How to Punish Your Playboy
My roommate stared at me, blinking in shock. “A nut burger?”
I nodded and thrust the sandwich in her direction. “It’s so yummy.”
Extending her hand tentatively, she took the small blue plate and stared at it. “I see the lettuce and tomato, but nothing about the circular brown mess underneath speaks of burger. You may as well have taken cat food and drawn black grill lines on it with Magic Marker.”
Sarah’s been called blunt many times. Mainly by me. “Oh, just taste it.”
“How do I even eat this?” she asked, poking at the “meat” with her pointer finger, frustrated. “You and your fad diets.”
“It’s not a fad, it’s science!” It was true that, as a model, I’d cycled through more than a few new ways of eating, but that didn’t make me a fad dieter.
I’d never tried eating like cavemen, for one. “Eat it however you like! Use the lettuce like a wrap, use your hands . . . I just scarf it like this,” I said, grabbing mine and horking a giant mouthful. I pretended that chewing the faux-meat was like making out with Ryan Gosling.
It wasn’t that I didn’t miss cheeseburgers, but I made money from my appearance and I needed to keep my body in check. I was working a car show in a few hours, for goodness’ sake. While my hair may be curled into perfect red victory rolls on top of my head, I didn’t want any rolls elsewhere.
“I think I’m all set. You can have this one later, since you like them so much.” Sarah put her lunch down and looked at me sadly. “You’re a pinup, Veronika. You can afford a few curves.”
I patted my ass. “I have a few already, don’t need any more. And if I don’t eat something healthy now, I’ll be hungry at the car show, and I don’t want to end up with a sugar mustache from fried dough.”
Her eyes narrowed in irritation, and I could see she was going into Sergeant Sarah mode. “What do I always tell you? Eat reasonably and come to my spin class!” Sarah tapped her foot and I felt the dull throb at the base of my neck that occurs whenever Sarah brings up her classes. “Ooh, that could be a slogan—Enjoy your meals and then be a badass on the wheels!” she chirped. Moving in with a hardass who worked at a fitness studio was not the best idea I’ve ever had, but Sarah had taken me in like I was family after I ditched my controlling, good-for-nothing ex, Derek. I needed a place to live and there was no way I was going to move into the tiny studio connected to my auto body shop. I didn’t want to smell like motor oil all the time, and the idea of sleeping so close to the fumes wasn’t appealing.
“I’ll hit up one of your classes this week, okay?” I said.
A wide grin spread across her pretty face and she smoothed her perfect blond hair into a pony. “Good, because I didn’t want to have to whip you.”
“At spin class or in your dungeon?” I asked. There was a room downstairs where Sarah would . . . entertain guests. I wanted so badly to explore it on my own, but I was scared by what she’d do to me if she caught me. What I wouldn’t give to sneak in while she was out and just explore all the toys and gear she had out of curiosity.
She shrugged. “Whichever. Oh, that reminds me, I’m having company later,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Probably around midnight.”
I held up my hands. “I won’t call the cops if I hear screams coming from there.”
Sarah tsked and grabbed her purse, ready to head out. “It’s more like shrieks of joy and pleasure. Eat something other than rabbit food. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I gave her a wave and checked my e-mail. Things on the pinup front have been a bit slow lately and I am hoping for some more jobs. There are only so many car shows a girl can book, you know? An e-mail popped up about doing a shoot for a makeup that covered tattoos. Apparently there would be a before and after shoot—one with me in all my pinup, tattooed glory and the second of me as a bride, completely ink free. I frowned. It paid a lot of money and the ad would allegedly appear in Cosmo, but I worried it would be selling out and going mainstream since I’d be covering my ink. I sighed, stressed.
Looking around the apartment, I lamented my old life for a moment. Derek was a dick, but at least the last place I lived had evidence of me. This was all Sarah’s stuff—resistance bands and heavy weights dotted the floor. Love tripping over those. There were lots of bruised toes in this house, which made squishing my feet into those peep-toe shoes extra uncomfortable.
But Sarah is kind to me, she is the best friend I’ve ever had. We’d met during one of my stints in a foster home that was next to a ballet studio. I used to sit on the stoop outside and watch the elegant dancers through the window. One day Sarah came out to talk to me, to see the girl who watched but never participated. Since then, she’s watched out for me in a way that nobody but my brother ever did. After my breakup, Sarah immediately offered me her place. She may be a workout freak and have a domineering personality, but she has a good heart.
I am grateful, and will be eternally, but I am ready to have my own life back. I just don’t know how to go about it. My garage, VK Autobody, does great business. Everyone knows I restore the shiniest hot rods on the East Coast, but I don’t know if I could afford a place on my own, especially in this affluent area of Rhode Island. My garage makes enough money to cover the shop’s remaining mortgage, taxes, and employee salaries, but not nearly enough to keep me sitting pretty.
So something has to change. I can’t keep freeloading off the generosity of a good friend, and I want a home that is mine. That, along with much of my self-esteem, is what Derek took from me.
Pinup models should have boobs, butts, and victory rolls. It was part of the job description. I loved my body and so did the photographers who kept me booked. But Derek’s nagging voice would always be there.
No way that ass is ever going to jiggle down a runway.
Surgery’s the only thing that could ever make you a size two. Ditch the fucking yogurt and yoga for Chrissakes and get some lipo.
Even with him gone, I can still hear his put-downs.
I grabbed my keys, ready to hit up Whole Foods for some healthy but reasonable treats before the show, when a wicked thought formed in my mind. I had one last attachment to my old life. Maybe getting rid of it would set me free.
NOTHING SAYS REVENGE like putting your ex’s pride and joy up for auction.
I posed on the hood of the shiny red convertible we’d named Johnny, and waited for the curtain to rise. Getting rid of this gorgeous hunk of emotional baggage would give money to a good cause and show that bastard exactly how serious I am about cutting him from my life. I didn’t want the cash, apart from the portion I’ll set aside for eventually getting my own place—if I kept it all, every dollar I’d spend would remind me of him, and I wanted to be free. Free of him, free to do what I wanted.
I took a deep breath and prepared for the crowd’s reaction. In my line of work, I was used to people staring at me, but I had never used my looks to get revenge. Today was going to be a first on several levels.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our next car is a last-minute entry, restored by the prettiest vintage car expert in all of Rhode Island, Miss Veronika Kane, who was kind enough to accompany her car onstage this fine afternoon. This nineteen sixty-four Shelby Cobra has been lovingly restored to show quality and it’s yours if the price is right,” said the white-toothed announcer, Vince Castillo. He was a regular at these shows as much as I was. Overly tanned and overly toupeed, he used his golden voice to win the crowd over time after time. “A whopping seventy-five percent of the proceeds from this particular auction will go directly to the National Military Family Association. And now, without further delay, here’s Johnny!”
The curtain rose. I focused.
The key to the pinup pose isn’t about how perky your boobs look with your hand behind your head, or how curvy your legs appear when crossed just so. It is about your mouth.
Half-open, half-smiling, like you have a secret.
Vince stood next to me and flashed a quick thumbs-up, but it wasn’t enough to keep the butterflies in my stomach at bay. I scanned the crowd ogling the car as I mentally prepared for the auction. I could see that two or three people in the audience appeared to be gawking at the car and checking their phones. Perhaps to check their account balances? That slowed my heart a bit. This was going to work.
Part of me was sad to part with this car. Johnny, our baby. I spent dozens of hours restoring him with Derek by my side. Usually making snide comments, I reminded myself. I stroked the hood with my fingertips, careful not to click my red nails against the surface. I’d made that mistake before, and toned my arms buffing the small scuffs out. Cars may be three thousand pounds of steel, but they were still temperamental babies.
“We will start the bidding at one hundred fifty thousand,” the announcer bellowed, snapping me out of my nervous daze. I knew this car was worth a lot, and the high start to the bidding just made it more enticing for the big wigs in the audience. Hands flew up, ears were tugged, and suddenly the audience of gaping car enthusiasts morphed into a scene from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, with bidding and selling and overall flailing. The announcer’s voice spat numbers at speeds that would make the Micro Machines guy from the eighties super jealous. The numbers were skyrocketing, which was expected for a car of this caliber, but the thought of it still made me nearly gasp in shock.
When the bidding hit two hundred fifty thousand—more than I’d ever made on a car—that was when I saw him. Derek. There was part of me that wondered if he’d be here today, but I was actually stunned to see he’d shown up. I smiled at him snidely from the hood. He shook his shaved, shiny head back and forth. “No.” Derek crossed his beefy, barbed-wire-inked arms defensively. There was a time when all I wanted was to be wrapped in his barbed embrace, but now the thought disgusted me. His angry grimace showed me all I needed to see. He was pissed.
Some would think what I was doing was a bit much, a step too far. I say, when a man belittles you for the—what was it?—fifty thousandth time and insults you in the most derogatory ways, hit him where it hurts. Right in the gorgeously restored junk.
“Two hundred seventy five thousand,” Derek said.
The air squeezed out of my lungs and my throat closed up. Shit. He wasn’t supposed to bid. He didn’t have that kind of money! Hell, between us we didn’t have that kind of money. As a well-respected luxury car mechanic, Derek did fine for himself but never had much in his pocket. He was always buying and fixing a new project, but would mock me when I wanted to spend our hard-earned money on something nice. Who’ve you got to impress? he’d ask. Nobody’s going to see past those tatts and or that ass. Then, instead of going to the mall for retail therapy, I’d do five sets of wall squats and curse his name.
I needed him to back off with the bidding.
For a moment, nobody was countering him. I hoped that someone—anyone—would step up and buy this fucking car. I lifted my sunglasses and took a better look at the crowd.
I noticed someone unusual walking toward the stage, elbowing his way through the masses to the front. Typically, most folks at car shows and auctions were happy-go-lucky retirees, families, pinup girls, and the occasional cadre of wide-eyed teenage boys. The man who walked toward me didn’t fit into any of those categories. He was positively slicked with unadulterated confidence, like no one had ever told him no. He’d be perfect to snatch the car out from under Derek. He hated rich pricks like this guy.
The man’s dark sunglasses perched in the middle of his nose, so I could see two very black, violently arched eyebrows, looking like he was thinking about something bad. His hair was espresso brown and cropped short on the sides and long in front, combed neatly to the side, and he wore a suit over his large, muscled shoulders.
I smoothed my high-waisted sailor shorts, adjusted my striped halter top, and gave the stranger a wink. The stink of money wafted off him and I checked my fingernails for errant grease. Work Monday through Friday, get nails done Friday night so as not to look like a grease monkey on weekends. Yet there was always a little smear somewhere.
“Three hundred thousand,” the sunglassed man said, looking squarely at me and not at the auctioneer.
Derek sneered. “Three twenty-five.”
The handsome man did nothing. He stared at the car and cocked his head, either bored or calculating.
Another shiver of fear slunk up my spine and I started eyeballing any wealthy-looking folks in the audience and giving them extra-big smiles.
“Three thirty.” An elderly man with a nice suit and a big grin said.
“Three thirty-five,” chimed a sunglassed blonde who held a local politician’s arm.
A few more put in hesitant bids, but that dick ex of mine just kept coming like the fucking Terminator. He was now the current high bidder by ten grand.
I looked over at the handsome playboy, who hadn’t bid again. What was wrong with him? Why did he stop?
“Going once,” the announcer said, voice slowing to a drawl. I wanted to scream. I was trapped here onstage with nothing to do but make smoochy faces at rich folks and hope they’d bid on my car so Derek wouldn’t get it. Was there anything else I could do? I needed to get out of that apartment and I needed this car off my hands. The gorgeous man stared at me, a smirk crawling up one tan cheek.
“Buy the car and you get a date with me, handsome,” I said with a wink. The man lifted his sunglasses and the smirk broke into a full-on grin. “Five hundred thousand dollars.”