I Saw, I Conquered, I Came:
Working late at the office, my fat ass.
And apparently it was my fat ass that made my boyfriend think he had every right to cheat on me. Because fat chicks aren’t human, didn’t ya know? We don’t have feelings, or if we do, they’re so buried under layer upon layer of fat that we’re naturally insulated from the realities of dating a cheating asshole.
My teeth gnash together as tonight’s revelations replay in my head. The excuses, the pathetic justifications of his actions that bordered on the ridiculous. The insults he threw at me as I called him on his bullshit.
Stupid, fat bitch.
Yep. That's me. Stupid for expecting I'd ever be anything but his dirty little secret, and unapologetically fat, which obviously makes me a complete bitch.
So here I am, alone again, at ten minutes before closing on a Friday night, standing in front of the ice-cream cabinet in my local deli trying to decide between Chubby Hubby, Coffee Toffee Crunch, and Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Chocolate Fudge Brownie wins, mostly because hello, brownies, but also because it's the last one standing. A stalwart of chocolaty goodness all alone amidst a sea of salted peanut butter caramels and boysenberry swirls.
Rich and sweet and chunky and completely out of place.
I reach in to grab that sad-looking pint at the same time as the man standing beside me. His hand brushes against mine as he makes a play for the ice-cream, the warmth of his skin shocking to my senses in the cool, refrigerated air, but I'm quicker. My fingers wrap around the container, yank it free from its isolation and drop it into my shopping basket.
Random Stranger: nil.
It's a small victory, and possibly a petty one, but one I desperately need right now.
Flashing a mildly apologetic smile at my hapless rival, I move to squeeze past him down the narrow aisle. He doesn't budge, so I try a more demure approach and drop my gaze from his chest to the floor.
But instead of stepping aside and avoiding confrontation, as most people would, he crosses his arms over his chest and continues to stand there, blocking my escape.
What is this guy's problem?
I take a deep breath to cool my resurging anger and lift my chin, a stern lecture about his lack of manners on the tip of my tongue, but when my gaze meets his… wow! Using my tongue to scold him is the last thing on my mind. Even with that scowl plastered across his brow the man could stop traffic. Looking like he just rolled out of bed with his sandy-coloured hair all sexy and mussed, and the hint of a five o'clock shadow dusting a chiselled jaw, his startling blue eyes freeze me in place with their directness, yet burn me with their intensity.
My girl parts pulse with awareness and my panties grow wet. I press my thighs together and resist the urge to squirm. Wait, is my mouth hanging open? Oh dear Lord, it is. Snapping it shut, I swallow hard and suppress a whimper of desire. At least I hope I did. At this distance, he's bound to hear every little sound I make, and the last thing I need is to appear foolish in front of yet another man.
I've already hit my daily quota in that particular department.
Pretending to be more confident than I feel, I pull my shoulders back and play it cool. "Can I help you?"
"You have my ice-cream."
Deep and melodic, his voice slides over me like a warm caress and my insides quiver with arousal. Oh great. But he's obviously a crazy person if he thinks I'm handing over my ice-cream without a fight.
"Your ice-cream, huh? So which one are you, Ben or Jerry?"
Am I fighting or flirting? My voice has dropped and taken on a slightly sultry tone, my senses are heightened, my pulse racing—yep, I'm flirting. I just broke up with someone and I'm already flirting with someone else. Whoa! Does that make me a slut? Wait, did I just slut-shame myself? Fuck it. I'm obviously not killing myself over the douchecanoe. And anyway, what's that old saying about getting back on the horse?
He looks confused. "What?"
Here goes nothing. "The only other name on here is Chocolate Fudge Brownie, and you don't really look like a Chocolate Fudge Brownie, so…."
He cocks one perfect eyebrow. "What do I look like, then, in your expert opinion?"
"Expert? Riiight. Because all fat chicks are ice-cream experts." So much for flirting. I tilt my head and consider him for a moment, letting my gaze drift from his stupidly handsome face, over his ink-blue suit and white shirt and down his long legs all the way to his tanned leather shoes. "You strike me as more of a Chubby Hubby."
His eyes widen and his brow shoots up to his hairline. "Chubby Hubby?"
I mirror his expression and cue the sarcasm. "Oh, you're not a fan of chubby? What a surprise."
"Actually"—he moves toward me, angling me back against the freezer door—"I have a great deal of respect for chubby. But I want what I want. And what I want is Chocolate Fudge Brownie."
The door at my back is so cold it makes me shiver, and the sudden chill causes my nipples to harden and stretch the thin fabric of my little black dress. The slinky little number leaves nothing to the imagination, clinging to every curve God gave me and then some. I'd worn it especially for my boyfriend and paired it with my favourite hot-pink stilettos. Staring at myself in the mirror, I'd felt sexy, confident, powerful. Seeing my reflection in the mirrored doors of the elevators as I'd walked away from him and the swizzle-stick he'd been banging behind my back was less empowering, even if I did walk away with my head held high. My confidence was dented, my power turned to anger, and sexy?
But as those elevator doors slid shut and I watched the lights counting down my journey to the lobby, as my hands curled into fists at my sides and the urge to ram my stiletto heels through Douchecanoe's ball-sack screamed inside my head, I had a moment of complete clarity.
I deserve better.
Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.
Who the fuck is this guy and what the fuck is he doing in my happy place?
"My name is Adam. I'm doing my washing, and yes, you said that out loud."
Shit. "Sorry," I say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, which admittedly at two in the morning isn't a great deal. He quirks an eyebrow at me, shakes his head and goes back to reading his book.
Head down, cheeks blazing and lips zipped, I drag my laundry duffel to the rear of the laundromat and fill two washing machines with a week's worth of dirty clothes and not-so-dirty sheets. I think I wash the sheets more out of habit than anything. I mean, it's not like I'm doing anything to make them unclean. I have no love life to speak of. There's no baby gravy to wash off or sex sweat to soak out. Nope. Nary an orgasm to be had in my bed.
Unless you count foodgasms. And meat sweats. And food babies.
God, I love food.
Almost as much as I love my local laundromat.
I love that it stays open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I love that it has a coffee vending machine and, more to the point, the coffee doesn't taste like dirty mop water filtered through a sweaty jockstrap. I love the enormous pink neon sign that stretches across the window and fills the shop with its ethereal glow. And I love that I can rock up at some ungodly hour of the morning and know without a doubt that I'll have the whole place to myself until sunrise, when the rest of the world suddenly awakens and fills up with people far more interesting than me.
At least that's how it usually goes.
Usually. But not tonight, apparently. Tonight I have to share the place with Adam.
Heaving a sigh, I set the machines to wash, then glance over at my interloper and his book. He's completely engrossed in whatever he's reading, not paying a lick of attention to me—not that anyone ever does—so I take a moment to soak up the sights.
Hey, if I have to share my happy place with the man, I may as well check him out.
Neatly trimmed brown hair and a clean-shaven face give him a well-groomed look, but a strong jaw, firm lips and a nose that looks like it's been broken more than once make him appear more rugged than pretty. His plain blue T-shirt hides his body, but the nicely sculptured biceps revealed by the short sleeves hint at a lean yet strong physique. His long legs are stretched out before him and crossed at the ankles, his jeans stretched taut by thighs thick with muscle.
He's yummy. He's dreamy. He's… the total opposite of every guy I've ever dated.
Let's face it, statistically speaking plain Janes like me don't end up with men like, well, him. I mean, this guy looks like he exists on a diet of protein shakes and power bars and probably spends every available minute in the gym.
He's every jock in high school who made fun of my shapeless figure, every colleague who passed me over at the office Christmas party because my reputation for being a frigid bitch was apparently set in concrete.
In other words, he looks like a total dick.
Still, as dicks go, he is handsome, and it's not likely he'll talk to me, absorbed in his book as he is.
Maybe this won't be such a chore after all.
With his face still buried in his book, I chance another look at those rock-hard thighs, sink my teeth into my bottom lip and imagine straddling—
"Are you going to stare at me all night?"
Shooting my gaze back to his face, I say, "What makes you think I'm staring at you?"
Watching me over the top of his book, he replies, "Baby, you ain't exactly subtle."
I cock a brow at the infantile nickname. "Baby? Do I look like a baby to you?"
Setting his book down on one solid thigh, his finger wedged between the pages to hold his place, he slowly peruses my body. I anchor my hands on my narrow hips and lift my chin, trying to ignore the sensual way his dark eyes roam over me.
And failing miserably.
My stomach flutters and my cheeks heat. The way he's watching me, I can almost feel his hands sliding under my clothes, over my skin, between my legs…. And I find myself trying not to remember the last time someone looked at me for so long without speaking. Gritting my teeth, I wait for the inevitable criticism.
Too tall, too thin, too boyish.
The usual complaints.
But after another lengthy moment of silently staring at each other, his lips lift at the corners in the slightest of grins. "No, ma'am. You look all grown up to me."
No jokes about the itty-bitty titty committee? No backhanded compliments about my weight? No inappropriate eating disorder comments?
Relieved and a little confused, I pull my shoulders back, narrow my gaze. "Then can you quit it with the 'baby' thing?"
He nods in deference and goes back to reading his book. "Sure thing."
I clench my jaw and glare at him, watch his grin broaden. I mutter under my breath, "Ass."
"Or you could just tell me your name," he says, then flicks over the page.
Obviously. I could do that. Or I could lie. "My name is Eve."
Adam puts his book down again and quirks an eyebrow. "Is this the part where I make a joke about you playing with my snake?"
A burst of laughter escapes me. "Very funny."
"I thought so."
I put my duffel on a chair and walk over to the coffee machine. "Can I buy you a cup of coffee? An apology for swearing at you earlier."
His deep voice is mired in wariness. "Vending machine coffee?"
"Hey, don't knock it ’til you try it."
His lips twist, and for a moment I think he'll refuse, but then he says, "Black. One sugar."
Two minutes later, I hand him his coffee and take a sip of my own. "You know, research suggests people who take their coffee black are psychopaths."
He watches me over the rim of his cup, the harsh glow of the fluorescent light above us reflecting off his dark green eyes. "The same could be said about people who do their laundry in the middle of the night."
"And here you're doing both..."
Santa Claus Is Coming
"Please tell me that was the last one."
Holly grins. "That was the last one."
"Oh, thank God." I push myself up and out of the driftwood throne I've occupied for the better part of the day and stretch the kinks out of my back and shoulders.
My back is stiff from sitting for too long, and my thighs hurt from having an endless line-up of kids — and the occasional adult — sit on them all day. My cheeks ache from smiling waaay too much, my ass is so numb I'm not entirely sure it's still attached to my body, and don't even get me started on my balls….
What a day.
When my best friend's sister invited me to spend the day with her at Melbourne’s iconic Brighton Beach — you know the one, with the long line of brightly painted bathing huts that wedding photographers clamour over — I jumped at the opportunity. Spend the day with the woman I've lusted after for years while she parades around in one of those skimpy bikinis she's so fond of?
And sure, maybe I could catch a few waves while we're there, show off my very grown-up, non-brotherly physique to the woman who once told me a. she'd never date one of her brother's mates, and b. she'd never, ever be interested in someone so much younger than her.
Like a ten year age difference made her old or something.
Anyway, I rock up, surfboard in hand, and what does she do? Hands me a beach bum Santa costume consisting of little more than a pair of boardshorts and a Santa hat, shoves me in front of a camera and starts charging people money to let their precious little darlings crawl all over me and tell me their Christmas wishes. Which, okay — crushed ball-sack aside — was actually pretty cool, especially the kid who wanted total world domination so he could end bullying everywhere. I didn't have the heart to point out the flaw in his plan, and judging by the look on his dad's face, neither did he.
"You did a good job today, Chris," Holly says as she packs away her camera equipment, then laughs. "I can't wait to show Mikey that shot of the granny in your lap."
I slip my Santa hat off my head and shove it in my pocket. "I'll have you know her name was Phillipa, she's only seventy-five years old, and she said I reminded her of her late husband."
"She licked your face."
"She wanted to know if I tasted like him, too," I say with a grin. "I'd reckon the saucy old dame did it to win a bet, actually. I saw her and her friend exchange a tenner after she collected her photo. And you know Mike hates it when you call him Mikey, right?"
"Of course. Why do you think I do it?" she says with a wink that makes my breath stall in my chest and my legs go weak at the knees. "Seriously, though. Thanks for today. I know I blindsided you with it."
"You know, you could have just told me what you wanted me for," I say as I step down from the dais and discreetly adjust my aching package. "It is for charity. And you know us firemen. We love any excuse to take our shirts off."
She looks up at me from under long, blonde lashes. "After the calendar shoot fiasco I wasn't sure how willing you'd be to help me."
Ah, yes. The calendar fiasco. I snort a laugh and shake my head. "I run into burning buildings for a living, Hols. On purpose. Did you really think a little dog shit would keep me away?"
Holly laughs, the full-bodied sound bursting from within her and shaking her deliciously plump figure with the force of it.
Good God, I want to eat her all up.
Starting right between her—
"It was more than a little dog shit. That poor pup had the worst diarrhoea I've ever seen. You were covered in it. I have photos. I was thinking of blowing one up and giving it to your mum for Christmas."
Cocking an eyebrow at her obvious glee, I fold my arms over my chest and grin. "You just love humiliating me, don't you?"
"Call it a hobby," she says with a shrug, her pretty mouth curved in a smile of honest good humour. A smile that has my cock twitching with interest as I imagine how those sweet lips would feel wrapped around its rock hard length.
The last thing I need right now is a hard-on. I'm almost thankful for the sudden wind that whips past us, stinging my legs with flying sand.
Looking out over the bay, the darkening clouds are swallowing the blue sky and sunshine like a ravenous beast. How the hell didn't I notice a storm that big sneaking up on us? Holly's bikini and see-through kaftan combo probably has something to do with it. But damn, that thing is moving fast and heading inland. Toward us. I look up and down the beach, watching people packing away their gear and hurrying up their kids, trying to make it back to their cars before the rain hits.
"Looks like we're in for one hell of a storm. Let's get this stuff packed up. Where do you want it?"
A rumble of thunder has Holly looking skyward. A burst of bright blue lightning has her unceremoniously shoving the last of her gear in her bag and hauling ass toward the nearest bathing box.
Flinging the doors open on the little timber shed, she puts her bag on a daybed inside, then runs back to help me dismantle the driftwood throne and the small dais it sits on.
"When did you get a box?" I ask as we carry the various bits and pieces to the tiny hut and stack them inside.
"As if I could afford one of these," she says with a snort, going back for the inflatable kangaroos she's got pegged to the sand. "It belongs to a client. I shot his portrait here last year and I always thought it would be a great spot for a Summer Santa photo op. Anyway, Mal's spending the holidays with family up north this year, so he said I could use it while he's away. Free of charge."
An irrational flare of jealousy makes my jaw tighten and my stomach clench. Who is this Mal she knows so well he would lend her the use of his bathing box — a privilege usually reserved for family members only — and why do I suddenly want to rip his fucking head off?
Smalls droplets of rain splash against my skin, distracting me from my wayward thoughts. The temperature drops and a sudden chill skates over my half-naked body, making me wish I was wearing something more than just a pair of Christmas-themed boardshorts.
Another rumble of thunder sounds overhead, louder this time.
Then the storm starts in earnest, a downpour pelting us with cold, stinging rain, the heavy drops of water leaving tiny craters in the sand at our feet.
I look over at Holly. She's tossed two kangaroos inside the box and gone back for the third. I stack the last panel from the portable dais, then pause to glance at her again. She seems to have everything well in hand so I grab my surfboard and beach bag and shove them inside too. No way I'm trudging all that shit back to my car in this kind of weather.
Just as I'm dusting the last of the sand off my hands and pushing my wet hair out of my eyes, I hear more thunder, see more lightning.