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  • Home > Lisa Kleypas > Sugar Daddy     

    "Go on, damn it," the boy snapped at them. "Get your hindquarters back home and stop scaring people, you sorry pair of sh—" He checked himself and darted a quick glance at me.

    The pit bulls quieted and slunk backward in a startling change of mood, pink tongues dangling like the half-curled ribbons of party balloons.

    My rescuer viewed them with disgust and spoke to the boy in the tank top. "Pete, take the dogs back to Miss Marva's."

    "They'll git home by theirselves." the boy protested, reluctant to part company with the blond girl in the bikini top.

    "Take 'em back," came the authoritative reply, "and tell Marva to stop leaving the damn gate open."

    While this conversation was taking place. I glanced down at my knees and saw they were oozing and peppered with gravel dust. My descent into the pit of soul-shriveling embarrassment was complete as the shock wore off and I started to cry. The harder I gulped against the tightness of my throat, the worse it became. Tears runneled from beneath my big plastic-framed glasses.

    "For God's sake..." I heard the boy in the tank top mutter. Heaving a sigh, he went to the dogs and grabbed them by the collars. "Come on, troublemakers." They went with him willingly, trotting smartly on either side as if they were auditioning for the 4H state dog show.

    The dark-haired boy's attention returned to me. and his voice gentled. "Here, now...you're okay. No need to cry, honey." He plucked a red handkerchief from his back pocket and began to mop at my face. Deftly he wiped my eyes and nose and told me to blow. The handkerchief held the sharp bite of male sweat as it clamped firmly over my nose. Back then men of every age had a red handkerchief tucked in the back pocket of their jeans. I'd seen kerchiefs used as a sieve, a coffee filter, a dust mask, and once as a makeshift baby diaper.

    "Don't ever run from dogs like that." The boy tucked the kerchief in his back pocket. "No matter how scared you are. You just look to the side and walk away real slow, understand? And shout 'No' in a loud voice like you mean it."

    I sniffled and nodded, staring into his shadowed face. His wide mouth held the curve of a smile that sent a quiver down to the pit of my stomach and knotted my toes inside my sneakers.

    True handsomeness had escaped him by millimeters. His features were too blunt and bold, and his nose had a crook near the bridge from having been broken once. But he had a slow burn of a smile, and blue-on-blue eyes that seemed even brighter against the sun-glazed color of his skin, and a tumble of dark brown hair as shiny as mink fur.

    "You got nothing to fear from those dogs," he said. "They're full of mischief, but as far as I know they've never bitten anyone. Here, take my hand."

    As he pulled me up and set me on my feet, my knees felt like they'd been set on fire. I

    hardly noticed the pain. I was so occupied with the fury of my heartbeat. The grip of his hand was strong around mine, his fingers dry and warm.

    "Where do you live?" the boy asked. "Are you moving into the new trailer on the loop?"

    "Uh-huh." I wiped a stray tear off my chin.

    "Hardy..." The blond girl's voice was sweetly cajoling. "She's all right now. Come walk me back. I got somethin' in my room to show you."

    Hardy. So that was his name. He remained facing me, his vivid gaze shifting to the ground. It was probably just as well the girl couldn't see the wry smile secreted in the corners of his mouth. He seemed to have a pretty good idea of what she wanted to show him.

    "Can't," he said cheerfully. "I have to take care of this little one."

    The disgruntlement I felt at being referred to as if I were a toddler was promptly replaced by the triumph of being chosen over the blond girl. Although I couldn't figure out why in the world he wasn't leaping at the chance to go with her.

    I wasn't a homely child, but neither was I the kind people made much of. From my Mexican father I had inherited dark hair, heavy eyebrows, and a mouth I thought was twice the size it needed to be. From Mama I had gotten a skinny build and light-colored eyes, but they weren't a clear sea-green like hers, they were hazel. I had often longed to have Mama's ivory skin and blond hair, but Daddy's darkness had won out.

    It didn't help matters that I was shy and wore glasses. I was never one to stand out in the crowd. I liked to stay in corners. And I was happiest when I was alone reading. That and the good grades I got in school had doomed any chance of being popular with my peers. So it was a foregone conclusion that boys like Hardy were never going to take notice of me.

    "Come on," he urged, leading the way to a tan single-wide with concrete steps at the back. A hint of a strut livened Hardy's walk, giving him the jauntiness of a junkyard dog.

    I followed cautiously, wondering how mad Mama would be if she found out I'd wandered off with a stranger. "Is this yours?" I asked, my feet sinking into the crackling beige grass as we went toward the trailer.

    Hardy replied over his shoulder. "I live here with my mom. two brothers, and a sister."

    "That's a lot of people for a single-wide." I commented.

    "Yeah, it is. I've got to move soon—there's no room for me in there. Mom says I'm growing so fast I'm like to bust the walls of the trailer out."

    The notion that this creature still had some growing to do was almost alarming. "How big are you going to get?" I asked.

    He chuckled and went to a spigot attached to a dusty gray garden hose. Turning it with a few deft twists, he started the flow of water and went to find the end of the hose. "Don't know. I'm already taller than most of my kin. Sit on that bottom step and stretch your legs out."

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