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After the Night (Romance for all Seasons Book 1) by Sandra Marie (1)

 

 

 

Hawkeye was a good luck charm. He could stay up on Cassidy Joanes’ computer for as long as his heart desired.

She bounced in her office chair, spinning around and singing along to Anything Goes without her headphones. Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber—aka, her billing office cohorts, Hallie and Bethany—called in “sick,” so the office was all hers. Praise Thor! She could actually get work done.

She pushed from the chair and bopped her way over to the printer, off-key on the high note as she plucked up the EOB letter she needed to send out. She batted at one of the fluffy purple spider decorations hanging from the ceiling that her manager—and best bud—had put up freaking everywhere.

“Ah someone stuck around today,” a voice came from the open office door. She spun on her heel, her long brown hair sticking to her chapstick-ed lips. Dr. Bateman smirked, his bright green eyes matching his bright smile. “You the Marvel girl?”

“Um…yerp…?” Words were never her forte. The new doc simply nodded to her desk, to her good luck charm perched with his bow and arrow atop her monitor.

“I see a different Avenger every so often.”

Anything Goes filled the awkward pause between his statement and Cassidy’s dumb brain processing how to interact with someone she’d never actually talked to. Doctors were intimidating; they were basically the “big bosses” of the place, and her paranoia of saying the wrong thing ate at her stomach like ants at a picnic lunch.

“I’m missing Spiderman,” she said with a slight frown.

“Is he an Avenger?”

Appalling. “Um… obviously.”

His laugh was covered by the thundering clap of the next track on her playlist—The Greatest Show—but she could see his shoulders moving, his eyes crinkling in the corners. He shook his head, tapping the doorframe as he moved along. Cassidy let out a long breath and got back to dancing around her office. It would only be a matter of time before she became comfortable talking with Dr. Bateman, but it was going to take a few more trial runs.

Heat filled her cheeks at the mere memory of her first encounter with Dr. O’Neal. He’d said hello, and she’d sneezed a bit of turkey sandwich onto his tie.

Now he was bringing in a donut and coffee for her every Friday. Oh… she’d better throw that cup out so it didn’t stink the room up. The cleaning crew liked to skip the billing offices every other weekend, and with Halloween décor everywhere, it was easy to let things slip.

Her extension on her phone buzzed, and she turned down her music. “Sorry, what was that?”

“You at a good stopping point?” Shellie’s voice fuzzed over the speaker. “Let’s go to lunch.”

Cassidy ran a finger down her to-do list. Check, check, check… I’m awesome. “Where do you want to eat?”

“I got a place in mind. Be there in a sec.”

The phone clicked off, Cassidy clocked out, and quickly cleaned her glasses off. Her nail scraped across a stubborn, foreign brown blob. She hoped it was chocolate.

When did I last have chocolate?

“Let’s go, chica!” Shellie called in the open door, swinging her purse over her shoulder and banging the door handle with its bulk. Cassidy jogged to catch up.

“What’s at this place?” she asked, her stomach jumping with excitement over getting some fuel. “Pasta, sandwiches, burgers, burritos…?”

Shellie lilted, “It’s a surprise.”

Cassidy stopped. She knew that tone, knew it was no good, and the creepy-crawly fear of something new clawed at the back of her neck.

Shellie let out a long sigh, rolling her eyes. Yeah, she knew Cassidy was no fun. “I’m taking you shopping. You need a costume for the Halloween party tonight.”

“Ughnnnnn…” Cassidy bent at her waist, folding herself in half and letting her bitten nails drag on the floor as she trudged behind her friend.

“Gosh, how old are you?”

“Eight.”

Shellie laughed, her fingers wrapping around Cassidy’s upper arm and tugging her along. “I promise I won’t make you get anything you don’t want.”

There was an unused fringe purse in the back of Cassidy’s closet that said otherwise.

Shellie drove a F-350 that Cassidy had to count to three before launching herself into the front seat. She hoped the place was nearby; yeah, Shellie was her boss and in charge of how long the lunches were—and with not a ton of patients in the office today, there wasn’t a high demand for the numbers girl—but Cassidy had a thing, and it was making sure she clocked in from lunch exactly one hour from when she clocked out. She had a perfect record going on seventy-three days.

Shellie flipped her shoulder-length dyed-red hair back and tied it up with an elastic. Heat blasted from the vents, Taylor Swift at volume ten blaring from the speakers. Garbage littered the center console, collected at Cassidy’s feet, and covered the backseat of the cab, along with blankets, hoodies, fat binders, and a gym bag. Cassidy discovered her seatbelt under a bright pink breast cancer walk t-shirt, which she tossed behind the seat to join its clothing buddies.

“We’re going to get food, too, right?” she asked, clicking herself in. Her stomach was going to throw up for sale signs and move to a less negligent body if she didn’t feed it soon.

“Yup.” Shellie checked her makeup in the mirror before flipping it back into place and throwing the truck into reverse. “It’s across the street from Sbarros.”

Ah, pizza. Food of the gods. A smile spread across Cassidy’s face, her mood spiking just a bit. She imagined all the toppings she wanted, effectively distracting herself from the thought of picking out a costume for a party she didn’t feel like going to.

The Halloween parties had been nothing to write home about, but the idea of the whole building being invited and not just their little practice had the entire office buzzing—Shellie, especially, and Cassidy figured that for as outgoing as she was, Shellie just didn’t want to do this alone. And that she could understand… even if the idea of dressing up and dancing with a bunch of coworkers twisted her chest into an unsolvable knot.

Shellie babbled on about what costumes she was thinking of for herself—Dolly Parton seemed to be the winner—and Cassidy’s hip vibrated.

“Who you talking to?” Shellie asked when Cassidy started responding to the text. The Halloween moveable wallpaper Cassidy put on her phone on October 1st lifted her lips in a cheesy grin.

“Steven. He wants to know what I’m up to tonight.”

“Oh oh,” she said, slapping Cassidy’s forearm. “Invite him.”

“To the office party?” Groan. “Pass.”

“Kami said invite friends.” Kami was the office manager of the OB/GYN clinic, and she was grasping at any straw to make this Halloween party better than the last, beginning with having it three weeks before Halloween so people actually showed up. Cassidy imagined her usually sleek ponytail frazzled and her narrow eyes bulging at the computer screen as she typed up that memo. Bring guests, yes, precious. Bring all the guests for us to humiliate. Mwhahaha.

Shellie batted for Cassidy’s phone, swerving on the road during the struggle.

“Geez, pay attention!” Cassidy scolded, a laugh on the edges of her voice. “I’ll tell him.” Steven wouldn’t come. He was a lot like Cassidy—crowds were scary; jammies were not. It was a lot of the reason they’d been so good together back in the day… and mostly the reason why they’d broken up.

When he didn’t respond, Cassidy tucked her phone back into her pocket as Shellie pulled up to a kitschy shop with marker on the windows. HALLOWEEN SALE! 10% OFF TO NEW COSTUMERS.

Cassidy snorted at the pun, tilting her head. She hoped the misspelling was on purpose

“Looks fun, right?”

“Definitely promising.” She preferred these type of costume places over the ones with all the scary robotic yard decorations. She walked into Walmart the other day and nearly peed her pants when a wolf came out from its shelf and growled. There was still a bruise on her left hip from the fall.

There was a bell on the door, but it didn’t make a sound when they stepped in—only clunked against the glass when the door shut behind them.

“There it is,” Cassidy said, crossing to the sexy nurse costumes. “So me, right?”

Shellie laughed a little too hard to make Cassidy feel good about poking fun at herself. “Bet you anything we get a few of those tonight.”

“Then I should. It’ll help me blend in.”

Shellie tilted a brow at the garter. “For sure.”

“Oh! Stop everything.” Cassidy reached across the aisle and pulled out a skin-tight spandex pink suit with a giant pink afro wig. “I need it.”

“You can go as a penis.”

She plucked up name tag stickers and a suit of fur. “I’ll go as Dick. You go as Harry.”

“We need a Tom!” Shellie nodded to Cassidy’s pocket. “Get Steven in on it.”

They made a few more jokes, trying on a ton of the masks and giggling, till Shellie had to rush to the bathroom. Cassidy grabbed her handy hand sanitizer she’d clipped to her belt loop and used generously. She wasn’t a germaphobe, but after all those masks, she’d better make sure she showered.

“Find anything you like?” an employee asked as he stacked some boxes up on a high shelf. He was cute, tall, and thin, with a kind smile. Heat ran over her cheeks as she shook her head.

“Not really.”

His mouth perked up at the corner, and he climbed down off the step ladder. “I actually just had a cancellation on one of the costumes in the back. It’s about your size, if you wanna try it.”

“What is it?”

His bushy brows pulled in a tiny bit, and it was adorable. Her lips tingled, jonesing for some action; maybe getting drunk and hitting on guys tonight wouldn’t be such a bad idea. It’d been a while.

A long while.

Like, she’d forgotten how long it’d been.

“Um, I can’t remember her name… but the girl from The Princess Bride.”

“Buttercup.” The movie was a classic. “Does it come with a wig?” Her brown locks were about as opposite Robin Wright as could be, not to mention her curves. Cassidy was a coat rack.

“Sure does.”

Her spirits brightened some. Rocking a Buttercup costume sounded fun; felt more like cosplay, which she’d done and killed.

“Bring it on out!” she said with a dorky wave of her finger. He jerked back, a wrinkle popping on the bridge of his nose that had her regretting her moment of enthusiasm. That was exactly why she wasn’t one to be loud and proud about anything; that look didn’t exactly do wonders to her ego.

He disappeared for two seconds and came back with the dress of true love and a long blonde braided wig. “Dressing room over there.” His demeanor had one-eightied, and Cassidy vowed to never be dorky again. Cough—Yeah, good luck with that.

The dressing room was a shoebox, and her elbows hit every wall as she wiggled from her work pants and slipped the dress over her head. The fabric fell to her ankles, the waist sitting nice and comfortably where it should.

It was perfect.

Except for the boobs.

She blew out a sigh. Always the kicker. Cassidy had mosquito bites where there needed to be mountains.

A rap came at the door. “Hey, you find something?”

“Almost.” She frowned at her reflection. “Curse this flat chest.”

“Oh, come on… let me see.”

She yanked the door open and held the extra fabric out three feet in front of her. Shellie pressed her lips together, holding in that laugh Cassidy had no doubt was building.

“We could take it in,” she suggested.

“It’s fine. I’ll find something else.”

“But it looks gorgeous on you.”

Cassidy made a face and pulled the fabric out again. Shellie allowed a small laugh to escape, then tapped her chin and looked around. “Oh! Just wear this underneath.”

“What in heck are those?”

“Just try it.” Shellie held out her arm, the sandbags dangling and smacking into each other. They had to be ten pounds each. Cassidy could barely stand upright without that extra weight in front. Forget bending over; she’d kiss the carpet with that thing on.

Shellie jiggled them, and Cassidy quickly grabbed at them before the cute costume employee could see. Heaven help her if she ended up buying what was appropriately labeled: BIG BAG BOOBIES.

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