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Have I Got a Deal for You

Mo Harper is a Montana girl pursuing a doctorate in exercise physiology, dreaming of a big life away from her small town. Barry Connors is a big beautiful man working to get his life back after his ex-wife cheated on him. Tired of feeling sorry for himself, Barry’s aiming for a peaceful life on the ranch he grew up on. The best way to achieve that is getting Mo to fall in love with him and stay in his little town. The two have crazy sparks—but are they hot enough to join them together for good?

Age Rating: 18+

Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

 

Have I Got a Deal for You by Jodi Orinda is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

Summary

Mo Harper is a Montana girl pursuing a doctorate in exercise physiology, dreaming of a big life away from her small town. Barry Connors is a big beautiful man working to get his life back after his ex-wife cheated on him. Tired of feeling sorry for himself, Barry’s aiming for a peaceful life on the ranch he grew up on. The best way to achieve that is getting Mo to fall in love with him and stay in his little town. The two have crazy sparks—but are they hot enough to join them together for good?

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: Jodi Orinda

Note: This story the author's original version and does not have sound.

Mo Harper stumbled through the back door of the small clothing store, shutting out the raging snow storm behind her.

She shook her head in the dark, box-filled back room, and shrugged out of her soaking coat.

She waited a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the blackness after the white-out she had just emerged from.

The narrow shelves to her right were piled high with boot and hat boxes, plus any other box that would work well to wrap presents.

Everyone at the store saved boxes all year long, and used most of them during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

To her left, a narrow stone stair case led down to an ancient wooden door that was once used as a direct door into the basement of the store.

The room was originally the back of the building, where delivery trucks backed up to unload merchandise, but at some point during the building’s history, walls had been built to enclose the back door of the store, giving it a little more security from theft and a little more storage for those much-needed boxes.

Mo shivered as she trudged the ten steps to the inner door of the store. As she entered the store proper, one of her bosses greeted her.

“Little wet out there?” George held open the door.

She glared at him and ducked under his outstretched arm. She tried to run her fingers through the tangled mess of her shoulder length red hair.

Typical December weather, when a person lived in Montana. But the record snow fall this winter added a hitch to her routine and made her think about cutting her hair super short.

She hung up her dripping coat on the back hook then took a look in the mirror after her eyes adjusted to the bright lights of the store. Yikes.

Wet, stringy hair that would dry into a frizzy, curly mess. Her clothes were soaked, even through her brown duck coat.

The snowdrifts on parts of the sidewalk were knee high on her, so her jeans were wet between her knees and where she had tucked her pants into her packs.

Her cheeks shone bright pink from the cold and the wind. Mo sighed. Such a struggle to try and dress decent and feel good about her appearance when she had to schlep herself to and from work on foot.

Okay, to be fair, she didn’t HAVE to walk. But a car was a luxury she was foregoing at the moment. She could barely afford her apartment and groceries.

There was no way she could add in gas and upkeep on any kind of vehicle. So her small car was tucked away in her car port behind her apartment.

The only time she drove anymore was when she visited her parents. She usually just picked up a few things each day from the grocery store kitty corner from the university.

She glanced lower in the mirror, hating the way her hips flared out and her stomach had a slight roundness to it. You’d think walking everywhere in foot deep snow would slice the pounds right off her.

But the scale never moved. And she was damned tired of trying to force it. She either needed to get her life in order: a decent diet and exercise.

Or she needed to accept her body shape and type and move ahead. Too much of her precious time was wasted worrying over a single bite of brownie and one swig of beer.

She reminded herself why she was scrimping and doing without so many things. She was so close to earning her doctorate. Just a few more months and she could reclaim a normal way of life.

A few more months of feeling like she was out of touch with the entire world.

She changed from her snow boots to her cowboy boots and straightened out her clothing.

Gump’s specialized in western clothing for the working cowboy, selling everything from cowboy hats to jeans, cowboy boots to work shirts.

She moved further into the store, into the boot section, where four racks of display boots were strategically placed around chairs.

The hard wood floors creaked as she walked to the middle of the store, where the cowboy hats sat on their displays, waiting for the right heads to fill them.

Floor to ceiling shelves lined both sides of the store from the boot section to the front door and window display.

Jeans and dress slacks filled up the right side of the store, neatly divided into sizes and colors. Two small dressing rooms bided their time near the back door.

Work and dress shirts for men filled the left side shelves. Scattered throughout the rest of the store? Round racks filled with hangered women’s jeans and blouses.

At the front of the store rested the leather gloves within eye shot of the cash register.

Mo breathed deeply, the smell of leather calming her. The whole store was a second home for her. She loved her job, even though she didn’t make much money. Mostly because she loved the customers.

And her bosses wanted her to achieve her goal almost as much as she wanted it.

“Someone’s been looking for you.” George followed her up to the front.

“Oh, God. Not today.” Mo had gone out with a guy twice: a really big, really sweet guy. Four months ago. But those two dates apparently meant, in his convoluted mind, that they were exclusively dating and she was his girlfriend.

He had been practically stalking her every day since then. He sent roses to the store. He called her to wish her a good day. He stopped in to see if she needed a ride home.

Sam and George thought it was hilarious. Mo didn’t. She threw the flowers in the garbage. She told him thank you for the good wishes and hung up.

And she never accepted a ride from him. What more could a girl do to give a guy a solid signal?

Mo turned to run down the stairs, where the work coats, overalls, and rain boots were stored, along with their small bit of tack and the storage room, but George caught her arm.

“Not him.” He chuckled. “Barry Connors was in yesterday, looking for you.”

“Barry?” Mo stared at George. Barry was a regular customer of theirs, and too handsome for his own good. He worked construction and ran about every kind of man-sized Tonka toy in the world.

But he barely spoke to Mo when he was in the store. “Why was he looking for me?” Her stomach flipped and her hands felt clammy all of a sudden.

“Gonna ask you out, apparently.”

Mo stopped all movement. “How do you know that?”

“He told me.” George chuckled again, his thin shoulders shaking. He looked like your typical cowboy: long and lean with no wasted mass. He even had the mustache and wore a black cowboy hat everywhere. A real Marlboro man. “Pretty nervous when he said it, too.”

“Quit shitting me.” Mo turned back to the mirror, trying to put her hair in some kind of order. She dug out her small jar of styling paste and rubbed some into her hands.

Then she ran it through her hair, scrunching it to tame some of the curl. But she noticed her hands shaking. “I have a boyfriend.”

George scrunched up his nose and made a nasty face toward her. In his slow-talking drawl, he said, “We don’t like Doug.”

Mo sighed. George, and his business partner Sam, had been her bosses since she started college seven years ago. They gave her flexible hours, good pay, and a safe place to work.

But they were like over protective uncles. Not one guy she had ever dated was good enough, in their eyes. And she had to admit, her track record with men wasn’t very stellar.

But still, she resented their assessment of her current boyfriend. Granted, he was a bit boring. But he was . . . solid. He didn’t make demands of her time.

She really didn’t have the time for a boyfriend, but she didn’t have the heart to tell him so.

After all, she’d been loading up on credits since she was a freshman and had attended summer school to finish up quicker.

She barely had time to take a shower in the mornings, let alone squeeze in quality time for a man.

Sam walked up and clapped her shoulder. “Should give Barry a chance.” Sam was about as opposite to George as a person could get: he was red-haired and fair-skinned; big and burly; outgoing.

But he and George had been best friends since college thirty years previously. They even bought bordering land outside town and built their houses so they were neighbors.

Their wives were best friends. Their kids were best friends. To Mo, sometimes it seemed a little surreal. As did Sam’s insistence that she go out with Barry Connors.

“Barry isn’t for me.” She smiled as she stared at her reflection. “I’m not in the same class as the women he’s been seen with.”

“What women?”

“You guys have talked about the hotties he’s slept with. I don’t come close to that description.”

George rolled his eyes. “You are a dense young lady, Mo Harper.”

Sam laughed and clapped his hands together as he perched on the side of the counter. “Do you know how many men come in here just to get a look at you?”

Mo turned around and glared at them, then grabbed the dust rag from under the front counter. “Don’t shit me about this.”

“Why would we shit you, Mo? You’re adorable. We think you’d make a great couple with Barry.”

Mo shook her head and walked toward the boot section, to straighten up some opened boxes and dust the shelves. She so didn’t need this conversation right now.

She was craving chocolate, irritable, and overwhelmed with her dissertation.

“Go pick out one of those new blouses. And grab a new pair of jeans.”

Mo shook her head. “I can’t afford any new clothes right now, guys.”

George put his arm around her shoulder. “Mo, honey, we love you like you’re our own daughter. . .”

“But you’re a mess.” Sam finished.

Mo sputtered.

Sam chuckled. “You look like a drowned rat today. Just go change your clothes.”

“This is our treat.” George pushed her toward the women’s clothes.

Mo dug her heels in. “I can’t take clothes from you two.”

“Consider it an early Christmas gift.”

Mo crossed her arms. “You guys are up to something.”

Sam sighed. “Barry’s a better choice than Doug. He’s coming in again tonight to see you.”

“That’s why you want me to change?!” Her hands fisted. “You’re setting me up?”

George plucked out a red blouse and a pair of black jeans. “Go put those on.”

“I can’t believe you guys.” She threw the dust rag onto the floor, grabbed the jeans, then stomped off and changed her clothes in the dressing room.

When she came back out, she had to admit, she felt better about herself and the day. She wasn’t in the habit of taking clothes from the guys, but it did feel good to be dry and warm for once.

She pecked their cheeks. “Thank you, but this isn’t necessary.”

“Hell it isn’t. We have to find you a husband.” Sam boomed, his voice echoing along the vaulted ceiling.

“And soon.” George added, scooping a chaw of snooze in his lower lip.

Mo groaned. She ignored them as she put new shirts away. She found shelves to clean and gloves to straighten. But it was a slow day because of the snow storm.

She couldn’t see three feet out the front window. All she could see was white flakes floating down from the sky. It made her feel somewhat trapped but also insulated from the world.

She didn’t really mind slow days, because she got a chance to do some heavy cleaning in the store and let her mind wander.

For a few blessed hours, she could avoid thinking about athletes and injuries. But that day, George and Sam were relentless. They dogged her every step, singing Barry’s praises.

“Barry’s a good guy.”

“Great family.”

“Has a good job.”

“He’s dependable.”

Mo muttered under her breath about sticking to dogs until she noticed the clock was at 5:25. Only five more minutes left to the day.

She pointed to it and gloated as she grabbed her timecard to fill out her hours for the day.

“See? He’s not coming in after all.” Part of her was relieved. She didn’t want to deal with this. Part of her was disappointed. She liked the idea of Barry Connors being interested in her.

Just then the front door swung open, the little bell tinkled the arrival of Barry Connors. He commanded the attention of everyone in the room. The air seemed to coalesce around him.

Mo found every bit of oxygen sucked away from her as she stared at the man. Big, beautiful man: over six feet tall and brawny without being bulky.

He was like every fantasy man she’d ever dreamed about as a teenager. And as much as she was loath to admit it, even now she dreamed of a man who looked like him to sweep her off her feet.

She’d noticed him before; he came in every few months for new work clothes. But he usually did his business with the men, nodded hello at her, and walked out.

She knew he’d gone through a divorce, but no one talked about it. She couldn’t imagine what woman wouldn’t want him as a mate. There had to be something sinister about a man who looked that good.

Barry stared at Mo from his hazel eyes, his dark hair all but hidden under his winter cap. Just a few stray curls peeked out from under the wool.

Even with a day’s worth of work on his clothes and snowflakes on his coat, he was sexy as hell. And too dangerous for someone like her. He had long, muscular legs and long, muscular arms.

A wide, muscular chest. And a smile that just begged a woman to touch his dimples. Or his chin. Or his hand. Really, any place on his body was delectable and touchable. Bitable.

And that was just the kind of reaction she shouldn’t be having for a man like Barry Connors. Did she mention he was muscular? She was a sucker for a well-built guy.

Rumor: he was a rogue who flitted from woman to woman like a moth. She wasn’t one of those women. She hated guys that played around. She wondered if that’s what happened to bust up his marriage.

She’d grown up pretty naïve and had been a doormat for more than one man. Maybe that’s why she didn’t mind holding onto Doug.

He was content with the time she could spare and wasn’t out every night trying to get laid. Mo didn’t have to worry about another woman trying to steal him away or him straying.

And she certainly didn’t have to worry about him angling for sex every time they were together.

Mo wanted simple things from life: get her degree finished and get the hell out of town. She was so close to finishing up her doctorate degree in exercise physiology.

Just two more semesters of busting her ass and she’d be Mo Harper, Ph.D. She had a sinking feeling that this man, this sex on two legs, was going to interfere with her plans.

She straightened her spine and vowed to not let him interfere.

“Mo Harper.” Barry stopped in front of her. “Have I got a deal for you.”

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

2

Barry swallowed hard once he was finally standing in front of Mo. She was cute as a button, with waist-length, spiral-curled chestnut hair and trim, jean-clad legs.

She stared hard at him like he was a raving idiot, but he’d made up his mind. He’d been a chicken shit coward for six months.

For a year after his divorce, he hated all women, and only used them when his itch couldn’t be cured in the shower.

Then last summer, he spotted Mo. Oh, he had noticed her in the store when she started working there a few years ago. Little hard not to notice a beautiful woman. But he’d been married then.

He had been faithful to his unfaithful wife. But that June day, six months ago, Mo had been breathtaking, standing in the morning sunlight that drifted in the big front window.

She had been laughing at something the guys said and had helped him with his purchase: jeans and work shirts. He’d been so tongue-tied, he probably forgot to thank her.

From that day forward, she captivated too many of his thoughts. He found himself driving by the store, trying to steal a glimpse of her through the front window.

And he had a whole stash of jeans in his closet, plus a few extra work coats and plenty of gloves. It looked like he was fencing stolen merchandise. But he couldn’t stay away from the store.

Every time he saw that woman, his hands started sweating, his voice wobbled, and his knees felt shaky.

His ex wife never produced those kinds of physical reactions from him. No woman had.

He was going to ask Mo out, finally, and take his shot. He had dreamed of this woman for months, knowing she was the answer to his dreams.

He just hoped if she shot him down, it wouldn’t be too painfully humiliating. His pride had taken a few hits lately, from a cheating ex-wife to a back-stabbing best friend.

He didn’t think he could take much more. He continued to stare at Mo and wait.

He kind of wished Sam and George would disappear. It was hard enough asking out a woman, but they made it harder by hanging around and watching.

And worse yet when Mo just stared at him, a peculiar look on her face. Was it a look of amusement? Or fear that he was completely unhinged?

He started to wonder if he’d said anything out loud when her eyes twinkled. Those deep cocoa brown eyes that pulled him in. Damn, if he didn’t love rich brown eyes on a woman.

And hers, combined with her deep red hair, literally stole his breath away. She was dressed in bright red, making her hair pop. He couldn’t not stare and tried to act like he wasn’t.

“Can I help you?.” She asked him.

He couldn’t keep his damn hand from shaking. He hated this part. It was why he didn’t date. He couldn’t ask a woman out without throwing up.

In fact, he’d had to stop his pickup twice on the drive from the site to the store to lean out the window and chuck out the contents of his stomach.

“Ah, yeah.” He finally said, but when he looked back at George and Sam, two guys he’d known since he was a kid and two men he’d respected and looked to for advice, they were both trying to stifle laughs. Barry groaned inwardly. He felt like he was twelve and making an ass out of himself.

He wondered how fast he could sprint out of the store and to his truck. But if he ran now, there wouldn’t be another chance with this woman. He had to believe in a leap of faith with her.

He took a deep breath. All the words he’d practiced and memorized were no longer in his brain. He simply blurted out the big reason he was standing there. “I’d like to take you to Disney World for a week.”

Mo’s jaw dropped. Her brow wrinkled slightly as she frowned. She opened her mouth once. Twice. Then shut it tight and just stared, wide-eyed, at him. She glanced toward the guys.

She turned back to Barry.

He saw her reaction and quickly clarified. “My mom’s got this fun fund and has been planning this family trip for a couple of years. My folks, my sister and brother-in-law, and me.” He paused and swallowed over a lump in his throat. “And there’s money for me to take a date.”

“And that’s me?” Mo squeaked.

“I’d like it to be.” He leaned against the front counter.

“But, we don’t even know each other.”

“We’ll know each other really well by the time we get back.”

Mo stared at him. . This was Barry Connors’ idea of a first date? A weeklong trip to Disney World. Jaysus. What did he do for an encore? Fly her to the moon for cheese? He had to be thirty.

And his mom still planned family trips for them? Made her wonder about him a little bit. Was he a spoiled mama’s boy? Or did he have a really close-knit family?

And his confidence had to be through the roof. To ask out a woman he didn’t even know, to spend an entire week with his family?

She couldn’t get her brain to work. The store was suddenly too hot. He was too close. And the guys were too damned nosy. She wanted Sam and George to disappear.

But they stood there and watched, like she and Barry were putting on a play for them.

Barry worried that her lack of an answer meant she was trying to figure out a way to let him down nicely. He kept talking, trying to sell himself, knowing he was making it worse. “It would be like a tour. If we don’t get along, no big.”

Mo bit her lip. “What if we can’t stand each other? You’d be stuck with me for a week!”

He stared lazily at her. “I have a feeling we’ll get along.”

“Can I think about it?”

“Sure.” He glanced at his watch. “The store closes in two minutes.”

Mo stared hard at him. “Can I call you?”

He nodded, not sure of what to do. He hadn’t dated for several years. And back then, things were different. The rules were different. “I’m in the book.” Barry stood to leave.

Mo’s brow furrowed. “Hold it! You’re in the book? What the hell kind of answer is that?”

Barry turned and stared at her. “Pardon?”

“Don’t come in here all cute and unassuming, ask me out on a freaking week-long date and then tell me to call you. You’re in the book!”

Barry’s face drained of all warmth. Now he’d pissed her off. He had heard that a man shouldn’t do that to a red head. But all he could wonder was how that fire might translate into passion.

And he easily imagined her using that passion against him in his bed. Her face was turning an adorable shade of pink and her eyebrows furrowed close together.

He quickly buttoned his work coat up, to conceal the evidence of his attraction to her.

She thought he was cute? That was something to build on. Maybe if he turned on the cute charm, he could diffuse the situation before it was totally FUBAR.

Damn, he just couldn’t talk to women he was attracted to. If Mo was married or had a steady boyfriend, he’d be chatting up a storm.

But he wanted to be that boyfriend and it scared the crap out of him. Last time he was the boyfriend, he ended up the husband and his entire world went to shit.

He had Mo up on a pedestal, and he hated to ruin his dreams about her. But it was time to see how much of her was like his dreams and how much was going to disappoint.

Think, Connors, think of something to say.

“I didn’t mean it like that.” He crossed his hands over his crotch, going for nonchalant.

“What did you mean?” Her eyes narrowed and she scanned him from head to toe.

“Just.” He sighed. “I’m a little rusty on the dating game.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t play games, Barry.” She started to turn around.

He caught her shoulder and gently twisted her back to face him. “It’s been a while since I’ve asked a woman out.” He pulled out a business card from his wallet. “Think about it, then call me. Top one’s my office. Bottom one’s cell.”

She took the paper and noticed his hand shaking. “When’s the trip?”

“In three weeks.”

She tightened her grip on the paper. “How long have you known about it?”

“Awhile.” He blushed. “I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to ask you, Mo.”

She leaned back against the hat display. “So, you’ve noticed me?”

He grinned. “First time I saw you.” He pointed to the paper. “Call me anytime.”

Mo’s jaw dropped again. But she watched him saunter away from her, admiring the cut of his jeans over the round curve of his ass. He looked more like an elite athlete than a construction worker.

Christ, she could see his muscle definition through three layers of clothing. And then he was gone. The bell tinkled again. The store was empty.

She went through the motions of closing the store: locking the front door, counting out the till, turning down the lights.

The guys didn’t say much as she gathered her coat and got ready for the walk home.

“Want a ride?” George offered.

Mo shook her head. “I need to think.”

Sam grunted. “Don’t think too long.” He put his arm on the small of her back. “A man like Barry Connors won’t be on the market very long.”

“I’m not shopping.”

“Maybe you should be.”

George nodded. “He’d be good for you, Mo.”

“Better match for you than Doug.” Sam squeezed her lightly. “We just want what’s best for you, little girl.”

She glanced from Sam to George and back again. “I don’t know what – or who – that is.”

“Trust your heart for once.”

She stopped buttoning her coat. “What’s that mean?”

George leaned against the wall and crossed his legs at the ankles. “It means you think about things too much.”

“You analyze and categorize everything Mo.”

She blushed and looked at her fingers. “It’s what I’m good at.”

Sam tilted her chin up. “For your school and professional life, that’s fine.”

George nodded. “But when it comes to men, go with what feels right.”

Mo chuckled. “Since when did you two crusty old farts get so sentimental?”

Sam shook his head. “It’s always there. We just hide it well.”

George winked at her. “I almost let my wife get away from me, Mo, because I over-thought the situation. If you like Barry, tell him so.”

“And then find a way to get him into your life.” Sam zipped up his coat. “We’re not shitting you, Mo. We think he’s the best kind of guy there is. Someone you deserve.”

Mo warmed with their words and their thoughts. She gave them each a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks again for the clothes. And the advice.”

The three of them left via the back door. George turned to lock it and asked again. “Sure you don’t want a ride?”

“This is my thinking time.” Mo started her walk from down town to her apartment near campus. “Good night, guys.”

She walked down Main, toward her small place on College. She had a set route. She knew where the sidewalks would be shoveled and where she could cross safely.

The snow hadn’t let up, and she noticed about a foot piled up along the curbs. Cars crept along, and the snow muffled any noise. She breathed deeply, hoping for some clarity.

Before she’d gone a block, a big diesel pickup pulled over and a deep male voice greeted her. “Can I give you a ride?”

She looked into the devilishly handsome face of Barry Connors. She couldn’t help but smile. “I don’t live that far.”

“It’s starting to snow again. And it’s cold as a witch’s . . .” He closed his mouth for a moment. “It’s cold out.” He popped the door open and waited for her.

She stared at the warm cab then glanced at his face. He was smiling, his dimples showing, and he waggled his eyebrows.

“I don’t accept rides from strangers.”

“We’re not strangers, Mo. And after I take you home, we’ll know each other better.”

She swallowed, wondering if he had chosen words to confuse her or if they just came out that way.

“Come on, Mo. I can’t leave a woman to walk alone in a snow storm. That would hurt my manly pride.”

Mo grinned and shook her head at him. She thought about the advice Sam and George had given her. Her heart pounding, she decided to go with spontaneity.

Mo climbed into the work truck and slipped her seat belt on. The truck was loaded: leather seats, too many buttons and knobs to know which one to press, a sun roof, even a heated seat. “You must be a supervisor.”

He shrugged. “I’m part owner of C and C Construction.”

“Owner?” Her head swiveled to stare at him. “C stands for Connors!”

Barry nodded as he pulled back into traffic. “I bought into the business after college.”

“You went to college?”

“Don’t sound so surprised, Mo.” His jaw tightened. “I graduated at the top of my class.”

She shook her head. “I’m not surprised. I just . . . don’t know much about you.”

He glanced at her at a stop light. “Nor me about you. Just what I’ve found out from the guys.”

She fiddled with the seat belt strap. “You asked Sam and George about me?”

He nodded. “Once I finally strapped some courage on.”

“What did they say?”

He shook his head and grinned slowly. “I’ll take that to my grave, sweet heart.”

She smiled a little. “So, you checked me out before you asked me out?”

He looked out the window. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

“I didn’t mean it to sound like you’re . . .”

“Too stupid to do something besides construction?” He looked sideways at her.

She sighed. “Not quite the words I’d use.” She bit her lip and looked at her hands. “You just don’t strike me as a college guy.”

He lifted an eyebrow.

“College isn’t the answer for everyone’s future.”

“I really enjoyed college.” He turned onto Willson. “I sometimes think about going back.”

Mo turned to face him and took a deep breath. “I think you need to know something. I’ve got this semester and the next one and then I’m done. I’ll have my doctorate. That’s my goal right now.”

“George said you were pretty serious about school.”

“I’ve worked too long and too hard to get side tracked now.”

“I’m not out to side track you, Mo.” He turned the heat up and the radio off.

She bit her lip. “Maybe not intentionally. . .”

“When are your finals?”

“I don’t have any.” Mo watched the fat, fluffy flakes bounce off the dark blue hood of his pickup. “Graduate school’s so different from undergraduate. I’m in constant contact with my advisor. Constantly working on papers.”

“When’s the semester break?”

“Two weeks.”

He grinned. “I’d say this is serendipity. We’re going to Florida right after Christmas.” Then he pulled over to a parking space on a side street.

He faced her. “Mo, if you’re not interested, just say so.” He spoke quickly, like the words were fire leaving his mouth.

“I know I’m not smooth and I’m probably blowing any chance I have with you. But just be honest with me if I have a shot or not.”

Mo swallowed. “Thing is, I have a boyfriend.”

His face dropped. “Didn’t see that coming.” He leaned over the steering wheel. “That would have been a good thing for the guys to mention.” He groaned. “Christ, I’m an ass.”

“How does that make you an ass?”

“Hitting on another guy’s girl?”

“I don’t belong to Doug.”

He took his hat off and ran his fingers through his hair. “Can’t believe those two didn’t mention it.”

Mo cleared her throat. “They don’t like him.”

He lifted his head. “Really?”

“They like you a lot better.”

He grinned. “Really. . .”

“All they did this afternoon was brag about what a great catch you are.” She winked at him. “How much are you paying them?”

“Not enough.” He moved his cap back on his head.

“It’s about over with Doug; he doesn’t want me to finish college.”

He frowned. “Why the hell not?”

Mo shrugged. “I think he wants me available to be with him whenever he wants.”

“That’s a crock of shit, Mo.”

She hinged a glance at him.

“Why should you give up your dream just so he can get what he wants?” He sat back up.

“I think the fact that he didn’t go to graduate school has something to do with it.”

He thumped the steering wheel. “He’s jealous.”

She shook her head. “He’s a teacher at the middle school and a football coach for the high school, but I think he wanted to coach at the university level.”

“I don’t understand why a guy would want to take an education away from you just because he didn’t do what he wanted.”

“You wouldn’t stand in the way of school?” She felt a glimmer of potential in her chest.

“Not intentionally.” He sighed. “I know this is sudden. And I’m asking a lot of you to give me an answer right away. But we need to know for tickets.”

Mo closed her eyes. “Maybe we should have a date first?” She wanted to say yes, to do something so totally unlike herself. Take a chance. Be daring.

“Date?” He frowned and put his arm over the back of the seat.

“You know, talk, get to know each other a little bit.” Mo smiled. “See if we even like each other. I can be stubborn.” She paused. “And I have a temper.”

He barked out a laugh. “I just assumed we’d get along and nothing would be a problem.”

“Maybe we will.” Mo bit her lip. “But I can’t honestly answer you or know what to do about Doug until I know a little more about you.”

He glanced at his watch. “What about now?”

 

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