THE WRONG TODD
LENGTH: 204 PAGES
RELEASE DATE: MAY 6, 2014
What is the craziest thing you would be willing to do for a friend?
After winning her bid at the bachelor auction, Sabine vows she is never doing another embarrassing favor for a friend. This is especially true for favors that involve spending large sums of money and buying men whose last names she doesn’t even know.
In twenty bachelors, Sabine maybe expected to find several Davids, Mikes, or Johns. But what were the odds of two Todds? And now what is she going to do on a very expensive date with the wrong one?
The plot was beautifully penned and I enjoyed the growth of all characters throughout. The Wrong Todd is an emotional read that will leave you feeling a myriad of emotions with the turn of every page. If you like sweet, spicy romance, then pick up The Wrong Todd. Lace at Blackraven’s Reviews
Though she hadn’t openly flirted with a good-looking man in a long time, Sabine smiled at the one smiling back at her. Then as casually as she could, she turned her attention back to her emergency phone call.
“So here’s the deal. There’s a cute guy sitting across from me just out of earshot. He smiles every time he catches me chair dancing to the canned music they’re playing. Should I go over and say hello? Do women get to do that now?”
“Depends, babe. How old is he?”
Joe’s excessively loud demand vibrated her eardrum and had her holding the phone away from her head. She glared before pulling it back, but didn’t press it against her head again.
“Stop yelling, Joe. There’s no crowd here.”
Glancing at the guy, Sabine saw him smile into his coffee. She hoped she was right about him not hearing her conversation. This could get embarrassing fast.
“It’s hard to tell how old he is, but he’s definitely not a kid. Judging by his clothes, he went to work today. But then what do I know? I haven’t dated in over a decade. Maybe he’s hanging out and hoping to pick up chicks,” Sabine reported.
Her description elicited a snarky male chuckle. The phone ended up on her shoulder again as she listened to Joe’s rumbling baritone as he lectured her.
“Listen to me carefully, Sabine. If he’s as young as the others you’ve been scoping out lately, they’re hotties or babes to him, not chicks. Saying ‘chicks’ automatically means you’re way too old to talk to him.”
Sabine laughed at the critique. “Point noted . . . oh shoot. Never mind. Some teenage girl in a microscopic skirt just came in and sat down with him. My left leg is larger in circumference than her entire body. I’m hanging up now so I can cry in my coffee.”
When full-out male laughter came through the line, Sabine laughed herself. The younger man she had been ogling slid a covert glance her way, even with his girlfriend present. Her smile back was wide. Maybe single life wasn’t going to completely suck. At least she could legally lust now.
“Sabine, what I have been telling you? Skip the coffee shops and just go to a bar—an adult bar. Find a slightly younger male—not a kid—who’s had a few and let nature take its course. You obviously need to get that youth thing out of your system. Just remember not to take the kid’s lack of attention too personally. The younger ones are all like that—gay or straight. The last cub I dated had the attention span of a gnat. Make him do the deed a second time if he doesn’t get the job done on his first try.”
Sabine laughed. “What great advice, Joe. Glad no one else can hear you giving it. You’ve been very helpful in educating me about navigating single life, but even I know the bar scene doesn’t work very well for straight women my age.”
“Then it’s a good thing you don’t look your age.”
“Now that’s why I keep you around. You’re such a sweetie,” Sabine cooed into the phone, smiling as she sipped the dregs of her cold drink.
Despite all his teasing, she had to admit her gay best friend was way more grounded about men than she was. Even after two years of tortuous relationship limbo, her divorce had still rocked her self-confidence. Fortunately, Joe hadn’t let her wallow in her failure. Other than her two college-aged children, Joe Kendall was probably the best thing she had to show for the twenty years she’d been married to his brother.
“So are you going trolling for grown-up men later? If you want, I’ll come to watch and keep you out of trouble.”
“Thanks, but no. When I go trolling, I get hit on by old guys with open shirts and fourteen neck chains. They want a twenty-year-old, but figure what the hell when they see my long blonde hair and big boobs.”
“Sabine, it works that way for everyone at first. You can pass along the old guys to me. I prefer older men. Neck chains come off—right over the head. And yes, I’ve de-chained my fair share.”
Sabine laughed, drawing her admirer’s covert stare again. “Gross. Give me a thirty-year-old with lots of energy who can take direction. What’s wrong with that? I just want to feel like my life isn’t over, you know?”
“Yes dear, I absolutely know.” There was a long-suffering sigh in her ear. “Fine. Go back to trolling the coffee shop. With the way you work, your days off are too precious to waste a minute.”
“Oh, I’m just getting started today. I’m moving on to canvassing bookstores this afternoon. Maybe I’ll pick up a young single dad at storytime after school,” she said, drawing doodles on her sketchpad.
“God woman, you need help. Meet me at the Haunted Owl for happy hour if you’re still unattached after five. We’ll troll there together and I’ll show you how it’s done. I’ll even try to look really gay this time so they don’t think we’re married.”
Sabine laughed at his offer. “You would have been a much better life partner than your brother even without the sex—no offense.”
“Offense? What offense? You know I refused to attend the wedding. Besides, I tried to tell you that Martin was a player twenty years ago when I still had an open mind about women. Don’t stand me up tonight. I want to ask you a favor—one that will be fun for both of us.”
“Oh God, I think a chill just ran up my spine,” Sabine said.
“I thought you were Sabine Almighty, sassy image consultant?”
“Hold that dare. I’m one more coffee away from an espresso orgasm,” Sabine said.
“You need to do this, Sabine. You’ve almost forgotten what having real fun feels like.”
She hung up on Joe’s laughter and tossed the phone in her purse.
On her way out the door, she couldn’t resist winking at the good-looking guy. His answering guilty blush told her more than anything else that he was definitely too young for her.
* * *
The Haunted Owl was packed as usual for a Thursday evening. Patrons crowded the bar stools for drinks while their restaurant pagers glowed like fireflies in the low-lit room. Sabine lifted her soda and sipped.
“You have officially lost your mind. Saturday is Valentine’s Day, and since I don’t have a date, I’m going to treat myself to a spa. I’m not spending my first love holiday as a single woman bidding on a new boyfriend for you. I love you, but no.”
Sabine grinned when Joe turned puppy dog eyes her way.
“You can look as sad as you want, I’m still not doing it. A woman has to draw a line somewhere.”
“The auction is not Saturday, silly girl. The auction is Friday night. The date is Saturday. All you need to do is bid on my Todd for me. I’ll keep the date for you. Come on—this is my chance to be his hero,” Joe said.
“Weren’t you the guy offering to show me how to troll bars this afternoon? Are you really that desperate for a hook-up? The man’s not even out yet, Joe. Why would you spend that much money for a date you could probably get in a hundred other ways?”
“I don’t prey on straight men and Todd is not just another date. And he outed himself to me—just not to all of Seattle. His company is making him do this charity bachelor auction. Winning bids will be in all the newspapers and they’re taking pictures,” Joe argued. “Come on, Sabine. It’s a few hundred dollars. I’m good for the money back.”
She laughed and shook her head. “I work for a high-profile PR agency. My refusal is about all of Seattle seeing me date shopping at a worse meat market than any bar. Who do you think bids on men at bachelor auctions, Joe? Women do. Women like me do—well, not exactly like me. I have never done anything like that in my life. Hell, I’ve even avoided online dating sites so far.”
“Yes, but just think how smashing you would look standing next to a Rundgren VP, Sabine. You could frame the newspaper clipping and put it in your office at work. Your boss would faint when she saw it.”
“I could photoshop that same picture and save myself tons of humiliation,” Sabine declared.
Joe nudged her arm on the bar with his elbow. “Come on. Where’s your sense of adventure hiding? You’ve forgotten how to have fun.”
Sabine laughed. “Fun? I didn’t hear any fun for me in your suggestion.”
Joe grinned. “Todd said he had a younger brother who is definitely straight. I bet I could get you a date with him. You could legitimately feed that youth fetish you’ve got going on just by doing me this one tiny favor.”
Sabine elbowed back. “Do you honestly think I’m desperate enough to trade an expensive date I’m not even going to go on myself for the possibility of one I might or might not get? Nothing you’re offering is a sure thing. What if I get outbid and your mysterious Todd ends up with someone else? What if I buy him and he’s straight after all?”
Joe shrugged. “Life is full of risks. I know this is a strange concept to you because you aren’t taking any at the moment. But I know you, Sabine. If you do this, you won’t get outbid. Go as high as you need to, so long as it doesn’t require me selling my car to pay you back afterwards.”
“You don’t even want to tell me his last name,” Sabine said sternly.
“It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I don’t know it. He wouldn’t tell me. The first step is always hard. Most men coming out are cautious about revealing their identity. He told me about the auction thinking I’d never attend that kind of function. Maybe I even said as much—but you would have too if you’d seen how nervous he was.”
“Then how am I going to know the right man to bid on?” Sabine demanded.
“With less than twenty bachelors involved, you might find a couple of Davids, Mikes, or Johns—no pun intended. But it is highly doubtful there will be two men named Todd,” Joe promised.
“First—why would a rational woman agree to such a weak-ass plan? Because she wouldn’t. Secondly—why do you think you can talk me into this?”
“Because while he didn’t tell me his name, Todd did tell me he worked for Rundgren. He’s a VP there—a VP in charge of public relations. This is a golden goose opportunity worth chasing. All I’m asking is for you to save my goose before you pitch your bid to him.”
Sabine blinked. Rundgren was the primo contract her boss had been trying to get for two years. Getting Rundgren as a client would definitely mean the promotion she’d been working toward for ages. The promotion would mean that she could easily replace everything Martin had taken away from her in the divorce.
“Your brother took half my retirement savings and used the money to buy fake boobs bigger than my real ones for his flat-chested new wife. This Todd guy of yours better not cost me what’s left.”
“It’s not going to cost all that much. Todd’s charm is understated, so bidding will be manageable. He’s a definite diamond in the rough kind of guy. I expect he will go for around six hundred—tops.”
Joe lifted his glass, smiling around it as he took a drink. “Think of bidding on Todd as buying yourself a contract with Rundgren. That might help you feel better about the initial investment. The fun will be priceless.”
Sabine shook her head and closed her eyes. “I can’t believe you’ve managed to talk me into getting on your crazy train for a ride.”
“Sweetie, my crazy train is the most action you’ve seen in ages. You should be thanking me for giving you something productive to do with all that pent-up frustration you’re carting around,” Joe said.
Sabine snorted. “Don’t be blowing your paycheck on anything big this week. I need my money back.”
Joe just laughed as she guzzled her second soda.
* * *
Koka glared at his show’s producer and shook his head. “Are we really so desperate? The ratings cannot be that bad.”
Edwina Winston sighed as she laid her tablet device down on the polished marble counter. “The ratings are down because you’ve cut back on personal appearances. People want to see you up close.”
He ran a hand through thick black hair that badly needed a cut. “You know I have no choice about that. I don’t want to leave Pekala while she is so ill. My kupunawahine raised me.”
Edwina nodded. “I know. Your desire to stay in town so much is precisely why I booked you for our local bachelor auction. This televised event is a lot of bang for the station’s marketing buck, Koka. It’s one date on Saturday and all you have to do is cook a private dinner for the woman. I’m sure it won’t harm your ethics—or Todd Lake’s. You can use the set kitchen to make it even safer for you.”
Koka snorted. “The whole thing is embarrassing. It looks like I can’t get a normal date.”
“Don’t be juvenile,” Edwina said, swiping the air with her hand. “All women want to date you. You’re a walking Polynesian pinup poster with those muscles and all that tanned skin. We’ve had this discussion many times and I’ve seen you mobbed after appearances.”
“No,” Koka said firmly. “The women want to date Todd Lake—not me. But standing there and letting them buy me? I don’t like the idea of it.”
Edwina sighed and promised herself a sane job with only media-hungry clients in the future. She picked up her tablet and gave her most popular, yet resistant, celebrity a hard stare.
“You can argue all you want, but it’s a done deal, Koka. The auction is tomorrow night. It starts at six-thirty and you’re bachelor number five. The execs wanted you to go shirtless and wear just your network apron, but I told them no already. So wear a nice suit, will you? Maybe you could even shave and get a haircut before then, to at least give the impression you care. Just don’t forget to pin the show logo to your suit jacket. And make sure the network cameras get a clear picture of it while you’re standing on stage.”
“I will hate every moment of the pretense,” he promised.
Edwina shrugged. “Maybe you will, but you will also make a lot of money for a great charity. Hopefully, the surge in popularity will boost your ratings enough to keep your primetime slot. That’s our goal.”
Koka nodded tightly. “Fine. I will be a good sport—this once. Please don’t ask me to do this kind of event again.”
“Give my best to your grandmother,” Edwina said, knowing better than to make a promise she could never keep.
“I will tell her you said hello,” Koka said as he walked her to his front door.
When he returned to the modest kitchen he had extensively renovated four years ago, his grandmother was waiting for him.
Pekala Whitman sat in her wheelchair as regally as any queen ever sat on a throne. His grandfather always said she had an ‘old soul’. Koka had thought many times his grandfather was right. The woman who had stood in for his neglectful parents said exactly what she thought to him all the time. What wasn’t uttered in regal commands often was advice too wise to ignore.
“I’m sorry if my argument with Edwina disturbed you,” Koka said regretfully. “Would you like me to fix you a cup of tea?”
“Yes, I’d like that very much,” Pekala answered. “But I do not think what Edwina asks is so bad, Koka. Why does doing something silly for charity bother you so much?”
Koka shrugged as he filled the kettle. “The auction has nothing to do with my cooking and everything to do with me selling something that I do not wish to sell. I have enough problems with that.”
His grandmother’s laugh made him smile. “Yet like most men, you quite happily give it away when it suits you.”
“That is different. That is my choice,” he said. Then he frowned into the tea kettle. “And I can’t even recall the last time I gave it to anyone. There are no good women in this town.”
Pekala clicked her tongue in sympathy. “Where is your faith? Perhaps the woman who pays for your company will be a nice person. Perhaps she will even be your Ke Aloha.”
“That would be miraculous,” Koka said stiffly, but then instantly regretted having taken too sharp a tone over her teasing. “I have some fish soup I could warm for you if you’re hungry.”
“No thank you. Just tea, Ko`u Aloha. Just tea tonight,” she said. “I need to go pray to the goddess. I will ask her to send someone to whom you can give what you don’t want to sell on Saturday.”
His grandmother meant well with her teasing. She meant to put him at ease. Koka knew that—he did. But thinking of an audience full of screaming women bidding on him, he rolled his eyes to the ceiling making sure his grandmother did not see.
“I had to work late to handle an emergency for a client, but I’m here now. The auction is just getting started. Breathe, Joe. I’m sure I haven’t missed him.”
Sabine held her cell phone tightly to her heaving chest, blocking Joe from hearing just in case she needed to lie to him.
“What bachelor are they on?” she asked, whispering the question to the woman filling out her paperwork.
“Number two, I think,” the woman replied equally quietly.
Sabine automatically took the auction-bidding fan that now had her name printed in giant letters on it. Sighing to see Martin’s name next to hers again, she ignored it and relayed the woman’s answer into the phone. “They’re just on bachelor number two. I’m sure I haven’t missed your Todd yet.”
“He’s number five,” the woman said, her tone perking up. “Wow, I wish I could bid on him. He’s incredibly good-looking, even if he never smiles.”
Sabine’s eyebrows raised at the detailed praise of the man. “You’re in luck, Joe. They just told me he’s coming up soon. So relax and drive safely. If I win Todd before you get here, I’ll call you.”
Before Joe could protest further, Sabine clicked the phone off and dropped it into her purse. “God, I really hate doing this.”
The woman laughed and smiled at her. “If you win, I’ll gladly take your date with Todd,” she said.
Sabine thought of how flustered Joe would get and how badly she wanted revenge for the hell he’d put her through today.
“Don’t tempt me,” she said with a grin, making the woman laugh. “That’s the best offer I’ve had all day. I traded money for going to the spa for this.”
Shouldering her favorite large purse, Sabine bravely headed into the bidding area where a crowd of restless women were actively bidding on some great-looking guy standing on stage.
The poor guy looked almost ill, but the screaming women didn’t seem to notice, or at least they didn’t seem to care. Looking around Sabine shook her head, unsure whether she should feel most sorry for the desperate women, the uncomfortable men, or herself for being stupid enough to do this for Joe.
She plopped down in a vacant chair near the back. Counting seats to have something to do, she came up with just a little over a hundred thirty potential competitors. Hopefully, not all of them had auction fans, so maybe she could shave another twenty or so from that number. Then she factored in Joe’s comment about Todd being a diamond in the rough and thought maybe another fifty might not like him enough to bid. If her estimates were right, it meant the actual number of women bidding against her might be no more than sixty or seventy.
Maybe she could do this—even if she hated every crazy second of it.
Sabine jumped in her seat when the woman next to her threw up her fan and screamed out a number. Her attention was snagged seconds later by the auctioneer yelling loud enough to be heard above the commotion.
“We have four hundred fifty. Do I hear five hundred? Do I hear four seventy-five? Four fifty-five? Going once. Going twice. Ladies, we have another winner. The winning bid for bachelor number four is four hundred and fifty dollars.”
Sabine made a face at the winning bid but was secretly glad the amount was so low. Seconds later, the woman’s squeal of triumph was deafening. Sabine put her hands over her ears to protect them.
“Sorry. So sorry,” the woman said in a squealing apology.
Sabine heard the woman giggle as she stood up. She almost laughed out loud when the woman rushed to the back of the room on six-inch pointed heels that any stripper would have envied.
“Oh good. One more bidder down,” Sabine said softly to herself, watching her go. She set her purse on the woman’s vacated seat to save it in case Joe actually made it on time.
While she waited for the next auction to start, Sabine studied the black ballet flats peeking out of her nicest pair of black leggings. Paired with a gold metallic tunic that covered her hips, the outfit was a good look for her. And flats went well with such outfits. Maybe three-inch heels would have made her legs look thinner. Was she going to have to learn to walk on heels again if she started dating? She hadn’t thought about that, but she hated the idea of hose and heels as bad as she hated being single.
“Okay, ladies. I know you’ve been waiting patiently for this one. Bachelor number five is Seattle’s very own Todd Lake, The Sexy Chef himself. One of our sweetest deals tonight, Todd tells us Seattle Live is going to match whatever money is collected for the winning bid. And I hear Todd is planning to cook his date’s favorite meal tomorrow night. So what do you think? Does that sound good, ladies? Let’s open the bid at five hundred dollars and see how many takers we have.”
Sabine drew in a breath as nearly every fan in the place was raised. “Holy shit,” she said, forgetting her role in the auction as she dealt with her surprise. Joe hadn’t told her that the man was freaking famous. Was being a chef his hobby?
She looked back at the stage at the tall stoic male who so far hadn’t smiled once at the audience. His serious and brooding expression seemed more natural for the intense face as he stood scanning the sea of squealing females.
And Todd Lake was way more good-looking than Joe had indicated. Somewhere between deciding for the hundredth time that all the best looking men were gay and realizing her fan was still lifeless in her lap, Sabine remembered to raise it to enter a bid.
“Wonderful! We now have a bid for two thousand. Lady in the gold shirt—I saw your fan go up too. Do I hear two thousand five hundred from you?”
Before Sabine could recover from the shock of so much money already being on the block for good-looking maybe-gay Todd, a loud voice rang out from the back.
Sabine pivoted in her seat to see an extremely tall woman standing at the back who was smiling evilly at the man on the stage. Sabine looked back at the stage and saw him frown as he glared at the back of the room.
Whoever the woman was, Todd Lake definitely did not like her—not at all.
She studied him as the auctioneer was calling for more bids. The last guy had looked ill as the bidding had neared a closing point. Chef Lake just looked really, really pissed. Yet for some reason, she still felt sorry for him. Her gut told her the woman at the back was up to no good.
“Three thousand five hundred,” Sabine shouted loudly, turning and glaring at the woman for good measure.
“Four thousand,” the woman shouted back, turning her evil smile toward Sabine. “What do you think you’re going to get for that much cash, honey? I can tell you that it’s only going to be dinner. The man doesn’t put out.”
Sabine stood and felt all eyes turn on her. “Hey, this auction is being televised. There’s no need to be disrespectful to any of the bachelors. Mr. Lake is doing this for charity.”
Sabine turned her attention to the stage. Her gaze sought and found his, while all gazes were still on her. There was a glint in his eyes and something else. A plea maybe.
Damn it, she was weak.
Turning once more, Sabine looked at the woman just as the auctioneer was counting down for her bid. She held up her fan. “Six thousand dollars,” Sabine said firmly, her voice barely carrying over the now madly cheering crowd.
“Are you fucking crazy?” the woman shouted.
Sabine shrugged and smiled at her competition.
“The bid is now at six thousand . . . Going once . . . Going twice. Mr. Lake will be cooking dinner for . . . hold up your fan for me again, lady in the gold shirt. He’ll be cooking for Ms. Sabine Kendall. Congratulations, Ms. Kendall. You have the winning bid for bachelor number five.”
The applause that broke out was the most deafening yet. Sabine laughed at the sheer amount of happy female energy in the room now directed at her. Feeling righteous and heroic, she shouldered her large purse again and headed for the back of the room.
“You’re an idiot for spending that kind of money on Todd Lake. He’s so not worth it, lady. I was only going to make him pay for treating me like shit when we dated,” the woman yelled as she passed.
“Maybe I am an idiot, but at least I’m the winning one this evening. And I think I just rescued a decent man from your evil bitchiness, which is the best thing I could have done at this meat show tonight. Do yourself a favor. Get help and stop hating the world,” Sabine ordered, smiling in triumph as the woman gave her the finger.
She knew her smile would disappear the moment she signed over the remaining contents of her savings to some charity she had yet to identify, but what the hell? Rundgren was obviously supporting it too. That would look favorable for her.
She would just split the difference of the money with Joe. It had been worth her half to put that bitchy woman in her place. She felt ten feet tall and thin at the moment. Those extra thirty pounds she was packing were wiped away in her triumphant female moment.
Behind her, she heard bachelor number six being brought forward. It made her cringe. Despite the momentary rush she’d gotten bidding on Joe’s Todd, the whole auction business was still distasteful to her. Once again she shook her head at her stupidity for getting involved.
“Joe, you owe me.”
Sabine was sighing over her checkbook when an out-of-breath Joe finally ran in and skidded to a stop beside her.
“Did you win?” he demanded.
“Of course, I won,” Sabine declared. “And my now empty bank account can attest to that fact.” She handed the check over to a giggling woman who congratulated her on her win.
“And just how much did you have to pay for his rescue?” Joe asked.
“Six thousand, hotshot. There was some crazy woman bidding on your diamond in the rough that ran his price up to four thousand in like a minute. She was a real piece of work, let me tell you. It felt so good to outbid her that I’ve decided to split the difference with you, so you only owe me three thousand. Plus I really enjoyed rescuing him. You were right—it was the most fun I’ve had in ages.”
“Six thousand? You paid six thousand dollars for Todd?” Joe exclaimed.
Sabine laughed at his genuine disbelief. “Yes. Apparently, every woman in the place saw the same diamond quality in him that you did. Now come on. I’ve got to go get my picture taken with your stud who’s waiting for me in the winner’s circle.”
“I can’t believe they got through nine bachelors so quickly,” Joe commented as they walked.
“It was only five. Todd was bachelor number five—not number nine,” Sabine corrected.
“No, Todd was going to be number nine. I got a text about ten minutes ago confirming his place in the auction line-up.”
Sabine snorted. “Simply not possible, Joe. The auctioneer said Todd Lake and the room erupted in bid fans going up in the air. I bid on your Todd—trust me.”
“Todd Lake? Sabine . . . oh my God. That’s who you bid on and won? For six thousand?” Joe bent from the waist as he laughed. When he straightened, he turned and started back toward the sign-up table. “I’m going to have to go bid on Todd myself. This is too funny. Wait until I tell him.”
“Joe, what the hell are you talking about? Come back here. This is not the time for a joke.”
Joe stopped, laughing as he turned to look at Sabine’s blank face again. “Sweetie, do you have any idea who you won tonight?”
“Yes. I won Todd Lake,” Sabine said. “It has to be your Todd. There couldn’t have been two Todds in the auction. You said so yourself.”
Joe laughed. “What are the odds of two Todds? Sounds like a riddle, doesn’t it? Now I wish I could stick around to meet The Sexy Chef in person, but I need to go save my Todd. Have fun with yours.”
Sabine stomped her foot. It was childish. Plus it didn’t help. “I already did save him. He’s waiting on me to take a freaking picture with him, Joe. Now stop fooling around and come with me. I don’t want to do this alone.”
“Sabine, you bid on the wrong man. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’re going to have a wonderful time tomorrow on your expensive date. Todd Lake is a Polynesian chef and you love pineapple. I’m sure it will be fine. Oh, and I think he’s a bit younger than you. See how great this has worked out? Win-win and you didn’t have to hit a single bar.”
Shocked at Joe’s revelation—and assumption—Sabine remained frozen in place, staring after him. Todd Lake was a real chef? What the hell? She didn’t watch cooking shows.
“Oh dear God—now what am I going to do?” she asked aloud as she watched Joe walk away.
A deep masculine voice followed by a laugh had her spinning to face the speaker. Up close, Todd Lake was even larger and more impressive than he had looked on stage. His athletic cut suit fit him perfectly. The shaggy black hair and day’s growth of beard didn’t do the suit any favors, but social defiance somehow suited those piercing chocolate eyes of his. He looked very real as he grinned at her shock.
Her sigh of resignation over what he must have heard was long and loud. Sabine ignored her face heating and sought the composure she normally exhibited in uncomfortable situations. As a public relations specialist, she had handled some funky clients in her career, and certainly had her share of embarrassing moments. She just didn’t usually cause them for herself.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for you to hear all that, Mr. Lake. My error is not in any way your fault nor a judgment of your appeal. I’m sure you’re worth every penny I paid—for the charity donation, I mean.”
“So if I heard your friend correctly, you rescued me thinking I was someone else?” Koka asked.
“Well—yes, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. I promised a friend that I’d rescue a guy he’s . . . no, let’s skip Joe’s story. It’s too complicated to get into. Plus I’m still not convinced the other guy even exists. Long story made short—apparently, I bid on the wrong bachelor named Todd,” Sabine said. “I hope you’re not too offended.”
Koka smiled—really smiled. The movement was so real and genuine for once that his face actually hurt. He put a hand up to rub the stiffness from his bristly jaw as he answered. “On the contrary, I am happy for the first time this evening—maybe this year. Thank you for rescuing me, whatever the circumstances.”
Sabine sighed in relief as she smiled back. She put out her hand. “That’s very nice of you to be so understanding. I’m Sabine Blakeman by the way, not Kendall any longer. They took my name off my driver’s license and checkbook. I just haven’t changed it legally yet.”
His hand engulfed hers and Sabine wondered how those large hands could possibly manage in a kitchen. His fingers were long and the skin on his hands was meticulously soft and clean.
“They have a saying where I’m from, Ms. Blakeman. Mahalo E Ke Akua No Keia La,” Koka said.
Sabine smiled. “That’s certainly a beautiful mouthful. Is it Polynesian?”
“It’s the Hawaiian way of saying thank the goddess such a pleasant woman won me,” Koka explained.
When she laughed at his compliment, the ruggedly handsome behemoth towering over her tugged her hand gently until she just sort of naturally fell into step beside him. “Well, at least the mean woman in the back didn’t get you.”
“Never. Not even when we dated briefly. I think she may still be angry about my refusal,” Koka said.
“Oh,” Sabine replied, the single word encompassing her total understanding. The woman had insinuated as much, but she didn’t like to jump to conclusions. Then thinking about the sexually frustrated woman bidding four thousand for another shot at him, she snorted in evil laughter herself and felt triumphant all over again. “As good looking as you are, you can do a lot better than someone like her.”
“My grandmother didn’t like her either,” Koka said, shrugging off his narrow escape. “So… shall we take the obligatory picture for the paper?”
Sabine sighed and nodded. She might as well have something to show for her zero bank balance. Why not get a picture taken with her six thousand dollar wrong Valentine?
“Sure. Why not? Otherwise tomorrow this is just going to seem like every other nightmare I’ve ever had and woke up relieved to still be alive. I thought some of those women might murder me before I managed to write the check.”
Koka laughed and the sound coming from his chest surprised him. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had sparked humor in his soul. He took a closer look at her.
“I am suddenly very glad you won me, Sabine Blakeman. Tomorrow I will make you the best dinner you have ever had. I heard your friend say that you like pineapple. Not one of my usual ingredients, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Sabine groaned at his sarcasm and felt a blush climbing her face again. “I am so sorry. My friend Joe has an extremely big mouth. Make anything you want and I’ll eat it. Promise. I’m not picky at all when it comes to food, but then I guess that shows, doesn’t it? And for the record, I do like pineapple.”
“You’re very accommodating. It is a wonderful trait in a beautiful woman,” Koka said, smiling again.
“Wow, if that’s flirting, Mr. Lake, you’re really good at it. My accommodating nature is because I’m feeling a bit unbalanced. You’re going to be my first actual date with a bachelor in twenty years,” Sabine said, quote marking the dreaded “d” word in the air with bent fingers.
The photographer motioned them in front of a blue screen. They were asked to hold a large piece of paper that had his bachelor number, the winning bid amount, and both their names.
Sabine sighed. “You wouldn’t happen to have a black marker in your pocket, would you? I’d love to change my name on this paper.”
Koka ignored her teasing question to ask what he really wanted to know. “Twenty years is a long time to not date. Are you freshly divorced?” Koka asked.
“More like irrevocably divorced. My ex has already re-married,” Sabine said.
Koka smiled. “Well, I’ll try to make the evening memorable enough for your first real date in twenty years.”
“Oh, I think that’s guaranteed by our odd circumstances,” Sabine said. “Where do you want to meet tomorrow?”
Koka had been going to take the winner to the Seattle Live stage kitchen, which he considered neutral territory. He was going to ask Edwina to come by and take network photos and chaperone in case it was awkward. His plan had been to let fame be the woman’s payment for her contribution to the auction. Now he wanted something more—he wanted time to get to know Sabine Blakeman.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like you to come to my house. My grandmother’s health is not good. I don’t like to be away from her for any longer than I have to,” he said.
Sabine nodded. “Sure. I don’t mind that at all. She’s welcome to join us for dinner.”
“After spending all that money, I find it interesting that you are willing to share my attention with other people,” Koka said, frowning at her open expression. Would the woman really not mind sharing his company? And why did that idea bother him? She was being nice.
“Why would I mind if she ate with us? It would be rude to exclude your family. Besides, the dinner is a charity event. It’s not like tomorrow is a real date.”
“But what if it was? Would you still feel the same?” Koka demanded.
Sabine frowned. “Well, it’s not a real date, so that’s a rhetorical question not in need of a definitive answer.”
Koka laughed at her sharp response. His pride was stung a little, thinking Sabine Blakeman didn’t want to be alone with him. What a strange response to a woman who was only being kind.
His gaze traveled over her blonde hair and lush womanly figure covered in sparkling gold. Her sheer comfort with herself made her more alluring than any woman he’d seen screaming his name tonight. Evidently, his grandmother’s prayers to the goddess had been answered by his rescuer.
“Since you told me your real name, I suppose it is only fair that I should tell you mine. I will ask you to please not reveal it to the world. My real name is Koka Whitman. Todd Lake is my TV show name,” he whispered.
Sabine smiled up at him as the photographer made lens adjustments. “Koka? That’s a very different kind of name.”
Koka waited, grinned, and then let it drop. “Yes. It’s Hawaiian for Todd.”
Her rolling belly laugh had him smiling down into her open face again. The camera snapped and for once he didn’t care. All he cared about was making the woman beside him belly laugh again until her eyes danced.
“You made that up because you heard Joe say that I bid on the wrong person,” Sabine declared. “Just because I’m a natural blonde doesn’t mean I’m gullible and stupid—unless you count letting a friend talk me into this stupid auction—wait, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I’m not unhappy to have won you.”
Koka laughed hard as Sabine bit her lip and stared a little fearfully at him. He was both charmed and offended by her honesty. The camera snapped again. Remarkably, he still didn’t care. He had even forgotten to count. Now he would have to guess how many photos had been taken.
“Could we please try for one normal picture?” the photographer asked.
Sabine felt a blush climbing her face again as she looked forward at the camera. “Oh God—I’m really sorry. Of course . . . oh . . .” She stumbled a little when Koka’s arm came around her and pulled her closer to him behind the paper they held between them. Good thing she’d worn the flats and not stupid stripper shoes like so many of the bidders had been wearing.
“That’s a pretty strong grip you have there—Koka Whitman,” she whispered.
Koka chuckled. “Smile at the camera Sabine, and stop making me laugh.”
“I wasn’t doing it on purpose. You started it with your fake Todd story.” But Sabine did as he ordered, vastly relieved when the photographer finally said he got one he was happy with for the paper.
“We want copies of all the pictures you took,” Koka said firmly, staring at the photographer. “It was part of my participation agreement. I believe there were four prior to your good shot. I will be looking for that many at least.”
“Certainly, Mr. Lake,” the photographer answered. “There’s only one acceptable shot, but I’ll send the others along to your producer as well.”
Koka nodded. “Please do that. Thank you.”
He looked down at Sabine Blakeman. “Can I have your phone number? I will need to call you with details for our date.”
“My phone number? Oh… sure,” Sabine said, as she nodded and dug into her purse for a business card and a pen.
Seeing no surface to write on, she picked up one of his large hands and put her card in it. She raised and lowered his arm until her vision focused. No way was she digging for her reading glasses. Flipping the card over to the back, she wrote her cell number on it. All the while, he laughed at her.
“Am I really that funny to you?” Sabine asked.
“The word I would use is charming,” Koka said.
Sabine snorted as she capped her pen. Her heart fluttered as she watched him tuck the card into some hidden pocket in his jacket. When his eyes crinkled at the corners, she just had to know the cause. “Do you mind telling me how old you are?”
“Thirty-seven last year,” Koka said. “And you?”
Sabine shrugged. “Forty-three last year.”
“Why does age matter to you?” Koka asked.
“I’ve been teasing Joe about dating a younger man. Now that’s going to be something else I can check off my to-do list.”
Koka snorted. She was an easy woman to read. “How old was the woman your ex married?”
“Okay. You got me. My husband married a woman half my age, but I’m not trying to get even. Men half my age remind me of my children. I joke about it, but I couldn’t go there.”
Koka smiled again, but he wanted to laugh. She was very at ease making fun of herself. “I have a daughter who is nineteen. She started college this year—the University of California at Berkley. She is majoring in music.”
“I have a college sophomore and a freshman. Both are at the University of Washington. One has been talking about Berkley, but that’s a bit out of my college budget. Neither has chosen majors yet. I’m just happy they’re both in school and getting decent grades. Hopefully, they’ll find their calling as they find themselves.”
They stood looking at each other in shared understanding until a flash went off nearby. It was not the professional photographer.
“Sorry, Sabine. It happens to me all the time,” Koka said. “We’ll be on social media later.”
“It’s okay. I’m a PR person. Most of the time those random pictures are a good thing for your popularity, but I can see how it could get old after a while. Is that why you rebelled today and didn’t bother to shave?”
Koka rubbed his jaw as he grinned. “You consider this a sign of rebelling?”
“Yes. Assuming you’re not one of those men who are just lazy about hygiene. I somehow don’t see that being the case with a TV personality,” Sabine said, smiling to soften her statement. “Not that an unshaven man in a well-fitted suit doesn’t have his own rugged appeal. You raised every bidding fan when you walked out on the stage. I’m sure you didn’t miss that.”
Koka laughed and shrugged. “Will you expect me to shave for our date tomorrow?”
Sabine giggled. The man had such a funny way about him. “Expectations haven’t worked out well for me lately. I think I’ll just take whatever presentation you’re offering and be grateful.”
“Are you flirting with me?” Koka asked, grinning at her head ducking.
Sabine sighed. “Why? Am I doing a terrible job of it? I’m really rusty.”
Koka shook his head as he turned. “No, I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to a woman’s company. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Sure. Oh… that answers your other question. Your phone call is one thing I will be expecting,” she teased.
Koka walked away laughing, heading in the direction of the back door.
Sabine smiled and sighed softly as she turned back toward the front of the building. Joe and a man she figured was his actual diamond in the rough were standing nearby and grinning at her.
Sighing again, but this time in resignation, she lifted her chin and braced herself.
“I’m so proud of you, Sabine. It’s all I can do not to start dancing in joy,” Joe said. “You were flirting with The Sexy Chef and he was flirting back. I can’t wait until I see Martin again, just so I can tell him you’ve officially moved on.”
“Stop teasing me,” Sabine said firmly, her palm smacking Joe’s chest. She turned her attention politely to his companion. “Hello. You must be the right Todd.”
“Not sure how to answer that. I guess I must be if Todd Lake is the wrong one,” the man said. “Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Kendall. I’m Todd Masterson.”
“It’s Blakeman—Sabine Blakeman. Kendall was my married name. It’s my pleasure to meet you, Todd Masterson. Joe says we’re in the same line of business.”
“Actually, Joe says you would very much like to do business with my company,” Todd said, laughing when Sabine Blakeman blushed. “How charming. A PR person who isn’t jaded.”
“Joe talks way too much. And it’s been a day for blushing at everything that’s said. I paid six thousand dollars for the wrong man. I think I’ll probably be doing more blushing tomorrow when he fixes me my six thousand dollar pineapple dinner,” Sabine said.
“And I imagine speculation will be rampant about my orientation preference when I go out with Joe,” Todd said. “I may be blushing the whole evening as well.”
Sabine chuckled. “Well, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing I would have paid more money for you than Joe ever would have. He told me I had to stop at six hundred.”
To her delight, Todd laughed while Joe flushed and swore she was lying. At least the right Todd had a keen sense of humor. Maybe the man was worth all the trouble he had indirectly caused her.
“Joe, I need a drink and you’re buying because, thanks to you, I’m broke,” Sabine announced. “Todd, are you interested in joining us? When I’m out with Joe people tend to think we’re a married couple. The question of your orientation should be moot if you want to chance it.”
“Only if you make mine a double. Joe bought me for three hundred dollars. Knowing you paid thousands for the wrong Todd, my ego is now totally deflated,” Todd said.
“Three hundred?” Sabine repeated, glaring at the snickering man next to her. “Joe—I’m going to hurt you.”
“No, you won’t. I was eavesdropping and heard what Todd Lake said to you. I will bet you half the money you spent on him that The Sexy Chef asks you out for a real date tomorrow,” Joe said.
Sabine laughed. “Deal—and I’m not even worried that I don’t have any money left to pay you in case you win. The man was being polite and friendly, Joe. He was fun and a lot more real than what everyone thinks.”
She saw Joe and Todd exchanging a look over her statement. “What was that look for? I’m telling you Mr. Lake was just playing nice for the cameras. I bet he can’t go anywhere without being tagged. My ignorance was just a refreshing change for him.”
“And she already cares about how he’s perceived,” Joe said, shaking his head and sighing dramatically as Todd laughed. “My brother never deserved this woman. She’s great at her job too. Unlike some public relations agents, her clients get to maintain their dignity.”
Sabine’s face flamed again at Joe’s praise in front of a potential client who now knew too many intimate details about her life. But there was no retracting what had been said.
“Well, at least I’m spending Valentine’s Day Eve with two handsome men instead of being alone,” she said sweetly.
When the right Todd smiled at her, Sabine saw exactly what Joe had seen. Todd Masterson was interesting and very nice, which was sometimes better than being extremely good-looking. A mind that sharp would probably be fun to challenge too.
“Tell you what, Sabine—Rundgren supports many charities. If you get The Sexy Chef to cater a meal for one of them, I’ll make sure you get a contract for some of our work,” Todd said.
Sabine belly laughed. “Oh sure. I’ll just ask him tomorrow, right after the grilled pineapple entrée that Joe made sure I would get.”
She listened to Todd laughing while she glared at Joe’s shrug of indifference. But she also felt envious of her friend’s extraordinary luck with recognizing good men.