Page 9

“Good for you.”

His indifference and perfect skin irritate me.

“I was valedictorian in high school.”

Jake drums his fingers on the top of the steering wheel a few times.

“I turned down a scholarship to the University of Illinois.” Drawing in a slow breath, I wait for his response.

No response.

“Did you go to college?”

“Nope.”

“Not even culinary school?”

“Nope.”

“Probably a good thing. Speech is usually a freshman requirement for most degrees, and you clearly would have failed that class.”

He takes the next exit and pulls off on the side of the road by a produce stand. “Let Swarley out, but be back in five or I’m leaving without you.”

I frown.

He winks.

Stupid wink. I hate winkers.

“Jake Matthews!”

Shooing Swarley toward the grass, I roll my eyes at the lady’s enthusiasm to see Mr. Anti-personality.

“Carley, you look younger every time I see you.” He hugs her, lifting her off the ground.

My gaze flits between Swarley and the flex of Jake’s muscles. All muscles. No brains. That’s what I tell myself to tame the itty-bitty part of me that physically reacts to him.

I’m done with men. Period.

“I just turned forty-five, but I feel better than I did at thirty-five. I like this.” Carley ruffles Jake’s thick, blond hair. “I bet all the girls like it.” She winks.

Great. Another winker.

“Whatcha got today?” He follows her to her produce stand.

“All the berries—blue, black, strawberry, and raspberry. I also have asparagus and red leaf lettuce.”

“Sold.” He pulls out a wad of cash from his pocket, shooting me a quick glance, eyes squinted against the sun.

I jerk my attention back to Swarley. “Oh, Swarley. No, no, no.”

He pooped. I suppose it’s better now than passing his lethal gas in the truck. I grab a poop bag from the backseat of the truck.

As Swarley sniffs his way back to me, I cringe. He has a piece of poop hanging from his backside, suspended by a long hair—probably one of mine—that he ate. This dog hates me on every level, conscious and subconscious.

“Hi.” I smile at Carley.

“Hi, darling.” She gives Jake an inflated grin. “Who’s your lady friend?”

Jake keeps his focus on bagging his produce. “Friend might be an overstatement. We just met. Hitchhiker would be more accurate. Carley, Avery. Avery, Carley.”

Carley laughs. “You don’t pick up hitchhikers.” She holds out her hand to me. “So this stunning young lady must be someone really special.”

“No. She’s not,” he deadpans.

I narrow my eyes at him while shaking Carley’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Carley. Jake offered me a ride to L.A. My car died. I can’t fly because I have my sister’s dog with me, and my dad’s heart wouldn’t handle me making the trip alone. And do you by chance have a napkin or paper towel?”

“Oh. I have a rag.” She grabs a cloth towel from a crate beneath her table.

“No. I need something disposable.”

“Time to go, Avery,” Jake says my name with less contempt. Must be the Carley effect.

“I have a tissue in my purse. Will that work?”

I glance back at Swarley and his dangling turd. “Several tissues might work. Thank you.”

Carley digs into her purse and pulls out a wadded-up tissue.

Just one.

One, one-ply tissue.

Possibly already been used.

Biting my lips together, I wrinkle my nose. “Is that all you’ve got?”

“I’m afraid so, darling.” She leans closer and whispers, “Did you get your period? I have a sanitary napkin in the glove compartment of my truck.”

I look back at the dangling turd one more time. It’s the size of a large walnut. “Would you mind if I took what’s in your glove compartment?”

“Not at all.” She goes to her truck, and Jake gets in his driver’s seat.

“Avery, let’s go! Get your dog.”

“Just a minute!”

Carley hands me the wadded sanitary napkin. Thankfully, it’s simply old, not used. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. It was nice to meet you. You’ve got yourself quite the guy there.”

I find my fake grin. “He’s something all right. Bye, Carley.” I press the pad together in my good hand like a puppet. It slips out, falling to the ground, so I pick it up and remove the paper strip. The adhesive isn’t the best, but it should keep it from slipping from my hand while I nab the dangling turd.

“Avery? In the truck or you’re getting left behind.”

“I said, just a minute!” I whistle for Swarley. He comes right to me.

A miracle.

“Hold still.” I rest my injured hand on his back to steady him while I move in for the kill. “Hold still!”

He wiggles, arching his body to sniff the pad in my hand.

I chase him in circles. “Swarley! Would you just stop and hold still?”

True to his evil nature, he wiggles more, whipping the turd every which way, making it impossible to nab it.

“What the hell are you doing?”

I glance back at Jake as I continue to chase the turd in a circle. “He has a chunk of poop dangling from his backside. Do you really want him getting in the back of your truck with it?”

He crosses his arms over his chest, widening his stance. “Hurry up.”

“Hurry up?” I step away from the chase, squaring myself to Mr. Not Helpful.

He grins that perfect surfer grin, with his stupid, perfect hair all perfectly messed up, and that annoying twinkle in his blue eyes.

I hate him.

“Yes. Chop chop, Avery.” He glances down at me with amusement gleaming across his face.

My teeth gnash together. “I have one good hand.” I hold up my left hand and move my puppet pad in his face.

A single eyebrow lifts up his forehead. “Is that a period pad?”

“Hold Swarley.” I shoot him a narrow-eyed challenge.

After a stare-off, I win. Jake brushes past me and hugs Swarley to his body. “You’ve got ten seconds before I leave you behind to work for Carley.”

I lift Swarley’s bobbed tail and grab the hair-bound turd. “Got it.” I stand.

Swarley dashes off to the truck when Jake releases him.

I grin, feeling a mix of disgust at the turd in the folded pad and a twinge of triumph that I got it without getting any poop on my hands.

Plop.

The pad slips out of my hand, landing turd side down on the top of my sandaled foot. “Eww!” I jerk my foot, but the moist turd is stuck and so is the pad. “Eww eww eww … get it off!”

“Clean up and get in the truck.” Jake saunters off, leaving me jumping on one foot while trying to fling off the turd and pad with my other foot.

The growing crowd at Carley’s produce stand watches in amusement. The burn of embarrassment crawls up my neck. I bend down and flick the pad off, leaving a smeared streak of shit on my foot and the toe strap to my sandal—my $300 Italian leather sandals.

I stomp back to the truck with a permanent cringe of disgust affixed to my face. Jake rubs a hand over his mouth. The bastard is laughing at me.

“Don’t speak.” I reach over the seat and grab his water canteen.

“That’s not—”

“Shut it!” I snap, shooting daggers at him with one look.

I unscrew the lid and pour. “Shit!”

Jake clears his throat. “It’s green juice.”

“I see that. Where’s my water?”

“You didn’t bring any.” He pops a blackberry into his mouth.

I hop on one foot, shaking the juice from my dirty foot. “I need water.”

Jake pops another berry.

“Ugh! You are the worst.” I glare at Jake.

Swarley whines.

“Both of you!” I slam the door and hobble to the produce stand. “Carley, do you have some—” My breath catches as I’m swooped up into Jake’s arms.

“You are a pain in the ass, woman,” he mumbles, carrying me to the truck. He opens the back and plops me down on the tailgate.

“I was going to ask Carley for some water.”

Jake opens a plastic tub. “And I’m sure she would give you her drinking water for the day so you can clean your foot because she’s nice like that. But it’s going to be hot, so only an inconsiderate person would accept such an offer.”

“I would not have taken her only water. I just thought …” My jaw drops as he pulls out a gallon jug of water and a roll of paper towels.

“Bastard! You watched me chase a turd with a sanitary napkin. You let me pour juice on my $300 Italian leather sandals while a gallon of water and paper towels were in the back of your truck?”

He unfastens my sandal and washes my foot and sandal without saying another word, without so much as a glance up at me.

“Italian leather doesn’t like water.” I frown at my shoe as he dries my foot and shoves it back into my sandal.

Jake glances up at me with a hard look. “Don’t even get me started on things I don’t like.” With zero effort, he lifts me off the tailgate. “Let’s go.”

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