My writing won the mystery category of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in 2017 and was a finalist in the romance category in 2019. This story is also a finalist in Contemporary Romance’s 2020 Stiletto Competition.
I am lucky to be part of an incredible writing group and proud to be active in our vibrant and diverse local writing community.
Currently, I am seeking an agent and working hard to make my dreams of becoming a full-time writer come true. Until then, I will continue to write about fierce female assassins who dodge bullets, but never seem to escape Cupid’s Arrow.
He was determined to be an asshole. Even after I killed him.
I cocked my head to the side and blew out a heavy breath. Thank god I focused on upper body strength in my last few workouts.
“C’mon big boy, one more inch.”
I gripped him under both arms and heaved up hard. His body shifted enough to let heavy shoulders slump over a flabby beer belly.
If perfect was a bloated, purple-faced asshole, flaccid dick held in his hairy hand, legs sprawled open on the plush carpet of a five-star Hollywood hotel.
“I have reached the pinnacle of excellence.” I glanced at my smart watch. “Sweet! I also closed my exercise circle.”
Cheri’s raspy voice echoed in my ear piece. “Maybe I would close a circle if I wasn’t stuck behind this desk all day in an office that smells like cat urine and stale popcorn. Apparently that’s the pinnacle of my excellence.”
My business partner, best friend, and most honest critic, never felt a need to temper her words. Being stuck in an office providing technical support while I got to do all the glamorous killing stuff was not a successful mood enhancer for Cheri.
I shrugged my shoulders, which seemed silly considering Cheri couldn’t see me and the only other person in the room was dead. “Sorry. It’s not my fault that office space in Seattle is so expensive. You know I’m shit with all the tech stuff, which you totally kill at…and if we’re being honest, it’s really the only thing you can kill.”
“Not like you. You kill at killing,” Cheri said.
“Stop. You’ll make me blush.”
“So maybe I can’t garrote someone with dental floss. I could still join you on a few jobs. Work remotely from the hotel.” Cheri sounded sulky. I could just imagine her swiveling in our one office chair, probably snacking on something plant-based, organic, and non-dairy.
The thought of her actually getting her hands dirty was comical. But I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I hedged. “You hate flying.” I double-checked the hotel lock to make sure I hadn’t done any damage when I entered.
A gusty sigh filtered through the wireless connection. “That’s true.”
“We should look into ripping that old carpet out. It might help with the smell. Ohhh! You could get a stand-up desk, take the money out of our office budget…at least then you’d be able to close your standing ring.” I did a quick sweep of the hotel room.
Child pornography site open on the laptop within easy view of the deceased. Check.
Lube bottle, de-capped and squeezed onto his thigh. Check.
Dead fingers wrapped around an equally dead penis. Eww. And, check.
Copious amounts of cocaine next to a spilled bottle of Viagra. Check.
Nylon rope tightened around his neck in an unfortunate case of self-asphyxiation gone wrong. Check.
“Why the heck-n-balls would I get a stand up desk when I have a perfectly comfortable chair?” Cheri’s voice dripped with indignation.
I tried not to laugh. “You still trying to give up cursing? C’mon. It’s your one vice. Live a little.”
“I revel in self-control, Delphi while you hide in the shadows of self-denial. But no more hiding tonight. You have your next foray into the social torture we call internet dating in exactly thirty-seven minutes.”
“You sound like a chain-smoking grade schooler. Did you know that?”
“And you say the sweetest things when you’re defensive.” Cheri’s chuckle crackled through, rough and rich.
Slipping out the door, I sighed in satisfaction for a job well done and peeled off my black latex gloves, stowing them for later disposal some distance from the hotel. “Right. I’m heading off to this ridiculous date. I’ll call you later.”
“Sounds good. I’ll log your kill. And put on some lipstick for goodness sake. At least pretend like you’re trying. You promised Perry you would give this an honest go.”
The thought of my sweet, kind, ever-hopeful father gave me pause. “Fine. I’ll wear lip gloss if you promise to start swearing again.” I crossed my arms over my chest in a recalcitrant pose she couldn’t see.
“Stubborn fucking bitch.”
“Well played, Cheri. Well played. If only I brought lipstick with me.” The ear piece went dead and I reached up to pluck it out, shoving it into the pocket of my leggings.
Fact: Leggings with pockets are infinitely superior to leggings without pockets.
* * *
Bars are terrible. California bars especially. Hollywood bars perch precariously on the highest precipice. Pretentious, plastic, asshole-packed, overpriced drink-slinging shitholes, polished to a high shine. And the names they give their cocktails. Seriously.
“I’d like an Autumnal Pom-bomb Elixir, thanks.” My date winked at the waitress. Right in front of me. Then he twitched his freshly chapsticked lips into a boyish grin. I should have stood up and left. But I was hungry. And I did make a promise to Perry that I would at least try to give each date a fair chance.
“I’ll take a gin and tonic. Hold the muddled botanical garden, thanks.” I winked as well. Hopefully she would think it was a thanks-for-being-a-great-waitress thing and not a we’re-freaky-and-into-mutually-objectifying-our-server thing.
“No problem.” Her smile was titanium-strength and flashed like chrome on a cherry Jaguar. “What kind of gin?”
She nodded, her blond pony-tail bobbing cheerfully. With a quick spin she was on her way to the next table, our orders safely embedded in her memory.
Give me a cold knife and a hot throat any day of the week over waitressing at a trendy bistro in the heart of Hollywood. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to the geography gods that directed my fathers to put down roots in Seattle, Washington. I was only in California for twenty-four hours, but that was enough to make me miss rain clouds and plaid shirts.
“So, Delphinia. That’s an unusual name.”
Philip had a mundanely usual name, but I wasn’t rude enough to comment on it. His hazel eyes never quite settled on anything. They shifted from my mouth, to my breasts, to the table, and then took a huge leap over to the waitress’ ass as she walked away.
“Yeah. My father is a botanist. The Delphinium genus of flowers is beautiful, but quite poisonous.”
He laughed. Loudly. Then glanced to my breasts again before clearing his throat. “What about your mom? Is she a botanist as well?”
“Oh, I don’t have one of those. Just a dad. Well, two dads.” Only one of them was living, but Philip didn’t get to know personal details about my life.
“Two dads, really?” His tanned neck started to mottle in a revealing shade of crimson. He was either embarrassed or angry. Maybe both. It reminded me of the man at the hotel. His neck had turned the exact same color of red before lack of oxygen and pressure from the rope stained it a darker hue.
“Yeah. Two dads. Really.”
Cue the awkward moment of silence. At least, it was silent between us. The bar itself was a cacophony of sound. House beats pumped amidst the growing clamor of happy hour singles looking for a soulmate, or a bedmate. Maybe a Playmate if someone was very lucky.
“You said you were here on business but you never said what kind. Your profile on the dating site says consultant.” Philip fiddled with his napkin then sat straighter in the chair.
“Right. I consult with companies about how to maximize their efficiency while minimizing fiscal liabilities and increasing profits.” That line usually froze any follow-up questions. Before I could volley back inquiries about his career, the waitress returned with our drinks.
“What can I get you two to eat?”
“Ohhh, I’ll take the salmon sliders with a side of sweet potato fries and your house salad with blue cheese dressing, please.” Killing always made me hungry. It was probably the calories expended during the initial struggle. “What about you, Philip?”
Philip looked up from the menu, and his roving eyes dipped meaningfully past the distraction of my breasts, right to my size sixteen waist. “That’s quite an appetite you have. Are you sure you don’t want to go with something a little lighter?”
I took a long sip of my drink.
Fact: Men who comment on a woman’s food order will spend eternity in the seventh level of hell, picking each other’s toe fungus while diseased rats gnaw at their balls.
* * *
Time is strange. A minute is always sixty seconds long, but it doesn’t pass in a consistent manner. An orgasm streaks by instantaneously. The same time spent in mindless conversation with a date chosen by computer algorithms extends into bleak eternity.
Philip was quickly sinking from annoying to obnoxious as he slurped on his third fruity cocktail.
“Delphinia, I don’t get why you didn’t post your picture on the Cupid’s Arrow app. You’ve got such a pretty face. If you fixed it up with that goop you girls use, you could be a total knockout.”
I could think of a better way to knock him out. With my fist. Or a well-placed kick. An elbow to the temple would do it.
He kept talking. “Really. I’m around models and actresses all day. I mean some of these girls are real stunners, but no curves. They’re like beautiful skeletons. A man wants a little bit of meat to grab onto…assets to appreciate.” Philip nodded in the general direction of my ass and winked at me. The same wink he gave the waitress. I was beginning to wonder if he had a nervous tic. “I mean, obviously you want to be careful. There’s a fine line between curves and just plain fat. You don’t want to cross that line, Delphi.” He nodded sagely at my empty plate and raised his perfectly shaped eyebrows into twin arches of judgement.
“My name is Delphinia.” Only a few people got to call me Delphi. Philip was not one of those people.
“Your picture on the app, was that one of those caricatures they draw of you in Disneyland?”
“Yup. Something like that. Look, Philip, I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s getting late. It seems silly not to face facts. Despite the Cupid’s Arrow guarantee of finding everlasting love, I don’t think we’re hitting soul-mate status tonight.”
“I get it. I mean, anyone can see we don’t match, right?” He threw his hand toward me, then back at himself, then towards me again and laughed as if the thought of us together might be the most hilarious bit of stupidity he’d ever encountered. “But there’s no point in wasting an evening.” Philip’s laughter faded and he leaned forward on his arm and licked his lips. “You’ve got a hotel room. Might as well give the maids something to clean up in the morning. Whaddya say, Delphi.”
Officially at capacity for my daily quota of moron, I stood up, pushing the chair back with my generous asset. “I don’t think so. And if you call me Delphi again, you won’t like what happens next, Philip.”
His hand shot out, grabbing my wrist and squeezing tightly enough to narrow my gaze. “I don’t think you want to walk out on me, Delphinia.” He put undue emphasis on my full name, but at least I didn’t have to kill him in the middle of dinner. “People are watching us.”
Philip had been name dropping all night. Clearly he wanted to be seen with someone new and glamorous. Poor guy had to settle for me, and it appeared he wasn’t prepared to be ditched by a plus size brunette with the audacity to arrive wearing leggings and no lipstick. Even if the leggings did have pockets.
“Let me go. Now.” I leaned closer to him. Close enough to be within jabbing range. I could just imagine the crunch of cartilage beneath my knuckles. The most satisfying part of this date would be ruining Philip’s white shirt with a signature blend of blood and snot gushing from his soon-to-be broken nose.
“There a problem here?”
Damn. Interrupted by a bouncer.
Daaaayum. Interrupted by a dark tower of brooding, brawny yumminess. Only in Tinsel Town do bouncers look like they should be on the silver screen. Internal sigh. Where was his profile on Cupid’s Arrow? Oh yeah, guys like him didn’t have to resort to dating websites.
“No. We’re fine.” Philip let go of my arm. Beautiful Bouncer glowered at him. Or maybe he was smoldering at me. Definitely something involving incendiary intent. Double-yumminess.
I stopped myself from purring in his direction. “Yes, thanks. I was just leaving.” I grabbed my purse from the ground and forced my eyes away from tall, toned, and totally out of my league to focus on creepy, pathetic, paltry-dicked Philip. “This has been a shitty date, Philip. Maybe next time you should go with the beautiful skeleton. No curves, but less dinner to buy.”
“You’re too fat to fuck anyways.” Philip winked. Definitely a facial tic.
My fist shot out faster than a striking python.
Fact: Watching blood and snot saturate Philip’s white shirt was the most satisfying part of my abysmal evening. Feeling the muscles of Beautiful Bouncer bunch and ripple against my side as he escorted me out of the building wasn’t too bad either.
* * *
I didn’t usually sleep well in hotel rooms. Less so when someone placed a hand over my mouth and pressed the hard end of a gun under my ribs.
Fuck. This wasn’t good.
“Mmmmrrphrrrmpphh!” Translation: Get the fuck off me, you asshole.
I gripped the assailant’s arm, which might as well have been a plank of wood. Pulling hard, I tried to rip his hand away from my mouth. Simultaneously, I thrust up with my hips in a bid to displace the heavy body pushing me deeper into the mattress. Unfortunately, I only managed to grind my pelvis against his…other plank of wood.
“Don’t.” His voice was acid soaked gravel thrown into a rusty meat grinder.
No. Not rwarrr. Certainly not with that many r’s. He had a gun to my ribs.
But minus that detail…rrrwarrrrr!
I needed to up my internet dating game and get lucky soon. Months without sex did not mean I should melt into a puddle of lust when any old homicidal maniac twitched his gun in my direction. I would have pondered the thought longer, but time evaporated in the heat of adrenaline.
I let go of his arm and forced a deep breath through my nose. His palm mashed my lips against my teeth, but he hadn’t covered my nose. He wasn’t trying to asphyxiate me. The cruel muzzle of his gun bruised my ribs, but he hadn’t pulled the trigger. Yet. So, maybe he wasn’t a homicidal maniac, but he wasn’t dating material either.
He was holding back. Or a rookie. If he wanted to kill me, I would be dead. But my heart was beating, my lungs were expanding in my chest.
Maybe it was information he wanted, not blood.
The heavy fucker thought his gun would keep me still. Keep me frightened. He was wrong.
I flung my arms wide, exposing my vulnerable parts. Throat. Breasts. Belly. Pelvis. I slept in a tank top and boxers which revealed as much as they covered. Certain vulnerable parts distracted him more than others. Specifically breasts and pelvis.