Page 47 of Tripping on a Halo

I hoped he wouldn’t say anything, and he didn’t, giving me time, my eyes closing, the clip of Mr. Oinks’ toenails sounding as he tapped over to his bowl. I smiled at the loud sound of him slurping water, the liquid splashing, and pulled my head back, looking up at Declan. He ran his hand over my hair, and tilted forward, pressing a kiss onto my head.

“I lost my mom three years ago,” he said gruffly. “It takes a long time. Don’t feel pressured to rush it.”

I nodded, unable to speak, and pulled away from him, digging in my purse for my key.

Declan reached for the door handle and looked down at Mr. Oinks, who wandered back from the water dish, his snout dripping along the tile, and wagged his tail in response. “Do you do anything with him?”

“Nope.” I cleared my throat, the word coming out thick, and bent down to give Mr. Oinks a kiss on the top of the head. “He’s a good boy.” There wasn’t a need to share all the times he hadn’t been a good boy. Like when he got into the trash and dragged the Hefty bag all over the house, snacking on different items along the way. Or when he found the new bag of toilet paper and ripped twenty-four rolls into a gazillion tiny pieces.

I pulled the door behind us and locked it, taking a deep breath and refocusing my thoughts on what was about to happen. Lunch, just Declan Moss and me.

I couldn’t let this opportunity pass. I didn’t know what had prompted his visit, or this lunch invite, but this was my chance to smooth the waters, refocus our relationship off the smoking hot events of last weekend, and set a new precedent we could move forward with. All I had to do was stay level-headed, avoid swooning, and come across as un-crazy as possible.

One lunch. I could certainly manage those three things during that short timeframe. Checking the door, I turned away and hurried down the front steps after him.

26

I struggled with the chicken sub, the extra banana peppers slipping out of the side as I held it. A glob of ranch dressing dripped out of the end and hit my napkin. I sighed, and attacked the sandwich, managing a bite without everything falling out of it. Declan watched me, his eyes crinkling, and I reached for the napkin and carefully wiped my mouth, avoiding the drop of ranch. “So… anyway. That’s why you shouldn’t use a SlimJim. Not if you value your jugular vein.”

His smile widened, and he could hurt a girl with that thing. Slice right through her chest plate and mortally nick her heart. “Let’s talk about something less morbid.”

“Okay…” I lifted my cup of Sprite and took a sip. “Like what?”

“Who’s Adam?”

I swallowed the soda. “Mr. Oinks’ vet. There was a major event lately, involving some rhubarb pie—which is toxic to pigs—and Adam saved his life.”

“Really?” He seemed skeptical.

“Yeah, really.”

“Just a whole heap of life savers. You guys sound like the perfect match.”

It took me a minute to recognize his perturbed scowl as jealousy. It was cute on him, and absolutely unnecessary. “You don’t have to be worried about Adam.”

He leaned forward. “In what way?”

“I’m just saying, if you’re jealous of Adam, you don’t have to be. It was a failed date. First and last sort of thing.”

“Huh.” He took a bite of chip and chewed. “And you think I was jealous of him?”

It was a dangerous road to wander down, but I still took the bait. “Yeah.” I studied him. “You were, right?” Maybe I had read him wrong. Maybe I’d been out of the dating game so long, I was reading flirtations where they didn’t even exist.

“Possibly.” He frowned. “Not that I like getting called out on it.”

“Well, don’t be jealous. I mean, in part because Adam’s and my relationship is dead in the water, but more importantly, because you and I… this”—I gestured between the two of us—“can’t happen.” There. Boundary set. I would have patted myself on the back but I’m not that flexible.

He tilted his head at me. “I think it already did.”

“Well… Something did,” I allowed. Lots of … somethings. Somethings I haven’t been able to stop recreating, every time I close my eyes. “But nothing else. Vagina is closed. Orgasms over.” I made an X symbol with my hands and he laughed. “It’s not funny,” I insisted. “I’m serious.”

“Okay,” he allowed. “No sex. Fine. Truth be told, it was a little sudden for me, too.”

Huh. He was saying I was a hoochie momma. Red-blooded slut tart. A Skankapotomus. I bristled a little at the comment, then had a second heart attack at his next words.

“So let’s start over. This can be our new first date. Where are you from?”

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