Cabin Fever

By: Jillian Burns

1

“YOU’RE LYING, TEDESCO.”

Joe narrowed his eyes at his accuser, brought the can of root beer to his lips and took a long sip. “You’ll have to play to find out, Wakowski.”

Wakowski snarled and studied his dwindling pile of chips on the table in the fire station’s kitchen.

Joe tapped his fingers on his thigh. With his luck they’d get a call before he could lay down his cards.

“Come on, Wakowski,” Everman urged. “In this century.” Everman had already folded, as had Miller and Stockton. Joe maintained his poker face.

Wakowski narrowed his eyes. “You’re bluffing.” He shoved all his remaining chips into the center of the table.

Joe grinned and revealed his Queen-high heart flush. “Read ’em and weep.”

The guys whooped and hollered and thudded Joe on the back. Wakowski cursed and pitched his cards down. “You’re a real scootch, you know dat?”

Joe grinned and began gathering up his winnings. His cell buzzed and he grabbed it off the table. At two on a Saturday afternoon it was probably his mother calling to make sure he was coming to the family dinner tomorrow. He checked the caller ID, but he didn’t recognize the number. He hesitated answering. If one of his sisters had set him up with one of their friends again...

Knowing he’d regret it, he punched the answer button. “Tedesco.”

“Mr. Joe Tedesco, of Brooklyn, New York?”

Great. Were telemarketers allowed to call cell phones now? “Uh...yeah?”

“This is Carly’s Couture calling about your entry in The Sexiest Average Joe contest and I’m thrilled to tell you that you are our winner!”

Joe blinked. Contest? Sexiest what? Wait a minute... He grinned at his fellow firemen sitting around the station house table. “Good one, guys.” He spoke into the phone. “So, I won, huh? What’d I win? A hot and heavy night with you, sweetheart?”

“Excuse me?”

Joe winced. The sleet falling outside was no match for the ice in this woman’s voice. If this was a prank, she was really good. “Uh, hold on a sec.” He held the phone to his chest. “Okay, you guys, you might as well fess up. I’m not falling for it.”

All four of his buddies gave him a confused look. Not good. He put the phone back to his ear. “Who’d you say you were again?”

“Carly Pendleton, with Carly’s Couture. I have a fashion blog for the average man and woman, and Modiste magazine cosponsored the national contest searching for the Sexiest Average Joe.”

Fashion blog? Wait. Modiste? Wasn’t that the fancy magazine his sisters were always reading, with all the makeover contests and quizzes on how to please a guy in bed? Alarm bells clanged and they weren’t coming from the firehouse. Joe stood and paced from the kitchen into the common area.

“Mr. Tedesco? Are you there?”

He barely heard her voice. Her previous words kept echoing in his mind. Contest. Modiste magazine. What had his sisters done now?

He cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’m here.” Maybe he should think positive. Maybe he’d won a big-screen TV or a year’s supply of beer.

“—and the cruise leaves on Monday. I’ll have your boarding pass and a car will pick you up at your residence at 7:00 a.m. The flight to Miami departs at ten. The ship sails at four. Now, your entry form said you already have a passport?”

“Wait a minute. I won a cruise?” That could be fun.

“Five days and four nights to the Caribbean. Of course, that’s where we’ll be doing the photo shoot.”

“Photo shoot?”

The woman mumbled a request to save her from idiots. “You did read all the details of the contest before entering, didn’t you, Mr. Tedesco?”

He clenched his teeth. “It’s Joe. Mr. Tedesco is my father.”

“Okay. In case you need reminding, Joe, the photo shoot is the reason for the cruise. My blog will feature the Sexiest Average Joe wearing Carly’s Couture clothing choices and posing with a beautiful supermodel in exotic locales. You could end up with a lucrative modeling career, Mr. Tedesco. Maybe even become famous.”

Famous? If he’d wanted money and fame he would’ve signed the contract offer his sophomore year. He sure as hell wasn’t posing for some magazine like one of those pretty boys strutting around in their underwear. No, thanks. “Look, lady, I can’t just take off work at a moment’s notice.”

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