Her Halloween Treat, p.2Part #1 of Men at Work series by Tiffany Reisz
“It fits my mood.”
Except her mood was lifting a little. How could it not in this cabin, this beautiful cozy cabin in the woods? All the place was missing was a man to share it with. She and Ben would have had great sex in this cabin in the woods. They’d be in bed already. But that wasn’t going to happen. Not now or ever. Ben had committed an unforgivable sin. He’d lied to his wife. He’d lied to her. He’d betrayed her trust on the deepest level possible, and she would never take him back no matter how lonely she felt without him. And she did feel so terribly alone.
“This is a sex cabin, Kira.”
“Sounds like it.”
“I’m in a sex cabin, and I can’t have sex. This is depressing.”
“You can have sex. Go find someone to have sex with. Right now.”
“I’m in the middle of the woods. The next cabin is half a mile west.”
“Then start walking. Bigfoot’s probably out there. He’s probably well-hung.”
“I warned you about the beard rash thing.”
The floor creaked with the sound of footsteps.
But not hers. Joey hadn’t moved.
“Shit,” she whispered into the phone.
“What?” Kira whispered back, unnecessarily.
Joey looked up at the ceiling.
“Someone’s here. Stay on the line with me.”
“Yeah, of course. Are you sure?”
“I heard footsteps upstairs.”
“Then get the fuck out of the house. This isn’t a horror movie. Do not investigate.”
“Right. Going. Right now.”
Joey started backing up toward the door, her heart racing. The footsteps continued across the floor above her head. They were fast and purposeful footsteps, not at all tentative but also not threatening. They were heavy, too, like whoever was walking wore either work boots or cowboy boots. She hadn’t heard that sound in a long time. Even the VPs at her Oahu Air office often came to work in sandals or flip-flops—one of the perks of working one hundred yards or so from the ocean.
“Jo? You there?” Kira whispered again.
“I’m here. Hello?”
“Yes, I’m still here.”
“Not you. I was talking to whoever’s up there. I think he’s working here.”
“Hey there,” came a voice from the top of the stairs. A male voice. A deep yet friendly voice. “Joey Silvia?”
“That’s me. And you are?”
“It’s Chris. I’m almost done up here with the ceiling fan,” the man called down to her.
“Has he murdered you yet?” Kira asked.
“Not yet. He says his name is Chris, and he’s doing something with the ceiling fan.”
“Is he hot?”
“Am I supposed to run screaming from him or have sex with him?” Joey whispered.
“Depends on if he’s hot or not. Go look.”
“You just told me to leave,” Joey half whispered, half yelled.
“You can leave, but find out if he’s hot first.”
“Okay... I’m going up. If my phone dies and/or you hear the sound of me screaming, hang up and call the cops.”
“What if he’s not murdering you, but you’re screaming because it’s such good sex? Do I still call the cops?”
“I’m not a screamer.”
“If he’s the right guy you will be.”
“I’m going to go up and see what he’s doing.” She glanced out the kitchen window and saw a large green Ford pickup parked behind the house with the words Lost Lake Painting and Contracting on the side in black-and-gold letters. Okay, not an ax murderer, then. Just the guy she should probably thank for doing such a good job on the house.
“I’ll stay on the line,” Kira said. “If you think he’s going to murder you, say, um, ‘I’m on the phone with my best friend, Kira. She’s a cop. And she’s sleeping with a cop. No, two cops. Cop threesome.’”
“I’m just supposed to work that into a casual conversation with a possible murderer?”
“And if he’s sexy and you want to bang him, just say, ‘Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?’”
“It’s the Pacific Northwest. In October. It’s forty-eight degrees out and raining.”
“Just say it!”
“You are the worst friend ever.”
“You’re welcome. Now go check him out. Try not to get murdered.”
Joey crept up the stairs and found they no longer squeaked like they used to. The rotting middle board they had to step over was gone. Someone had replaced the old stairs with beautiful reclaimed pine from the looks of it.
“You still there?” Joey said as she made it to the top of the stairs.
“I’m still here,” Kira replied. “You’re not dead yet?”
“Not dead. Yet.”
The upstairs of the cabin consisted of two small bedrooms with a full bath between them. And whatever magic had been done on the downstairs had wended its way upstairs, too. New bathroom fixtures of brushed copper. The grimy tub had been replaced with a new and huge bathtub inlaid with stone tile. Somehow this Lost Lake contractor had managed to make the house look both old and authentic and yet brand-new at the same time.
“Hello?” she called out.
“I’m in the master,” the male voice answered.
“I heard his voice,” Kira said over the line. “Good voice. Calm and manly. He’s probably comfortable hugging his guy friends and telling his dad he loves him.”
“You got that much from four words?” Joey asked.
“I’m very intuitive.”
Joey shook her head and walked down the narrow hallway to a partly open door. This had to be the master bedroom, not that she’d ever thought of it like that. Master bedroom sounded imposing, impressive. The “master” bedroom she remembered had a tablecloth for a curtain and a mattress propped up on a sheet of plywood and cinder blocks where her parents slept.
“I’m going in,” Joey said under her breath, her phone still plastered to her ear.
She eased the door open...stepped inside...looked up...
There on a step stool stood a man, a much younger man than she expected. All contractors were forty and up in her mind but this guy looked no more than late twenties maybe. He had dirty-blond hair cut neat and a close-trimmed nearly blond beard. He was looking up, concentrating on the wiring above his head. He wore jeans, neither tight nor baggy but perfectly fitted, and a red-and-navy flannel shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, with a fitted white T-shirt underneath.
“Hey, Joey,” he said with a grin. “Good to see you again. How’s Hawaii been treating you?”
He turned his head her way and grinned at her. She knew that grin.
“Chris?” This Chris was that Chris?
“Chris? Who’s Chris? You know this guy?” Kira rasped in her ear.
She knew this guy. It was Chris, wasn’t it?
Oh, my God, it was Chris.
Chris... Chris Steffensen. Dillon’s high school best friend. The skinny, scrawny, long-haired, baggy-pants-wearing, Nirvana wannabe even a decade after Nirvana was an appropriate thing to be obsessed with at their high school... This was that Chris? That Chris she wouldn’t have trusted to screw in a lightbulb, and now he was wiring up a ceiling fan? And seemed to be doing a very good job of it.
“Did you...did you fix up this whole house?” she asked, rudely ignoring his question about Hawaii.
“Oh, yeah. I’m doing some work for Dillon and Oscar these days. Long story. You like what we did with the place?”
He grinned again, a boyish eager grin. She couldn’t see anything else in the world because that bright white toothy smile took over his face and her entire field of vision. Damn, he was pretty. When did he get so pretty? And he was taller than she remembered. He must have had a bit of a post-high-school growth spurt. Taller and broader. Those shoulders of his...well, there was only one thing to say about that.
Joey hoped Kira was still listening.
“Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
CHRIS STARED AT HER, brow furrowed.
“Joking,” she said. “I know it’s bad weather.”
“It’s Oregon weather. Should we awkwardly hug now?”
“I’m going to hang up,” Kira said, laughing into Joey’s ear. Joey ended the call and stuffed her phone into her jacket pocket.
“Did you...just hang up on somebody?” Chris asked, his eyebrow slightly arched. When did he learn how to do that?
“Yes. No. She hung up on me first. It’s okay. We’re friends. We do that a lot. Hug now?”
He jumped lightly down from his stool, and Joey stepped into his arms. He’d said “awkward” and it was but also it wasn’t. First of all, he felt good—warm and solid and strong. And second, he smelled good, like sweat and cedar. Finally, it was just Chris, after all, even if it had been nearly ten years since she’d seen him.
“God, it’s good to see you again,” he said softly, like he meant it. It was the absolute opposite of Ben’s “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Yeah, you, too.” She stepped back out of his arms before making a fool of herself by bursting into tears.
“You’re a day early. Dillon said you wouldn’t be here until tomorrow.”
“I changed my flight. Is that a problem?”
“Not a problem at all. I just meant to be out of here by then. But I’m almost done. The master was the last thing. Ceiling fan, then paint.”
“No hurry. Stay as long as you need to. All night even.” She winced. Why did she say that? “So...how are you?”
“Fine.” He sounded slightly suspicious. She didn’t blame him. She was acting slightly odd. Finding out you’d been dating a married man could do that to a girl. “You? How’s Hawaii?”
“Lovely. Lots of volcanoes.”
“You’re on a volcano right now.”
“Hawaii and Oregon have a lot in common. Volcanoes and rain. And...that’s it.”
“They’re practically twins. You look great, by the way,” Chris said.
Chris’s eyebrow went up another notch.
“Wet from the rain,” she said hastily.
“Right. The rain. Hawaii’s been good to you.”
It was sweet that he said that, but she looked like hell and she knew it. She’d dressed in the classic Oregon uniform of Columbia jacket (red), jeans (blue), rain boots (a nondescript army green) and no umbrella. Umbrellas were for tourists, which meant her dark hair was plastered to her forehead. And she’d cried a little in the car and given herself raccoon eyes. She had naturally warm brown skin, which she’d inherited from her Mexican-American father, and a Hawaiian tan on top of it, so at least she wouldn’t appear as washed out as she felt. If she’d known Chris would be here looking as good as he did, she would have made more of an effort.
“You look fantastic. I barely recognized you with the short hair and beard. When did that happen?”
“Short hair? Um, eight years ago? The real world made me do it. The beard? Last November. Bad breakup. She dumped me for a Trail Blazer. I stopped shaving. Everyone told me I looked better with the beard so I kept it. I trimmed it, though. I had a little ZZ Top thing going on.”
“A Trail Blazer? Like one of the basketball players or the cars? Because if she dumped you for a car, that’s weird.”
“The basketball players. Apparently she had a thing for tall guys.”
“You’re tall. You’re huge.”
That eyebrow went up one more notch.
“I keep saying sexual things without meaning to,” she said. “Sorry. I’m running on very little sleep. I can’t be held responsible for what my mouth does.”
The eyebrow was as high as it could go.
“I did it again, didn’t I?” she asked.
“It’s okay, Jo.” He furrowed his brow. “Do you still go by Jo? Joey? I don’t want to call you that if you don’t. Are you Jolene now?”
“Definitely not Jolene. Everyone still calls me Jo or Joey. They better since it’s all I answer to.”
“Joey, it is. I’m almost done here, and then I’ll get out of your hair.”
“You aren’t in my hair at all. The cabin looks amazing. I can’t believe you did all this.”
“Not all of it. I had to subcontract the exterior. I can do cedar siding but it takes forever.”
“But the rest of it? The floors, the kitchen, the paint...the pumpkins?”
“Some kids were selling pumpkins at a stand by the road. I’m a sucker.”
“Were you always good at painting and flooring and advanced pumpkin carving and you just kept it a secret?”
He shrugged. “I learned a lot of it from Dad. Except the pumpkin carving. That’s self-taught.”
“You go to school for this?”
He nodded. “Yeah, trade school. Then I apprenticed for a few years. Anybody can learn to do this stuff. Just takes time.”
“Mount Hood must keep you busy. Half the cabins around here were falling down when we were kids.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I had to turn down four other jobs to do this one for Dillon.”
“You could have told him no.”
“Nah.” He grinned again. “He said you’d be staying here for the wedding. I couldn’t let my high school crush crash in a dump, could I? If the ceiling caved in on you, I’d never forgive myself.”
Joey laughed, rolled her eyes.
“So now you finally admit it.”
“Only took me ten years. But don’t worry. I’m totally over you.” He waved his hand, signing a “done” motion. She might have believed him but for the twinkle of mirth in his eyes.
“You never told me...were you the one who put the roses in my locker on Valentine’s Day?”
“Did you pick my lock?”
“No. Dillon did.”
“Oh, that asshole.” She shook her head in exasperation. “I told him I was going nuts trying to figure out who did it, and he played dumb. He’s so good at playing dumb I believed him. Or maybe I thought he was just dumb.”
“He didn’t want to out me. He’d been through that himself.”
“Yeah, that was a rough year,” Joey said, remembering the year when the rumors about Dillon being gay got started. He’d trusted the wrong friend with the secret and in a week the entire school knew. She and Chris had taken shifts with Dillon, walking with him to and from class, to and from home. As long as there were witnesses around, they were pretty sure nobody would jump Dillon
Her Halloween Treat by Tiffany Reisz / Romance & Love have rating 5.5 out of 5 / Based on44 votes