A DATE WORSE THAN DEATH BY LANETTE CURINGTON
What could possibly go wrong on a blind date? Everything! Ginny North meets the man of her dreams, Pete Adams–except he’s not the creepy guy she has the date with. Too bad Pete might be crazy, too. Between blackmail and a demon from Hell, Ginny finds out there can be such a thing as a date worse than death.
A paranormal romance novelette, approx. 11,000 words or 37 pages.
“I know this guy,” my co-worker Keri Martin announced out of the blue.
Of course you do, I thought and rolled my eyes. With my back to her, watering the plants on the window sill, I could get away with making faces. Keri was petite, pretty, perky–all those things I wasn’t. Well, I was pretty enough, but not in that blonde, Malibu Barbie way like Keri. I had sandy brown hair and dark blue eyes.
“His name is Andy Lyons,” she continued as if I’d expressed any interest in knowing more. “He’s tall, even taller than you, Ginny.”
I stood nearly a head taller than Keri, but at five-foot-eight, I was hardly a giant.
The small size of the office worked in my favor for once, with Keri’s side of the desk we shared less than a yard away. Turning around quickly, I aimed the watering can’s spout directly in front of me like the barrel of a gun. The spout cap didn’t have a tight seal and water droplets flung themselves at Keri.
“Hey!” she yelped, spinning away in her rolling chair. She grabbed tissues from the box on the desk and swiped at the beads of water dotting her pale blue dress and perfectly tanned skin.
“Oops, sorry.” I made a show of turning my weapon in another direction.
She looked up at me, her cornflower blue eyes filled with hostility a split-second before turning back to their usual bogus uber-sweetness.
“No problem.” Keri rolled her chair back to the desk, tossing the tissues into the trash can.
I went to the small restroom, emptied the watering can, and set it in the cabinet under the sink.
When I came back out, Keri once more started talking up the guy. “Andy’s an old buddy of my brother’s from when we lived out of state. He’s staying in town a while and asked if I could introduce him to some of my friends.
Friends? Keri and I could hardly be called friends. I’d been at Craig’s Tax Accounting Office since graduating high school seven years ago. Keri, five years younger than I, had been working here less than six months. We were co-workers, nothing more. We got along all right, as long as I held my tongue, but we had never socialized outside of the office.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked as I took my seat on my side of the desk. As senior employee, I kept the side of the desk that faced the window.
Keri laughed. Although I didn’t know her well, I knew her well enough to know a false ring to her laughter when I heard it.
“You’re funny, Gin. I just thought you two might hit it off.” She shrugged and started leafing through one of the celebrity magazines she kept in a drawer for slow times. “You haven’t had a date since I’ve been here. I thought you might like to get out for a while.”
She was right, but she didn’t have to say it in such a smug tone. But then Keri could afford to be smug. This was a girl who had a different guy pick her up every Friday afternoon after work. And I wasn’t exaggerating. I’d never seen the same guy twice come through the door at four o’clock sharp on a Friday–until a month ago. She’d been seeing the same guy, Mick Johnson, for three weeks now. I wondered if he’d be the one to show up today.
I’d run out of suitable unattached men long ago. None of the guys I’d dated had clicked for me, so I just gave up on dating for a while. I missed it. Well, some of it–having a quiet dinner prepared by someone else in a nice restaurant, the small talk between adults, or sharing a good movie with someone I could laugh with. I really missed the sex I’d had with some of them.
But I’d also gotten tired of not experiencing any special chemistry with a man. There wasn’t one of them I didn’t mind seeing leave the morning after. I’d felt no more than affection for any of them. So if local guys weren’t doing it for me, maybe a man from out of town was just what I needed.
Which showed my level of desperation.
“So tell me more about this Andy Lyons,” I said.
Keri’s date picked her up at exactly four, and it was Mick again. I was to meet them, and Andy Lyons, a few hours later at the Garden Palace Restaurant. After bidding my boss, Mr. Craig, good night, I went home to clean up and change clothes.
I didn’t have much time to fret over what to wear, so I grabbed the nicest dress in my closet and put it on. I dabbed expensive lavender perfume oil on all my pulse points, slipped into a pair of white sandals, ran a comb through my freshly washed and dried hair, and decided I was good to go.
After I parked in the Garden Palace lot, I checked myself in the rear view mirror one last time. Aside from some flyaway hairs, which I smoothed down, I still looked put together. As I adjusted the mirror for driving again, I caught movement in the reflection. A man stood at the corner of the restaurant, looking in my direction.
Andy Lyons? I hoped so. About all Keri would say when I asked for more information regarding her friend was that he was tall and kind of shy. She didn’t go into any details describing him.
I pretended to futz with the mirror, but all the while I watched the guy across the parking lot. He looked to be tall, from what I could tell. And he was very handsome with rusty auburn hair. I took a deep breath and picked up my purse. When I got out of the car, I saw he was no longer at the corner of the building and now crossed the lot.
I smiled and headed toward him. When he realized I was coming his way, he stopped but glanced over his shoulder and all around us before looking at me again.
“Hi, I’m Ginny North,” I said as I got close enough to speak without shouting. And, yes, he was at least four inches taller than I, so that if I stood close enough to touch, I’d have to look up into his eyes. “I think we’re–”
At that moment, I saw a car pull in with Keri in the passenger seat, her date behind the wheel, and another man in the back.
My heart fell into the pit of my stomach. This gorgeous hunk wasn’t Andy Lyons. I turned back to apologize to him–and get his name and find out if he was single–but he had disappeared. Bewildered, I walked around a car to see him hunkered down in the narrow space between it and the pick-up truck in the next parking space. When he saw me, he started feeling around on the pavement under the car then bent down to look beneath it.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I thought you were someone else. I’m supposed to meet some friends, and they just drove up.”
“Not a problem.” He looked up at me and smiled. It was a little tip-tilted to one side and made my knees go weak. “I dropped my keys.”
“Do you want me to help you find them?” I was still eager to find out his name and anything else I could about him.
He ducked his head, glancing under the car again, before rising to his knees. “No, I see them. I’m sure your friends are waiting. I wouldn’t want you to be late. Besides, you’re dressed too pretty to be crawling around down here.”
“Th-Thank you,” I said and felt my face grow warm. “But I don’t mind, if you need help.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I can manage.” He shot me that oh-so-sexy smile again then leaned down and stretched his arm under the car.
“Ginny!” Keri called out. “We’re over here!”
“I need to go,” I said without moving an inch.
“Enjoy your dinner,” he said before his head disappeared underneath the car.
Sighing, I turned to face the three who waited for me at the end of the walkway leading to the front door. Keri was perky and pretty as ever, and her date Mick was a little on the short side but a perfect match for her in all his perky blondness, too.
That left the hulking guy with wild, unkempt brown hair and dead black eyes, who stood seven feet tall if he was an inch…
I almost turned and ran back to hide under the car with Mr. Gorgeous.
“Come on, Ginny,” Keri said in a whiny voice. “We’re going to be late. Our reservation was for seven, and it’s already ten after.”
Well, gee, I wasn’t the one who just drove up at five after was what I wanted to say. Instead, I slowly walked toward them and immediately caught a whiff of something unpleasant on the air. The closer I got to the building, the stronger it became. It smelled like rotten eggs, and I could only imagine something was wrong with the restaurant’s sewer system.
Could this date get any worse?
Keri made the introductions. “This is Ginny North. Gin, the guy I was telling you about, Andy Lyons.”
I nodded and smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
Andy grunted. At least, I thought it was a grunt. It sure didn’t sound like any language I’d ever heard.
“Hey, we’d–” Mick stopped and cleared his throat. He nervously glanced at Andy before trying again. “We’d better get inside before they give our table away.”
Mick took Keri’s hand and they started up the short walkway to the front door. The hulk just stood there, staring at me. Or through me. I wasn’t sure which. I was hoping it was through me because I really didn’t want him thinking he had any kind of chance with me tonight. Or ever.
With a wistful look in the direction of where I’d last seen Mr. Gorgeous but without catching a glimpse of him again–was he still on the ground, searching for his keys?–I followed Keri and Mick. Andy Lyons moved in behind me. I could tell by his shuffling gait, like he didn’t know how to pick up his feet and just slid them along instead.
Why, yes, this date was on track to get much worse.
Inside, as soon as we were seated at our table, I nudged Keri under the table. Okay, it was more like a kick and even then I restrained myself.
“Ow,” she said and leaned down to rub her shin. “What the–”
“Will you come with me, please.” I jerked my head in the direction of the restroom then stood and waited for her.
She frowned up at me and her eyes narrowed. “I don’t have to–”
“Yes. You do.” I glared down at her in return. “Now.”
Keri slammed her purse into Mick’s midsection, for him to hold. “All right.”
Mick’s eyes grew wide, and he again shot an uneasy look toward Andy Lyons as Keri stood.
“Excuse us,” I said just because my mama had taught me manners, but not out of any real need to be polite.
I lead the way to the ladies’ room and looked over my shoulder several times to make sure Keri was right behind me. Part of me was disappointed because if she hadn’t followed, I planned to leave out the front door
After searching for Mr. Gorgeous, of course. But I suspected he was long gone. During our encounter, it seemed as if he were leaving the restaurant, not arriving. I hoped I was wrong.
After making sure no one occupied either of the two stalls, I locked the door so we wouldn’t be interrupted. I opened my mouth to begin a stinging tirade, but Keri put up her hand.
“I know, I know. And I’m sorry I didn’t explain more about Andy.” She paused and shrugged. “He’s an okay guy once you get to know him.”
“Does he even know how to speak?” I asked then wished I hadn’t. He couldn’t help it if he was slow…or whatever was wrong with him.
“He’s just shy, like I told you.” Keri tapped her fingers on the counter beside the basins. “Look, my friends are all shallow and self-centered. I know it and they know it. None of them would’ve considered going out with Andy. I–well, I thought you would be more accepting of him since you’re such a nice person.”
I leaned back into the edge of the counter and closed my eyes. Great, now she was laying a guilt trip on me. And I knew she was, but I didn’t know why. If she was so shallow and self-centered–and she was–why did she even bother with her brother’s old friend?
Something felt wrong, but I couldn’t figure it out. On the other hand, maybe Keri did have a bit of decency in her that didn’t show very often.
“I told Andy you were different and wouldn’t run off like the others. I said we’d have dinner then go dancing at the roadhouse near the lake.” Keri’s voice had turned wheedling, and I could imagine it was a tone she used on her boyfriends. A little girl voice that said I’ll do anything for you if you do what I want.
“Fine,” I said to keep her from using that tone any more. It creeped me out. I opened my eyes and looked at her. “Dinner, but that’s all. I’ll say I have a headache then you agree I should go home.”
Then she said something that made me forget any thoughts of decency I’d had about her in the past five minutes.
“I agreed to work next Wednesday so you could go shopping with your sister.” She stopped for a beat. “I can always change my mind.”
My sister and I had planned an all day excursion in the nearest big city nearly a hundred miles away. Shopping, lunch at our favorite restaurant, more shopping. We’d both taken the day off in the middle of the week, hoping it wouldn’t be as crowded as during the weekend. We tried to do the sisterly thing a few times a year, just us, without her husband or kids or my boyfriend, if I were seeing anybody at the time.
“Yeah, I understand.”
She smiled brightly. “Good. Then let’s get back out there before the guys think we’ve taken off.”
“You go ahead.” I motioned toward the door. “I really do need to use the john.”
“Okay, but don’t be too long.”
After Keri left, I locked the door behind her. The bitch. Keri knew how important next Wednesday was. My sister had put in for her day off weeks ago. It would take her weeks to change it. Her boss wasn’t as understanding as mine. Now that tax season was over and business had slowed, Mr. Craig didn’t care what days we took off or which of us worked, as long as every day was covered. Keri knew I couldn’t say no.
I unlocked the door, and just as I stepped outside and closed it, I saw Mr. Gorgeous. He was standing behind a lattice partition covered in plastic leafy vines, one of several that were used to break up the huge main room of the restaurant and make each section a little cozier.
When he saw me, he nodded and smiled that super sexy smile of his. Then he went to the salad bar, picked up a plate, and started piling on lettuce. Well, this was my chance, and I didn’t care if it would seem odd to the others if I got my salad before going back to the table.
I reached for a plate and got in line behind Mr. Gorgeous.
He dropped fresh mushrooms onto his bed of lettuce then looked around at me. “Hello again…Ginny, isn’t it?”
I was surprised but pleased he remembered. “Ginny North. Ginny with a G. And you are?”
I picked up the nearest tongs and put something on my plate. I wasn’t watching what I was doing. I was looking into Pete’s eyes. They were green…but more like the color of jade, I decided, with flecks of brown and amber.
“Hi, Pete. Did you find your car keys?”
His brow furrowed a second then smoothed. “Oh, yeah, they were behind a wheel. I got them.”
We moved down the line a few steps. I kept dumping stuff on my plate, not paying attention to what.
“I see you found your friends,” he commented.
“They’re not really friends. I work with Keri, but we hardly know each other. The short guy is her date, Mick.” I drew a deep breath. “The other guy is an old friend of Keri’s, from out of town. I never met him before. I–”
I shut up before I started begging him to take me away.
“Blind date, huh?”
“She asked me if I’d do her a favor and go out with him.” I shrugged. “We’re not hitting it off too well. He doesn’t talk much.”
“I wouldn’t think so,” Pete said with a glance at the hulk.
“Sorry,” he said with a wry grin. “He just doesn’t look like the talkative type.”
We rounded the end of the bar where the crackers, croutons, and dressings were grouped. I grabbed the first handle I came to and looked down to drizzle the dressing over the stuff on my plate. Ugh, I’d blindly picked out most of the things I didn’t like and was now covering it in ranch, my least favorite dressing.
“I don’t usually butt in on a date,” Pete said as we left the salad bar, “but you don’t sound like you’re having much fun. I’ll be in the bar for a while. You can join me there if you like.”
We’d come to the point where we had to part ways and stopped.
“Thank you.” I drew in a deep breath. “I’ll probably take you up on that offer.”
“See you later,” he said with a wink and a heart-stopping smile. Then he was gone.
I turned toward our table. Keri was giving me the evil eye, but I ignored her. With each step closer, I kept catching stronger and stronger whiffs of the rotten-egg smell.
I took my seat. “Sorry, but I was ravenous all of a sudden.”
Looking down at my unappetizing salad, combined with the awful smell that seemed strongest around our table, I felt my stomach churn. I pushed the salad plate away.
“I thought you were ravenous?” Keri asked with one golden eyebrow arched sarcastically.
“I was, but that smell is nauseating.”
I stared at her. “You don’t smell that? Like a broken sewer?”
“No,” she said.
When I turned to Mick, he just dropped his gaze to the table and shook his head. I looked over at Andy. He stared at me blankly, but he wore an unnerving huge grin that showed a mouthful of discolored crooked teeth.
“I can’t be the only person who smells that. It’s stronger here than it was in the restroom,” I said.
But thinking back, I hadn’t smelled it when Keri and I went in there for our little chat. All I remembered was the flower-scented air freshener.
The waitress came and took our orders. Keri and Mick ordered steak, rare, for them and Andy, and fried potatoes. I ordered baked chicken, but with that smell now filling every breath I took, I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat a bite.
I asked the waitress if the sewer line was broken, but she looked at me as if I’d suddenly grown another head on one shoulder. I told her I kept smelling something like rotten eggs. She said she didn’t detect any off odors, but she’d speak to the manager.
Keri frowned at me, like she thought I was making it up to get out of finishing the date. I just shrugged and squeezed the lemon in my iced tea, which Mick had ordered for all of us while Keri and I were in the restroom. The sharp tang of lemon helped with the smell, but I didn’t think I’d get my appetite back for a while.
I sat in silence while Keri chatted on and on about different things. Mick merely nodded his head at appropriate times and Andy said nothing. When she started talking about how much fun we were going to have at the roadhouse, I almost looked forward to it because I’d be away from the stench. Our food came, and I picked at my chicken to pretend to be eating.
Then I noticed Andy Lyons. His steak was twice the size of the Keri’s and Mick’s, and when he cut it, blood seeped out. He put huge pieces in his mouth and chewed loudly with great slurping sounds. I pushed my plate aside and held a napkin to my mouth. I thought I might be sick.
I glanced around. Pete had said he’d be in the bar. I hoped he was still there.
Pointing in the general direction of the bar, I said, “I see my cousin over there. I have to go speak to her. You know how family is. If I don’t, she’ll think I’m ignoring her, and then there’d be trouble.”
Keri opened her mouth as if to protest, but I grabbed my purse and took off.