Puppy Love – Part 4

The Ex-Wife

flirt romance

Don’t forget to read parts 1, 2 & 3 first, you can find them here:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Over the next half hour, Fern witnessed panicked moments interspersed with nervous looks and some questionable driving. She cuddled Ripper’s furry body as she pressed tightly against her. Please don’t let anything awful happen to her.

“We’re nearly there. Is she okay?” Ollie asked shakily. “I can’t lose her. She is a menace, but she’s mine.”

The coughing had stopped, and apart from the odd whine when she squeezed her too hard, Ripper seemed to be enjoying herself.

“Are you okay, girl?” Ripper licked Fern’s cheek and wriggled out of her hold to stare at the cars flashing past them. “I don’t know dogs that well, but I think she might be okay.”

Ripper did a little bark as if in agreement.

“Come on, come on,” Ollie said to the red traffic light that was holding them back. His relentless tapping against the steering wheel echoed round the car. When they got to their destination Fern realised why Ollie’s frenzied drive might have been about more than Ripper.

“My ex-wife is a vet,” he’d said with a drooping head as they’d knocked on the door.

What he’d failed to mention was that she was a beautiful, Nordic-looking woman with hair that seemed to shine brighter than the sun and a figure that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a model.

The mood inside Jana’s house had started sour and never recovered.

“You shouldn’t have given her chicken from your dinner without checking for bones first. What were you thinking?” Jana shouted at him when he had taken the blame for the chicken incident. While Ripper had seemed delighted to be in the car, she was now scrabbling away from Ollie’s ex-wife.

“I wasn’t thinking anything, it was a mistake,” he’d replied, his voice quiet as he struggled to face up to Jana. He’d shrunk in her presence.

His ex-wife snorted in derision as a reply.

“Is she going to be okay?” Guilt rippled Fern’s stomach. She should have checked the chicken. She’d been too busy trying to work out if Ollie was like the guys who had broken her heart in the past and convincing herself she wasn’t good enough for him anyway. Why did she let the apps get to her like this? It was time to stop the online dating and remember she was a great person, not what the months spent being ghosted and feeling used had brought her.

There was another emotion when looking at Jana. There was no sugar-coating it. I’m jealous as hell. Her near kiss with Ollie the week before and then the flirting that evening at dinner had been more than she’d felt with any guy in a long time. I felt special. He’d been interested in what she had to say as well as who she was. But looking at Jana, she realised she paled into comparison. Was it worth putting up a fight?

“Who are you, exactly? Don’t tell me he’s dating you? I’m surprised anyone has wanted to date him since me, and well you don’t seem to be his type.” Fern bit back a response. The only thing that mattered right now was Ripper.

“If you want to know, Jana, Fern is my next-door neighbour. She’s lovely, caring, funny and beautiful, exactly my type these days,” he replied, emphasising the word ‘these’. “And there is nothing wrong with me. We’d be lucky to date each other. Not that this is any of your business. Now tell me if Ripper will be okay.”

“Who suddenly grew a pair of balls?” Jana replied with a sneer on her face. “I think I prefer this version of you to the one I was married to. I probably wouldn’t have needed to screw around if you’d been like this. You thought you could make me happy by caring about me? I needed a man, not a nursemaid.”

Anger bubbled in Fern’s throat. No wonder Ollie was nervous when trying to ask her out if this was what he was used to from Jana. “For God’s sake, what is wrong with you? Ollie is kind and generous. The little I know about him shows me he is someone who deserves respect and love. Any woman would be lucky to date him, and you passed up something amazing. Are you dating this guy?” Fern pointed at the man in tennis whites watching smugly from the doorway. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I recognise him from Tinder. He was memorable because he offered to let me play with his balls while he spanked me with his racket. Which was gross by the way.”

“But-” Jana attempted to interject.

“But nothing. Ollie puts every guy I’ve dated or met online to shame, and I would be lucky to go on a date with him. However, we are not here to discuss this we’re here for Ripper. So tell me, before you start bitching and moaning while secretly regretting your mistakes, is Ripper okay?”

*****

Fern and Ollie stood back at the car outside his house. The pavement still radiated some warmth from the day. Dusk was falling. The setting sun caused a pink glow to hit Ollie’s face. It was the first time she’d seen a flush that wasn’t due to his blushes.

There hadn’t been a chicken bone in Ripper’s throat. Jana suspected a bit of cardboard might have got caught, which Ripper had either dislodged on the journey or swallowed. Ripper’s cardboard fetish was well documented. At worst she might have a poorly tummy, but based on the way she bounced to the car as Jana and Ollie had said their stoic goodbyes, she seemed like she’d recovered quickly.

“Did you mean the things you said about me?” Ollie had asked, standing close enough to touch.

“Did you mean the things you said about me?” she replied with a cheeky side smile. A warm breeze touched the back of her legs before catching the hem of her dress. Fern held it tight.

Ollie was different. It was like a weight had lifted from him. Years of being browbeaten and made to feel not good enough must have taken their toll, and already she could see a broad, yet flirtatious, smile on his face, no longer accompanied by a furrowed brow or a nervous mumble.

“Every word,” he whispered as he leant closer.

She released a shaky breath. Tingles ran the length of her spine. Ollie liked her, and he was a good guy. His ex-wife had thrown it at him as if it was an insult. Jana and Ollie weren’t compatible, and that was okay. He still deserved a chance at love. I need to be dating him and not swiping for my next mistake.

“I’m sorry about the drama with Ripper,” she replied. “I shall make sure I check any food I give to her in the future. I’ll try and get my gate fixed as well. I can’t imagine the sort of things he’d find in my garden; it’s a right mess.”

Casually he brushed the hair out of her eyes as if they were having a flirtatious conversation and not one about fixing gates. “Your garden does need work. It’s the ugliest in the street,” he replied truthfully as one of his hands threaded through hers. Her belly fluttered, and she breathed in the cedar scent.

“Hold on. How do you know my garden is ugly? I didn’t think you could see it from your windows. I didn’t think anyone could.” Oh god, what if he had seen her in her red bikini? A secret smile touched her lips at the idea.

“Well, if I stand in my shower on my tiptoes and look in the mirror, then the reflection shows me your garden.” His casual gait and relaxed smile suggested innocence, but the way his lips brushed her ear made her tremble. “But I wouldn’t do that.” From some random the guy that might have sounded creepy, but not Ollie. It’s not like she could talk, she’d tried to sneak a look at him exercising in his garden more times than she was willing to admit.

The noise of Ripper attacking the seats in the car gave her temporary respite from the delicious ache inside her belly.

“That’s my cue. I think it’s time for her walk. You know if you ever need help with your garden you only have to ask. It will make a nice change from stretching outside my house to get to speak to you.” Oh god, we’ve been trying to bump into each other all this time. His voice dropped like he was sharing a secret. “But you have to promise me one thing.”

“Depends on what it is.” She spoke with a flirty breathlessness. That sound had been absent for a long time. My confidence is back too.

“That while Ripper and I are pretending, we’re working hard you have to wear that red bikini of yours. The hope of seeing that again kept me going through these cold winter months.”

As she gasped, his lips covered hers. She scrunched her toes, and even her tummy muscles tightened with expectation. His tongue eased open her mouth and caressed hers slowly. Ollie was tentative, but his nervousness was understandable. It’s what first kisses were all about. She wrapped her hands around his neck and kissed him with the passion that had hidden beneath her worries. He held her gently, not kneading her bottom and pushing things too quickly, but testing how she felt about what was happening and making her an equal partner.

Slowly, with much reluctance, she pulled away and found a beaming Ollie in front of her.

“I was trying to ask you out earlier; I don’t know how obvious that was. I even bought you a brownie from the bakery in case this evening went badly. I know tonight wasn’t- ”

“A date? Even with a choking dog and meeting your ex-wife, it was the best date I’ve had in ages. Thank you,” she interjected before lowering her eyes. I found a genuine guy on my doorstep, and he fancies me back. She forced herself not to dance with excitement. “Maybe we can chat about our next date while we walk Ripper? I’ll even let you share the brownie when we get home.”

Ollie’s smile got impossibly bigger as they strolled down the road, hand in hand, with Ripper by their side.



Puppy Love – Part 3

New Balls, Please

Date night

Don’t forget to read part 1 and 2 first, you can find them here:

Part 1 and Part 2

Fern’s eyelashes flickered against the cold glass of her front door window. The coast was clear. It had been a week since the evening at Ollie’s that had quickly turned awkward when his ex-wife called. Fern had managed to avoid him since. It hadn’t always been easy, thank goodness the bush outside her house was peppered with pink blossom, it made a great hiding spot. Unfortunately, she’d had a couple of nettle stings too, but at least she’d avoided the awkward meeting. It was weird to be hiding from him after a year of trying to bump into him.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see Ollie again; in fact, she’d thought about their near kiss every night before she fell asleep. Sally, at work, had dragged her from her romantic daydreams on more than one occasion. But she couldn’t dare to want a guy who was still closely linked to his ex-wife. She’d been there before. Although it turned out Kieran from Tinder was technically still married and living with his wife. But she’d got burned after catching them doing an alien and scientist sex role play one evening. They were trying to fix their marriage and Kieran had forgotten he’d invited Fern round. She hadn’t been able to drink a gin and tonic since watching the locations they’d stuck cucumbers; they made realistic alien probes apparently.

Fern darted out the house, but in her haste to lock her front door, she tripped on the step, and her handbag smacked to the floor. The contents spilt out over her driveway. She grappled with her diary, hand cream, purse and four lip balms that she’d thought were gone forever. Tampons fell out of the box and rolled to the dip between her house and Ollie’s as she heard his voice.

“Hey Fern, can I help you with anything?” He picked up a handful of tampons and stepped to where she was kneeling.

Slowly she looked up from his trainers. Her gaze slid up his body. Her stomach coiled as his tight running shorts came into view. His plain white t-shirt made his tanned skin glow. Why does he have to look so good?

He handed her the tampons, and she jumped up. He looked at her other hand with a furrowed brow, his lips pouting slightly.

“It’s a pair of knickers my colleagues gave me,” she replied as she held out the red lace garment for his closer inspection. ‘Eat me, not animals’ was emblazoned on the crotch. “It was a joke because of a date I went on with a vegan hipster. It was all he talked about, and he was spouting facts at me about my eating habits all night. I know lots of lovely vegans, but I think he was on a mission and I was his casualty.”

Her throat had got increasingly drier as she’d attempted to bluster through the explanation. The flush that crept up Ollie’s face resembled the colour of the knickers.

“They’re nice,” he stuttered, his gaze still locked on them.

Sweat beaded her neck. “Really? I own a lot better than these,” she replied, shoving them back in her bag.

“Oh, right.” His blue eyes were wide, and his pupils dilated. Did he imagine the rest of her underwear? She fought with the temptation to tease him. “My black ones are my favourites. I have a special set that fit me like a glove, but I save that for special occasions.”

His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed slowly. He was impossibly redder than before. “Right,” he paused blinking fast “And, out of curiosity, what constitutes a special occasion?”

Fern smiled. She’d never worn the set because nothing special enough had warranted an outing. A date with Ollie might. The words were on the tip of her tongue. He shoved a hand through his hair, roughly yanking at the strands. I could offer to show it to him for a touch of his hair. That sounds weird. What are you doing, Fern? He’s too hot and too involved with his ex. “I’m not sure. Are you on a jog?”

His shoulders dropped, and he shrugged. “Yep. Do you want to come?”

Fern pointed up and down at her slate grey suit and heels, an eyebrow raised. “I’m on my way to work,” she replied. The tweeting of the sparrows above them was like laughter at their awkwardness.

“Oh yeah, sorry. I sometimes find my runs boring, and liked the idea of the company,” Ollie replied no longer looking her in the eye. “Look, about last week.”

“Yeah?” she added a breezy tone to her voice. “It was a nice evening.”

“I enjoyed it. I would have asked you to stay for dinner, but I had a feeling I’d be in a weird mood after chatting with my ex-wife, that’s the way it was for us in the last year of our relationship anyway. It wasn’t fair to put you through the inevitable funk I’d be left in,” he confessed with a wince.

The honesty surprised her. It was rare that the guys on the apps admitted their struggles.  The last one had revealed his biggest weakness was “loving women too much” and had explained that he should be entirely giving to all the women in his life. Basically, he wanted to shag around.

Sun peeked through the clouds and shone directly on Ollie’s skin. It hit his tanned forearms and displayed the definition of his muscles. How could a guy as gorgeous as him be anxious around her?  

“What’s the deal with your relationship?” Fern asked. Would he answer?

He cupped the back of his head and sighed heavily. “Where do I start? Our struggles weren’t just about her. I know my friends didn’t like her, but they didn’t see how intelligent she was or her ambition. She hypnotised me and me her. We were young, stupid and rushed everything.”

A couple of horns beeped from the nearby main road. I should be joining them, or I’ll be late. But Fern didn’t budge. This conversation seemed significant, and Ollie appeared vulnerable. Don’t say the wrong thing to him.

“Jana, my ex-wife, tells me she got bored of me, that I was an idiot and too into my work,” Ollie admitted. He cleared his throat a couple of times. “I couldn’t do right. I tried. I was willing to do whatever it took to make her happy. We weren’t compatible. We should have been a fling rather than a marriage. Then one morning I came home early to surprise her with a trip away, and I found her packing up my stuff. She told me to leave. Jana explained she no longer loved me and that she’d been sleeping with her tennis coach, who was moving in. How cliché is that? A beautiful middle-class woman and her tennis coach.”

“New balls, please.” Fern dug her nails into her hands, wishing for an earthquake or any other ground opening event. That was how to offend a guy, make light of his adulterous ex-wife.

Much to her surprise, he laughed. “You’re funny, I like that,” he paused, fumbling his words. “I haven’t dated since Jana. We finished over a year ago, although we hadn’t been a loving couple for a while. I’m not sure I’m cut out for the dating world. You seem to go on a lot of dates, what’s it like?”

“Are you calling me easy?” Why did she feel the need to defend herself like that? Too many dates had left her jaded.

“No, I mean you go on a lot of bad dates. I don’t think you’re easy.” He mumbled something under his breath like ‘say the wrong thing’, but she couldn’t catch the rest. Fern fought to keep eye contact but was distracted by the smattering of dark chest hair that peaked above his running shirt. “You usually seem unhappy when you get home or not long after. I can tell by the way you bang your door in the mornings.”

It was her turn to sigh. “I guess I’ve met some idiots in my time. I think guys get bored easily and seek out someone better.”

“They must be imbeciles,” he replied. As if suddenly realising the situation, he blurted, “Shouldn’t you be getting to work?”

Fern checked her phone before rushing for her car. The sudden movement forced some of her chocolate brown curls to slip from her ponytail. “Yeah, I’d better go.”

She caught his words just before she yanked her door closed. “Come for dinner tonight?”

She flicked the switch to put her window down. A gentle breeze carrying a scent of blossom filled her car.

He rambled on before she had the opportunity to reply. “I want to make up for all of Ripper’s bad behaviour, and it’s Friday. Maybe you can teach me some dating tactics. Unless you already have a date?”

His inflated chest froze as if he was holding his breath.

Would it be a mistake? You shouldn’t get into this. But you like him too. Stop thinking and answer. “I have no dates tonight. That sounds like a lovely idea, I look forward to it. I’ll bring wine.”

He breathed out and shared as beaming smile. I want to kiss him. Was this going to be friends meeting or would it be like last week? Maybe they’d be better as friends. His wife seemed to have done a number on his mental health. How can I fix that? Is it my job? How beautiful was she?

“I can’t wait,” he replied, his eyes crinkling.

Any reluctance on her part disappeared when he started doing his stretches before his jog. He pushed his arms into the air, which forced his t-shirt to lift. The innocent act revealed his tight stomach beneath it. She allowed herself a peek out of her rear-view mirror as she drove down the road. Why did he have to be lovely and hot?

*****

“Next time I go jogging do you want me to invite you?” he asked as he put his knife and fork on the plate, the cutlery clinking together. The evening had gone well so far. The conversation had been so engaging that they’d barely touched their wine. He wore a pair of jeans and a long sleeve baseball t-shirt. Whenever he wasn’t looking, she admired the way it fitted his body, tight at his pecs. When he pushed up the sleeves and revealed his forearms, she let out an audible “oh” and dropped her fork. He’d inadvertently rewarded her by bending down to pick it up before a bouncing Ripper licked it and then rushed to get her another one. She’d never felt like such a pervert. If only he knew how much she lusted after him.

“I’m not a big jogging fan. I prefer a bit of dancing,” she replied, swinging her arms in the air before instantly regretting it. Everything about him left her flustered from his eyes, staring deeply into hers to the cedar scent that teased her every time he leant closer.

“Oh, right. It’s just I noticed a couple of weeks ago the way you stared at me while I was doing my stretches and you sighed quite loud. Do you remember? I thought maybe you wanted to come running but didn’t know how to ask.”

If only he’d known her stare had been because of his pert bottom, it was like they held a powerful magnet and in her eyes were iron fillings, it was impossible to look away. But he was still her neighbour, and a failed relationship on her doorstep would only end in one way. She liked her house; it was her sanctuary from all the world threw at her.

What if she crushed him with her insecurities? His ex-wife had done a number on him, bringing him from a confident guy who travelled the world to someone who questioned themselves at every crossroads.

Fern took a breath, pretending she was trying to remember the time he was talking about. “No, I wasn’t thinking of jogging at the time. I probably had something in my eye,” she replied, sliding the last of her roast chicken on to her fork.

Even as a friend, Ollie had been a better date than she’d had in a long time. He was funny, kind and attentive. Not only had he made her one of the tastiest roast dinners she’d had in a long time, but he also shared the conversation. His travels were inspiring, but he was down to earth too, and he’d seen genuinely interested in her friends and even her mum’s dating exploits.

Ripper’s little bark before she settled on the floor allowed Fern to scan his dining room. It also spoke of his travels. Brightly painted espresso cups and Murano glass vases hinted at a time spent in Italy. Ollie had shared stories during dinner of a summer spent in Venice, working as a waiter and dreaming of a life as a gondolier, before returning the next February for the Venice Carnival. He pointed to an ornate white mask with full gold lips and an electric blue peacock flowing across the nose before displaying at the cheek. It had been a gift from a friend who he’d had a short but intense relationship with.

Everything about him inspired Fern. Ollie had the presence to be the perfect romantic hero if he could believe in himself. Either way, he would be filling her fantasies for weeks. But he’s still your neighbour and has a difficult ex-wife. Change the subject before you fall harder for him. “How do you intend to go about dating then?”

He held his wine glass at his lip. “I was thinking of the apps. Everyone mentions Tinder is for-”

“Hook-ups,” Fern cut in. Let the man speak. She ran her fingers across the daisies printed on her dress. The cotton material hit just above her knee. Even while fighting her attraction to him, she’d still dressed with his appraisal in mind. If only he’d seen her in her red bikini in the summer. It was probably too revealing on her curves, but last August she’d toyed with the idea of knocking on his door to find out if he had any ice. What are you like? “Which are fine if that’s what you’re looking for. Casual sex can be just what people need after break-ups, well, that’s what guys I’ve been on dates told me.”

He dropped his head, and two pink spots appeared on his cheeks as he spoke. “Oh, no. I mean, I like sex. But I want something different. My favourite thing to do is to see a woman smile, not because she thinks you want her to, but because you’ve brought her genuine happiness. I want to share my life with someone; hear what they love and offer what I love and then spend time doing those things. I want a future rather than a moment. That sounds cheesy when I say it out loud.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Fern whispered. A shiver started at the tips of her toes before going all the way to her scalp. His sentiment was beautiful and what she’d been searching for on those awkward online chats and dates that ended with soulless sex or a cold goodbye.

“Are you okay?” Ollie’s hand rested in the air just above her arm. It was if he couldn’t decide whether physical contact was a good idea or not. The musky scent of his aftershave was subtle, and she leant in and breathed it deep into her lungs. There was something in the way he spoke that made her believe he was bearing his soul. He could be another fuckboy, but what if he wasn’t? What if this was the guy she should be dating? At the battle between her head and her heart, she held her breath, scared of the next step.

“Yeah, fine,” she replied. “I just haven’t heard someone say that sort of thing about dating for a long time.”

“I guess I’m out of practice.” Ollie chuckled. His fingers trembled as he placed them on the table. Was he avoiding physical contact because he didn’t fancy her? She used to understand the signs and believe what people said to her, but years of dating had made her question everything. “Maybe I should be playing it cool. But to be honest, there’s one woman in particular that I like, I just haven’t built up the courage to tell her.”

He blushed as his eyes met hers.

“Someone I know? Someone at work?” Even on dates flirting made her unsure of herself, it was as if after all this time meeting new guys she didn’t have confidence in herself anymore, as if she was always waiting to make a mistake and be replaced by a more beautiful woman.

“No, Fern, someone a lot closer to home.” The innocent way he said her name drew her eyes to the bow of his lips. It was her turn to blush. The flush covered her body before the nervous excitement surged through her.

He was staring at her. Big blue eyes looked at her in what she could only describe as awe.

Air seemed stuck in her lungs as he reached for one of her brown curls, stroking it between his fingers. She forced back down her throat a joke about Ripper being the only female for him.

“I’ve had a question for you for a while. But I don’t know how to ask it,” Ollie cleared his throat. “You seem confident, and I don’t think you tolerate fools easily.”

“You’re not a fool,” she whispered.

“I’m not sure. If you get told it enough times it’s hard not to believe,” he replied with a sigh. “But I see you go on dates and come home sad. I wish you could go on a date with someone who thinks you’re amazing, who wants to give you the best first date you’ve ever been on. And then wants to give you the best second, third, fourth date too. You deserve it all.”

He leaned in a little. His lips were nearing hers.

“It’s just I’m a bit nervous when I’m around you, and I’ve wanted to tell you something for a while-”

A cough came from the direction of Ripper, who was watching them intently.

“Maybe she’s picking up on my nervousness,” Ollie said, probably trying to make light of the situation. “What I’m trying to say is-“

Ripper’s coughing continued, at a more frantic pace.

“Is everything okay, girl? It sounds like she’s trying to be sick. I’m sorry about this, but Ripper doesn’t normally get like this,” he explained, letting go of Fern’s hair and leaning towards the dog.

“Do you think that the chicken you asked me to give her had a bone in it?”

He dived to the ground and started to investigate the inside of Ripper’s mouth. Fern joined him on the floor as Ripper continued to hack.

“What should we do?” Although she’d have denied it if asked, she cared about the little dog. 

“There’s something in her throat, but I can’t get it out without making things worse. I lost the tip of my finger to her once.” He picked her up with one swift motion and wrapped her tightly in a blanket. “We need to get her checked out.”

“I’m so sorry, Ollie. I can’t believe I didn’t check the chicken properly,” Fern said. Tears were running down her cheeks. Ripper continued to cough, her eyes were wide, and her paws trembled.

“It’s not your fault. Please don’t cry. I’m going to get it sorted. Are you okay to come with us and hold her while I drive?” He headed to his door.

“Of course, but where are we going, surely the vets aren’t open now?” she asked as he passed the dog to her and scrabbled for his keys.

“I know someone who should be available to help, unfortunately.”

Puppy Love – Part 2

What the Ducks?

Korean ducks puppy love dating story

Don’t forget to read part 1 first, you can find it here: www.rebeccahchase.com/puppy-love-part1

“You’re telling me you’re a secret geek? Does that mean you’re a bit dull?” Fern asked with a cheeky wink as she tucked her feet under her and sunk into the plush sofa. There was nothing dull about his living room. She gawked at the mixture of paintings featuring traditional ladies from Asia in massive skirted dresses or large beachscapes as the sun was rising over the waves. Amongst these were photos showing groups of grinning people with surfboards or hanging out in markets or coffee houses. It was hard to miss the large television too. It had to be bigger than her sister’s, which she frequently boasted was 65 inches.

“Game designers are not dull geeks. Kids at university would kill to do what I do. I’m like the David Beckham of the digital world.” Fern stifled a laugh at his shakily shared response to her jokey question. Maybe she wasn’t the only one with confidence issues. “You’re not buying it.”

“Are you?” she teased.

“I don’t think that’s relevant,” he laughed elbowing her as they sat thigh to thigh on the sofa.

“I always wondered why you didn’t go out to work. I joked to friends that you might be a lottery winner, but then you probably wouldn’t be living here,” she added, sipping the hot coffee. There was a weird pleasure to the burn it gave her throat. “I’d see you heading out for a jog just as I was readying myself for a slog through rush hour.”

“Or that morning you were coming home from a night partying with a bag of something that smelt suspiciously like brownies,” he replied, his fingers resting against the edge of his shorts. Sadly he had made good on his promise and put a t-shirt on. The grey cotton clung to his biceps, reminding her the taut abs that were underneath. A hot geek? Could it get any better?

“You mean my walk of shame?” Fern sighed. “It was a bad date where the guy kicked me out at 2 in the morning because I wouldn’t have sex with him. Luckily his housemate was kind enough to let me sleep on her floor. I always buy brownies at that bakery around the corner after a crap date.”

“Oh, right.” He shifted awkwardly. “How is dating going?”

“Let’s just say I’m on first name terms with all the staff at the bakery these days.” She gave a hollow laugh. An awkward silence descended. Fern ran her fingers across the jade cushion that had been propping up her elbow. Ask him about his dating; you know you want to. Say it, Fern. Come on. She opened her mouth, but a squeak came out.

“Sorry, what did you say?” Ollie leaned closer, a fresh waft of cedar filled her lungs. He was way out of her league.

“I said…” She fumbled with her words. “I mean, I was going to say how beautiful your place is. There is so much to see.”

You gutless wimp. No wonder you haven’t had a successful date in forever. You can’t even chat when there is a perfect opening. 

“You like my place?”

“Yes, it’s stunning.”

Ollie beamed, it made his eyes crinkle at the edges. “I got all of these things from my travels. I worked for a long time in South Korea, after that California.”

Two beautifully carved wooden ducks perched on the surfboard shaped coffee table. The ducks had been placed tail to tail, and curiously one duck had a string tied around its beak. The table was adorned with scrawls of writing, a mix of messages that were too far away to read apart from one, “Ollie, thank you for saving my life and giving me hope. You were the best friend a girl could have.” There was so much she wanted to know about him. “You have incredible taste,” Fern replied.

“Unlike you,” he joked.

“What do you mean?” she asked, unable to look away from his big blue eyes.

“I meant because of what you said about dating. Sorry, my humour doesn’t always cross over well,” he replied, his shoulders slumping a little. Ollie tapped restlessly against his tanned thighs. “One of my many faults.”

His sighed as he looked down, betraying a sadness she didn’t understand. “Tell me about the ducks,” she requested. “Where are they from?”

He breathed deeply, sucking all the air from the room. “The ducks? They’re from a friend in South Korea. A pair of carved wooden ducks are traditionally given by the bride’s father and mother to the bride and groom. The friend couldn’t come to my wedding, so he sent them as a gift for my wedding day. My ex-wife said they were ugly and refused to have them out.”

“Oh right,” Fern skirted around the ex-wife comment. “And why has one of them got string around its beak?”

Ollie laughed awkwardly. He ran his fingers through his hair, reminding her how much she still wanted to touch it for herself. “Promise you won’t judge my friends?”

How bad could a piece of string be? “Okay. And if you ever meet my mum, you have to make the same promise,” she joked.

He picked up the duck with the string around its beak and handed it to her. His hand brushed hers; the brief touch brought a shiver to her skin. Up close, she realised there were slight differences to the ducks; the beaks were different shades of brown, and the wings had been decorated in various patterns and colours. The wood was cold and smooth to the touch. Its beady eye watched her as she studied it back. How could the ex-wife say they were ugly?

“You can get them in a variety of colours and patterns,” he said softly, taking the other duck in his hand. “And sometimes string is tied to both beaks to symbolise that the couple shouldn’t speak harshly of each other or criticise. You have the female duck there. My friends didn’t like my ex or the way she spoke to me, even before we married, so they sent me a female duck with the string around its beak. Here is the male one.”

He swapped ducks with her, but questions hung in the air between them. Why had Ollie married his ex-wife if she had a history of mistreating him? Did he display the ducks because he missed her or to remind himself not to make the same mistake again?

Ripper took that moment to leap onto her lap. The duck flew into the air. As one they watched it sail past the coffee table before clattering on the floor. The beak broke off and skittered under the sofa.

“I’m so sorry, Ollie,” Fern cried out as she scrambled to the floor, desperately searching for the beak. ”How can I replace it? Maybe your friend can send you another one, and I can pay him.”

Ollie bent down with her and held her hands still in his. His baby blue eyes fixed on hers. “Please don’t worry. My ex cut the beak off the male one after our wedding, it was likely to break again at some point and to be honest it’s Ripper who should replace it.” He smiled a soft smile, and her gaze rested on his full lips. What would he taste of if she kissed him? She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth. Goose pimples rose on her skin again as his gaze flicked between her lips and her eyes. Did he want to kiss her too?

His fingers reached up and tucked strands of her hair behind her ears. His soft touch lingered. 

An out of date pop tune played from his TV speakers, the soundtrack to their moment.

“You’re gorgeous, Fern.” The smell of cedar was like an aura around him. He leaned in closer, and she licked her lips. Fern shut her eyes and closed the gap between them.

Ripper barked, shoving herself between them and killing the moment.

At the same time, Ollie’s mobile rang. It was the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz.

Who has that as their ring tone?

“Sorry,” he replied, sensing her unspoken question. “It’s the tune for my ex-wife. My mum changed the ringtone as a joke after the divorce.”

Even his mum hated her.

“Right, well, I should go. I don’t want to be in the way,” Fern replied, standing up, slipping on her heels and collecting her bag. If ever there was a time for hasty exits it was now.

“You don’t have to. I can’t imagine why she’s calling. We haven’t spoken since I moved out a year ago,” Ollie offered.

I’m hardly going to wait here while you talk to your ex-wife so that we can continue our near kiss, which you’re probably already regretting. Fern attempted to make light of the moment, “I have things I need to get on with. Got to get back on those dating apps and find myself a single man, preferably one without a wife,” she said, wishing the earth would open and take her under. Why do I say this stupid stuff?

“Just so you know we’re not married anymore,” he said hurriedly while answering the phone. His shoulders hunched, and his tapping became frantic as he answered. “Hello, Jana.”

A clipped tone sounded out of his earpiece. There didn’t seem to be a hello back. Instead, the person at the other end launched into a rapid spiel.

Maybe Ollie had too much baggage for dating, but it didn’t stop her revisiting that near kiss as she slipped out the door.

Puppy Love – Part 1

Ripper Strikes Again

puppy love, dog found

A flash of black crossed her path, forcing her to brake hard.

“Bloody Ripper strikes again!” Fern cursed. “That blasted dog.”

It wasn’t even her dog. It was like a broken homing pigeon that found its way into her garden at least once a week. She had better things to do with her time than dragging the beast to the feet of her unnervingly hot neighbour, Ollie.

It was bad enough that she’d spent her day listening to women at work talk about birth control measures while forcing pictures of their cute imp-like children in her face.

“You’re so lucky you’re single, you get to party all the time,” Sally, the yummiest of mummies, had declared during their slow afternoon in accounts.

“That’s me,” Fern had responded while thinking which pair of flannel pyjamas she’d be putting on as soon as she got through the front door.

Her single life had its moments, but it was rarely worth spending a couple of hours transforming her frizzy hair into perfect waves for a date where some dude told her she was “a bit of a tall one” or “had the sort of bum that deserved a spanking”. Even the pre-date chat was painful, and Sally had no reason to be jealous of the nights Fern spent questioning everything about herself after another Tinder guy had ghosted her.

Maybe she should ditch the apps. Her mum regularly told her that the new thing in dating was meeting guys face to face. Her mum should know, she had several dates a week.

“All I have to do is get the right face to look at me,” she grumbled as the dog dashed in front of her car again. What had she destroyed in her back garden this time? Last time she’d lost the leaves on her fancy palm plant. It had been a present from her ex-boyfriend before he’d gone travelling. He’d said that he wanted to find himself and so they parted as best friends rather than partners, which they were both happy with. While they cared about each other, they’d fallen out of love long before that.

Throwing the car into park and forcing open the door she was unsurprised to find a cherub-faced terrier staring her down, daring Fern to pet its head. Gently she held out her hand to Ripper’s coarse dark fur. I need to get her to her home without speaking to Ollie. I can’t face another awkward meeting where I fumble with my words, and he looks at me like I’m an imbecile.

With disarming perception, Ripper danced out of her clutches and wagged her stubby tail in the direction of Ollie’s house.

“I don’t look hot enough to speak to him,” she grumbled, wondering whether to leave Ripper to her possible demise or deposit her safely in Ollie’s clutches. She’ll be okay, probably. Ripper skipped down the garden path toward Ollie’s back garden.

Scrabbling with her key in the lock of her front door Fern basked in the knowledge that soon she could be in her pyjamas and shutting out her day.

An unusual combination of a bark and a yap caught her attention.

Ripper had returned.

“Stupid name for a stupid girl dog,” she grunted as she coaxed Ripper closer, leading her to Ollie’s front door.

Ripper was cute, but she seemed to have a desperate urge to escape from her house. Her source of enjoyment was Fern’s garden, but if her new plaything became Fern’s car, she couldn’t rely on its braking skills. It wouldn’t have mattered too much if Ollie had been an ugly neighbour whose main hobby was scratching his butt cheeks. But the guy had a surfer look about him, which made no sense in a town where the sea was several hours drive away. His bronzed skin, golden-brown hair and tight abs had managed to get her out the house and on time for work many days in the last couple of months in the hope she might bump into him. It was amazing how a good view could drag a lazy butt out the front door.

He made the guys she swiped yes for on Tinder look like they should wear bags over their heads. But he’s too hot for me.

They’d bumped into each other a couple of times, usually when he was doing stretches before a jog. It had taken a lot of energy not to stare as drool pooled in the corner of her mouth. Watching him slide his leg out and lunge deep forcing his hamstring to stretch had raised her heart rate. When he’d bent double, thrust his bum in the air and palmed the floor she’d nearly had a heart attack.

One evening last week she’d climbed out a taxi dejected while vowing out loud, “I will never go out with a guy from OKCupid again,” only to bump into Ollie and Ripper on a late evening walk. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen her before or after a date, but the soft way he’d asked if she was okay while staring deep into her eyes with his baby blues had changed the night completely. Usually, she’d wake the next morning and binge on brownies while swiping Tinder until she’d run out of matches, especially after a date where the guy told her that he’d only gone on a date with her because she reminded him of his ex who he was still in love with. Instead, she’d bounced out of bed and made the most of the morning with a swim at the local pool. Ollie brought this warmth that she wasn’t used to in the men she met.

Ollie was single, at least that seemed the obvious explanation for the lack of women or men in his life. Either he was perfect at hiding his hook-ups or Ripper was the only female for him. Fern had a feeling there had been a former Mr or Mrs Ollie once. The white mark around his ring finger when he first moved in a year ago suggested as much. His ex must have been an idiot.

Fern fumbled through her handbag, shoving vanilla hand cream and her paper diary, that she never got round to writing in, to one side. The smell of cooked sausage permeated her bag. Ripper started jumping up, showing she had caught a whiff too. Fern reached for her leftover sausage sandwich and waved it in her face.

“Come on, girl. Time to go home.” Ripper snatched the sandwich from between her fingers. “You’re a bloody menace!”

But it seemed to work. Ripper trotted down the driveway, following her to the front door, gaily chewing the supermarket sandwich and dropping crumbs everywhere.

Fern’s hand teetered on the edge of the doorbell. Would Ollie be showcasing the gleaming smile and the muscly forearms she’d sell her grandma for?

Looking down at Ripper, her big brown eyes and the face framed by perked up ears and long whiskers, Fern smiled.

“How am I going to get the courage to speak to your daddy?” She was never going to be confident enough to ask Ollie on a date.

“Come on, buddy, I need your help,” she whispered before the furry fiend darted away. The pup’s display of white teeth that resembled a cheeky grin was flashed in her direction before she dashed toward her back gate.

Obscenities rested on Fern’s tongue as the front door opened.

Bloody hell. Her heart thudded in her chest, and she swallowed nervously. Ollie stood in front of her in shorts. Who answers their front door just in shorts? They rested absentmindedly on his hips, revealing his glorious V that drew the eyes to the mysteries that hid beneath the navy material. It clung to his thighs like a second skin.

“Hey, Fern,” he said with a grin that made her wonder if all dogs looked like their owners. There was a resemblance that suggested mischief. “What’s up?”

My pulse whenever you’re near. Fern took a deep breath, desperately trying to compose herself and ignore the flush sneaking through her body. The deep breath had been a mistake. A cedar scent, possibly Ollie’s deodorant smell, filled her lungs, and her skin tingled in admiration. Fern cleared her throat and took a shallower breath attempting to calm herself. “Ripper got out again.”

Out the corner of her eye, she spied black fur as Ripper moseyed down the hallway before stopping at Ollie’s feet. Her grin was toothy, and her big brown eyes wide.

“Ripper is right here,” Ollie responded. Her tail swished back and forth. The little madam is laughing at me. “From the way you’re glaring at her, I’m guessing she hasn’t been here very long. She must have sneaked through the back door.”

“I’m not glaring,” Fern answered nervously fumbling with her words. His short waves were distracting her. Were they as soft as they looked? If she reached out, would they fall between her fingers? “I always look like this after work. Doesn’t everyone?”

“Not really. At least I don’t think so. How do I look?” Like a god. Slowly she took in his body. Did his abs tighten under her gaze or was that her imagination? Goose pimples covered her arms beneath her evergreen blouse.

“I can see your nipples.” Oh shit, why did I say that? He looked down, and for a moment, they both stared at his nipples. “They’re very pert.” Why am I still talking? “And pink.”

“Right,” he replied, clearing his throat.

“Like your face is.”

“Sure, okay. I’d best put a t-shirt on.” His face turned from a slight pink to a rosy glow. “I spilt tea.”

Fern shuffled from foot to foot while giving herself a pep talk. Don’t say anything else stupid. Please, Fern, keep your mouth shut. “Well, it looks like you didn’t burn your nipples.”

Silence filled the increasingly awkward moment. He was staring at her like she had two heads or no brain.

“I should go. Ripper is safe, and I’ve made enough of an arse of myself.” Fern bent down to pat Ripper who sped back into the house with a wagging tail. She stood back up and fiddled with the waistband of her smart black trousers. “Right then, see you another time.”

“Okay,” Ollie said. His brow furrowed, and his fingers taped quickly against his thighs. Fern turned and released a big breath of air as she walked back up the driveway, her heels clacking her retreat. What is wrong with you? You’ve ruined any chance to be friends, let alone anything else.

“You know,” Ollie called out to her back, forcing her to stop abruptly.

Slowly she turned. “Yes?” she replied, daring herself to hope.

“I could make you a tea or coffee or whatever you’d like. I want to apologise for my naughty pup. If you’re happy to join me?” Sweat beaded his brow. Was it a pity ask? Surely he didn’t want to spend more time with her. He added nervously, “I promise to wear clothes.”

You don’t have to on my account. Fern forced her mouth closed and nodded. How could she refuse any words that left those kissable lips?