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Open Hearts Excerpt

April 19, 2017

 

I'm so excited about my upcoming release Open Hearts. For anyone curious about Ash and Dean's story here's an excerpt for your eye-feels.

Pre-order and make me so very happy HERE:

 

Chapter Two

Ashley

Ash waved away the bacon-wrapped prawns for what felt like the hundredth time. “No thanks.”

“Are you sure?” The green-haired server was visibly straining under the weight of her silver platter. “They’re really superb!”

“I’m sure they are, but unless you want to be giving me the Pulp Fiction treatment in fifteen minutes, I should pass. I’m allergic to shellfish.”

The server gave her a pained glare and shuffled away, her mountain of pork-swaddled crustaceans held high in front of her. To Ash’s amazement, she moved through the crowd of beautifully dressed nerds without anyone so much as glancing at the prawns.

“Free food going uneaten?” she muttered. “What kind of party is this?”

A ridiculously overpriced one, that was for sure. Because her sister was a scrappy hipster, Ash had expected the launch of her video game, Scarlet Woman, to be the same. She’d arrived at the party thinking she’d see paper lanterns and buckets of fake blood and bad sangria.

But the launch was being thrown by Julia’s parent company, DMX Industries. As an organization worth billions of dollars, Ash guessed they could afford to splash out on fancy uneaten shellfish and a twelve-piece jazz band. Still, it wasn’t in keeping with Julia’s gore-filled feminist video game. If it weren't for the cut-outs of characters, Ash would have thought she was at a rich couple’s engagement party. Which was why she felt utterly out of place.

Ash moved over to the window and pulled out her phone, trying to look like she wasn’t perusing high end lipsticks on Pinterest. More than anything, she wanted to head out to the balcony and smoke her ass off, but that wasn’t an option. She was due to see a fertility doctor next week, and ‘haven’t smoked in eight months’ sounded a lot better than ‘had a cheeky few on Friday because I felt socially awkward at a nerd party.’

“Naked pistachio croquette?” a server with a septum ring asked.

“Sure.” Ash picked up one of the greenish balls, and tossed it back like it was the vodka shot she wanted. “Cheers.”

“Yeah, no problem. Cute shoes, very conformist Barbie.”

Ash beamed. “Thanks! Wait, hang on…”

Unfortunately, the man who burned her had already vanished. Ash groaned to herself. She knew she looked overdressed. The décor in the three level art gallery might be ‘stuffy one percenters renew their wedding vows to general disgust’ but the crowd had edge. She’d yet to see a single person not rocking a shaved head, surface piercings, tattoos, theatrical makeup and androgynous footwear. But Julia had failed to tell her about the dress code so she was wearing a silver slip dress, neutral make up, and pink pumps. In a sea of cool she looked like exactly what she was: white trash. Still, she supposed someone had to remind Julia where they came from. She was just contemplating the open bar when a warm hand grasped her arm. “Hey, Ashley.”

For the first time in her life, Ash was relieved to see Max hovering behind her. “Hey man! How are you?”

“Pretty good.”

Despite his words, her sister’s boyfriend looked distinctly uncomfortable. His black hair was on end, and his equally dark eyes kept darting around the room as though he expected someone to leap out from behind a water feature and declare themselves a terrorist. As a big-time cop that might have been part of his shtick, but Ash knew from experience Max was pretty hard to rattle. She figured his unease was either because of his incredibly fitted Armani shirt (he was a notorious fashion whore) or because of the cut-outs.

Eli, the handsome male lead of Julia’s game, was based on Max, which meant several of the life-size cut-outs closely resembled the police officer. While Max was flattered to be included in Julia’s game, he seemed profoundly scared someone would recognise him. Ash understood that, she wouldn’t be caught dead next to a life-size cut-out of herself. 

Max tugged at the sleeve of his shirt. “How are you finding things?”

“Yeah, great.” Ash mentally crossed her fingers. “Wish I got a memo about the dress code.”

“You look fine.”

They stood in silence for a moment, eyeing each other up. Ash’s relationship with Max had always been a little tense. He was a cop, and a childhood riddled with cops dragging your mum away for selling Valium in the Woolies car park wasn’t easy to forget. He’d also hurt Julia, a crime usually punishable by pain and/or lifelong snubbing.

In fairness, Max hadn’t hurt Jules intentionally, he’d just had a lot of blokey conflicted feelings about dating her sister. He was older than Julia was, thirty-three to her twenty-four when they began their whirlwind romance, and he had been married, though legally separated.

When Ash met Max’s acquaintance for the first time, he was moping around their front door trying to get Julia to talk to him again. She’d assumed he was an arrogant, beefed-up dickhead trying to unload his post-divorce man-feels on her sister and threatened to do him an injury. It hadn’t gotten their relationship off to a great start. After almost two years together, Max had well and truly proved he loved Jules, but Ash was still inclined to keep him on his toes, make sure he knew he was being monitored for signs he was fucking up.

“How did Julia seem before the party?” she asked.

“Pretty nervous. You know how she gets about being the centre of attention. She was shaking all over, like a hairless cat.”

“You should give her vodka. That’s what I used to do before she had to give an English presentation at school.”

“Good to know, usually when Jules is shook up I just…”

Max’s cheeks turned ruddy, and Ash had the misfortune of knowing exactly what he had done to relax her sister instead. Gross.
She looked around for a distraction, any distraction, and snagged a glass of sparkling wine from a passing server. She was supposed to be staying off alcohol, but this was an emergency. Max seemed to be thinking along the same lines. He took two, and downed a glass in one go. “Sorry,” he said thickly. “This whole night has been pretty weird for me.”

“I can’t imagine why…” Ash pointed to an Eli cut-out. “Hey, do you have a twin brother?”

Max groaned. “I love Jules, but some of the people I work with threatened to come tonight, and if they see the cut-outs…” He shuddered, draining his other glass of wine.

Ash, figuring she’d do as the Romans did, tipped her own glass up.

“Helps when it’s good stuff doesn’t it?” Max took their empty glasses and put them on a side table. “So, have you had any trouble with your ex lately?”

Ash glanced around as though someone she knew might be listening. Seeing no one but unidentified hipsters, she figured she could risk it. “No, I think Zach’s finally given up his attention quest.”

“Good to hear. Anytime that guy needs a knee in the back, just call me.”

“Oh, I will.”

Max and Julia drove to Brenthill the day after her nursery epiphany. They’d waited in Max’s car as Ash told Zach it was over. Her ex-boyfriend had refused to go quietly. First he’d cried, then he’d begged, then he’d thrown her stuff around and shouted that he had a right to be there (he didn’t) and she couldn’t just dump him (she could). Then Max had rushed in and pinned him to her dining room floor, while Julia called Brenthill Police Station.

Their former colleagues arrived in record time, and Ash watched, half-laughing, half-crying as another one of her ex-boyfriends got piled into the back of a divvy van.

She’d had a whole day of relief before Zach launched his campaign to win her back. It wasn’t a great campaign by any means; he drove past her house at all hours blaring the horn, left used condoms on her doorstep, and harassed her on Facebook. In the end, she’d had to take out an intervention order. She hadn’t wanted to. She’d been convinced the cops would laugh at her behind her back, ‘Ash Bennett? That footy slut? Of course, she’s got some loser doing laps around her house. She’ll be back with him in a month,’ but Julia had convinced her it was the right thing to do, and to her surprise, it worked. Zach stayed away, and the ugliness of dealing with him killed whatever remained of her fairy tale romance dream dead.

She’d spent the last eight months alone, discovering who she was when she wasn’t dating, pursuing, or being pursued by men. Turned out she could read a detective novel in two days, make gnocchi by hand, and after several weeks of intensive yoga, do the splits. She cleaned out her wardrobe, ate whole strawberry cheesecakes, and stayed off cigarettes and booze until it felt natural, or at least more natural. At times it was painfully boring, especially on weekends, but it was worth it. There were no cocaine highs when the only steady man in your life was the bin guy, but there were no gutter lows either. While electronic buzzing was hardly a gratifying substitute for sex, a vibrator never asked you for money or puked on your couch and tried to blame it on the dog. If you didn’t like a vibrator, you chucked it in the bin. No cops necessary.

It had taken almost a year, but she finally had a life outside of Southern Star Hospital that was together, and she passed the necessary health checks and counselling sessions to become applicable for donor sperm with flying colours. It seemed too good to be true but she was on the fast track to have a baby by the end of the year.

“Greek feta pastizzi with truffle oil and fresh chives?” The girl with bright green hair was back, once again overburdened with hors d'oeuvres. She took two. “What is it with rich people and nibbly things stuffed into other nibbly things?”

“No idea, but I’d kill for an actual meal.” Max scanned the crowd. “Have you seen Jules anywhere?”

“Last I saw, she and Tiff were talking to a group of people who looked like elves.”

“Shit. I don’t know whether I should be hovering behind her, doing the whole supportive boyfriend thing, or leave her alone to network.”

“Don’t look at me, I’m thinking the same thing, except sister instead of boyfriend.”

Ash spotted a guy with a fauxhawk pointing at Max, then to the cut-out of Eli, then back to Max. Everyone in his group turned to gawp at them.

Ash nudged Max’s side. “Hey, you’re a celebrity, Connor.”

Max gave the group a feeble wave. “That’s all I need. If the guys at work find out about this, I’m done.”

“You’d think they’d be impressed you’re an action star.”

“No, they’ll just laugh their asses off. Then they’ll get their hands on one of the cut-outs and keep it in the office forever.”

“That’s amazing.”

Max scowled. “Would you want a cut-out of yourself at the hospital?”

“If it could supervise routine childbirths while I took a nap, yes.”

“I guess mine could stand by a window and intimidate bad guys. Like those cut-outs in Home Alone. Come on, let’s move before one of them comes over and tries to get a picture.”

As they walked away they crossed paths with a willowy blonde waitress bearing a tray of pale pink cocktails. “Strawberry gin and micro-basil martini?”

She and Max looked at one another, then took one each.

Max held up his glass. “To Julia being so fucking talented.”

Ash tapped it with hers. “Agreed. Also, free drinks.”

When she and Max were done with their martinis, they tried ginger and orange vodka sours, then whiskey and cherry somethings, then tequila and coconut something-elses and within an hour they were both fairly loose. The alcohol greased over their usual tension until Ash found herself enjoying talking to Max, about football, then work, until finally…

“You still thinking about having a baby?” Max asked, gnawing at a lime he’d plucked from his lavender gin cup.

“Yeah. I’ve had all the tests done. Apparently, my eggs are good, and my uterus is raring to go.”

It was a testament to how drunk they were that Max smiled. “That’s great.”

“Thanks. I’m due to see the doctor about going through some donor lists this week.”

“Wow. Big move.”

“I guess, but I’m excited, too.”

Max downed the last of his lilac cocktail. “Glad to hear it. I’m sure you’ll be a great mum.”

Ash smiled, not really paying attention. She’d caught sight of a hot young couple making out in the corner and realized something. She was horny. Not for Max. Vom. Even if he wasn’t Julia’s boyfriend, authoritarian men did nothing for her. While that meant she’d dated more than her share of stoners, losers, and the chronically unemployed, at least she and Jules rarely found the same men hot. Except for Liam Hemsworth, but come on, everyone wanted to fuck that guy. Even Zach wanted to fuck that guy.

No, she was just horny in general. Especially now she was dressed up and drunk for the first time in ages. She could stand to flirt with someone, feel that prickle of mutual interest, of ‘what are you like in the sack?’ She scanned the room, seeing nothing but hipsters and couples and hipster couples. She supposed it was for the best. Besides, even if there were single guys checking her out, none would risk approaching with Max ‘ask me about my license to carry a concealed firearm’ Connor standing beside her like the world’s biggest cockblock. An evil part of Ash’s brain wandered to her phone, to the men she could text if she wanted a quick tumble. Eight months she’d endured celibacy, was tonight going to be the night she finally cracked?

Max’s face loomed close to hers. “Hey, um, Ash can I ask you something?”

Ash stepped backward, alarmed by the intensity of Max’s expression in contrast with her dirty thoughts. “Don’t put your head that close to my head ever again.”

Max quickly backed off. “Sorry. But can I ask you something about Julia? It’s pretty serious actual—”

“Maxie!”

A man’s voice cut through the room, so inappropriately loud everyone stopped what they were doing to look around for the source of the noise.

“Christ.” Max pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “I forgot Jules invited him. Sorry in advance.”

Ash, who’d been distracted by her phone buzzing in her purse, said ‘Huh?’ but Max was already addressing whoever it was behind her. “You found the place okay?”

“Sure did,” the guy said in the same too-loud voice. “Sorry I’m late, I ordered a taxi, then I forgot I hadn’t brushed my teeth, and by the time I was done doing that, the taxi had bailed, so I ordered another taxi…”

Ash, who knew a pointless story when she heard one, checked her phone. She had a text from Julia. I hope you’re having fun. Sorry I can’t talk, there are so many industry d-bags I need to chat up and not enough time xxx.

She smiled and tapped a quick message back. You do your thing, Max and I are getting smashed on level two. Join us when you’re free. I’m so proud of you xoxoxo

Ash tucked her phone back into her bag, smiling to herself. 

“… and then I ordered another taxi, but the guy was dropping someone off in Preston, and it took him ages to get to Coburg…”

Fucking hell, was this guy still talking? About how he failed to catch multiple taxis? What a der-brain. Ash turned around to rescue Max and then everything went sort of slow and fuzzy like someone had rubbed Vaseline on her eyeballs. Max’s dipshit friend was… gorgeous.

Ash was no stranger to beautiful men. Her back catalog contained three AFL footballers, an Oscar nominee, and one of the guys from The Kings of Leon, back when The Kings of Leon were a big deal. But whether it was because of her stint in the no-fuck-zone, or because she was surrounded by elvish nerds and her sister’s boyfriend, this man seemed almost unreasonably hot. He was tall, even taller than Max, with shoulders like the Bolte Bridge and a smile that could kill an old lady. He wasn’t a pretty boy, his nose was crooked and his grin lopsided, but he had that square-jawed, salt-of-the-earth handsome look that made a girl think of loose-hipped cowboys and demanding Scottish Lairds. And speaking of Scottish Lairds, old mate was a redhead. Usually gingers weren’t her scene but this guy’s hair was the rich coppery-auburn of a fox's pelt. It gleamed like rose gold under the floodlights, his short beard the exact colour as the stuff on his head. It was beautiful. Big Red was doing it for her. Big time. And apparently, the feeling was mutual.

“Whoa,” he said, taking a step backward. “Who are you?”

Max whapped his friend in the stomach. “Dean, that’s not something you say to people.”

“It’s fine.” Ash straightened her spine so Red could see the extent of her cleavage. “I’m Ash. Ash Bennett.”

“You’re stunning,” he said, eyeing her up and down. His irises weren’t watery blue like most redheads, but a warm caramel brown. Ash’s lady areas tingled, as though they too craved a cigarette. “Thanks.”

“Anytime.” Red grinned at her. “Seriously, are you single?”

“Dean,” Max barked. “This is Julia’s sister, Ashley.”

Red flashed him a mischievous smile. “I know. They look heaps alike. And she said her name was Bennett.”

Ash was torn from visions of dragging Red into the nearest cupboard and sitting on him, to ask, “How do you know Jules?”

“Dean’s my housemate,” Max said, in the tone of someone who very much did not like what they were seeing. “He moved in four years ago when his girlfriend dumped him for killing her rabbit.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“It was an accident,” Red said earnestly. “I just got back from the gym, and I thought Bugsy, that was the rabbit’s name, looked like he wanted to go outside, which is fair enough. Who wants to sit in a cage all day, chewing little bits of wood? So I walked over and I thought ‘should I be doing this?’ And that’s when I noticed…”

As Big Red launched into another story with no discernible plot or purpose, Ash and her drunk brain measured him with her eyes. He had to be six-four or five, lean, but beefy everywhere it counted. How would all that weight feel bearing down on her? She imagined his handsome face screwed up in pleasure as he pounded away at her practically revirginized pussy. Everything below her belly button tightened.

She couldn’t, could she? And what of red-gold pubic hair? Did the carpet match the drapes? Was it beautiful? She bet it was beautiful.

“…random ears and little bits of fur everywhere,” Red concluded. “So yeah, I had to move in with Max. It’s been an absolute ball though, wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

“Something you’ve made abundantly clear.” Max gave them a pained smile. “How about we all go find Jules and hang out together?”

“She’s busy,” Ash said. “Red, what do you do, work-wise?”

“Until about three months ago, I did weekends at The Penny Black.”

“Bartender?”

“Yeah.” Another flash of that boyish ‘who me?’ smile. “I wasn’t great at it, but the pay was good. Plus free drinks.”

“Except he got fired,” Max chipped in. “He was sleeping with the manager and the sales rep for Strongbow cider at the same time, and they found out about each other and started a cat fight in the smokers’ area. The police had to attend, didn’t they, Dean?”

Dean shot his friend a look. “It wasn’t like that.”

“It sure was.” Max turned to Ash. “One of the girls scratched his eyebrow, he had to get stitches.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

Dean’s expression was apologetic. “He’s making it sound worse than it was. I still don’t fully understand what happened, but I think one of the girls went through my phone when I was in the bathroom and—”

Scared he was about to launch into another long, rambling story, Ash jumped in. “So, no more bartending. What do you do now?”

“Roofing,” Dean said cheerfully, completely unperturbed by being cut off. “I did it for a while after I first left uni. I love being outdoors because…”

As he talked, Ash scanned him for further information. The lines around his eyes told her he was around thirty-four or so. Check. Massive shoulders, hands, and feet. Check. Full head of hair. Check. No wedding ring. Check. Ash tried to remember what else Julia had told her about Max’s housemate. A nice guy? Bit messy, maybe? She felt like she was forgetting something. Something important...

The green-haired server girl popped up, this time bearing another motherload of bacon-wrapped prawns. “Please,” she begged. “Please just take one?”

“Seriously?” Red looked like someone had just offered him a free Lamborghini. “Are they…? Can I just…eat them? Or am I meant to start some kind of prawn TAB or something?”

The server beamed at Dean as if he was the messiah. “No, they’re free! Please, take as many as you want!”

“Well, alright then.”

Considering his hands were the size of small dogs, it was no surprise Red put a serious dent in the plate of prawns. Though he had previously claimed to be full, Max also took a handful, as though bound by man code to prove he too could eat an unreasonable amount of prawns.
As they talked and gnawed on pink shellfish, Ash racked her brain for the thing Julia had told her about Dean. She struggled for a few minutes, then it hit her: Dean was the guy who’d gotten arrested in New Zealand. Jules had told her the story ages ago. How Max’s housemate had gone to Queenstown on a snowboarding trip, gotten maggotted on Bacardi 151 and done a run down the slopes, butt naked. Unless she was mistaken, Dean had wound up getting arrested and thrown in the drunk tank for two days. For a while it looked like Max might have had to fly over to New Zealand to straighten everything out. As she told the story Julia had been rolling on the floor, holding her sides.

“I don’t get it,” Ash had said. “How is your narc boyfriend mates with someone so dumb?”

“You don’t know Dean, but trust me, if you did, you’d think this was hilarious, too. And don’t call Max a narc.”

Now that she’d met Dean and felt his energy, Ash got what Julia had meant. Red was a genuine Aussie larrikin. The kind of careless, fun-loving guy who was useless at anything other than stupid dares and drinking forty-two cans of beer without dying. The kind of rogue that could carry off a man’s wife and have the bloke say, ‘oh, go on then, scamp!’ Larrikins were fun at parties and bad at life; they also made terrible, terrible boyfriends. As Max and Dean snarfed prawns, Ash allowed herself a small moment of despair. Red was gorgeous. Why was the universe always making gorgeous men and giving them the brains of iguanas? Or were tall, handsome, white guys just encouraged to atrophy at the age of seventeen by a society that held them up as rulers of the world, regardless of what they actually accomplished? Either way, it was a fucking shame.

 “…isn’t that right, Ash?” Max turned toward her with a ‘c’mon, let’s have a nice chat and forget all about fucking my hot dumb friend’ smile.

“Yeah, of course,” Ash said, not missing a beat. She spent the majority of her shifts at the hospital pretending to listen to doctors’ whine about their nannies while she inwardly planned her dinner. She was the David Beckham of feigning interest.

“Oh yeah?” The skin around Dean’s bright brown eyes crinkled. “What was your favorite part?”

“I liked all of it.”

“But if you had to choose?”

“I wouldn’t choose.”

“But if you had to—”

“Dean,” Max said, a warning note in his voice. “Ash doesn’t have to tell you shit about Sergeant Fitzgerald.”

Ash let out an inward sigh of relief. They were talking about movies, specifically the movie she and Julia had seen last week. “My favorite part was when the Sergeant took his shirt off. That, and any and all scenes where his back was exposed.”  

Dean chuckled as he helped himself to another large handful of shellfish, the waitress giving him a giddy thumbs up. “You like superhero movies?”

Ash almost reflexively lied. It was her go-to move with men—agree, agree, agree—but eight months of singledom had her catching herself just in time. “I hate them.”

“Why?” Dean looked intrigued.

“They’re all the same. Every movie ends with that countdown clock, sky laser bullcrap.”

“Then why’d you pay to see it?”

Max rubbed a hand over his face. “Mate…”

“It’s fine. Julia picks the movie. That’s how we do it. I just go for the Frozen Raspberry Coke.”

Dean made a face. “Seriously?”

“Yup, I could sit through paint drying if I got to drink that stuff. And Jules knows it, so she always gets to pick the movie.”

Big Red plucked half a dozen chicken skewers from a passing plate and began ripping the meat off with his teeth. “Sounds fair. You look beautiful in that dress, by the way.”

Ash distracted herself from Max’s disapproving glare by collecting another cocktail from a passing waiter. “Thanks. It’s my year eleven formal dress.”

“Wow, you must have been a pretty teenager. Not that you’re not pretty now, ‘cos you’re really pretty now.”

Ash was shocked to see a blush working its way across Red’s cheeks. God, he was something else. A big dumb sweetheart. Ash just wanted to take his hand, tell him everything was going to be okay, gently steer him towards a quiet room, and fuck the shit out of him. She sipped her drink. It tasted of butterscotch and rum, as mellow and appealing as the sexual interest percolating inside her. “Thanks, Red. It’s nice of you to say that.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets. “It’s nice of you to be so pretty. I’ve wanted to meet you for ages.”

Ash looked up from beneath her lashes, unable to stop herself from giving Big Red The Sex Eyes. “Well you’ve met me now.”

“I uh, guess I have.”

His gaze fell to her mouth and the heat between them was suddenly as tangible as the scent of bacon and warm sugar. Max cleared his throat. “I think I’ll…go see where Julia’s at. Dean, wanna come?”

“No.” Dean’s gaze didn’t move from hers. “Think I’ll stay here.”

“Right.” Max shot them both a nervous look. It was clear he wanted no part of what was brewing between them. “I’m out of here.” 

“See ya, Maxwell,” Dean said. “Say hi to Julia, tell her the food is awesome, and that I picked up that model TARDIS from the post office for her. It’s on the kitchen bench.”

“Right, I’ll do that.” Behind Dean’s back Max pointed to Ash and mouthed ‘don’t do it.’

Ash twinkled her fingers at him. “Bye, Senior Constable Max Connor. Try not to get locked in any rooms with my sister.”

Max flushed burgundy, and he glared at her before disappearing into the crowd.

Dean chuckled. “So cool how your sister and my best friend are together. Makes us like… well, I was gonna say in-laws, but that’s not right.”

“I hope not.” Ash licked some sugar from the rim of her martini glass. Dean’s gaze followed her tongue, and his cheeks and ears darkened. Oh, he wanted it, all right. Ash pictured him stiffening behind his jeans, blood flowing down, getting him ready so that he could do what men did to women. In the same way, she could feel her thong dampening, her body preparing itself for him even without her full consent. Big Red moved a little closer. “Ashley, are you, um, single?”

She took another small sip of her drink. “I am.”

“How?” Dean asked, a faint note of wonder in his voice.

I want to have a baby and in my experience the men I’m attracted to are all about as useful as a kick in the teeth. “Maybe I haven’t met the right guy?”

Dean grinned and placed his half-gnawed chicken skewers on a side table. “I’m a guy.”

Ash forced herself to stop looking at the way the chicken was coating the fancy table with peanut sauce and concentrate on the hot doofus who had her soaking her underwear. “Yeah, you are.”

Dean stepped forward, and his scent sealed the deal. He had that sweet, musky guy smell. The one you wanted all over your pillows and sheets. That smell that made you steal t-shirts so you could try to hold that scent on nights when he wasn’t there.

Ash made her mind then and there to do this. It couldn’t be serious, and it couldn’t go beyond tonight, but if Red’s mouth had half the enthusiasm for pussy as it did for bacon-wrapped crustaceans, she’d be a happy girl. The problem was how. And where.

No way in hell was she going back to his place, AKA Max’s place. No way could they drive all the way back to Brenthill, even if she wanted him to see her shitty, broken-down house. She didn’t have the cash for a hotel, and she couldn’t just stand around making small talk, eating a dozen more mini-foods until Jules showed up.

She put her cocktail down next to Dean’s discarded chicken. “Are you single, Red?” 

His face lit up. “I am.”

“Great, well maybe we should do something about that?”

“Do you want to get a drink and talk?”

“I’ve already had a lot of drinks. And we’re already talking.”

He flushed as red as his beard. “Oh, okay, um…never mind, then. Sorry if that sounded dumb, by the way. I have a habit of saying dumb things, like once I went into a bakery and asked the girl behind the counter if they had any bread and she thought I was joking so…”

Ash stared dreamily at the rambling redhead in front of her. It so wasn’t her style to be turned on by cluelessness, but god, she just wanted to bury her hands in Dean’s hair and tell him what to do. Force him to stop talking and do something useful with his mouth. 

So why don’t you, her drunk brain suggested. Have a filthy one night stand, teach ginger a trick or two, and then move on with your life, baby mama. What do you have to lose?

“Nothing,” Ash whispered. She moved closer to Red, pressing her boobs against his plaid shirt.

Dean froze. “Ash, are you…? Um, is everything okay?”

“Yes,” she said, rubbing her nipples against him slightly. “I was thinking me and you could go somewhere private and explore how single we both are?”

Dean’s mouth fell open. “You’re serious? With me? Like right now? With me?”

“Yes.”

Dean blinked. “Oh, okay, wow. So, uh, do you mean back to mine or…?”

Under the illusion of straightening his collar, Ash ran a light fingertip over his throat, loving the way his eyes closed in what looked like sheer ecstasy. “I was thinking more the bathroom on the bottom floor.”

He swallowed. Hard. “Uh, yeah. That sounds good. Do you wanna go there now or—”

“Yes,” Ash said, grabbing his hand. “God, yes.”

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