Home > Hard Wood (Big Rock #6)

Hard Wood (Big Rock #6)
Author: Lauren Blakely


By now, most women have met the half dozen or so basic types of men in the world.

Just to be sure, though, let’s review the lineup.

First, there’s the too-cool-for-school playboy who solemnly swears he’ll never settle down. Next to him in the modern-day parade of dudes is the Grouchy McGrouch Pants. This surly, bearded guy is a softie beneath the dickhead exterior he shows to the world, along with his beanie cap. By his side is the guarded businessman in his three-piece suit, housing deep, dark secrets that only one woman can unlock. We have other roles in Guy Central Casting: the lumbersexual, the groomed father, the citified pretty boy, the hot nerd, and the bad boy with a heart of gold.

Trust me when I say the ladies of the world have heard every one of their stories.

I know that because I’ve fucking heard them. I’ve heard them from the guys, and I’ve heard them from the gals. When you take people out of their comfort zone and into the woods, they tend to tell you everything—every sordid detail. I’m honestly kind of amazed that men and women, women and women, and men and men get together at all. There’s so much baggage going around, it’s like a goddamn virus.

As for me?

I’m simple. I travel light. I don’t bring luggage to the table. I hoist my backpack and I’m ready to go.

I’m a man of many skills. Give me a battery and I’ll start a campfire. Show me an old phone and I’ll make a compass. I’m the guy who knows how to get out of jams. I can fix a tire, repair a sink, gut a fish, pick a lock, and survive a bear attack—I’ve been there, done that, and have the merit badges to prove it.

Not gonna lie. Women do tend to like a guy who can get shit done without bitching about it. That’s why I’ve had a nice run of luck with the ladies. But I’m not looking just to get lucky anymore.

I’m ready for a whole lot more.

I’d like to think that makes me the good guy with all the skills when we’re talking about types. I’m the unicorn, and I’m not just talking about the length of my horn, if you catch my drift.

I’m the guy who’s fit, successful, baggage-fucking-free, and—wait for it—ready to settle down.

Just call me a four-leaf clover.

The trouble is the woman I want is off-limits. She’s my buddy’s sister. But don’t worry. That’s not the issue. Max is a cool cat, and he has no problem with the fact that I have it bad for his little sis.

The problem is something else entirely, and I have one week to fix it. This is where all my life-hacking skills will have to come into play.

Let’s do this.


Human beings tend to overthink all sorts of stuff, but a lot of our quandaries are pretty basic. You’re either going out to dinner at the new Italian joint, or you’re staying home to make a turkey sandwich. You’re doing the laundry so you have a fresh shirt to wear, or you’re sniffing the hamper, hunting for an old-but-good-enough-ie. You either carve out the time to run five miles, or you watch another ten episodes of Breaking Bad.

For the record, the answers are Italian, wash on hot, and lace up.

I take the same straightforward approach to the current black-and-white question posed to me by Camilla Montes, the local WRBC Channel 10 morning news anchor.

“Patrick, how will our viewers know if Fluffy wants to go for a hike?” she asks in that perfectly modulated TV reporter voice that matches her coiffed black hair.

“If you’re wondering if Tiger, Tom, or Tabby is ready to become an adventure cat, there’s a simple litmus test any pet owner can conduct.” I sit on the couch across from her and run a hand down Zeus’s back. He arches into my palm and rumbles, his purr so loud he could land a career in the cat sound-effects business. Show-off. But in his defense, if I possessed an Al Green-style purr, I’d make sure the ladies heard it all the time, too. “I like to call it the drag or no-drag cat.”

“Interesting. Tell us more,” she says, her voice dripping with curiosity.

“Your cat either willingly lets you put a leash around his furry neck, or he turns into putty when you harness him, and you wind up dragging his feline butt across the floor.” I mime tugging a gone-limp cat on a leash.

“That does make it crystal clear.” Camilla flashes her practiced grin, then points a polished fingernail at me. “But how did you know to try with Zeus? Did you simply want a famous hiking partner, or did he insist on it?”

“I listened to the cat.” I lean forward, parking one hand on my knee where my cargo shorts end, since the station likes me to dress like an REI model for my segments on Tips and Tricks for Enjoying the Great Outdoors. “His behavior told me he might be willing. For instance, one time, I headed down the hallway to drop the trash in the chute, and Zeus followed me out the door of the apartment, staying by my side the whole time.” I lower my voice, cup the side of my mouth, and speak in a stage whisper. “And I don’t think it was only because there was leftover salmon in the trash.”

Camilla laughs.

“Salmon aside, he exhibited this inquisitive behavior often, and that’s when I decided to give a leash and harness a whirl.”

“And now he’s become The Hiking Tomcat.” She gestures grandly to my long-haired cat, who’s lounging next to me, his white-gloved paws folded in front of his chest and a look of satisfaction on his furry face. I swear this dude is such a ham. He was born for the cameras. “Can you show our viewers how a cat who likes to go for hikes will handle being harnessed?”

“Why, I thought you’d never ask,” I say as I stand, grab the leash and harness from the couch, and pat my leg.

Zeus stretches, slinks down the side of the couch, and gazes up at me.

“Want to go for a hike?”

His tail swishes back and forth.

Look, I’m not claiming he understands English. He’s a cat, after all, not some kind of Cesar Milan-trained dog. But Zeus knows the drill, and the leash is dangling in my hand. He stretches his neck out, almost as if he’s inviting me to put the red hiking harness over his head. I slide it on and clip his leash to the end. Zeus struts a few feet.

Camilla’s smile beams as brightly as the TV lights blasting from above. “There you go.”

“Would you like to walk him, Camilla?”

Her glossy red lips part in a wide grin. “I would love to walk this Internet superstar.”

I place a finger to my lips. “Shh. We don’t want his fame to go to his head.”

“If he only knew how purr-fectly popular he is.” Camilla takes the leash and walks Zeus around the set. “We brought in something to simulate the conditions on the trails.”

Camilla escorts my boy to some fake rocks set up for this demo while the on-air screen shows an Internet video I’ve shot of Zeus clambering up a hill on a nearby trail. When they reach the rocks, the shot returns to Camilla, walking alongside in heels as Zeus scurries up the rocks and then down the other side. Note to self—score this cat some commercial work and see if we can retire on Friskies royalties.

But then, I’ve no interest in slowing down. My life is the textbook definition of so fucking good. My business is thriving, my family is healthy and happy, and my friends are settling down. There’s only one thing I long for more of. Well, not a thing. More like a lovely, captivating, I-just-click-with-her someone.

But now’s not the time to dwell on a certain woman.

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