Just For Him (The Cerasino Family, #2), p.1
Just For Him
The Cerasino Family, Volume 2
Published by Abbie Zanders, 2018.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
JUST FOR HIM
First edition. January 11, 2018.
Copyright © 2018 Abbie Zanders.
Written by Abbie Zanders.
Table of Contents
Just For Him (The Cerasino Family, #2)
Chapter One: Haven
Chapter Two: Vinnie
Chapter Three: Haven
Chapter Four: Vinnie
Chapter Five: Haven
Chapter Six: Vinnie
Chapter Seven: Haven
Chapter Eight: Vinnie
Chapter Nine: Haven
Chapter Ten: Vinnie
Chapter Eleven: Haven
Chapter Twelve: Vinnie
Chapter Thirteen: Haven
Chapter Fourteen: Vinnie
Chapter Fifteen: Haven
Chapter Sixteen: Vinnie
Epilogue – Haven
Epilogue – Vinnie
Thanks for reading Vinnie and Haven’s story
About the Author
Also by Abbie Zanders
Just For Him
A Cerasino Family Novella
Book 2: Vinnie & Haven
Cover Design Template by Book Cover Mall.
Professional editing by M. E. Weglarz of megedits.com, a woman with a true gift for spotting plot holes, character anomalies, black holes, and other potential WTFs. Thank you, Meg, from the bottom of my heart.
Additional editing by Kristin at C&D Editing. Kris, your grasp of tenses and grammar knows no earthly bounds.
And a shout out to my awesome reader group, the Zanders Clan. I am so lucky to have you!
... and THANK YOU to all of you for selecting this book. You didn’t have to, but you did.
Chapter One: Haven
“I really hate you sometimes.”
“You love me,” Wanda contradicted with a sniff. “You need a friend like me. I’m the bright spot in your day. Your life would be total shit without me. You—”
“Okay, okay.” I laughed, stopping a list that could go on for a quite a while. Once Wanda got on a roll, she kept going. “I get it.”
All kidding aside, Wanda might be a crackpot, but she was right. She was a bright spot in my otherwise dreary life. Irreverent, carefree, and funny, she was my polar opposite.
“You don’t get it,” she explained, propping one hip against the counter and crossing her arms, “which is why you need a good friend like me to have your back.”
In this case, that meant Wanda had gone behind my back and signed me up for an online dating app. She meant well—I think—but her good intentions often had disastrous consequences.
“Well, that explains why dick pics have been popping up on my phone all night.”
“Ooo! Let me see!” She grabbed my phone.
Her expression changed as she scrolled through each of the half-dozen pictures I’d received since “my” profile had gone live. She scrunched up her nose at the first one, tilted her head at the second, and made a gagging noise at number three. When her eyes grew huge, I knew she had seen number five. There was no way that one was natural.
“Holy shit. Are those implants or does that guy belong in the record books?”
I shook my head and grabbed the two carafes to take into the back kitchen for a nightly scrub. Most days, I looked forward to the night shift at the twenty-four-hour diner. I liked working with Wanda; it was like being cast as an extra in a zany sitcom. But when she pulled me into her shenanigans? Not so much.
“Take it down.”
“Take it down yourself.”
Wanda knew very well I couldn’t. She was the only one who knew the password.
I tried everything I could think of, including her two favorite words (cuntmuffin and twatwaffle), and ended up locking the account. The only way to disable it was to contact customer service directly and provide the password, which, obviously, I didn’t know.
“I really hate you sometimes.” Yes, I’d said it before, but it bore repeating.
I glanced at the clock and realized I was running behind. One of our regulars came in every night around midnight, and I liked to have a fresh pot of coffee waiting for him. He was a local beat cop who was well-known in our neighborhood for being a good guy. I figured providing a decent cup of joe was the least I could do.
I scurried into the back, scrubbed out the carafes, then began brewing the good stuff.
I might have had a bit of a crush on him, too. He was everything I found desirable in a man: kind, sweet, funny, interesting, brave ... The list of things I liked about Officer Vinnie could go on and on.
The little bells over the door jingled just as the first pot was done. There he was, right on schedule.
I smiled to myself, grabbed a clean mug, and poured the piping hot coffee. Because I was familiar with his personal java preferences, I grabbed two creamers as well.
My smile quickly faded, however, when I turned around and saw that Wanda had left my phone on the counter. Then my smile disappeared completely when I saw him glance at the screen and do a double-take.
Heat rose in my cheeks as I snatched the phone back and stuffed it into the pocket of my waitress uniform.
Vinnie raised a brow in question. His dark, probing stare had me stammering out an explanation like a kid caught smoking behind the school.
“It’s not what you think,” I explained quickly. “Wanda signed me up for some dating app, and now those things are blowing up my phone.” I cast a withering glance her way, but she was too busy flirting with the big tippers in booth six to notice. “She refuses to unsubscribe me.”
Officer Vinnie’s only reaction was to arch that perfect brow a little higher.
“There has to be some kind of law against that, isn’t there?” I continued babbling. “Please tell me it’s a federal offense and you can haul her off to the pokey.”
“The pokey?” His lips quirked.
My heart stuttered for a moment. They were some fine male lips. They conspired with other fine features: an aquiline nose, dark eyes, and sinfully long lashes to create a beautifully sculpted masculine face. The rest of him was pretty nice, too. I’d always had a thing for a man in uniform, but Officer Vinnie raised the bar to new heights.
The heat in my cheeks intensified as my awkwardness continued to bubble up to the surface. “You know, the big house. The joint. The cooler.”
His grin grew, and at that point, I realized I would gladly continue to make a fool of myself if it got him to smile like that.
I leaned forward and dropped my voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “House of corrections.”
“He can haul me in anytime,” Wanda said, appearing next to me. She held out her hands. “Cuff me, big boy. I’ve been a bad, bad girl.”
An irrational surge of jealousy reared up inside me. Wanda was a natural flirt, but I didn’t like her flirting with him. I wanted to slap her hands away and place myself between them. The twinkle in her eye told me she knew it, too. She was baiting me. She often teased me about having a thing for the hot cop who came in every night, though I repeatedly denied it. I was just an appreciative citizen, that was all.
Vinnie flashed me a look from those gorgeous eyes and sipped his coffee. “Sorry, Wanda. I’m off duty. But I think Hank’s
Her eyes lit up. Hank was the six-four, Vin Diesel lookalike who gave Wanda, and probably half the women in the city, an instant case of the hot and sweaties. He was featured in every charity calendar of local heroes put out each year. He didn’t do it for me, though. Mr. October, the one who I had privately dubbed my own Mr. O, was my favorite, and he was sitting right in front of me.
“Forget it,” I told him. “It would only encourage more bad behavior.”
“Some friend you are,” Wanda muttered. “And after all I do for you.” She lifted her nose in a playful snub then went to clear one of the tables.
I turned my attention back to Officer Vinnie, glad to see he was amused by our antics. “What are you feeling tonight?”
I could have sworn I saw a flash of heat in those luscious pools of dark, dark brown, but that was probably just my overactive imagination. There was no time for actual dating in my life, so I settled for the occasional romantic fantasy.
“How about the special?”
“You got it.” I wrote down the order—a three-egg country omelet, hash browns, sausage, and pancakes—then passed it back through the window to Cal, our night cook and the diner’s owner.
“Rough night?” I asked as I wiped down the salt and pepper shakers. He was still as handsome as always, but I sensed a weariness about him that wasn’t usually there.
“A long one,” he replied.
“More robberies?” There had been a string of holdups in the area recently, and it was keeping local law enforcement busy. In just the past week alone, the mom and pop store on the corner had been hit, as well as the liquor store and the gas station a block over.
The bell rang behind me, signaling that his order was ready. I grabbed the piping hot plate and a wrapped bundle of silverware before placing it in front of him. “Don’t worry; I’m sure you’ll catch a break soon.”
“Yeah, we will. You’re being safe, right?”
It was my turn to nod. “Cal just upgraded the security system.”
I left Vinnie to enjoy his meal in peace, finding things to occupy myself until he was finished. The diner was slow at this time of night, catering mostly to the second-shift singles crowd. When the bars closed at two, we might get a couple more.
Vinnie was taking out his wallet when I returned. “You know your money’s no good here,” I chastised. Cal, like many of the local business people, didn’t believe in charging police, firefighters, or servicemen and women for meals.
Vinnie shook his head and dropped the money into the tip jar instead.
“Can I see your phone for a minute?”
Bemused, I pulled the phone out of my apron and handed it to him.
He thumbed a couple of buttons, then handed it back to me. “I put my number in there. Don’t be afraid to use it if you see anything suspicious, or even if you need to walk somewhere and would like an escort. Oh, and I uninstalled the dating app. No more unsolicited pics for you.”
“Uninstalled the app?” I echoed. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
He grinned. “Take care, Haven.”
“Thanks, I will. You, too, Vinnie.”
After he left, I checked my phone. He had deleted all the pictures, set up a block, and had programmed in a new contact.
“Officer Hot Pants gave you his digits, huh?” Wanda commented, looking over my shoulder.
“Just a number to call if we see any trouble.”
“Honey, that’s not the number for the precinct.” She smirked.
Officer Vinnie had given me his personal number?
“Must be all those extra sausage links you heap onto his plate,” she said as she laughed. “I wonder how his package selfie would compare ...”
“Oh, shut up,” I muttered. However, for the rest of my shift, I couldn’t help wondering that myself.
Chapter Two: Vinnie
I left the diner feeling better than I had going in, but that wasn’t unusual. Haven had a way of lifting my spirits, even after a lousy night. That was one of the main reasons stopping there had become a nightly thing. She always had a smile for me. The extras she added onto my plate were a nice bonus, too. As both a guy and a full-blooded Italian, I’ve always associated good food with positive feelings.
Haven McAlister. Graveyard shift waitress at Lindelman’s 24-Hour Diner. Light brown hair, pretty blue eyes, and a smile like an angel. I didn’t know much else about her, other than she was a great listener, never said an unkind word about anyone—except the occasional affectionate barb toward Wanda—and made a great cup of coffee.
Those pictures on her phone bothered me, though. I didn’t like the thought of strange men sending her lewd pictures of their junk. Cliché as it might sound, Haven wasn’t that kind of girl. I had a gift for reading people. Even if my well-honed instincts—a tremendous advantage on the job—hadn’t clued me in, her obvious embarrassment would have.
Someone else who was easy to read? Wanda. I’d seen the way she had left the phone right there at the counter where I couldn’t miss it, as well as how she’d discreetly tapped the screen to wake it up before doing so. Wanda had wanted me to see those pictures.
I suspected she was trying to play matchmaker. Wanda’s eyes had been on Haven and me more often than not, except when she was interacting directly with customers.
I would be lying if I hadn’t thought about asking Haven out myself more than once over the past couple months, but I always managed to talk myself out of it. Haven wasn’t the type of woman a man had a casual, no-strings relationship with, and that wasn’t something I was interested in anyway. The problem was, I didn’t have the time to invest in anything more meaningful.
I was a cop. I worked long hours and spent more time on the job than off. The limited free time I did have was spent with famiglia. With three brothers, two sisters, and a large extended family, there was always someone who needed help with something or other.
The night was pleasantly warm and the skies clear as I stepped out of Lindelman’s. The diner was located between the precinct and my apartment, a stretch I preferred to walk rather than drive. It was a way to de-stress and reconnect with the town I had not only sworn to serve and protect, but had also grown up in.
I scanned up and down the streets out of habit, alert for anything unusual or suspicious. An unknown group had been targeting small businesses. Since many members of my family had places in the area, they were at risk right along with everyone else. My parents owned a restaurant on the east side, my cousin Val had a beauty shop, and my grandparents owned a bookstore, just to name a few. Any one of them could be targeted next. I had already warned them to take extra precautions, but I still made a mental note to raise the subject again on Sunday when we all gathered together for dinner.
Solid leads on the case were few and far between, but I had my suspicions.
These guys knew exactly when to hit and how to avoid any security cameras, which led me to believe they were local and did their homework. Or, as Haven would put it, they “cased the joints” beforehand.
The thought made me chuckle. Haven had a thing for vintage cop dramas, and the oddest phrases would come out of her mouth sometimes, bringing old Bogart, Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson films to mind. That was something we had in common. I grew up watching the old black and white films, and I suspected in some way, they’d had something to do with me wanting to be a cop from an early age.
The low murmur of voices from the alleyway behind the convenience store brought my full attention back to the present. A group of guys were hanging back in the shadows. Conversation ceased when I approached, the smell of vapes and traditional cigarettes wafting my way.
“Evening, Officer,” one of them sneered, eliciting a few chuckles.
“Evening,” I replied calmly. “Everything all right here?”
“No complaints,” the same voice replied. More laughter.
I recognized a couple faces
“That’s good. Mind telling me what you’re doing back here at one in the morning?”
“Just chillin’, Officer. No law against that.”
“No, there isn’t,” I agreed. “There is, however, a town curfew for those of you under eighteen. Anyone need an escort home?”
My statement was met with murmurs and grumbles, but it was the leader, a guy who went by the name of Slash, who answered for them. “Nah. They were just leaving.”
Unlike most of them, Slash was no kid. He owned a motorcycle shop on the edge of town and had the kind of rebellious, badass vibe these kids thought was cool. Those who were smart figured out he wasn’t. Those who weren’t ended up just like him—skulking around in back alleys, getting into trouble, and wasting their lives.
I stood by until they had all filed out, committing the faces, mannerisms, and distinguishing characteristics of those with whom I wasn’t already familiar to memory. When the last one rounded the corner, I exhaled then went to speak to the owner of the convenience store. I told him about the boys who had been hanging around and urged him to be extra cautious. He thanked me and assured me he would.
I arrived at my apartment without further incident. After grabbing a quick shower, I dragged my tired ass to bed, groaning when I looked at the clock. Technically, my next shift didn’t start for another fourteen hours or so, but I had a nine-a.m. court appearance I had to make.
My last thoughts before I drifted off were of Haven. Where did she go when she left the diner? Did she walk or drive? Did she live alone, or was there someone waiting for her? A family, perhaps? A significant other?
I scowled into the darkness. It was none of my business. I had already overstepped by impulsively programming my personal number into her phone in case she needed me. It wasn’t completely unheard of—I’d given it out before—but only in special circumstances.