Copyright 2012 – Jennifer Zane
When little girls play make-believe with their dolls, most pretend they’re mommies or princesses or teachers. Have little tea parties with them, play dress-up. That’s what my sister, Violet, did with hers. Me? I played plumber with mine. I dressed my little Betsy Wets-Alot up in a pair of gray coveralls stolen from a male test pilot action figure I’d found at the toy store. He’d been tossed, naked, into the back of my closet until my sister found him and used him for the groom in her pretend weddings.
Not only did I dress my self-wetting doll in menswear, I ran a straw down the pants leg to divert the faux pee away from her anatomically-incorrect little body. No potty for her. I was five and knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I, Veronica Miller, wanted to be a plumber. Just like my father.
Now, over twenty years later, I’d fulfilled my childhood dream. I was the plumber I’d longed to be, working with my dad. Soon to be working on my own. One last payment to my old man stood between his official retirement and my small business owner status.
I smiled to myself about this almost-upon-me momentous occasion while lathering my hair in the shower. I squealed when the spray of water I was standing beneath went cold and quickly rinsed out the strawberry scented shampoo.
“Stupid hot water heater,” I grumbled to myself as I yanked back the plastic shower curtain and stepped out into the steam filled room. I longed to get back to my own house as Violet’s plumbing system needed some serious work. Even in the thick humidity, goose bumps popped out all over my body as I quickly toweled off and snuggled into my ratty, yet wonderfully comfortable flannel robe.
While I leaned over and rubbed my wet hair with a bright pink towel, I heard it. The sound of a key in a lock, the front door opening. I froze in place upside-down, staring at my knees between the edges of the robe, towel tangled with my long hair. Since I was a plumber, not a law enforcement officer, I lacked the training to keep panic at bay. That hot, adrenaline-induced fear rose up inside me between one heartbeat and the next. I swear the little wet hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Help. I needed to get help, but my cell was in my purse, which I’d dropped by the front door, one room away. No house phone.
I stood up, flipped my dark hair back over my shoulder, held my breath and listened. Rustling and a little mumbling was all I could make out. Who was in the house? Sure, they must have a key since I hadn’t heard a window break, but the only other person who was supposed to have one was Violet, and she was in Utah.
I tiptoed over to the door, bit my lip and winced as I turned the knob and hoped it didn’t squeak. I slowly opened the door as I held my breath. Peeking into the bedroom, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Barely made bed, dirty clothes tossed haphazardly at the wicker hamper. Something heavy thumped onto the floor from the vicinity of the front door and I looked in that direction as if I had x-ray vision and could see through the wall to the person in the living room.
I squeezed through the small gap I’d made in the bathroom doorway, afraid if I opened it anymore, the old hinges would give me away. Breathing as quietly as possible, which was pretty hard in panic mode, I bent down and grabbed the first thing I could get my hands on to use as a weapon. What I held didn’t register. I knew it was solid wood like a baseball bat and as good as I was going to get for protection.
Violet’s house was small, with only one floor and a scary basement I rarely visited. Living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath. That’s it. Which also meant there wasn’t anywhere to hide.
For breaking and entering, the guy wasn’t Mr. Stealth. It was the middle of the afternoon, he’d come in the front door and he was awfully noisy for someone being where they weren’t supposed to be. Even if he was the worst robber ever, that didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous.
My palms were sweaty as I peeked around the door jamb into the living room. His back was to me and he appeared to be looking down at something he held in front of him, probably a cell phone. It appeared he was texting, or reading one. Tall, around six feet, maybe a little more, and solid. He wore jeans and dark leather shoes. His black jacket was a lighter weight than one would expect for the dead of winter in Montana in the throes of a bitter cold snap. A gray knit cap covered most of his dark hair.
I didn’t recognize him, but I wasn’t in the mood to wait for him to turn around and see me. I decided to use the element of surprise. I tiptoed over to him and whacked him on the arm with my wooden weapon. Hard.
I’d aimed for his head, but nerves and slick palms messed me up and I hit his shoulder instead. The reverberations tingled in my fingertips.
“What the fuck?” Mr. Intruder said, his voice deep, full of surprise, the cell phone dropped to the floor at his feet. He raised a hand to his upper arm.
As he started to turn to face me, I hit him again, this time on the back of the head.
It wasn’t the sound of his skull breaking, but my weapon instead. The wood broke into two, one piece clattering to the floor.
Intruder grunted, fell to his knees with a thunk, then fell face first onto the floral area rug in front of the fireplace, his face turned toward me.
I stood there motionless, stunned, holding half of my broken weapon. Huh, varsity softball had paid off. It appeared I’d hit a home run. I looked down at the prostrate form on the floor. One leg moved a little, which, combined with some groaning, indicated I hadn’t killed him. Even with his eyes closed, I instantly recognized him.
“Oh, shit,” I whispered as I knelt down next to him. The thick wool of the carpet was scratchy against my knees. Why hadn’t I known who it was before I knocked him unconscious? I should have been relieved an axe wielding mad man wasn’t trying to kill me, but I was too surprised instead.
It was Jack Reid. The guy I’d been in love with in high school who I hadn’t seen in over ten years. Ten years where I’d often fantasize about him, about what could have been. I’d often dream about the moment he’d come back into my life, but this definitely wasn’t it. Sure, when he’d gone out with Violet instead of me senior year I’d wanted to kill him, slowly and painfully for doing so, but I’d envisioned strangulation or a pummeling of some kind. Now that I’d possibly killed him, at least knocked him completely unconscious, with—I lifted my broken weapon—the Triple Smacker paddle from my box of sex toys for the toy party I was hosting tonight, I realized the anger and bitterness at his long-ago rejection hadn’t gone away.
How dare he barge into my life again, unannounced, when I wasn’t the least bit ready for him! I wanted make-up, a killer dress, some fuck-me heels on, my hair done, with a hot guy in love with me on my arm when Jack saw me again. To make him see what he’d missed out on. Then I’d crush him beneath my stiletto heel before my lover shifted my attentions elsewhere.
But a robe and tangled, wet hair? A sex toy paddle? Revenge and maybe a little payback would be nice, but a felony conviction for assault? Oh boy.
Dropping the broken paddle onto the floor, I leaned over Jack and gently probed the back of his head. No brains gushing out, no blood seeping from beneath his hat. One huge goose egg of a bump though. I winced, thinking about the headache—maybe concussion—he might have.
Man, he smelled good. Woodsy, clean, male mixed with the fruity scent of my shampoo from my hair tangled about my face. His scent was sexy in an unconscious sort of way.
“Jack, Jack wake up,” I said, gently moving his shoulder. “Jack!” He had to wake up because I couldn’t live with myself being known around town as the woman who killed Jack Reid with a Triple Smacker.
After another groan and a few moans, he rolled onto his back, blinked his eyes a few times and stared at me. At first, unseeing, then with focus.
Boy, even knocked practically unconscious, he sure looked amazing. Ten years had done the man a lot of good. His face was more rugged, jaw more pronounced. It could have been the five o’clock shadow at two in the afternoon that helped with that. He had a fabulous tan. The kind you get from living in Florida. Lips I’d dreamt about kissing when I was sixteen still looked appealing now. His dark hair that peeked out of his cap had a little curl. His blue eyes, even unfocused, were just as I remembered. Longing, once forgotten, flared back to life.
He just stared at me, looking me over as if I was a space alien. I couldn’t tell if he was confused or just addle pated. “Jack, say something.”
He blinked. Smirked, but quickly winced.
Oh God, had I caused him amnesia?
He cleared his throat. “Nice breast.”
I glanced down at myself, one breast was definitely out there for Jack to see, my nipple hard. I yanked at the side of my robe that was glaringly open, my hand at my neck holding the lapels together.
“Is this how you treat all your boyfriends?” His blue eyes had cleared, weren’t quite so foggy as a minute ago. “A kiss hello would probably be better, although maybe that’s not your way.” His gaze dropped to my chest.
My mouth fell open as anger flared. “You’re not my boyfriend. You lost your chance ten years ago,” I said tartly.
Jack leered. The smile he gave me couldn’t be described as anything else. “So you flash everyone who comes through the door, or just me?” He lifted a hand and rubbed the back of his head, winced.
I felt my cheeks burn hot at the thought of my epic wardrobe malfunction. It was completely and utterly mortifying, and on top of that, he was being a complete jerk about it. “Only ones I bash on the head first.”