CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL LADYKILLER
In January 2018, I began a story titled "Confessions of a Serial Ladykiller."
The subscribers to my newsletter (Coming Attractions) voted on the romance trope, and the profession and ages of the hero and heroine. At the end of each chapter, there is a vote to determine what I write next!
Nobody knows where this story will go, and I love that readers get to decide. It's like Choose Your Own Adventure, romance-style!
Okay, I'm not a total jerk! Here's the first chapter for you! Happy reading!
Finally. After bumping the filing cabinet shut with my hip, I hung up my white jacket and was just about to shut down the office for the night when the local sex god strolled through the door.
At least, that was the rumor around town about Nick Amoretto.
I’d been aware of the gossip since I moved back after my marriage had collapsed. It hadn’t been much of a marriage in a long time, but its dissolution still stung. I’d had too much pride left in me to move back in with my parents, but I also had a student loan to finish repaying, so I did the next best thing—moved in with my older brother, who spent half his time at the firehouse anyhow.
“Big Ben” had always been everything I wasn’t—popular, athletic, good-looking. I got the brains and he got the brawn. And a condo with a barely used den slash guest bedroom. As a firefighter Ben worked strange shifts, so there were weeks where he was barely around. The arrangement gave him a live-in housekeeper, and gave me space to lick my wounds and save money.
I felt more than a little pathetic, but until my state veterinary license transferred, I couldn’t do much more than do volunteer shelter work, and goof off online. That’s what I was doing when I first met Nick.
I mean, I was naked—not him. Okay, there was a towel, but that’s not as important as the fact that I was on the couch feeling sorry for myself and reading smutty fan fiction.
“My eyes! My eyes!” screamed Ben.
My head whipped around to see him stumble into the kitchen island in shock. Behind him, the front door was open and another tall, handsome man—Nick—was smirking.
I’d never moved so fast in my life. Since it was never spoken of again, I’d hoped that they thought the pale blob dashing across the living room before them was an optical illusion. A trick of the afternoon light streaming through the big window by the balcony.
That was six months ago. Now, I was in my own apartment—although in the same building as Ben—and working for a local vet practice, and my relationship with Nick was friendly but not too friendly. But my cheeks still bloomed every time I saw him.
Blushing over a boy when you’re in high school is expected. When you’re thirty-one, your cosmetics-obsessed receptionist starts sending you articles about rosacea.
“I have a pussy problem, Marenna,” Nick announced to me now as I stood behind the vet office’s reception desk.
Of course he did. My eyes rolled, but not before they spotted the bulge in his t-shirt. Black cotton stretched over broad shoulders as he crossed his arms awkwardly over his chest, cradling something.
My head tilted. “What have you got there?”
A little striped head poked out of his collar, and Nick’s chin reflexively jerked down, like he was playing Whack-a-Mole.
“Ouch!” He winced. “Fucking claws.”
I moved around the desk toward him, my hands stopping at a bottle of sanitizer on the way. “Some pussy got its claws in you?” Now it was my turn to smirk.
“Literally.” His grin was so disarming, it was almost paralyzing. I’d heard it could stop women in their tracks, but I’d never actually seen it happen in person before—until now, as I stood there with my arms outstretched toward him like a zombie.
Nick yelped as the bulge in his shirt tried to make a break for it. Without thinking about it, I stepped into his personal space and helped the little body wriggle free from the neck hole.
“Well, hello there,” I said, one hand holding up the tabby kitten at the scruff and the other hand splayed under its butt. Its tail wasn’t even the size of my pinky finger, and it felt like nothing more than a small bunch of bones with a downy coating. It couldn’t have been more than six weeks old, at the most. “Where did you come from?”
“A tree in the park. Last call of my shift.” Nick was a firefighter, like my brother Ben.
“I didn’t know that firemen still rescued cats from trees,” I joked.
When he chuckled, the lines around his hazel eyes creased and his grin turned deadly again. Gah.
He towered over my five and a half feet, somehow making me feel small and delicate when I was anything but that. His hair was almost the same color as his tanned neck, except for some light ends where the sun had burnished it over the summer. We were into October now, but it was almost as hot as July in our central California town.
And then there was Nick, who was hot year-round. He started more fires than he put out, at least around my girly parts.
I focused on triaging the kitten as Nick followed me down the hall to an exam room. I did a quick gender check, noticing that the beast had a clean butt, at least. It squirmed in my hand a little, but made no noise. I plopped it into a stainless steel bowl sitting on a digital scale, biting my lip at the number that registered.
“Watch her for a second,” I instructed him. I needed two hands to reach into a cupboard and pull out an empty chart with some blank paper, so I could take some notes.
We stood in silence for a couple of minutes while I jotted down her weight, checked her eyes and ears, and ran my fingers over her tiny teeth and through her fur. No fleas, thankfully. Her skin showed at his knobbly little joints, but I didn’t see any other dermal irrita—no, wait.
“Where did you say you found her?”
“At the park. Hanging from a tree.”
When I looked up, I startled to see Nick leaning over the metal exam table, his head close to mine. The heat from his body brushed against me almost like a physical entity, and I smelled a combination of sweat and smoke on his skin.
He extended his forefinger and ran it over the top of the kitten’s head. The soft stroke made me want to purr in envy. The gentle precision of his movement was a direct contrast with the verbal buckshot that came out of his mouth in the next moment.
“Someone had strung it up by the neck, the sick fucks.”
My mouth fell open in shock. It shouldn’t have. I’d been a vet long enough to have seen far too many animals mistreated, but pain still sliced like a paper cut across my heart.
He shook his head, his eyebrows drawn together. “Some runner thought it was a fucking leaf that had turned. I can’t help thinking that if it’d been any bigger, any heavier…”
The kitten would have asphyxiated. We both knew it. “Well, he’ll be okay now, I think.” I’d make sure of it.
Nick moved around the table to my side. “Marenna.”
I looked up from the kitten, whose paws were leaving smudges on the steel table. My face heated as Nick rested his hands on my shoulders and squeezed gently, but any awkwardness I felt vanished in the wake of my sympathetic fury.
“You got her, now,” he said.
As if that were enough, as if I were some kind of Doctor Doolittle savior. He trusted completely that I would take care of everything. It was a humbling realization, especially considering that most days I felt like I could barely take care of myself.
The world was a horrible, dangerous place, I reminded myself as I went down the hall to the kennel area and found an empty crate for the kitten and a couple of clean towels. Like an emergency room physician, I sometimes thought I saw the worst of people.
I’d seen dogs with paws nailed to trees in their yards because their owner didn’t want to bother with a leash tied to a stake. I’d seen kittens left in garbage bags at the side of the freeway. In vet school there was a gruesome incident with a kid microwaving his gecko. Jesus.
It was enough to make anyone with an ounce of empathy sick for the entire human race.
I set the fluffball up comfortably then washed my hands before heading back down the hall. “So what do you think we should ca—”
I stopped in my tracks, agog at my new patient. Nick had hoisted himself up on the exam table and removed his shirt.
His skin was golden and smooth, with dips and bulges of strength cut into his arms and back. The ridges of his abdominal muscles flexed as he ducked his chin to assess the scratch marks on his chest.
“Uh…” This was one animal that I wasn’t sure how to treat.
“Help me, doc?” He winked at me.
Okay. I could do this. I pasted on an officious, professional smile, and approached the table. “Let’s see.”
I felt the heat from his body as I stepped between his spread thighs. Despite it, goosebumps rose on my upper arms, and my nipples pressed against my blouse. Suddenly, the office felt very quiet, and very empty. And Nick felt very big.
“It stings.” He pouted. A golden shadow of beard growth glistened under the fluorescent light as his jaw tensed.
“Poor baby.” The kitten’s claws had left a cross-stitch of scratches on him, some of them red and oozing blood. “I guess you’re used to nail gouges on your back, huh Nick?”
Oh my god, I was teasing him? Where had that come from? The closer I got to him, the more my brain-to-mouth filter disappeared. I stepped backwards, but his legs closed around mine, his heels resting on the backs of my knees.
“Where are you going?”
I swallowed hard and looked him in the eye. “To get stuff to clean you up.”
He tilted his chin down, and I followed his gaze to the most prominent mark on his sternum. My hand went up, my finger tracing the inflamed skin around it.
“You don’t want to get an infection.”
He let out a soft humming noise when I touched him. His skin was so. Damn. Hot.
I bit back a gasp as he wrapped his hand around mine, stilling it against his chest. “Marenna, I’ll have you know that I’ve never gotten an infection from a pussy in my life.”
Okay, now he was definitely flirting with me. My lips curved. “Good to know.”
His heart thumped under our joined hands. His breath brushed against my cheekbone. If I just leaned in a little further, I could…
His legs released me, and he rubbed his palms over his thighs. “Okay, doc. Clean me up.”
Somehow I pulled away from the force field between his knees and grabbed a handful of disinfectant, gauze and ointment. Behind me, I heard him sigh heavily, and the fabric of his work chinos swished against the metal of the table.
When I turned back, his knees were together and his shoulders were slumped over. He clutched onto the edge of the table on either side of his thighs, as though he were getting ready to jump down.
“Scoot back,” I told him.
A muscle flexed in his jaw as he looked at me. Wordlessly, he pressed himself up and inched back on the table as I ripped open an alcohol wipe. He let out a small hiss when I dabbed the longest scratch with it.
“Baby.” I shook my head.
My eyebrow lifted. “It wasn’t a term of endearment.” But my hand trembled a little as I applied antibiotic ointment.
His rough chuckle did strange things to my insides.
In the background, I could hear the occasional yips and whines from the kennels. Normally I could tune out the animal white noise. Right at that moment, though, it added to the primitive miasma around us—the sharp, keening sting of unspoken attraction.
“Ouch.” He winced as I pressed the wipe a little too hard.
Without thinking, I leaned forward and blew on the cut, like a mother soothing a small child. Kissing it better.
Nick groaned. The dusting of hair on his belly rose up, and his flat brown nipples hardened. “Jesus, Marenna.”
I straightened. “Sorry.” My face burning, I backed away.
Ugh! Why did I think I knew how to flirt? Maybe he wasn’t even flirting with me. Maybe I was just imagining this weird… energy between us. I busied myself with tossing stuff in the garbage then mumbled something about checking on the kennels.
The familiar smell of antiseptic, dog hair, and dry cat food rose in my nostrils as I checked on the handful of overnight residents one last time. The little marmalade There weren’t any surgical patients, so no overnight tech was needed. I knew they’d be fine, but I still worried. I gave myself another mental note to install a webcam as I checked the locks on the windows.
Outside the sun had set, but I doubted there would be any chill in the air. Tell that to my headlights, I thought, looking down at my chest.
When I got back to the exam room, Nick was standing by the door with his shirt on. Part of me—mostly below my waist—was disappointed. The part with my brain attached to it, though, decided that this was a good thing.
It would be smarter to keep my head in my work. Nick was a friend of my brother’s, and a notorious player. I’d already been played by one man, and I had the divorce papers to show for it.
“Uh, thanks.” He rubbed the back of his neck, not looking me in the eye. His t-shirt fell around his hips, and bore the telltale crease of him tugging it down in the front. No, I did not check out the crotch of his pants for a bul—okay, yeah, I did.
I totally did.
Silently, I automatically went to spray down the table. His hands had left sweaty palm prints on it, and the steel surface was still warm where he’d sat. He left the room without another word. As he walked down the hall to Reception, I heard his phone ring and his low voice answering.
I finished cleaning up then turned off the lights.
Outside the front door, Nick was waiting for me in the parking lot. He paced back and forth, stringing an invisible web between my ancient SUV and his shiny black pickup truck. I locked up, hitched my purse over my shoulder, and jangled my keys to get his attention.
His head whipped up, his eyes widening as he saw me. “Shit,” he breathed. He took a deep breath, looking more anxious than I’d ever seen him.
“Marenna, I have to tell you something.”
WHAT? WHAT DOES HE HAVE TO TELL HER?