The only thing about me that’s a size zero is the filter on my mouth. I’ve got a big personality, a big rack, and a big number on the scale. And I’m perfectly fine with that.
But when some random guy suggests I might not be eating alone if I’d ordered a salad instead of a hamburger I’m shocked silent, which is a feat, trust me.
That brings us to one sexy fireman named Frankie Hartigan. He’s hot. He’s funny… And he’s just apologized for being late for our “date” then glared at the fat-shaming jerk. Next thing I know, he’s sitting down and ordering himself dinner.
I have no problem telling him I don’t need a pity date…unless of course it’s to my high school reunion next week. Oops where did that last bit come from? And what do I do now that he’s said yes?!
Because this is no make-over story, and I think Frankie is using me for something. I just have to figure out what…
Each book in the Hartigans series is STANDALONE:
* Muffin Top
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Nothing good ever happened when the captain asked Frankie Hartigan to come into his cramped office at the back of the firehouse and close the door.
Frankie ran the last few calls through his head. It had to be about the asshole with the Jag. They'd had a warehouse fire down by the docks, and this knucklehead had parked right in front of the hydrant. Really, the guys didn't have a choice but to bust the car's windows and run the line to the hydrant through there. The rich dipshit had pitched a royal fit, right up until Frankie had come over, straightened his entire six-foot-six-inch frame, and asked him if there was a problem. There hadn't been. Shocker.
"Have a seat, Hartigan," the captain said as he sat down behind a desk overloaded with paperwork and manuals and — rumor had it — a computer untouched by human hands.
Frankie looked around. Captain O'Neil's office always needed its own Hoarders episode, but today it looked worse than usual. There was shit everywhere. The two chairs in front of the desk were filled with half-empty boxes, old standard operating procedure manuals were stacked four feet high against the wall, and the coveted firefighters-vs- cops rivalry trophy from last year's charity hockey game had the place of honor on top of the tower. Even if Frankie wanted to sit down, there wasn't a place to do it. So he did what he always did when he got brought in for a good reaming out: he stayed standing.
The older man sat there, staring at Frankie from under two bushy gray eyebrows so fluffy they looked like they were about to take flight. "Is there anything you'd like to tell me before I start, Hartigan?"
Frankie did the walk down memory lane again and came up with only one possibility. He'd been a fucking angel lately. At thirty-three, he really must be mellowing with age. "Is this about the dipshit with the Jag?"
"Oh, you mean the one who plays golf with the mayor? The one who needs two new windows and a fresh detail?" O'Neil gave him a hard, steely glare that lasted for all of thirty seconds. "That little prick got exactly what he deserved, which is what I told the fire commissioner when he called to take a chunk out of my well-endowed ass."
"Well, that's the only thing I can think of." And if it wasn't that, then why in the hell was he in what amounted to the principal's office at Waterbury Firehouse No. 6?
"Good," O'Neil said with an ornery chuckle. "You never know what someone will confess to when you start off that way."
"You're a piece of work, Captain."
"I'm an old relic, but I'm here and I'm not going anywhere, even if they are making me archive or dump most of this stuff." He waved a huge bear paw of a hand at the mess.
Frankie looked around. "Yeah, I thought it looked like more than normal."
"Well, you won't be seeing it after today."
That yanked his attention back to the man behind the desk. "Are you going somewhere?"
"Nope." The captain's face lost all signs of humor. "You are."
For the briefest of seconds, Frankie wished he had taken the offer of a chair. Then, the familiar sizzle of the Hartigan obstinate Irish temper sparked to life.
He crossed his arms and glared at the captain. "Are you shit-canning me?"
"Nothing of the sort. It has recently come to my attention, thanks to all of my spring-cleaning efforts, that you haven't taken leave of absence in — I don't even know how long — which is totally against regulations. I can't believe human resources and professional standards haven't ganged up on your oversized Irish ass already about it. The department has gone all-in on the mental wellness aspect of firefighting safety, and that includes taking your required leave to mentally refresh yourself."
Frankie threw up his arms in frustration, wishing like hell that the captain's office was big enough to pace in. Just the idea of mentally refreshing himself was like a fart in a flower shop. "That's a bunch of touchy-feely bullshit."
"Agreed, but you have three weeks built up, and you're taking it all as of now." The captain fished around on his desk for a minute and then pulled out a sheet of paper, handing it over. "And here's the letter from up the food chain ordering you to take three weeks immediately."
Frankie looked down at the sheet of paper like it was a warm, flat beer in August. Like it was a death sentence.
"This sucks." The sheer boredom of sitting on his ass for three weeks was going to kill him. He was already to the point where he took extra shifts just to avoid having too many days off in the month to sit around the house he shared with his twin, Finian, and do the same shit he'd been doing since they got the place a decade ago. It wasn't that he needed the money — although, come on, everyone had too many bills to pay — but the firehouse was his life. The adrenaline. The camaraderie. The going out and saving shit. It's what a guy like him was made for. "What in the hell am I supposed to do for three weeks?"
The captain shrugged. "Get drunk. Get laid. Get a hobby. I don't fucking care. Just get out of my office and don't let me see that freckled mug of yours again for three weeks, Hartigan."
For once in his life, Frankie had no words. His eyebrows met his hairline and stayed there as shock washed through his body. All he could picture was the absolute misery of the next three weeks he'd spend learning origami or underwater basket weaving or some other dumb shit just to keep himself from going nuts.
Yeah, that was not gonna happen.
Marino's wasn't a nasty dive bar or an outlaw biker bar or the kind of bar where, when Frankie walked in, all the seedy patrons stopped what they were doing and started picturing the best way to dispose of his body. Those places would have been more welcoming. Instead, it was a cop bar.
And why would a self-respecting firefighter go into such a place of ill repute? Because his poor, confused baby brother was one of Waterbury's finest, complete with detective shield and annoying habit of always following the rules. Ford did, however, have the night off and a willingness to play wingman as Frankie checked through the captain's proffered to-do list — with "get drunk" being at the top.
"Can you believe this crap?" he asked, taking a drink from his first draft beer. "Three weeks."
Ford was watching the dartboard in the back, since he was up soon, but he glanced away long enough to roll his eyes at Frankie. "If you'd just taken your leave each year like you're supposed to, you wouldn't be in this spot."
Frankie flipped him the bird. "Wait, not only do I have to drink away my sorrows in this place, but you're going to tell me I told you so, too?"
"What else are younger brothers for?"
"I should have called Finn." His fraternal twin, younger by six minutes and forty-two seconds, as their mom reminded them every birthday, would have commiserated properly with Frankie in a real bar.
"Finn is in Vegas because he" — Ford shot him a shit-eating grin that made it look like he was as much of a troublemaker as the rest of the Hartigans — "wait for it." He paused, held up a finger, and took a drink of his beer, soaking the moment for all it was worth. "Took his leave like he was supposed to."
"I swear you were switched at birth," Frankie grumbled. "Somewhere out there is a changeling Hartigan who doesn't get a hard-on for following procedure."
"You already have one brother and four sisters who are like that already. I bring balance to the Force."
It was probably true. There were seven Hartigan siblings — all ruled over by Frank Senior and Katie. Frankie and his twin Finn had followed in their dad's footsteps and become part of Waterbury's bravest. The triplets, Fiona, Ford, and Faith, had chosen different routes, with his sisters going into teaching and Ford crossing over onto the Dark Side by joining the Waterbury Police Department. How a nice girl like Gina could see past that awful fault to actually fall for the guy was beyond Frankie. Fallon came next in the Hartigan order, and she was a ball- busting nurse who put all of the patching up and shit-kicking skills she learned growing up in a rowdy working-class family to keep even the gangbangers in line when they came through her emergency room. Finally, there was the baby, Felicia, the pint-sized Hartigan — well, almost a Carlyle now — who lived across the river with her billionaire fiancÃ© and studied ants. The family joke went that the Hartigans fell into all three categories of Irish: the red Irish, the black Irish, and the so-bull-headed-their-ancestors-got-kicked-off-the-island- for-rebel-activities Irish. And that joke was funny because it was true.
"How about instead of feeling sorry for yourself for having all this paid time off, you do something productive, like figure out what we're going to do for mom and dad's anniversary," Ford said. "We all agreed to pitch in and do something big for them."
The plan had been to send them to Paris for a week, until their dad came home and declared that if their mom forced him to go to one more frou-frou French restaurant to eat snails and force-fed duck livers, he was going to choose to starve to death instead. Yeah. The Hartigans were all known for being a little bit on the loudly dramatic side, with every hill being the hill they'd die on.
"I'd say, with three weeks off, you're the perfect man for the case, Junior," Ford said, using Frankie's most hated of nicknames.
"Yo Hartigan, you're up," someone hollered from the area near the dartboard, saving Frankie from having to smack his brother upside the head on general principle for calling him Junior.
Knowing he'd been saved, Ford raised his beer in salute and strolled off to the back, leaving Frankie in unfriendly territory without a cop guide. Now, it wasn't that the cops and firefighters of Waterbury were sworn enemies, it was just that, well, there was a long-lived and healthy- ish rivalry between them, so they tended to stick to their own kind — except for the annual charity hockey game, during which they happily and enthusiastically beat the ever-loving shit out of each other in between scoring goals.
The bar got a whole lot friendlier when Bobby Marino, who was all of seventy-six if he was a day, gave up the serving duties to Shannon Kominsky. Tall with a body that made a man do a triple take and the kind of warm brown skin that he knew from personal experience was very soft to the touch, she always brightened up the bar at Marino's.
Frankie had known Shannon for years, they'd spent time together naked before, and they had both walked away relaxed and happy. If he played his cards right, tonight could be a repeat performance, complete with orgasms and her post-sex chocolate chip cookies. Some women liked to snuggle after sex. Some liked to talk. Shannon baked.
"Heya, Shannon," he said, giving her the half-lazy, half-cocky grin that had started getting him laid in high school.
And the grin would have worked, if she'd have seen it. Instead, she kept her gaze off of him as she picked up his beer, slid a coaster under it, and set the mug back down. "Not tonight, Frankie."
Damn. That brush off came brutally fast.
"What did I do?"
Now she did look up at him, but it was probably just to give him the are-you-stupid look on her cute face. "It's what you didn't do."
His expression must have been as blank as his brain right then, because she shook her head and her lips curled in a rueful smile.
"Call, Frankie," she said with a chuckle. "You never called."
Fuck. He shifted on his barstool. "I'm sorry, it's been crazy, but I've got some time off. Maybe you and I could — "
"Honey, it's been six months." She held up her left hand and wiggled her fingers, the neon light from the Budweiser sign above the bar catching the diamond ring on her finger. "I'm off the market."
"Damn." This was starting to happen with way too much frequency lately. Why was everyone getting married all of a sudden? "Looks like I'm too late."
"Oh sweetie, you were never in the running." Shannon leaned her forearms on the bar and brought her head close, lowering her voice as if she was about to impart an important secret. "Frankie, you're one of the best lays in Waterbury. All us girls agree."
His ego grew two sizes before the second part of her declaration registered. "You talk about me? All of you together like that?" Comparing notes? Chicks did that? Fuck, did other guys know this little factoid? Because that shit was dangerous.
"It's Waterbury. This neighborhood is like a small town when it comes to gossip," Shannon said. "But here's the deal. You're respectful. You don't promise anything you're not going to deliver. You're fun. You're honestly a good guy, but, honey, you're not the kind of guy who delivers happily ever afters." She gave him a look that walked the line between sympathy and pity. "And once you get to a certain point in your life, all of the fuck-buddy fun loses its luster and you want more, you want a forever kind of thing. You understand what I'm saying?"
Love. That's what she meant. That once-in-a-lifetime, you're-a-lucky- son-of-a-bitch-if-you-find-it thing that everyone thought his parents had, that Felicia had with Hudson, that Gina had with Ford, and that Tyler had with Everly. And for him, it was as likely to happen as him finding a unicorn, because he knew Shannon was right. He'd always known it. He wasn't a delivery driver for Happily Ever Afters R Us, which meant he was as likely to find it as he was to find ...
"A fucking unicorn," he muttered.
Shannon's eyebrows went up in question. "What?"
"Nothing," he said with a sigh because how did you explain a unicorn to a woman who'd just told him he wasn't ever getting one?
Shannon shook her head at him and strutted down to the other end of the bar to take some fresh-out-of-the-academy kid's order. Annoyed with the fact that the zinger she'd delivered hit a little too close to home, Frankie turned around and perused the crowd at Marino's. Going east to west, it pretty much went cop and a badge bunny, several cops and one hot badge bunny, a group of sad-sack cops with no badge bunnies, a shitbird in a suit who looked totally out of place, and one Lucy Kavanagh, who looked like she was about to punch his lights out.
Now, this could get interesting.
Frankie got up off the barstool and strolled on over to provide the zaftig firecracker best friend of Ford's girlfriend some help should she need it.
* * *
If one more person told Lucy that she'd be so pretty if she just lost some weight, she was going to set them on fire.
All she wanted to do was sit in Marino's in peace and enjoy her jalapeño cheeseburger with a side of spicy fries and a Mountain Dew — yeah, that's right, full-calorie Mountain Dew, suck it, Judgey McJudgeyPants — as her own special treat after the week from hell. She'd planned to tell her bestie Gina about it. Her bestie's fiancé was a cop, hence why they were meeting for dinner in a cop bar, but Gina had to cancel at the last minute because of a bride gone bridezilla.
As Harbor City's premiere crisis communications specialists, all of her clients were of the troublesome variety, but damn, getting Ice Knights player Zach Blackburn, the Most Hated Man In Harbor City, out of another bad press article was going to make her gray by thirty. All she wanted tonight was to enjoy a good meal and not worry about anything.
Instead, the concern troll in the shitty suit had invited himself over to let her know that if she'd only ordered a salad, she might actually walk out of the bar with someone instead of a few additional pounds.
"And what business is it of yours what I eat?" She punctuated the question by slathering a fry in Sriracha and popping it in her mouth.
"No need to get defensive there, I'm just trying to help," said the guy — who hadn't even bothered to introduce himself or — wait for it — say hi before launching into his unasked-for monologue about her eating habits. "I mean, come on, no woman comes into a bar alone unless she's desperate for some male company. It's all about showing up and looking decorative."
Now that was just some sexist bullshit right there. Who in the hell ever said that to a guy? Answer: no one.
"Really?" She pushed her steak knife farther away from her plate so she wouldn't be tempted to stab him with it. "You don't think I might just want a Mountain Dew and a burger?"
The guy went on as if she hadn't said a thing. "I'm serious. You have a great face. If you just upped the veggies and eliminated the carbs, high- fat protein, and sugar, you'd be a solid eight instead of a five."
She eyeballed the guy who wouldn't stop flapping his gums about things that had nothing to do with him. He was balding and wore a bad suit that only emphasized his beer belly — and he wanted to give her tips about how to look good? Of course he did.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Muffin Top"
Copyright © 2018 Avery Flynn.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.