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Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2017 Jewel Quinlan



ISBN: 978-1-77339-381-0


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: Melissa Hosack



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



DEDICATION


To the faith it took to come this far, and with much love and gratitude to those who believed in me as well, sometimes even more than I did.



WHEN COUGAR DATES MANWHORE


The Cougar Journals, 4


Jewel Quinlan


Copyright © 2017


Chapter One


“What’s going on with you and John?” asked Bree. She lay on my bed examining the various garments I chucked at her from the closet.

I let out a low growl of disgust from where I stood deep inside my walk-in closet. “I have no idea. Over a week’s gone by and nothing has happened.” I continued flipping through the hangers, examining each piece of clothing one-by-one.

Two weeks ago, I was on a cruise in the Greek islands. One that John Montgomerey and his date, Kim, happened to be on as well. John and I worked for the same real estate company, KG Commercial, and I’d always thought of him as my nemesis because he seemed to constantly go out of his way to get under my skin. Though I’d thought I would have no trouble avoiding him on a huge ship, we’d found ourselves thrown together on several occasions. Mostly because the family I’d met on the cruise, the Fogartys, had ended up being potential clients, which was something John had sniffed out right away. So, on the last night of the cruise, we’d ended up sitting next to each other at the dinner table because the Fogarty’s had invited us. It hadn’t taken long before John started in with his little digs toward me, making me lose my temper in front of everyone. I was sorry to have made a scene at dinner, but not sorry about losing my temper with John. He deserved it.

As I remembered it, some of my residual anger made its way to my fingers, making me snap the hangers to the side with more force than necessary.

John had followed me out of the dining room that night to apologize and to try and clear things up between us, and somehow, we’d ended up kissing. Shivers of pleasure still ran through my body every time I thought about it, which was why I tried really hard not to. I was still shocked by his admission that he liked me. And I was worried that my response to him meant I liked him, too…

I pulled a purple dress from a hanger. I’d bought it three years ago thinking I wouldn’t mind that the sleeves were a little too tight. It still had the price tag on it. Time to give up on this one.

“Haven’t you run into him at the office?” asked Bree.

“Yes! And it’s been really awkward.” I stuck my head out the closet door and tossed the dress at her. She caught and held it out in front of her, evaluating it. There were currently two piles of clothes on the bed. One for clothes headed to Goodwill and the other for clothes she planned to keep.

I leaned against the doorframe and folded my arms across my chest. “He hasn’t said a word about what happened. And now he’s being all polite and stuff, totally unlike himself. It’s weird.”

Normally, John did whatever he could to get a rise out of me. He was the master of sarcastic digs and seemingly innocuous comments with dual meanings. When we’d had it out on the cruise, I’d confronted him about it. He’d claimed that he treated me the same way he did everyone else at the office; like an equal. Which, upon reflections, might have some truth to it … but I wasn’t totally convinced.

“Now it’s like, I can feel him whenever he’s around,” I continued. “Like my sixth sense is working overtime or something. I wish I could turn it off. It’s really distracting.” Kissing him had awakened something inside me that constantly worked to zero in on him whenever he was near. Now, I could clearly pick out his voice, three cubicles away, when he was on the phone. And, walking down the hall, I could detect the mellow scent of his cologne out from among the many pungent ones at the office.

“Well, why don’t you say something?” asked Bree. The innocence beaming from her blue eyes made me want to pat her on the head. She was twenty-five and I was forty. I knew how to handle men, how to play the game.

“Why should I be the one to say anything? He kissed me, not the other way around.” Honestly, I hadn’t yet homed in on my true feelings for the entire situation. “Besides, he’s dating Kim. And I bet he has ten other girls lined up close behind her.”

John Montgomery was a consummate manwhore. Bree and I often spotted him with various twentysomething-year-old girls when we were out. And I really wasn’t interested in being one of the colors he used to paint his magical bachelor life.

“Nope, I’m maintaining the silence. It’s like that staring game kids play. Whoever blinks first loses. Whatever he’s up to, I’m not going to be the loser.”

Bree cocked her head. “I hadn’t considered that. Maybe he is playing a game.”

That wasn’t what I’d meant, and I bristled at the thought that he might just be messing with me. “What game?”

“You know. That one where they kiss you just to see if they can get away with it.”

I frowned. Could it just be some stupid tactic to inflate his already robust his ego? “That hadn’t occurred to me.” Prior to the kiss, I would have agreed he could be that immature. But when I thought about the energy between us, and the look in his eyes that night, I couldn’t quite make that possibility snap on over it. It just didn’t fit. “Something tells me that’s not it.”

“Well, I know I would try to clear the air. I wouldn’t be able to stand the tension.” She sat up on the edge of the bed and began folding the pile of clothes she planned to take with her.

“There’s nothing to clear. We kissed. So what? It’s not a big deal.” But a tiny voice inside me protested that it was. John was an eligible bachelor, especially to someone like me. He was my age, in great shape, successful at his job, and—oh, that kiss! Stop it, Ava. Just forget about the damn kiss. That one stupid memory was distracting me from all of his cons, which had been so blaringly clear before the cruise.

“I’m just going to forget the whole thing,” I said and went back into the closet to continue my purge. “Obviously, it was just a heat-of-the-moment fluke or whatever.”

“Okay. Whatever you say,” Bree called. “But I don’t think this is the end of it.”

I poked my head back out. “Why do you say that? Think I don’t have self-control?”

She laughed. “It’s just that you two work at the same place. The tension is bound to build up. Like two sticks rubbing together.” She mimed the action with her hands. “Sooner or later a fire is going to start.”

I laughed. “We’re adults, Bree. This isn’t high school.” I ducked back into the closet.

And, though Bree probably didn’t mean for me to hear it, her low, singsong, “We’ll see…” followed me.



Chapter Two


Turned out, Bree was right.

A couple more days went by and things didn’t get better. When John and I spoke to each other, our conversations were filled with polite pleasantries and essential facts, but that was it. There was this weird filter between us now that wouldn’t go away, and it was getting on my nerves. He wasn’t the old familiar John I’d learned to tolerate. That I could have handled. Then I could have said, “I knew I was right!” But no, he was being nice, and it made me uneasy. There always seemed to be this glimmer in his eyes and an invisible essence behind his smiles. It was as if the knowledge of the kiss lingered there, mocking me.

I drummed the end of my pen on my desk as I tried to focus on the paperwork for a property listing. But I couldn’t because John had just come back to the office and I could hear him talking on the phone in his cubicle.

The distraction of unanswered questions and the stress it brought was not good for me. I already had plenty from my job. Bree’s suggestion of clearing the air had actually been a good one after all, and I wanted to kick myself for being able to hold on to my poise. What was the big deal anyway? I mean, if I was capable of handling multimillion dollar transactions and running with the big boys in commercial real estate, I could certainly handle one short, focused conversation with a single male, couldn’t I? I let out a frustrated breath. Of course I could. That wasn’t the point. The point was that John had kissed me and told me he liked me, and that meant something. What it meant exactly, I had no idea. But since it had—meant something, that is—why wasn’t he initiating anything more with me? Had he changed his mind? Had I put him off somehow? Had the kiss not been as good for him as it was for me? Jesus, now I was disgusted with myself for all these stupid insecure thoughts.

No, I wasn’t insecure or trying to play a game. I had all kinds of poise. The thing I didn’t have in abundance was patience. And what I had left was stretching thin waiting for him to make a move and unravel the mystery. I did not have time for this crap! Just go talk to him, Ava. Be direct. Nothing wrong with being direct… But then he’s going to know for sure that he got to me. What’s he going to think of me then? Probably that I’m one of those pathetic, insecure women… No. I’m just trying to get the information I need so I can set all of this aside. Who cares what he thinks?—I care!

I debated back and forth for another ten minutes like that in my head. Totally annoying and frustrating. God! Kissing my nemesis had really fucked me up. That thought made me mad and fused my backbone with sufficient steel so that I rose from my chair. Before I could lose my nerve, I walked over to his cubicle.

He was just finishing his phone call when he turned and saw me. He gave me a nod and I stood and waited until he finished and set the phone down. “Hey, Ava, what’s up?” He rose from his chair to sit on the edge of the desk, facing me, hands folded together in front of him.

Be direct. I was going to be direct. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure.” He shrugged one shoulder as though I’d just asked to borrow his pen.

How could he be so flippant? He had to know why I was asking to speak with him. “Not here. Let’s go into the small conference room.” That one had only one window and it faced out toward the street. Whatever happened, I wanted to avoid office gossip at all costs.

“Okay.”

He followed me down the hall and I closed the door behind us. When I turned to face him, there was an openness in his eyes, an innocence, as though he had no idea what I could possibly want from him. It irritated me right away. “I think you know what I want to talk about.” It came out more clipped than I’d intended, but I couldn’t help saying it.

“No, I don’t.”

“Come on, John.” I stuck a hand on my hip. “Yes, you do.”

“I really don’t, and I’ve found it’s never a good idea to make assumptions.”

Was he really going to make me say it? I could feel my face flaming, the skin prickling as the blood rushed close to the surface. Maybe the kiss was nothing after all. Why hadn’t I just forgotten about it? He clearly had. No. No, I deserved an answer. I shoved emotions aside reached for my big girl cojones. I wasn’t some teenager who was just going to sit around and wait for a sign from the almighty John. He hadn’t done it for nothing, and now he was going to have to face me.

I stood up straight and dropped the hand from my hip. “Okay. Fine. I just wanted to clear the air so there isn’t this weird vibe between us anymore. What was that kiss about? You know, the one you planted on me the last night on the ship?”

John’s dark brows quirked together. “Weird vibe? What do you mean by that?”

“Seriously? You know what I mean. This … this tension between us from what happened.” I couldn’t help gesturing between us energetically with my hands. My Italian heritage often reared its head when I was flustered or upset. Not that I’m either of those things right now.

“I don’t feel weird around you,” he said. “But I’m sorry if I made you feel that way.” His dark-blue eyes were filled with a compassion I doubted was real.

I took a deep breath. He was making what should’ve been a short conversation into something more complicated. “What? No. I don’t … I mean, that’s not the point. That doesn’t matter. The question is why did you kiss me?”

His brows smoothed out and he shrugged again. “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Wow, he really knew how to slap a girl in the face. His words made me immediately feel like an idiot. But that’s what I got for asking. “A good idea at the time?” I echoed slowly.

I couldn’t believe I’d spent so much time trying to figure him out over the last few days. All thoughts I’d had of John being deeper, and of my being wrong about him vanished in an instant. Regardless of how I felt right now, at least I had clarity. The guy really was that shallow. Why else would he kiss a girl he seemed to have nothing but disdain for? While he was on a cruise with a date no less, one that had been lying sick in bed in their cabin.

Bree’s words drifted back to me. Just to see if he could do it… I could feel myself getting ready to lose it, which meant it was time to go. I reined in my anger and assumed my ice queen mantel. “You know, that clears things up a lot. Thanks for your time.” I whirled to leave.

But John stopped me by putting a hand on my shoulder. “Hold up a minute, Ava. I was just joking.”

I turned to see that he was smiling at me, that charming easy one that sucked customers in left and right. It zinged through my body right down through to my toes, leaving a warm trail that expanded and tingled. But I wasn’t going to fall for it, damn it! I was a mature woman. A force to be reckoned with. I was not to be mocked, and a simple grin was not going to penetrate my defenses.

He continued to smile down at me. Then moved closer, so close I could almost sense the heat of his body, and reached out to finger a strand of hair near my cheek.

I … I … okay … maybe I melted just a little.

“Since we got back, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve both had our hands full with work,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to ask you out, but I was waiting for things to settle down.” He reached down to toy lightly with my fingers, and the touch sent rivulets of pleasure up my arm. “Seems like now’s a good time though. How about dinner tomorrow night?”

“All right.”

Damn it! The answer slipped out without me thinking. I’d gotten distracted because he was messing with my fingers. Oh, how much better it would have been to say, “no.” Or, at least, “let me think about it”. That would have wiped the charming smile off his smug face. After what he’d put me through, he deserved to be on uneven ground himself. Hadn’t I already decided I wanted nothing more to do with him? But it was too late to back out without seeming weak or like a totally flustered ditz.

He brightened. “Pick you up at seven?”

“Sure.”

“Great. See you then.” He gave my fingers a squeeze then slipped out of the room, door snapping shut behind him.

I remained there a few moments longer, feeling stunned.



Chapter Three


Bree came over to my apartment the next afternoon while I was in the living room finishing up the last ten minutes of the yoga video I was following. I’d gained a couple of pounds while on the cruise, and I was trying to get them back off. That’s what I got for allowing myself to slack off and eat things I normally wouldn’t. Geez, it sucked to get older. I used to maintain my figure with little effort. But these days, even one bite of ice cream or cheese seemed to go straight to my ass.

Bree emerged from the bedroom holding a silk flower-patterned dress. “How about this one? It’s gorgeous,” she said.

I cracked an eye open from where I lay on the floor in corpse pose. “He already saw me in it. I wore that one on the cruise.”

She cocked her blonde head at it. “We’ll in that case, I’m going to take the opportunity to borrow it from you. It would be a shame to just let it sit unappreciated in a dark closet.” She disappeared back into the bedroom.

I chuckled. Bree and I were practically sisters, and we often traded clothing. Sometimes it took a while before I got my stuff back, but she eventually did return it. She had great casual wear though, and I had great dresses. So, between the two of us, we made one fabulous, complete closet.

“Did he say where he was taking you?” Her voice drifted to me faintly. Sounded like she was inside the closet now. What the heck was she digging up this time?

“No.” I rose, shut off the video, and rolled up my yoga mat. “But there are only so many places we can go in Orange County, and I’m sure you and I have been to them all. Thanks for coming over, by the way. I don’t know why I’m having so much trouble figuring out what to wear. It’s just John. It’s not like he hasn’t seen me day in and day out for the past year.” That wasn’t true. I knew why I was having trouble. Seeing John around and going on a date with him were two completely different things. Outfits sent subliminal messages. And finding an outfit that kept me in the neutral middle of not caring at all, caring too much, and being true to myself was tricky.

“How about this one?” She appeared in the doorway again, this time holding a white dress. It was the kind that looked deceptively simple on a hangar, but when you put it on the clever cut accentuated all the right things.

I stood and propped the rolled mat against the sofa. “You don’t think that he’ll think I’m trying too hard?”

She shook her head. “No. Why would he? This is standard-issue Ava attire. You wear stuff like this all the time.”

I brought my fingers to my lips as I considered it. She was right. It was.

“It’s not that fancy,” Bree said. “But for your date, I suppose you could dress it up with your gold high heels and some jewelry. That would at least bring it up to, you know, elegantly understated.” The last two words rolled off her lips with haughty emphasis, making me laugh.


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