I’VE NEVER HAD the best of luck when it came to men. No matter how hard I tried, I always seemed to pick poorly. If there was a loser, a poser, a thief, or a cheater in my vicinity, I had a gift for snuffing them out.
That was the only reason I could think of as to why I was so embarrassingly hung up on Deputy Derrick Anderson. He wasn’t a loser, a poser, a thief, or a cheater — as far as I knew — but he was completely and undeniably unattainable.
Maybe that was why I was so pulled to him.
“You know,” my best friend Harlow started, “if you’d just talk to him you’d see he’s a normal guy, and you wouldn’t have to be so socially awkward every time he’s in the same room.”
I looked over into my friend’s smiling eyes and glared. “I’m not socially awkward,” I insisted. “And I’ll have you know I have talked to Derrick. Plenty of times.”
“Oh, yeah?” she laughed.
“Yeah,” I replied somewhat angrily before turning my attention back to the people milling around Harlow and Noah’s backyard. It was Fourth of July weekend, and I swear to God, it seemed the entire town of Pembrooke was stuffed into their yard for a fun, family barbeque. But I only had eyes for one person.
Unfortunately, he didn’t even notice I existed.
“Well, if it’s any consolation, I totally think you two would look adorable together.”
That got Harlow another glare, because, really? The truth was Derrick Anderson was so far out of my league, he’d need a map to find me. That was, if he even had any interest in looking, which I doubted he did.
“You have to say that, you’re my best friend,” I grumbled.
“I mean it!” she insisted. “You’re cute! I’d totally do you.”
“And I’d totally watch,” her husband Noah chimed in as he walked by us with a platter of hamburgers ready for the grill. “Seriously, let’s make this happen. Name a time and place.” It was so nauseatingly sweet the way he stopped to plant a hard kiss on his wife’s lips before continuing on his journey.
I brought my beer to my lips and took a refreshing gulp. I didn’t know if it was the summer heat outside, or the fact that Derrick had taken off his t-shirt during a sweaty game of football with Harlow’s little brother Ethan and some of the other barbeque-goers, tucking it into the back of the pants, but suddenly my mouth was parched.
Jesus, he was so perfect, all hard muscles and chiseled lines, my fingers itched to draw him. Problem was, I couldn’t draw for shit. Looked like there wouldn’t be any Leo DiCaprio via Titanic reenactments going on any time soon. Bummer, ‘cause that was totally one of my fantasies.
“Oh my God!” Harlow laughed loudly. “Look at you! You’re totally smitten!”
I reached over and slapped her arm. “Shut up!”
“Okay, okay,” she grumbled, poking out her bottom lip in a pout as she rubbed her arm. “I’m just teasing. But seriously, Chlo, you’re gorgeous. Derrick would be insane not to want you.”
I let my eyes travel over my friend’s perfect frame. Even with a massive pregnant belly, there was no denying how stunning she was. All long, lean legs, flawless olive skin, and perfect, shiny dark hair. Harlow could have been a model, no doubt.
But me? Well I was short with round hips, a bubble butt, a big chest that was the bane of my existence, pale skin that fried with the smallest amount of sun, and unruly, reddish blonde hair. On top of all of that, I had a teeny tiny little potbelly I couldn’t get rid of no matter how hard I tried. And owning a bakery did nothing to help that.
I loved my pastries, so sue me.
“Harlow…” I started, but she cut me off, hearing the doubt in my voice.
“Don’t you Harlow me!” she chastised. “You’re gorgeous — you are!” she snapped when I rolled my eyes. “Any man, and I mean any man, would be lucky to have you. You hear me?”
I felt a smile curve my lips despite my misgivings. Harlow was just so damned passionate. “I love you,” I told her, leaning in to wrap my arms around her. She returned the embrace, squeezing tightly.
I heard an excited “Yes!” shouted from across the yard and turned my head to see Noah, his eyes on me and Harlow, with his arms raising up in the air in triumph.
“Not happening!” Harlow shouted back.
I laughed and took another pull from my beer as Harlow stood and made her way to her husband, her big, pregnant belly making her waddle adorably.
I finished off my drink and turned back to the football game going on a few yards away. God, Derrick really was the best looking man I’d ever laid eyes on. Then he threw his head back in laughter at something Ethan said and those looks just got even better. As I stood and walked to the cooler for another beer, my movements must have caught his eye. When he turned and offered me a sweet smile, my insides melted and my heart picked up a frantic pace.
But more than that, I began thinking what if.
What if Harlow was right?
What if he was interested in me?
What if I did have a shot?
What if, what if, what if.
In that moment, I started to hope. It was enough to get my feet moving in Derrick’s direction just as the football game came to a pause.
“Hey there, sunshine,” he grinned as I made my way to him. Just like every time I heard that name from his lips, I shivered with pleasure. I wasn’t lying when I told Harlow that Derrick and I had talked. We had. Our conversations just never held anything of substance. But that could be easily changed, right? All I had to do was push past my insecurities and awkwardness, and make that happen.
“Hey Derrick,” I offered nervously. “Having fun?”
He lifted one sculpted arm and brushed a bead of sweat from his forehead. The strong muscles in his bicep bulged beautifully and I was hit with a wave of yearning to reach out and run my fingers over his tan, glistening skin. “Yeah, it’s been great.”
Looking down at the cold bottle in my hands, I picked at the label with my thumbnail as I garnered up the courage to say what I truly wanted to say.
I sucked in a deep breath and dug deep for courage. “So, I was thinking… I don’t know if you’re busy… it’s cool if you don’t have time, but…” Jeez, Chloe, get your shit together and just ask him out already! I berated internally.