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Authors: Brooke Cumberland

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BOOK: Pushing the Limits
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CHAPTER FOUR

ASPEN

 

The sound of my alarm wakes me up and before I can even manage to open my eyes, I reach for my phone and tap on the screen until the noise stops. It’s Saturday, and I have to be at work in less than an hour, but the heavy weight lying next to me reminds me that I’m not alone.

Jake, or maybe it was John, is a guy I met during happy hour, and when two drinks turned into four and six, I invited him back to my place.

But I don’t have time to casually escort him out and exchange numbers—not that I’d give him mine anyway. That’s not how this works. I avoid any kind of attachment, friendship, or even a fuck buddy. I don’t feel that compassion toward relationships that most women do. I can’t be open, discuss my feelings, or have ‘talks’ about my past. It’s the exact reason I avoid it all in the first place. One-night stands and casual hookups are all I’m emotionally capable of giving.

I need to shower and leave before I’m late to work again. So I slide out of bed¸ grab my towel hanging on the back of the door, and walk to the bathroom.

He has exactly forty-two minutes to leave before I kick him out.

I wash my body and hair, trying to remember the events of last night.

Kendall and Zoe met me at Happy Joe’s for the two-for-one happy hour special.

It was only meant to be a quick, fun girls’ night out, but it soon turned into a party of six after Kendall invited her boyfriend, Kellan.

Jake, or John, was there with a friend from work—some name that I can’t remember either—and I can only assume Zoe took him home after Kendall and I left.

As soon as I’m out of the shower, I dry off and head back to my room to search for some clothes. What’s his face is still lying face flat on my bed.

Fucking hell
.

I open one of my drawers to grab some jeans and purposely slam it shut, hoping it’ll startle him enough to wake up.

No such luck.

On to Plan B.

I walk over to the other side of the bed and start shaking his shoulder. “Wake up!” He barely flinches. I grab the covers and rip them off of him, only to realize he’s completely naked.

I tilt my head and admire his firm ass for a quick second, but then shake my head away from the distraction. “You need to leave!” I say loud and insultingly slow.

He finally starts stirring and mumbles something but doesn’t open his eyes.

“I’m going to pour a bucket of cold water on you if you don’t get the hell out of my bed,” I threaten. “You have three seconds.”


Jesus
,” he mutters, slowly shifting around, searching for the covers with one hand.

“I have to get to work.” I walk back around my bed and start searching for a shirt in my closet. “Which means you have to leave.” I spell it out for him.

“Where the hell do you work that you have to be up this damn early?” He finally sits up and starts searching for his clothes that are scattered on the floor.

“I work at an art gallery.”

“Sounds…boring.”

I pull my shirt on and grimace. “Out,” I say firmly.


What
?”

He’s pulling his jeans up when I turn around and glare at him. “You can get out
now
.”

“I’m working on it. Gees. You weren’t this bitchy last night.”

My lips form into an oh-hell-no-he-didn’t scowl, and I bend down to grab one of my heels and throw it directly at him.

“Ow! What the hell?”

“First, you diss where I work, which by the way, is one of my favorite places to be in the whole world. And second, you call me a bitch!”

I’m ready to throw the other heel at him, but he finally uses his brain cells to get the hell out.

“BYE, Jake,” I yell at him as he walks down the hallway.

“Bye, Satan,” he yells back, and I can’t help but burst into laughter.

Sadly, this isn’t the worst morning-after I’ve had to deal with before.

The door opens and closes with a slam. A few seconds later, I hear it opening and closing again, this time much quieter.

“Do I even want to know what that was all about?” I hear Kendall shout from the hallway. “He looked like a scared cat after a cold bath.” She walks to my room with a knowing grin on her face.

“He couldn’t handle my classic morning wake up call,” I explain, brushing the knots out of my hair. “Amateur.”

She snorts and then says with a doe-eyed look in her eyes, “Kellan woke me up in a way that made me never want to leave the bedroom.” She flips her hair over her shoulder with a smirk.

“Well, Jake was nearly in a coma until I threatened him with cold water.” I grab my makeup case and begin my routine, but in a fast-forward motion.

“Are you sure his name is Jake?” she asks, furrowing her brows. “I could’ve sworn it was James.”

I shrug. “It wasn’t worth remembering.”

“Clearly.”

“So, I take it your night ended without penetration. How about Zoe’s?” I rummage through my makeup case and grab my eyeliner and mascara.

“Well, from what I could hear last night, it went well. And then again this morning. He’s still there. I think they went in the shower together.” 

I shake my head and grin, applying my eye makeup. “Those poor guys never saw us coming.”

“Speak for yourself! I’m actually dating the guy I brought home.”

I thread my fingers through my hair after unsuccessfully brushing the tangles out. Since there’s no time to blow dry it, I pull it up into a messy bun and wrap a headband around my head. That’s just going to have to do for today.

“All right, I’m ready. Let’s go.” I grab my purse off the vanity and follow her out. “Whose turn is it to drive?”

“Yours.” She looks over her shoulder and smirks.

Kendall works with me at the Broadway Street Gallery. It’s a chic and popular art gallery where a lot of art students work and visit. It’s across the street from the university, so when I first moved here my freshmen year, I immediately applied for a job.

I was hired as a paid docent that gives tours to larger groups in hopes they’ll make a purchase. Even if they don’t, they often give a donation at the end. The gallery gets a commission from each sale, which then they give a portion each year to school art programs in the area. It’s one of the major reasons I applied to this gallery in the first place.

I love going through all the exhibits and watching people’s expressions and answering questions about the art pieces. Exhibits switch out every sixty to ninety days, so it’s my job to keep updated on the artists.

My end goal is to be a curator so I can be the one to pick which artists and paintings a gallery displays, but that takes years of practice and more school. Until then, I plan to apply for a curator apprenticeship after I graduate. Mr. Cross is the gallery curator now, but he’s due to retire within the next ten years or so. All the administrative tasks are starting to be more than he can handle.

I wave to Ms. Jones, the gallery director, as we walk past her office on the second floor.  She’s a widow in her mid-sixties who’s been working here longer than I’ve been born. She’s yapping on the phone in Spanish, so I can’t be sure if she’s scolding someone or not, but with the way her features tighten, I can only assume the worst. She’s fluent in four languages, so she’s able to communicate with a diverse group of artists from around the world.

I think about all the things she’s achieved in her life and look up to her so much as a role model. I can only hope to be as successful and driven as her one day.

Kendall and I walk into the employee lounge to lock up our things. She’s a gallery attendant and sits at the information booth and welcomes everyone who enters. She answers phones and takes messages if someone isn’t around. If it’s not too busy, I’ll sit with her until another tour arrives.

As I’m adding another layer of lip-gloss, Shane from security walks in.

“Good morning, Aspen.” He smiles wide as his eyes roam up and down my body. I let him look without consequence, but it’s as far as I’ll ever go with him. Even though he has biceps bigger than my head and the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen, I don’t mix pleasure with business. So that automatically means no sleeping with co-workers.

“And good morning to you, Shane.” I flash him a sultry smile in return and layer it with a wink. I even suck in my lower lip and bite it, earning a throaty groan in return.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve definitely thought about it. Shane would be sure to give me one hell of a night, but then what? We come to work as if nothing happened? What if he wanted more? What if he told everyone at the gallery that I was an easy lay?

To avoid all the ‘what ifs’, I’ve made it a firm rule to only sleep with guys I have no intention of seeing ever again. With demanding art courses and a busy work schedule, the last thing I have time for is a clingy guy who thinks they own me.

“You are going to make that poor guy walk around all day with a boner,” Kendall teases, shoving her purse and sweater in her locker.

“Well, it’s not like anyone’s died from blue balls before. I’m sure he’ll take care of it.”

“Yeah, with you in mind.”

I shrug. “Whatever helps get the job done.”

She rolls her eyes and slams her locker door shut. “Explain to me again why you can’t just fuck him out of your system?”

I nearly choke on her words as a few heads turn and glare at us. “Jesus, Kendall. Parade my sex life a little louder, will you? I don’t think the teenagers in the mall across town heard you.”

“Oh, it’s not like your little eye-fucking affair with Shane is a secret. You two have been flirting for months.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So get on with it already!”

I quickly shove my purse back in my locker and grab my employee vest and lanyard nametag before locking it. “Maybe you should worry about your own sex life.” I wink, knowing she’s nearly dry-humping the air for any friction at all. I quickly pull my arms through the navy blue vest and wrap the lanyard around my neck. “I’m heading out. See you at lunch.”

I find the gallery manager, Christine, at her desk and sit my ass halfway on top of it. “Your main bitch is here. When’s the first tour?”

“I’m really getting sick of your damn early morning perkiness, Aspen.” She frowns, slouching. “It’s making the rest of us look bad,” she mocks. She’s a great leader and is almost always on top of her game, but she most definitely isn’t a morning person.

“You’re such a hater.”

“Yes, of mornings.”

I laugh at her groaning. “What you need is a good dose of dick. Because, believe me, you’d learn to love mornings, too.”

“Sorry that I don’t participate in the same extra circular activities like
you
, but I happen to enjoy being in relationships.”

“Yeah, well, so did Katie Holmes. Look how that turned out.”

“You’re such a pessimist.”

“I’m a realist,” I correct, grabbing the tour schedule from a pile of papers. “Looks like my first tour is in fifteen minutes. I’m going to use the restroom and grab a drink quick.” I jump off her desk. As I walk toward the door, I call over my shoulder, “Go drink some coffee to lighten up those dark circles around your eyes.”

“I hate you!” she calls back, making me laugh at her dramatics.

Once I’m finished, I wait for my first group to arrive. Tour buses and schools make trips here regularly, so I’ve met a large diversity of people. However, today’s group is the spunkiest group of women I’ve ever met.

“So what is your organization called again?” I ask as I lead them toward the first room.

“The Red Hat Society,” one member explains.

“We also brought you a hat!” another member adds. She walks up to me and places a pink fedora on top of my head. “Since you’re under fifty, you can’t wear red,” she explains. “So you’re a Pink Hatter.”

“Wow…it’s like Mean Girls for seniors,” I tease, smiling and adjusting the hat to fit over my messy knot.

“Don’t feel bad, darling. Pink suits you well.” She gives me a wink, and I know their tour is going to give me a run for my money.

My first half of the morning with the Red Hat Society is filled with hilarious animated stories and random fits of laughter. I try to stay focused and remain professional, but these women have definitely kept me on my toes.

“Ladies, you have all been so wonderful!” I smile and feel like I’m saying goodbye to part of my family. “I hope you come back!”

“You’ve been a hoot, Aspen!” Eva, the sassier one I’ve come to realize, says. We exchange goodbyes and a few hugs before they take their red hats and purple scarves out the door.

I walk back to Christine’s office with a smile and fall down in one of the chairs. “Oh my God! That was the most fun I’ve had on a tour,” I gush, grabbing her attention right away.

“I could hear them all the way in here! They did sound pretty sweet on the phone though when they made their reservation.”

“They really were. Normally, strangers don’t ask anything about me, but they were all ‘where did you grow up’ and ‘are you married?’ It was refreshing.”

BOOK: Pushing the Limits
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