Feisty (Fluffy #3) by Julia Kent
AN ALL-NEW STANDALONE FROM NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR JULIA KENT
I’m not too proud to admit that finding Mr. Right involves swiping right. Right? Welcome to dating in avocado toastland.
Here I am, on my first blind date, ever, courtesy of a smartphone app and my two annoying best friends.
So what is Chris “Fletch” Fletcher doing, walking across the room, looking at his phone like he’s pattern matching a picture to find a real person he’s never met before?
The guy I drop-kicked in seventh grade cannot be my blind date. The guy who earned me this infernal nickname.
More from New York Times bestselling author Julia Kent as Fiona “Feisty” Gaskill gets her chance at love – drop-kick included.
Excerpt Feisty by Julia Kent
“Fletch?” I gasp as Perky smiles and walks away, abandoning me in my time of need.
“Hey, Fiona. What’re you doing here?” He looks down at my drink. “Nice penis.”
He points to my chai latte. “Perky did a good job. I was in here last week and she made some beautiful flower patterns on my latte.” He frowns, then his eyebrows shoot up. “Hold on. Those weren’t flowers, were they?”
“Wow. And they seemed so… detailed. And gorgeous.”
My sides are splitting.
“Please… stop… flowers…” I gasp.
“That latte did give me a sudden desire to go to a Georgia O’Keeffe show, though.”
I rush to take a sip of my chai latte and make the penis go away. Fletch watches me, mouth spreading into a wider grin, his green eyes shining as he crosses his arms over his chest.
It’s only then that I realize he’s wearing real clothes. A crisp, light purple dress shirt, open at the neck, tucked into khahis. He has actual leather shoes – and not for weight lifting or cross-training – on his feet. His hair is styled but not sticky, and he has a close, clean shave.
His aftershave is divine.
“You’re not in workout gear. Or a paramedic’s uniform,” I say as I blot the foam on the tip of my nose, wondering if it’s ruined my makeup.
“And you look lovely tonight. A little overdressed for a Beanerino latte with Perky,” he says, waving to her from across the room as she swings a hand towel in the air like she’s a date-night air traffic controller.
“I have a date.”
“So do I.”
“You don’t have a man bun, do you?”
He looks down at his crotch. “Is that like camel toe for guys?”
My lungs have decided that the world is too dangerous to make a move, utter a sound, do anything. I’m frozen, the pulse inside me growing stronger as time ticks away. My own shut-down system is the barrier to oxygen. The disconnect between what my body needs and what my tattered psyche can handle is causing my overload to leak out in a really obvious way.
“Fiona?” Josh says, shaking me gently, Michelle looking to him for certainty.
And then suddenly, Josh is out of my sight, replaced by two clear, calm, green eyes, light brown hair, and hands that feel like anchors.
“Feisty? Feis–Fiona?” Fletch corrects. The sudden pivot to using my proper name is jarring, given the fact that every atom in the world is buzzing inside my ears and nothing anyone does will help me to breathe.
I make a strange sound. I know it’s strange because his eyebrows turn down in the middle, his facial muscles pushing them low enough to show concern.
Concern for me.
“Breathe,” he says slowly as he puts one hand on my diaphragm, fingers warm and firm.
I make a sound to indicate that I am confused and the speech centers in my brain have shut down. Empathy floods me as I realize this is exactly what my student with severe apraxia, little Myles, must feel like when he loses his words under extreme stress. For years, I’ve said “use your words” to four-year-olds having anxiety fits.
“Breathe, Fiona,” he murmurs, taking a deep breath to demonstrate, his belly expanding in a comical way, though I know his technique is strong. Hypnotic and commanding, his voice and body tell me what to do, guide me back from being lost in the woods to a cleared trail where I can find my footing, take a rest, and possibly feel safe again, knowing I can find my way home.
I inhale, the insides of my nostrils cold, the air hitting my nasal passages a welcome assault, diaphragm spasming and sputtering back to life.
“That’s my girl,” he whispers against the curl of my ear, his breath like coffee, his hard forearm muscles all I can see, the ripped cord of his strong lines drawing my gaze. “You just breathe. It’s over now. You did it. You saved them. It’s okay to breathe.” He inhales, then slowly exhales. “Let’s do this together now.”
“Why are you suddenly meddling in my life like you know me? Because you don’t,” I inform him, moving closer, one hand rising up, my index finger pointing as I assume a power stance that seems otherworldly. Some self inside me is coming to the forefront.
And she has something to say.
Two of the people at his table turn and look at us, then start whispering. Fletch’s eyes cut over.
“Can we talk in private?” he asks.
“Why? Afraid of being called out in public?”
“No, but you’re about to get a bunch of cellphones pulled out. You really want more recordings of you floating around on the internet?”
I spin on my heel and move to the hallway in what I think is the direction of the bathrooms. Paleo2Clean is new to me, but before this incarnation, it was a soup restaurant, and before that, a froyo place.
Yep. Guessed right. High chairs and bathrooms.
“Look, Fletch,” I say, grabbing his arm hard. “Until our reunion last year, I hadn’t seen you in forever. And when Mal and Will chose us both to be in their wedding, I wasn’t happy, but I plastered on a fake smile because that’s what you do when your friends are getting married and you used to hate one of the groomsmen.”
“Hate?” A smile tickles his lips, his amusement infuriating me more than any other response he could possibly have. “You,” he says, looking at my hand on his skin, taking a step closer into my space, “hate me?”
“No. I said I used to hate you. Before I worked on evolving and being a better human being.”
“How, exactly, have you done that?”
“By increasing my vibration.”
“You are a better person because you use vibrators?”
“Who said anything about sex toys?”
“You did. Just now.”
“No, I didn’t! I said vibrations!”
“What’s the difference?”
“Pretty sure enlightenment comes from enough orgasms, too, Fiona.”
An espresso machine hisses in the distance, cutting through the sound of our matched breath. He’s inches from me, heat pulsing off his rock-hard body, the close-fitting black cloth of his shirt rippling only because of curved muscle. My hand on his arm feels like heat itself, our bodies some sort of element that conducts energy on a wavelength science hasn’t discovered yet.
And I’m wet, wanting, and so, so confused.
“Why are you turning this conversation into a sex talk?” I finally choke out, pulling back as he leans in.
“You started it,” he replies, the smile fading, replaced by something intensely seductive. He bites his lower lip for a moment, looking at me. Then, in a whisper that makes me lean in to hear, he adds, “Maybe you wouldn’t hate me so much if I helped you with those vibrations.”
I charge Fletch, channeling it all, giving him what he’s asking for.
He moves as I plow into the bag, my body still unable to attack him directly, his hands on my waist as I spin. Dropping to the ground, I use my lower position to twist out of his grasp, leg cocked and ready, but he’s fast.
Sweat sprouts all over my body like someone’s misting me, the sudden crush of hormones, heat, and the pounding physicality of what we’re doing making me wet.
In more ways than one.
I’m a mixture of revulsion and arousal, hating myself for feeling this way as his arms encircle me, my mind split between re-igniting the terror of the preschool attack and the very real, visceral feel of Fletch’s skin against mine, welcoming the rutting, animal-like push of his slick thigh muscles against my arm as I fight him, working to pin him.
By the time we’re done, this scrimmage is a joke, his body pressing me into the ground, arms immovable, my breath heating his nose as he looks down on me with a grin.
And then that fades.
Replaced by the unfiltered expression of a man who is falling. Falling, falling, falling into me.
Like time itself has collapsed.
And the sheer force of attraction is how we propel ourselves forward.
“This is great!” Michael shouts from the sidelines, the click click click of his shutter breaking the silence, Fletch’s hips digging into mine, his hardness making it clear how he feels about me.
He doesn’t move. My wrists are pressed into the mat, my hair tugging at the roots, caught under my shoulder blades.
“See?” he whispers in the space between us. “Not happening again. You kicked my ass in seventh grade. But we’re not tweens now, are we?”
As he says the words, my nipples harden, a yearning in the form of flesh centering between my legs. All I want to do right now is wrap my ankles around his waist and be screwed four ways to Sunday.
If that’s even really a thing.
“No,” I gasp, fighting and failing to be freed. “We’re not. And if we’re not, then what are we?”
“You tell me, Fiona. What are we?”
All the oxygen in the room rushes out. I’m left in space, floating, aimless and without anchor.
Jolene was wrong.
Space isn’t my friend. It’s my enemy. It’s where everything safe becomes dangerous.
Where Fletch becomes the good guy.
The hot guy.
The I-need-him-in-me guy.
And where it’s all caught on camera.
Because this journey started there, with Rico and cameras and people watching me because they can.
As Michael shoots photos and dictates angles, all I feel is Fletch’s rum-THUM-rum-THUM beat, his heart against mine, telling me stories that go back seventeen years.
Before my heart wall had turrets. Before my heart wall had defenses and gun mounts and cannons.
Before I had a wall around my heart at all.
The kiss comes, unexpected but oh, so right. Fletch’s mouth is inevitable, lips on mine like fate herself stepped into the frame and ordered us to do this. Logically, it makes no sense, but emotionally, it’s what the universe dictates, the kiss aligning so many layers of my being that it’s almost painful how perfect this is.
His hands loosen at my wrists, one threading its way through my hair, tugging just enough to break the sensuality of this moment, but also brutal enough to make my hips rise up and beg for more. His tongue is exploring me like no good guy should, nothing but bad and filthy and raunchy and a promise of slick, hot, no-holds-barred sex if I just let him in, just let him try, just let him–
Just plain old let him.
But first, I have to let myself.
“Fletch,” I start, walking into my office, waving him on. As we pass by the children, they snicker and whisper, the girls more stirred up than the boys. We reach the office, I close the door, and ask, “Why are you here?”
“I came to see you because I knew this was your lunch break and you’ve been ignoring my texts and calls.”
“Maybe I need some space.”
“I respect that.”
“Clearly, you don’t.”
“Look, Fiona, I’m not here to argue with you. Or to crowd you or upset you. The opposite, actually. I realized our wires have been crossed and it was better to just come to you, face to face, and say what needs to be said.”
“You couldn’t wait until I wasn’t working?”
“If you’d answer my texts and calls, I could.”
“Fair enough. What do you want to say? What needs to be said?”
“I would like to ask you out on a date.”
“Because I like you.”
“Isn’t that enough?”
“After seventeen years of teasing me, of that stupid nickname following me around like a poltergeist, now you suddenly decide that because I saved your nephew you want to date me?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Then what is it like?”
“I don’t know. Let me find out what it’s like by spending time with you. Let’s both find out what the other is really like. Do we have to define this? Let’s explore it.” He grins. “Let’s explore each other.”
“I think you’re trauma bonding with me and getting that confused with having feelings for me.”
“We went through something emotionally intense together. You helped me. I saved your nephew. But that doesn’t mean we should date.”
“That’s not why I’m asking you out.”
“Is it because we kissed?”
“That’s not why, but it certainly adds to all the reasons why.”