Authors: Lisa A. Olech
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #spicy, #model
The room’s edges hazed in her vision as she indulged in her imaginations. A smudge of charcoal became the satiny smoothness of a lover’s touch.
touch. She imagined the slight roughness of his jaw, the velvet length of skin just below his ear, the petal softness of a lip upon a lip.
A buzzing sounded off in the distance, but its short rasp soon ended.
Jagger’s eyes opened, their rich brown color seducing her further.
She was lost. She forgot how to breathe.
Time seemed to stop.
Zee did blink and the spell burst like a rainbowed soap bubble. Jagger held her gaze and gave her a slow smile before leaping to his feet and slipping his jeans back on.
. Her breath caught in her chest as she crashed back to earth.
She had been staring at him like a fool, dreaming about kissing him, touching him. Her face blazed. Had someone sucked all the air from the room?
“Wow, that’s really awesome,” Leah said from behind her.
“What?” Zee turned, stunned.
“Your drawing. It’s amazing.” Leah frowned and took her hand. “Hey, are you okay? You look sick.”
Zee swallowed hard. “Yeah…No. I-I need to get out of here.” She started to throw her things into her bag.
“Honey, stop. I can take care of all that for you. If you need to leave, leave. Are you okay to drive yourself home?”
“No problem. I’ll bring your stuff by later and check on you. You’re sure you don’t want me to drive you?”
“No, I’m fine.” Zee laid a hand over her erratic heart.
“You don’t look fine.”
“Ya,” Zee puffed sarcastically, “I’ve heard that before.”
She left before Leah or anyone could say another word to her. She felt Jagger’s eyes on her but couldn’t look at him. She raced out of the building and ran straight to her car before her humiliation could swamp her.
Zee let herself into her apartment. She leaned her head back against the door and closed her eyes. Deep breaths. She saw herself touching Jagger again. Kissing him. She rubbed her eyes to erase the image. What was wrong with her? Was she losing her mind? Damn Madeline and her perfume. Zee could still smell it cloying in the back of her throat. That must to be the reason behind her insane behavior. Perfume allergy.
Isabella sat on the floor at her feet blinking, as if to say, “You’re home early.”
Zee dipped down and scooped the cat into her arms. The instantaneous hum of purring and a nuzzled chin were her reward. The cat lazily pushed into Zee’s hand for more head scratching. She smiled and remembered when she found this kitten at animal rescue. The card above her cage said her name was ‘Trouble.’ Zee looked down at the cutest little black and white tuxedo cat she’d ever seen. Big green eyes, a white bib and four little white mittens made Zee think of that cartoon kitten with a giant red bow. She’d whispered, “You’re mine, little one, and don’t worry. I’ll give you the most beautiful name I can think of.”
She’d spent a lifetime loathing her name. It wasn’t even a name. Merely the initials, Z. Z. Her mother told her she wanted her to have the most original name, and the baby name books were all useless. Her child would be unique.
Mom was a hippy after hippies were cool. She drank and smoked too much dope. Even though she was now clean and sober, she still acted like a child determined to stick something in a light socket. At least Zee had her Nana.
Her father, now that was another story. When she asked about him, she remembered the sheepish look that came to her mother’s face. “Well, honey, it was kind of a…kind of a fuzzy time back then. I told you I was no angel. I was free, you know, free love. No inhibitions, no limits; just incredible, mind-blowing sex. Of course, sex couldn’t kill you then. I’m just not exactly one hundred percent sure who the guy was who knocked me up. I lost my birth control pills. You know how that can happen.”
“Well, how many guys could there have been? Two? Three?”
“Eight. Maybe ten. There was this four-day concert. It was wild. Rain and mud. But the music was fab. I tried this mushroom soup.”
“Don’t you remember any names? You know, like the guy with curly reddish hair and gray eyes, that maybe looked a lot like…I don’t know…me?” Zee looked nothing like her blond, blue-eyed mother or her grandmother.
“Z. Z., sweetheart, it’s going to have to be one of your life’s little mysteries. Don’t you think if I knew, I’d tell you? I prayed your eyes would turn more lavender, like Elizabeth Taylor’s. And for the record, your hair color is a perfect burnt cinnamon.”
Try getting that put on your license. “Okay, Mom, never mind. I won’t bring it up again.”
“I don’t mind talking about it. It was the best sex of my life. And bonus, I got you.”
Isabella jumped from her arms, breaking Zee from her musings. The phone rang as she set the teakettle on to boil.
“Hello, Mother. I was just thinking about you.”
“Really? Good thoughts, I hope.”
“Of course,” Zee lied. “What’s up?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Ed Zeigler.”
Groaning, Zee dropped the phone on the counter. She contemplated hanging up. Her mother’s voice called to her from the receiver. “Z. Z.? Are you still there?”
Zee picked it up and muttered, “Yes, Mother, I’m still here.”
“Did you hear what I said? I want to talk to you about Ed.”
“I heard you. I don’t want to talk about him.” She pulled down a cup and fished a tea bag from the chicken-shaped canister on her counter.
“Be reasonable. He likes you. I spoke to him yesterday and he told me if you would just apologize, he would take you back in a minute.”
“Please don’t talk to Ed about me, Mother.”
“He’s still my mechanic. And, darling, I’m afraid if you don’t get back together with him he’ll start charging me full price to fix the Lincoln.”
“You know how you can be. You’re too uptight. You don’t let anything just slide. So you had a little fight. Can’t you be the bigger person? Forgive and forget? I adore Ed. This whole break up has been very stressful for me.”
The teakettle began to whistle and sputtered hot water all over the top of the stove. Zee grabbed for it without thinking and burned her hand. “Dammit, Mother. First off…” The pain took a nanosecond to register with her brain.
Cradling the phone in the crook of her neck, Zee ran her injured hand under the cold water. “First off, you have no clue what you’re talking about. If you had any idea what being with Ed Zeigler was like, you would never ask me to get back with him. Second, to suggest I look past my own happiness and subject myself to a vile man simply so you can get your car serviced at a discount is totally beyond comprehension!”
Her mother gave a heavy sigh. “You can be soooo dramatic. I blame myself. I taught you to be highly expressive, but leave it to you to take it to the extreme.”
Zee fought the urge to take the phone and pound herself in the forehead...repeatedly. “Mom, I love you, but I am not being dramatic. I am not being extreme. You need to understand Ed Zeigler and I are over. Finished. Fat lady sings. End of story. Done. Take your Lincoln to another shop for repairs, and respect the fact that I’m an adult and I’ll choose how to spend my life and with whom I choose to spend it.” Zee ran out of breath as anger pushed her rant.
“If you continue to frown like that, you’ll get wrinkles, sweetheart.”
“How do you know I’m frowning?”
“I can hear it in your voice.”
“What are your plans for tonight?”
“I don’t have any. Good-bye, Mother.”
“It’s Friday night. A pretty girl like you should have a date.”
“I’m hanging up now. Good-bye.”
“Okay, sweetheart, Mommy loves you.”
Zee pushed the disconnect button and threw the phone onto the counter. The burn on her hand hurt like hell and she stuck it under the water again. “DAMMIT!” She screamed at the chicken.
The phone rang again. Zee slammed the water off, grabbed the dishtowel and watched it ring. “Grrrrrr.” Answering it on the fourth ring, she snapped into the receiver, “Mom, I’m not doing this with you today!”
“Whoa. It’s me, Leah.”
She blew out a frustrated breath. “Sorry, Leah, I-I thought you were my mother.”
“So I gathered. What the hell is going on? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just got off the phone with her and… Never mind. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I know your mom, remember? I’m more worried about you. Are you feeling better?”
“Are you sure? You left class like you were being chased by wolves.”
“I know.” The image of Jagger’s face flashed in Zee’s mind. The way he’d looked at her. Zee stared at her shoes and blew on her burnt fingers. The whole thing was ridiculous. She was a grown woman. Why was she acting like she’d just been released from a convent and had never seen a penis before? He was just a well-constructed human male…with milk chocolate, Hershey Kiss eyes, a body she wanted to climb like monkey bars, and a smile that made Zee think he harbored some dirty little secret no one else knew. She was no better than the rest of them in class. Damn it all, she was even starting to like how he winked at her.
“I have your things. But I thought if we were getting together tomorrow night anyway, I’d wait to bring them over.”
“Sure. That’s fine.” Zee examined her red fingers.
“So you’re still feeling up to getting together?”
“Absolutely. In fact, I may crack open a second box of wine.” Zee pushed a curled strand of hair behind one ear.
“That bad, huh?”
“You have no idea. Maybe you’ll have some wisdom for me. I need some perspective right now.”
“Wisdom from me? Ha. That’s definitely a two-box night. Sounds like I should pack my toothbrush and turn this into a pajama party.”
“Good idea. Tell Ted I’m kidnapping you. How about seven? We could split a pizza.”
“Sounds perfect. You’ve got a date.”
“Good. Can I tell my mother? Trust me, I’ll keep your name out of it, unless of course you know how to lube a Lincoln.”
Jagger slipped on his jeans, arranged the position of his bits and bobs and fastened the buttons of his fly. The session was over. Holding even a simple pose for twenty minutes at a stretch without moving proved to be an interesting challenge. More interesting, however, was his building attraction regarding Zee Lambert.
That interest had turned to concern earlier when she raced out of class. She’d given him such an odd look, like a kid caught stealing candy. Then she took off. Was she upset? Sick? He’d kept an eye on the door waiting for her to come back. She hadn’t.
Leah was packing her things. She’d know what was going on with Zee. Jagger yanked his shirt over his head and turned for his bag. When he straightened, two of the other women from class were standing behind him. Emily and Jessica.
“Ladies. Must say, you two look very nice today.” Behind them, he watched Leah talking on a bright pink cell phone covered with sequins.
“Thanks, Jagger.” Jessica smoothed out the hem of her sweater. “Em and I are heading over to the Mex Mix. In Manchester? Food’s not horrible, and they have margaritas that come in a glass big enough to swim in.”
“They’re really good.” Emily added. “Cheap too. They have a ‘It’s Happy Somewhere Happy Hour’ from two o’clock on.”
Leah finished her phone call, loaded herself like a pack mule with all of her things and Zee’s, and left.
“Want to come with us?”
He jerked his attention back to Jessica. “That sounds like a lot of fun.” Leah disappeared around the corner. “But I gotta be buggering off. You two go have a great time.” Jessica and Emily looked disappointed. “Have one of those margaritas for me, eh?”
Leah moved fast for a pack mule. By the time Jagger made it out of the room, she was out of sight. He caught up with her as she was pushing everything into the back of a beat up, pickle-green pickup truck with a giant cockroach planted on the roof and the words RABET’S EXTERMINATING SERVICE—(603) 555-BUGZ—WITH TED THEY’RE DEAD! painted on the side.
“It’s hideous.” Leah slammed the door. “Ted has my car today, so lucky me, I get to drive around in the roach coach.”
“Bet it’s great advertising. I know I’ll not be forgetting it.”
“Nobody does.” Leah gave him a coy smile. “So you chased me down to talk ugly trucks?”
“Do you always move at the speed of light?”
“Only in heels.” She gave him a sassy smirk.
“I, ah…I couldn’t help noticing… Do you know if Zee is okay?”
“You want to know if Zee is okay?” A bright smile lit her face. “Nice.”
“It’s just that she left in a hurry, and I didn’t know if you knew…”
“I just talked to her. She seems fine. I don’t know anything more than that. But I’m getting together with her tomorrow.”
“Oh. Good.” He stood there nodding like an idiot. What was wrong with him? He was being a total wanker. Next thing he’d be asking her to pass Zee a note in class. “All right then. I’ll let you get on with your day.” He headed back across the parking lot.
“Jagger?” Leah stopped him. “Zee’s a bit gun shy, right now.”
That sounded like a warning. He held up his hand. “Got it. No worries. I understand. I won’t bother her.”
“No, that’s not what I meant at all. Just…go easy. Okay?” Leah closed the distance between them and laid her hand on his arm. “Zee’s my best friend. I, for one, think it’d be great. I’d love to see the two of you together. Hell, if I can’t have you…”
“Wouldn’t want Ted to make me dead.”
“He’s all bark.” She flipped a hand. “But Zee’s been through a lot lately. I wouldn’t push too hard, you know?”
“I won’t. Not my style. Nice to know she’s got a friend watching her back.”
Leah shrugged one shoulder. “That’s
style. I will tell her you were asking about her.”
She’s a bit gun shy.
Leah’s words followed Jagger as he pulled his van into the side lot of Stoddard Parts and Supplies. Gun shy? He wondered if Zee’s shyness had anything to do with that jerk from last week.