No Brainer ( The Darcy Walker Series #2) (3 page)

“Listen, dude, are you sexist?”

“Who me?” he mocked, his voice innocent. “
Nooooo
, I love women.”

“Sure feels like you’re sexist to me. Just because I have ovaries, it doesn’t mean I can’t hang with the boys.” My God, I needed to shut up.

“Okay, Miss Ovaries. If you can find Cisco Medina, then you’re the Messiah I’ve been waiting for. My boss just called me ‘a frigging dipwad.’ Don’t make me die a frigging dipwad, babe.”

“Well, I’m better than a frigging dip wad,” I said confidently.

Whatever that was.

My cell phone blasted, I got spooked, and butter-fingered the phone off into never-never land. When I lunged for the receiver, my hand guiltily knocked over the pickle jar. Pawing at the air, I quickly grabbed my laptop and set it off to the side. Unfortunately, I toppled the jar again, and juice splashed me in the face like Orcas attacking a herd of seals. Watching the liquid ripple across the countertop, I snatched the phone from the floor, said “Hello” three more times, realizing we’d disconnected. Whoever had dialed my cell, though, was the persistent type. It had gone to voicemail twice and now belted out a tune by Milli Vanilli, my song choice of the month.

Feeling my way to the sound, I grasped the phone and glanced down at the number. It was no surprise the good-boy in my life was rearing his not-so-ugly head. Dylan had this metaphysical ability to show up at the precise moment I was making a mess out of my day or someone else’s.

Dabbing my face with a hand towel, I clicked the speaker with my thumb. “Hullo?”

“Hey, sweetheart,” he murmured. “How’s my girl?”

Let’s think about this … covered in pickle guts. “In a pickle,” I mumbled.

 

2. THE BIG MAN

A
MONG
P
OLYNESIAN TRIBES, THERE’S A
Big Man.

“Big Man Theory’s” one of those unspoken things. He wasn’t by birth destined to rule, but there’s a certain something in his swagger that makes him the natural leader. So much so, his mere presence trumps the royal bloodline. As a result, most Big Men are probably forced to watch their backs. My best friend, Dylan Taylor (my Big Man), however, was always busy watching mine.

Everyone wants a personal bodyguard, and I suppose that’s what Dylan is to me. In fact, he fought off an armed Eddie Lopez until the unspeakable happened, and the police grounded her like a rabid animal. That in a nutshell was Dylan; he didn’t care if odds were stacked against him—he understood what needed to be done and did it. It wasn’t just the situation with Eddie that made him my hero, though. Certain circumstances in my childhood forced me to think of other things—adult things—and before I knew it, my mind was obsessed with so many minutia that I forgot what relaxed looked and felt like. Dylan was my grounding force. He had a quality about his heart that was pure. The weaker you were, the stronger he became to build you back up.

Most never got to experience a love that deep, but we’d been holding hands since we were six years old. Whether through mud pies, backyard baseball, or preschool overnights, we’d always been the other’s preferred companion. When someone has that effect on you, it’s hard to reconcile those emotions. In some respects, he was a best friend: keeping secrets, talking me through catastrophes, and fighting my battles. In others, he’d been a brother: a ponytail yank, squabbles over meaningless matters, and a kick in the seat of the pants. Still, at times, he parented me: a nurturer, loving disciplinarian, and always accessible.

Every year, I branded him with a new pseudonym, primarily because of the evolving status of those feelings. This year was the Big Man—not only for reasons of pecking order—for reasons of stature.

We’d always done everything together, even growing inches in sync, but by the end of sophomore year, he’d gone off and left me height-wise. Thankfully, my endocrine system heard my nightly prayer, and I was coasting at 5’9”. Dylan, however, rocketed into legendary status. When he jumped, it was five inches higher; when he ran, he clocked two seconds faster; and when he smiled, it grew half an inch wider.

Big Man league in my book.

Mouthwatering, testosterone-in-motion in everyone else’s book.

“Wake up, sleepy head. Let’s go see Mickey.” That deep baritone voice, no doubt, belonged to Dylan. I peeled back an eye, scanned the perimeter, and peeked at the figure squatted within a breath of my face. Yup, it was him: deep voice and sexy as all get out, but on a boy that the Best Friend Rule said was “hands off.”

An imposing 220 pounds, his muscles were strong, defined, and built like they’d been chiseled from the finest granite. Then there was the hair. All of that package topped itself off with a short, jet-black mane he wore in one of two ways: classic and stylish around his strong brow and cheekbones or modern-messy like he’d just rolled out of bed. Today was messy, and messy looked … oh, my word. I pictured him rolling around in the sheets and almost said,
Mmmm
.

“You’re confusing me,” I exhaled.

Dylan giggled, not having a clue of the filth lurking in my mind. He blinked slowly, snapping me awake with butterscotch eyes that looked taboo.

“Go away,” I groaned, “you’ve got morning breath.”

His smile quirked up at one corner. “Crawl on over here and let me taste your mouth, sweetheart. I promise it will be a good experience.”

I think I might’ve died for a second…

Groaning harder, I rolled onto my stomach. I hated him … I hated him and his flirty mouth. Whenever he talked like that, I remembered when the school’s supposed dream girl, Brynn Hathaway, suction-cupped his lips right in front of me.

Let’s just say he wasn’t repulsed.

“Come on, Darc,” he teased. “Don’t make me get rough with you. Murphy said I could if the situation called for it.”

Only Murphy would allow Dylan into his sleeping daughter’s room. He thought Dylan was perfect. Other boys would have a better chance of remaining suntan free in the land of hot lava than waking me in the dark. Dylan, however, was given the key to the city.

Dylan, Dylan, Dylan
, I thought.
If Murphy ever heard, you’d be gumming your meals, tongueless.

“It’s too early,” I whined.

He tenderly ran the back of his knuckles down my cheek. “I know 5:30’s early, Darc, but Dad has decreed that we’re in the air by 8AM sharp.” Dylan’s family, who I referred to as the Greek god immortals, was chomping at the bit for this particular vacation. Normally, we traveled to Florida the first two weeks after school released, but apparently, the world of cosmetics had a crisis with their new lip gloss. One thing led to another, and here we were two weeks before school began on our annual trip to their second home in Florida. It was in Serendipity—the country club of the stars.

“I’m tired, D. Give Mickey my regards and send me a postcard,” I mumbled, and then rolled to my side.

Dylan yanked back the covers, seducing me with what smelled like a cup of java. “Get up. I brought you some black coffee. Evidently, I should’ve brought a pot.” No kidding, problem was, as a hyperactive person coffee sometimes relaxed me. There was a good chance I’d get up; an even greater chance I’d fall into a coma.

“Cookie?” I grinned, rising up on my elbows.

“No, a doughnut.” Coffee was one of my 3Cs along with a Coke and a cookie. They kept my body running in its less than optimal state. A doughnut wasn’t a cookie, but it would serve as a close substitute.

“Maybe I should kiss you after all,” I laughed.

Dylan’s deep chuckle traveled all the way to my bones. “We don’t have enough time for the kind of kissing I’m interested in, sweetheart. That’s going to take a long weekend, handcuffs, and the fire department on-call.”

Holy Mother, hose me down. There was no good reason why I reacted this way, but I chalked it up to dumb and blonde … and maybe a little bit of PMS.

“I love you,” he grinned.

“Always,” I answered. Dylan and I always said we loved one another. Whoever uttered those three words first, the other ended the sentiment with “always.”

I fumbled around on the nightstand for my glasses, sliding them on my nose. My glasses were librarian-friendly in a rectangular Burberry black. They made me look studious … surely that was a capital crime. Once I squinted into focus, Dylan pulled me out of the bed as I looped my arms up around his neck. My knee socks hung at my ankles, and Murphy’s plaid button-down shirt I’d slept in was rumpled above my boxer shorts. Not head-turning bedroom lingerie by any means, but then again, it was me. Androgynous was kinda my thing.

Dylan ran his hands up and down my back, giving me one heckuva massage.

“You’ve got great hands,” I moaned.

He giggled like a 12-year-old boy. “Any chance I get to squeeze my hands around you, I’m going to take.”

I moaned again. “You say that to all the girls.”

“I don’t say that to everyone, but seriously, if you don’t stop moaning, I’m going to forget you’re my best friend.”

I wasn’t positive, but I’m pretty sure one of my legs might’ve wrapped around his. Dylan growled like a wild animal, sending shivers to places that shouldn’t have shivers. “Sweetheart, if you wanted to get up close and personal all you had to do was ask.”

I kneed him in the femur, realizing when he talked that way the balance of power shifted. I needed to regain the upper hand, and it didn’t help that my involuntary reactions didn’t give a flying flip about my dignity. Holy crud, I didn’t have any dignity—that was the problem.

“You’re ridiculous,” I snorted, “and you’re a flirt.”

Dylan shrugged away the comment, knowing it was common knowledge. “Shower and get dressed,” he murmured, releasing me with a smile in his voice. “It’s going to be a scorcher.”

“What should I wear?” Dylan was sporting black athletic shorts, black flip-flops, and a white t-shirt making him appear darker than his normally olive complexion. He looked like a XXX daydream.

“You always look beautiful,” he murmured.

Open to criticism. “Uh-huh,” I laughed, “you only say that because you’re my best friend.”

Dylan’s eyes instantly seemed conflicted, like something else clouded his mind taking more energy than he preferred. A protracted silence fell between us, and then he gave me one, slow blink, his lips parting a fraction in the process. “No,” he said softly. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

There were too many levels of weird going on right now. I mean, what the heck was he thinking anyway?? We were friends—best friends—and the Best Friend Rule declared him as a no-no. I shook off the confusion, wanting to get to Florida ASAP—excited for that slice of Heaven called vacation and even more excited for the deviancy to follow.

“Gimme a sec,” I grinned, praying my intentions weren’t written on my face.

Grabbing some white shorts, a heather gray halter top, and discreetly stuffing underwear between them, I skipped into my bathroom, closed the door, and peered in the mirror.
God help me
, I laughed to myself. I prayed last night for an aesthetic miracle and still looked like a butt crack this morning.

I had dirty-blonde hair and puke green eyes. I’d like to think they were hazel, and maybe on cloudy days they sparkled like emeralds, but mostly they seemed as dull and washed out as my hair. I had a few curves and muscles, but I didn’t possess the attributes that made the girl-next-door memorable. Tall had to be shapely, and blonde had to be beautiful. Sort of blonde on 130 pounds didn’t say memorable. It basically said,
Get your hand out of the cookie jar.

I shrugged it away, opting to embrace my deficiencies.

Turning the dial on my antique radio, I scanned the local stations until I landed on WEBN. As I hummed away to
School’s Out
by Alice Cooper, I took a two-minute dip in the shower then inserted my contacts. Next, I blew my hair out straight and slapped on some makeup. For me, that included lip gloss and mascara with the occasional trifecta of blush.

Now, that my brain was back online, details of last night’s dream slowly came trickling in. I’d dreamt of Cisco Medina. Holed up in a closet, he cried endlessly to a captor that treated him like a pet, rarely acknowledged. Watching him writhe in mental pain, I woke with a nervous spell and shakes so violent they would’ve tipped a battleship.

Spying the portable phone I’d left on the sink, all at once I had the burning impulse to call the sexist newspaperman I’d spoken with yesterday. I needed a bone … and he was the man to throw it. Turning the faucet on full blast, so Dylan wouldn’t hear, I got my verb on and thumbed in the number for
The Orlando Sentinel
that I’d memorized. Hoping he was a workaholic, I almost zapped the call when he finally mumbled, “Make it front page or go away.”

“Hey, sexist dude,” I greeted.

A moment went by where he processed my words, but then I felt that flirty sarcasm ooze through the receiver. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Miss Ovaries.”


Ms
.,” I corrected him.

“Right,” he chuckled, “
Ms
. Ovaries. So where’d you go yesterday? Out into the street to burn your bra?”

I imagined myself killing him with a baseball bat. “No, my bra is just fine. I wanted you to know that I’d give you the specifics regarding Cisco Medina later.”

“Sounds to me like you’re stalling.”

“Listen, sexist dude…”

“Call me Troy,” he sleepily chuckled.

“Okay, sexist dude-slash-Troy. In the words made famous by the movie
Johnny Dangerously
, you sound like a ‘fargin icehole.’ ”

“A fargin’ icehole,” he laughed.

“Yeah, that’s the Disney version, but I know if I can’t handle your verbally offensive remarks that exponentially decreases my odds of getting anywhere.”

“Ms. Ovaries, you might actually be smart. What experience do you have?”

“Three people were murdered in my hometown, and I solved the cases in two weeks. Top that, bud.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Believe it,” I bragged, “so bow down. Plus, I survived being abducted by some robotic, confusingly delicious hulk-of-a-man who drove a yellow Dodge Charger.”

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