After a string of disastrous Valentine's Days, broken hearts and failed relationships, Jenna's decided to spend this Valentine's Day in the least romantic spot possible--the coin-op laundry.
No flowers. No candy. No annoying couples or romance of any kind. The only glitch in her plan is the leather-clad biker in heart-print boxer shorts who walks in as her washer starts. This just might turn out to be the best Valentine's Day Jenna's ever had.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Dodging Cupid by Kelly Fitzpatrick
Cupid was a pinky-dicked little troublemaker.
Whenever Jenna needed the little rascal he was MIA. When he had been around in the past, his aim was poor, missing her intended true love and instead hitting the loser next to him. That's why Jenna chose to spend Valentine's Day at the least romantic location ever. No hearts. No flowers. No chocolates. No love songs.
She set her basket of dirty laundry on an empty washing machine. The odd mixture of warm, vanilla-scented dryer sheets, fried chicken from the fast-food place next door and stale tobacco, despite the clearly posted No Smoking sign, filled the air around her. With a clinkity clink she dropped some quarters into the slot. She shoved the money meter with the heel of her hand and the aging washer ate her quarters with something like a belch. Water splashed into the machine.
Jenna added detergent and sorted her lights from darks, not wanting a repeat of the gray days that followed the white-socks-and-undies-soaking-and-spinning-with-a-new-black-sweater debacle.
The low rumble of a motorcycle out front thrummed through her body and rattled the plate-glass front window. The sheer magnitude of the thunderous roar grabbed her attention from the task at hand. The sudden silence that followed after the engine was cut jolted her senses. A denim and leather-clad biker entered the washateria with a bag tossed over his shoulder like Santa gone bad. Real bad. An unlit cigarette dangled from his lips.
A zip of electricity no dryer sheet could cure traveled the length of her spine, shocking her dormant girly parts back to life. Clear! Zap! The laundry attendant vanished into the back room like Houdini reincarnated. Now you see me, now you don't. And the now-absent attendant had taken Jenna's peace of mind with her. The old lady who'd been leafing through a dog-eared magazine from last decade exited out the door the biker entered, and--poof--she was gone too. The biker boy failed to notice his ability to clear a room in three-point-five seconds flat.
Jenna concentrated on her washing like she was splitting the atom with plastic cutlery.
"Hey." The biker bobbed his head casually in her direction. A greeting? Perhaps in some circles, Jenna thought. His boots clomped on the dirty linoleum floor in time to the beating of her heart, which raced with a weird jumble of fear and excitement.
She pursed her lips noncommittally, tossing him half a nod of acknowledgement. Not enough to show an ounce of interest. Not so little attention as to appear rude. A dizzy feeling wrapped her in its foggy embrace when the scent of motor oil, mint and leather overpowered the mixture of vanilla, fry oil and nicotine and sent her reeling. Someone should bottle that guy's aroma and sell it at the mall.
Jenna jumped when he flipped the washer lid open and the sound of metal on metal echoed in the space. He emptied a duffle bag of clothes haphazardly into the washer. Leaving the clothes, he fished a lighter from his jacket pocket, poised to strike.
"You can't smoke that in here," she said, knowing full well she should mind her own business. His second-hand smoke might cure celibacy instead of cause cancer. Me. Him. Right here on the cold linoleum. A shiver coursed through her.
Without making eye contact, he replied, "Why's that?"
She swallowed a lump in her throat. "First of all..." He chuckled, infuriating her. "First of all, there's a posted sign banning smoking." She pointed to the sign and he granted her the smallest measure of respect by pretending to take note of the crooked, faded sign she indicated.
Smirking, he said, "And second of all?" Because a first-of-all must always be followed by a second-of-all.
"And second of all, it's not only bad for your health, it's bad for mine." And everyone else in the room, she wanted to say, but there was no one else in the room.
His eyes connected with hers for a moment, then he pocketed the lighter and crumpled the cigarette up, throwing it in the trash. "I decided to quit anyhow."
Letting out a breath of relief that the exchange was over and she had won, she returned to her laundry. "Good for you."
Jenna's lace panties slipped from her fingers to the floor as he violently shoved quarters into the bowels of the machine. She froze. Maybe he didn't notice. Glancing at him, she noticed his eyes fixated on the undies at her feet. Her eyes darted away when his attention cut from the red panties to her equally red face, if the heat she felt on her cheeks was any indication.
Clearing his throat, he asked, "Can you spare a little detergent?"
Jenna silently thanked the powers that be for his silence in regards to her panties she dared not pick up. She waited a beat for an explanation, like he'd forgotten his laundry soap in his prison cell or the detergent flew off his bike during a police chase. None followed.
"Uh...oh...sure." Picking up the plastic jug from the counter, Jenna took a step closer to the blaze of heat she felt radiating off him. Wait! Maybe that's still me. All she knew was that her forehead was coated with a layer of sweat.
She accidentally kicked the panties at her feet across the expanse. He looked down when they landed at his feet. More specifically, on the toe of his biker boot. The contrast of black leather against red lace made for a steamy visual.
She froze. Again.
He scooped her favorite pair of lingerie off the floor. Holding them out to her, he said, "Trade?"
Jenna snatched her panties away, relinquishing the laundry soap to him. "It's not polite to smirk," she said. He looked good, damn good, smirk or no smirk.
"Sorry." His lack of regret seeped out between his grinning lips.
She pretended to ignore him and his sexy bedroom eyes as he splashed her soap onto his dirty, dirty clothes. Jenna closed the lid of her washer and moved on to the adjacent machine for a load of darks. Her misbehaving panties got dropped into the machine with the other clothes.
Mr. Tall, Dark and Ruggedly Dangerous, still smiling, returned her soap with a clipped thanks.
"Welcome," she mumbled.
This was supposed to be the last place in town, in America, in the world where she'd run into a man on a Friday--date night. Not just any date night--Valentine's Day. Not just any man--a gorgeous man topped with dark wavy hair and two days growth on his face, guaranteed to give a girl a trip to the ER with a bad case of whisker burn in all the wrong places.
Turning her back to him, she ignored his man noises until the unmistakable sound of a belt buckle clinking caught her attention. Until her last breath she'd recognize the sound of the buttons of a pair of 501s being unfastened like rapid gunfire. Jenna spun around as he yanked his faded jeans over his hips.
"You can't do that!" she protested.
"You saw me throw the smoke in the garbage," he replied as if that were his only sin thus far. As if she hadn't found his good looks and delicious smell bordering on criminal.
"Not that--that." She pointed.
"Not to worry," he said. "I always wash my lights and darks together." Hunky biker dude had stripped to his skivvies, his jeans pooling down around his knees.
Jenna groaned. His white boxer shorts were covered in red hearts. Where did she have to go to get away from the misery of the manmade holiday of endless doom and gloom? Pointing at his drawers, she said, "I find those highly offensive." And adorably sexy.
He reached for the elastic waistband, his thumbs sliding between his boxers and his skin. "Shall I take them off?"
Yes, please. Wait! Let me get comfortable. She plopped down in a hard plastic chair. "You do and I'll scream bloody murder." Eventually. Maybe scream was too harsh a word. Moan might be more accurate for the situation.
A balding, middle-aged man strode through the door. He came to an abrupt halt seeing a nearly naked guy, and who could blame him? "Excuse me."
"This is not what it looks like," Jenna said.
"Of course not." Without so much as checking on his laundry, he plunked multiple quarters in several clothes-filled dryers. They spun to life. He turned and left the same way he'd come, only faster. Eyes forward. No looking back.
Good thing she wasn't in danger of anything more than potential disappointment, rejection and a cheap thrill despite the fact the motley-motorcycle-man looked unlawful. She sensed he might bark but wouldn't bite unless asked to.
In addition to the Chicken Shack next door, the strip mall had several destinations where laundry patrons could amuse themselves between wash, rinse and spin cycles. An arcade. The discount store. The last video rental store in town--maybe the entire state. She should do like baldy had and leave. But the discount store sold Valentine's Day cards, heart-shaped candies and schmaltzy gifts. The video store rented romantic movies, which were two-for-the-price-of-one in honor of the lovers' holiday. It was couple's night at the arcade and every night was food poisoning night at The Shack. She'd take her chances with the pantsless beefcake, offensive hearts and all.
I can't believe I'm saying this. "You have five seconds to put those jeans on before I call 911."
"I've been living in them for three days straight," he protested. "They flunked the stink test. Yesterday."
You didn't flunk my stink test. She inhaled his manly scent, which still lingered in the air around her. I can't believe I'm saying this either. "Then I suggest you keep your distance."
After yanking his jeans back up, he took up residency across the room, taking up several chairs like they were a couch and this was his own personal man cave. While waiting, he flipped noisily through a magazine.
Jenna settled into something just short of comfort, interrupted only by his muted chuckles until he asked, "What's a five-letter word for Goddess of Love? Ends in S."
"Oh. Yeah. Right." His head bobbed in her peripheral vision. "Got a pen?"
Jenna dug through her purse. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather have a pencil?"
Taking the pen, he returned to his seat. "Flower sold by the dozen," he muttered to himself. Sounded rhetorical, so she bit her lip. "Rose," he mumbled, jotting down his brilliance in ink, seemingly confident in his answer. "Sweet Valentine treat." Clicking the button on the pen repeatedly, he said, "Chocolate."
Jenna rolled her eyes and groaned inwardly.
"Italian word for love." He tapped the pen to his skull. "Five letters. Starts with an A."
He pointed the business end of the pen at her. "Thank you very much. It was on the tip of my tongue."
Jenna really didn't want to hear about the tip of his tongue and what might or might not be on it. Especially amore.
She'd had enough of syrupy television shows about Valentine's Day. The grocery store had an aisle devoted to all things red and romantic, from candy to cards and silly stuffed animals that said, "I wuv U". Barf. Now this. Him! Today of all days.
Didn't she just spend New Year's Eve alone curled up on her couch with a gallon of Chunky Monkey ice cream to fill the lonely void where a midnight kiss should have been? Before that was Christmas, her paired-off family members all looking at her with pity-filled eyes. Don't get me started on Thanksgiving. Her birthday--well--her birthday in September had been nice instead of spectacular, the sting of a breakup too fresh for anything better than nice.
She and Stephen hadn't even been dating long or seriously, or even exclusively, as she found out later. Thank God I didn't sleep with him. She had to wonder if he'd still be around if she had slept with him. Men being like stray dogs and all--feed them and you can't get rid of them. If only. Seemed she could do nothing but get rid of them.
"Embrace. Three letters," he mumbled. "Ends with a--"
"Why are you doing this to me?" she asked Mr. Flawed-To-Perfection.
Looking up, he met her gaze, shooting Jenna a quizzical look through dark eyes. "Just killing time."
"Can you do your killing quietly, please?" Although his voice sounded rich and smooth, like fine chocolate. The baritone slid in her ear canal to weave a web of desire in the sexy part of her brain that had a direct connection to her vagina.
"You got something against crossword puzzles from," he peeked at the cover of the magazine, "two-thousand and six?"
"I've got something against the Valentine's Day holiday." More specifically the vast void of loneliness it spread to her kind. Singles. "Period."
He slapped the magazine on the seat next to him. "Is it...is today Valentine's Day?"
And on top of everything else, he's clueless.