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Goddess of Love, Page 2

P. C. Cast

Chapter One

  Pea felt a wash of relief, which was quickly followed by embarrassment when she heard the fire siren getting closer. Crap crap crap! What a way to start Saturday morning.

  "They're almost here, Chlo-chlo-ba-bo!" she yelled up at the tree. The pitiful whine that replied from the middle of the winter-bare branches squeezed at her heart, but Pea shook her head sternly at the dog, refusing to give in to Chloe's manipulation.

  "Okay, look! How many times do I have to tell you? You. Are. Not. A. Cat. "

  A black nose appeared from a top branch of the tree. Behind it Pea could see the glint of bright, intelligent eyes staring down at her.

  "Hrumph!" Chloe barked the strange, deep growl sound she made when she was highly annoyed.

  "Whatever! You can love cats. You cannot be one. "

  Chloe had just hrumphed indignantly at her again when the fire engine glided to a smooth stop at the curb. Pea sighed and gave Chloe one more glare. Then she started to walk toward the men who were climbing out of the traditional shiny red fire truck. Instantly Chloe erupted in a pathetic chorus of whines and yaps. Forgetting all about embarrassment and doggie manipulations, Pea rushed back to the tree.

  "Chlo-chlo! It's okay, baby girl. I'm right here. "

  "Bring the ladder over here, Steve. " A deep male voice called from close behind her. "This is the tree. "

  "Hurry!" Pea yelled without taking her eyes from the frightened dog. "She's really scared, and if she falls she's definitely going to break something. "

  "Ma'am, cats rarely hurt themselves when they jump from trees. The whole land-on-their-feet myth actually has quite a bit of truth to it," the voice over her shoulder said. Chloe whined again.

  "Hey, that's not a cat. "

  Pea turned to the fireman, an annoyed frown on her face. "I clearly told the dispatcher that my dog - " she began, putting her fists on her waist and letting the worry she felt for Chloe shift over to irritation, but one look at the man had her anger fizzling and her tongue stammering. She felt her cheeks flame with heat. Quadruple crap! It was him. Griffin DeAngelo. The most gorgeous man she had ever seen. Ever. Even on TV. He was also the guy she'd been crushing on for the entire past year - ever since she'd walked Chloe by his house (which was just down the street from hers) and seen him mowing his yard. Without a shirt on. And here he was. Standing in her front yard like he'd walked right out of one of her very graphic dreams. Naturally he wasn't looking at her standing there in her baggy sweatpants and sweatshirted glory, and he hadn't noticed her sudden pathetic inability to speak. He was peering up at Chloe with a quizzical smile tilting his delicious-looking lips.

  "How in the hell did he get up in that tree?"

  "She's not a he, she's a she. And she climbed," Pea said.

  "Oh, pardon my language, ma'am; I forgot you were there. I'm Griffin DeAngelo, captain of the Midtown Station. " He tapped his helmet in an archaic and adorable gesture of a gentleman greeting a lady.

  "I know!"

  "You know?" He raised an eyebrow as if to punctuate his question.

  "Yeah, you live down there. " Pea pointed down the block directly at his house. Like a stalker.

  "Remember, we met at the fourth of July block party last fourth of July, and also at the summer weenie roast and again at the pre-Christmas light hanging neighborhood meeting," she babbled, sounding exactly like a stalker.

  His beautiful forehead wrinkled in confusion. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't remember. "

  Of course he didn't. No one remembered meeting her. "No problem, I'm um. . . " She paused as she stared up into eyes that were so big and blue and beautifully dark lashed that she suddenly and moronically forgot her name.


  "Dorreth Chamberlain!" she blurted, holding out her hand like a dork. "And the dog caught in the tree is Chloe. "

  He took her hand gently, like he was afraid she might explode at his touch. And why wouldn't he think that? She'd just told him that they'd met three times, none of which he remembered, and she was still standing there gawking at him like a kindergarten kid in a bubble gum factory. And her hair! Pea forced herself not to groan and pat manically at the frizzy mess she'd tied back in her favorite scrunchie.

  "Check it out. It's a dog," said a young fireman who had joined them with two other men carrying an extension ladder.

  "How the hell did it get up there?" said another fireman, with a laugh. Griffin cleared his throat and gestured at Pea.

  "Sorry, ma'am," was mumbled in her general direction.

  Pea laughed gaily, gesturing up at the tree, trying hard to sound perky and interesting. "She climbed!" As usual, none of the men so much as glanced at her.

  "Climbed? She must be twenty feet up in that old oak," one of the unnamed guys said.

  "She's a good climber. She's just not a good climber downer," Pea said, and then wanted to dissolve into the sidewalk in embarrassment. Climber downer? God, she really was such a dork.

  "Well, let's get her down," Griffin said. The men went to work extending the ladder, and Chloe started growling.

  "What kind of dog is she, ma'am?" Griffin asked her.

  "She's a Scottie, but she thinks she's a cat. See, I have a cat named Max, and Chloe is totally in love with him, hence the fact she is clueless that she's a Scottie dog. Chloe is in denial. She believes she's a Scottie cat. I'm not sure whether to get her another dog, get her some Prozac or take her for a visit to the pet psychic. "

  Griffin laughed, a deep, infectious sound that made Pea's skin tingle with pleasure. "Or maybe you should just invest in a safety net. "

  Pea giggled and tried to have one of "those moments" with totally, insanely gorgeous Griffin the Fireman - one of those eye-meeting moments where a man and a woman share a long, sexy, lingering, laughter-filled look.

  Naturally the moment did not happen.

  First, her coquettish giggle turned into - horror of all horrors - a snort. Second, blonde and beautiful appeared on the scene.

  "Pea! Don't tell me Chloe got caught in a tree again!"

  Griffin immediately shifted his attention to her neighbor, who was hurrying up to them, her sixyear-old daughter in tow. "Hi, Griffin," she said.

  "Good to see you again, Stacy," he said, and tilted his hat to her, too. Pea sighed. Of course he remembered Stacy - tall, sleek, always together-looking Stacy - even though Pea knew for sure that Stacy had only made one of the neighborhood meetings in the past year. With Stacy there was no way in hell gorgeous Griffin would give her another thought. If he'd ever given her a first thought. Even with a kid at her heels, Stacy was ridiculously attractive. But, surprisingly, the fireman's eyes slid back to her. "Pea?" he asked with a raised brow.

  "Yeah," she said, shrugging and launching into the short version of her all too familiar explanation for what everyone called her. "Sadly, Pea is an unfortunate childhood nickname that stuck. "

  "Oh, come on! There's nothing wrong with your nickname. Pea's adorable," Stacy said, grinning at her.

  "Yea for Pea!" Stacy's daughter Emili chimed in. "I like your name. It's cute. But it's not as cute as him. " Emili pointed up at Griffin. "Are you married? Pea's not married. Maybe you could marry Pea. She doesn't even have a boyfriend and my mommy says that's a shame because she really is cuter than people think she is 'cause - "

  Pea sucked in air and felt her face blaze with heat while Stacy clamped her hand over Emili's mouth and tried unsuccessfully not to laugh.

  Thank the sweet weeping baby Jesus that Chloe chose that moment to snarl a warning at the young fireman who was positioning the ladder against the tree.

  "Chlo! It's okay. " Pea hurried over to the trunk of the tree and looked up at the black snout and bright eyes. Chloe whined. "Sorry, she doesn't like men," she said to the fireman. "I really don't think she'll bite you. But she will complain. Probably a lot. "

  "I'll get her," Griffin said.

  "She's all yours, Captain. "<
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  Griffin started up the ladder and Chloe's low, rumbling growl intensified.

  "Chloe! Manners!" Pea called up to the perturbed Scottie. Please, God, please don't let her bite him, she mentally telegraphed over and over. . . . Until Griffin did something that made Pea's thoughts, as well as Chloe's growls, come to an abrupt halt. He was calling Chloe, but he wasn't calling her like someone would call a dog. He was, unbelievably, kitty-kittying her.

  "Come here Chloe, kitty-kitty. It's okay little girl. Come here, kitty-kitty-kitty. . . . "

  Dumbfounded, Pea watched her dog's ears lift and her head tilt toward the approaching man.

  "Good girl," Griffin murmured. "Good kitty-kitty, kitty-kitty. " He held his hand out slowly and let Chloe get a good sniff of him. "See, you smell her, don't you? That's right, kitty-kitty-kitty, come on down. "

  Pea could only stand and stare as Griffin reached into the tree crevice and pulled Chloe, who was still sniffing him curiously, into his arms and began the descent down the ladder.

  "Amazing," Stacy said with a deep breath. "How did he do that? Chloe hates men. "

  "He's too pretty to hate, Mommy," Emili said.

  "Honey, let's keep that for our inside thoughts, shall we?" Stacy said. Then she glanced at Pea and whispered, "Even though it's totally true. "

  Pea pretended not to hear either of them, which was easy. Her entire being was focused on her dream man striding toward her with her dog - who was actually wagging her tail - held firmly in his arms.

  "Here ya go, ma'am. " He handed Chloe to Pea.

  "Th-thank you," Pea stuttered. "How?"

  "How?" he repeated.

  "The kitty-kittying. How did you know to do that?"

  "Just makes sense. You said she thinks she's a cat, and you have a cat, right?"

  Pea nodded.

  "That's how you call your cat. Right?"

  Pea nodded again.

  "I figured she'd recognize the call. "

  Griffin scratched Chloe on the top of her head, and Pea watched in astonishment as her dog - her man-hating dog - closed her eyes and sighed happily.

  "That's just part of it, though," Griffin said. "I was counting on Chloe smelling Cali. "

  Pea suddenly understood. "Your cat?"

  "My cat. " Griffin gave Chloe one last scratch, then turned back to his men. "Okay, let's get this loaded up. Have a good day, ma'am. " He nodded politely to her and then to Stacy. He winked at Emili, and then he was gone.

  "Em, honey, go on inside and wait for Mommy. I'll be there in just a second," Stacy told her daughter.

  "Are you and Pea going to talk about how pretty that fireman was?"

  "Of course not, honey. Now go on. "

  "'Kay! Bye, Pea. " Emili skipped off to her house, singing a song about lemon drops and unicorns.

  "Okay, I'd forgotten how drop dead Mr. Tall Dark and Fireman is. I can definitely understand why you've had a thing for him for ages," Stacy said.

  Pea put Chloe down and the dog trotted over to the tree and began sniffing all around the trunk.

  "Do not even think about climbing up there again," Pea told her sternly. Chloe glanced back at her and snorted. "I swear that dog understands every word I say," Pea muttered.

  "Hello! Sexy, incredible man. We were talking about him and not your insane Scottie. "

  "She's not insane," Pea said automatically. "And yeah, he's gorgeous and I might have a little crush on him. "

  Stacy rolled her eyes, which Pea chose to ignore. "But now he's gone. I don't see the point in going on and on about him. "

  "Like you haven't gone on and on about him before?"

  Pea silently chastised herself for the one or two - okay, ten or twelve - times she'd mentioned to Stacy how hot she thought their neighbor was. "Whatever," she said, trying to sound nonchalant and dismissive. "He's still gone, and there's still no point in talking about how gorgeous he is. "

  "The point is, Ms. Totally Single, that he seemed interested in you. "

  "Get real, Stacy. He wasn't interested; he was polite. There's a world of difference. "

  "Bullshit. "

  "Stacy, he didn't even remember me, and today makes the fourth time we've met. Men like him are not interested in women like me. "

  "So he has a crappy memory. Lots of guys do. And women like you? What does that mean?"

  Pea sighed, and didn't feel up to mentioning that Griffin's memory hadn't failed when she'd walked up. "Women like me - short, plain, forgettable. He belongs with a model or a goddess. He doesn't belong with me. "

  "You know, that's your problem! You defeat yourself before you even start. I've told you before that all you need is a little self-confidence. You're perfectly fine looking. "

  Perfectly fine looking. Didn't that just sum it all up? There was sexy Stacy giving her what she really considered praise and encouragement, but the best she could come up with was perfectly fine looking. She studied Stacy - tall and blond with her great curves, fabulous boobs and those cheekbones that made her face look like someone should carve it out of marble. How could she possibly understand what it was to be so average that you went through life being invisible?

  She'd never walked into a room and not turned heads. Pea would bet the great raise she'd just got that gorgeous Griffin had already forgotten her. Men always did, but she would also bet that the firemen were discussing her hot blond neighbor all the way back to the station. And then someone might say something like: "Oh, yeah, that other girl was there, too. " Pea was the other girl. The forgettable girl.

  "So will you do it?"

  "Huh?" Pea said, realizing Stacy had been talking and she'd not heard anything she'd been saying.

  Stacy sighed in exasperation. "I said, it's not even noon yet. You have plenty of time to go into that fabulous kitchen of yours and bake a big plate of your to-die-for brownies and deliver them to gorgeous Griffin at the station as a thank you. "

  "Let me think about that. " Pea paused for half a blink. "No. "

  "And why not?" Stacy didn't give her time to continue. "Because you have so many men beating down your door to go out with you tonight? Because you're in an incredible relationship with your dream man? Hmm? Which one is it?"

  "You know I'm not dating anyone, and thanks for reminding me," Pea said through her teeth, and then thought for the zillionth time.

  "Okay, so is it because you don't find Griffin attractive?"

  "As you very well know that's definitely not the case. "

  "Then is it because you're hateful and rude and you don't believe in thanking the man who just saved your weird Scottie cat's life?"

  "Chloe isn't weird and she wasn't about to die," Pea said.

  "She definitely could have broken something if she'd fallen out of that tree. "

  "Stacy, it's stupid and pathetic to bake brownies as an excuse to see a man who has no interest in me. "

  "He smiled at you and asked about your nickname," Stacy countered.

  "He was being polite. "

  "Maybe. Maybe not. If you don't bake the brownies, you'll never know. "

  Pea opened her mouth to say no. Again. But Stacy interrupted. Again.

  "Take a chance, Pea. Just one small chance. The worst that can happen is that a bunch of overworked firemen will get a treat. On the other hand, maybe your brownies will work magic and you might actually live out one of those fantasies you usually only dream about. . . . " Stacy waggled her brows at Pea.

  "Fine!" Pea surprised herself by saying. "I don't have dance class till this afternoon. I'll bake the damn brownies and drop them off on my way to class. "

  "Finally I'm victorious with the Pea-and-men issue! Okay, look, be sure you write a little thank you note, too. On the stationery that has your new work title and letterhead. "


  Stacy rolled her perfect eyes. "It serves two purposes. He'll know how amazingly successful you are, and he'll also know
how to get in touch with you. "

  "Great. Yeah. Okay. Whatever. " Pea called Chloe and started to retreat up the steps to her homey porch.

  "You'll write the note?" Stacy called.

  "I'll write the note. "