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Cocky: A Reverse Harem Romance by Ashlee Price (1)

Dani

“Do I look like a doughnut? Because guys just look at me and all they see is something they want to gobble up and a hole that they want to stick their—Ouch!”

I lift my head to glare at Cora as I feel the sharp prick of a needle on my back.

“Sorry,” my sister mumbles, taking it out. “I keep forgetting you’re still a virgin.”

I pout. I’d get up and tickle her tummy for that, until she begged me to stop, like I used to do when we were kids, but I still have a dozen or so needles sticking out of my back like porcupine quills.

“Have I ever told you that being an acupuncturist suits you? After all, you seem to like torturing people.”

“I don’t like torturing people. Just you.” She sticks another needle into my back. This time, I only feel a dull ache. “Because you’re my younger sister and because you seem to like it.”

I rest my chin on the pillow beneath my head. “I only ask you to poke me with needles because it helps me relax sometimes.”

“I’m not just talking about the needles.” She gets off the bed, standing all five feet and eight inches tall. “When are you going to stop wallowing in self-pity?”

“I’m not wallowing in self-pity,” I tell her.

Cora sits on the chair across from me. “Oh, so you weren’t whining about being so unlucky with men just because you can’t find a guy who wants to do more than fuck you? You weren’t wishing you could turn back time so you’d go back to being young and famous and having no bills to pay?”

I let out a sigh. “I just feel like my life is passing me by.”

“It is passing everyone by. And if there’s anything I learned from Joel’s death, it’s that it’ll be over before you know it and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, but you can enjoy every moment.”

“Even when my life isn’t enjoyable?”

She leans forward. “The problem with you is that you want to seize every moment. Sometimes you just have to sit back and savor what’s there.”

“And what is there?”

Cora shrugs as she stands up. “Me.”

I chuckle.

“Your niece. Your nephew. This house. Yoga.”

“Well, there is yoga,” I agree.

“Food,” she adds. “Ice cream. Music. Flowers. Coffee. My needles.”

“You mean the ones you stab me with?”

She twirls a few strands of her hair, which is the same auburn shade as mine but a few inches shorter. “Then there’s bubble baths and Netflix…”

“I get it,” I interrupt. “There’s more to life than men or fame or the illusion of success. That’s what you’re saying, right?”

“I’m just saying you don’t need men to give your life purpose or direction.”

“Easy for you to say. You had Joel.”

“Had. Do I seem lost now?”

“No,” I answer. “But that’s because he gave you two adorable kids.”

“Mom!” Zoe shouts from downstairs. “I can’t find the peanut butter.”

Cora exhales. “You mean kids who drive me crazy.”

She goes to the door and opens it so she can shout through the gap. “It’s in the cupboard above the sink, sweetheart, just where it always is.”

I hear the creak of a cupboard door.

“Okay. I found it!” Zoe announces a moment later.

“I knew you would,” Cora says to herself. “You would have found it the first time, too, if only you’d used your eyes.”

She turns to me. “Don’t get me wrong, Dani. I love the kids and I loved Joel with all my heart, but I was me before they came along. You know how I always say I’m a believer in making things instead of finding them.”

“Yeah.” I nod. “I think we still have the homemade mayonnaise in the trash as proof of that.”

“Very funny.” She sits on the edge of the bed and runs her fingers through my hair. “Why don’t you try to make something of yourself instead of finding yourself?”

I raise an eyebrow. “Are you an acupuncturist or a psychiatrist?”

Cora rolls her hazel eyes. “Here I am being serious and sisterly and you…”

“Okay, okay,” I cut her off. “I understand what you’re saying, alright? But even though I may not need a man in my life, I want one. Is that so bad?”

She shakes her head. “No.”

“I just want one, and believe me, I’d make one if I could, but I can’t, so I have to find one.”

Cora chuckles. “Fine. Well, what exactly are you looking for?”

I rub my chin. “Well, someone hot, you know, with a great body and a nice smile.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I want someone exciting, maybe a little dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Cora’s thin eyebrows go up.

“Someone who’s not afraid to try new things. But at the same time, he has to be sensitive. And smart. Tough, but has a good heart. A little reckless, but not dumb. Funny. Oh, and he has to be successful and confident. But most importantly, he has to be genuinely interested in me, you know, someone I can really have a connection with.”

“Okay.” Cora taps her fingers on the bed. “Wow. I have to admit that might be someone you’ll have to make up, because I’m not sure you’ll find him.”

“So you’re saying I’m picky?” I glance at her. “Even though I don’t care what hair, eye or skin color the guy has or where he’s from or how old he is?”

She stands up. “I’m just saying I don’t think all those qualities can fit into one man. And now I know why you’re single.”

“Fine.” I shrug. “Maybe I should just throw myself at the first guy I meet.”

Cora places her hands on her hips and shakes her head.

“Mom!” Zoe calls again.

Cora points to the door. “As much as I’m enjoying this conversation, I better go downstairs. I’ll be back in half an hour, okay?”

“Okay.”

She leaves the room and I bury my face in the pillow beneath me.

Is it really so wrong of me to want a man in my life, to want someone to love me? Is it impossible?

I let out a muffled groan into the pillow. Why is it so hard to find a guy who gets me? I’m not that complicated. Is it because of my looks? Is it because I’m a former cheerleader? Does that only attract jerks and turn off real men? Does that scream stupid or self-centered? Ugh. It’s all because of those teen movies. Or maybe I’m just not looking hard enough. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right place.

If Rihanna can find love in a hopeless place, why can’t I? The last time I checked on Facebook, almost every girl I know from high school has been married at least once, including the one who we all thought was going to be a nun and the one who lost nearly all her teeth in an accident during junior high. And I can’t even find one decent guy?

I lift my head, staring at the bronze medal hanging on my dresser. It’s the medal I won at the Olympics for gymnastics when I was nineteen.

That was the last time I felt special.

Maybe Cora’s right. Maybe I should try to make something more of myself so I won’t feel like something’s missing. But I don’t even know what to do with myself. I’ve never had a clear idea of what I wanted to be. I don’t have a family business to inherit. I don’t have any special skills apart from doing cartwheels.

Naturally, I ended up being a yoga instructor.

And it’s not a bad job, even though some people wouldn’t call it one. It pays for food. The hours are short. It’s about the least stressful job there is. Of course I wish I had more clients, preferably more male ones.

A buzz interrupts my monologue. Careful not to dislodge any needles, I reach for my phone on the nightstand and look at the screen.

Melanie.

Speaking of yoga instructors with a lot of clients…

“Hello.” I hold the phone to my ear.

“Dani? Thank goodness I reached you on my first try. Are you busy?”

I glance over my shoulder. “Well, I am a bit occupied at the moment, but I can talk.”

“No. I mean are you busy with work? Do you have a lot of clients?”

“If you’re asking whether I can take over another of yours, you know I’d be glad to. Right now, I’m only giving once-a-week classes to the parents at the local school, mostly moms, and then there’s this old woman who I see three times a week but only if her nurse says it’s okay.”

“Perfect, then.”

My eyebrows bunch up. “So you’re giving me one of yours?”

“No. I’m giving you three.”

“Three?” I lift my head. “Wow. You’ve got that many clients, huh?”

“I’m quitting,” Melanie informs me.

“What?”

“I’m pregnant and I just got engaged. I’m moving away and I’m going to be a full-time mom. It’s what Rick wants.”

“Rick, huh? I don’t believe you ever mentioned him.”

“Well, I never thought it would get serious. But what can I say? The man loves me and I’m having his baby. Of course I love him, too. So I’m giving up my clients. Well, I’m passing them on to my friends, and you, my dear, get the best ones.”

“Really?” I shift the phone to my other ear. “What kind of clients are we talking about?”

“Clients who live in one of the finest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, for a start,” Melanie answers. “Who live in big houses with huge iron gates.”

I grin. “Sweet.”

“And they’re all male.”

My eyes grow wide. “Are they single?”

“I think so. One’s divorced but yes, single.”

I lean on an arm. “And how do they look?”

“Not so bad.”

I purse my lips in an effort to suppress a shriek of excitement.

“Anyway, I’ll send you their addresses and schedules and also some notes. No names. I’ll let that be a surprise.”

“Hmm.” I narrow my eyes. “I sense something good.”

“I’ll let them know you’re taking my place.”

“And they won’t mind?”

“They won’t have a choice,” Melanie answers.

I smile. “Thank you, Melanie. And congratulations on your engagement and the baby.”

“You’re welcome.”

“And good luck,” I add.

“Thanks. Good luck to you, too. Let’s meet before I leave, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

She hangs up and I put my phone down, a smile on my lips. I’d jump up and down, but I still have those needles in my back. That doesn’t stop my heart from doing flips, though.

Three new clients, huh? All rich. All male. All single. And the best part? They’re all waiting for me.

I gaze up dreamily at the ceiling.

Well, I sure can’t wait to meet them.

~

This is one of the finest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, I think as I drive around in my blue Toyota Camry that I suddenly wish was a Porsche.

I’m more than an hour early for my first session with the first of Melanie’s clients, so I thought I’d check out the place.

Everywhere I look, I can see those tall, black cast-iron gates that Melanie told me about. Beyond them, the houses stand even taller with their tiled roofs and imposing facades of brick, stone or wood. Some are fronted by colorful flower beds and trimmed hedges. Others overlook sprawling, immaculate lawns. I can catch glimpses of marble fountains, bridges over ponds, and balconies with elegant columns or balustrades, too.

It’s certainly different from the neighborhood I live in, where the houses are the same and there are no gates or walls or gardens, just a patch of grass beside the driveway and a narrow path leading up from the sidewalk to the front door. Sometimes there are small bikes on the driveway or balls on the grass, an occasional inflatable pool in the summer. That’s how you know which houses have families living in them. Some have kennels, too, but mostly with small dogs like terriers, not the tall, slender hounds, the burly mastiffs or the long-haired giants I’m seeing here.

It’s a whole other world altogether.

Speaking of dogs, I spot a few in the park around the corner. Since I still have plenty of time to spare, I decide to stop by. I park my car along the curb, get out and start walking.

The cool breeze fans my cheeks and sweeps some wayward strands of my hair in various directions. I tuck them behind my ears as I look around for a bench to sit on.

I see it at the same time that I see a Frisbee headed in my direction. With a bit of effort and the agility resulting from years of gymnastics, dancing and yoga, I manage to catch it gracefully. I throw it back, but that doesn’t turn out so graceful. My aim is off, so the Frisbee flies towards a man and woman standing under a tree. I watch in horror as the disk hits the woman’s side. She groans as she falls to the grass and I run over to her.

“Sorry!” I shout, still running.

The woman gets back on her feet and runs off.

I stop running. “Wait!”

“Just let her go.”

I turn my head, finding the man the woman was talking to kneeling on the grass and picking up a can of pepper spray.

My eyes grow wide as I take a step back. “Whoa! Is that…?”

“A weapon,” he answers as he straightens up. “I think you just saved my life.”

The dog beside him, a fawn-colored Great Dane, barks in agreement.

I open my mouth to say something, only to find myself speechless as I look into the man’s eyes. They’re a muddle of blue and green, like the Pacific Ocean in miniature. Those eyes grip mine, stealing my breath away. And when I finally manage to zoom out, I’m still transfixed by the blond locks that stop short of his thick, darker eyebrows, the cute snub nose, and the perfect teeth peeking from the gap between the pair of thin lips sitting atop a clean-shaven round chin. Zooming out further, I notice his slim, straight body and the flat abdomen behind the white shirt.

A smile forms on my lips.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before,” the man says. “What’s your name?”

I bring my eyes back to his and offer him my hand. “Danielle, but everyone calls me Dani.”