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Top Shelf

Cassie has had enough with men. After being constantly harassed in and out of work by the biggest creep ever, the very last thing she wants right now is a man… that is until she meets Joe, her new neighbour. Surely going for dinner at his apartment won’t lead to anything…right? Dinner is just dinner, after all.

Age Rating: 18+

 

Top Shelf by JJ Crawford is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

The app has received recognition from BBC, Forbes and The Guardian for being the hottest app for explosive new Romance novels.
Ali Albazaz, Founder and CEO of Inkitt, on BBC The Five-Month-Old Storytelling App Galatea Is Already A Multimillion-Dollar Business Paulo Coelho tells readers: buy my book after you've read it – if you liked it

Subgenres:

Contemporary, Later in Life

 

Similar to:

, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

Chapter 1

Summary

Cassie has had enough with men. After being constantly harassed in and out of work by the biggest creep ever, the very last thing she wants right now is a man… that is until she meets Joe, her new neighbour. Surely going for dinner at his apartment won’t lead to anything…right? Dinner is just dinner, after all.

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: JJ Crawford

CASSIE

“Cassie, get over here. You’ve got to see this!” Cindy yelled across the busy room.

I looked up and across the room to where Cindy and three other girls were standing by the big office window, looking at something.

After clicking save on the Johnson account spreadsheet I was working on, I got up and walked over.

The building was a typical city high-rise. Since it was the headquarters for S & T Bank, it was lined with windows all the way around.

The rest of the girls and I were account managers and we were on the fifth floor. I moved over to the window to join the rest of the girls to see what was so engrossing.

The lot next door had an old building that was a warehouse for some amusement company that had gone out of business and was in the process of being torn down.

Cranes and other construction equipment worked the site, where the foundation was just being laid for new Price Chopper headquarters.

Men went this way and that, working away. But I didn’t have any idea what had drawn the girls’ attention until the moment he came out from behind an excavator.

This was the reason for the work stoppage. I had no idea who he was, but I knew in that instant that he was the reason, because all the girls let out breaths they had been holding.

He was dark haired and very well muscled, which was obvious because his fluorescent shirt was in his hand as he came into view.

To say he had a six-pack was an understatement. This was the Adonis of construction workers.

He laid his shirt on one of the equipment tracks, grabbed a water bottle, and took a drink.

All the women including myself gasped as he dumped the rest of the water on his head, and let it run down along his well-defined chest and abs.

Leaning back, he grabbed his shirt and rubbed his face. Then he bent over a couple of times, threw his shirt back on, and climbed back onto the excavator.

The girls all let out little moans. Before any of them could turn away from the window, a voice from behind broke the visual connection we all had.

“Well ladies, now that the show is over, can we get back to work?” he said.

I turned along with the rest of the girls to see Richard Preston standing there, looking solemn. The girls all smiled and walked back to their desks.

I was lucky enough to have Richard follow me all the way back to mine.

“I’m surprised at you, Casandra. I thought a girl with your education and background would be above such displays,” he said, looking stern.

Richard was just a pain in the ass. He was the type that took credit for all the good we did on the floor and blamed whichever girl was on his hit list when something went bad.

In other words, he was just a dick.

“Oh Richard, the girls were just having a little fun. They work hard and deserve a break once in a while. Don’t be so mean about it.” I said.

Usually I didn’t respond to most of Richard’s gripes, but he had been pushing me hard lately and trying to get into arguments.

Ever since the vice president noticed what a fine job I had done on the Johnson account, Richard had been trying to discredit me.

“The girls, yes. But you, Casandra?” He said slimily. “I expected more from a Cornell grad. What would the management say if they knew you ogled construction workers all day?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe I would tell them it gives me the inspiration to do a good job on my house accounts, instead of stealing credit for what others do.”

I knew this was going too far, but I didn’t care anymore.

The look on his face spoke volumes. When he finally got it under control, he gave me a look that would have melted wax.

“I suggest you turn your attention to men with better refinements who can help you in your career, rather than someone only good for a one-night stand.”

“The last thing I need is help picking out men.” I said, getting more and more pissed.

“I could be a big help to you, Casandra. Why don’t we discuss it after work some evening?” he said, giving me that oily smile of his.

“I don’t date people I work with. It’s a personal promise to myself, sorry.” I wasn’t, and maybe the look in my eye said so, because he was getting mad again.

“Careful, I might be able to arrange that we don’t work together anymore. And then where would your excuse be? Think long and hard about it,” he said, giving me one last glare before walking away.

I hated the bastard. He was a manipulative ass who was only looking out for himself and no one else. It would be a cold day in hell when I dated someone like that.

I was fuming as I began hitting the keys on my keyboard again, and I didn’t relax till Cindy came over.

“What did the ass threaten you with this time?” She asked.

“My job if I didn’t go out with him. Like I would ever lower myself to that level. Rotten bastard.” I said still fuming.

“So, you going to add Hot Construction Guy to your list?” Cindy asked. I looked at her and she was smiling this goofy smile.

I couldn’t help but laugh. Cindy and I were roommates in college and were able to land careers here together.

She was my best friend in the whole world, and I needed her so much after little deals like the last one. She always brought me back to myself and I appreciated that.

“I don’t know. Why, is he on yours?” I asked.

“Oh honey, he was on mine from the moment I saw him.” She said, giggling. “At least he would be a real, attainable man on your list this time, instead of the fantasy men you keep putting on there.”

“You don’t think he is a fantasy man?” I inquired.

“Maybe for me, but let’s face it, Cassie: you’re hot, you could have any man you wanted. You just don’t want the headache.” Cindy said.

I hated that she cut herself down, but I hated it even more that she compared herself to me all the time. I thought she was a beautiful girl with a personality to match.

I knew some guys thought she had too large a nose, but I thought she was perfect just the way she was.

“That is true. Men are a headache. You remember my last boyfriend. You remember me chasing after him all the time and cleaning up his messes.”

I added, “I don’t have the energy for that after working all day. Besides, I am happy just the way I am.” I meant every word.

“Yeah, I know, that’s the worst part. I’ve got to get back to work before Dick comes back. Talk to you later,” she said, striding back to her desk.

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but I knew it wasn’t good and that I was going to get one of the famous Cynthia lectures after work.

I smiled. Ever since sophomore year in college when we’d had a class together, we’d been friends and then roommates the rest of the way.

I was used to the lectures and the way she would tell me how miserable I was, even when I was happy.

I snorted and began getting back to work on the Johnson account’s forecast for the fiscal quarter. The rest could wait till after work when it was officially girl time.

***

“All I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you started going out again,” Cindy said, taking a drink from her Long Island iced tea.

“I do. I’m out with you right now,” I protested.

I knew that wasn’t what she meant, but I liked my life the way it was and I didn’t want any drama. I was content.

“You know what I mean. I mean how long has it been since you, you know, got under the sheets?” she asked.

I just about spit out my drink. I started snorting and looked at her through teary eyes. I got myself under control and said the first thing that came to mind. “I sleep under the sheets every night.”

“You know that’s not what I meant,” she fumed, pouting.

I loved to get her flustered. She was right, though. It had been a long time since I had an intimate relationship with anyone. But, I reminded myself, I didn’t need or want one.

“Look Cin, I am happy the way I am. If it happens it happens, but I am not going to look for it. End of story.”

“Fine,” she said, but I could tell she was still miffed. “I just worry about you.”

“I know baby, and I worry about you too. When and if it happens, it does, but I am not looking for it right now. Let’s get back to more important things. What are you giving Janelle for the shower?” I asked.

Our coworker Janelle was getting married soon. Next weekend was the wedding shower and I had no idea what to bring.

“I thought about some engraved picture frames from the engraving store in the mall. Why? What are you taking?” Cindy asked me.

“I thought about a Crock-Pot. You know, one of the programmable ones.”

“Oh, that’s so original. Cassie, you’ve done the same thing for the last three showers. Everyone is starting to call you the Crock-Pot queen,” Cindy said, laughing and taking another drink.

“Maybe, but there are a lot of worse things to be called,” I said back.

“Ladies, compliments of the man at the end of the counter.” A waiter said, breaking our conversation and setting two drinks in front of us.

We both looked to the man at the end of the counter and he lifted a glass in response to our looks. We both nodded and mouthed thank you. Then Cindy turned to look at me. “Plan A or B?”

“I forgot my ring. Plan B I guess,” I said, looking back at her.

“All right, but no tongue this time, slut,” Cindy said, laughing.

Before I could respond, the man came over and looked at us. “Mind if I join you ladies?”

“Not at all, please, but I should let you know that we aren’t available, we are in a relationship,” I said, hoping he’d take the hint.

He wasn’t a bad-looking guy, and he seemed nice enough. I just wasn’t in the mood.

He took the empty chair at our table and he looked at each of us in turn. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see the rings, so I was hoping to get to know you both.”

I respected his approach. He included both of us and didn’t make either one of us feel less important than the other. He was too nice a guy to come right out and hurt someone.

“It’s fine. We get called so many names by guys who don’t understand, so it’s nice to meet one who’s decent enough to just want to talk to us.

“Sorry about the ring thing. We’re still waiting for laws to change before that can be possible,” I said, lightly rubbing Cindy’s arm a little.

We enjoyed getting to know Mark. He was a salesman for a local manufacturing company and an all-around nice guy. The only problem was, I could see Cindy loosening up to him more and more as we talked.

I decided to give her a chance, so I stood up and said I had to go to the bathroom, which wasn’t a lie. I’d had to go for a while but I didn’t want to leave Cindy alone with some creep.

But he was one of the few good ones left, so I headed over.

I made sure to take a while, and when I finally headed back I almost stopped in my tracks.

Instead of Mark standing there, Richard was. I was pissed because it looked like he was harassing Cindy. I was determined to put a stop to this.

“I told you no, now leave me alone,” Cindy said angrily as I got to the table.

“Fine bitch, I’ll make your life miserable,” he said as I came around the table. I shoved him as hard as I could before he knew I was there.

He staggered, tripped, and fell to the floor. Comprehension dawned on his face as he looked up at me. “You’ll pay for that, bitch,” he said, jumping to his feet.

I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Help! This man is trying to hurt us because we told him no!” Then I curled up into a ball and waited.

Before Richard was three steps from me, two big men jumped in the way and put their hands in front of him, pushing him back. “I suggest, buddy, that you leave the ladies alone. No means no.”

Richard looked at the man who had spoken and then the other. He stepped back and glared. Finally, he looked at me. “This isn’t done. Wait till Monday, you’re both going to pay for this.”

He turned and left the building.

I was shaking as I watched him leave. He was such an asshole. I looked over to Cindy and she was shaking and wiping tears away.

The two big men came over but we told them we were fine, we just wanted to get out of there. One of them got us a cab, and we headed toward Cindy’s apartment.

“What do we do now?” She asked, still shaking next to me.

“We both file a complaint with human resources first thing Monday morning and hope it keeps him from doing anything to us.

“We tell them exactly what happened at the bar and how we had to ask for help to get him away from us.

“They can confirm our story with the bar. It was such a big deal, it’s not like they will forget,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm.

“OK, Cassie. I hate him for making me feel that way.”

“What happened to Mark?” I asked remembering he was there when I went to the bathroom.

“We talked a little more, exchanged numbers, and then he left. The second when he was gone that asshole was standing there.

“Then he says, ‘since you’re free now we can talk about getting you into a better position.’ Arrogant bastard. God I hate him, Cass.”

“I know Cin, me too,” I said as we pulled up. I made sure she was inside before having the cabbie take me to my apartment building.

Pretending to be strong for Cindy wasn’t as hard as not falling apart in the cab once she was gone. I felt weak and now I was alone. Why did some people have to be such assholes?

I was curling up into a ball in the back seat and hardly noticed when we pulled in front of Townsend Apartments, my apartment building.

“Miss, this your stop?”

“Yeah, sorry, how much do I owe you?”

“Thirty-two seventy,” he said.

I nodded, counted out thirty-five, handed it to him and told him no change was fine.

I got out and used my key fob to unlock the door and walked inside. The hall was empty all the way to the elevator and mailboxes.

I stopped in front of my post office box and tried getting the key in, but I was shaking so badly that I couldn’t do it. Finally, I gave up and slammed my palm against the wall.

“Let me help you. Looks like you’ve had a rough day,” a voice said behind me.

I spun around. Standing there was a guy from my apartment building. I couldn’t remember his name. I’d only seen him a few times, but he always smiled and said good morning.

He wasn’t one of those guys you would remember. He was just kind of average and wore normal business clothes and the like.

The kind of guy you would see in any office building. His brow wrinkled a bit and I wondered why until I looked down at my hand and saw how badly I was trembling.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

Chapter 2

JOE

A last-minute business call from the home office put me way behind, and I didn’t get out of work till late.

I hoped I had remembered to hit record on the DVR because tonight was the last night of Friday Night Food Showdown and I wanted to see if Claudia would beat George.

She should. Hell, she seemed to have it all together, but every once in a while George would pull a dessert or something out of his ass and the judges would melt.

The championship tonight was all about skill versus luck, and I was hoping for the skill girl to close it out.

I hurried, running my fob over the door entrance, and got inside. I was ready to run up the stairs when I saw her.

She was standing in front of the mailboxes, shaking like a leaf. It hadn’t rained and it wasn’t cold. All I knew for sure was that it was her, and because it was her I was glued to the spot.

I had seen her many times and tried to get her to talk to me, but nothing past pleasantries ever transpired. She was that rare form of beautiful who didn’t think she was but everyone else knew it.

Her blonde hair fell in ringlets down her face and when she smiled she had these incredible dimples. She had that innocent look that made guys everywhere want to stop and take care of her.

Of course, being a guy, I fell into that group.

Then she hit the palm of her hand against the wall and shook like she was either pissed or scared. I had no idea what made my feet move but the next thing I knew I was behind her and my mouth was opening.

Stop, don’t do this, I thought to myself. But it was too late. The words spilled out before I could stop them.

“Let me help you. Looks like you’ve had a rough day,” I said, holding out my hand.

She spun around like she’d been startled by a big, angry dog. Then she saw me and relaxed a little.

I didn’t know if that was good because she recognized me, or bad, because I looked so harmless that I was a joke.

She continued to look at me and you could tell she was scared. I didn’t know what had happened to her, but she had been through enough. I could tell that.

“Look, I live here too. We have seen each other and talked a few times. I can see that something really upset you. Tell you what, let me open your box and get your mail.

“I will walk you to your door and make sure you make it inside and then I will go to my apartment. It just looks like right now you need a friend,” I concluded.

“A friend?” she stammered.

“Yeah, a friend. I’m Joe Miles. I live on the fourth floor. We pass each other and say hi every once in a while. Please,” I said, still holding out my hand.

“Let me get your mail out and walk you home.”

She didn’t say anything. She just handed me her key and stepped back.

I hoped it didn’t seem like I was a stalker, knowing exactly which box was hers, but I pushed the key in and turned it, opening her box.

I reached in and grabbed three envelopes, closed the door, and turned the key to lock it again.

I turned back to her and she seemed smaller than before, like she was wilting away before my eyes. I walked over and handed her the key and the mail.

I guided her to the stairs and walked her up to the second floor, right to her door. I knew it seemed stalkerish now, but I didn’t care. She seemed so frail.

I had learned over time that she always took the stairs, and once I knew that, I started doing it too, just on the off chance we would run into each other once in a while.

It had paid off, but she never seemed to actually notice me, and it wasn’t like tonight was any different. We got to her door, but she just stood there and waited.

“Um, Cassie, do you want to go in? Do you want me to open it for you?” I asked. She just kept staring at me.

Maybe I had something on my face. I knew I didn’t but I wiped my face in a big flourish and looked at her. “I thought maybe I had something on my face that you saw.”

She gave a hint of a smile. I was in heaven. She was beautiful with those green eyes looking right at me. “Do you want me to get the door for you?”

“Door?” she asked.

Okay, the girl had lost it. Whatever upset her must have been enough to really freak her out. “Cassie, if you want, I can open the door for you and make sure everything is all right.”

She finally seemed to snap out of it. She looked at me differently, and then she looked at her door. She blushed.

“Um, you said you were Jim?” she asked me. Talk about a blow to the ego.

“Joe, Joe Miles,” I said.

“Thank you. I’m sorry, I had a rough night. I should be fine now.” She said, dismissing me.

At least that was how it felt. I should have known better. Girls who looked like this didn’t look at guys who looked like me.

“OK, I just wanted to make sure you were fine. If you need anything, I’m in apartment 403,” I said, writing the number on one of my business cards and handing it to her.

She took it but didn’t look at it. I knew what that meant, but I was still gentlemanly enough to smile at her and walk away with some dignity. I did hope she had a better night.

CASSIE

The card said Joe Miles, Assistant Director of Player Relations, Syracuse Tailwinds. It was the local hockey team. My bank did some work for them.

I waited till he was gone, then went inside and locked the door behind me.

I was sure he was fine, but I’d had enough of men for one evening. I dropped the mail on my end table and went in search of some food.

Cindy and I were going to grab dinner, but after everything that happened, we both just wanted to go home.

My search wasn’t going well. As I opened cupboard after cupboard, I found nothing at all appetizing. Served me right for never shopping.

See, I liked food, but I liked it more when someone else made it. I would never cook if I didn’t have to.

I flopped on the couch and looked at my mail. Garbage, all of it garbage. And then the card fell into my lap.

I knew I must have acted like a psychotic person earlier. He must think I’m the crazy woman of the building.

Of course, the way I acted from the moment he saw me would only confirm that. I was so nervous from the Richard event that I just wasn’t in my right mind.

I sat there a few more minutes, just reliving the night over and over, and then finally decided enough was enough.

I grabbed the phone and dialed the number. It rang twice and then a voice finally answered, “Hello?”

“Um, this is Cassie, you know, from downstairs. It just occurred to me that I never said thank you,” I said.

“You’re welcome. It sounds like you’re doing better now. I’m glad,” Joe said on the other end.

Was I doing better? I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I needed to not think about what happened.

“Yeah, I am doing better, except in all the excitement, I never got anything for dinner tonight. I was thinking about ordering takeout, and thought maybe I could get you some as a thank you.”

“That would have been great, except I already started making dinner,” he said. I was actually disappointed. “Do you like pan-fried pork chops, mashed potatoes, and green beans?”

“Um yeah, I haven’t made anything like that before. Well, not the pork chops, the veggies I have. Why?” I asked.

“Because it just so happens I have enough for two, and I wonder if you would like some,” Joe said.

“I mean, I appreciate everything you did for me, but I really don’t want to start dating or anything, and after tonight I don’t want to date any man.

“I have nothing against you or anything, but I just don’t want to give you the wrong idea and I don’t want you to be mad at me because you were a big help earlier, and I don’t want to seem like I’m not grateful, but…”

“Cassie, stop, you’re rambling. No strings. Just friends, okay? Tell you what. I’ll finish dinner and you can come up or I can bring it down.

“We can just share a meal like friends with nothing on the line and we can talk or eat in silence, your call,” Joe said.

It sounded good, but would he keep it that way? I mean, I’ve had guys try the whole friends thing until they started pushing, and things went south in a hurry.

I didn’t want him here though, to see how empty my kitchen was and feel sorry for me. “I’ll come up, but just dinner. No games.”

“Cassie, no games, just dinner. I’ve got about ten minutes left on the pork chops, does that work for you?” he asked.

Did it? I didn’t know. I just wanted some company right now. I felt like I was using him, but he said friends, and didn’t friends use each other once in a while?

“That’s fine. I will be up in ten. Um, I don’t have anything to bring.”

He laughed. I mean he really laughed at that. When he caught himself he said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got everything you can think of here. Come on up when you get the chance.”

He chuckled as he hung up the phone.

I guess what I said was kind of funny. I knew it was proper to take wine or something but I just didn’t have anything.

I looked around my kitchen. What he suggested sounded a lot better than the packet of pop tarts I thought I would be eating.

Even though it wasn’t a date, I wasn’t going to show up looking like I’d been crying tonight. I hurried to change into some comfy clothes and headed up the stairs.

I got to the fourth floor and stood in front of his door. Did I really want to do this? Then all of a sudden I caught a whiff of the meal he’d fixed and my stomach answered my question for me.

It rumbled, and I knocked.

JOE

She’s beautiful was all I thought as I answered the door.

I had just pulled the pork chops off the frying pan and dabbed each with a slab of butter, and was letting them rest a second when she knocked.

I knew she had been through a lot today, but it would be nice not to eat alone, so I was excited to have company.

I could tell from the look on her face that she was still a little nervous about being here, so I took the lead.

“Hey Cassie, come on in,” I said as I opened the door, leaving it open for her to close when she was ready. I didn’t want to seem too pushy, and especially not too forward.

“Usually I eat and watch television at night, but I do have a kitchen table, which do you prefer?”

It took her forever to answer and right before she did, I heard the door shut. I told myself to not look around to see if she was still there.

“Um, either way is fine with me,” She said, and I smiled. I was glad she stayed.

“Well I’ll be honest: I’m kind of a food nut and tonight I had taped the fall baking challenge on the food channel. Is that too weird to watch?” I asked.

I heard a little snort, how cute was that?

“No, that’s fine. Um, do you eat on the coffee table?” she asked.

“Nah, this is fine dining here at Chez Miles. I have TV trays in the coat closet,” I answered, and finished putting the final touches on dinner.

I heard some noise and refused to look. I wanted her to feel at home and I wasn’t about to ruin that.

I just finished when I heard her come into the kitchen and I looked to see her looking at me.

She was smiling and it made my face light up in response. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking, but I was glad to see a smile.

“Napkins and silverware?” she asked.

“Already on the counter there along with two glasses.

“I wasn’t sure what you’d like to drink, so rummage through the fridge to see what you’d like while I take the plates over,” I said, smiling and walking by her with two plates full of food.

I came back, grabbed the silverware, and had everything laid out on the trays when I heard her say, “What are you having?”

“Pepsi please, it’s my one vice in this world. I drink two a day, and I can’t seem to stop myself,” I said, walking back toward the kitchen and grabbing the butter dish.

I noticed she had grabbed an Ultra but had put it back and grabbed a bottle of Country Time lemonade.

I wasn’t sure if it felt wrong to her that I wasn’t drinking, but I didn’t say anything. I just wanted her to relax and forget about her day.

“Um, which side of the couch do you usually eat on?” she asked.

“Hmm, good question. I guess I never thought about it before. Are you right- or left-handed?”

“Left,” she answered.

“I’m right, so why don’t you take the side by the door and I’ll take the one by the window so we aren’t banging arms every time we take a bite.”

“Makes sense,” she said, and I could already see her loosening up. I was relieved. She was such a beautiful girl. It was nice to see her smile.

CASSIE

“Make sense,” I said, taking the side nearest the door. I watched as he came around and began fiddling with the remote. This was the weirdest dinner I had ever had.

Thinking back through my life, I had never had a man ask me to dinner and not try to talk to me. The whole “let me know about you so I can tell you how wonderful I am” thing.

This was like something totally, I don’t know, normal.

“Now, here is how this works,” Joe said, pausing before the show started.

“They started with eight bakers, and after every show they eliminate the worst one until there is only one left to win. Oh, maybe you’ve seen this before?”

“Nope, I can honestly say I’ve never watched this show in my life,” I said, trying to hold back a laugh.

“I know, pretty strange right? But I’m just a guy who likes food, so what can I say? Well anyway, it has come down to the pastry chef Claudia and home cook George.

“My money is on the trained pastry chef, but George has these whimsical ideas that seem to blow the judges away,” Joe said, starting the show.

I just smiled. I didn’t really care about the show on the television, not when there was this wonderful food staring at me. I took a bite of the green beans, and then began devouring the food.

Every once in a while, Joe would make a comment about the show and I would answer accordingly. The meal was perfect. Granted, I was starving, but it was really good.

It was nice just having a good meal with no expectations, and I hoped it would stay that way. Of course, given the way Joe had acted so far I didn’t think it wouldn’t, but it could have been a ploy.

I tensed a little at the thought, and then Joe giggled at George dropping his frosting bag on the floor. My tension eased. This wasn’t the type of guy to have a ploy like that.

JOE

I couldn’t believe George dropped his frosting bag. I mean who does that? Me, but I wasn’t telling anyone, that’s why I giggled. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cassie take a breath and relax.

I could tell she was still a little nerved up, so I kept a running monologue going, hoping to ease her worries, at least for tonight.

Usually I am a fast eater, but Cassie was done in record time and I smiled, knowing it must have been good. She ate the whole plate and left nothing but the bone from the pork chop.

I finished mine and pushed pause on the recording. It was about two thirds of the way through.

I saw her stiffen but I didn’t react. “How about some dessert? I have Pepperidge Farm cake and/or ice cream.”

She relaxed again. Wow, whatever happened must have really made her skittish around guys. At that thought, all I wanted to do was find out who did it and punch them.

Now that would be comical. The guy was probably huge and my five-seven frame and 190 pounds weren’t going to scare anyone.

“What kind of cake and ice cream do you have?” she asked.

“The only kind, chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream,” I responded.

She laughed really hard and then gave a little snort. Oh my god how cute is that? “What are you having?”

“Both, I put a piece of cake in the bowl and top it off with a scoop of ice cream. I like Pepperidge Farm cake but sometimes the frosting is too much for me so I dilute it with ice cream. Yeah I know, I’m like that,” I said.

She giggled a little. “How about just a piece of cake for me, and I’ll help you with the plates.”

“Great, the garbage is under the sink for the bones and you can just put the plates in the sink till later,” I said, jumping up and going to the kitchen to grab two bowls.

I cut the cake and then dolloped mine with ice cream. I headed back to the couch where she was waiting.

I handed her hers and began the show again. George had done it. He had made this cornucopia that had desserts spilling out of it. It looked amazing. I was beginning to think he was a ringer.

Claudia had done a leaf pile with different desserts shaped like leaves. It was good, but I didn’t know if it would be enough.

“I think your girl is going to lose,” Cassie said, looking over at me.

I didn’t even know she was paying attention, to be honest.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean. This George guy seems to come up with something like that every episode. He must have one hell of an imagination.”

She was looking at me like I had two heads. Oh well, I am who I am, and I wasn’t about to change myself or pretend to be someone I wasn’t.

I must have passed some sort of silent inspection because she smiled and went back to the television where they were announcing the winner.

“And the winner of the fall baking challenge and the twenty-five-thousand-dollar prize is…George,” the announcer said.

“Crap, I knew it,” I said, hitting the off button. I stood up and grabbed our empty bowls. Cassie was smiling as I took hers, and I wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t matter, she was smiling.

I threw the bowls in the sink. Cassie had come in behind me and handed me the glasses. I stacked everything in the dishwasher and turned to her.

“Would you like anything else or another drink or anything?”

“I don’t think so. I think I’ll just head back to my apartment. Thanks for dinner and company,” she said.

I smiled and bowed. “My pleasure, what are friends for?”

I walked her to the door. I opened it and she could clearly see the hallway. A look of doubt passed over her face.

She turned back to me. “I hope you don’t take this wrong, but I am glad it was a laid-back evening, and you didn’t, like, try to be more than friends.”

My face must have looked like how I felt. Like how sad I was that she couldn’t trust me. All of a sudden she gasped and started talking again.

“Shit, that didn’t come out right. I’m sorry. Just after what happened earlier tonight I needed a friend, and you were. I appreciate that so much.” She said, putting her hand on my arm.

The moment she laid her arm there, I was relieved. Sometimes I said things the wrong way too, so I could understand.

“It’s okay. I understand. If you ever want to talk or eat dinner or anything let me know. You know where to find me and you have my number.”

She smiled. Relief on her face that she hadn’t insulted me as badly as she thought she had. “Thanks Joe, I appreciated tonight.”

Then she turned and headed for the stairs, not the elevator, and headed down to her floor. I watched her leave.

I knew I would probably never have a woman as beautiful as she in my apartment again, but I had tonight, so that was something.

 

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Love at First Stoplight

Cami always feels like the universe is out to get her. Every time she gets to a stoplight it turns red, without fail. After being dumped by her boyfriend, she doesn’t think her day could get any worse. That is until… of course, another red light. This one is different though, as hunky CEO Nick is also stuck at it, too. Who says nothing good can come of a red light?

Age Rating: 18+

Secrets of the Worlds Worst Matchmaker

Imagine you’re a matchmaker and you realize too late you’re in love with your childhood best friend. You only have yourself to blame—you’re the one who matched him and now he’s engaged to be married. When you find yourself in this position there’s a few secrets you’re going to need to keep…

Secret #1 – Smile when he tells you the happy news, even if your heart cracks in half.

Secret #2 – Don’t compare yourself to his beautiful French fiancée. You’re just as beautiful.

Secret #3 – Don’t tag along to the tux fitting with him alone. Just no.

Secret #4 – Don’t help him learn to dance to his wedding song.

Secret #5 – Erase all memories of the two of you through the years when lines blurred for even the briefest of moments.

And the one you never saw coming…

Secret #6 – Definitely, don’t stand and object—someone else might just do it for you.

Going Nowhere

Scarlett always hated the limelight that her celebrity parents thrive under. At twenty-three, she’s doing her best to live a “normal” life. All of that changes when Xavier, a family friend, returns from college. Xavier is also famous, but he’s not what he seems. Can Scarlett avoid fame and guard her heart, or will she take a chance on a love that might just rock her world?

Age Rating: 18+

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

More Than Just Friends

Ronnie and Jake are childhood friends, but they are forced to say goodbye too soon. Years later, they get the chance to rekindle their friendship, and in the process discover new feelings. Will they remain just friends, or will their relationship blossom into something more?

Age Rating: 16+

My Warrior

Running from an abusive ex lands Opal quite literally in the arms of mysterious boxing champion, Warrior. But though Warrior’s seductive grip is enough to sweep Opal fast off her feet and into a whirlwind romance, she’s about to learn it’s hard to escape a dangerous past. In the competitive world of boxing, there are opponents on every corner of the ring…and playing for keeps sometimes means playing dirty.

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Assault, Kidnapping, Sexual Assault/Abuse, Stalker, Violence Against Women)

Best of Both Worlds

Dr. Chimamanda Rowland doesn’t do one-night stands. Her goal: Get through her residency, pay off her student loans, and return to her home country of Nigeria to establish hospitals for impoverished residents. But one night of partying leads to unexpected consequences, and Amanda is suddenly thrust into a world of upscale living and maternity clothes. And it feels like someone’s watching her…Amanda’s dream is in jeopardy, but can she survive when her life becomes a nightmare?

Age Rating: 18+ (Extreme Violence, Gore, Human Trafficking)

Behind the Masque

Roxanne takes a night off from her busy career as head chef at a popular Houston restaurant and accompanies her best friend Casey to the infamous Manfredi Masque. To her surprise, Roxanne experiences one of the most erotic nights of her life. And afterward, she has not one, not two, but THREE devastatingly handsome men pursuing her. Can she navigate the crowded situation without hurting everyone involved? Or will these guys be her downfall?

Age Rating: 18+

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

Falling for My Brother’s Best Friend

Let’s say you’re an independent, self-sufficient woman who runs the family company and you find yourself falling for your little brother’s best friend. Now, more than ever, you need to count all the reasons why you need to abandon falling.

Abandon Falling #1 – He’s a womanizer. Hasn’t had a serious relationship a day in his life and changes women more often than he changes his sheets.

Abandon Falling #2 – He’s never serious. He cracks one-liners, mostly at your expense.

Abandon Falling #3 – When things go wrong, he seems unfazed and always remains in control. It’s so annoying.

Abandon Falling #4 – He has tattoos. Lots of them. Everywhere. Not to mention, he owns a tattoo parlor. (Damn it! Why doesn’t that sound like a bad thing anymore?)

Abandon Falling #5 – There’s a growing list of how different you two are. You can’t get along for fifteen minutes—a lifetime together would land one of you in prison.

Keep repeating those reasons and drown yourself in work. Pretend you don’t notice his good qualities or how enticing he looks without a shirt, and do not, I repeat, do not agree to live with the man while your place is being repaired from flood damage.

Trust me, even the strongest of us can only forego temptation for so long.

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