Free Chosen by V. Vaughn, Mating Season Collection

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Authors: V. Vaughn, Mating Season Collection
    “ L ordy , that man is like a heat wave on a winter day.” Darla reaches in her bra and lifts the girls higher, and I shake my head at her as she says, “Honey, I bet if I licked my finger and touched that rock-hard ass, it would sizzle.”
    I cock my eyebrow at her and draw out her name in warning. “Dar-la.”
    She grabs the coffee pot from the machine and swishes her polyester-clad hips over to the man in the booth. Even though she’s in her late thirties, she’s an all-ages-work-for-me kind of woman. The guy is sitting with two girls that have probably burned more than their finger on him and keep coming back for more.
    I watch his eyes dart to Darla as she leans over and offers him more than coffee. His gaze falls to her cleavage. Did he just lick his lips? I huff in annoyance and turn away. I cannot watch the way Parker Hoyt devours women like yards on a football field.
    Silverware rattles as I lift the plastic bin and set it on the counter. I slam down a stack of paper napkins next to it. The former NFL player recently moved back to Winter Valley and is enjoying the attention of being our local hero. I snort to myself. Some hero. He was thrown out of the league for fighting.
    Ekton, the short-order cook, calls to me from the window, “Trixie baby, fill up my coffee?” His mug slams against the metal surface that usually holds our orders.
    I reach for it and say, “Please don’t call me that.” The word baby for women is so demeaning. He says it’s sexy. Only I’m anything but, and today the nickname annoys me. Steam curls up as I pour hot liquid in Ekton’s mug.
    Everyone in town knows who Parker Hoyt is. But because he’s six years older than me, I’ve never seen him in person until today. I steal a glance at him before I turn to give Ekton his coffee. Parker’s a large man with a body that ripples with muscles. The two girls with him are beautiful and thin. My hand flies to my round stomach, and I wonder if abs exist underneath my cushion of fat.
    Ekton asks, “Hungry, baby girl?”
    My face flushes at another pet name, only this one embarrasses me. Because I’m likely to never be anyone’s baby girl. “You have to stop calling me those things; people will think we’re together. What would Jeannie say?”
    Parker’s deep laugh carries over to me all the way from his booth, and I’m distracted from Ekton when my insides tingle at the sound. Weird. That man’s sex appeal really is legendary.
    Ekton waggles his eyebrows at me, and I refocus as he asks, “Don’t you want some of this?”
    “Stop.” I’ve had enough of his taunting, and something inside me snaps. I say, “Because you know you don’t want this.” Tears burn in my eyes. I know I’m fat and don’t need him to remind me of it. I turn away and grab cutlery to roll in a napkin. My reaction was out of character for me, and I’m not sure why I’m suddenly so touchy.
    The kitchen door squeaks open, and a warm hand lands on my shoulder. I flinch and pull away. Ekton speaks in a low voice. “I’m sorry. Don’t you know I tease you because I think you’re hot?”
    I sniff and swipe a hand across my face before I glance at him. Ekton has always been nice to me, and I do know his banter is his way of letting me know he’s a friend. “It’s okay, I’m being oversensitive.”
    He flashes a kind smile. “Let me make you something to eat. You’re probably hungry. This diet you’ve been on is bad for my ego.”
    I can’t help but smile back. I say, “Okay, but please make it healthy.”
    “Anything for you, Trixie baby.”
    I roll my eyes as Darla returns and says, “Whew. If I thought I could get me some of that, I’d die a happy woman.”
    “Why?” I ask. The idea of being with a man like Parker that has had hundreds of women doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.
    “Honey, sex is a beautiful thing. You should try it someday.”
    I look up to the sky. “Why do I work here?”
    Ekton says, “Because someone has

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