The Billionaire's Practice Kiss by Tamie Dearen

Chapter 1

“Just in case I disappear, here’s the address where I’m headed,” Ellery Akins told her roommate via the hands-free phone in her car, in accordance with the traffic laws. She hadn’t broken a single one since the accident. In fact, she usually drove five miles per hour under the speed limit. At least!

“Ellery, I wish you’d stop doing these home deliveries. There has to be a safer way to earn money.”

The world’s most cautious person, Kara had advised Ellery against taking the shopping and delivery job via the Bring-It-To-Me application. But well-paying work was hard to find in Austin, Texas, where a plethora of young students were seeking part-time employment. Ellery had applied other places, but hadn’t been hired. She couldn’t help but suspect her appearance played a part in her rejection.

“The app-user has to enter a lot of personal information, and the GPS tracks exactly where I am,” Ellery said. “It’s perfectly safe.”

“If you’re warning me you might go missing, it can’t be perfectly safe.” Kara’s East-Texas drawl made her sarcasm even more pronounced. “This guy could be an axe-murderer for all you know.”

Ellery and Kara had been roommates at the University of Texas for four years, paired in a pot-luck placement that had been a miraculously compatible match. Though, thanks to Ellery’s extended recovery time, she was now a year behind in her college hours.

“I was just kidding about going missing. I’m not really nervous at all. All my customers have been super nice. And for once, my face gives me an advantage.”

“What advantage?” Kara’s tone was laden with suspicion.

“I’ve been getting some really big tips…way more than the averages reported by the app users. Could be because they see the scar and feel sorry for me. Or maybe they just want to get rid of me as fast as possible so they won’t have to keep looking at me. Either way, I’m not complaining.”

“You know I hate it when you say things like that.” Kara’s voice had an edge to it. “You’re still as beautiful as ever. I just thank God we didn’t lose you.”

“I’m okay, Kara. I really am. My counselor says it’s a good sign I can joke about it. In fact, she released me today. So don’t worry about me.” Ellery had been released because her insurance wouldn’t cover any more counseling sessions, but Kara didn’t need to know that.

Kara sniffed. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. I kind of had an epiphany the other day. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home,” said Ellery. “This is my last delivery of the day. I’m hoping I’ll get a good tip, even though I’m a little late. The Friday go-home traffic was horrible. I sat on I-35, barely moving for forty minutes.”

She didn’t mention she’d passed a wreck on the highway and broken out in a cold sweat, despite it being only a minor fender-bender. She’d had to do her special breathing to avoid a panic attack. Still, it was a vast improvement. A year ago, she couldn’t even sit in a car. Even now she refused to ride in a vehicle with a low-to-the-ground profile.

Using her sleeve, Ellery mopped the sweat off her brow. The air conditioner in her ten-year-old SUV was already struggling to handle the Texas heat, though it was still April and eighty-five degrees. She wasn’t sure what would happen that summer when it hit the nineties and hundreds. She certainly couldn’t afford a new car. It would help if she wasn’t too self-conscious to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts. But she didn’t want to give strangers even more to stare at.

“I bet they won’t be upset. People who live in Austin ought to understand about traffic,” said Kara. “What are you delivering this time?”

“I picked up some clothes from the dry-cleaners. I think these people might be rich, because it came in a fancy opaque garment bag instead of the usual clear thin plastic. And one of the things inside was a tuxedo.”

“You looked inside? That doesn’t sound like the rule-follower-Ellery I know.

“I had to look.” Her stomach clenched. “I felt guilty about it, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t secretly transporting drugs or laundered money or something.”

“Wouldn’t it be dry-cleaned money instead of laundered?”

“Ha. Very funny.” Following her GPS map, Ellery turned her SUV into a long but wide driveway with an iron gate at the entrance.

“Wowsers! This place is a mansion. It’s huge! I’ve gotta go, Kara. I’ll call you when I’m done.”

“Okay. Praying it’s not an axe murderer.”

“Just pray they’re not angry I’m late. Tipping is totally optional, so if they don’t tip, I’m going to lose money on this one. Sitting in traffic burned up a lot of gas.”

“Okay. I’m praying he’s a generous, non-angry, non-axe-murderer.”

Chapter 2

This one is even worse than the last three.

Logan West pretended to listen to the blonde woman who stood in front of him, a garment bag hanging from her arm as she droned on about the latest episode of some television show. He nodded, though he had no idea what she was talking about. He hadn’t watched anything but the news and sports since he graduated from college. Was this what women wanted in a man? Someone who wasted hours watching the latest drama or comedy series? He’d gotten so out of touch with his generation. For that matter, he was out of touch with every generation…at least in person.