First Chapters

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Hot, Sexy, Sweet, and Funny

These are just a few of the words readers have used to describe The Dating Alternative. Be warned: Max is a super hot, sweet, kind, strong guy who finds himself falling and is willing to put himself on the line and do anything to get the girl. He's kind of easy to fall for, so...brace yourself. 

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Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Woodhull

All Rights Reserved

 

Chapter 1

Brie

 

 

It’s a weeknight and I am home mercifully early from my job as a coal miner. Okay, not technically a coal miner. A first-tier accountant. It’s the most entry level of positions. I am a commoner. A pleb. The lowest of the low.

 

However, I’m the lowest of the low at the best accounting firm in town. I went to work for Latham and Steele three years ago. It was only my second professional job. Teague, Sampson, and Bray had hired me right out of college. I worked there for four years, working my way up to an accountant slot. When a recruiter with Latham and Steele reached out, I was thrilled for the opportunity.

 

We were in the middle of a huge merger which was taking its toll on everyone from both a workload and cultural standpoint. So, when the recruiter called offering better pay and benefits, I started packing my desk before we even hung up the phone. Had I known I’d end up—three years later—still in an entry-level role and working for Jacqueline, a boss so bad that she makes Cruella Deville look like a kinder, gentler version of Mother Theresa by comparison, I’d have taken a beat before leaving TSB for two extra points of 401k match and an extra three sick days per year.

 

On this particular evening, though, guess how many fucks I give about Jacqueline the jackass and her derisive comments? Zero. Instead, I am blasting nineties rock through my earbuds, and dancing around the house in my Hoosiers sweatshirt as I tidy up. Chelsea, the missing musketeer in my little gang of three, has been out of town for weeks, and she’s coming back on Friday. When we get together, we are going to drink copious amounts of liquor while she regales us with tales of her conquests in foreign lands. Considering my own nonexistent sex life, I am unashamed to be living vicariously through her and Cate, the two best friends I’ve ever had.

 

I sashay into my bedroom and pull open the top drawer of the dresser with one hand, holding the laundry basket against my hip with the other. Dipping a hand into the basket, I grab a stack of beige and white cotton panties and place them in the drawer. The drawer is only half-full. The good lingerie, those colorful pieces a woman keeps in her wardrobe for date nights and special occasions, have long since been discarded. They were tainted. Damaged goods. They had to go.

 

As I put away a stack of the sensible flesh-colored t-shirt bras I’ve accumulated over the past several months, from the back of the second drawer, a dash of color catches my eye. I set the basket down, and stare at the piece of fabric.

It’s a t-shirt. A simple t-shirt, but at the same time, a complex object. A reminder of crispy bacon on lazy Sunday mornings, and two-for-one margaritas on Thursday nights; of singing along at the top of our lungs to the radio, and nights spent wrapped in each other’s arms.

 

I don’t want to pick it up, but I can’t stop myself. Before I know it, I have the soft piece of bright blue cotton in my hands. I pull off my sweatshirt and slip the t-shirt over my head. Looking in the mirror, the garment is three sizes too big as it hangs from my narrow frame. PUNTA CANA, is emblazoned across the front. I trace the crackled white ink with my fingers. Fuck, that feels like a lifetime ago.

 

Walking over to the bed, I lay down. The mattress is only a few months old, but the bed itself is the same one I shared with my fiancé.

 

It’s clear that it has been washed, this discarded relic of Grant’s life with me, but it still smells like him. Closing my eyes, the trip to the island comes back in vivid detail. The heat of the sun bouncing off the powdery white sand, the thrill of seeing dolphins leaping from the water in the distance and nights spent in each other’s arms, looking up at the stars.

Grant had surprised me by proposing on the second night of the trip as we walked along the beach after dinner. He asked me to be his and promised me forever. I said yes, and we were happy. That was before he met her.

 

On one of the nights when I had been working late, or maybe I had been studying for my CPA exams, he went out with his usual motley crew of beer-drinking buddies to their favorite local bar to watch basketball. It was probably a night like any other night. Isn’t that the way sometimes, though? Big changes sometimes come on a whisper, instead of a scream.

 

Through the lens of hindsight, I realized that it was after that night out with the boys that things had begun to change. It was subtle at first. He wasn’t as disappointed when I couldn’t make it to Margarita Thursday because we were too busy at the office. He started running again, saying he wanted to get in better shape for the wedding.

Worst of all, though, he seemed, suddenly and without any explanation, somehow happier. I vainly thought it was because of our upcoming wedding. I told myself he was just happy for us to begin our married life together. I was so wrong.

 

I blindly continued with our wedding plans, hiring caterers and putting deposits on venues. He was working longer hours than usual, but with a job in sales, I assumed he was just hustling. Trying to earn more to help pay for the upcoming expenses.

 

Eventually, everything had come together, and we were just three weeks away from the big day. I would be Mrs. Grant Nolan. It felt like everything was clicking into place—it was the inevitable happily ever after, and it was going to come true. I was so focused on the last-minute wedding details, and studying for my upcoming exams, I didn’t see it. I didn’t see any of it coming.

 

It was a Wednesday night, when Grant came home from the office a little later than expected.

“Hi,” I said. “So, should I do those steaks for dinner?” I asked, glancing up from the scattering of study materials and laptop on the dining table as he walked in.

 

“No…yes…I don’t care. I won’t be here.” He said, matter-of-factly. He seemed agitated, almost manic with energy.

“Oh? Do you have to go back to the office?” I asked, taking my glasses off and focusing my attention on my fiancé, who stood before me nearly bouncing off the walls.

 

“No, no. I, um, I’m leaving.” He nodded once and headed for the bedroom.

 

“What do you mean, you’re…,” I followed him, asking the question, and as I turned the corner into the bedroom, I saw that he had the suitcase, the big blue one, on the bed. He was pulling stacks of clothes out of the closet and throwing them into it.

 

“Grant?” His name was a question, to which he didn’t respond. “Grant! What the hell? What’s going on?” I raised my voice to near a yell.

 

“Hmm? Oh. I’m leaving. We’re done. I’m moving out. Tonight. I’ll get what I can and be back for the rest in a few days.” He nodded again and put his hands briefly on his hips as if he were considering the contents of his suitcase. Then, he went to the dresser and pulled out socks, t-shirts, and underwear, shoving them on top of the dress clothes and jeans that were already packed.

 

“Wait, what? What do you mean you’re leaving? Where are you going?” I couldn’t process any of it. I am a logical person, and what was happening at that moment simply did not compute.

 

“Oh,” he stopped briefly, as if it had suddenly occurred to him that an explanation of some kind might be in order. “I’ve met someone, Brie. I’m moving out.”

 

I looked at him, certain I hadn’t heard him right. He looked back at me, and he was grinning. The bastard was packing his shit, three weeks before our wedding day, leaving me, and he was actually grinning.

 

“What the hell, Grant? How can you have met someone? You’re engaged…to me!” I crossed my arms and shook my head, certain this was all some stupid prank his idiot friends had put him up to.

 

“Yeah, it’s a crazy story, actually,” he half-chuckled, putting his hands on his hips and shaking his head. “I was out with the guys about a month ago and Pete brought his girlfriend, which we thought was a real drag, but she had her cousin with her. Isabel. Anyway, we started talking, then I ran into her again a few days later, and we just really hit it off. She’s just…Brie, she’s just something else. I mean, she speaks three languages, and she’s in law school…she’s been to twenty-three countries…she’s an Olympian! A fucking Olympian! Can you believe that shit? She’s just un-real.” He shook his head.

 

He was giddy. My fiancé was telling me about the woman he was leaving me for, three weeks before our wedding, and was bragging about how great his new girlfriend was like we were bros.

 

“Are you high right now? What the fuck, Grant? You can’t date! You’re engaged! Have you lost your fucking mind?” I shook my head incredulously. The whole thing was surreal. I could feel a clammy sweat creeping over my skin, heat rose in my throat, and my stomach lurched. I fought the urge to be sick.

 

“Brie, this was fate. Listen, you’re great, and you’re going to find somebody else. You’re gonna find a hedge fund guy or a statistics professor or, fuck, I don’t know, but somebody great. You’ll settle down in the little house with the white picket fence and a 401k and have a great life. But this thing with me and Isabel, this is…I mean, when I met her…,” he stopped fussing with his clothes and stepped toward me, extending his fingers, his palms facing each other like he was grasping a basketball. “This thing with Isabel is like lightning in a fucking bottle! You and me, we had a good run, you know? And you’re great, but Isabel…she makes me feel alive. I mean, like, really alive, you know? We’re going to Thailand next month!” He shrugged, smiling broadly, and rolled his eyes—as if in disbelief of his good luck.

“What am I supposed to do, Grant? What am I supposed to tell our family? All our guests? Our wedding is three weeks away! What about all the deposits we put down? You’re going to fuck off with some girl you just met, and I’m supposed to just pick up the pieces? Take care of all the shit on my own? What about me, Grant?!” Tears streamed down my face, burning as they cut across the heat of my skin.

“Brie, babe,” he put his hands on my shoulders and looked down at me with an expression that was somewhere between resolve and pity, “You’ll figure it out. This is the sort of thing you’re good at. Details…that’s your wheelhouse, babe. You’re a planner and that’s great, but I finally figured out, that’s not the life for me.”

He went to kiss me on top of the head and I flattened both palms against his chest, shoving him back. “Get the fuck out!” I screamed. “Get out of my sight!”

“I’m going. I’ll text you about coming back for the rest.” He latched the suitcase and walked toward the bedroom door, turning briefly to say, “Keep the ring. Sell it or whatever. Use the money for some of those deposits. You always figure things out…always know what to do. You’ll be fine. Goodbye, Brie.”

I stood in the bedroom, jaw and fists clenched, vibrating with fury. When I heard the front door click shut, the anger vanished like a puff of smoke, replaced with a wave of fear and emptiness the likes of which I’d never experienced before. I collapsed onto the bed, the bed that I had shared with Grant just the night before and sobbed myself to sleep. 

 

As I lay on the bed, wearing my ex-fiancé’s t-shirt and remembering the night he left me six months ago, I realize that tears are slipping silently down my cheeks.

I’ve done reasonably well, too. The first week, I was catatonic. The first month, I was practically a zombie. In those days, even showering on my day off had been a challenge. Within a couple of months, though, I was doing better. By the ninety-day mark, I could be mistaken for someone who hadn’t been virtually left at the altar.

Now, lying on the bed six months after Grant had thrown away our life together, I was almost indiscernible from a normal girl. Looking at me most days, you would never know that my life had been ripped apart by an exotic Olympian named Isabel and my former fiancé, Grant.

I sit up, realizing how far I’d come since that night. I put the back of my hand up to one cheek, then the other. No more. That asshole doesn’t get another single tear from me. Control-G-Delete.

 

“Brie? Where are you?” I hear Catelyn’s voice echoing down the hallway. The lease on my best friend’s apartment had been up about two months after Grant left, and she moved in with me, saving me both financially, and emotionally.

“Back here,” I hastily change back into my sweatshirt, tossing Grant’s tee into the trash can.

“There you are! Well? How did it go?” Her eyes are wide, her lips poised to smile as she waits for good news.

“I have no idea,” I roll my eyes and slump onto the edge of the bed. “I thought it went okay, but I thought that last time and it was a disaster.”

“Look, you’ll get it! Don’t stress so much. Lots of people have to take it several times before they pass.” She’s referring to the AUD, the CPA exam that I’ve taken three times, including the first time—the day after Grant left. I have some sort of mental block. I can’t seem to pass it no matter how hard I study.

She shrugs, still smiling. “Come on, let’s order a pizza, sink into the sofa, and binge watch the hot, red-headed guy fucking the British chick’s brains out. That always makes us feel better.” She wriggles her eyebrows mischievously.

“That is true. There’s nothing like watching a hot revolutionary in a kilt to change one’s perspective.” I grin. “You change, I’ll order the pizza.”

After a couple of hours of laughing, eating pizza, and ogling a guy whose accent is too thick to understand but who is pretty enough to make us not care, I start to perk up.

“You know what? I think that’s what you need.” Cate points toward the TV as she drops a pepperoncino into her open mouth, baby-bird style.

“To travel back in time through some ancient stone circle? Yes, please! Where do I sign up?” I laugh.

“No, I mean the hot sex part. You need to get laid, sister. That would make you forget all about small g,” she says.

Catelyn has called Grant that ever since the night he left me. She had long speculated that his equipment was lacking, but I had never confirmed her suspicions. I wasn’t sure what she based her guess on, but she’s wasn’t far off. He was never the sort of guy who gave me goosebumps. He was nice, funny, and safe. At least, I thought he was until things went off the rails.

“Well, with studying and all the hours I work, it’s not like I have much time to go out and meet some perfect guy, if such a person even exists.” I roll my eyes.

“Not a boyfriend, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes! Just, you know, sex. Sweaty, hot, unattached, meaningless, raw sex. It might be just the thing to help you get your groove back!” She gives her shoulders an exaggerated shimmy.

I scoff at the idea, but there is something appealing about the concept. I absolutely miss sex.  Without it, I feel restless all the time. A little cranky. On edge.

A few months ago, once I had convinced myself I was going to be celibate for life, I even bought a magic wand to get the job done but it didn’t seem to help; and I was just a little afraid of electrocuting myself with the thing. It had a motor the size of a small lawnmower. I imagined the police explaining my demise to my roommate. Miss Jameson, it looks like Miss Ball was the victim of her social awkwardness and her overenthusiastic use of a high-powered vibrator.

In truth, I like the idea of some no-strings-attached fun, but the thought of picking up a total stranger puts me off. There really should be some sort of alternative to all the bullshit of dating. Too bad you can’t just order up an orgasm on-demand.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Max

 

“Come on man, do me a solid. I’m telling you, this girl is a sure thing,” Blake says as he tips back his mug and finishes off his beer.

“No, thanks, man. I’ve been working doubles for a month. I’m gonna call it a night.” That’s a half-truth, but the whole truth is that I’ve met the girl in question once before, at a party, and I’m definitely not interested. She’s pretty, great body, but has insta-girlfriend written all over her. She’s the type that would spend one night and be moving shit into your place and picking out china patterns by the next morning. There’s a reason her friend is trying to get Blake to set her up.

“Okay, whatever. Have I told you lately that you’re kinda turning into a giant pussy?” Blake throws down the cash for the beer on the bar and gets up to leave.

“Fuck you very much, dude,” I say, tipping my chin up at him.

“Next Saturday morning?” Blake asks.

“Yep, ass-crack of dawn. I’ll see ya there,” I reply.

We’re training for the Monumental Marathon that’s coming up in November, and I run with my best friend as often as our schedules sync up. We keep each other honest—neither one of us was willing to wuss-out. The competition pushes us to keep going.  

Brian, the other bartender working tonight, is willing to lock up and I’ve been at the bar since noon, so I decide to call it a night and head home.

The house I share with Leah is only a few blocks from The Briarwood, where I tend bar. I’ve been living with Leah for a few months, but we’ve been friends for years. I met her in college. We even made out once, when we were freshmen. That was before she realized how much we had in common—that is, that we both like women.

I had lived with my girlfriend, Aubrey, for almost six months when everything went south. I’d been out of town for a couple of days at a friend’s bachelor party weekend in Vegas. I was able to get an earlier flight and decided to come home early and surprise her. Surprise her, I definitely did. When I walked through the door of our bedroom, I saw my girlfriend on her knees in front of her boss. Her fucking boss

She tried to give me some lame excuse as I packed my shit, but I wasn’t interested. It didn’t help that she had what I was pretty sure was that asshole’s jizz in her hair while she was trying to apologize. What I saw was something I could never come back from.

I went down my list of buddies, looking for a place to stay, and luckily for me, Leah’s roommate had just moved out. I can afford a place of my own, but if I want to reach my goal of opening my own bar, I’ve gotta live lean for a while. I’m close to having enough saved to make a decent go of it without having to stress too much over those critical first two years in business and without having to borrow money from the old man, or anyone else.

Since I left Aubrey, I’ve gone out with a few girls but nothing serious. Honestly, I can’t seem to find anyone that can keep my interest beyond a decent fuck. I’ve had a few one-and-done hookups. Those were fun, but at some point, I’d like to have something more than just random women in my life. I like the idea of having someone to share things with, instead of just someone to fuck.

 

When I get home, I grab a beer and kick back to watch some TV and unwind before bed. I’m almost two episodes in on catching up with my favorite show, when a noise from the hallway catches my attention.

An insanely hot redhead is waltzing down the hall toward me, wearing an oversized Ramones t-shirt. “Hi,” she says, leaning against the archway that connects the living room to the hall where our bedrooms are. “Any more of those?” She asks, pointing to my beer as she licks her lips.

“Yeah, sure. Fridge. Bottom right shelf.” I reply. This woman is truly smoking hot—tall with long, lean legs and long, thick red hair that looks like her natural color.

“Thanks,” she says, looking me up and down slowly. Her gaze lingers on my crotch, which surprises me considering she’s a guest of Leah’s. I watch her walk over to the kitchen. I can just see the fridge from my spot on the sofa, and when she opens the refrigerator door, she bends over to give me a full show of the fact that the t-shirt is the only thing she’s wearing.

Damn. Definitely her natural color. My cock immediately responds. This is all I need—a hard-on courtesy of my roommate’s girl.

Red walks back through the living room toward the hall and pauses before she goes back toward Leah’s room. “You’re hot,” she says. “You wanna come play?” She arches an eyebrow up at me.

“Thanks, beautiful, but Leah and I don’t share.” I tip my beer bottle toward her and give her a nod.

“Oh,” she says, shrugging. She puts her beer down on the hardwood floor, and peels off the t-shirt, revealing a sexy six-pack and a spectacular pair of tits. “Too bad. ‘Night then.” She picks up her beer and walks back down the hall, disappearing into Leah’s room.

Fuck, I groan to myself. I walk to my room for a shower and to relieve the situation Red has caused. In the shower, I grab the soap, and with my back to the water, I stroke my aching cock until I groan out a release.

 

I’ve been going through a bit of a self-imposed dry spell for a while now. I realize now, after having broken up with Aubrey that I had gotten really comfortable with her. I miss having someone who knows me, or at least, who has an interest in knowing me. I miss having someone who does all the little shit a girl does when she knows what you like.

It might sound lame, but I like having someone who knows how I take my coffee or turns up the radio when my favorite song is on.  The hookups don’t do that for me, and I haven’t met anyone worth dating. Not anyone available, anyway.

I want a woman who’s smart enough to hold a decent conversation, someone who has a good sense of humor and doesn’t take herself too seriously. It sounds like a lot to ask, but I know women like that exist, I’m just not dating any of them.

***

On Saturday, I wake up and decide to drive up to Noblesville. I grab a small toolbox from the hall closet, put it in the back of my Jeep, and head out. Along the way I stop at The Flying Cupcake for a half dozen Boston Creams. They’re my grandmother’s favorite, and I know she’ll be excited about them.

When I pull up to the house at the edge of town, I see her old Lincoln Town Car parked out front. I grab the cupcakes and walk up the steps, across the creaking floorboards of the front porch, and knock on the front door. It takes a couple of minutes for her to answer. At her age, she isn’t quite as fast as she used to be.

“Alexander! What a nice surprise!” Nana says when she answers the door. She’s one of the few people on the planet who call me by my real, given name rather than the nickname I picked up in school.

“Hi, Nana,” I say, leaning down to hug her. “How are you doing?”

“I’m just wonderful!” She smiles up at me, patting my arm. “Does that bag have something for me inside?” She asks, pointing at the white bakery bag and smiling broadly.

“It just might,” I reply. “Have you been cupcake-level good?”

She laughs. It’s what she always said to me when I was a little boy. When I’d ask for a piece of candy, she’d say, “Have you been candy-level good, though?” It made me consider whether I had, in fact, earned the treat I was asking for, but she always ended up giving in regardless.

“I think I’ve been good enough for a cupcake or two,” she smiles. “I’ll get the milk!”

I sit down at the dining table and retrieve the box of cupcakes from the bag. Nana brings in two glasses of milk and sits down with me.

“You don’t have to work today?” She asks the question as she peels the edges of the cupcake paper down, using the paper as a makeshift plate before lifting the cake and taking a bite.

“Mm, mm, mm!” She’s smiling broadly, closing her eyes and nodding her head back and forth. Seeing her so happy makes my whole damn day.

“Not today,” I reply. “I have been working a lot, though,” I follow her lead, peeling the paper away and lifting the cupcake to lick the frosting off the top.

“I just hate you having to work so hard, dear,” she says, her bent fingers patting my forearm. “Sometimes I wish you had stuck it out at the firm a little while longer. At least until you had a little more saved.” She glances at me from under her brows, cautiously.

I hold my tongue. She means well. She has always just wanted me to be happy. The law firm was killing me, though. I was starting to imagine scenarios where I wrapped my Brooks Brothers tie around my head like a bandana and used the stapler as a weapon to shoot my way out of the place and make my escape. I had to get out of there.

“I couldn’t take it anymore, Nana. I may be working hard, but at least I’m doing something that doesn’t keep me up at night,” I give her a smile and a little shrug.

 

I had followed in my father’s footsteps, going straight to law school from college. I spent almost seven years working in his law firm in Chicago before I tapped out. I couldn’t take the politics, or the schmoozing with clients. I hated representing clients that I knew were trying to rip people off or get away with something.

Granted, I was a corporate attorney, so it’s not like I was getting murderers out of jail. Still, writing contracts that took advantage of one guy in favor of another wasn’t something I was interested in making a life doing. It soured my taste for the law altogether.

 

“I could help you, you know. It would be an investment,” she says, glancing at me from under her eyebrows. She knows my response will be the same as it has been the half dozen times she has asked before.

“No, Nana. I’m not taking your money. Thanks, though. I appreciate that you believe in me,” I say, squeezing her hand. “That means more than you know.”

“As long as you’re happy, dear,” she says, reaching for another cupcake.

“Are you supposed to have two?” I ask her, arching up an eyebrow. She isn’t diabetic and she’s in pretty good health, but I always worry about her. At seventy-eight, I know how important it is for her to eat right so she can stay feisty and keep kicking my ass for a lot of years to come.

“The first one was very small,” she says, grinning devilishly as she bites into the second cupcake. This is exactly why I only brought her half, instead of a full dozen. If I brought twelve, she would eat them all, without hesitation, as soon as I was out the door.

 “I brought my tool box,” I say. “Got any chores for me?”

“Well, if it’s not too much trouble, I might have a couple of things you could do,” she smiles at me. “I won’t keep you all day.” She says, retrieving a note pad on which has scrawled at least seventeen things she needs me to do.

I smile as I take it from her hand. “I’m on it, Nana.”

“Thank you, Alexander. I’m going to go watch my programs,” she says waving her hand in the air as she turns to walk away. “Let me know when you get to page three.”

Page three? I flip through the notepad. Yup. Three pages. Fuck. Goodbye, Saturday off.

 

 

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© 2019 by Jennifer Woodhull.