When she came out and saw where he was, she stopped on the back stoop and glowered like she wished she could blow her own car up.
God, you’re beautiful, Danny thought.
Funny, how the right woman could turn running tights, a black fleece, and Brooks trainers into a ball gown and stillies. Forget Deandra and those fake cubic zirconia earrings, the wafts of perfume, the lash extensions, and the push-up bras. Anne was all natural; from her sun-streaked hair that was pulled back with a band to her clean face and her soap-and-shampoo scent, she didn’t have to add anything to be a knockout.
And speaking of KO’s, the object of his lust and fascination marched over and ripped open her door. “You are such an ass.”
He put his palms up. “I’m helping. And supporting the women’s movement.”
“The hell you are.” She got in and glared at him some more. “I had an out and you threw me under the bus.”
He smiled. “Come on, you can’t miss the drama. This wedding from hell is going to be a cross between a UFC fight and that dress show Deandra forces him to watch whenever she’s over here.”
“Say Yes to the Mess.”
“Is that what it’s called? And seriously, you think I’m going through this shit on my own?”
“Yes, I do.” She shut them in together. “Moose is your roommate—”
“He’s on your crew—”
“—and this doesn’t have anything to do with me and—”
“—so it would be weird if you were not there—”
“—more importantly, Deandra can’t stand me.”
“—and Deandra doesn’t like anybody.”
They both stopped at the same time. Then Anne put her hands on the wheel and slumped. Looking over, she shook her head. “I had the best excuse on the planet and you screwed me.”
His eyes dropped to her lips before he could stop them. To cover up the slip, he laughed. “Like I said, it’s you and me against the world for this train wreck.”
“Even if you have to pretend to be a feminist, huh.”
“Hey, I love women.”
“I know, your reputation precedes you.”
Danny frowned as she started the car. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I mean, why is he marrying her? I’ve never met more of a production in my life—”
“Anne. What was that crack about?”
Her eyes swung back to him. “Oh, come on, Danny. I know you try to hide it from me because I’m the ‘girl’ on the crew, but your exploits are always a topic of discussion, if not legend.”
“They are not.”
She put them in reverse and twisted around to look behind them. “You know they are. Look, I don’t judge. It’s none of my business what you do in your personal life, for one thing, and for another, it’s just not that interesting to me. Do not, however, try to play like you’re a shy retiree with the ladies.”
As Anne hit the gas and shot them down the thin lane that ran parallel to the tall, narrow duplex, that fleece did little to hide the contours of her body, and those leggings highlighted the sleek muscles of her thighs. And when he noticed each and every thing about her, he thought it was crazy that until he’d met her, he hadn’t realized he had a type.
Turned out he liked no-nonsense, straight-talking athletes who had a work ethic to match his own.
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” he muttered.
“Thank God or you’d be making a fool out of her with all those other females.” Anne K-turned in the street. “But again, it’s not anything I’m worried about. Now, where are we going?”
Nowhere, he thought. Goddamn it, we’re going nowhere.
“Mike’s Tuxedo Rental, down on Chester and Main.” He put his seat belt on to kill the dinging. “And you really have the wrong opinion about me.”
“Like I said, it’s not relevant.” She hit the gas, sending him deep into his seat on the acceleration. “All I care about is how well you fight fires and there are never any complaints on that—”
“I mean just because I’ve gone on a couple of dates—”
“Is that what you call doing the receptionist of that hair salon in the back room?”
“That was six months ago.” That was also Deandra, but there wasn’t any reason to put a name to it. “And before you even bring the Fourth of July up, I was not the one who had sex in the middle of the parade on that float.”
She glanced across the seats. “Yes, you were—”
“No, I was not,” he snapped. “That was Duff. Don’t bring me into shit I have nothing to do with.”
“Why are you getting so defensive?”
“Because you’re accusing me of being a whore and I don’t appreciate it.”
As he crossed his arms over his chest, he glared out the side window. Nothing was worse than a trap of your own invention, but the truth was, ever since Anne had come into his life with her NBFD T-shirt and her take-no-prisoners attitude, every other woman had looked like a box of Kleenex to him. Unfortunately, his previous exploits were a speeding car with too much momentum for the brakes to catch: Even though he’d changed, there was no denying what he’d been like before, and that was what preceded him.
Reflecting on his many mistakes, he was reminded of why he hated taking any R&R. It led to too much thinking, and the last thing he needed was time to dwell on how impossible it was for him to ever know what Anne Ashburn felt like. Tasted like. Looked like first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
These four days off for Moose’s stupid idea were going to depress the fuck out of him.
Mike’s Tuxedo Rental was a bolt-hole of polyester knockoffs sandwiched between a Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner and a local flower shop on the other side. As Anne parallel-parked across the street from it, she checked the clock on her dash and was relieved they had an hour before the shop closed at five.
“So you want something to eat?” she asked her morose passenger. “I got a Fiber One in my workout bag.”
“No, you’re hangry.” She reached back into her Nike duffel. “Here. Eat this before you haymaker someone.”
As she held the bar out to him, Danny stared at her. His eyes were the blue of an autumn sky, so clear and resonant they almost hurt to look into, and those lashes were as black and thick as his hair. He had what looked like a sunburn, but the color in his face was actually from the night before. October in Massachusetts could be cold, and they’d battled a two-alarm over by the New Brunie campus at four a.m. The water from the hoses had been blown back at them, and the thirty-two-degree temperature had turned it into freezing rain.
“You’ve got the wrong idea about me,” he said.
Anne looked away. “I don’t have any idea about you. Which is the way it should be. We work together.”
“If we didn’t, what then.”
All the air seemed to get sucked out of the Subaru, and she could sense his body as if she were touching him: Proximity had somehow become contact, somehow, the undercurrents that she always convinced herself were misinterpretations on her part now an alchemy that was unexpected . . . and yet inevitable.
“Hypotheticals are a waste of time.” Her voice was so damned hoarse. “Total waste of—”
“Answer the question anyway.”
But that isn’t a question, she thought. It’s an invitation that I may not be able to turn down.
Cursing herself, she tossed the Fiber One in his lap, popped her door and got out. “Eat that and come on. We don’t have a lot of time.”
With a pounding heart, she jaywalked through the light traffic and hopped up on the curb. Marching over to the tuxedo shop, she yanked open the door and walked into—
A sea of flowers.
Instead of mannequins sporting black-and-white penguin suits, she was surrounded by roses and carnations and bundles of baby’s breath in buckets. There were clay pots of orange and yellow mums, and then all kinds of novelty witches, ghouls, and vampires strung on fishing line from the ceiling.