“Delightful . . . filled with characters who are just plain hoots.” Los Angeles Times
“One of the few in the genre who can make you laugh out loud.” Kirkus Reviews
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On Wednesday, Quinn McKenzie changes her life. On Thursday, she tries to get somebody to notice. On Thursday night, somebody does.
Quinn McKenzie is dating the world's nicest guy, she has a good job as a high school art teacher, she's surrounded by family and friends who rely on her, and she's bored to the point of insanity. But when Quinn decides to change her
On Wednesday, Quinn McKenzie changes her life. On Thursday, she tries to get somebody to notice. On Thursday night, somebody does.
Quinn McKenzie is dating the world's nicest guy, she has a good job as a high school art teacher, she's surrounded by family and friends who rely on her, and she's bored to the point of insanity. But when Quinn decides to change her life by adopting a stray dog over everyone's objections, everything begins to spiral out of control. Now she's coping with dognapping, breaking and entering, seduction, sabotage, stalking, more secrets than she really wants to know, and two men who are suddenly crazy . . . for her.
“Delightful . . . filled with characters who are just plain hoots.” Los Angeles Times
“One of the few in the genre who can make you laugh out loud.” Kirkus Reviews
ON A gloomy March afternoon, sitting in the same high school classroom she'd been sitting in for thirteen years, gritting her teeth as she told her significant other for the seventy-second time since they'd met that she'd be home at six because it was Wednesday and she was always home at six on Wednesdays, Quinn McKenzie lifted her eyes from the watercolor assignments on the desk in front of her and met her destiny.
Her destiny was a small black dog with desperate eyes, so she missed the significance at first.
She didn't miss anything else. The dog that her favorite art student held out to her was the canine equivalent of an exposed nerve: wiry black body, skinny white legs, narrow black head, all of it held together with so much tension that the poor baby shuddered with it. It looked cold and scared and hungry and anxious as it struggled in Thea's arms, and Quinn's heart broke. No animal should ever look like that.
"Oh." Quinn rose on the word and went toward Thea while Bill groaned and said, "Not another one."
"I found it in the parking lot." Thea put the dog down on the floor in front of Quinn. "I knew you'd know what to do."
"Come on, baby." Quinn crouched in front of it, not too near, not too far, and patted the floor. "Come here, sweetie. Don't be scared. It's all right now. I'll take care of you."
The dog trembled even harder, jerking its head from side to side. Then it made a dash for the nearest door, which, unfortunately for it, was the storeroom.
"Well, that'll make it easier to trap and catch," Bill said, his tone as cheerful and sure as always. It was always a beautiful day in the neighborhood for Bill, a man who'd taken the Tibbett High football team to five consecutive championships and the baseball team to four--fifth one coming right up--almost solely, Quinn believed, by never considering the possibility of defeat. "Know where you want to be and go there," he'd tell the boys, and they would.
Quinn decided she wanted to be someplace else, with a pizza, but she had to comfort this dog and get rid of Bill before she could go there. She crawled on her hands and knees to the door, trying to look nonthreatening. "Now look, dogs like me," she said in her best come-to-mama voice as the dog cowered against a carton of oaktag at the back of the narrow storeroom. "You're missing a good deal here. Really, I'm famous for this. Come on." She moved a little closer, still on her hands and knees, and the dog peeled its eyes back.
"I suppose you had to do this," Bill said to Thea goodnaturedly, and Quinn felt equally annoyed with him and guilty about misleading him. "No more dogs," he'd said the last time she'd rescued a stray. "You don't have to save them all." And she'd nodded at him to acknowledge that she'd heard him, and he'd taken it as agreement, and she'd let him take it that way because it was easier, no point in creating a problem she'd just have to turn around and fix.
And now here she was, cheating on him with a mixed breed.
She looked into the dog's eyes again. It's going to be all right. Ignore what the big blond guy says. The dog relaxed away from the box a little and looked at her with caution instead of terror in its worried little eyes. Progress. If she had another ten hours and a ham sandwich, it might even come to her on its own.
"You're not bringing it home with you, right?" Bill loomed behind her, cutting off the afternoon light that came dimly through the wall of windows and casting a shadow over her so that the dog shrank back again, anxious at the darkness. It wasn't Bill's fault that he was huge, but he could at least notice that he cast considerable shade wherever he went.
"Because we're not allowed to have dogs in our apartment." Bill's voice was patient as he went on, a teacher's voice, telling her what she already knew, guiding her to form the correct conclusion.
My conclusion is that you're patronizing me. "Somebody has to rescue strays and find them homes," Quinn said without looking behind her.
"Exactly," Bill said. "Which is why we pay taxes to support Animal Control. Why don't I go call them-"
"The pound?" Thea's voice was full of horror.
"They don't kill them all," Bill said. "Just the sick ones."
Quinn looked behind her and met Thea's disbelieving eyes. Yep, Quinn wanted to tell her, he really believes that. Instead, she patted the floor again. "Come here, baby. Come on."
"Honey." Bill put his hand on her shoulder. "Come on, get up.
If she shrugged his hand off her shoulder, he'd be hurt, and that wasn't fair. "I'm okay," Quinn said.
Bill moved his hand, and Quinn let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding.
"I'll just call-"
"Bill." Quinn kept her voice as friendly as she could. "Go finish in the weight room so I can do this. I'll be home at six."
Bill nodded, radiating tolerance and support in spite of her illogical resistance to Animal Control. "Sure. I'll go warm up the car for you and bring it to the door first." He patted her shoulder and said, "You stay here," as if she'd been planning to follow him, and after he left, she could picture him crunching his way across the icy parking lot toward her CRX as if slipping weren't a possibility. It probably wasn't for him; Vikings loved ice, and at six foot five, two hundred and forty-three healthy blond pounds, Bill was a Viking's Viking. All of Tibbett adored Bill, a coach in a million, but Quinn was beginning to have doubts.
And it was so unfair of her to have doubts. She knew he'd warm the car for her, first opening the door with his key instead of hers, which was another thing about him that bothered her, that he'd had that key cut without her permission two years ago when they'd first begun to date. But since he'd had the key cut so he could keep her gas tank filled, it was completely illogical that she should be annoyed. It was wrong to complain about a man who was unfailingly clean, generous, considerate, protective, understanding, and successful, and who'd shelled out hundreds of dollars in fossil fuel for her since 1997. Really, the dumbass was the perfect man.
Quinn looked at the dog again and said, "As soon as I get you out of this storeroom, I'm taking a serious look at my love life."
Thea said, "What?" but even before she finished the word, Quinn was shaking her head.
"Never mind. You don't have any food in that bag, do you? I know I could just go in and grab it, but it's so scared, I'd rather it came to me on its own."
"Wait." Thea fished around in the huge leather bag she carried everywhere and came up with half a granola bar.
"Granola," Quinn said. "What the hell." She unwrapped it and broke off a piece and slid it across the floor to the dog. It shrank back and then edged forward, its little black nose quivering. "It's good," Quinn whispered, and the dog took it delicately.
"What a nice little dog," Thea whispered beside her, and Quinn nodded and put another piece on the floor, this one closer to them. The dog edged forward to take it, keeping its eyes on them Just in case they did anything anti-dog, big dark liquid eyes that said to Quinn, Help me, save me, fix my life.
"Come on, sweetie," Quinn whispered, and the dog came closer for the next piece.
"Almost," Thea breathed, and the dog sat down in front of them, still wary but calmer as it chewed the granola.
"Hi," Quinn said. "Welcome to my world."
The dog tilted its head, and its little black whip of a tall began to dust the floor. It had one white eyebrow, Quinn noticed, and four white socks, and the tip of its tall was white, too, as if it had been dipped in paint.
"I'm going to pick you up," Quinn told it. "No fast moves." She reached out and picked it up gently as it cowered back a little, and then she sat down so she could hold it in her lap. She gave it the last of the granola, and it relaxed and chewed again as she stroked its back. "Really a sweet little dog," she told Thea and smiled for the first time since Bill had walked in the room. Another problem solved.
"Car's here," Bill said from the doorway, making the dog jump. "Now you can take it to Animal Control on your way to pizza.
Quinn patted the dog and counted her blessings. She was lucky to have Bill; after all, she could have ended up with somebody difficult to live with, somebody like her father, who lived for ESPN, or her ex-brother-in-law, who was congenitally incapable of commitment. Nick would have dumped her after a year and moved on from boredom, which was a lousy reason to dump anybody. If it hadn't been, she would have left Bill long ago.
"It's out on the old highway," Bill said. "Past the old drive-in.
Quinn smiled at Thea. "You did good, thanks for the granola." She stood up, still cuddling the dog, and Bill picked up her coat.
"Put that thing down," he said and held her coat for her.
Quinn passed the dog over to Thea and let Bill help her shrug Into her coat.
"Don't stay too long with Darla," he said and kissed her cheek again, and she moved past him to take the dog back, wanting the warmth of its wiry little body in her arms. It looked up at her anxiously, and she said, "We're fine, don't worry."
Bill walked them to the door and then outside into the cold March wind, holding Quinn's car door open for her while she asked Thea, "You need a ride?"
Thea said, "Nope. See you tomorrow." She hesitated, casting a wary eye at Bill and added, "Thanks, McKenzie."
"My pleasure," Quinn said, and Thea started off across the ice to the student lot as Quinn slid into the driver's seat.
"You are going to take it to Animal Control, right?" Bill said as he held her door open.
Quinn turned away. "I'll see you later." She pulled the door shut and Bill sighed as if his worst suspicions had been confirmed. She looked down at the dog now standing tensely on her lap, and said, "You know, you're messing up my day," in her most friendly voice. Nothing wrong here, nothing at all, everything's fine in this car, especially if you're a dog. "I was supposed to meet Darla for pizza at three-thirty, and now I'm late. You weren't part of my plan."
The dog's eyes were bright, almost interested, and Quinn smiled because it looked so smart. "I bet you are smart," she said. "I bet you're the smartest dog around."
The dog folded its bony little butt onto her lap, wrapping its whitetipped tail around it as it cocked its head at her.
"Very cute." She stroked its shiny smooth coat, feeling how cold it was, no insulation to keep a body warm, and the dog shuddered under her hand, all sinew and muscle and tension.
Quinn unbuttoned her coat and wrapped it around the trembling little body until only its head poked out, and it sighed against her and snuggled into her heat. The snuggle was immensely gratifying--a solid, simple, physical thank you, no strings attached-and Quinn let herself enjoy the pleasure of the moment even though she knew it wasn't hers to have. Bill would be upset if he saw her, telling her she could get bit or fleas or God knew what, but Quinn knew this dog wouldn't bite, and it was too cold for fleas. Probably.
"It's okay," she said, looking down into the dog's dark, grateful eyes. It pushed its head under her coat, looking for more warmth and safety, and Quinn felt herself relax completely for the first time that day. Teaching art was never easy-days full of X-Acto knife cuts and spilled paint and officious principals and artistic despair-and lately she'd been tenser than usual, a little depressed, as if something was wrong and she wasn't fixing it. But now as she cuddled the dog closer and it dug one of its bony little knees into her stomach, she felt better.
"What a sweetie you are," she whispered into her coat.
Bill rapped on the window, making the dog Jerk its head out, and Quinn exhaled through her teeth before she rolled it down. "What?"
"I was lust thinking," Bill said, and then he looked down and saw the dog inside her coat. "Is that a good idea?"
"Yes," Quinn said. "What were you just thinking?"
"You're going to be late for pizza with Darla anyway," Bill said, "so it makes sense to take it to Animal Control now so that a lot of people will see it sooner. It'll find a home faster that way.
Quinn imagined the little dog shivering on a cold concrete floor, trapped and alone and afraid behind thick steel bars, doubly betrayed because she'd promised it warmth. She looked down into its dark, dark eyes again. Somebody had thrown this darling little dog away. It wasn't going to happen again. I Will not betray you.
"Be practical, Quinn." Bill sounded sympathetic but firm. "Animal Control is a clean, warm place."
Her coat was a clean, warm place, too, but that would be a childish thing to say. Okay, she couldn't keep the dog, that wouldn't be practical, she had to give it to somebody, but there was no way in hell it was going to Animal Control. So who?
The dog looked at her with trusting eyes. Almost adoring eyes, really. Quinn smiled down at it. She needed to find somebody kind, somebody calm, somebody she trusted absolutely. "I'll give it to Nick," she told Bill.
"Nick does not want a dog," Bill said. "Animal Control-"
"We don't know that." Quinn cuddled the dog closer. "He owns his apartment over the service station so he won't have a landlord problem. I bet he'd like this dog."
"Nick is not going to take this dog," Bill said firmly, and Quinn knew he was right. As Darla had once pointed out, the best way to describe Nick was tall, dark, and detached from humanity. She was grasping at a particularly weak straw if she thought Nick was going to put himself out for a dog.
"Take it to Animal Control," Bill said, and Quinn shook her head.
"Why?" Bill said and Quinn almost said, Because I want her. The thought was so completely selfish and felt so completely right that Quinn looked at the dog with new eyes.
Maybe she was meant to keep this dog.
The thrill that ran through her at the thought of doing something that impractical was almost sexual, it was so intense. I don't care that it's not sensible, she could say. I want her. How selfish. How exciting. Quinn's heart beat faster thinking about it.
Just a little selfish. A dog was such a small thing to want, not a change of life or a change of lover or really a change of anything much. just a little change. just a little dog. Something new in her life. Something different.
She held the dog closer.
Her mother's best friend, Edie, had been telling her for years to stop settling, to stop being so practical, to stop fixing everybody else and fix herself. "I'm not broken," she'd told Edie, but maybe Edie was right. Maybe she'd start small, with a dog, with this dog, with a little change, a little fix, and then she could move on to bigger things. Maybe this dog was a Sign, her destiny. You couldn't argue with destiny. Look what happened to all the Greek heroes who'd tried.
"You can't keep the dog," Bill said, and Quinn said, "Let me talk to Edie."
Bill smiled, his handsome face flooding with relief and goodwill. One happy Viking. "Great idea. Edie's all alone. She could use this dog for company. Now you're thinking."
That's not what I meant, Quinn wanted to say, but there was no point in starting a fight, so she said, "Thank you, good-bye," instead. She rolled the window up, looking into the dog's dark eyes. "You're going to be just fine." The dog sighed a little and rested her head on Quinn's chest, keeping eye contact as if her life depended on it, trembling a little bit in her intensity. Smart, smart dog. Quinn patted her to slow her quivering and smiled. "You look like a Katie. K-K-K-Katie, just like the song. A pretty, skinny K-K-K-Katie." She bent closer and whispered, "My Katie," and the dog sighed her agreement and burrowed back to shiver into the dark warmth of Quinn's coat.
Outside the window, Bill waved at her, clearly pleased she was being so practical, and she waved back. She could deal with him later, but now she was late to eat pizza.
With her dog.
ACROSS TOWN, IN the brightly lit second bay of Ziegler Brothers' Garage and Service Station, Nick Ziegler leaned under the hood of Barbara Niedemeyer's Camry and scowled at the engine. As far as he could tell, there was nothing wrong with it, which meant Barbara had an ulterior motive, and he had a pretty good idea what it was, given Barbara's taste for married blue-collar men. His brother Max's number must have come up. This was going to be a problem for Max, but nothing for Nick to worry about in general. People needed to go to hell in their own way, he'd decided long ago when he'd gone to hell in his, and if he had some scars from past screwups, he had some interesting memories, too. No point in getting in the way of Max's memories.
He slammed the hood shut on Barbara's Trojan horse, pulled a rag out of his back pocket, and wiped the gleaming paint to make sure he hadn't left fingerprints. Then he walked over to the third garage bay to inspect his next problem, Bucky Manchester's muffler.
"Did you find a leak in the Toyota? " Max asked Nick from the door to the office.
"There is no oil leak." Nick stood under Bucky's Chevy, wiping his hands on the rag, surveying the damage. The b-pipe looked like brown lace. He'd have to call Bucky and tell him there would be significant money involved. Bucky wouldn't be happy, but he'd trust him.
"That's what I told Barbara," Max said. "But she said, 'Look again, please.' That woman is just overcautious."
Nick considered warning Max that Barbara was not interested in a phantom oil leak, but he didn't consider it for long. Max wasn't a cheater, and even if he lost his mind and actually contemplated it, there was Darla. Darla was not the kind of wife a man messed around on and lived to tell the tale. Barbara was a nonproblem.
"She's never been that fussy about her car before," Max groused on as he came out of the office. "You'd think she didn't trust us anymore." He stopped to squint out one of the windows in the door of the first bay. "Did Bill knock Quinn up when we weren't looking?"
Nick's hand tightened on the rag, and he stared at the b-pipe for a couple of seconds before he answered. "Doesn't seem like something Bill would do."
"She's going into the Upper Cut." Max squinted through the window. "And she looks like she's holding her stomach. Maybe she's sick."
The door was on Nick's way to the office anyway, so he walked over and ducked his head to look past Max's ear. Quinn did look awkward as she struggled with the door to the beauty parlor, her navy peacoat bunched bulky around her stomach, her long, strong, leans-clad legs braced against the wind, the auburn swash of her pageboy swinging forward as she bent over. Then she turned to lean into the door, and he saw a dog poke its head up from the neck of her coat. "Forget it," he told Max. "It's a dog."
"I am not adopting another dog," Max said. "Two is more than enough."
Nick stopped at the sink to get the last of the oil off his hands. "Maybe she's going to give it to Lois."
"It's Wednesday," Max said gloomily. "She's meeting Darla over there for pizza. She'll talk her into it, and then we'll have to get used to another one." Then he brightened. "Unless Lois kicks her out for bringing the dog in. She's awful particular about that beauty parlor."
Nick nudged the tap with his wrist. "If Quinn wants to take the dog in, Lois will let her." The hot water splashed over his hands, and he scrubbed gritty soap into them, paying more attention than usual because he was irritated with Max and he didn't like being irritated with Max. Nick turned the taps off and dried his hands and heard Max finish a sentence he'd missed the beginning of "What?"
I said, "Lois would have to be in an awful good mood to let that happen."
"She probably is." Nick's annoyance made him go on to add a little grief to Max's life. "She's probably heard that Barbara dumped Matthew."
Max looked as startled as possible for somebody with a permanently placid face. "What?"
"Barbara Niedemeyer set Lots's husband free," Nick said. "Pete Cantor told me this morning."
Max pointed a finger at Nick. "Anything else Barbara wants checked, you're doing."
"Why don't you just run a full check on the damn car now so she doesn't have to come back?" Nick walked over to the office to call Bucky. "Save us both a lot of trouble."
"She's a good-looking woman," Max said. "Good job at the bank. You check the car."
I don't need a woman with a good job. Barbara's car is all yours and so is Barbara."
"You own half the garage," Max said. "Hell, you're single. Why isn't she asking you to check her oil leak?"
"Because she likes you better, thank God." As Nick went in the office, he heard Max let out a sigh behind him, and then, a couple of minutes later, from where he stood dialing Bucky, he heard the hood go up on Barbara's Toyota.
"Nick?" Max said from under the hood.
"Sorry about that crack about Quinn. I didn't mean it the way it came out."
Nick listened to the busy signal at the Manchesters' and thought of Quinn, warm and determined and dependable, the complete opposite of her scatty sister, Zoe. Quinn in trouble wasn't funny. "Doesn't matter."
"I know you're close."
Nick hung up. "Not that close."
When Max didn't say anything else, Nick went back into the garage and put his mind where it belonged, on the Chevy. Cars were understandable. They took a little patience and a lot of knowledge, but they always worked the same way. They were fixable. Which was more than he could say for people. Nothing a good mechanic could have done about him and Zoe, for instance. He didn't think about Zoe much any more; even the news she'd gotten married again ten years ago hadn't made much more than a crease in his concentration. Nothing like the crease Max had just made with that crack about Quinn.
Max's voice was still a little worried, so Nick said, "You don't suppose Barbara has two cars, do you? You could be spending some significant time with her."
"Funny," Max said, but he went back to work and let Nick concentrate on the muffler. It was the only real problem he had, anyway, since Max would never cheat on Darla, and Quinn was always rescuing strays and giving them away. Nothing in his world was going to change.
Except Bucky Manchester's b-pipe.
ACROSS THE STREET Darla Ziegler plopped herself onto the beat-up tweed couch in the tiny break room of the Upper Cut just as Lois Ferguson came in scowling, her impossibly orange upsweep making her look like a small torch. Lois had been trying to establish her authority over Darla ever since she'd taken over the Upper Cut six years before, but Darla had watched Lois eat paste in kindergarten. After that, there was no turning back.
"You done for the day?" Lois snapped. "It's only four."
"It's pizza day," Darla said. "I'm done."
"Well, you made that Ginny Spade looked good, I'll give you that." Lois folding her arms so tightly that her gray smock stretched flat over her bony little chest. "Better'n she has in years."
"Yeah, maybe now she'll meet somebody and get over that worthless, cheating Roy," Darla said, and then kicked herself for forgetting that it had only been a year since Lois had lost a worthless, cheating Matthew.
"Matthew wants to come back," Lois said, and Darla sat up a little to pay attention to Lois for a change just as Quinn came breezing in the door from the shop with her copper hair flying and a dog tucked inside her peacoat.
"I know I'm late," she said. "I'm sorry-"
Darla blinked her surprise at the dog and then held up her hand. "Wait a minute." She looked at Lois. "You are kidding me. He left her?"
"Who left who?" Quinn struggled to shrug her coat off one arm at a time. The dog looked fairly ratty, Darla noticed. But rescuing ugly dogs was business as usual for Quinn and not nearly as interesting as the bomb Lois had just dropped, so she kept her attention on Lois.
"That's a dog," Lois said.
"Good call." Quinn draped her coat over the back of one of the avocado armchairs. "I'll hold on to her. She'll never touch the floor, I swear. Who left who? "
"Ha." Lois's lips curved in a tight little smile as she returned to her triumph. "Barbara left Matthew. The Bank Slut dumped him good yesterday."
"Wow." Quinn sank into her chair with the dog cradled in her arms.
"Jeez." Darla sat back, exhaling as she considered the development. "They've been tighter than ticks for a whole year. What happened?"
"Something on that damn trip to Florida they took." Lois's lips pressed together harder. "He never took me on any damn trip to Florida."
Darla ran down the possibilities in her mind. "Another man?"
"If it was, he's gone, too. She's in town, and she's living alone in that little house of hers, and Matthew's down at the Anchor."
Lois sat down in the other rump-sprung armchair across from Darla. "He wants to move back."
Darla shrugged. "That makes sense. What guy wants to live in a motel? "
"You going to take him back? " Quinn asked.
Lois shrugged. "Why should I? I got the house to myself and this place. What do I need him for? "
Darla thought about Max. "Friendship. Fun. Sex. Memories. Somebody to kiss on New Year's Eve."
"He left me for a Bank Slut," Lois said. "How much friend ship do you think we got at this point? "
Something about the way Lois rolled the words Bank Slut off her tongue made Darla fairly sure Lois wasn't focusing her anger on Matthew. Maybe this marriage could be saved. Lois would sure be easier to work for if it could. "You married him the day after we graduated. You were with him for sixteen years. He only spent a year with Barbara Niedemeyer, and now he's sorry. That's something." At least, Darla assumed he was sorry. If he wanted to come back to Lois knowing how bitchy she could be even before he left her for a younger woman, he must be really sorry now. "And he makes good money." She thought back to the last time Matthew had fixed their sink. "He makes damn good money."
"I make good money, too," Lois said. "Who needs him?"
"Well, you do," Quinn said, practical as always, "or you wouldn't be talking about it."
"It just makes me mad, that's all." Lois's jaw clenched tighter before she went on. "We were doing lust fine, and then she comes in with her broken bathtub drain and stopped-up sink and plans for a second bath downstairs, like she needed a second bathroom, living there all alone, if you ask me, she had it planned-"
Darla tuned her out, having heard this rant before, several times, in fact, since Barbara Niedemeyer had walked off with Matthew the previous April. As far as Barbara planning it, well, it wasn't as if Matthew had been her first married man. Really, Lois should have caught on when Barbara had started talking about the second bathroom. Darla would have caught on with the second service call. The woman had a track record. Matthew was number three, for heaven's sake.
"--and now he thinks he's going to come waltzing back in," Lois finished. "Well, the hell with him."
"I'd think about it some more," Darla said. "Barbara's sort of like the flu. Men catch her, but then they get over her. Gil and Louis don't seem to have any warm feelings for her. Last I heard, Louis was getting married again. I mean, obviously, Barbara's men recover. And Matthew makes damn good money, so he's going to have his chances if you don't take him back."
Lois glared at her.
"She has a point," Quinn said. "If you want him back."
Darla spread her hands and tried to look innocent. "All I'm saying is, if you really didn't care, you wouldn't be this mad. Take him back. Make him pay. You work it right, he'll take you on a damn trip to Florida."
"You don't get it," Lois said. "What if it was Max?"
The thought of Max cheating was so ridiculous, Darla almost snickered. Max was gorgeous and about as nice as a human male could be, but women didn't even flirt with him because he was so clearly Happily Married. Or at least, if she were honest, clearly uninterested in any change in his life. That wasn't quite the same thing, really. Darla's urge to snicker faded, and she told herself she was lucky to have a guy who was so content. "I'd say, 'Max, you jackass, what the hell were you thinking?'" she told Lois. "And then I'd take him back. He's your husband, Lois. He fucked up and he should pay, but you shouldn't just give up on him."
Lois still looked mad, but there was some thoughtful mixed in with the mad.
"Unless you don't love him anymore," Quinn said. "Unless you really want to be free to do what you want."
"Hello?" Darla said to her. This wasn't like Quinn, the fixer. "Of course she wants him back."
Lois stood up. "That's ridiculous," she said and went back out to the shop, slamming the door behind her.
"You know, I don't understand Barbara," Quinn said, frowning as she patted the dog in her lap. "She's a nice woman. Why does she keep snagging other women's husbands?"
"Because she's not a nice woman," Darla said flatly. "What's with you telling Lois to be free? Lois wants to be free like she wants to be middleaged."
"I just thought she should think about it," Quinn said, settling back in her chair, not meeting Darla's eyes at all. "There's nothing that says that life is always better if you have a man around."
"It is in Tibbett," Darla said. "You really think Lois wants to hang out at Bo's Bar & Grill and pick up divorced drunks for recreation? Quinn made a face. "Oh, come on. There has to be a middle ground between marriage and Bo's."
"Sure. There's Edie's life." Darla stretched out on the couch again. "Teaching all week, going to garage sales with your mom on her time off, reheating leftovers in a lonely house at night." It sounded like hell to Darla.
"Alone doesn't have to mean lonely," Quinn said. "I think Edie likes the solitude-she's always talking about how good it is to get home where it's quiet. And you can be with somebody and be lonely."
As far as Darla was concerned, being lonely with somebody was probably the way most people lived. Not that she was lonely with Max.
Quinn cuddled the runty little dog closer and did not look happy, and Darla narrowed her eyes. "Something wrong with you and Bill?"
Quinn stared down into the dog's eyes. "No."
"Okay," Darla said. "Out with it.
Quinn shifted in her chair again while the dog watched them both. "I'm going to keep this dog."
You have beige carpeting, Darla wanted to say, but it didn't seem supportive.
"Bill wants me to take her to Animal Control," Quinn went on. "But I'm keeping her. I don't care what he says."
"Jeez." Darla caught the lift of Quinn's chin and felt the first faint stirrings of alarm. Bill was being incredibly dumb about this. "He's known you for two years, and he doesn't know you any better than to think you'd take a dog to the pound?"
"It's the practical thing to do," Quinn said, her eyes still on the dog. "I'm a practical person."
"Yeah, you are." Darla felt definitely uneasy now. The one thing she'd always wanted for Quinn was a marriage as good as her own. All right, Bill was a little boring, but so was Max. You couldn't have everything. You compromised. That was what marriages were about. "What if he says, 'It's the dog or me'? Tell me you're not going to risk your relationship over a dog."
The dog looked over as she spoke, almost as if it were narrowing its eyes at her, and Darla noticed for the first time how sneaky it looked. Tempting. Almost devilish. Well, that made sense. If Quinn had been in Eden, Satan would have showed up as a cocker spaniel.
"Bill's not difficult like that." Quinn leaned back, obviously trying to sound nonchalant and only sounding tenser because of it. "We don't have problems. He wants every day to be the same, and since they always are, he's happy."
That could be Max. "Well, that's men for you."
"The thing is, I don't think that's enough for me." Quinn petted the dog, who leaned into her, gazing up at her with those hypnotic dark eyes, luring her into messing with a perfectly good relationship. "It's starting to get to me, knowing this is going to be my life forever. I mean, I love teaching, and Bill's a good guy-"
"Wait a minute." Darla sat up. "Bill's a great guy."
Quinn shrank back a little. "I know."
"He works his butt off for those kids on the team," Darla said. "And he stayed after school to coach Mark for the SATs-"
"-and he's the first one in line every time there's a charity drive-"
"-and he was teacher of the year last year, and that was long overdue-"
"Darla, I know."
"-and he treats you like a queen," Darla finished.
"Well, I'm tired of that," Quinn said, her chin sticking out again. "Look, Bill's nice-okay, he's great," she said, holding up her hands as Darla started to object again. "But what we have, it's not exciting. I've never had exciting. And with the way Bill plans things, I'm never going to have exciting."
I did, Darla wanted to say. She and Max had been hot as hell once. She could see him now-that look in his eye as he zeroed in on her, that grin that said, I have plans for you, the way they laughed together-but you couldn't expect that to last. They'd been married seventeen years. You couldn't keep exciting for seventeen years.
"It's not really Bill's fault," Quinn said. "I mean, I didn't have exciting before he showed up, either. I just don't think it's in the cards for me. I'm not an exciting person."
Darla opened her mouth and shut it again. Quinn was a darling, but--
"See?" Quinn finally met Darla's eyes, defeated. "You want to tell me I'm exciting and you can't. Zoe was exciting, I'm dull. Mama used to say, 'Some people are oil paintings and some people are watercolors,' but what she meant was, 'Zoe is interesting and you're sort of washed out.'"
"You're the dependable one," Darla said. "You're the one everybody leans on. If you were exciting, we'd all be screwed."
Quinn slumped back. "Well, I'm fired of that. And it's not like I'm going out Bungee-jumping or something stupid. I 'Just want this dog." The dog looked up at her again, and Darla's uneasiness morphed into real dread. "That's not even exciting, adopting a dog. And it's not so much to want, is it?"
"Well, that depends." Darla glared at the dog. This is all your fault.
"Don't you ever want more?" Quinn leaned forward, her hazel eyes now fixed on Darla's with a passion that made her uncomfortable. "Don't you ever look at your life and say, 'Is this all there is?' "
"No," Darla said. "No, no, I don't. Look, sometimes you have to settle for less than you want to keep your relationship going."
"You've never settled with Max," Quinn said, and Darla bit her lip. "Well, now I'm going to be like you. Just this once, I'm not going to settle."
She cuddled the dog closer, and Darla thought, Everybody settles. The dog looked over at Darla, daring her to say it out loud, the devil in disguise. Forget it, Darla told it silently. You're not getting me in trouble. "So what do you want on your pizza?" Darla leaned across the table and picked up the phone. "The usual, right?"
"No," Quinn said. "I want something different."
--Excerpted from Crazy For You by Jennifer Crusie. All Rights Reserved
Jennifer Crusie is the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author of Maybe This Time, Welcome to Temptation, Tell Me Lies, Faking It, Fast Women and Bet Me. She has also collaborated with Bob Mayer to write Wild Ride, Agnes and the Hitman and Don't Look Down. Crusie earned her bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University, a master's from Wright State University, and a master of fine arts from Ohio State University. Before devoting herself to writing full-time, Crusie worked as a preschool teacher, an elementary and junior high art teacher, and a high school English teacher. She lives on the banks of the Ohio River.
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This is a cure story. Bet Me, though, is her best book BY FAR
I really enjoy reading Jennifer's books but this was the weakest one I've read so far. There's really no story so there's a LOT of repetiveness. The character's saying the same thing over and over again. The character's seem a little bit childish and weak. I wasn't drawn to the characters at all and it wasn't the typical amusing storyline as her other books.
Loved Quinn as a quirky heroine who deserves some passion in her life...and Nick was the perfect man to give it to her. He's actually one of my favs ever. Crusie does a great job of making her men real, complete with flaws and foul language, and I enjoyed the characters' journey to each other. Her books always have great humor, steamy passion, and fun supporting characters to sweeten the deal. Great for beach reading or with a glass of wine on a rainy day.
Just discovered Jennifer Crusie, and now I'm hooked. This is a quick read, a little predictable but fun. Grab some chocolate and enjoy.
This was ok. Did not love it like most of these reviews but Crusie is an easy read. Did not really like the crazy Bill direction. Would have rather explored the main characters more...except for Darla. She wants something different but all she can think of is lingerie and that was Quinn's idea. Bored housewives are annoying. Just want to tell them to do something on their own. Others are not responsible for your happiness.
Not as good as BET ME, but highly entertaining none-the-less.
I loved this. A must read!!