Surprise! You get Dan’s first chapter from ‘Marriage of Inconvenience’
PLEASE NOTE: This has not been edited, so please forgive typos… And happy Teaser Tuesday <3
Monday, 10:32 PM
“What did you just say?” I checked my watch again. I didn’t have time for this shit.
After ten on a weekday. I was running late on one of the rare nights I’d get to sleep in my own bed. Steven needed to get home.
We were at the East Randolph Street property, on the north side of Millennium Park. Our main office was downtown, but we’d moved the data center to the apartment building a few months ago. Since Cipher-Systems owned the whole building—and controlled all access points and ports in or out of it—Alex, Quinn, and Fiona believed the apartment building was the more secure option.
So here we were, in the apartment building where I lived, working late into the night, and I hadn’t yet had a chance to go home. Unbelievable.
Quinn glanced over his shoulder, giving me a look. “I said bring a Tonya, it’s a couple thing.”
I crossed my arms, returning his evil eye. “Tonya and I split.”
Quinn did that thing, that stupid thing where he waved his hand in the air like he was shooing away a bug. “I know.”
This was a stupid thing he’d been doing since we were kids and he didn’t want to talk about something. What did he think? That I wanted to talk about this shit? I needed to go. Now.
“Why do you want me to bring Tonya?”
“I meant a Tonya.” Again with the hand wave. “Bring a Tonya.”
“Bring a Tonya?” I scratched the back of my neck, not following. “You mean someone who looks like Tonya? Why does my date need to look like Tonya?” Checking my watch again, I rubbed my wrist. Steven hadn’t called, but I didn’t like being this late. Unfortunately, more and more over the last month this had become the norm.
“I don’t care what she looks like as long as she knows how to act at these things.” More hand waving. “Like Tonya.”
Ah. I got it. Okay. No biggie.
But if he thought he could give me the impatient hand-wave, then that was my cue to annoy him. “You’re going to bring up my ex-girlfriend and that’s all I get?”
“What?” His tone clipped, he glared at me.
“The least you could do is offer me tea.” I shrugged, sniffed. “What if I’m still emotionally unstable about the breakup?”
Alex made a sound, like he was trying not to laugh.
Quinn wasn’t laughing.
“Hey, I have feelings.” I mimicked his stupid hand-wave. “I was with the woman for over two years.”
“No, you weren’t,” Quinn grumbled.
“Yeah, I was. We hooked up just after New Years, and—”
“You weren’t together. You were passing time.”
“She had a toothbrush at my place.” I was pushing the issue for no reason, but something about his easy dismissal of Tonya pissed me off. It also made my neck itch. And my neck only itched when I felt guilty about something.
“So, toothbrush residence-sharing equates to a serious relationship. Everyone knows this.” I didn’t know who I was trying to convince, him or me.
“I agree with Quinn.” Alex said this without turning from his computer. And by computer, I mean a wall of monitors and shit that buzzed.
I caught myself before rolling my eyes. “You always agree with Quinn, Chachi.”
Alex pivoted completely around in his chair and glared at me. I tried to glare back but I swear, the kid’s glare was unnerving as hell.
“Don’t call me Chachi.”
“Fine. Fuck you. I’ll call you Joanie.”
His unnerving glare intensified and my phone buzzed. Pulling it from my pocket, I checked the screen, and then did a double take, growing sick to my stomach.
Mom: I assume you’re dead since you can’t be bothered to call your mother on her birthday. Tell Quinn we’ll send flowers to the funeral home since we don’t know where to make a donation in your name. I hope your mourners aren’t allergic to calla lilies. Love, Your Mother who gave birth to you after 42 hours of labor.
Mom: Call me. If you can spare the time.
“Who’s that? What’s wrong?” The kid sounded like he was on high alert.
I closed my eyes, muttering under my breath, “Fuck a fucking duck.”
After moment of inspecting me, Quinn said, “It’s his mom,”
I opened my eyes. Quinn was wearing his little shit-eating grin. It was so little, someone who hadn’t grown up with him would need a magnifying glass and some really good light to spot it. But I’d known him since either of us could remember.
“Oh.” Alex turned back to his wall of buzzing shit without another word.
Meanwhile, Quinn stepped closer to me and lowered his voice. “You didn’t call her?”
“No, I didn’t fucking call her.” This was a disaster. I was dead. She was going to murder me with guilt. Speaking of which, my neck itched.
My friend’s freaky blue eyes moved over me. “I called my mom this morning.”
“I know.” The shithead.
Quinn’s mother and my mother shared a birthday. That meant we always reminded each other to call our mothers every year on their birthdays. Even though a few years back Quinn went through a period of time where he didn’t call his mom at all—because they weren’t talking to each other—he’d still remind me.
“I reminded you this morning. And I reminded you during lunch. And Janie said she sent you a text.”
“I know that too, fuck face.”
Janie was Quinn’s wife and currently hugely pregnant with their first kid. She was also on bedrest for some kind of medical something, which made Quinn crazy. Quinn had been taking this crazy out on me. Additionally, I’d been doing all his travel plus mine, which meant I usually didn’t know if I was coming or going.
Meanwhile, he’d been spending more time with his hot wife, probably also driving her crazy.
I’d planned to call my mother this afternoon while checking in with the team at the Fairbanks building, but then Kat Tanner had shown up. Let’s just say I had difficulty concentrating on much after that.
Kat Tanner was . . . fuck. I didn’t even know how to describe her.
She was like that girl, that idealized, wicked smart, wicked nice, wicked hot girl you know all your life, from pre-school to high school. At first she has you convinced that she has no fucking clue how fucking amazing she is. She’s humble, kind, salt of the earth, good people. You watch her with her friends and think, fuck, she’s a goddamn diamond.
Let me explain what I mean by this. I’ve never had what some people call ‘a type.’ I love all women. I love looking at them. I love talking to them. I love them talking to me. Don’t matter young, old, tall, short, chunky, thin, red, brown, blue, gray, I have a steadfast admiration for females.
This might be because my mom is a super lady, basically raising all us kids on her own while my dad wasn’t around much. He did his best, but as a career Navy guy, he was deployed more than he was at home.
This might also be because my sisters are angels, whereas my brother is a worthless piece of shit. Sure, my sisters had their dramas, but these dramas were mostly caused by undeserving men who mistreated them.
Whatever. Women are fucking amazing, I love them all, and I’ve dated all kinds.
But I’d never felt this shitty feeling in my chest until I’d met Kat Tanner. Like I couldn’t draw a full breath when she was around. Actually, scratch that. I couldn’t draw a full breath sometimes just thinking about her.
Why her, I didn’t know. Could be her pheromones did strange stuff to my pheromones, messed up my endocrine flow, or Chi. Whatever.
Could be, I just really liked the way she looked, her dark thick hair, her big brown eyes, how her lips were the exact shade of the roses in my grandma’s garden, the olive tint of her skin, the way she walked, the curve of her ass, how she looked down and always sounded a little guilty when she laughed. Whatever. It was everything.
But then I found out she was some kind of fricken billionaire heiress.
So I thought, Hey, she doesn’t make a big deal about it, why should I? So what if I grew up on the other side of the tracks? So what if I was in and out of jail and gangs when I was a teenager? So what if I have a GED instead of a high school diploma? So what if I never went to college, and meanwhile she’s going to University of Chicago for some fancy degree?
People are just people when you get down to it, right? No biggie.
But then I woke up next to her one morning in Las Vegas, after holding her hair the night before while she throws up, only for her to tell me she’s not into monogamy.
For the record, I have nothing against polyamory, or the people who live that lifestyle. They want to have sex with all the people in the world, go for it. More power to them.
But that kind of lifestyle isn’t for me. And, knowing myself as I do, I wouldn’t be able to stomach seeing some other guy touching the woman I loved. Furthermore, knowing myself as I do, I’d probably beat the shit out of that other guy.
But that’s just me.
So, yeah. I saw Kat this afternoon after not talking to her for six months. Seeing her reinforced the fact that she was still a goddam diamond and she still gave me that shitty feeling in my chest. We’d talked briefly. As usual, she couldn’t wait to get away from me. Afterward, I’d been distracted and irritable, and I hadn’t called my mom on her birthday.
Quinn’s smile spread. He tried to hide it by clearing his throat and covering his mouth with a fist. “You want me to call your mom? Tell her you’re on assignment, out of the country?”
“I’d have to be on Mars, resurrecting both JFK and Bing Crosby from the dead, for her to give me a pass. Short of that. . .” I shook my head. Fucking disaster.
“I could tell her you were doing something for Janie and the baby.”
“No.” I groaned. “That would only make it worse, give her a chance to point out you’re married and giving your mom grand kids.” And I wasn’t.
“There’s got to be something she wants.” His face was now sober. “Diamond earrings?”
He remembered the last time I hadn’t called my mom and the tempest of ignominy and shame that she’d rained upon me.
I’d been seventeen and in jail. She didn’t care that I had no possible way to call her. She didn’t care that I’d taken the fall for my older brother, Seamus. She didn’t care that I’d bribed a guard an ungodly amount of cash to have flowers sent, along with her favorite perfume. She didn’t care that I’d organized her party and the rest of my siblings—including Seamus, who, let me point out again, should have been in jail in my place—had taken her to church, made her cake, and treated her like a goddess.
I hadn’t called; therefore, I was Judas the betrayer. I’d take fire and brimstone over Eleanor O’Malley’s unrelenting, passive-aggressive guilt-squall any day of the week.
May God have mercy on my soul.
Quinn shrugged. “Let me know if I can help.”
“I need a miracle.” Exhaling my frustration, I turned and left without another word.
Glancing at the screen of my phone, I re-read her message as I walked out of the room, down the hall, and to the elevators. Pressing the call button, I decided I couldn’t call her and tell her I’d forgotten. That was not an option. So I ran through the list of things my mom wanted the most, from ranked highest to lowest:
Me getting married and settling down.
Me giving her more grand kids.
Me moving home to Boston and buying a house on her street.
Me coming to stay for every major holiday for the rest of my life.
Me asking her advice about every major decision for the rest of my life.
Four of the five weren’t possible. They just weren’t. The first three because they were impossible for me to do within the next 24-hours, and the last one wasn’t going to happen because I wasn’t some helpless asshole.
Number four would have to do it. I’d have to pledge at least five years of holidays as penance. So be it.
Plus, I was going to have to make up a lie about why I hadn’t called yet, and it was going to have to be good. If I told her the truth, that I’d forgotten, it would legitimately hurt her feelings. There was nothing I wouldn’t do—including lie, cheat, and steal—to avoid hurting my mom’s feelings.
Getting on the elevator, I pressed the button for my floor and leaned against the cushioned velvet wall, tired. So damn tired. I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed.
But first things first. I’d apologize to Steven and then spend some time with Wally while I called my mom.
As soon as I opened the door to my apartment I called out, “Hey, Steven. Sorry I’m so fucking late. Quinn has me doing this fucking thing with the corporate division, and those fancy fuckers need more hand holding than my one year-old nephew. I swear, I thought that Townsend douchebag was going to ask me to jerk him off.”
I pulled at the tie around my neck, grateful to remove the noose. Lying the tie over my jacket, I tossed both to the chair in the entryway, frowning at the darkness.
And the silence.
No answer. But then a lamp switched on someplace in the family room, the light spilling into the hallway as I unbuttoned my collar and the top three buttons of my shirt.
And where the hell is Wally? Typically he was waiting by the door, ready to lash me with his whip of a tail.
Wally was always a bundle of energy whenever I came home, didn’t matter the time of day, he’d wag his tail so hard sometimes he’d knock himself over. I’d adopted him what he was only six weeks old. Now he was four, but I swear, he still acted like a puppy, loved to be held.
My boy was a good sized dog, Labrador, terrier mix—plus some other stuff, I was sure—so the best kind of dog, with the best personality traits from each breed in his ancestry. And so smart. I was convinced that dog had a sixth sense about things, especially people.
For example, Wally didn’t like my brother Seamus. Every time he’d come around, Wally would growl and bark, didn’t want Seamus touching him.
He just knew my brother was a nasty fucker.
And you can tell a lot about a person based on how they interact with animals. I don’t trust people who don’t like dogs, they’re not my people. How can you dislike dogs? They’re the best fucking thing about this planet, with hockey, sex, and a good Irish Whiskey taking places 2, 3, and 4.
Plus, dogs are loyal. There’s nothing more loyal than a dog. Probably because they got their priorities straight: food, sleep, and chasing shit.
But enough about my awesome dog, for now.
Unbuttoning the right cuff of my suit shirt, I strolled into the main room. “Steven, again, I’m sorry about being so late. If I—”
I stopped short, rocking back on my heels, staring like a dummy at the wholly unanticipated image of Kat Tanner rubbing her eyes as she ungracefully stood from the couch. And Wally lifting his head from where he’d been curled up next to her.
I was dreaming. It was the only explanation. I was already asleep and this was one of my fantasies, because Kat was the only woman who’d consistently starred in my dirty dreams.
I was so certain this was a dream, I almost crossed the room and kissed her. But I didn’t, because Wally was there. Wally had never been a star player in my fantasies, and I believed that made me 100% normal.
Wide-eyed, I blinked at her, having no words. If my sisters were here, they’d have a field day, seeing me tongue-tied and brain dead.
Luckily, she filled the silence as Wally jumped off the couch and rushed to me, as though just realizing I’d arrived. What a pissa.
“Steven let me in. He said I could wait for you, I hope you don’t mind.”
“No,” I said too fast, but it was already out and there was no taking it back. So I cleared my throat and tried to sound less like some loser, eager for her company. “No, I don’t mind.” I bent to pat my boy and take a damn minute to compose myself. “Is Steven still here?”
“No. He left at six. He offered to take Wally, but I thought—and I hope I didn’t overstep—I thought since I was here and waiting anyway. . . ” She gestured to my boy. His tail beat an enthusiastic rhythm against my leg as though Wally knew he was being talked about by a beautiful woman.
He trotted back to her and rubbed his head under her hand. She immediately patted him and rubbed his ears. Wally sighed like he was in heaven.
“I hope that’s okay,” she repeated, looking guarded.
Noteworthy, she always looked guarded.
“Yeah.” I nodded, waving away her concern. “Yeah. Makes sense.” I sounded winded. My chest was doing that shitty thing where it felt too tight, or too full.
Not helping matters, she also looked gorgeous.
Get a fucking hold of yourself, Daniel. Obviously she needs something. She didn’t wait here all day so she could hump your leg.
But the thought that she’d waited for me, and might need something from me, was almost as intoxicating as if she’d actually come here to hump my leg. To put it plainly, I wasn’t about to turn either request down.
“So, uh.” I tried to take a deep breath. I couldn’t. “Is there something you need?” I walked to the bureau to put some distance between us. She was too close. Four feet with anyone else was fine and dandy. Four feet with Kat, alone in my apartment, was suffocating.
“I . . .” I heard her take a breath. Then another louder one.
I glanced over my shoulder, found she was holding herself, her arms tight around her middle. That made me frown.
“Okay. Okay.” She nodded, obviously talking to herself.
Finally, my stupid brain moved beyond the shock of seeing her, of her being here, and all the clutter of hopes and dirty dreams her presence inspired. I looked at her. I really fucking looked.
She was scared.
A jolt of alarm had me crossing back to her before I could check the instinct. Holding her shoulders, I angled my chin to catch her eyes.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“I need your help.”
“Tell me, what’s wrong?”
“It’s . . . it’s—I can’t believe I’m going to ask you this.” She exhaled a laugh, sounding a little guilty, like always.
“You need money?”
“No.” She shook her head adamantly. “No. I’m actually here to offer you money.”
I let my hands drop and I backed up, lifting my chin. I’ll tell you the truth, the fact she was here to offer me money landed like a blow. Or at the very least, it felt like a paper-cut. It stung.
Sure, we weren’t close, but we were friendly. At least, I thought we were. And you don’t pay friends, it’s the eleventh commandment, right after not coveting thy neighbor’s cow.
Thou shalt not covet cows. Oh yeah, and don’t offer to pay your friends either.
Dropping my chin, I tried not to glare at her. But I’m pretty sure I did.
“I don’t want your money. You need something, just ask.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“It is that simple. It’s the ABC’s of friendship, Kat.”
She looked a little startled. “We’re friends?”
Ugh. Fuck a duck.
Then she took a small step forward, and she looked hopeful.
Ugh. Fuck another duck.
“Yeah. ‘Course we’re friends.” I wiped my hand across my mouth then shoved it in my pocket.
What I didn’t say was . . . a lot.
She was twisting her fingers again, like she’d done today in the lobby. “What if I pay you—”
“How about this, why don’t you tell me what you need first? Then we’ll discuss the money after. Okay?”
She hesitated, then nodded, her breath coming faster. “Okay, okay.” Again I got the impression she was speaking to herself. “I can do this.”
Another spike of alarm had me wanting to touch her again, but I didn’t. From the look of it, whatever was bothering her, whatever brought her here, must’ve been a big deal.
I tried to keep the worry out of my voice, gently prodding, “Start from the beginning.”
“The story is too long. Can I just—” she paused to swallow, her eyes pleading, “—can I just tell you the end?”
“Fine, tell me the end.”
She was really freaking me out here.
“I need. . . ”
Her chin wobbled. “I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t an emergency.”
“Anything. It’s yours. Just ask. Please.” Now I was begging.
I swear, this woman. My heart was beating a million miles a minute. She clearly had no idea the kind of power she had over me. Or maybe she did, and this torture was on purpose.
She reached into her pocket and took out a small velvet box. Her hands were shaking as she opened it, revealing two plain gold rings. One was thicker and bigger, obviously meant for a guy. And the other was small, for a woman’s finger.
Does she want me to pawn them?
I glanced between her and the box, waiting.
“Dan. I want . . . will you marry me?”
Release date: March 6, 2018
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