First Comes Love(5)

By: Emily Goodwin

“Oh no. He’s been dead for years. He’s stuffed.”

“That’s, uh, interesting.”

Gavin eagerly nods. “Taxidermy is a bit of a hobby. You could say Rufus got me into it. I wasn’t willing to let him go.”

“Mh-hm,” I say and squirm in my seat. A lot of people like taxidermy animals. They decorate their house with them, showing off game they caught and killed. A lot people might like that stuff, but I’m not one of them.

Thanks for this one, Katie.

“So,” I say. “What else do you do?”

“I like to build stuff.”

Building stuff is good. Manly. With tools. “What kind of stuff?”

“Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on an ice cream parlor to complete my village.”

I raise an eyebrow and reach for my wine. I have a feeling I’m going to need another glass—or two—to get through this date.

“It’s a dollhouse village,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve got three houses and a school completed.”

“Oh, uh, interesting.” Fuck a glass. I’m going to need a whole bottle. Nothing says serial killer like a foot fetish and hobbies that include posing dead things and dollhouses. I see it now: appearing on an MSNBC special, talking about my date with one of America’s Most Wanted, saying he appeared normal and I had no idea he was capable of murder.

Except I did, because I’m thinking that now.

I’m deleting the dating app the moment I get home. Katie, you were right, as usual. I should have run when I had the chance.


“It’s all right,” I soothe and run my hand over a growling cat’s head. “You’ll feel better once we’re done, I promise.”

The tabby is tightly wrapped in a towel as Julie, one of my co-workers, carefully extracts ticks from her front legs. The cat hisses at me in response and tries to get away. I hold her tighter against me.

“So the date was a bust?” Julie asks.

“Total bust.” I shiver at the thought. “He looked so normal online.”

“Honey,” Julie says and takes her eyes off the cat for a second to look at me. “You need to meet these men face to face. I didn’t meet my husband on an app.”

“Apps probably weren’t invented when you got married.”

“Hey now,” she says but smiles. “It’s only been ten years.”

I laugh. “I agree, and it was my sister’s idea,” I remind her. I’m twenty-two and in no rush to get married, but ever since my brother celebrated his one-year anniversary a few months ago, everyone else is in a rush to find me a husband. I’m the youngest of the three Winters children, and incredibly picky, according to my mother, who has set me up with countless different men, all sons of her church friends.

I’m selective when it comes to dating. I don’t want to settle, and I don’t see the point in seeing someone more than once if I don’t think it will lead anywhere. Yeah, I know what I want is probably unrealistic, but I blame Disney for putting the idea of Prince Charming in my head when I was a little girl.

But that’s what I want. Not an actual prince, but someone who treats me like a princess. And by that I mean someone who loves and respects me, someone romantic and reliable, who would go through hell and back to fight for my heart. Because I’d do the same for them. I want an epic love, one that can stand the test of time and a villain or two, and come out stronger in the end.

So while I wait for my knight in shining armor to come galloping in on a white horse, I’m focusing on my career, and waiting to hear back from the vet school I applied to, which doesn’t leave much time for love. And, right now, I’m okay with that.

“I think I’ll just avoid men for a while,” I say as Julie pulls another tick. “Or just find some to have fun with for one night.”

Julie straightens up only to double over with laughter. A few other techs look at us, wondering what is so funny.

“Oh please, girl,” Julie says and let out a breath. “You, have a one-night stand? Let me know when that happens because I don’t think I’ll live to see the day!”

“I’ll send you pictures.”

“Mhh-hmm,” she says and moves back to the cat. “Please do. I’ll need proof.”

“Oh come on, it’s not that hard to believe.”

Julie just laughs again. I shake my head and try to soothe the growling cat. I’m no prude, but I learned the hard way giving it up on the first date doesn’t lead to what I wanted for a second date. I want a relationship, not meaningless sex. Although, I do enjoy sex. Meaningless or not.

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