12 DAYS

12 Days by Karla Doyle

Kelly Horne and Adeline Mission have been best friends since the third grade. Yes, he thinks she’s pretty. And hot. Smart. Funny. But they’re buds. Roommates. End of story. 

Until he opens a package delivered to his house without checking the name on the label, and finds Addie has ordered a vibrating cock ring for some guy who doesn’t deserve her, because no guy does. 

There’s a gift receipt in the box, meaning she intends to give the sex toy to somebody for Christmas…in 12 days. 

12 days to undo a lifetime of “just friends”. 12 days to change the name she writes on that gift tag. 12 days to win the girl he just realized has always been the one for him.

A Hope Harbor small-town, friends-to-lovers, standalone romance.

Sexy Contemporary Romance • 41,467 words • © Karla Doyle, November 17, 2020

Hope Harbor series — Book 1

Standalone Maxi-Novella • Happily Ever After • No Cliffhanger • Linked Series

Heat Level — 3/6

ISBN: 9781777156831 (ebook)   9781777156848 (print)
ASIN: B08LH23RS8

CHAPTER ONE

 

December 13

KELLY

 

“A delivery van just stopped in front of your house,” his buddy, Rick, called from the living room. “Guy’s walking up to your door.”

“Can you grab it? My hands are covered in rib sauce.”

“On it.”

From the kitchen, Kelly Horne heard the groaning creak of floorboards under Rick’s feet, the agonized squeak of the front door’s hinges as it opened. He needed to give the old house some TLC before it was too late.

A bit more squeaking and creaking brought Rick to the kitchen, where he set a brown package on the counter. “That’s a small box. I’m guessing this is something for one of the chicks in your current rotation.”

“I don’t have a rotation.”

Rick’s thick eyebrows rose. “Are you telling me the horndog never humps the same bitch twice?”

“Classy,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re lucky that Addie’s not here. If she heard you referring to women as bitches to be humped, you might as well book yourself an appointment to get neutered.” He made a snip-snip motion with his fingers, grinning when his buddy instinctively covered his junk.

Fair payback for the horndog reference. He hadn’t minded the nickname that played on his last name back in their high-school days, but at thirty-one, he was ready for the tag to roll over and play dead. He still had no problem getting action, but he did so with more discretion and a much higher skill level. The old horndog had learned a lot of tricks since high school.

He pointed at the tray of gooey ribs before turning to the sink to wash his hands. “Make yourself useful and stick that pan back in the oven.”

“On it.” Rick joked around about many things, but never food. “Anything else I can do?”

“Yeah. The baby greens, diced cucumbers, and light raspberry vinaigrette are in the fridge, waiting to be mixed up.” He watched Rick’s expression sour at the mention of healthy food, then hit him with a prime punchline. “What, don’t like the idea of tossing my salad?”

Rick’s eyebrows drew together briefly, before rising so high, they looked as if they were trying to escape his grumpy face. “You’re one sick son of a bitch.”

“Watch what you say about my mother.” Kelly grinned, scooping the plain, brown box from the counter. He’d done a bunch of online shopping this holiday season, but he had no idea what was in this particular package. “On the subject of my mother, let’s find out what I can’t remember buying for her.”

“You do that. I’m grabbing my beer. Need to cleanse my palette.” Still sporting a disturbed expression, Rick shook his head. “You’re lucky I don’t actually eat salad, since you just ruined it for me forever.”

Kelly laughed, busting the packing tape while watching his buddy head into the living room. “Sorry, man. Messing with you is just too easy.”

“You’d know about easy,” Rick shot back, reentering the kitchen, beer in hand. “On that note, you could leave somebody in town untouched. Take pity on those of us who don’t have the Kelly Horne magic.”

“I haven’t been with every woman in Hope Harbor.”

“True. You haven’t sealed the deal with Adeline.” Rick knocked back a swig from his bottle of Bud Light, grinning as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Must suck to be around her every single day and know you’re never going to get some Missionary.”

“Hey.” Kelly froze with his hand curled around the packing paper surrounding the box’s contents. “Don’t call her that.”

“Relax, Dad. It’s a joke.”

Shit, should he tell or not tell? He weighed the options on a scale of how much would it hurt Addie, gritted his teeth and made a choice. “Look, it’s a joke to you, but I know for a fact that she hates that old nickname. She might laugh it off with you, but on the inside, it makes her feel bad. So…just lay off with her, okay? She’s not a dirty-minded pig, like we are.”

“But apparently your mom is,” Rick said, his bug-eyed gaze zoned in to Kelly’s hands.

He followed suit and looked down at the item he’d absentmindedly unwrapped. “What the fuck?”

“More like, how to fuck.” Laughter erupted from Rick’s mouth when Kelly tossed the item into the sink as if it were on fire. “That’s like, whoa. How’d that conversation go? What do you want for Christmas, Mom? Well, son, a cock ring would be nice.

“That’s disgusting, even for you.” Kelly snagged his buddy’s beer and drained the remainder of the bottle.

Hands raised in surrender, Rick approached the sink. “All right, all right, I’m sorry. Obviously, you didn’t get your mom a cock ring for Christmas.” Despite the apologetic tone and words, his grin stretched wider. “You bought it for yourself. Interesting choice,” he said, inspecting the plastic-wrap-encased sex toy. “I would’ve had to buy one with a bigger ring, but we can’t all be so well-endowed.”

Kelly grunted. “You wish. Also, I didn’t order that. For me or anybody. It’s a mistake.”

“A pretty fucking wild one.” Rick snapped his fingers. “Hey, maybe it wasn’t the seller who made the mistake. Maybe the delivery guy got the address mixed up.”

“You didn’t check the label when you brought it in?”

Rick shook his head. “Didn’t figure I needed to. I’ve never gotten a wrong package at my place, or had one of mine go missing.”

“You’d better hope the address is way off, because if this package was supposed to go to one of my neighbors, I’m going to be picturing them using that damn cock ring every time I see them.”

“In that case, I hope it was meant for the old people who are always at your door, bringing you baked goods and prayer meeting invitations,” Rick said, racing Kelly to the empty box on the counter, and beating him by a fraction of a second. Jerkhole that he could be, Rick covered the label with his hand, blocking it from Kelly’s view.

Kelly scowled while Rick’s face lit up brighter than the Christmas lights Addie had strung throughout the house. “It’s the old fogies, isn’t it? Shit. I don’t want to think about wrinkled people having sex.”

“Oh, it’s not them you’re going to be picturing.” Rick lifted his hand, then turned the box toward Kelly. “That vibrating cock ring belongs to your roommate. Or, to the guy she’s giving it to, if you want to be technical. Looks like sweet little Missionary has outgrown her old nickname.”

“Give me that.” The bottom dropped out of Kelly’s stomach as he read the shipping label at close range. Adeline B. Mission, 152 St. Henry Street, Hope Harbor. “This can’t be right. They must’ve sent her the wrong item.”

“Or, maybe it’s totally right, and the sex swing she ordered to go with it is being shipped separately.” Rick howled with laughter while ducking Kelly’s punch. “Just saying, I was here when she asked you about putting a hook in the ceiling, near her bed.”

“For a swag lamp she saw at Ikea.”

“Uh-huh. Sure it was.”

“Addie’s not into sex toys.”

Rick’s eyebrows rose. “You sound pretty sure of that. Have you been snooping through your tenant’s room, Mr. Landlord?”

“No. Never. I just know she’s not into that kind of thing.”

“You just know it.” Rick barked out a laugh when Kelly nodded. “All right, then. Hope there’s a quiet little corner waiting in your land of denial, because I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of noise from the room next to yours, once Adeline puts that ring on her man’s dick. Who’s the guy, anyway? Somebody we know?”

The front door’s telltale squeak replaced any answer Kelly could’ve given. “Shit, she’s home. We’ve got less than a minute before she’s in here.”

“I’ll grab the packing paper,” Rick said, scrambling.

“Hello…” Addie called from the front hall.

“Hey. In the kitchen with Rick, making dinner. Hope you’ve got an appetite.”

Rick snorted. “Oh, I’d say she does. Just not for ribs.”

“Shut up.” Kelly shot him a glare, his gaze snagging on the invoice in the bottom of the open box as he pushed the flaps open. Unable to resist, he picked it up. Not a regular receipt, a gift receipt—meaning, whomever she’d bought the cock ring for didn’t know about it yet.

“What are you smiling about?”

“Nothing.” He returned the receipt to its place and nodded at the item in Rick’s hand. “Quick, put it in the box.”

“That’s what Addie’s going to be saying.”

“What am I going to be saying?” Addie asked, entering the kitchen.

“Hey.” Kelly ignored the question while subtly tucking the package behind his back. “Busy day at the store?”

Her dark-brown hair shimmered with her nod. “Mostly with poinsettias. I can’t seem to keep enough in stock.”

“That’s awesome.” Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his partner in postal crime, he passed the box to Rick. If his buddy could get out of the room without Addie seeing the package, they could tape it closed and she’d be the none the wiser about their accidental invasion of her privacy.

She shrugged. “Selling Christmas poinsettias pays the bills, but it’s a boring day when that’s all I’m doing. Now, back to my question. I distinctly heard Rick say, ‘That’s what Addie’s going to be saying,’ when I walked in, and the two of you currently look guilty as sinners on Sunday.”

“You got me,” Rick said. “We were talking about the ribs Kelly’s making and how you’re going to eat all of them, if we don’t get to them first.”

Emotion flashed across Addie’s expressive face, ending with her soft-pink lips in a downward curve.

Shit, he knew that look. He’d seen it many times over the years. She’d interpreted Rick’s comment—lie that it was—as him calling her an overeater. Something that’d been true earlier in her life. A habit she’d worked damn hard to break as an adult. He wouldn’t let her feel like crap to cover his idiot mistake.

“Rick wasn’t talking about food.” He stepped away from his buddy and held out his hand.

Rick shot him a what-the-fuck look, shaking his head as he surrendered the box. “It’s your funeral.”

Better that than causing Addie any hurtful emotions. Something she should never have to feel.

“The truth is, Rick accepted a delivery while I was adding more sauce to the ribs. I’ve bought a bunch of stuff online for Christmas and I opened it without checking the label. Turns out, it wasn’t mine, it’s yours. I thought if Rick and I could get it back in the box and sealed up before you saw it, you wouldn’t be embarrassed about ordering—”

“A cock ring,” Rick said, grinning ear-to-ear. “With nine vibration modes, according to the tag. Nice job, Missionary. Or should I say, not-so-Missionary. Who’s the lucky dude?”

“You don’t have to answer him.” He extended his arm and offered the package. “Sorry for unintentionally invading your privacy.”

In the twenty-three years he’d known Addie, her face had never been as red as this moment. She stood across from them, wide-eyed gaze flitting back and forth between them, lips moving, no words coming out. Only a strangled squeak, before she grabbed the box and darted from the kitchen. Two rooms over, her door closed with a bang.

“Wow, you really fucked that up.”

I fucked it up?” Kelly whirled to face Rick. “I was going to say she’d ordered something personal or maybe, maybe, say a sex toy. You’re the one who jumped in with the detailed description. ‘Nine vibrations modes.’ What the fuck was that about? And you called her that damn nickname I had just told you not to use.”

“Geez, Grandpa. Pull your giant wedgie out of your crack and relax. Adeline knows it was just teasing. Good teasing. I complimented her, in case you missed that. She’s awesome and gorgeous. It’s about time she loosened up and lived a little. I’m glad she’s found somebody she wants to get down-and-dirty with, aren’t you?” Rick opened the fridge and leaned inside, the clinking of bottles punctuating the silence in the kitchen. A couple seconds later, Rick popped up, staring Kelly down from behind the open door. “Holy fuck, it’s finally happening.”

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, you do. Even if you aren’t ready to admit it yet.” Rick shut the fridge with his foot, then passed Kelly a beer. “You’re not happy that Adeline’s giving some guy a cock ring for Christmas. You’re jealous.”

“Not jealous. Concerned.” He twisted off the cap and made a perfect, three-point shot into the trash can across the room. “I haven’t met the guy. She hasn’t talked about anybody. He might be a complete asshole.”

“Or he might not be. Adeline’s a smart girl. She’s not going to give it up to someone who’s not worthy.”

“Nobody’s worthy.” The comment left his mouth before he could rein it in. “None of the schmucks from around here, anyway.”

“Maybe the guy’s from out of town. Somebody she met through her business. Or online.”

Shit, that possibility was even worse. Kelly could check up on guys he knew. Threaten their very existence if they caused Addie even a second’s worth of pain. But if he didn’t know the secret guy in her life, he had no control. He needed information. All of it, and soon.

“You want to play some poker tonight?” Rick’s question snapped Kelly back to the present. “Because I could use some extra cash, and your face isn’t hiding shit at the moment.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Bullshit, you don’t. It’s killing you that she’s into somebody. You’re jealous of cock-ring guy.”

He shot Rick the middle finger, then took a long pull from his beer to mask whatever his buddy thought he could see there.

Addie was his best friend. Had been since the third grade, when he moved into this house with his parents and became her neighbor. She’d jumped to his defense that first day at a new school, threatening to sit on anyone who heckled him for having “a girl’s name.” They’d had each other’s backs every single day since.

He wasn’t jealous, he was being protective. Of course, he wanted her to be happy. It didn’t bother him at all to think of her with somebody else.

Smiling at some guy, laughing at his jokes. Kissing him. Getting naked with him.

He turned to the sink and spat his mouthful of beer. “Rancid,” he said, dumping the perfectly good lager down the drain. “Grab me another one.”

“Sure.” Rick retrieved another cold one and handed it over. “Don’t you hate it when something goes off before you have a chance to enjoy it? Something you assumed would always be there, waiting for you to have it, whenever you decided you wanted it?”

“Yeah, I’m devastated by the loss of one beer. How will I ever recover?” He cracked the top and clinked his bottle against Rick’s. “By enjoying a different beer, that’s how.” That’s how he’d get past this weird blip in his chest about Addie, too. His little black book had never let him down before. This time shouldn’t be any different.

Shouldn’t be, but he already knew that it was. He had no desire to send Rick packing so he could message a sure-thing to come over. He wanted to get rid of Rick and focus on one woman, that much was true. But not some handpicked hookup. Addie. And not for a laidback night of snacks and sitcoms. More. Much more.

“Time’s up,” Rick said, pulling Kelly from thoughts he’d never seen coming.

The buzzer had gone off. Time was up for the ribs in the oven, but not for him. He glanced at the fridge, where Addie’s colorful, botanical calendar hung from an equally flowery magnet. Stuff he wouldn’t have thought to choose but couldn’t imagine his kitchen without.

Christmas was twelve days away. Twelve days to undo a lifetime of “just friends” with Addie. Twelve days to change the name she wrote on that gift’s tag. Twelve days to win the girl he just realized has always been the one for him.

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