Natural Born Charmer (Chicago Stars #7)(5)

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

She started working away at her bottom lip with her teeth. “Do you mind if I tag along with you for a while today?”

“You’re leaving your car behind?”

“It’s not worth repairing. Ben can have it towed. With the missing beaver head and all, it’s a good bet I won’t get paid, so he owes me.”

Dean thought about it. Sally had called it right. The Beav was a ballbuster, his least favorite kind of female. But she was also entertaining. “We’ll try it for a couple of hours,” he said, “but I’m not promising more than that.”

They pulled up in front of a corrugated metal building painted an unfortunate shade of turquoise. It was Sunday afternoon, and the gravel parking lot at Ben’s Big Beaver Lumberyard held only two vehicles, a rusted-out blue Camaro and a late-model pickup. A CLOSED sign swung from a pair of suction cups on the door, which was still wedged open to catch the breeze. Ever the gentleman, he got out to help her. “Watch your tail there.”

She gave him a withering glare, managed a slightly more graceful exit, and shuffled to the lumberyard door. As she opened it, he glimpsed a barrel-chested man stacking a display. She disappeared inside.

He’d just finished surveying the unimpressive scenery—a collection of Dumpsters and some power lines—when she stomped back out, a bundle of clothes in her arms. “Ben’s wife cut her hand, and he had to take her to the emergency room. That’s why she didn’t pick me up. Unfortunately, I can’t get out of this thing by myself.” She shot a disgruntled look toward the guy in the store. “And I refuse to let a professional sex deviant unzip me.”

Dean smiled. Who knew there were so many advantages to an alternative lifestyle? “I’ll be glad to help.”

He followed her around the side of the building where a peeling metal door held the faded silhouette of a beaver wearing a hair bow. The bathroom was a one-seater, not exactly clean, but marginally acceptable, with white, cinder block walls, and a fly-specked mirror bolted above the sink. As she looked around for a clean place to set her bundle of clothes, he lowered the toilet seat lid and—out of respect for his gay brethren—covered it with a couple of paper towels.

She put her clothes down and turned her back to him. “There’s a zipper.”

In unventilated quarters the beaver suit stank more than a gym locker, but as a veteran of more two-a-day practices than he could count, he’d smelled worse. A lot worse. Some of her damp, baby-fine dark hair had escaped from that sad excuse for a ponytail, and he pushed it away from the nape of her neck, which was milk white except for the faintest trace of a pale blue vein. He poked around in the mangy fur until he found the zipper. He was damn good at undressing women, but he’d barely lowered the tab an inch before it caught in the fur. He worked it free, but after another few inches, it caught again.

It went on that way, stop and start, the parting fur revealing an ever expanding wedge of milky skin, and the longer it took to unzip her, the less gay he felt. He tried to distract himself with conversation. “So what gave me away? How did you know I wasn’t straight?”

“Are you sure you won’t be offended?” she asked with phony solicitude.

“The truth shall set me free.”

“Well, you’re totally buff, but those are designer muscles. You didn’t get a chest like that roofing houses.”

“Lots of men go to the gym.” He resisted the urge to blow on her damp skin.

“Yes, but what straight guy doesn’t have a chin scar someplace, or a nose bump? Your profile is more chiseled than Mount Rushmore.”

It was true. Dean’s face had remained remarkably unscathed. His shoulder, however, was another story.

“Then there’s your hair. Thick, shiny, blond. How many products did you use on it this morning? Never mind. It’ll just make me feel inferior.”

The only thing he’d used on his hair that morning was shampoo. Good shampoo, it was true, but, still, shampoo. “It’s all in the cut,” he said, his cut having been administered by Oprah’s hairstylist.

“Those jeans didn’t come from the Gap.”


“And you’re wearing gay boots.”

“These are not gay boots! I paid twelve hundred dollars for them.”

“Exactly,” she said triumphantly. “What straight man would pay twelve hundred dollars for boots?”

Not even her asinine assessment of his footwear could cool him off because he’d reached her waist, and, as he’d imagined, she wasn’t wearing a bra. The frail bumps of her spine disappeared into the furry V of her costume like a delicate pearl necklace being swallowed by Bigfoot. It took all his considerable willpower not to slip his hands inside, slide them around, and explore exactly what the Beav had going on for herself.

“What’s taking you so long?” she asked.

“The zipper keeps getting stuck, that’s what.” He sounded grouchy, but his jeans hadn’t been designed to accommodate what they now needed to accommodate. “If you think you can do this faster, you’re welcome to try.”

“It’s hot in here.”

“Tell me about it.” With one last tug, he reached the end of the zipper, which was a good six inches below her waist. He took in the curve of her hip along with a narrow band of bright red elastic.

She pulled away, and as she turned to him, she crossed her paws over her chest to hold the suit in place. “I can take it from here.”

“Oh, please. Like you have anything I’d be interested in seeing.”

The corner of her mouth ticked, but whether from amusement or annoyance, he couldn’t tell. “Out.”

Oh, well…He’d tried.

Before he left, she passed over her keys and asked him, none too politely, to get her stuff from her car. Inside the dented trunk he found a couple of plastic milk crates stuffed with art supplies, some paint-splattered toolboxes, and a big canvas tote. He’d just loaded them in his car when the guy who’d been working inside came out to inspect his Vanquish. He had oily hair and a beer gut. Something told Dean this was the alleged sex deviant who’d earned the wrath of the Beav.

“Man, that is a sweet machine. I saw one of them in that James Bond movie.” And then, as he got a good look at Dean, “Holy shit! You’re Dean Robillard. What’re you doin’ around here?”