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Chapter One

If it hadn’t been for the text I got at a quarter to seven that morning, I would probably have been awakened by his mouth between my legs, if last night was anything to judge by.

It turned out to be nothing important – just an old friend who was childless like me – who wanted to have breakfast on the spur of the moment this morning since this was a rare instance when I was in town. But I nonetheless made a mental note that I owed her at least the cost of that breakfast for saving my bacon from... well, from whatever it was that happened last night between us might become this morning.

And that wasn’t something that I wanted to spend much time thinking about, so I eased off the side of the bed as quietly as I could, sneaking a look behind me every few seconds to reassure myself that he was still sleeping. I’d rather be eye to eye with him than feel that big hand of his close around my wrist the way that I knew it was likely to, if he found out that I was sneaking off this morning.

After finding and donning my pjs, I ended up doing exactly what I screamed at every slasher movie heroine not to do – I hung around for a second. I just couldn’t help it. Even in sleep, he immediately had me moistening my panties that were still damp from last night.

I hadn’t expected to cream in them five seconds after I’d put them on.

It was all his fault. He was lying on his stomach, legs stretched out so that his toes peeped over the end of the bed, his skin an all over tan that I knew somehow hadn’t been achieved at a salon, calves and thighs thick with muscles, and a butt that had my mouth watering as I stared blatantly. And despite that more than a handful backside of his that had my fingers wanting to curve around it, digging their tips not so gently into those rock hard mounds, there wasn’t a spare ounce on him – something I heartily wished I could say about myself – as if he spent his time doing physical labor all day instead of pushing paper behind a desk. My eyes trailed slowly – reluctantly – up from his trim waist to a back and set of shoulders that were as broad as a barn and bulging nicely with plates of muscles in all the right places.

I was a sucker for broad shoulders, and he had them in spades. In the years I had been secretly admiring him, I had often had occasion to wonder how he got through some doorways. He looked like a football player with that protective shoulder gear stuff they all wear, only his was all natural.

Yummy. The thought appeared in my mind just as my thighs clenched automatically, as if they were already trying to embrace him as they had – multiple times – last night.

My tongue darted out to wet my lips, and I counted myself glad that he wasn’t awake to see that not so innocent gesture. If he had been, I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I’d be using its adventurous tip to incite him to riot between my cheeks – either set of them. It wouldn’t matter to me as long as it was Colt I had in my eager hands.

And that was why I needed to get the hell out of there as quickly – and as quietly – as I could. I’d just have to hope that the reservations he had called and cancelled on my behalf last night were still available today. Somehow self-preservation kicked in, and I managed to drag myself away from mentally masturbating over him, just barely. Shoving my phone into my purse, giving the room a quick scan to make sure I hadn’t left any trace of myself behind, except perhaps on his mouth and cock, I tiptoed out of the room, holding my breath while constantly expecting to be caught from behind and dragged back to bed.

Not that I’d object, of course. He’d catch me out on that immediately, damn him. He knew me too fucking well, somehow, despite how assiduously I had avoided him, guarding my lust for almost two decades before finally caving last night.

Bad girl! Bad, bad girl!

But scolding yourself is kind of like spanking yourself. Why bother? There’s absolutely no fun in that at all. What makes my toes curl is – in his case even just the thought was more than enough – someone else doing it.

For me, Colt Harrison doing that or even anything remotely resembling it was the Spanish Fly Holy Grail. That’s what I’d been given more than a taste of last night, and yet here I was, closing his front door as gently as I could manage, running barefoot to my car, away from that which I most craved on the planet... Sometimes I am a deeply stupid.

My devoted dog had sat right outside the bedroom door all night, of course. She was not used to being separated from me during the night and clung to my heels the entire way out, somehow knowing instinctively that I needed her to be quiet, at least until we got into the car. I threw my luggage – hastily scavenged from the guest bedroom he’d graciously given me that didn’t get a lick of use last night—

Mmm. Lick. My dirty mind immediately brought to the forefront images of all the parts of him that I had licked before he had greedily returned the favor.

But I shook my head. I couldn’t think of things like that now. Not and survive emotionally for another day.

I had half a mind to push the car down the driveway so I wouldn’t have to start it, but I knew I was too much of a princess for that. But the driveway did have a bit of a slope to it, so I managed to avoid closing the driver’s side door, threw it into neutral and rolled well away from the house, where I started it and slammed my door closed at the same time, hoping one sound would drown out the other as I sped away, pussy clenching spasmodically as the memory of what had passed between us last night played unbidden in my mind.

Luckily the drive was short to everyone’s favorite breakfast joint, Forked Up, a hole in the wall on what was, like so many other smallish towns in Maine, a slowly dying Main Street. I knew my friend was going to consider me severely underdressed – the way she thought most of the rest of the world was, anyway. But I figured she got off lucky that I was actually wearing panties – if not a bra – considering how hastily I had dressed on my way out of his house this morning.

I barely made it out of my little baby blue Porsche Boxster before I was tackled by Holly Becker. All ninety-eight pounds soaking wet of her; for a tiny little thing, she packed the wallop of a linebacker!

We hugged, then knowing how quickly it filled up in the mornings with hungry locals on their way to work and leisurely tourists who came to sit and chat and watch the water, climbed the rickety stairs into the restaurant to pick our way through the crowd of diners to a rare empty two person table at the back.

“I can’t believe you’re here – finally!” she exclaimed, sinking into the chair opposite me.

“I can’t believe I am either,” I agreed, with much less enthusiasm.

Holly grabbed my hands across the table, knowing exactly what I was thinking of. “You don’t have to worry about that any more. It was years and years ago. Nobody remembers it.”

As I felt my face flush, I wished that she hadn’t remembered it, but of course I couldn’t say that. Holly had always been a true friend. In truth, a better one than I probably would have been in her position. I’ve always been a blabbermouth – not out of nastiness, but more out of forgetfulness. If you tell me a secret, I’m going to do my best not to betray your confidence. But sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain...

“I slept with Colt Harrison last night.”

Like that. Just like that. WTF? I betray my own confidences, much less anyone else’s. Is it any wonder that Holly is close to the last friend I have in the town in which I grew up? Of course, Rey Mazzriello had much more of a part in my being ostracized and having to leave under a scandalized cloud than did my big, fat mouth, but still. It couldn’t have helped.

Holly was still looking stunned when the waitress came over to take our order. She asked for a cup of black coffee and a bran muffin – dry, not even toasted. I was starving, of course, and ordered their famous pumpkin pie spiced pancakes with real maple syrup and real butter and a side of spicy breakfast sausage and cheesy, homemade hash brown casserole.

I’d never developed the self-denial necessary to be skinny. I can’t pretend to eat, pushing the food around my plate and existing on air and water. I get hungry, bitches, and I eat the real food I’ve ordered, or made myself. If any man can’t handle that fact that I don’t disappear when I turn sideways, then he’s definitely not for me.

Except for the fact that none of that bravado had ever applied to Colt. I’d never given him the chance to accept or reject me until last night. I much preferred the nice limbo we had been occupying for the past three plus decades. It was better than seeing a disgusted look on his face.

I’d often wondered if Colt found those women who looked like their bodies had been ravaged by tapeworms to be attractive, but then I remembered that all of the women I’d ever seen him with could have been knocked over by a violent sneeze.

I could have lived without that thought this morning.

“So? What happened? How did you two finally end up in bed together after all these years of you drooling all over him, but not being willing to do anything about it?”

How indeed? That was a question that I knew I’d be pondering for quite some time in the wee hours of the long nights alone once I was back in my apartment in Virginia a few days from now.

But how to explain it to Holly...

I hadn’t been back to my hometown for so long, except for a very short trip for a funeral that I didn’t even really attend and during which I saw almost no one but those I had specifically come home to be with. The reason was that, back on March 26th, 1998, the man I had just broken up with – Rey Mazzriello, or Mazz as everyone called him – wasn’t any too happy that I had decided not to continue our relationship. I wanted to shed that little town and move somewhere – anywhere – else to pursue a career in finance. I wanted more than Podunk, Maine could offer me, and, frankly, more than he could offer me. Even though we’d only been together for about a year and a half, I could already feel the strangulating pressure to settle down and get married and have kids, like nearly all of my friends were already doing.

I didn’t really have a clue as to just how unstable Rey was until it happened, but apparently he was so unhappy about me breaking up with him that he decided to let the world – or at least our little corner of it on the Maine coast, who would be the only ones that were really interested – know the exact, most intimate details of our sex life.

Of my sex life. That man was so sexually repressed and boring that even the vanilla stuff was exotic to him, so what I wanted must’ve seemed just that much kinkier to him. I wondered if he had been a virgin until our first time together, but he denied it, and I didn’t much want to examine that question too closely.

So, after an extremely unpleasant scene during which I, for the first time in my life actually feared for my own safety and fled because of how angry and... unhinged he seemed to become, he proceeded to compose an extremely explicit and intimate email to all of our friends. He sent me a copy, too, of course. Generous of him, huh?

By the time I’d gotten home from his place, there were already voicemails on my machine talking about something I hadn’t even seen yet.

I didn’t even bother to read it all the way through, although it was worse than I’d originally thought. He’d put up a website, too, with pictures. Not quite YouTube, which luckily wasn’t in existence yet, but embarrassing enough, believe me.

I knew what we’d done together, and I knew what I had to do as a result of the fact that everyone I knew – and probably within a few hours everyone in town – would know my most private preferences. There was no way I was going to hang around town to be stared at like some kind of sick, twisted freak.

I left town without saying a word to anyone, not returning any voicemails, emails, nothing.

Like the joke, I moved and didn’t leave a forwarding address. By that time in my life, I was the only member of my immediate family left – which was another reason why I was almost eager to leave. There was nothing to stay in town for, as far as I was concerned. In a weird way, what happened was almost a good thing – it gave me the kick in the butt I needed to get off my ass and do something with my life.

Surprisingly, I managed to thrive on the stress, I guess, walling myself off from that debacle of a situation, leaving it in my rear view mirror and concentrating on my future. My resume was pretty damned near impeccable – if a bit stilted by my location. I had graduated summa cum laude and I had a very solid employment history. Within a week of hitting New York, I was snatched up by a well known firm and started making, literally, almost ten times what I’d been making in Maine.

I crossed all my i’s and dotted all my t’s back home, though, too – paying out the lease on my apartment so my sweet old landlady wouldn’t suffer any hardship and settling all of my accounts – with the exception of one glaring, beady-eyed son of a bitch, but unfortunately I didn’t have the slightest idea how to take a contract out on Mazz, so I let him live.

For now.

Eventually I called Holly, who by that time was downright frantic, as well as the person I thought was also most likely to take my call – Cinda Harrison, Colt’s sister.

She and I had been friends since either of us could remember. As far as we were concerned, there hadn’t been a time in our lives when we weren’t best friends, and I hoped that that long past would trump the mess that I had left back in Tennyson.

I hadn’t cried – not one tear – about the whole disaster until I heard her voice on the phone that night, and then all hell broke loose, which made it harder to get her to believe that I really was all right. Funny how hearing your best friend crying hysterically makes you think that she might be, you know, hysterical.

I couldn’t get a hold of myself until I heard her threaten to send her brother to come get me, and I knew by the tone of her voice that she wasn’t kidding.

But that was the last thing I wanted. Of all the names I had seen in the cc field of that atrocious email, his was the one I had dreaded the most – not Holly or Cinda, or even my middle-aged aunt or my boss, who were all on there. It was Colt’s name that had had me bolting for the door.

He had always been everything I knew I wanted in a man, and I had always been severely jealous of Cinda because he loved her so blatantly. Even though he was five years older than we were, he always tried to include his little sister – and thus me by extension because we were glued at the hip – in anything he could, taking us to the fair every year and to kid movies he couldn’t have been much interested in himself. He always kept a weather eye out for Cinda, the big umbrella of which also covered me, and even when we knew he was none too happy with us – such as the time we were pretending to drive and accidentally hit the gear shift, rolling his hard earned first car into a tree – his concern always made me feel warm and secure, somehow.

My frazzled single mother did her best to give me a good childhood, but she couldn’t hope to provide the stability – and comforting, if somewhat looming – male presences that were Colt and his father. I spent so much time there that they practically adopted me, and I have to think that my mother wasn’t necessarily unhappy about my habit of practically living with the Harrisons. It took a lot of the burden off of her; she was in worse straits than they were and their idea that there was always room for one more meant that she had one less mouth to feed.

Like most folks in our small burg, the Harrisons didn’t have it easy when we were first growing up. They were the poorest of the poor, living off what they could all – including young Cinda – could make digging clams, which wasn’t much despite the backbreaking, soul numbing work it entailed.

But the family pulled together and eventually managed to buy a dilapidated lobster boat, then another and another, until, after decades of hard work, they had the wherewithal to buy a fish processing plant, and, with careful management of their assets by their very well educated son, they would never again know the poverty from which they had clawed their way.

Cinda and I never fell away from each other like a lot of friends do, and when Holly moved into our small community when we were about twelve or so, she just fit right in as if she’d always been there.

I must admit that I was a bit jealous whenever Colt would pay attention to either of them, but Holly more so than his sister – although not by much. When I was younger, I just wanted him to be my real brother. But as I matured, it became much, much more, especially as I began to explore my own sexuality.

But I’ve kept my feelings very tightly under wraps for fear of rejection. He had never looked on me as anything other than his kid sister’s friend, and I was nowhere near forward enough a person – at that point in my life or now, actually – to flaunt myself beneath his nose or do anything to attract his very adult attentions. I would rather be a tag along on the fringes of his family than be someone whose advances he’s had to gently rebuff, or worse, become his booty call.

As it happened, when his elderly parents died eight or nine years ago or so within days of each other, I was surprised to be asked to attend the reading of their will. That was the only other time I’d been back to town, and as it was, I snuck in like a thief in the night, went directly to what I had – somewhat less than fondly – begun to refer to in my mind as the Harrison Compound and spent every hour that I was there doing my best to console Cinda, and to a much lesser extent, her brother. I had no intentions of going to the funeral, but Colt himself asked me to go to the reading of the will, which was scheduled for the same evening as the funeral.

I couldn’t remember a time in my adulthood when he had made a direct request of me, and even if I hadn’t been clenching my fists so as not to throw my arms around him and hold him like I desperately wanted to, I couldn’t have said no.

At their insistence, I stayed at the house during the funeral. They both knew that if things had been different I would gladly have gone with them, and, it appeared at least, that neither of them thought any less of me for my cowardice – or for the embarrassing things they had read – and probably seen – about me years ago.

Once we convened at the lawyer’s office, I was amazed to hear that I had been allotted two percent of the family company. Colt and Cinda had each gotten forty-nine percent. The will stated that their parents had considered me another daughter, and that they had often observed me playing the role of peacemaker between Colt and Cinda, who were two very opposite personalities. They hoped that giving me small part to play in Harrison Industries, as it had come to be known, would encourage me to continue to do so.

I now owned a small chunk of a multi-million dollar company. If I really wanted to, I could have stopped working altogether from that point on.

What I did was use some of the money to move to a warmer clime, near Winchester, Virginia and start my own firm, which has since prospered quite nicely, if I do say so myself.

In the ensuring years, I had never been called on to settle any dispute between the siblings regarding the company, which was great as far as I was concerned because I still had no interest in returning to the scene of my greatest humiliation. But this time was different, apparently, and they needed me to help with a decision that threatened to become acrimonious if someone didn’t step in.

Cinda had called me a couple of nights ago, in tears, which was almost unheard of for her, unlike me. She was almost always very composed, almost eerily so. The situation between herself and Colt regarding a very important decision they needed to make regarding the family business was coming much too close to tearing them apart. She needed me to come and cast my vote on one side or the other of the issue, and, according to the dictates of the will, I could not do so by proxy. I had to be present at the company’s headquarters in order to do anything with my measly two percent.

I didn’t want to go to Maine. I liked my life just as it was, and the idea of going back there for everyone to see and snicker at behind their hands had lodged like a boulder in my stomach. But for the two of them, I would do pretty much anything.

Except fly.

So I threw a week or so’s worth of crap into my car, strapped my beloved Boston Terrier, Beanie, into her car seat and drove on up, only stopping twice the whole long way for gas, food and to potty myself and the doggie.

 Of course the grapevine being what it is nowadays, I had texts from Cinda and Holly practically before I’d pulled out of the driveway. Frankly, I was surprised that it took that long. They must be slipping in their old age.

I suppose I could have cut them a break. They both have the requisite high-powered job, high-powered hubby and two-point-five stress-inducing kids. But I wasn’t feeling particularly generous at that point, so I didn’t.

I was a good do-bee, though, and managed not to try to read or respond to them until after my first rest stop, when I had a belly full of a Big Mac and fresh, crispy, salty fries that the dog was doing her best to cadge from me, although she knows better than that. My dog does not eat human food.

Holly just wanted to make sure that she didn’t miss seeing me this time, like she had when I had come up before, but Cinda had a favor that she knew I wasn’t going to refuse. She had a sick kid, and Colt was flying in on business from New York to Portland. Would I pick him up for her?

No. Definitely not. No way. Don’t wanna. Uh-uh. Nope. Not gonna... Can’t... Won’t...


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