2.

Penelope barrels across the threshold as soon as I get the door open. "You texted me 911 and I got here as soon as I could. What's the emergency? Where's the blood?"

I can't help smiling as I watch her travel from room to room. Whenever I'm in a pinch, Pen comes a-runnin'.

"How far over the speed limit did you go?"

"Not much," she calls from the kitchen.

"Oh, really?"

I don't believe her for one minute. Give her an open stretch of road and Penelope presses the pedal down to the floor. I've learned that if I have to ask how fast she's going, I really don't want to know.

She emerges from the kitchen, her high heels click-clacking as she travels from tile to wood. "If they didn't want cars to go ninety-two miles an hour, darling, they wouldn't make them able to."

"Why don't you take off your coat and stay awhile?" Truthfully, I want to get another look at that outfit. I didn't even know Pen owned a corset or how she would go about acquiring one.

Slowly, she circles the couch and approaches me. This is the second time in less than two hours I've had a woman walking towards me. And, for the second time, I'm unsure of the outcome.

My eyes are drawn to her fingers as she undoes the first of the big, red buttons. Then the next. Then the last. Even her fingernails are painted fire engine red. The coat falls open. Red and black with lily white skin. Ruffles. Lace. Boning. I take it all in, memorizing every glorious curve of the woman I love.

I want a smoke. I need a smoke. But I can't move. I can only watch and wait as she draws nearer.

Her hair shines beneath the recessed lights. Soft, silky waves of gold with tantalizing red streaks. She'll smell of apples and vanilla. It's her signature scent. It clings to my shirt, my coat, my car, my couch. Must've driven Monica bonkers.

She stops a foot away from me. "What's the story, Morning Glory? I thought you and the little lady were on your way to a romantic interlude."

"Change of plans." I want to grab the flaps of her coat and eliminate the distance between us. Impulse control is highly overrated. "She kinda broke up with me."

"Oh, Nick!" With one step, she wraps her arms around my chest. Politeness dictates I return the embrace. Her face nuzzles mine. Apples and vanilla. "I can't believe she dumped you. What is wrong with her? And on Valentine's Day!"

"So, you'd rather she'd gotten a free meal and chocolates out of me before serving me my walking papers?"

"It's just so heartless. So callous. I mean, I was never very fond of her but I couldn't dream she'd stoop to such tacky behavior." Staring into my eyes, she whispers, "You didn't bash her skull in with a ball peen hammer in a fit of rage, did you?"

"Pen!"

"Is that what the 911 text was about? You need to clean up the scene while you dispose of the corpse?"

"Geez, Pen! You've been at the CSI again, haven't you?" Even though she suspects me of capital murder or, at the very least, manslaughter, she hasn't loosened her grip or shirked away in disgust. I don't know whether to be flattered or disturbed. "I just wanted to see you. Sorry for putting a kink in your plans."

With a wicked twinkle in her eyes, she quips, "You know I'm all about the kink, honey lips."

Danger, danger, Will Robinson!

Pulling away, I help her out of her coat. "Remind me to get you a t-shirt that reads 'High Voltage' for your birthday."

"Or 'Slippery When Wet'."

"Bad, bad Penelope." I love it. "What's gotten into you?"

She drapes her gorgeous self across my sofa. "Nothing yet. You got any suggestions?"

Innuendo is Penelope's middle name.

"How about those cupcakes you so lovingly prepared? I've got just the right wine to go with them." Hanging her coat on the coat rack, I return to her side.

She swings her legs off the couch to allow me to sit. "You haven't even had supper yet. You can't skip right to dessert."

"The hell I can't. I'm a grown damn man. I could eat a tub of frosting if I were so inclined. And follow it with a Yoo-hoo chaser."

"Then come crying to me once your stomach turns on you."

"I do not cry."

She shoots me a look so full of skepticism, I can almost drown in it. "Two words, Nick: Lion King."

Evil wench!

"That was different," I insist. "Those bastards killed Mufasa! And poor Simba had to grow up without a father."

Coming out of any other person, a snort of that magnitude would be obscene and piggish. Penelope, however, is as delicate as a peacock feather. If she heard me say that, she'd probably sock me one.

"Whatever you say, Peaches." She pats me on the arm. My biceps flex beneath her touch. Reflex. Honest. "Your world, your rules."

An hour later, we've worked our way to the bottom of the bottle, devoured more of the sugar-laden treats than I'd thought humanly possible, and are in the middle of watching a marginally interesting character get chased by evil robots. Penelope is snuggled against my side, close and warm. Her legs are tucked underneath her; her head is on my shoulder. Leisurely, she sips at her wine.

The picture of tranquility.

If only I could be so serene.

This territory is so familiar and still so new. The two of us have spent many nights watching movies together. Sometimes staying up to the wee hours of the morning. We once went for twenty-one hours doing a Lord of the Rings / Harry Potter marathon. I'm pretty sure, at one point, I forgot how to blink.

During those times, Penelope had been "just Pen". She's been upgraded but doesn't know it yet.

I'm hyper-sensitive. Suddenly aware of all the little things that usually go by unnoticed. The flutter of her hair across my neck. The rise and fall of her chest. Granted, I'm a man, so I've always been aware of that on some level.

Bringing the glass to her lips, she says, "Doesn't Monica look a bit like Megan Fox?"

"Maybe… If you tilt your head and squint."

I'm not knocking my ex. In the looks department, she's a nine-point-five. Unfortunately, her attitude towards Penelope brought her down to an even six. I suppose I shouldn't have held it against her. Even though Pen and I never got up to any physical hanky-panky, we've been having an emotional affair for ages.

"I don't know… I they've both got the whole 'raven-haired vixen' thing going for them."

"Yeah, but Monica has smaller breasts. Yours are fabulous, by the way."

She brushes her fingers across her bountiful bust. "Thank you, darling. If you're nice to me, I'll let you cuddle them later."

"I'm watching Shia Labeouf running for his pitiful little life. How much nicer can I get?"

"Well…" She places a finger beside her red lips, appearing to think. "If you really love me…"

"And you know I do, luscious."

"You'll rub my feet." Her feet are in my lap before I can even consider refusing. Not that I would. "Those boots may be smoking hot, but they are hell on my arches. Such is the price I pay for foxiness."

I get to rubbing. A sigh of contentment slips past her lips as she settles against the arm of the couch. "You'd be smoking hot wearing olive oil cans, sweetheart."

"They should clone you, Nick. You do wonder's for a gal's self-esteem."

For me, feet have always been the strangest part of the human anatomy. Hidden from sight in socks, shoes, and boots with seasonal parole during the summer months. Like they're the body's dirty little secret. One never knows what to expect once the footwear comes off. Smelly. Sweaty. Hairy. God forbid, extra parts.

It's Satan's grab bag o' fun, as far as I'm concerned.

Foot fetishists disturbs me to the core and make me want to bathe in chlorine. I don't get it and I don't want to.

Call it genetics, call it divine intervention, but there are no nasty surprises when it comes to Penelope's feet. The skin is smooth and soft. Not a bunion, corn, or ingrown toenail in sight. Matching her ensemble, the toenails are a vivid shade of red. For a moment, I wonder if she treated herself to a pedicure. Then I wonder what the hell the word "pedicure" is doing in my vocabulary.

They're a bit on the tiny side, her toes. Save for the Big Toes, of course, which are not freakishly large. Merely in appropriate proportion to the other eight digits.

Monica's toes had been long and skinny. Some nights, it was like going to bed with a rake.

Fearful I'm waltzing dangerously close to fetish territory, I concentrate on the task at hand. Starting at the uppermost part of her foot, I massage the pads of her feet. Sometimes two-handed, sometimes with my fingers splayed between her toes. Once those muscles are sufficiently soothed, I move down to her aching arches.

"Mm!" she squeaks. Her eyes grow wide behind her lenses.

"Was that a good sound or a bad sound?"

Pressing her foot into my capable hands, she purrs, "That was a 'Do that again and I'll make you pancakes every morning' sound."

"Who am I to turn down such a gracious offer?"

Penelope's told me the secret to her pancakes is using just a hint of vanilla. Personally, I think she laces them with Prozac. After inhaling a stack of those golden, delicious discs, I'm so full of wondrous joy, I want to give the whole world a great big kiss. And then bundle myself in some blankets and take a nap.

Perhaps it's vanilla, Prozac, and weed.

Sometime after the resurrection of Megatron, I recall the theory that there's some sort of link between pressure points in women's feet and that secret, sacred place between their thighs. Hit the right spot and you'll send them to the moon.

That might explain the happy little gasps and moans coming from Ms. Penelope Gordon. Her eyes are closed and there's a great big smile on her face.

Miraculously, she places her wine glass on the floor without spilling a drop. "How could that woman leave you when you've got those hands?"

"Probably because I never rubbed her feet."

"Well, lucky, lucky me." Her Cheshire grin broadens. "Does that mean I get you all to myself for a while?"

"For as long as you'll have me, Pen."

That's the truth. If I had my way, she and I would stay holed up in my apartment until the New Year. We've got a lot of time to make up. I don't regret the weeks, months, and years spent with Monica and the others I've dated since befriending Penelope. If anything, they make me appreciate her more. I will do everything in my power to keep Penelope happy.

"You want a smoke?" I ask.

"Yes, please."

She shifts into an upright position as I stand to retrieve the cigarettes from my coat pocket. A sudden thought gives me pause.

Should I tell her the reason Monica dumped me? Even though she's done nothing wrong, Pen is likely to feel guilty and blame herself. Or, worse, deny she's ever had any such feelings towards me.

Talk about taking one step forward and two steps back.

"Your feet nailed to the floor, Peaches?" Placing a hand on my backside, she shoves me in the right direction.

"Didn't your Mama teach you to keep your hands to yourself?" I protest in my most aggrieved tone. Like she's never manhandled me before. She once pinned me to the floor with my hands held above my head after I made the drastic misstep of referring to Japanese anime as cartoons.

"She taught me how to mix a very dry martini and how to crack a whip."

"I forgot. You were raised by circus folk." Cigarettes in hand, I sit beside her.

"Careful, bucko. My second cousin was a sword-swallower."

"Oh, is that what they're calling it now?"

I pull one of those slim beauties out of the pack, put it between my lips, and light it. No matter how much I love the woman beside me, these are my smokes. I'm entitled to the first puff. She watches expectantly as I draw in my breath and blow smoke out of my mouth and nose.

Monica told me I reminded her of a dragon whenever smoke shot out of my nose.

Penelope plucks the cigarette from my mouth.

"Such impertinence."

Deep breath in. Head thown back. A perfectly formed ring of smoke puffs from her O-shaped lips. "Punish me later. Right now, I need my fix."

"And here I thought I was your drug of choice."

"My, my. Don't we have an inflated ego?"

"Gimme that back and I'll show you my ego."

She bats her long lashes at me for a moment before handing me the cigarette. "Only because I hate seeing you go without," she clarifies.

Little does she know, I haven't gone without in over a week.

Her red lipstick has stained the receiving end of the cigarette, reminding me where it's been and where it will most likely return. It tastes sweeter having come from Penelope's mouth. It could be my imagination or some remnants of frosting lingering on the palate. Either way, I enjoy it all the more.

Before I can talk myself out of it, I inhale the smoke, press my lips against Penelope's, and blow it into her mouth. I linger for the span of two heartbeats before pulling away. Tendrils of smoke whisper past her lips. She blinks once. Twice. Then lets it all go in a huff.

"I didn't think you'd mind a piggy-back."

She shakes her head, but says nothing. No pithy retort. No double-entendre. I assume she's in shock. Or, at the very least, confused. And she has every right to be. Aside from one mistletoe-related incident, we've had to reason to swap spit, or smoke, before.

A slow smile creeps across her face. At least I know she's not disgusted. "That was… nice."

"Nice?" Not exactly what I was going for.

"Yeah." Another blink. "You think… you can do that again?"

My heart is pounding in my ears. Am I hearing her correctly? "Sure… If that's what you want."

"It's what I want, Nick." She inches closer. "Except, this time, leave out the cigarette."

END