Home > Hosed (Happy Cat #1)

Hosed (Happy Cat #1)
Author: Pippa Grant, Lili Valente

One

Ryan O’Dell

(aka a small-town firefighter unaware that a dildo is about to change his life)

* * *

There’s nothing like a good lube fire your first morning back from vacation.

Or so I assume. This is actually a first for our station. Can’t help but wonder if it’ll be the last.

Hank lays on the horn and slows the engine at the main intersection in Happy Cat, Georgia. We can see the Sunshine Sex Toys factory three blocks and one left ahead. But with Maud and Gerald Hutchins standing in the center of the road—him six-two, two-fifty, with a gray comb-over flapping above a hastily written Let It Burn sign, her five-ten, a buck-twenty-five, her hair dyed blue and coming out of its ponytail while she tries to shove him out of the way—we’re not setting any rapid response records.

But there’s no visible smoke at the factory.

Good sign.

Hank gets around the Hutchinses, aided by Maud, who claws at Gerald’s tickle spot to keep him from darting in front of the truck.

Thirty seconds later, we’re careening into the parking lot of the converted tobacco warehouse behind the post office/taxidermy shop. A couple dozen employees huddle near the azaleas at the far end of the lot while alarms blare from the building. We’re out of the engine and halfway to the front door, already in turnout gear, when a woman on a bike plows into our group.

Hank dives, Jojo yelps, and I snag a handlebar before I realize what I’m grabbing.

A dildo.

The bike has dildo handlebars.

The woman leaps off. She barely comes up to my breastbone, though the messy chestnut bun piled on her head gives her another two inches. “Thanks,” she calls as she darts toward the door.

I hustle after her. “Ma’am, you have to stay out of the building.”

“Are you kidding?” she shoots over her shoulder without so much as a glance my way. “If the factory burns down on my watch, I’m dead meat anyway.”

“Ma’am—”

“It’s okay! It’s out!” A lanky guy in an ash-streaked lab coat and safety goggles rushes through the door. “I did it! The lube fire is contained!”

“Keep them outside,” Jessie, our chief, mutters to me while she and the rest of the crew push around us and stomp into the building.

I shift to the left and extend my arms, blocking the woman and the lab rat as they start after the team. “Back up, please.”

“But the fire’s out. I need to see what kind of damage—”

“Back. Up. Please.”

The Don’t Mess With The Big Serious Firefighter Voice usually works like a charm, but not with this one. She’s bouncing like a bird, trying to get around me. She’d probably dive between my legs if I gave her half an opening.

And not dive between my legs in the good way.

“It was the lube,” the lab rat is telling Bird Girl. “The mango-lime-liberation flavor Savannah wanted us to sweeten up a bit. One minute, I’m mixing everything just fine, and the next, poof! Lube fire.”

“Has this ever happened before?” she asks.

“No, never. We should call—”

“We are not calling Savannah.” Bird Girl lifts a hand. “We are going to go inside, assess the damage, and—”

“No, we’re going to back away from the building,” I interject. “Now.”

They both look at me, and whoa.

Bird Girl’s eyes. They’re somewhere between a mocha cappuccino and milk chocolate, big and round behind her glasses. She’s not wearing makeup, but she doesn’t need any. A flash of déjà vu hits me, along with a sudden realization that I have no idea who this woman is, which is practically impossible in Happy Cat. Secrets and strangers are rare things in a town as small as ours.

Her cupid’s bow lips part, her dark lashes lift as her eyes flare, and a sliver of a dimple flashes when she stutters, “You have got to be kidding me.”

I snap back to reality with a frown. “I’m not. Until the building is clear—”

“It’s clear, it’s clear,” the lab rat says with a hand flutter. “I told you. I put it out.”

An explosion inside the building rattles the windows. Not enough to break the glass, but enough to put my pulse into hyperdrive.

The lab rat shrieks, covers his head, and dashes across the parking lot.

I grab Brown Eyes by an arm and haul her over the blacktop while my radio squawks with reports about the crew inside.

Everyone’s checking in. No injuries, but we need to clear the building. Five minutes ago.

“Who’s missing? Who’s still inside?” I ask the woman. “Are all the employees accounted for?”

“I don’t know.” She shoots a ghost-faced look back at the factory.

“Where’s Savannah?”

“Vacation.”

Vacation. Not likely—I read the town’s gossip-heavy InstaChat page, and I know as well as everyone else what happened with Savannah—but also not the most pressing matter. “Then who’s in charge here?”

“Um…me?”

I freeze. “You’re in charge?”

Her round cheeks are turning pink. “It’s complicated.”

“Who can tell me if the building is empty?” I ask, hurrying across the last stretch of asphalt.

“One of them?” She motions toward the other Sunshine Sex Toys employees huddled in the grass at the edge of the parking lot. “Maybe Olivia?”

“Oh, yes, me! I can help! I’d love to help!” The familiar blonde waves, making the silver bangles draping her arms clank.

Under normal circumstances, I’d wince at Olivia Moonbeam’s eager enthusiasm. Right now, a wince isn’t strong enough. “You know who might still be in the building?” I ask her.

Her lips purse. They’re painted Goddess Core Pink, which I know because she made an announcement about it being her signature feminine-power color at the fish fry two weeks ago. My brothers have been making jokes about their “goddess cores” on a group text ever since.

“Well, no, we don’t do roll call,” Olivia says. “We’re all about working when the energy is right. Letting vitality move organically through the chakras to the heart center and then the hands, you know?”

Unfortunately, I do. Since Olivia moved to Happy Cat I’ve learned more about my chakras and my “energetic soul body” than I ever wanted to know.

“Ruthie May?” I call. I know the town gossip works here. No idea what her job is, but it doesn’t matter. She’ll know who came to work today, what they were wearing, and whether or not they’re feeling regular or still bound up from last night’s nacho dip.

The familiar grandmotherly busybody hustles out from the middle of the crowd, her usually cheerful face drawn and serious under her dyed-brown hair. “Everyone’s out and accounted for, darlin’. Well, except Frank, but he was testing some product over at Widow MacIntosh’s place last night and is late gettin’ in. And Savannah, of course, who’s run off on account of her mental breakdown. But I’m sure you saw that on InstaChat.”

“She did not have a mental breakdown,” Brown Eyes hisses.

Ruthie May’s weathered forehead wrinkles sympathetically. “Honey, she had an entire truck of dicks-in-a-box delivered to Steve’s parents’ house, then posted a video on InstaChat of her playing Whack-a-Husband with a dildo. If that ain’t a mental breakdown—”

“He was cheating on her with a sheep,” someone else in the crowd offers. “He earned that dildo beating.”

“She was entitled to it!” another pipes up. “Especially with the grief she got just for telling the truth!”

“Back to the matter at hand, please,” Bird Girl squeaks in an attempt to shift focus. But good luck with that. People are going to be talking about Savannah Sunderwell’s breakdown when our children’s children are riding to school in self-driven cars. Aside from Savannah coming home to open a sex toy factory in the first place, the situation surrounding her divorce is the biggest scandal Happy Cat has seen in years. “How did the fire start?” she continues, “and how do we stop anything like this from happening again?”

“The lube shouldn’t have been flammable,” the lab rat says. “I did all the calculations myself. The solution shouldn’t start smoking until at least three hundred fifty degrees. We were still at room temperature, and none of the ingredients are particularly volatile. Unless I grabbed the wrong bottle…”

“So there’s no one else in the building?” I clarify with Ruthie May.

“As far as I know.” She gnaws on her lower lip as her gaze shifts to the brown-eyed woman. “Savannah isn’t back in town, is she, Cassie? You talk to her today?”

Cassie…Cassie Sunderwell? Savannah’s sister?

Fuck me with a spoon. I should’ve seen the resemblance.

But she’s so…grown up. And wearing a tight white tee shirt with a cartoon Viking whose horns hit right at her nipples.

Damn. It’s a damn good thing I’m here for a fire, or I might be staring.

“Savannah’s on vacation,” Cassie repeats. “She’s not in the building. She’s not even in the country.”

“She’s totally gone,” Olivia agrees with a toss of her long blond hair. “She cleaned out half her bedroom and had me grab her a wide variety of vibrators to take along on her soul journey. Variety is important when you’re healing a heart chakra wound.”

Cassie opens her mouth, then closes it. Her cheeks are turning the right shade of pink to highlight the freckles on her nose, and for a split second, I wonder how many of Savannah’s products she’s tried.

At that moment, the sheriff finally decides to pull into the parking lot.

About damned time.

“Stay here,” I tell the group of employees.

Cassie, Olivia, and Ruthie May all ignore the order, skittering after me as I stride to meet the sheriff, who’s taking his sweet time climbing out of his cruiser.

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