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Cursed by Cupid
By Wendy Sparrow, Lewis Pollak
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Wendy Sparrow
All rights reserved.
It probably wasn't the best idea to punch your blind date in the face but, first of all, he hadn't blocked her and, second of all, she didn't know he was her blind date. Okay, so possibly he'd been distracted by their instructor coming in right after he'd said, "Oh, you're my blind date?"
When he went down like a sack of stones, Tilly Morrow gasped and dropped down beside him, apologizing. "I'm so sorry, but I thought you were going to block me."
Their instructor, an ancient Japanese man, knelt down, too. "I'm five minutes late, and you already are sparring?"
The guy who'd introduced himself as Cody was blinking at the ceiling in a way that said he probably wasn't used to getting punched in the face. That was good. It spoke toward his moral fiber. On the other hand, he might back out of their date for Valentine's Day the night after this. Crap. Tilly had been looking forward to a date for once.
"He said he could help me with my punch strength," Tilly said.
Master Ito examined Cody's nose while Cody continued to blink at the ceiling.
Her prospective date seemed like a nice guy, too. A bit prickly, but with a curse like hers, she couldn't be as choosey as she once was. Sure, he seemed uptight, but he was also her age, healthy, and ... well, she hadn't had a second date in three years, so that made him perfect. His mouth dropped open to reveal even teeth and no dental work — so he had that going for him also.
Her last date had seven piercings ... and those were only the ones it was polite to show her. So by comparison, Cody, with his short brown hair, no visible piercings, and bland, untattooed appearance, was appealing. He looked normal.
"Are you okay?" Master Ito asked.
"She punches really hard," Cody said slowly.
Master Ito laughed and propped him up to sitting.
Cody rubbed his fingers along the bridge of his nose. "I think she broke something."
Tilly looked away so she could roll her eyes. She hadn't punched him that hard. Even if she had, he deserved it for underestimating her because she was a woman.
"No, you'll be fine," their instructor said.
"I think I should go." Cody got to his feet, looking down at Tilly where she was still kneeling. "I'm sorry, I ... I should go." And he ran. There was no other word for it. He ran as if she'd grown another head and was chasing him with an axe. He didn't even bother changing out of his karate gi. He just ran out of the dojo.
"I don't think that went well," Master Ito said, helping Tilly to her feet.
Tilly sighed. "Actually, that was about par."
Gesturing at the large picture windows as the car peeled out in a fury and sped off, she shrugged. "There's a reason I agreed to let you set me up. I broke a chain mail thread three years ago, and all of my dates have ended that same way. I think I might be cursed. No, I know I'm cursed."
"But you're so beautiful and sweet and charming," Master Ito said, clearly baffled.
She was sweet ... looking ... with this stupid, naturally-curly, Shirley Temple look she had going on. It tended to make men think she was a pretty thing they could push around or stick on a shelf.
"Yeah, that's what they always start out thinking. Usually, I get to go out on the date, though. This is really a new low for me. I'd just told him that you'd asked me to come in here and wondered if it had something to do with my blind date."
Master Ito pointed out the window. "I thought you might appreciate meeting him in advance. He's in my beginner class."
Tilly tipped her head and considered that. "Even a beginner shouldn't have been that distracted. I don't think he was at all prepared. He expected me to be a sissy because I'm a girl and short." Plus, there was the hair. She should shave it off — that would really throw people.
He nodded. "Many seem to misjudge you."
"In so many ways. Well, I guess I'm dateless again for Valentine's. That sucks." She tossed her hands into the air.
"I apologize. I tried."
"I know, Master." She bowed toward her instructor — it felt right.
He smiled widely. "I have something for you, though."
"Oh, is it my patch?" Well, if there was a consolation prize for having no date, she could spend the evening sewing her patch onto her gi. A lame consolation prize, but it was something.
"Yes. Yes. It came — along with several others." He pulled a box from the bag he'd dropped beside the door.
Outside, cars were pulling up. Another class was arriving. A much younger class if the kids spilling out of cars were in it.
Master Ito was sorting through the patches for participation in the tourney and muttering their names as he went. He was near the end of the patches when he said a word ... a word you didn't expect to hear from an elderly man's mouth, an elderly man she looked up to, an elderly man who never even said a mild swear word. Holy freak, had he really said that?
"What?" Tilly squeaked, looking at the doors. He hadn't really said that with a horde of impressionable kids coming in. He wouldn't.
He said it again, and held the patch up.
"Master Ito, I don't know if you know what that means, but it's not really a word you say ... out loud ... even if you want to ... not that you do ... and I don't know why —"
He waved the patch back and forth. "It's yours."
"It's mine?" He'd gotten her a patch to put over her right breast on her gi that said that? It wasn't meant to be a label for crying out loud.
"They must have thought the Ls in your name were Ts," he said.
Oh, well, that made a bit more sense. She almost giggled, but slapped a hand over her mouth.
Master Ito pulled out the paperwork and shuffled through it. "Oh ... see! Their fax machine printed out a line right through your Ls."
Perhaps it was the recent disappointment or that she was feeling a bit punchy, but Tilly did laugh then. She took the patch from his hand as well as the fax print-out. No, he was right. Her patch had a lovely outline of a person performing a roundhouse kick with the words "Second Place Titty."
"We should have them make a new one," he said, pointing at the word.
"I think so. I'd hate for people to make assumptions." She tried so hard to keep a straight face, but she was failing.
"Maybe we shouldn't use a fax."
She looked at the address on the packing slip. "No, but the embroidery shop is here in Portland. I'll stop on my way home," she said, pocketing the patch before anyone else saw it.
Her instructor nodded and then tucked the rest of the patches away. "Very good. I will see you Saturday?"
"Maybe Cody will call you tonight."
Tilly shrugged. She'd punched him in the face. It was doubtful there was a recovery there — especially since he ran off. One last bow to her instructor, and she left the dojo. Since the dressing rooms would be full of kids, she decided to stay in her gi.
The embroidery shop was only a couple blocks from her house, but she'd stop on the way for a milkshake. If ever there was a time for dairy fortification, it was right after you'd punched out a blind date then been told you were second rate in ... other areas. Hopefully, they'd let her keep the patch. Everyone at work would laugh their asses off.CHAPTER 2
Portland Threads wasn't a huge operation. In fact, if she had to guess, it looked like maybe a few employees and mostly an online store, though they did have store hours, and she was right on the cusp of them closing. As she walked toward the front door, she saw the open sign being switched, and she ran forward. Then, in a classic Tilly moment, she stumbled over the curb, sending her milkshake flying forward to slam into the glass door, spraying chocolate shake for about a mile.
The backlash meant she was coated from head-to-toe. Coated. She had to wipe it off her eyes, and it felt like some might even be up her nose. She looked up into the sky as she heard the jingle of the front door opening. "Are you freaking kidding me? It was a stupid chain letter, okay? Nobody keeps those up! It's been three years! I. Have. Paid!"
"That was the most bizarre case of vandalism I think I've ever witnessed," a man said in front of her with a voice so sexy and morning-hoarse, she winced. There was no way a guy with that great of a voice wouldn't be hot. If he wasn't, Mother Nature was a criminal.
Her gaze dropped. He was cute, tall, and a guy she'd loved to have met when she wasn't wearing a karate gi splattered with chocolate shake like the ugliest tie-dye job in the world. Of course he was. He had to be.
She loved how tall, lanky guys could wear a pair of jeans slung low like that. It was a beautiful thing. She even liked how his blonde hair was a little too long so he had to push it out of his eyes. Plus, no piercings that she could drag him around by. Nope. He was attractive, her type, and everything she'd ever dreamed of, including that haul-me-back-to-bed voice — so, of course she'd made an absolute fool of herself in front of him. That was the way the curse worked.
He was looking her up and down with his eyebrows raised. "I think you've got the wrong holiday. It's Valentine's Day — not Halloween."
She snorted a laugh and wiped her face on the inside of her uniform. "Every day is Halloween when you're cursed. I'm sorry about your door. I tripped and ... chaos ensued."
"Yeah, maybe we can clean you up a little if you come inside," he suggested.
"Oh, I'm almost home. I was just stopping here on the way."
"If you get back in your car, you'll get that shake everywhere."
She looked down. He was right. Her car would be coated in shake. Her shoulders dropped in defeat, and she wanted to sit down on the sidewalk and cry.
"Hey, come on. It'll be fine. I swear I don't bite. Come in, and we'll see what we can do."
She trudged behind the hot guy back into the embroidery shop wishing she'd trip again — fatally this time. Maybe there was a machine with a giant needle she could throw herself on. With her luck, probably not. After she'd come inside the small shop, he flipped the sign to "closed" and locked the door. Great ... he was most likely a serial killer. Maybe this was all a front for organ harvesting.
"We're closed, but I'm pulling an all-nighter for an order, and I don't want someone coming in," he explained.
"Is it just you?" she asked, looking around the shop. If they were harvesting organs, they did a good job covering it up. There were some large machines and then more computers than she'd ever have guessed would be in an embroidery shop. Sure, there were a few sewing machines, but it looked mostly automated. There were definitely no large needles with which to end her pathetic, shake-covered existence with. Pity.
"Yep ... right now. I had to fire a couple of my employees who thought getting high while working was okay."
"Oh. Suddenly, my reason for coming here makes more sense."
He'd gone behind the counter and came back with a roll of paper towels, but he looked doubtful about their effectiveness. "There's a sink with a mirror in the bathroom, but ..."
She looked down at herself and laughed. "Yeah. Wow."
"I have some doctor's scrubs that were a casualty of my stoned employees. They might fit you."
"That might be better." She could wash the scrubs and return them, and maybe clean the front of his shop with the paper towels.
He went back behind the counter and returned with a pair of blue scrubs that said "Dr. Love" on them. He grimaced at the words. "You can see why these didn't work out. I considered selling them as a novelty for Valentine's Day, but I've been too slammed with work to find my sense of humor."
She reached into her pocket. "Yeah? Well, this might help."
He stared at the patch and fought a smile before glancing up at her. Their eyes met, and they both desperately tried not to be the first to laugh.
She touched her uniform right over her breast. "I was going to sew that right here."
He burst into laughter and reached out a hand to shake hers. "My name is Bryant, by the way. It's like Bryan with an extra 'T' thrown onto the end for the hell of it."
"Titty. Only with 'L's instead of 'T's."
"No, I'd say you've got both." His hand lingered around hers.
She stared down at their hands as her heart started pounding. Clearing her throat, she said, "Uhh. Yeah." Uhh, yeah? She could do better than that ... when she wasn't covered in chocolate shake.
Bryant dropped her hand — though it seemed reluctant — and leaned against the counter. He gestured to a door behind the counter. "It's over there."
She nodded, far too enthusiastically, and walked toward the bathroom to change. She'd do much better when she didn't smell like a Milky Way bar.
"Tilly," he called.
She turned at the door.
"I don't think they're second in anything."
"Thanks for noticing." she said, shutting the door with a smile.
She'd had to pull the drawstring as tight as it would go in addition to rolling up the pant legs five times. It was as if the scrubs had been made for one of the Trail Blazers instead of a doctor.
As she opened the door, Bryant murmured, "Paging, Dr. Love," from where he stood in front of a computer. His voice sent shivers straight down her spine.
"Cute. You been waiting for me to come out just so you could say that?" she asked, attempting to play it cool. She was anything but cool. That voice. His smile. If she still had her shake, it'd be melting from the heat she was generating.
She touched the scrubs. "Thanks for these. I can't believe how much chocolate shake was in that cup. I swear it looks like a gallon from my uniform and your door."
"Shakes are funny that way," he said.
There was a beat, a moment, where they stood there, staring at each other. She swallowed and tried to keep her breathing sounding normal. The corners of his eyes pinched as his lips lifted in a half smile.
Dropping her gaze, she scrubbed at a chocolate spot near her wrist. It'd been impossible to get it all off. That shake had needed a hazmat shower, not a quick scrub in a small, office bathroom. "I should go clean up the door — it was my fault." She glanced at the door. Yikes. How had that all fit in a single cup?
He shrugged, shaking his head. "It's February. It's bound to rain tonight. Don't worry about it. Besides, your boyfriend is probably anxious for you to come home."
Interesting. He was flirting with her. Even though she'd managed to clean up, so she didn't look like a defeated mud wrestler, the scrubs did nothing for her figure, and he wasn't seeing her anywhere near her best.
"Yeah, if I don't feed him, he claws up things and leaves dead mice in my shoes."
Bryant grinned widely. "I'd do the same thing if you were my girlfriend. In fact, I'd bet that's how she got popped last week."
"But the real sentiment is in the deceased rodents."
"Is that where I keep going wrong? And I always give flowers."
He was definitely flirting with her.
He held up the patch before setting it on the long counter in front of him. "So, I'm guessing you want this fixed?"
"Yeah, but I was kind of hoping you'd let me keep the messed-up one."
Bryant turned back to the computer, shaking his head. "We don't normally do that. That sounds bad for business."
"Yes, but it was your mistake," she pointed out. "It's the least you can do."
"There is the matter of my shake-covered door." Tapping on the keyboard, he pulled up the order from the dojo.
"You said it'll rain."
"Maybe it won't." His finger skimmed down the list of names, and he paused. "Wait ... is there really a kid named Elvis there?"
"Yeah. His parents were huge Elvis Costello fans." She edged closer, sliding her hand along the counter. If she took the patch, chances were, he wouldn't make her give it back.
His hand slapped down on the patch when she was only six inches away from getting her hands on it. "We trade," he said.
"Trade what?" Her eyes narrowed.
"Your last name and phone number."
Oh, well, of course. In fact, she'd throw in a 'hell yeah' with that, but she could at least put up a token resistance so he didn't think she was easy. "Maybe." She chewed her lower lip while pretending to consider it. "How do I know you're not a psychotic killer?"
"Very few psychotic killers work in the textile industry."
"I can only think of a couple off-hand."
This seemed too good to be true. He was funny, he had that deep voice that kept making her heart race, and he was interested in her. He was flirting ... with her. Maybe the curse hadn't anticipated a recovery from the shake incident. Possibly, it was done meddling.
He held out a pen and a pad of paper.
"Well, then, that seems reasonable." She took them and scribbled her name and phone number down. It was getting harder and harder not to grin like an idiot.
"I know it's late notice, but what are you doing tomorrow night?"
"You mean for Valentine's Day?" she asked. "It's probably impossible to get reservations anywhere."
"Probably. It's probably a bad idea anyway. Jinxing things. Probably."
She nodded. "I'm already cursed anyway. You wouldn't want to mess with a curse, in addition to a first date."
"Cursed, huh? You mentioned that before," he said, taking the paper from her.
Excerpted from Cursed by Cupid by Wendy Sparrow, Lewis Pollak. Copyright © 2014 Wendy Sparrow. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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