Authors: Juliet Rosetti
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Suspense, #Humorous
The Sexiest Man Alive
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Kilday
Tangled Thing Called Love
by Juliet Rosetti copyright © 2014 by Patricia Kilday
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-54916-7
Cover design: Derek Walls
Cover photograph: Renzo
The last time Mazie Maguire had been on a blind date she’d been fifteen years old. She’d been set up with a boy named Derwyn who believed that the way to drive a girl insane with lust was to swirl his tongue around inside her ear. Although Mazie had managed to blot out most of the painful details of that evening, she still couldn’t poke a Q-tip in her ear without shuddering. She’d vowed then that she would never, ever, under any circumstances, go on a blind date again.
She’d kept that promise for fifteen years. But now here she was, pacing the lobby of a second-rate Mexican restaurant, waiting for a complete stranger to show up. He was late, and the hostess was coolly eyeballing Mazie, apparently suspecting her of being a lady of the evening trolling for clients.
Nervously, Mazie checked her reflection in the lobby’s sunburst mirror, tucking a strand of dark, chin-length hair behind her ear. She didn’t
slutty, did she? Maybe she’d gone a little overboard on the mascara. It was navy blue and was supposed to bring out the blue in her eyes. She was wearing a lilac top, a flirty white skirt—short but not
short—and platform heels that the salesclerk had claimed would make her legs look longer and slimmer. Mazie fell for the old
line every time. When you’re barely five foot three, the prospect of longer legs is like the promise of magic cellulite cream: you know it isn’t going to work but allow yourself to get suckered into buying it anyway.
Just like she’d been suckered into this date.
“His name is Chad and he looks like Bradley Cooper,” her friend Juju had promised. “The two of you have tons in common.”
“Like what—we’re both carbon-based life-forms?”
“Will you stop being so negative?” Juju had rolled her eyes. “Okay, so you were dumped by a guy you cared about. It’s time you got over him. Time to fling yourself back into the game.”
The game had changed since the last time she’d played it, Mazie had discovered. The pool of eligible guys had drastically shrunk and single straight males were a hot commodity. Hooking up had replaced courtship, texting had replaced flirtatious banter, and guys gave their dates sex toys instead of flowers and candy.
Really, it was enough to drive a woman to celibacy, Mazie thought, and if this Chad Whosis didn’t show up in one more minute, she was blowing this joint and going to McDonald’s.
The minute passed. Shouldering her handbag, she headed for the door. That was the moment her date breezed into the lobby.
“Uhh … hi,” he said, stopping short. “Are you Marie Maguire?”
Chad was tall and male, but he looked like Bradley Cooper only in the sense that Elmer Fudd resembled Michael Jordan because they were both bald. He had a low forehead, weak chin, and hair braided into blond dreadlocks like fraying rope. He’d skipped shaving, opting for the cactus-jaw look. Obviously he’d skipped deodorant and toothbrushing, too. He wore rumpled jeans and a T-shirt that hung over what Mazie at first took to be a long-sleeved undershirt but that proved on second glance to be tattooed arms.
He didn’t apologize for being late or attempt to shake hands. He gave Mazie a smirking top-to-bottom scan. “Hey—you’re not bad. Setups usually turn out to be complete dogs.”
Mazie had spent an hour and a half getting ready for this date—
she’d tweezed her eyebrows, for Pete’s sake
—and the best this dud could come up with was
not a complete dog
? The only possible response to a comment like that was to bite the guy’s ankle, but Mazie restrained herself because Chad’s large feet, jammed into sandals, didn’t look any too sanitary and she’d probably contract ringworm of the gums.
“So tell me about yourself, Margie,” he said when they’d settled across from each other in a booth.
,” she corrected. She hated the phrase “Tell me about yourself.” It sounded like a Human Resources person interviewing a job seeker.
Okay, Chad, here’s a fun fact about me: I was convicted of murdering my husband and sentenced to life in prison
. But that was sort of a conversation bomb. Best to start out bland and boring. “Well,” Mazie said, “I’m thirty years old—”
Chad slapped the tabletop, grinning. “Radical—an older chick.”
Mazie bristled. “Older?”
“I just, like, turned twenty-six. I usually go for the younger ones—eighteen, nineteen, you know? But you’re not bad for your age. I mean, try everything in life once, right?”
“Sure. Damn the torpedoes.” Mazie decided that the only way she was going to survive this date was to view it as a sociology experiment: Exactly how bad can a bad date be?
Really bad, as it turned out.
The waiter brought their drinks, a beer for Chad and water for Mazie, because she didn’t want to muddle her wits with alcohol. She had the feeling she was going to need all of them.
Chad sipped his beer. “So. Are you from Milwaukee?”
“Not originally. I grew up on a farm in southwest Wisconsin, went away to a state college, majored in music—”
“Music!” Chad drummed a riff on the tabletop. “I’m all
the music. You know about My Sphincter, don’t you?”
“Your … umm …
“My band, babes.
. It’s apocalyptic.” Apparently they’d hit the daily double with this topic, because Chad was off on a running rant, explaining how the Music Industry, who hated genius musicians like himself, had conspired to keep his band from cutting a record deal out of sheer jealousy. Eons passed, great glaciers covered the earth and retreated again, brain cells died, salads and entrées arrived, and Chad still nattered on.
At last the waiter brought the bill. “Okay if we go halfsies?” Chad asked, eyes slightly glazed from the strong Mexican beer. “You owe—lemme see, jeez, I’m bad at math.… Let’s just split down the middle, okay?”
Chad had ordered three beers, an entrée, and a liquor-drenched dessert, while Mazie had had a quesadilla and a salad, but she decided not to quibble. Anything to get her out of here.
“Unless—you know, you want to pick up the whole thing,” Chad suggested without a twinge of embarrassment. “I’m kind of tapped out right now—the band got stiffed at the last place we played, if you can believe it.”
Yup, she could believe it, but Mazie dug deeper into her wallet, slapped bills onto the waiter tray, then dived into her coin purse to scrape up the tip. She’d just lost her job and had planned on that cash to carry her through the week. But this was a small price to pay for the life lesson she’d just learned. Her fifteen-year-old self had been right.
Never, ever go on a blind date
. And when she saw Juju Danda, who’d brokered this date, she was going to wring her neck.
Getting up from the booth, Mazie smoothed her skirt and shouldered her handbag. When she looked up, she was shocked to see that the tip had disappeared.
She stared at Chad, incredulous. “Did you—”
He shrugged, grinning. “They ripped us off on the drinks, man—you could buy that brand for a buck a bottle at the supermarket.”
“Waiters live on their tips!”
“Not my prob.”
“Put it back.”
Sulkily he replaced the money, muttering about women who got off on emasculating men. Mazie steamed out of the restaurant. Uninvited, Chad slouched along beside her.
“Can you give me a ride?” he said. “I don’t got wheels. A buddy gave me a lift to get down here tonight.”
“I don’t have wheels, either,” Mazie said, teeth gritted.
“So where do you live?”
“That’s cool—just around the corner. I’ll walk you home.”
“Hey, no problemo. I’m nothing if not a gentleman.”
Where was a cattle prod when you needed one?
Ordinarily Mazie enjoyed walking. The east side of Milwaukee was the hippest part of the city, the haunt of musicians, artists, writers, students, and the Legalize Marijuana crowd. Its streets were lined with small ethnic cafés, bars, and boutiques, and everything was a mere Frisbee’s throw from Lake Michigan’s beaches and parks. But tonight the presence of Chad, slouching along beside her, blatantly checking out every female they passed, poisoned the atmosphere.
Mazie lived at the epicenter of the east side, on Brady Street, in a first-floor flat at the rear of Magenta’s, a boutique that catered to drag queens. “Well,” Mazie said, turning to Chad. “Thanks for a … an evening. Good night.” She made the mistake of opening her door. As she stepped into her entryway, Chad lunged in after her, trapping her against the foyer wall, groping her breasts and pressing himself against her.
“What are you
? Stop it!” Mazie knocked his hands away.
Chad looked at her like a puppy who didn’t understand why he shouldn’t pee on the rugs. “What’s with you? I figured we were gonna hook up tonight.”
Mazie glared at him. “You thought we were going to
He shrugged. “Well, yeah—a guy does you the favor of showing up for a date, it’s like,
that you’re going to get it on. You gotta deal with the reality, babe.” He came at her again, eyes half-lidded, hands like tentacles.
Mazie snatched an umbrella out of the hall stand. It was small and pink and looked incapable of keeping rain off a Brussels sprout, but it had a lethally sharp point that made Chad squeal when she jabbed it into his ribs. “Deal with
reality, you creep!”
A tall man hulked up out of her apartment. A small dog shot out between the man’s legs, growling like an Irish boarhound, launching himself at Chad. The tall man grabbed Chad by his collar, spun him around, and wrenched his right arm up behind his back.
“The lady said
. Want me to explain what that means?”
Still maintaining the arm-breaking grip, the man frog-marched Chad down the steps, paused for a moment as though considering whether to rip his head off, then settled on giving him a shove that sent him staggering down the sidewalk.
Once he’d satisfied himself that Chad was gone, the man turned back to Mazie. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Of course I’m all right,” Mazie snapped. “I was doing fine on my own. How’d you get in here, anyway?”
“Key.” He set the spare key that she kept taped to the drainpipe into her palm. Their hands touched briefly and Mazie felt a rush so intense, it made her toes curl. It had been that way from the first moment this man had live-trapped her in his station’s camera van nearly a year ago. His name was Labeck. Bonaparte Labeck—he went by
. Broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, he had dark, badly behaved hair, chestnut brown eyes, and skin that now, in mid-August, had turned a deep, ruddy bronze. He was saved from being pretty-boy handsome by a twice-broken nose, but he still turned women’s heads wherever he went. It was his self-confidence, the way he moved, some mysterious mix of toughness and warmth that made him utterly irresistible.