Curves for the Single Dad by Piper Sullivan

 

Tara

Iwas running late. Again. Only tonight wasn’t just our regular girls’ night out, it was my birthday. Gretchen, my older sister, wouldn’t care that I had a perfectly good reason for being late, not even if it was because someone had stolen Mr. Blakely’s truck and left it running on the side of the highway. It was my responsibility as a law enforcement officier to make sure the citizens of Pilgrim were well taken care of.

But still, it was a night to celebrate my birthday, so I rushed home after returning Mr. Blakely’s truck to shower and quickly change into something more appropriate than my Pilgrim Township PD uniform. Even though the brown color did make my green eyes pop. But I knew Gretchen, Eva and Sophie wouldn’t see it that way, so I put on a pair of jeans that hugged thighs with a tad too much jiggle, but made my extremely round backside look shapely. I paired it with a silky green top that I found on sale on my last trip to visit my cousin Ry and my aunt Betty in Tulip, and my favorite—okay, only—nude pumps. I was only fifteen minutes late, so I decided to take a few more to avoid any comments about how I could have at least tried with my appearance.

Sisters were exhausting. So were female friends.

I loved them, I really did. But my boss Xander and my other male colleagues didn’t give a damn if I had on heels or make up. They probably wouldn’t even notice if I let my D cups roam braless. A quick slick of pale pink lip gloss, a little product to make my brown hair look more touchable than wild and scary, and some mascara and I was ready to go.

I hoped.

You could never be too sure if you were prepared to celebrate your birthday, especially with close friends and family. But I was as ready as I would ever be to admit that at 31, I was officially over thirty.

And single.

And not a detective. Yet.

I was working on it though. Sort of.

That’s what I told myself as I stood outside my favorite Mexican restaurant and prepared to go inside and face the revelry.

“It’s kind of hard to start a birthday celebration without the birthday girl.”

Mara’s droll tone turned my head away from the tables filled with laughing couples and groups of people having a good time, to her all-seeing honey brown eyes.

“You’d be surprised.” I noticed she wasn’t alone. “Hey Joss, how’s it going?”

The soccer coach beamed a wide smile that seemed so genuine, and I envied that about her. “Happy birthday, Tara. Hope it’s been a good one?”

I shrugged. Were birthdays ever any fun after you turned twenty-one? I mean, did anyone actually enjoy turning twenty-five or thirty? Probably not, but they loved their circle, and pretended to enjoy it. Just like I will.

“So far so good, I suppose. Thanks for coming to celebrate.”

“Hope that’s okay, I figured the more the merrier, and Joss here has done a crap job at making friends.”

That was a laughable statement coming from a woman who made it practically impossible to get to know her.

“It’s more than okay. An extra single person will take some of the pressure off me. I hope.” After a quick glance inside at the table decorated with balloons and streamers meant for me, I pasted a big smile on my face. “Let’s do this, ladies.”

“That’s the mediocre level of excitement I was looking for.” Usually Mara’s sarcasm put a smile on my face, today I just shook my head. Inside the restaurant was busy and loud, two things I loved about it, because it made it difficult for gossipers and matchmakers to be heard. Or to hear. “Hey girlies, look who I found.”

At the sight of me, the table went silent and then erupted in birthday wishes. “I was wondering if you might fabricate a work emergency to get out of celebrating.” Leave it up to my big sister to make it awkward right off the bat.

“And miss out on free tacos and quesadillas? I would never, not even if it meant being harassed by my loved ones.” With a playful eyeroll I took a seat at the decorated spot, not at the head of the table, but sandwiched right in the middle. “Thanks for coming, girls.”

“Happy Birthday,” they all sang at once. If it hadn’t been so off-key I might have thought they’d practiced it.

“Let’s get a drink for the birthday girl!” Olive called out, rubbing her ever growing baby bump, a wide smile on her face. “You can drink for me tonight too, Tara.”

“Um, I have to work in the morning, so one strawberry margarita will be my limit.”

“Boo!” Mara jeered, cupping her hands just to make sure the word carried. “It’s your birthday, and I’m buying you at least two shots of tequila.”

“One shot and one drink,” I bargained as the waitress made her way to our table.

“Two rounds of shot for everyone but the mommy to be,” Mara said to the waitress with a wicked smile. “And two pitchers of margaritas, strawberry and lime. Thanks.”

Eva rolled her eyes. “Did you forget something Mara?”

She blinked innocently, big brown eyes somehow still laughing. “Did I? What?”

Eva shook her head, ignoring Sophie, Olive and Joss’ laughter. “Double nachos, stacked to the brim. Fresh Salsa and mini tacos to start, please.”

“Now that food and drinks are out of the way,” Gretchen said a little louder than necessary, making me wonder just how early she’d showed up at the restaurant, “it’s time to talk about the birthday girl.”

“Not necessary,” I said quickly. “You all showed up and that’s enough for me.”

“That’s not how birthdays work, Tara. We’re here to celebrate you, to let you know that we’re happy you were born, and that this world wouldn’t be the same without you in it, keeping us safe.” Sophie’s kind words didn’t surprise me, but the sting of emotion behind my eyes did. Thankfully the drinks arrived a moment later, and I buried my face in a wide margarita glass, gulping away some of my emotions.

“Thank you, Sophie.”

“Yeah, yeah, we all love you.” Gretchen waved a dismissive hand in Sophie’s direction, an amused smile on her face. “So much so that we spent our hard-earned money to show you just how much.”

I groaned. “I specifically said no gifts, Gretchen.”

“Of course you did. Everyone says that, but I know you didn’t mean it, because it would be awkward to show up without a gift. So, it’s gift time!” She clapped her hands excitedly and did a little hip shake in her seat. “Who wants to go first?”

“I guess you do,” Mara said, her words heavy with sarcasm.

Gretchen was, as usual, completely unfazed by the sarcasm and she produced a beautiful gold envelope with a smile as bright as the Texas sun. “I’ll save mine for last, smart ass.” She stuck a playful tongue out and Mara. “You go first.”

“Happily.” Mara stood and pulled a crinkled purple envelope from her back pocket with a smile. “For you, Officer Birthday Girl.”

“Thanks,” I snickered at the silly nickname and accepted the envelope. When I opened the flap, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Are you saying my shooting isn’t up to snuff? Because I’ll happily prove you wrong.”

“Not at all, Rambo. But I heard through the grapevine that it’s an excellent form of stress release. Maybe you’ll head there after leaving this estrogen fest.”

“Thanks. I just might.” Though the truth was that, so far, the dinner wasn’t as stressful as I’d made it out to be in my head.

“Happy birthday, Tara.” Sophie stood and set a big silver box in front of me and I held back a groan, knowing it was some article of clothing.

“Thaaaannnks…” I drew the word out until it was about nine syllables as I opened the box and removed the silvery tissue paper that hid a gorgeous champagne colored dress. “Holy crap, Soph, it’s gorgeous.”

“Of course it is. And it’s perfectly your size, and will be stunning with your coloring. I hope you enjoy it.” Even when she was being a prim and proper Worthington, it was so much nicer on Sophie than the other rich people I’d come across in my life.

“I can’t think of a place I could wear this to, but it’s beautiful. Thank you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Eva said and set her own box in front of me. “Courtesy of me and Olive, who’s too big and too tired to do her own shopping.”

“Hey! I did the shopping, you just picked it up.” Olive cocked an eyebrow, daring Eva to deny it.

“Well someone has to pick up the slack,” she shot back with a playful wink.

I opened the box and gasped. “These are the sexiest shoes I have ever seen, but they don’t exactly go with my uniform,” I joked, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the strappy shoes with the four inch heel that would give me the height I always longed to have. If I had an occasion to wear them.

Which I didn’t.

“Well now, isn’t this, what’s the word?” Gretchen tapped her chin theatrically and I felt my stomach roll over. “Fortuitous, that’s it. Isn’t this fortuitous?”

“What?” I asked, even though I didn’t really want to know.

“That you’ve got sexy clothes and shoes and no place to wear them.”

Mara snorted a laugh. “I’m not sure you know what that word means, Gretchen.” A few laughs went around the table, but my sister only rolled her eyes and slid the fancy envelope my way.

“I absolutely do, Mara. You’ll see.” Gretchen was confident, but rarely was she smug like she was now, and I didn’t like it.

Not one bit. I opened the envelope slowly, carefully, almost certain whatever it was would bite me, possibly poison me. She didn’t, I thought as I pulled the certificate from the envelope. She wouldn’t. But as my eyes bounced over the words, I knew that she, in fact, would. And had.

“Gretchen, why?”

She shrugged, her smile unapologetic. “Because, it’s time. Dickhead left months ago, and you haven’t had even one date since. Not even a blind date. This will kickstart you into your thirties. Properly.”

“How will a Time for Love gift certificate do all that, Gretch? Huh?” I was annoyed. Frustrated with her beyond belief, but too polite to really show it.

“Even if your friends don’t find you the one, they will get you out there, in the world, dating again. You are far too beautiful and too vibrant to wilt away all because some jerk didn’t see how great you are. He doesn’t deserve that kind of power over you or your life.”

“I’m not giving him any power.” Sure, I haven’t dated since we broke up, but I’ve been busy with work.

“Really? Then when do you take the detective’s exam?”

“I just missed the last deadline,” I stammered. “I’m working on it and my life. Just because you lucked out in the husband department doesn’t mean that’s what we’re all meant to have.”

“Bull,” she spat angrily. “You have a plan and you’ve done nothing since dickhead left, almost two years ago. You haven’t dated, which makes it hard as hell to fall in love, which I could forgive if you were moving up the police ladder. Which you aren’t. It’s like he broke you, Tara.”

Ugh, I hated the idea of that. That he’d not only broken my heart, but maybe he’d broken me. I couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t. “Fine. Thank you, and I’ll think long and hard about using it.”

“That’s all I ask,” she said smugly.

“Don’t worry,” Eva and Sophie said at the same time. “She’ll use it,” Eva finished, her words sounded more like a threat than a promise.

And I knew, no good could come of this.