Home > Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(6)

Hosed (Happy Cat #1)(6)
Author: Pippa Grant, Lili Valente

Reaching out, I clap a hand on his shoulder. “I’m proud of you.”

Jace rolls his eyes. “You want the cobbler or not?”

I glance over my shoulder to see Cassie laughing with her co-workers, her eyes dancing in a free, easy way they didn’t when we were alone together this morning, and my chest tightens.

I turn back to Jace. “No cobbler.”

“She might like cobbler.” He shrugs. “Only one way to find out.”

I push my beer back across the bar toward him and slide off my stool. “Nah, not tonight, little brother. See you later.”

“No dinner? I can get it wrapped to go.”

I shake my head as I head toward the rear exit, down the hall by the supply closet, determined not to attract Cassie’s attention while she’s enjoying herself. I want to know what I did wrong so I can make it right, but I’m not going to put her on the spot in public.

I am, however, going to prove to her that I’m not a bad guy and that we should be friends again. We’re neighbors, after all. For now.

With one last glance at her table, and that smile that makes me want to know Cassie again more than I want sleep after a double shift, I head for home.

There, I find George chasing a vibrator—turned on, no pun intended—around my screened-in porch. After making sure he’s not going to accidentally electrocute himself if he bites through the outer case, I make a batch of vegetable quesadillas and contemplate the mysteries of the universe with a cold beer and a copy of my high school yearbook spread open on the kitchen table. But staring at Cassie’s sixteen-year-old face doesn’t offer any answers. Not to why she apparently hated me then, or to why it matters so much that I get to know her again now.

Whatever I did, I want to clear the air. I want to fix it.

But I can’t fix it if she won’t talk to me.

I point my last quesadilla triangle at George, who’s lounging on the couch in the other room, petulantly eating grapes because I refused to make him popcorn. “I need a plan, George. What I really need is a plan.”

Five

Cassie

* * *

Because of Savannah’s schedule filming Savannah Sunshine when we were kids, we usually spent five months a year in California before coming home for most of the school year. Life in Happy Cat was our parents’ way of inserting as much normalcy into our lives as possible. We had tutors to keep us on track while Savannah was on set, of course, but most of her work was done between May and September.

I didn’t do Georgia summers until high school, after her show ended its run.

Wednesday is one more reminder why I choose not to do Georgia summers now. I’m wilting like a plump sunflower and stealing ice chips from Sunshine Toys’ sno-cone stand at the farmers’ market in Sunshine Square to keep from passing out in the heat.

The square was named for Savannah’s TV show. Not her sex toy factory. And that should really be the full name of the square, because it’s how all the locals refer to it now. Sunshine Square, named for the Savannah Sunshine TV show, not for…you know.

Even Ruthie May makes the distinction, and she’s the proudest local employee Savannah has. She’s explaining it to an out-of-towner who came by for the weekly market right now, as a matter of fact.

“Oh, yes. Savannah Sunshine is a local. She’s done so much good for our community, and we’re so proud of everything she’s accomplished. Sno-cone? Savannah insists we hand them out for free. It’s just common decency in this dadgum heat.”

“We have mango-lime, strawberry surprise, and cherry,” Olivia adds. She’s positively glowing in the late afternoon humidity. I don’t know if it’s her aura cleansing ritual or what, but if it weren’t for that paper fan she’s waving on her face, I wouldn’t believe she’s even noticed the heat. She’s fresh as the morning dew in her adorable short jean shorts, bangles on both wrists, big sunglasses that hide half her face, and a sun hat over her blond braids.

She looks like a Southern belle the way she’s working that fan, and it does have the Sunshine Toys logo on it, so she might actually be a marketing genius in disguise.

Our customers all pick the strawberry surprise, and we load them up with sno-cones before sending them down to check out the fresh corn on the cob a few booths over.

“Really smart to theme the sno-cone flavors to match the summer lube flavors,” I tell Olivia.

I’m working on not blushing when I say lube. The fact that my face is already emulating a sweating cherry in the heat is definitely working to my advantage at winning this battle. High-five to me. I pop another ice chunk in my mouth.

“Oh, we didn’t just theme them,” Olivia says brightly. “We’re flavoring the sno-cones with the actual lube.”

The ice gets caught in my throat, and Ruthie May smacks me on the back until it goes flying over our table and lands on a local farmer’s back. I wince, but the man in the overalls doesn’t seem to notice the ice already melting into his clothes, so I don’t bother to apologize.

I have bigger problems than assault with a chunk of sno-cone.

“What? We can’t use—” I rasp before another coughing fit hits me.

“But we use all natural ingredients,” Olivia explains while I try to get rid of the itch clawing at my throat. “Completely edible.”

“I thought the coconut oil would solidify on the ice, but Neil tweaked the formula so it’s working perfectly,” Ruthie May adds. “Going down real smooth.”

“Stop,” I gasp between coughs. If any of the town prudes hear that we’re spreading Satan’s sex juice all over innocent children’s sno-cones, we’ll get investigated by the health department. I’ll have to tell Savannah about it, and she will absolutely sell the company.

I have to do something. Stat!

I’m bent double, hacking out my tonsils while I rack my brain, when a raccoon on a leash stops in front of our table.

The hairs on the top of my head prickle just like the hairs on my nape stood up at the Wild Hog last night when I was failing miserably at not being oh-so-aware of Ryan sitting at the bar, looking delicious in faded jeans and a tight blue tee shirt the same pristine mountain lake shade as his eyes.

I blame Ruthie May for that too.

She kept whispering that he was looking at me until he left.

“You okay, Cassie?” Ryan asks.

“Oh my gosh, Ryan, thank the goddess you’re here,” Olivia says while I try not to cough-spit on Ryan’s shoes. Or his raccoon. “I think she needs the Heimlich.”

Metal clinks, and an open stainless-steel water bottle appears under my nose. Two more points to Ryan for being environmentally friendly. “Here,” he says, “take a drink. George doesn’t mind sharing.”

I’m too grateful for the water to get mad that he’s offering me his raccoon’s water. I gulp the cool liquid, spilling some down my favorite Firefly tee shirt.

“Thank you,” I say when I’m finally able to talk without hacking up a lung.

And that’s when I make the fatal mistake.

I look him straight in the eye, and the raw concern in the furrow of his brows melts into one of those friendly smiles that flips my belly inside out and renders me incapable of using my tongue for speech. Though I’m pretty sure I could work up the lingual fortitude to lick several parts of him—repeatedly.

Why does he have this effect on me? Even after being responsible for the most mortifying moment of my entire life, he still makes me swoon like I did that time Wil Wheaton told me he liked my Supergirl costume at Comic-Con.

In California, I learned to expect that people might not be what they pretend to be on the surface. Yes, I was young, but my parents were like hawks on set, and they made sure Savannah and I knew not to trust the boys—or sometimes men—who hinted at wanting to spend time alone with us.

But I thought Ryan, at least, was one of the good guys, and that I wouldn’t find Hollywood-level deception in Happy Cat.

He proved me wrong.

He proved me so wrong.

And if the Ryan O’Dells of the world are secretly backstabbing creeps, then what hope is there for any other man?

“Better?” he asks.

I want to believe that honest, friendly concern is real, but I have trust issues.

And they’re his fault.

“Yes.” My voice is all kinds of raspy and unattractive, but it doesn’t matter, because I refuse to care if I’m attractive to Ryan. “Thank you.”

I hand him back his bottle and wipe my sweaty palms on my shorts.

He scans me up and down, but I remind myself it’s professional firefighter Ryan making sure I’m okay, and that the fact that my skin tingles under my clothes everywhere he looks would mean nothing to him. This attraction is not a reciprocal problem.

“That’s so sweet of you to take care of Cassie,” Olivia says. “You two are just adorable, and not just because you have complimentary auras. Which reminds me, Cassie, I need to do your birth chart this week.” She sighs dreamily. “Aren’t they adorable, Ruthie May?”

Ruthie May perks up like a shark that’s smelled blood in the water. “Well, I reckon they are.” She shoots a look between Ryan and me, and I can already see heads twisting. The entire town can sense when Ruthie May gets her teeth sunk into a new story. She lets off gossip pheromones.

“George is the adorable one,” I say, because the raccoon is kinda cute. When he’s not wearing anal beads and lifting penis pops out of Savannah’s trash can. “How are we doing on ice? Do we need more? I can go pick up more if we’re running short.”

“We have plenty,” Ruthie May says without looking, so I lean over and look in the cooler.

“Oh, we do, don’t we?”

“And we have plenty of lu—”

“FLAVORING!” I yell over Olivia. “We should get grape flavoring too. I love grape.”

“But we don’t have any—”

“Exactly. Grape flavored flavoring is important.”

   
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