An excerpt from Playing For Keeps.
Release date: July 20, 2019.
Channeling the spring break, twenty-one-year-old me, I dig my nails between Riley's exterior wall and the window screen, then pop it out. Patting my pockets to make sure my cell and keys stay put, I boost myself up.
The stench hits me first. Slamming my eyes shut and turning my face into my shoulder, I will the tears out of my eyes when the smell hits me like a wall. Not just a garbage stench, but shit stench, like actual feces. “What the hell?” Leaning back out of the window, I draw in a long breath until my lungs ache, then I hold it and scramble through the window until I fall to the tile floor and expel my precious clean air.
I jump to my feet and bring my shirt up to cover my mouth and nose. It fucking stinks in this house, and it takes only twenty seconds to figure out why. Ninja darts through the hall with a menacing growl, her tail bent at an odd angle, and kitty litter track marks on the floor as she passes. I step along the hall and tiptoe around the mess, and stopping at the laundry room, I whimper at the overflowing litter box. “Jesus, Ninja. They forgot you.”
He’s been away, and nobody remembered her.
Tears slide along my cheeks; tears from the smell, tears of sadness for the man who was hurt, and tears for the cat who would have thought she was abandoned. She’s been forgotten and alone for weeks, shitting in an overfull litter box, drinking from a toilet, and wondering why the hell her devoted human has left her.
Ready to finish this epic duet?
“I now pronounce you husband and wife.” The electricity in the air is palpable when the priest makes his final announcement. The handsome deputy has been waiting to kiss my cousin all day, and not even her mouthy teenage kid can take issue with it, considering we’re in a giant church and the priest said it was okay.
“Oscar.” The priest’s lips twitch. “You may kiss your bride.”
Times have changed since the eighties. Bridesmaids no longer look like giant balls of taffeta with shoulder pads and big hair. Weddings are no longer the long, droning affairs they once were – assuming your friends are cool like mine – and the single guests tend to look at you with a twinkle in their eyes because the wedding planner knows how to order a bangin’ dress that makes your ass look ahhh-mazing.
But when my brand-new cousin-in-law takes his bride in his arms, when he dips her almost upside down and ignores his new step-son’s creative cursing, I let my gaze wander across the sea of guests until I lock onto a muddy brown pair of eyes and a wash of warmth swirls in my belly.
Blake, the front man of an up and coming rock band watches me with hungry eyes. He’s sexy as hell and comes with a chiseled jaw, and according to the list of eligible bachelors the wedding planner curated just for me, Blake stands at numero uno; the most eligible, the most willing to have a day of fun, and the least likely to become a creeper begging for tomorrows.
I’m twenty-nine years old, single, healthy, and as previously mentioned, this dress makes my ass look spectacular. I’m a red-blooded woman in the prime of my life and I’m definitely not shy. I like sex. I love sex! I love men. I love attention. And Blake’s eyes aren’t the only pair warming my skin today.
This wedding seats two-hundred and thirty-four guests. It’s small, considering who is here and how many more wanted to come. Of those two-hundred or so guests, I think I may be one of only a small few that are single and female.
I have the pick of the bunch.
I’m spoiled with choice.
And each second that passes and my cousin’s new husband makes out with his bride, each time she moans and his hands grab places I look forward to someone grabbing me before this day ends, each time Lindsi bumps against me, I stand here with an angelic grin on my face and mental plans to make my own fun just as soon as I’m not in the house of God.
I love men and men love me, but my cousin is flirting with going to Hell, and Oz looks like he’s got the taboggan ready to slide on in with her.
I’m not messing around with that juju.
Blake’s dark eyes slide over my heels, my legs, the soft fabric of my bridesmaid dress, and the swell of my sweetheart neckline. I don’t know what kind of magic the dress designer wields, but she’s a unicorn, and if I were rich, I’d have her design everything I ever wear.
Skimming the crowd in an attempt to stop thinking about Oz and Lindsi and how filthy he probably is – he totally seems the type – I let my eyes cruise over Lindsi’s side of the aisle; the fighters from the local gym, the family that saved her life more than a decade ago. They’re family now. They’re her employers. Her guardian angels.
And they’re sexy as shit.
Too bad for me, they’re all married.
Scanning along the rows, past Blake’s band of misfits, I move to Oz’s people. The cops. The first responders of all shapes and sizes; EMT, a couple firemen, a nurse, a woman cop, a male cop.
When I stop on a familiar youthful gaze, I grin and send a playful wink to Oz’s junior officer. Riley Cruz is about my age, he’s buff as hell, and by the looks of his broad body, he never skips legs or chest day at the gym.
We met a long time ago at a barbecue in Oz and Lindsi’s backyard. Riley was quiet, bordering on shy, and spent most of the night staring and sending me quietly insane with curiosity, but when I went inside to say hey, he only stared at his phone and glowered.
Maybe that’s his schtick. Stare at the girls, then turn mute when they try to strike up a conversation. He wasn’t rude, and when I forced my company on him and asked questions he had to answer, he replied with kind yes and no’s. But that’s as far as I got with the shy guy.
By the time he was ready to leave for the night, he tipped an imaginary hat, forced a grin, and that was that.
How dare he turn up with that chest, those thighs, those arms and that cute grin, only to play shy-boy?
Not a lot has changed between that night and now. Riley’s still sexy, but he has a big problem in the fact that he has a man’s body, but a boy’s face. He looks so innocent, I’d actually feel bad for tainting him with my devious ways.
When I wink, his soft cheeks – freshly shaved and baby-bottom smooth – show a little pink and make my insides sigh.
He’s too pure; I’m not sure he’d even know how to spank a girl. And what girl doesn’t want to be spanked?
If Blake gets drunk and passes out tonight, if all my other options are exhausted, I might just buy Riley a hooker and watch that boy lose his virginity. It would be hot, and it might teach him some important life skills. Then once he’s done and showers off, I’ll let him try his new skills out on me.
I like sex, and that goodie-goodie looks strong enough to pick me up and toss me around like a Neanderthal. I’d be willing to forgo the spanking in exchange for being tossed over his shoulder.
When Oz finally lets his bride up to breathe, I look away from Riley’s piercing stare and offer back the bouquet of flowers I was tasked with holding.
I’m the maid of (dis)honor at this shindig, so my duties consist of holding Lindsi’s dress while she pees, and holding her bouquet while she sins in church.
So far, I’m nailing it.
“It’s my honor to introduce to you, the brand-new Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Franks!”
Oz leads Lindsi onto the dance floor shrouded in romantic lighting, candles, crystal chandeliers, and six billion yards of elegant wedding gown. The mom of teenagers and local self-defense trainer looks amazing in her ivory gown and sexy heels. Megan Montgomery – Lindsi’s wedding planner – spent the better part of a year planning today. She organized everything right down to the panties Lindsi wears beneath her dress, with the full knowledge Oz will peel them off with his teeth at some point before midnight.
Every tiny detail was coordinated by Meg, so when she told me where I’d be sitting tonight, I knew that if I moved, she’d kick my ass. She’s about eleven months pregnant and already crowning, so if I don’t do as I’m told, I’m legitimately concerned she might beat me up and get placenta water on my dress.
I sip my flute of bubbly champagne and pick at the entrée that tastes like awesome. As my beautiful cousin dances with her disgustingly handsome husband and wears a smile that suggests maybe Oz already removed her panties, I grin and watch them sway to a gritty song Blake from the band sings for them.
“Dee?” Pulling out the vacant chair beside mine, Riley and all his innocence sit down close enough that his thick leg brushes against mine. Bending forward with a devilish grin, he catches my eyes. “Long time no see, huh? You look real pretty today.”
Tragically, that one sentence is more than I got from him the whole night of Lindsi’s engagement party.
Sitting back in my seat and crossing one leg over the other, I hold my champagne and grin when the split in my dress shows off the perfect amount of thigh.
Man or boy, it draws his attention and makes my grin stretch that much wider. “Riley Cruz. Hey, cutie. How you doing?”
He takes a sip of the soda in his hand, smiles into the glass, and shakes his head. “Cutie… You know how to emasculate a man. Do you get off on trying to make me blush?”
“Maybe. You’re the guy who wouldn’t make eye contact last time we met. You sat on Oz’s couch and pretended I didn’t exist. It makes a girl wonder… It almost seems like you’re a little too,” I pause for thought, “sweet not to call cute.”
His soft green eyes track the bare flesh of my thighs and stop at my crotch. Either Riley has seen some shit ‘in the line’ since the engagement party, or, and more likely, his soda is spiked and making him brave. “How would you like it if I called you cute, Dee?” His eyes stop on my boobs. “How would that make you feel?”
I sit taller in my seat and take another sip of my now flavorless champagne. “But I’m not cute. I’m sexy.”
Nodding, he slides a hand along my thigh and stops with the tip of his pointer finger at the slit in my dress. “Exactly. Sexy is sexy. Cute is for puppies.” His blazing eyes meet mine. “I’m not a puppy, Dee. I don’t fetch on demand.”
I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge. And that’s what this is; he’s done with my silly smiles and teasing eyes, so now he’s stepping up. Turning toward him, I bring a hand to his thick bicep and squeeze. “It’s just that…” I let out a dramatic sigh. “You have the body of a man, Riley, but your face…”
His eyes flash. “My face, what?”
“Well, I wanna squeeze your cheeks. I wanna poke them and create dimples, then I wanna brush your hair back and plop a juicy kiss on your forehead.” I glance over the still empty-but-for-the-bride-and-groom-dancefloor and nod toward the band. “Blake, the King’s Chaos front man, well, he’s a little scrawny, a little too skinny for my tastes, but he’s dark and dangerous. He’s a bad boy. A tyrant in bed, I can tell.”
“You?” I look him up and down. “My spidey senses say you still have brunch with your mom every Saturday at nine. You bring her flowers and tuck her into bed, and when she says she’s lonely, you lay your head in her lap and let her play with your hair.” I scrunch my nose. “She chaperones your dates, doesn’t she? You got mommy issues, Riley?”
His eyes narrow to slits. “Sounds to me like you’ve got mommy issues. You generalize, and now you’re projecting your shit onto me.”
“No.” I squeeze his arm again, because the flash of anger in his eyes turns me the hell on. “No mommy issues for me. I love my mom, but she doesn’t know who I fuck. We actually do have brunch every now and then, and she plays with my hair sometimes, but it’s a healthy relationship. There’s a line in our life. She stands on one side, and my sexcapades stay on the other.”
Turning into me with a dangerous air, his large hand squeezes my thigh and sends bolts of electricity straight up my leg. “My mom doesn’t know who I fuck, Dee. My mom doesn’t chaperone me anywhere.”
“So, you do fuck?” I lift a teasing brow. “Don’t you make slow, sweet love, Riley?” Funny, the man I thought of as innocent just a minute ago now sends shards of nervousness through my blood. What’s that saying about judging a book by its cover? “Have you ever fucked and ran? Have you ever seen a naked woman before?”
The sweet man who blushed that one time transforms in front of my eyes. I was sure he was made of sugar and rainbows and all things tooth-achy, but the challenge in his eyes says something entirely different.
“Is that an offer?” Sipping his drink and feigning nonchalance, his strong hand remains on my leg. “Because I’ve watched you all day. I’ve watched you move in that dress. You’ve paraded your ass around in front of me for ten hours already, and I don’t forget the barbeque at Oz’s place. I got busy that night, but I still watched your ass in those jeans. I’ve been thinking about you for months, Dee.” His lips pull up into a wolfish grin. “I could fuck you now, show you I’m not… cute.”
Sitting back to hide my nerves, I shake my head. “You’re bluffing…” I’m not a shy woman. I’m rarely ever rattled. I don’t scare easily, but my heart pounds faster the longer he stares. “You’re mad I called you cute, so now you’re bluffing.”
“You scared of saying yes?” His brow lifts in dare. “Scared I’ll yank the offer as soon as you show your hand?”
“No. I’m just not sure I’m willing to be the one to take your virginity. It’s a big responsibility. Your mom might call me and scream about sullying her boy.”
“Sullying.” With a light scoff, he shakes his head. “You literally have no clue about my life or my family. You don’t even know if I have a mom. You don’t know anything, but you sure know how to judge people.”
I bring a shaking hand up to cup his cheek. “You blush. That’s like…” I shake my head. “I’d feel bad.”
Snatching my hand and leaning in close, his lips come to my ear. “Meet me in the closet. On your nine, fifty feet away. I’ll show you what I’ve got, then tomorrow, you’ll text ‘I was wrong. I wanna suck your dick some more.’”
My throat goes desert dry. My lips, smothered in expensive and luscious lipstick, come between my teeth. My heart pounds against his so hard, I know he can feel it. I know he feels the electricity in the air. “You won’t get attached? You won’t get pregnant and try to trap me in a loveless marriage?”
Chuckling, his hand comes back to my leg and rides indecently high. “I promise. You seem scared; I thought you were fun and wild, Dee. I thought you never got scared…”
“Alright.” I nod and breathe through my near panic attack. “Fine. Meet you there in five minutes.”
Pulling back and grinning like the Cheshire cat, he winks and pushes his soda away on the table. Standing, he runs the tips of calloused fingers along the top of my spine until goosebumps break out on my skin right down to my toes. “See you soon, Dee.”
“My name’s Andi, by the way. You may call me Andrea.”
“Nah.” Stopping, he turns back as Oz and Lindsi’s dance comes to an end. “Dee’s cute. It makes you seem far less devious than you are.”