Her halloween treat, p.3
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       Her Halloween Treat, p.3

         Part #1 of Men at Work series by Tiffany Reisz
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  and beat the shit out of him. They’d had a few close calls. Chris had bloodied more than one nose protecting Dillon. “I’m so glad he had you back then.”

  At least this time he didn’t raise his eyebrow at her, but she could tell he wanted to.

  “You know what I mean,” she said. “Not had you. Unless he did. Which is fine. I kind of wondered what you two were up to in the garage.”

  “Smoking weed.”

  “That’s not sexy at all.”

  “Sorry to disappoint you with my straightness. I promise, I was born this way.”

  “It’s quite disappointing. I already had yours and Dillon’s wedding planned before my own.”

  “That’s far-thinking of you. That wasn’t even legal until last year here.”

  “I was a dreamer. And I thought you’d both look so cute in bow ties.”

  “I’ve never been happier to be not marrying Dillon than I am right now.”

  “No respect for the bow tie. It’s a classic. James Bond wore a bow tie. Brando wore a bow tie.”

  “Pee-wee Herman wore a bow tie.”

  “Yes, Pee-wee.” She pointed at his chest. “That’s who you should be for the wedding. You are going, aren’t you?”

  “I’m going,” he said. “I wasn’t really planning on wearing a costume, though.”

  “You have to. It’s on the invitation. And Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was an ’80s movie.”

  “How about a costume that doesn’t involve bow ties? Maybe something more along the lines of John McClane. Die Hard, maybe? Easy costume.”

  “So you’ll just wear gray slacks and a dirty nasty white T-shirt to the wedding?” She feigned disgust but the thought of Chris in a sweaty sleeveless undershirt was quite...nice. Nice as the weather they weren’t having right now.

  “And bloody feet. Don’t forget that part. Who are you going as?”

  “I was thinking Carrie. Bloody prom dress to match your bloody feet.”

  “Carrie came out in the ’70s.”

  “You sure?”

  “I’ve seen every Stephen King movie at least five times.”

  “Five times? What is wrong with you?”

  “Don’t ask,” he said.

  “Got any other ideas?”

  “Got a metal bikini? You can be Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi.”

  “It’s a little chilly for that, don’t you think?”

  “There goes that fantasy.” He smiled again. She blushed. Oh, my God, they were flirting. She was flirting. He was flirting. Flirting was happening. Did Kira make this happen? Or was it Dillon? Was he trying to put her and Chris alone in the house together? Very possible. Dillon never liked Ben. And she knew a setup when she saw one.

  “So...who are Oscar and Dillon going as?” Chris asked.

  “They won’t tell anybody. It’s a big gay secret, Dillon said.”

  “He called it a ‘big gay secret’?” Chris asked.

  “You know my brother.”

  “Intimately,” he said. “Wait. Never mind.”

  “Any guesses?” Joey asked.

  “Kirk and Spock from one of those ’80s Star Trek movies. They’re both nerds. It could work. Walking, talking fan fiction.”

  “My money’s on Bill and Ted,” Joey said.

  “Whoa.”

  “Exactly.”

  “You know who you should go as...” Chris pointed his screwdriver at her and it was neither threatening nor sexual. Especially when he flipped it casually and stuck it in his back pocket like a kid gunslinger holstering a toy pistol.

  “Who?”

  “Since the guys hijacked your birthday for their wedding...you should go as what’s-her-name from that movie.”

  “That doesn’t help me.”

  “Girl. Redhead. Birthday cake.” He snapped his fingers repeatedly. “You know, Molly Something.”

  “Sixteen Candles?”

  “That’s it. Didn’t her sister get married on her birthday?” Chris asked.

  “Day after but close enough. Oh, my God, that’s a great idea. Dillon will think it’s hilarious. He loves that movie. I’ll go as Sam. All I have to do is get a red wig and a floofy bridesmaid dress. Or some kind of Laura Ashley nightmare to wear and a hat. Will you come with me?”

  “As who? Don’t say Dong.”

  “No, you can put on a pink button-down shirt and be Farmer Ted. Just pop your collar.”

  “Will you let me walk around with your underwear in my pocket like he did?”

  “You remembered my birthday. You can walk around with my underwear in your teeth if you want.”

  Chris’s eyes widened just slightly.

  “This conversation got weird fast,” she said.

  “I’ve never had anyone offer to let me hold their underwear in my mouth at a wedding.”

  “Well, it is Dillon’s wedding.”

  “Fair point.”

  She rocked back on her heels. “I’m just gonna get my stuff out of the car. Or maybe I should wait since the bedroom’s not done yet.”

  “The other bedroom is all set up. You can put your stuff in there.”

  “Our old bedroom? You fixed it up?”

  “I did. Go check it out. Turned out pretty nice.”

  He wore an expression on his face that made her a teeny tiny bit suspicious. She walked out of the master bedroom and down the hall into the second bedroom. She’d always liked that room better. Better view of the forest and she could even catch the occasional glimpse of Mount Hood’s snowy peak on clear days.

  She opened the door and her jaw dropped. Chris had outdone himself. The plaster that covered the walls had been removed, leaving the rough wood boards exposed. They gleamed a golden hue in the warm lamplight. A hand-woven blue-and-gray rug covered most of the hardwood floor. A large bed sat in the center of the room. The headboard and footboard were all dark wood, roughly carved but sanded smooth, stained and polished. Piled high on the bed were pillows and blankets. The downstairs woodstove had been brought up to the guest room and a hole cut into the wall to vent it properly. Framed photographs of Mount Hood and the surrounding forest in all seasons lined the walls. It was everything rustic and luxurious and lovely all in one. She could be very happy in this room and in this house. Or, at least, not as miserable as she thought she’d be. Even the frames on the photographs were beautiful distressed wood. A small thing but she admired it, was grateful for it.

  “You’re good,” she said as Chris came to stand behind her.

  “So I’ve been told. But don’t be too impressed. A friend of mine makes those frames, not me. But I did make the bed.”

  “You do excellent hospital corners.”

  He chuckled softly. “No, I mean, I made the bed.”

  “You...carved the bed?”

  “There’s all these trees around here. Might as well put them to use.”

  “You literally made the bed?”

  “I literally made the bed. Impressed?”

  “I am. Are you trying to impress me?”

  “I don’t know. It is working?”

  “It’s sort of working.” It was definitely working. “So...you want to get a drink later? My treat.”

  Kira would be so proud of her, asking Chris out for a drink two days after being dumped.

  “You betcha.”

  She was officially back in Oregon. You betcha? When was the last time she heard that?

  “But I have to finish up the master first.”

  “Can I help?”

  “You want to help?”

  “I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t. What are we doing?”

  “Painting. I finished painting the ceiling. Gotta paint the walls now. It’s all taped off already.”

  “I can paint. I’m good with the trim.”

  “You start the trim, I’ll roll the walls. But you’ll need to take those clothes off.”

  “Chris, we just, I mean—”

  “You’ll get paint on your clothes, Jo.”

&nbs
p; “Right. Paint. I’ll...just get my stuff out of the car and change clothes real quick.”

  “Take your time. I’ll finish wiring the ceiling fan.”

  “Did you make the ceiling fan, too?”

  “No. But I did put on the stairs and the stair rail. It’s all pine.”

  “You’re really good with wood.”

  “You did that one on purpose, didn’t you?” he asked.

  “Let’s pretend I did.”

  Chris didn’t laugh at her but she caught him smiling as he left her alone in her new room. Well, not her room but the room that would be hers while home for the wedding. She hadn’t taken a vacation in a couple years. After everything that had happened with Ben she was tempted to take it all at once and not go back to work until after Thanksgiving. In fact, she was sorely tempted not to go back to work ever. Not there, anyway. Not if she had to face Ben.

  Except she’d promised Kira she wouldn’t make any major life changes for six months. It was good advice, very wise. She had to go back to work, didn’t she? Of course she did. She was in the right and Ben was in the wrong. She wasn’t about to let him win by quitting and slinking away with her tail between her legs.

  No. Stop. Joey refused to think about Ben or work or anything else as she hauled her suitcase and overnight bag up the reclaimed pine wood stairs and into the bedroom. Funny—she’d been looking forward to a quiet night alone in the cabin before facing her brother and parents and giving them the news about her and Ben. She wanted the one night to pull herself together, to figure out a story to tell her family about why she broke up with Ben that wouldn’t make her look like the worst person on earth and/or the stupidest person on earth. But hanging out with Chris and working on the house seemed like a far better way to get her head together than sitting alone in an empty cabin and ruminating on every clue she’d missed, every blind eye she’d turned. Better to work, do something, distract herself, stay busy. Painting the master bedroom with Chris actually sounded sort of fun.

  She pulled on an old long-sleeved T-shirt that she slept in and tied a red bandana around her hair. When she went into the master bedroom she found Chris had finished up with the ceiling fan and was pouring a warm brown paint, the color of milk chocolate, into a large plastic tub. He was whistling.

  “Is that ‘All Apologies’?” she asked as she selected a two-inch paintbrush from his kit on the floor.

  “It is.”

  “You’re whistling Nirvana while you work. You know most people whistle happy tunes.”

  “So ‘Heart-Shaped Box,’ then?”

  She pointed her paintbrush at him. “You’ve changed completely, but you haven’t changed at all.”

  “I could say the same to you,” he said, glancing at her out of the corner of his eyes. She was ninety percent sure he’d just checked her out. Good. She’d been checking him out since she walked in the door.

  He handed her a small roller tray filled with paint. She dipped her brush in the tray, soaked it with paint and coated the wall by the doorframe with a smooth line of warm mocha.

  “Wait, not that wall,” Chris said, his voice full of pure panic.

  Joey gasped and spun around “What? Sorry. Did I—”

  He grinned. Broadly.

  “Oh, you asshole,” she said. She brandished her paintbrush in his direction and he ducked.

  “I’m not sorry but I want to be sorry.”

  “I’m going to paint now, and if you scare me like that again, I’ll paint your flannel.”

  “But this is my dress flannel. I wore it to my father’s funeral.”

  “Please tell me you didn’t wear a flannel shirt to your dad’s funeral. Please.”

  “I didn’t. But only because Dad’s still alive.”

  She sighed, shook her head and got back to painting while Chris returned to his whistling and rolling. He was the same Chris even if this Chris had short hair, a perfect beard and clothes that actually fit his body. His distractingly good body. She made herself focus as she painted. It was nice transforming the dingy beige walls a cozy chocolate color. It was the perfect color for this room. A forest color. A homey color.

  “You picked the color?” she asked.

  “I did, yeah.”

  “I love it. I wouldn’t have thought a color so dark would look good in here but it does.”

  “Dark warm colors work best in low-light rooms.”

  “Did you learn that in trade school?”

  “Pinterest.”

  She stared at him.

  “What?” he said. “It’s my job.”

  They returned to their painting. Chris had a Pinterest account. Now that was adorable. He was adorable. If he got any more adorable, she would be forced to adore him.

  Joey wished Kira hadn’t told her to sleep with the very first guy she could find as part of her recovery strategy. Now she couldn’t stop thinking about Chris like that. She wanted to think it was because she was starting to get over the shock of her breakup, but she was afraid she was flirting with Chris just because her best friend told her to, and because she wanted to soothe her bruised heart and ego with the balm of male attention.

  Chris wiped sweat off his forehead and peeled out of his flannel shirt. His basic white T-shirt showed off his sinewy forearms and strong muscular biceps to marvelous effect.

  Okay, so she was flirting with him because she wanted to and for no other reason. Thanks to those sexy arms of his, her conscience was now officially clear.

  “You know what would look good in here? White bed linens,” she said. “That would make a nice contrast with the dark brown paint. Like a hotel bed.”

  “Good idea. That would look hot. I mean, nice.”

  It would look hot. This room with this paint and that big bed with fresh white Egyptian cotton sheets? She was glad he was thinking what she was thinking.

  “I’ll pick some up tomorrow,” she said.

  “I’ll do it. I still have Dillon’s credit card.”

  “We could both go tonight. I can help you pick stuff out,” she said. It was still early evening. They could make it to Portland or Hood River if they hurried.

  “We could get our drink after,” Chris said. “Maybe dinner, too?”

  Had Chris just asked her out on a date? A real date or a “we knew each other in high school and are morally obligated to catch up with each other” date? She’d assume it was the latter and hope it was the former.

  “Dinner sounds great,” she said. “Painting made me hungry.”

  “Me, too. But we did good. Good team.” He held out his fist and she bumped it. The room did look pretty amazing.

  “It was fun. I needed to get my mind off stuff. This helped.”

 
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