Divine and Dateless by Tara West
Releasing July 21, 2014
Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go all the way…
What can be worse than electrocuting yourself while getting ready for your internet date? Realizing the hot stud you’ve been fondling is the grim reaper? Being chased by a sex-crazed bloated, naked corpse?
How about an eternity of more bad hair days and horrific dates? Or lusting after the one guy in all of the afterlife whose hydrophobia rivals his fear of commitment?
Yeah, that’s a whole lot worse.
Damn that hurt.
I grabbed onto the bathroom counter and slowly pulled myself up, stumbling around a bit before I steadied myself against the wall. That’s when I got a good look at my reflection in the mirror.
Despite the fact that my reflection was a bit blurry, probably due to the fact I’d hit my head pretty hard on that fall, my hair looked like an electrified mop. I couldn’t go on a date like that. Roger would take one look at me, accuse me of faking my profile picture, and make a dash for the elevator. As if I wouldn’t have a hard enough time explaining why I was five years older and five (okay ten) pounds heavier than that Bahama bikini photo.
I sighed when I thought back to the girl getaways I used to take with Jodi and Sheri. Those were amazing times: margarita binges, detox shakes, size five bikinis, one-night stands and ribbed condoms. I took that photo after an amazing night with the Swede, Rolf or Ven, or something like that. His name didn’t matter. What did matter was his size thirteen shoe and big hands, very big hands. Speaking of that beach fling, we could have made a long distance relationship work, if only he’d spoken English, or at least hadn’t pretended he couldn’t understand me.
I wondered the size of Roger’s hands. Did he have a strong grip like my surly Swede? Or were they perfectly manicured like my last date, Craig the hair stylist, who was one wax and peel away from escaping the closet of denial and giving his very religious grandma a heart attack. If only Craig had listened to me when I suggested he come out to his granny and then smooth things over by offering her a free pluck and color.
I tried to slick my hair back in place, but the strands felt as unmanageable as a wire brush. What the hell? I hoped that shock hadn’t done any permanent damage to my follicles. I had just spent a small fortune at the salon for auburn highlights and a deep conditioning treatment. No more putting it off. Next paycheck I would go to the drugstore and get another blow dryer. This wasn’t the first time it had zapped me, but it was definitely the worst.
I whirled at the sound of a knock on the door. Was Roger here early? I stumbled out of the bathroom and checked the microwave clock in my cramped studio kitchen. Six thirty-six. He was twenty-four minutes early! What was I going to do about my hair?
I rushed to the kitchen sink and splashed some water on it and tried again to push it down, but it must have been spring-loaded because it popped right back up.
More knocking. This time it was louder and more persistent.
What the heck, Roger?
The guy wasn’t exactly making a good first impression.
“Okay, okay,” I groaned as I grabbed a hair band from the gym bag I kept by the front door.
I read somewhere if you kept a packed gym bag in a convenient location, it was good motivation to keep on a steady workout schedule. So far, it was working, because I’d been steadily going to the gym once every two or three months.
I did my best to tie my hair back while trying to tamp down my aggravation as the incessant knocking grew ever louder. I grabbed the door handle and let out a slow exhale. I was so tempted to tell Roger the date was off, but I was haunted by the echo of my mom’s familiar nagging voice.
“You’re too picky, Ash. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Perfect is a fairytale. Settle down before all the decent ones are taken.”
I laughed as I recalled being in my early twenties and my mom had encouraged me to be pickier about whom I brought home. But that was ten (okay fifteen) pounds ago, and that was way before Travis dumped me for his forty-two-year-old law school professor. Lately, as long as the guy had all his teeth and a functioning penis, Mom was trying to rush me to the altar.
The incessant knocking turned into all-out banging.
Damn, Roger! As if I don’t have enough problems with my neighbors.
I was so aggravated I didn’t even bother to check the peephole when I jerked open the door.
“Is that really necessary?” I growled, before I got a good look at Roger. But then I did get a good look at my date, and my jaw practically hit the floor. Wow, he looked nothing like his profile picture.
Wavy, dark hair and a strong jawline. Check.
Impossibly blue eyes. Check.
Broad shoulders and rippling, tanned muscles. Double check.
I did my best to strike a casual pose as I leaned against the doorframe, but I feared I would melt all over the floor in a puddle of lust instead.
Mister, you can bang down my door any time.
He arched a dark brow while eyeing me with a smirk. “Ashley MacLeod?”
“Everyone calls me Ash, but yeah. So sorry. I wasn’t expecting you for another half hour. I had a bit of a blow dryer accident.” I smoothed an errant lock of frizz behind my ear. “I’m not ready.”
“They never are.” He laughed.
And just like that, a bubble burst in my chest. I should have figured him for a Casanova. I was sure he went out with a different girl every weekend. Then again, judging by the confident tilt of his chin and the way those stone-washed jeans clung to his thick legs (and that bulge beneath his zipper), I was fairly certain each of his dates ended in mind-blowing sex. I was also thinking I wanted to end our date the same way, because Casanova or not, I was getting tired of buying batteries.
“Right.” I pushed back another strand of hair that immediately popped out of place. “Maybe you should wait in the downstairs lobby. There’s a soda machine. Don’t drink the coffee. It’s usually a few days old.” I took a step back and prepared to close the door.
“I’ve got a schedule to keep.”
I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard the slight hint of a southern drawl, which didn’t make a lot of sense because I was almost positive Roger’s profile said he’d lived in Seattle his whole life. Casanova blocked the door with his foot, stepped forward and practically filled the entire doorway with his large frame.
That’s when it hit me. Roger’s profile said five-foot-ten, one hundred and eighty-five pounds, brown eyes, and pale skin. A dentist, he spent most of his days indoors and his past-times included going to the movies and playing fantasy football. But this guy hogging my doorway could have played real football as a linebacker.
I pointed at him with an accusatory finger. “You look nothing like your profile.”
He pushed past me, frowning as he surveyed my cramped apartment. “What were you expecting? Hood and cape and a giant scythe?”
“A what?” I was suddenly feeling very self-conscious as he eyed my small kitchen table and even smaller fridge. Like Roger, I might have lied on my profile, too. I might have put that I was a defense attorney and not a law school dropout barely making a livable wage as a legal secretary.
He shrugged. “It was a joke.”
“Can I fix you a drink?” I asked as I did a mental count of how many diet sodas I had left in my fridge. Probably not enough to last until payday. Luckily, Roger looked more like a water guy, and I had plenty of free tap on hand.
“No, ma’am, I told you, I’ve got a schedule to keep.”
Oh, yeah, the southern drawl came across much thicker now, coating my senses like warm butter and sending a jolt of hormonal lust straight to my lady parts. I crossed one leg over the other, silently chastising myself for getting all hot and bothered by this guy when I didn’t even know who he was. Of one thing I was certain, he was a far cry from a meek, pale-faced dentist.
I narrowed my eyes and tilted my chin, trying to force myself to stop thinking about those tight, stone washed jeans. “You’re not a dentist.”
He laughed. “No, ma’am.”
I wasn’t fluent in southern speak, but I was fairly certain ma’am was a term reserved for older women. As if my frizzy hair wasn’t making me self-conscious enough, now he was calling me an old lady. That’s when I realized I still hadn’t applied fine line minimizer and foundation. I really wished Roger, or whoever he was, hadn’t showed up so soon. And I really wished he’d go downstairs and wait in the lobby while I made myself look more presentable, and hopefully younger.
“And you’re not from here, are you?”
He crossed one beefy arm over the other. “Born and raised in Houston.”
“That explains the sexy accent.” I mentally smacked myself upside the head. This was what happened when I got nervous. I said the first thing on my mind without wondering if I should have said it.
“Are you flirting with me, Ashley MacLeod?” I loved the way my name rolled off his tongue like warm chocolate sauce melting all over vanilla ice cream. Mmm. I was suddenly in the mood for a hot fudge sundae. I had the vision of me lapping ice cream and chocolate sauce off his abs, which I suspected were as rock hard as the rest of him.
I shook my head, trying to clear it of this lust-induced fog. It had been a while since I’d gotten laid by something that didn’t run on batteries. A long while. That had to be why my slut sonar was stuck in overdrive. What was with me getting all hot and bothered over this guy who’d clearly lied on his profile? Disregard the fact that I’d lied on my profile. I was actually looking forward to flirting my way into free teeth whitenings and cleanings (since my cheap health insurance had a five hundred dollar deductible) but this stud could have been a serial killer for all I knew.
Oh, please, God, don’t let him be a serial killer. He’s too sexy to be crazy.
I got a good long look at Fake Roger, and much to my embarrassment, I noticed he was sizing me up, too. But not in the way I wanted him to be looking at me. No, he had this impatient look in his eyes as his heavy boot tapped loudly on my linoleum floor. “We need to get going, ma’am.”
Crud. Another old lady reference. This will not do.
I didn’t give a damn about his schedule. I was not stepping foot out of the apartment until I (A) fixed this mop on my head and applied a generous amount of anti-ma’am foundation and (B) made sure Fake Roger was not a serial killer, or at the very least, that he had a job somewhat related to dentistry.
I took a step back, and then another, needing to put some distance between me and Mr. Hot Fudge Stud. “Give me a minute to fix my hair,” I said. And double-check Roger’s profile, I wanted to add, but decided to leave that part out.
“Relax,” Fake Roger said with perhaps too much ease in his deep southern drawl. “You’re going to The Penthouse. You can have any hairstyle you want there.”
“The Penthouse? I haven’t heard of it.” Instinctively, my hand went to my stomach at the thought of trying someplace new. I had been very clear with Roger that I could only dine at certain restaurants. I’d even sent him a list of safe places to eat. “Do they have a gluten-free menu?”
Little fun fact about me. If I so much as ate a crumb of wheat, barley or rye, I turned into a cross between Godzilla (only the flames came out the other end), a gremlin (not the sweet, cuddly kind) and a rabid dog. To put it mildly, me and gluten did not get along, which is why I had to be very, very careful where I ate. Because just in case Fake Roger turned out not to be a serial killer, and I decided to let him get past third base (who was I kidding? I was so desperate for a real penis, I would have slept with anything with a heartbeat) it would have really, really sucked if I was forced to trade in an explosive night of passion for an explosive night on the toilet.
“You can eat whatever you want,” Fake Roger said with a touch of annoyance. He motioned toward the front door. “Come on, let’s go. I’ve got a heart attack victim waiting.”
“Heart attack?” I gasped. “So you’re a doctor?” Maybe his profile said oncologist and I’d read it wrong. Even so, if he did have heart attack patient, what was he doing going on a date when he should have been saving this person’s life?
“A doctor?” He chuckled. “No, I’m a Grim.”
“Angel of Death, Grim Reaper, Gabriel, Yama, Azrael, depending on your religion.”
Shit! Fake Roger is a weirdo.
I should have known. Despite being raised in a very religious household, I’d started to question if there even was a god. Because if there was a god, surely he wouldn’t have deprived me of sex with a real person for almost a year, only to have set me up with the world’s hottest psychopath. “This is a joke, right?”
Fake Roger, or Grim, or whoever the hell he was, scrunched up those handsome features of his and looked at me as if I’d just sprouted an arm out of the top of my head. “Have you seen yourself?”
“I know.” I groaned as I pushed back a wiry strand of hair that had slipped out of its headband. “I think I can fix this with a little conditioner and mousse. Excuse me.”
I turned on my heel and ran straight for the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. I forced myself to let out a shaky breath as I stared at the warped wooden door. I didn’t know why I was expecting Fake Roger to bang it down with a machete, but the guy was creeping me out. What the hell had that been about? Where had this guy come from and where was Roger?
The Angel of Death? Really?
Then it hit me. This guy might have actually been a genuine serial killer. One thing for sure, he was delusional if he thought he was the Grim Reaper.
I stood at the door for several seconds. When my arms and legs got this tingly, weightless feeling, I realized it must have been from fear. Then I remembered my cellphone. I had set it on the counter right before I got shocked.
I backed away from the door and spun around. That’s when I nearly tripped over my head.
My body was on the floor, my hair was fanned out in a wild mess, and my lifeless eyes were staring up at the ceiling. But wait. What was I doing down there when I was also up here?
I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror, or what was left of my reflection. The woman looking back at me was so pale, she was translucent. Why hadn’t I noticed that before?
Panic seized me, and the only thing I knew to do was scream. I screamed at the woman in the mirror. I screamed at the corpse on the floor. I screamed and screamed until I thought my throat would turn raw. And though my brain was barely functioning, I knew Fake Roger was the Grim, and I was dead.