Hi Kitten, please enjoy this free spicy read and lmk what you think, below in the comments.
Chapter 3, Gracie
“Yes!” I leaned back on the cozy, tall bar stool in Luke’s kitchen and shot my fist in the air.
150,000 Instagram followers and 50,000+ Facebook Likes for the Bali-Wood luxury travel magazine account. More than I had promised their shareholders as their social media manager ten weeks ago.
It had been two days since Luke picked me up from Sofie’s place on that dark night. It was hard to believe how long it was going to take just to get the lights working again.
The Lost Coast wasn’t called that for nothing. People said it was “behind the redwood curtain”, and they weren’t kidding. The upside of having to wait over a week for the new solar batteries to be delivered was that I had nothing to do but focus on tending to Likes, Comments, and Shares, which were leading to the conversions and revenue that I had forecast for my clients.
It didn’t hurt one little bit that the Kardashians had hashtagged one of the five-star spa resorts in the Bali-Wood portfolio.
As a result, I was sure that my clients would be more than happy with the social media performance I was boosting for them in order to help achieve their business goals. In my line of work, goal-getting led to bonuses. Bonuses meant security and a nicely padded bank account.
The bigger my balance, the less afraid I felt of the possibility of living on the streets. That was a reality that kept me working very hard indeed. I grew up there for a short while, long enough to make me vow that I would never experience homelessness again.
Luke had let me know that morning that he needed to go out and inspect the progress on a project and would be gone until the afternoon.
The downside of having to wait a week for the damn batteries is that I had to ignore the tingles that he gave me 24/7—yes, I had hot dreams about him—and pretended not to notice the way that he caught and held my gaze as I went about my business in his home.
He didn’t look away when he talked to me. Sometimes it felt like being a rabbit spotted by a coyote, frozen still in a field, hoping not to be seen.
Only difference was I wanted to be caught.
I fantasized about him pushing me against a wall and kissing me. Grabbing my hair in his hands and pulling my neck back so that my lips lifted towards his. The other day, he stopped what he was doing and raised an eyebrow at me. I had been staring at his hands forever while he was doing the dishes.
His deep voice. It thrummed downward through my belly and warmed up my lady bits.
Truth be told, I had missed his hulking, heavy-footed presence in the house ever since he had left this morning. The flip side of that longing was that I could work without him distracting me.
Being attracted to Luke was a recipe for disaster. He was Sofie’s husband’s best friend. If we were to go out, or even have a fling, the inevitable repercussions would be uncomfortable for everyone involved. I needed to stop fantasizing about his big, strong body pressed against mine. I needed to stop imagining his chest under my palms; how unyielding it would be.
I needed to stop thinking about him saying to me, “You sound sleepy, princess. I think it’s time I ran you a warm bath. Then Daddy will feed you before he puts you to bed.”
That was it! It was time for a pie and ice cream celebration in order to stave off this other, unfed hunger.
“Tomorrow, I’m so giving up carbs and calories,” I muttered as I headed for the bathroom to get ready.
I took my second shower of the day and slathered myself in Fleurs de Cerisies (cherry blossom) shimmering lotion. Girly smells were good, and girly smells with sparkles were one hundred times better.
Once dry, I grabbed my favorite thigh-length camel hair coat; a bulky, cable-knit cream-colored fisherman’s sweater to wear underneath; a pair of camel-colored corduroy shorts; taupe tights; cream ankle socks; and a pair of brown leather ankle boots. I had to admit that I looked semi-adorable after topping the whole outfit off with my caramel-streaked messy bun perched on the top of my head.
Thankfully, Luke had taken me back to Sofie’s house for my car yesterday, so I didn’t have to walk the whole way back into town. I climbed into my ice blue Mini Cooper and headed to the Lost Coast Pie Factory.
* * *
“You sure you wanna eat that?”
I was sitting outside at one of the sidewalk tables out front of the pie factory when this nasally voiced question came from directly behind me. I could see the shadowy outline of a cowboy hat cast across my table as I enjoyed the yummy warmth of blackberry pie topped with melty vanilla ice cream.
I stopped short, the forkful of goodness parked halfway between my plate and my mouth.
“I mean, you’re really pretty for a plus-sized girl. You don’t want to push yourself over the edge to faaaaaaaaaaat.” The annoying voice became increasingly high-pitched until it reached a squeak and petered out like a choked rooster.
The shadow of the cowboy hat went sliding up the wall to my right, and I turned around to see Luke holding the boot-kicking perpetrator up by his Levi jacket, shoving him against the exterior brickwork of the store. The jerk comically kicked the heels of his cowboy boots against the wall and wriggled his shoulders ineffectively in a feeble attempt to break free of the bulging arms that held him in place.
Luke opened his fists suddenly so that the oily-faced jerk dropped to the ground. Honestly, in this day and age, there was just no excuse for not having a good skincare routine.
Maybe I could help with that. A sugar scrub would do this guy’s complexion good.
I took the whole pile of sugary goodness on my paper plate and smashed it into the pipsqueak cowboy’s face. He wore a dripping mask of purple and white, sniveling as he apologized, “Sorry, Luke. I had no idea she was your girl.”
“Who cares whose girl she is? You have no business talking like that to anyone in this town, male or female. What’s the matter with you?”
“Yeah, what’s the matter with you?” I shoved the meanie’s shoulders back so that he bumped into the wall again. Luke had let him go. “You’re”—I poked his chest hard with my index finger to emphasize each syllable— “no”… poke… “big”… poke… “door”… poke… “prize”… poke… “yourself!” Poke. Poke.
* * *
It was nice to be in the big tall truck which was so high off the ground that Luke had to lift me up to the seat on the passenger’s side. Perched up there, I could see everything. It felt like I was safe from the world around me.
Luke had insisted that I ride along with him and leave my car in town.
To be honest, it was a relief not to be on my own right now.
As soon as the adrenaline of the pie-in-the-face revenge left my system, the aftermath of the incident made it feel like a giant was sitting on my chest, and it was near impossible to keep the air consistently flowing.
I noticed that my fingers trembled, and my knees wouldn’t stay still. David Bowie knees. That was what Sofie and I called it when the signs set in, because they trembled like a flower.
The panic could be inspired by anything. That was what made it so difficult. It could pay a visit on even the best of days, when your guard was down. When you thought everything was going to be okay.
Today was a perfect example.
A banner day at work that should’ve had me on cloud nine, trumped by an encounter with a meaningless toady and bam, I felt like a kitten under the gaze of a slobbering, angry Rottweiler.
Only there was no dog in sight.
Only the plaguing reminder of what it felt like to be in danger. It could happen in an environment as seemingly innocuous as the post office or a grocery store.
Thankfully, Luke had refused my insistence that I could drive just fine on my own. It felt like my lungs were finally filling up with oxygen. Part of that recovery was due to the fact that within arm’s reach was this jean-clad, rock-solid protector.
I wondered if he felt like protecting me.
I watched the sheep as we passed them in the fields. The clumsy, jumping babies made me smile.
The old wooden barns in the middle of the lush green fields were something else to focus on. Luke picked up my hand in his and squeezed. My imaginary kitten ran up the trunk of his tree and perched on a high branch where no psychological Rottweilers could reach.
We rode that way for a while.
“I should not have left you alone.” He let go of my hand and gripped the steering wheel so hard that the knuckles turned white. “How could that jerk dare to say something like that? You are perfect just the way you are. It’s insecurity, plain and simple. Stupid male insecurity.”
Then he began to chuckle in his deep, chocolatey voice.
“What?” I asked.
“You were so fierce shoving that pie in his face. I wish I’d filmed it.”
“He was a grade-A douche nozzle. He deserved pie in the face.” Luke’s shoulders bounced up and down beside me.
“Anyway”—he patted my hand—“you’re safe with Daddy now.”