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Date and Dash


  Date and Dash

  Copyright © 2015 by Susan Hatler

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  License Notes

  This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

  _________________________________________

  Cover Design by Elaina Lee, For The Muse Design

  www.forthemusedesign.com

  Titles by Susan Hatler

  Kissed by the Bay Series

  Every Little Kiss (Book 1)

  Better Date than Never Series

  Love at First Date (Book 1)

  Truth or Date (Book 2)

  My Last Blind Date (Book 3)

  Save the Date (Book 4)

  A Twist of Date (Book 5)

  License to Date (Book 6)

  Driven to Date (Book 7)

  Up to Date (Book 8)

  Déjà Date (Book 9)

  Date and Dash (Book 10)

  Treasured Dreams Series

  An Unexpected Date (Story 1)

  An Unexpected Kiss (Story 2)

  Teen Novels

  Shaken

  See Me

  Date and Dash

  by

  Susan Hatler

  Chapter One

  I’m not a woman who lives by many rules, but when I find one that works I stick to it. My one-strike-and-you’re-out dating policy had never failed me, which was why I had my license plate frame embossed with that saying. It’s not that I’m picky, really, but life’s too short to waste a day on a guy who’s just going to let you down.

  Take my sophomore year in college, for example. Eight months of forgiving Rick Mulroney for strike after strike, then he dumped me for someone he’d deemed “smarter” and “deeper.” His exact words had been: “Mary Ann, I want someone smarter and deeper, whose parents didn’t name them after a character on Gilligan’s Island.”

  Ugh. I’d totally felt like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, except four years getting a BA in liberal arts at Sacramento State University had been enough for me. No way would I torture myself with law school.

  I didn’t need a man or a law degree, for that matter. My job at NGN Properties paid well enough, and they’d recently promoted me to assistant community director at our newly acquired apartment complex by Sacramento’s university campus. I would’ve been super excited about life right now if only my boss hadn’t hired Elliott Grant last month.

  Irritation washed over me just thinking his name.

  Elliott is our new leasing consultant and the boss’s nephew (can you say “nepotism”?), and he has to be the laziest person on earth. I’m not even exaggerating. The guy does the bare minimum in the office, and sometimes not even that much. Unfortunately, my boss adores her nephew and seems unaware of his lack of work ethic.

  And today Elliott had pushed my limits.

  My hands balled as I recalled how I’d overheard him tell our boss that he had organized the new neighborhood watch program even though he knew full well I was the one who’d put it together. But I couldn’t tell my boss her nephew was a horrible liar because five minutes earlier she’d asked how Elliott was fitting in around here and I’d babbled on with praise because I hadn’t had the heart to tell her he was a total slacker.

  If I’d known he’d take credit for my work then I never would’ve lied, but I obviously couldn’t contradict myself now. Plus, when I’d overheard them I’d been eavesdropping, which my sister, Ginger, claimed was a bad habit of mine. But how else would I have known Elliott had stabbed me in the back?

  I’d point that out to Ginger later.

  Right now I felt helpless and vulnerable—just like when I was seven and had nightmares.

  Back then I’d run to Grammy, who’d lived with us during her last year of life. Each time I came to her filled with terror, she’d clasp her beautiful jeweled bracelet around my wrist, telling me I’d have super powers like Wonder Woman had with her wristbands. I knew nothing would hurt me when I wore that bracelet.

  If only I had the strength I’d felt back then. . . .

  Needing my sister’s comfort—and her food, since I’d blown the last of my groceries budget on a massage after work to decrease the stress of betrayal: Elliott—I jiggled my key in the front door of Ginger’s condo. It always stuck, and I most definitely wasn’t in the mood for that right now. When I’d lived here I had never bothered to lock the door, which was one of the reasons Ginger had given me the boot a couple months ago.

  Well, that and I might’ve been a bit behind on my share of the rent. Or maybe a lot behind.

  But, whatever. I’d paid her back once she’d alerted me that was a problem. She didn’t have to kick me to the curb and get a replacement roommate.

  Not that I was still bitter. Much.

  “Hello?” I pushed the front door of Ginger’s condo open, ready to wallow with my sister and her roommate, Melinda. Nobody answered, though, so I slipped into the small tiled entryway and shut the door behind me. “Anyone home?”

  Ruff! Ruff!

  Melinda’s brown wiener-dog charged through the living room with her ears flapping up and down. Then she jumped up on my gray slacks and began assaulting me with her wet tongue.

  “Down, Fudge. Down.”

  Melinda’s pup was not a good listener, but being smothered by her loving kisses wasn’t exactly a hardship after the way my day had gone with that snake at work. “Where did everyone go? Huh, girl?” I crooned at her, and got a face full of doggie tongue in response.

  I scooped Fudge up in the crook of my arm and tossed my keys onto the entry table. After kicking my black heels off, I headed to the kitchen to root through the refrigerator. Ginger always had great leftovers and I was so going to eat them all right now.

  A note on the fridge reminded me that Melinda was at a charity auction with our friend Sarah. With the house empty (excluding adorable Fudge), that meant Ginger must be out with her boyfriend, Greg. The fact that I hadn’t been out on a date in awhile poked at me, but there hadn’t been any great guys lately. Ginger had (annoyingly) talked me into giving Liam, the last decent guy I’d dated, another chance after he’d already accumulated a strike. But then he’d acquired a tarantula as a pet. And, just, ew.

  I set Fudge on the kitchen floor and grabbed a plate from the cupboard, filling it with leftover naan and curry, which were Ginger’s boyfriend’s specialties. After grabbing a fork, I carried my delicious yummies back to the living room and dropped down on the sofa, ready to eat my food and veg out with some TV.

  As I reached for the remote on the coffee table, I noticed a brochure from Melinda’s charity auction. Out of curiosity, I flipped open the first page to see what all the fuss was about.

  Most of the big-ticket items were listed near the front of the pamphlet. The first one that caught my eye was a vintage Cadillac that someone had restored and donated. I let out a low whistle. My dad would love that ride. Too bad I didn’t make enough money to even buy the fender off of it.

  I paged through the brochure as I munc
hed on the leftovers, practically moaning at the delicious flavors sliding over my taste buds. My sister’s boyfriend, Greg, made the best Indian food ever. I took another bite as I turned the page, then choked on my bread.

  As I coughed and sputtered with tears stinging my eyes, I gaped down at the auction item in shock. Displayed on page three was a glamour photo of auction item number sixty-four: Grammy’s jeweled bracelet.

  I recognized the design immediately—connected gold circles, each with a sparkling ruby in its center encrusted by diamonds—and knew it was Grammy’s, because she had commissioned her favorite jeweler to create a one-of-a-kind bracelet on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. She’d told me that Grampy had wanted her to splurge on something special after he passed on, and it still was the most beautiful piece of jewelry I had ever seen.

  Closing my eyes, I pictured her wrapping the bracelet around my wrist. A serene feeling came over me, making me feel strong. After Grammy had died, I’d still felt her presence when I’d secretly worn that bracelet, and it had comforted me. My mom had sold the heirloom when I was nine because we needed the money. Whoever had bought it must have been local, and decided to donate the bracelet to charity. How amazing to see that beautiful bracelet again.

  My chest tightened. Actually, now that I thought about it, this was pretty much a downer.

  This would be the last time I’d see the bracelet again. Someone with oodles of money to blow would bid on the bracelet and poof! It would be gone. Forever.

  Peering closer at the page, I saw the bracelet was on sale for five thousand dollars. I blinked.

  The tension in my chest shifted, and a sense of excitement took over as an idea began percolating in my brain. Five thousand was exactly how much room I had on my card right now. That had to be a sign.

  I knew Ginger wouldn’t approve if I charged the bracelet on my credit card, but she never knew what had happened to me that awful day when I was seven. Or how Grammy had made me feel safe and strong with this bracelet. Yeah, I wasn’t a kid anymore and I’d stopped dressing up like Wonder Woman two decades ago, but just looking at her special bracelet filled me with that same powerful feeling.

  My heart pounded in my chest as the realization hit me. I could actually buy back this heirloom if I hurried down to the auction in time. Leaving my half-eaten dinner on the coffee table, I raced to Ginger’s room and threw open her closet. I grabbed the first thing I saw, which was a black cocktail dress that was far too conservative for my taste. I shimmied out of my work clothes and pulled the dress over my head.

  Gazing at my reflection in Ginger’s bathroom mirror, I shuddered. My usually-bouncy honey-blond curls hung limply after my long day at the office. My tall sister’s dress hung on me in a frumpy way, instead of showing off my petite figure. So not flattering. My blue eyes widened, knowing I had no time to search for another dress let alone a moment to fluff my hair.

  This pathetic look would have to do.

  I strode to the entryway, snatched my keys off the table, and slipped into my heels. At least I hadn’t worn flats to work. Then I raced out the door to my car. Checking my watch I saw that I only had thirty minutes before the live auction began and it would take me twenty minutes to get across town to the Geoffries hotel, where the auction was being held.

  I pulled into traffic typical for a Friday night, and grumbled under my breath as I sat stuck behind a stream of cars and their red taillights. Tension filled every pore of my body. All I could think about was Grammy’s bracelet, auction item number sixty-four. A traffic jam was unacceptable right now.

  It was beyond serendipitous that Grammy’s bracelet had shown up on the exact day I was feeling powerless, seventeen years after it had been sold. My breath caught as I realized that an hour from now I could have that bracelet on my wrist and feel secure again . . . as if Grammy still had her hand in my life.

  Glancing over my shoulder, I turned onto a side street and was relieved to see there was relatively little traffic in this direction. I’d brought the auction brochure with me and wanted to see the bracelet again, so I flipped through the pamphlet until I got to page three. There it was right before my eyes—

  The impact came before I could even lift my head. I jolted against the steering wheel and slammed on my brakes. I glanced up, my eyes bulging. “Oh, no.”

  I’d rear-ended the car in front of me!

  I rolled my neck around in a circle, but other than feeling embarrassed, I didn’t seem to be hurt. Hopefully the same was true for the other driver since I hadn’t been moving fast at all.

  Humiliated, I watched the car in front of me move forward, then park against the curb.

  Lifting my shaky foot off the brake, I pulled my car up behind the really nice vintage Mustang I’d hit, then grabbed my purse and pushed my door open. Just as my heels clacked against the pavement, the driver of the other vehicle stepped out, and I stared at the very definition of tall, dark, and handsome standing on the road.

  The man (slash, my victim) looked swoon-worthy in a tuxedo that seemed tailored to his muscular build. He had dark hair, the short strands combed forward with a sideways boost in the front, giving him a sexy styled look. He had a wide brow and as I walked numbly toward him, I found his blue-gray eyes peering back at me.

  I checked his front passenger seat to see if he had anyone with him—aka a date/mood killer—but the car was empty. I sucked in a breath as he walked toward me. Hoping he was flying solo in that tux tonight, I smoothed down my honey-blond mane, wishing I’d taken an extra minute to run Ginger’s hairbrush through my hair and dab on my pink lip gloss.

  Sure, this accident created a minor delay, but maybe I’d get a hot date out of it. At this moment, I felt doubly grateful to Grammy.

  “I am so sorry.” I puckered my lips and tilted my head in a way that had earned me many date invitations. Then I brought my pink manicured hand to my chest. “This was totally my fault.

  I was distracted, but I’m not injured. You’re not hurt, are you?”

  “No.” He gave me an unreadable look, then his brows drew together. Wow. Even irritation looked good on him. “There’s quite a lot of damage to my car, though,” he said, his voice low and gravelly—but, sadly, not so friendly.

  Huh. Weird that my infamous pout had failed me. Needed to try a new tactic fast, because time was ticking and I had an auction to get to. . . .

  I glanced at his shiny black car, recognizing the vintage Mustang my dad had once drooled over. Men tended to find auto knowledge appealing. “Oh! Is that a Mustang?” I asked, hoping to gain points.

  His brows tightened. “It’s a ’65 coupe, which was in pristine condition when I pulled it out of my garage this evening.”

  Strike two for me. Odd.

  I pulled up my most charming smile as I fished through my wallet. “Well, I’m sure we can get that all worked out. Look, here’s my insurance card. Since our bumpers have already met, maybe we should, too. I’m Mary Ann Nielsen, and this is my business card. You can call me any time. But right now I’m late, so if you’ll excuse me . . .”

  “I’m late, too, but we need to file a police report due to the extensive damage.” He accepted my business card, but was still frowning.

  “Do you really think that’s necessary? I mean, my car’s dented too, but the insurance company will pay to fix it.” I stared into blue-gray eyes that were way too sexy to be on someone so annoying. But I could tell Mr. Stuffy wasn’t going to budge. Strike one for him, and he hadn’t even asked me out yet. With a quick exhale, I regrouped then gave him a tight smile. “Fine.

  You’ll have to excuse me for a minute though, Mr. . . .?”

  “I’m Trevor Brooks.” He reached to shake my hand, clasping his warm grip around mine, sending shivers up my arm. Major sparkage. Maybe I should consider retracting his strike.

  “Well, Trevor Brooks, pardon me for a moment. I need to make a quick phone call.” I kept my smile bright. Just because he was making me late for the auction d
idn’t mean I wanted to spoil my chances with him completely. I pulled my cell phone out of my purse, wondering if I could track down Ginger to place the bid at the auction for me. No, she’d just lecture me about spending too much money.

  “I’ll call the police,” Trevor said, clearly not paying attention to me. Strike two for him, not that he seemed to care. He merely ambled closer to his car again, examining the damage with his hand. I felt a twinge of guilt.

  “Can’t we meet later to file the report together?” I sighed, wanting to hurry so I wouldn’t lose my chance to buy Grammy’s bracelet.

  He shook his head. “We need the police officer to examine the accident scene for the report.”

  And . . . strike three for Trevor.

  “Fine,” I reluctantly agreed, even though Mr. Stuffy was already pulling out his phone. I was going to miss the live auction, so I needed to think of a new plan of attack.

  If I called Melinda, I could ask her to bid on the bracelet for me. I didn’t care how I got the bracelet, as long as it became mine. She answered her phone on the second ring.

  “Mary Ann.” She’d used a hushed tone, and I could hear the chatter of voices in the background. “I can’t talk right now. I’m at a charity auction with Sarah. Her friend Jill runs a homeless outreach program called Founding Friendships, and the auction is to raise money for the program. Isn’t that cool? I’m bidding on a gorgeous fountain for my bakery’s upstairs terrace.”

  “Awesome!” I squealed, momentarily distracted by the fabulous vision of a fountain on her bakery’s rooftop terrace. What a perfect addition to the space. Then I shook my head, remembering the reason I’d called her. “I need a huge favor. I’m actually on my way to the Geoffries hotel for the auction, but I’m running late. Would you bid on an item at the live auction for me? Pretty please?”

  “Oh, yeah, sure.” Her voice was low but tense. “But tell me what you want quickly, because they’re starting the live auction now and—”

 
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