Read Love, Me Online

Authors: Tiffany White

Tags: #Romance, #FICTION/Romance/Contemporary

Love, Me (8 page)

“Hi, what's your name, sugar?”

Blue eyes round as saucers stared at Chelsea, but the child wouldn't say a word.

“Would you like a bite?” Chelsea asked, offering her the apple fritter in her hand.

The toddler turned her face away.

“Where did she come from?” Chelsea asked, looking up at Dakota.

“I don't know. I was in line and next thing I knew, I felt someone hanging on to my leg.”

“Well, she has to belong to someone….” She tapped the little girl on her shoulder. “Where's your mommy, sugar? Is she lost?”

The child turned back to stare at her, but said nothing.

Chelsea set her plate of apple fritter down and tried to lift the little girl, but she wouldn't let go of Dakota's leg. “Well, looks like the fortune-teller was right. It's going to be very difficult for you to get away from her.” Chelsea laughed.

“It's not funny,” Dakota repeated.

“Oh, come on, Dakota. Relax. The fortune-teller said she'll leave you for the man who's right for her,” Chelsea teased.

“So why do I have the feeling that will be when I'm giving her away at her wedding?” he asked, taking a gulp of soda.

“Emily… Em-ily… Where are you… ?”

They spotted the long-legged man in jeans at the same time. “Over here!” Chelsea called out, signaling to the man. “I think we have her.”

The man strode toward them and a smile lit up his face when he saw the toddler. “Emily, baby, what are you doing?”

The little girl let go of Dakota's leg and reached up her hands, saying, “Da-da… Da.”

Her father laughed. “We were talking to friends and I let go of her. I guess she thought she had

“Well, she's safe and that's all that matters,” Chelsea said. She waved as the pixie and her father moved off to find the child's mother.

“So, you want to try another psychic?” Chelsea asked, breaking off a piece of apple fritter and feeding it to Dakota.

“Why not? It's my lucky day, right?”

“I'll let you pick this time,” Chelsea said, ignoring his sarcasm.

“How about none of the above,” he said, leaning forward to brush a speck of powdered sugar from her nose.

“One more?” she coaxed.

“Tucker's right about you, you know that? All right, one more.”

They tossed their trash in a metal drum and headed back to the grouping of tents.

“Let's try a palm reader this time,” she suggested.

They strolled over to a tent hung with a banner advertising Madame Marie. Inside the tent was a young woman reading a textbook.

“Can I help you?” she asked, looking up from the book.

“He wants his palm read.”

“I don't want my palm read, I'm having my palm read,” Dakota whispered as he sat down.

“Let me see both hands, please,” Madame Marie said.

Dakota put them on the table and the young woman ran her fingers over them, nodding and observing.

“Is there anything special you'd like to know?” she asked, before she began.

“Yeah, what course are you taking?” he asked, indicating the textbook.

“Journalism,” she answered good-naturedly. “I want to be a writer.”

“So do I,” Dakota muttered under his breath.

The young woman was busy studying his hands and didn't hear him, but Chelsea glared at him.

“You're artistic,” she said, not looking up for confirmation. “You have a strong lifeline.” She paused then, studying his palm. “Your career—now it looks like there's a…”

“Problem?” Dakota filled in the word, resigned.

“A change. There's a fork in your career path, but it runs very close and parallel…. That's odd. I've not seen that before.”

“What does it mean?” Chelsea asked.

“I'd say that whatever the career change, it won't be far afield from what he's doing now.”

“And it's my lucky day, right?” Dakota said sardonically.

“I don't know, is it?”

“Not so far.”

“It's early,” Chelsea said defensively.

“How about you? Would you like your palm read?” the woman asked.

“No. No, thanks. I'm supersensitive.”

After Dakota had paid the woman and they'd left the tent, he asked. “Supersensitive?”

“Well, I am.”

“What does that make me, a clod?”

“No, not sensitive like that. I meant I'm suggestible. If someone tells me I'm going to win the lottery, fall in love, and get a hangnail, all I remember is I'm going to get a hangnail. So I don't like to let anyone suggest bad things to me.”

“But I'm fair game.”

“You're a tough guy,” she said evasively.

“Yeah, a tough guy with no future, if you've been paying attention.”

“Oh, Dakota, you don't really believe all this stuff, do you?”

“Wait a minute, if you don't believe in it, then why did you drag me here?”

“For fun. Fun, Dakota. It's an interesting concept. Haven't you heard of it?” This wasn't working at all, she thought, miserable that she was failing in her plan to draw Dakota out. She was only making him feel worse.

“I think you have fun and torture confused,” he said, confirming her worst suspicions. “And believe me, I know what torture is. Torture is when you drag an artist with writer's block to a psychic who tells him his career is over. Torture is when you wear jean shorts with holes in scandalous places and a white eyelet bra and call it an outfit. Torture is…”

That did it. She tugged his arm. “You want fun, flat-out fun, then come with me.”

“What? Where are we going?” he demanded as she led him from the park to the car.

“Don't worry, it's your lucky day, remember?”

Ten minutes later she directed him to pull into the parking lot of a convenience store.

“Give me all your money,” she said, turning to him.

“Aren't you supposed to put the stocking cap on first and then go inside the store before you say that?”

“Cute. Come on, empty your wallet.”

“You're serious.”

“No, I'm having fun,” she said, holding out her hand for the money. “Come on, let the moths out, open your wallet and give me all your bills. No holding out, either. I want every single one.”

“Are you practicing for divorce court?”

“Quit stalling, tough guy, and hand it over.”

He opened his wallet, withdrew all the bills and handed them over.

She arranged them in numerical order, and counted up sixty-two dollars.

“Be back in a flash,” she said with a wicked wink. “Don't get any bright ideas about leaving.” “Why? Am I driving the getaway car? Is trouble your idea of fun?” he asked, as she slammed the door.

She leaned in the window, well aware of the generous view she flashed him. “Haven't you read the tabloids? I'm trouble on the hoof. Y'all just sit tight and I'll be right back with a sackful of fun.”

“What in the world?” he demanded when she returned with a paper bag filled with scratch-off lottery tickets, pulled them out, divided them and handed him a coin.

“It's your lucky day, remember?”

“What are you going to do with the money we win, assuming we win any?”

“I'm sure you'll want to donate it to the Flood-Aid concert.”

Sixty-two tickets, plus seven free tickets later, they had scratched off
a total of five hundred and two dollars.

“You're right, that was fun,” Dakota agreed, handing over the money for her to gjve to Tucker. “Now what?”

“Now let's have some wild fun.”

“I shudder to ask….”

“I thought we'd go rollerblading.”

“Yeah, right. I'm going rollerblading with a charm-school dropout. I've already got a wounded foot that feels like you poured a gallon of peroxide on it.”

“Shut up and drive, tough guy. I'm going to make you have fun if it kills you.”

And it nearly did.

“Remind me to take you snipe hunting when I can walk again,” he grumbled a couple of hours later, as he limped ahead of her into the house.

“What's snipe hunting?” she asked. She took a tray of ice out of the refrigerator to make an ice pack for the lump on his forehead.

“It's a quaint regional custom,” he answered, groaning when she applied the makeshift ice pack to the bump on his head.

“You wouldn't have gotten all banged up if you'd worn kneepads, wrist guards and a helmet like me. They have all the rollerblading gear for a reason.”

“Yes, to make you look ridiculous. Do you realize I felt like Mad Max?”

“Oh, right, and you didn't look ridiculous when you pirouetted over that Dalmatian and landed headfirst in the trash receptacle with your roller blade wheels still spinning?”

Chelsea shook her head as she looked at him. Okay, so maybe he didn't
vulnerable—she hadn't succeeded in getting him to let go completely—but he
vulnerable. Wasn't that half the battle?

Chapter 9

the shower with a flick of her wrist, then grabbed the thick terry towel as she stepped from the shower stall into the steamy bathroom. Leisurely dabbing the moisture from her body, she let her mind wander over the day she'd spent with Dakota.

The first image to flash into her mind was that of the little girl who'd clung to Dakota's leg. Dakota had truly looked panicked. The toddler had scared him because he hadn't known how to relate to her.

Just as he didn't know how to relate to her. Chelsea knew that she scared him because she was constantly challenging him. She wouldn't let him withdraw and run from his feelings, feelings she knew he was going to have to explore in order to be able to write the song for her.

She understood Dakota, she really did. He mirrored her own fear of failure. They both feared losing because their careers were all either of them really had.

She tossed aside the damp towel, pulled on a pair of white cotton panties and slipped into a short, silky navy-and-white print dress. She put her hair up in a loose French twist and smiled at her reflection in the mirror as she recalled how awkward Dakota had looked at first on the rollerblades. Unfortunately, just as he'd become confident enough to try turning on them, the Dalmatian had darted into his path.

Chelsea felt she'd made progress in her efforts to draw Dakota out emotionally, but she was afraid if she didn't act quickly he'd retreat again behind his wall of well-mannered aloofness.

Reaching for a hairpin, she accidentally knocked her bottle of red nail polish to the floor. As she bent to retrieve it, she got an idea about what to do next in her campaign to loosen up Dakota.

!” D
up yet another piece of paper and tossed it aside. He'd been sitting in bed trying to write a song since he'd showered, but his aches and scrapes from rollerblading kept distracting him.

No, that wasn't true. They were a minor distraction compared to Chelsea Stone. She was making him nuts. He couldn't even put her out of his mind for the length of time it took to write a song. While he was trying to write about the romance of an imaginary woman, she loitered in his mind, wearing not much of anything as she always did.

It amazed him that Tucker allowed her to dress the way she did. Didn't she realize the effect she had—or was that why she did it?

It was odd. Her sexy way of dressing wasn't really seductive. It was more a dare, more a statement of the fact that she was in charge; that she would wear what she wanted and didn't care who didn't like it.

The problem was he liked it. He liked it all too much.

And it made him crazy because he didn't approve of her. Didn't approve of her teasing him when she was involved with Tucker.

He rolled up another piece of paper he'd scribbled on and tossed it on the floor in frustration.

Concentrate. He had to concentrate. One song would get her out of his life.

The only article of clothing he had on was a pair of old jeans. He'd thought they'd be comfortable, but the soft material rubbed the scrape on his knee and it throbbed, distracting him.

He tapped his pen on the pad of paper on his lap, jotted down words, then crossed them out. Frustrated, he plumped the pillows bracing him against the brass headboard, and rested his feet on Pokey.

He ripped the sheet of paper from the pad and began again. It looked as if it had snowed balls of crumpled paper around him. They were littered everywhere—on the bed and all over the hardwood floor.

A knock sounded on the bedroom door.

Pokey's ears pricked up.

“Go away,” Dakota called out.

Pokey whined an invitation.

Chelsea ignored Dakota's inhospitality and entered the room.

“You're writing!”

“No, I'm not,” Dakota said. His tone was surly.

“But of course, you are. What's all this paper, if you're not?” she asked, picking up a crumpled ball. “Are you and Pokey having a paper-ball fight?”

“No, I'm
to write. If I were actually writing, there wouldn't be any crumpled paper, just a nice stack of songs in various stages of completion.”

“But at least you're trying….”

“That's all I've been doing for the past six months.”

Chelsea reached to scratch Pokey behind the ears, then picked up one of the crumpled balls of paper lying on the floor beside her. She began uncrumpling it, but before she could finish the task, Dakota lunged to grab it from her.

“Was there something you wanted?” he asked, tossing the paper ball across the room.

She shook the bottle of red nail polish in her hand. “I want you to paint my toenails for me.”


“You know, put polish on my toenails. Don't tell me you've never painted a woman's toenails before.”

“Does Tucker do that for you?”


“So why don't you get him to do it for you now?”

“Because he's not here. He left a note that he was going out with a couple of members of his band who're going to help with the Hood-Aid concert.”

“Well, I'm not going to polish your toenails, you can forget that.” He could almost feel himself blushing.

“I'll do something for you. What would you like me to do for you, Dakota?” she asked. She sat down on the bed.

She had to be blind if she didn't see what he really wanted her to do for him. Instead he said, “Leaving would be good. Forget that you want me to write you a song.”

“How about a foot massage?” she suggested. “Maybe it will make you forget getting banged up when you fell.”

“How is massaging my feet going to help that?” he demanded. She sat cross-legged on the bed and hauled his foot into her lap.

“There are nerves below the surface of the skin that are sensitive to touch. When you stimulate them they block pain in other parts of the body,” she explained, rubbing and applying pressure to the sole of his foot.

“Did you work in a massage parlor? Is that how you know all that?”

“No, Tucker taught me.”

Dakota groaned.

He closed his eyes and let her fingers work their magic.

“Relax,” she said as she worked her fingers around his ankle. “I swear you'd think no one had ever given you a foot massage before.”

He didn't think anyone had. And certainly not holding his foot in their lap while wearing a short silky dress that allowed the occasional glimpse of white panties. Lord, there was no way he was going to be able to hold her foot in his lap to paint her toenails.

“Here, give me your other foot,” she said, when she was finished with the first one. He wondered if she knew what the hell she was doing. Probably. She had one thing right—he wasn't feeling any pain.

Except in one place.

Her touch was velvety soft.

And he was rock hard.

She'd been right. The scrape on his knee was no longer throbbing. The throbbing had switched to another part of his body.

“That's enough,” he said, struggling for some semblance of his sanity.

“Okay, your turn,” she said, tossing him the nail polish.

He had to do something quickly before she decided to plop her foot into his lap and discovered the effect she was having on him. He reached behind him, grabbed a pillow and tossed it at her. “Here, let's trade places,” he said, levering himself from the mound of pillows.

For once she didn't give him any argument, and they switched places.

He braced himself on one elbow and opened the bottle of red polish.

Pokey got a whiff of it and leaped off the bed. “You're right, this stuff does stink, Pokey,” Dakota said, making a face. He made a little dent in the comforter and nestled the open bottle so it wouldn't spill, then pulled Chelsea's foot to rest against his chest.

Chelsea laughed as he began painting her toenails.

“What's so funny?” he asked, intent on what he was doing.

“You're concentrating so hard your brow is breaking out in a sweat.”

“I am not—” He glanced up and then quickly looked away from the sleek expanse of her sun kissed legs and the juncture where her dress pooled.

“Damn!” he swore, looking back down at what he was doing.

She sat up and demanded, “What's wrong?”

“I painted the edge of your baby toe.” He wiped at the wet polish with his finger, but only made it worse.

She leaned back against the pillows, unconcerned. “Don't worry about it. I'll get it off later with some polish remover.”

He set her foot back down on the bed, and motioned for her to give him her other one.

She slid her foot toward him as he dabbed the brush back into the bottle of polish.

“Oopsies…” she said, lifting her polished toes beneath his nose. “You forgot to blow on my toes.”


“You need to blow on my toes so they'll dry quicker,” she explained with a playful grin.

He grudgingly complied, and she giggled.

“What's so funny?” he demanded.

“Your breath is hot.”

Dakota had the look of a man going before a firing squad, but he gamely took her other foot and began dabbing the red polish on her toenails.

“I was thinking we could go out to dinner,” Chelsea said boldly. “I feel like dressing up.”

“I'd rather not.” He lifted her foot to blow on the polish.

“Well, that's blunt enough.” Chelsea pulled her foot from his grasp and started to get off the bed.

“I'd rather not go out….”

“I got it. You'd rather not go out to dinner with me. Fine. I'm a big girl. I can have dinner alone. Don't worry about it,” she said, standing.

“No, you don't understand. I meant I'd rather not go
to dinner,” he explained. “The cook made my favorite meal and I've been looking forward to it. I thought we could eat in, but you can dress up if you'd like.”

“I think I will,” she said, brightening. “What time is dinner?”

“As soon as you can get dressed. The meal is keeping warm in the oven for us. Come on downstairs when you're dressed.” He screwed the cap back on the nail polish and tossed the bottle to her. “After all, it'd be a shame not to get dressed up with your toes all ready to party.”

“You have to dress for dinner, too,” she said, eyeing his ragged jeans.

“Of course.”

After she left, Dakota went to his closet. He stood looking through it, faying to decide what would dress up his jeans.

body-hugging red dress she wore one more time before going downstairs to join Dakota for dinner. She didn't know why, but she was nervous. Maybe it was because a half hour ago he'd been blowing on her toes. The sexual chemistry between them still hummed, as unresolved as the issue of his writing a song for her.

The first thing she saw when she entered the warm, country-style kitchen was Dakota's jeans encased tush and bare back as he bent to reach into the oven.

“I thought you were going to dress for dinner,” she said as she came up behind him.

He withdrew a sheet of flaky biscuits and set it down on the tile counter, next to a covered casserole in a basket holder. He turned and flipped the tie around his neck. “I did dress for dinner.”

She shook her head. “Wrong. No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service. Didn't you read the sign?”

“What sign?”

“Go and dress for dinner. I'll take care of setting the table .”

Dakota rolled his eyes. “Yes, ma'am. When you're wearing a dress like that, I'll do anything you ask me to.”

Ten minutes later she had the small bistro table in the kitchen covered with linen and set with silver, and had put a candle in the center of the table. She found some chamber music on the radio and was just lighting the candle when Dakota returned.

“So, what do you think?” he asked, bowing.

She turned, her eyes raking the elegant tuxedo he'd donned. “I think you look like a maître d'.”

“In that case,
he said, and with a flourish pulled back her chair and shook out her napkin.

Chelsea sat and allowed him to bring the food to the table. “I guess tuxedos weren't that unusual at your dinner table at home, were they?” she asked, when he sat down.

“Let's just say, jeans and a tie wouldn't have cut it with my mother.”

After ladling out a bowl of stew for each of them, Chelsea tried again. “I'm sure you know everyone has read about your family background and is aware they don't approve of your becoming a country singer. But don't you think that now you've become such a big success, they'd accept you?”

“Then what would I have?” he asked, flippantly.

“A family…” Chelsea's voice held an undisguised note of longing.

“A family? You've got to be joking. That's not what my idea of a family is. To me a family accepts you for who you are, not what you have or what you do.”

“Are you sure you're not being a little hard on your family?”

“Oh yeah, I'm sure. You see, the reason my family's blood is so blue is because it's icy cold. That's why country music appeals to me. It's music about feelings. Real emotion. That's something my family is clueless about. They were only concerned about appearances. How they appeared was much more important than what they actually were.”

“You sound pretty bitter.”

“No, I just resent what they did to me.”

“You can undo it, you know. You don't have to live the rest of your life closed off from your feelings as they were.”

“I'm not closed off from my feelings,” he retorted, taking an angry bite of the biscuit he'd buttered.

“Then why don't I have a song from you?”

“What about
family?” he asked, avoiding her question.

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