The Rules of Dating by Penelope Ward
Shoot.” My damn cell phone was dead again.
I looked around Kaiden’s kitchen for a charger. He usually kept one on the counter, but it wasn’t there today. So I headed to the bathroom, where he was currently showering, to ask him where it was. On my way, I noticed his phone charging on the nightstand. It was fully charged, so I unplugged it and stuck mine on the charger instead. Then his buzzed, and a Tinder notification popped up.
My heart sank.
Why would Kaiden be getting a notification from Tinder? Sure, we’d met on there a few months ago, and I had the app on my phone, too, but I’d stopped getting notifications right after I put my account into temporary deactivation. We were supposed to be exclusive.
Maybe someone he’d been talking to before we met had reached out? I wanted to ignore it and give him the benefit of the doubt in the worst way. But my dating history wouldn’t let me. I had been burned before…badly. So rather than be the trusting girlfriend, I listened to make sure the shower was still running and then typed in his code—6969. I’d laughed when I noticed him typing it in once. But maybe I should have seen it as a red flag, representative of the dude’s relationship maturity.
Inside the app, he had a shitload of messages, so I went to the one marked new and opened it.
Katrina: I can’t wait to meet you, too.
Three obnoxious emojis followed: kissy lips, a heart, and a cocktail glass. Scanning back, they’d been talking for a while, and the last message had been sent by Kaiden only an hour ago. My heart started to pound. I felt like marching into the shower and drowning the bastard. But instead, I kept swiping. A sick feeling came over me as I read through the endless stream of conversations he’d been having. In the last week alone, the jerk had messaged with twelve women. One would have been bad enough, but twelve? Then I noticed his profile picture. Something about it looked familiar. I zoomed in for a closer inspection and realized why. I’d taken it! The asshole had cropped me out.
My face was so hot, it felt like steam might start billowing out of my ears. And today of all days. It was Kaiden’s birthday, so I’d closed my shop early and rushed home to bake cupcakes before coming over.
First off, I didn’t bake. And I certainly didn’t close my shop early ever.
I’d also spent two weeks working on his gift—artwork for a custom tattoo he wanted to be surprised with. Do you know how stressful it is to design something for someone who gives you no idea what they want and doesn’t want to see it until after it’s permanently inked on their skin?
Grrrr. I wanted to scream.
But I didn’t. Instead, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and slowly counted to ten. When I was done, I felt no better. I definitely still wanted to rip Kaiden’s head off. But in that moment, it hit me that there was something other than yelling and screaming that would make me feel better. And that was revenge.
So I came up with a plan. First, I typed a message back to the last woman he’d been messaging with. Then I copied and pasted it to the eleven other unsuspecting women he was actively chatting up. When I was done, I plugged his phone back into the charger. But what if the ladies responded to my messages? That would inevitably cause a notification to pop up and tip him off about what was coming.
I couldn’t have that happen, so I had to make a slight adjustment to my plans. Grabbing his cell, I wound my arm up and smashed the damn thing into the corner of his nightstand. After that, the phone no longer turned on, and I had to admit, the giant crack in his screen made me feel infinitesimally better.
When Kaiden walked out of the bathroom just two minutes later, my heart was still racing. Yet I knew what I had to do in order to pull this off. Sticking out my bottom lip, I hid the phone behind my back and offered my best puppy-dog pout.
“Sweetie, I’m so sorry. I accidentally broke something. I feel terrible.”
He had a white towel wrapped around his waist and used a second one to dry his hair. “It’s alright. What did you break?”
I held out his phone. “Your cell.”
Kaiden’s face fell. “Oh. Shit. How’d you do that? It looks like it was smashed against a rock.”
Not quite. But close… “I’m such a klutz. I heard it ringing from the other room, so I ran in to grab it and bring it to you. I didn’t want you to miss a call since it was probably birthday wishes. But on my way to the bathroom, I tripped and fell against the bed post. The phone took the brunt of it. I’m sorry. I’ll get you a new screen after we’re done at the shop later.” Or when hell freezes over…
“I have AppleCare, so don’t worry about it.”
Yeah, I wasn’t…
An hour later, we arrived at my tattoo shop. I’d blocked off all the appointment slots for the evening so I could work on Kaiden’s birthday present without distractions. Sadly, the art I’d come up with—a sexy pin-up girl I was certain he’d love—might’ve been my best work ever. Normally, a Friday night would be pretty busy at Billie’s Ink, with me and at least one other artist working until after midnight. But since I’d given everyone the evening off, it was only my receptionist, Justine, at the desk when we walked in.
“Hey, guys.” She smiled. “Happy birthday, Kaiden.”
“So did Billie let you peek at your artwork yet?”
Kaiden shook his head. “Nope. I want it to be a surprise.”
Justine rested her chin on her hands, looking starry-eyed. “There’s something so romantic about letting your girlfriend give you a blind tattoo.”
That sentiment made me snort-laugh, and I had to cover it with a fake cough. It was romantic alright, or in this case, really fucking stupid. Tomayto—tomahto.
I cleared my throat. “Justine, I know I said you could get out of here by six tonight, but do you think you can stay a little later? I have…” I smiled at Kaiden. “A surprise coming. Actually, multiple surprises.”
The idiot beamed.
“Sure,” Justine said. “Not a problem. I can stay as long as you need.”
“Thanks. Let me just get the birthday boy settled in, and I’ll come back out to tell you what’s happening.”
I led Kaiden into the back and told him to get comfy in my chair. Then I put on music—a little louder than usual—so he wouldn’t be able to hear anything going on in reception, and smiled sweetly, telling him I’d be back in a few minutes to start.
I scurried to the front. “So…” I bit my lip as I spoke to Justine. “I hope you’re in the mood for some trouble.”
She grinned. “You know I’m always in the mood for trouble. What kind you got brewing?”
In hushed tones, I filled her in on what I’d found on Kaiden’s phone. Her jaw was on the floor even before I got to the troublesome part. “And I invited them all out to drinks tonight.”
Her forehead wrinkled. “Who?”
“The women he was talking to on Tinder.”
“All of them?”
“All twelve of them. I have no idea how many are going to show up, but I told them to meet me here. Well, not me, considering I was pretending to be Kaiden, but you know what I mean.”
Justine’s eyes bulged. “Twelve women from Tinder are coming to meet Kaiden here?”
I nodded. “I told them he was getting a birthday tattoo tomorrow and wanted their help picking it out before they go for drinks at the bar down the block.”
Justine covered her mouth. “Oh my God. What are you going to do when they get here?”
“I have a few hours, so I’m hoping I can finish his tattoo and bring him out to do the reveal for both him and the ladies at the same time.”
Justine frowned. “That tattoo you drew is gorgeous. It’s too good for that jerk’s lying, cheating skin.”
I smiled. “Oh, that’s another thing—there’s a little change of plans for the birthday tattoo. I actually need you to whip me up a stencil, if you can?”
Her eyes glinted. “Sure.”
I pulled my phone out and typed into the search engine before I turned the cell to face Justine.
“I’d like a stencil of this, please.”
Her brows dipped together, and then her eyes went wide. “You’re going to tattoo the Tinder logo on Kaiden?”
I grinned. “He said anything I want…”
Justine cracked up. “You are so fucking insane. I love it! Can I video the entire thing, please? That shit will definitely go viral.”
“Absolutely. I would consider posting that on social media as a public service. Maybe it will make other men think twice about cheating.”
“What do I tell the women when they come in?”
“That’s going to be a little tricky. We need to keep them from talking. Why don’t you give them each a tattoo book? Tell them Kaiden called and said he would be a few minutes late, so they should look through and see if they find something they like. We must have a dozen portfolios between mine and Deek’s. Though you’ll have to talk quietly since the desk isn’t too far from the waiting area.”
“I’ll figure it out.” She shook her head and blew out two cheeks full of air. “This is going to be freaking epic.”
I nodded. “Oh, it’s going to be something, alright.”
|September 25, 2022
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