonight.