“Would you come to a swingers’ club with me?” Shane asked.
Melissa’s stomach felt like it had dropped to her knees. She couldn’t think of a single question he could have asked that would have shocked her more.
As she stared at him in silence, he leaned toward her, candlelight glowing in his eyes. The clinking of cutlery and plates, mellowed by the hum of conversation, swirled around them.
“Would you pretend to be my wife and come to a swingers’ club with me?”
His repeating the words didn’t make them any clearer. She just sat there and stared at him for a moment, stunned. Finally, she realized there wasn’t any more. No “April Fool’s Day!” No “Boy, look at the expression on your face. I got you that time.”
And to think, when she’d sensed the hesitation in his voice moments earlier, she’d been worried he was going to ask her if she wanted to take their relationship to the next level. Not that she should have expected him to ask such a question, but she realized now that a small part of her had hoped that’s where he’d been heading.
And that shocked her almost as much as his actual question.
Für Elise chimed from her purse. Saved by the bell.
“That’ll be Elaine. I had lunch with her and she asked me to babysit for a few days. She was going to call to confirm dates. It’ll just take a second.”
And give her a moment to get her head together.
As Shane watched Melissa rummage around in her purse, he took a sip of his imported beer from the tall, gold-rimmed glass. The aroma of fresh bread filled his nostrils as the waiter placed a basket of crusty rolls on the table.
Melissa was a doting aunt to those kids and a regular mother hen to both her younger sisters, Elaine and Ginny. Although both were grown women, Melissa still felt she had to take care of them, as she had been doing since she was sixteen when her mother had abandoned them.
Melissa flicked open the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, sis. Oh, damn, that’s the baby, can you hang on?” Elaine said.
“Sure, I’ll wait.”
As Melissa listened to the sounds of kids chattering and a baby crying on the other end of the line, she gazed at Shane. Classically handsome with a boyish charm, his wide smile revealed straight, white teeth. Her gaze caressed the broad line of his shoulders. Those shoulders could carry a lot of weight, and had certainly soaked up a lot of her tears over the years. He always held her with such warmth, usually in the brief hugs he gave her in greeting, but sometimes longer, when he knew she was troubled or hurting.
Right now she could imagine her hands running over that solid, muscular form, imagine his strong arms sliding around her, pulling her against his hard, masculine chest. Her gaze shifted back to his face . . . to his full, sexy lips, imagining them capturing hers.
“Liss? Something wrong?”
Her face blossomed with heat as she realized Shane was staring at her.
“No, sorry, I just got . . . distracted.”
He grinned. “I’d love to know where that serious mind of yours wandered off to, because I’ve never seen your cheeks so red.”
Her cheeks blazed hotter. She stroked her hair behind her ear and took a sip of her drink. “Well, never you mind. A girl is allowed some secrets, even from her closest friends.”
Melissa hoped he hadn’t guessed what she’d been daydreaming about. This was the first time, since they’d met at college, that they’d both been unattached at the same time while living in the same city. They’d gotten closer than ever over the past few months, sometimes even joking that Shane was her surrogate boyfriend. If only he knew how close that was to the truth. Melissa had always felt a flicker of attraction to him, but lately it had spiraled into a full-blown crush.
Melissa’s hand shifted to her neck to toy with the diamond heart necklace Shane had given her last Christmas. She had struggled with accepting something so expensive, but Shane had insisted, pointing out that with the money he had it was about the same, proportionally speaking, as her spending twenty-five dollars on a gift for him, so it wouldn’t be fair of her to turn it down.
“Sorry, sis, can I call you back?” Elaine asked, tiny Joey wailing in the background.
“Sure, that’s fine.” Melissa hung up the phone and laid it on the table. “She’s going to call back.”
She tapped her fingers on the table.
“So this club . . .”
A swingers’ club. He’d asked her to a swingers’ club.
“It’s like . . . wife swapping?” she continued.
“It’s really a resort, not a club.”
“But we’re not even a couple. Why would you ask me to go somewhere like that?”
“Because I’m planning on buying the resort.”
Shane realized this was going better than he’d thought it would. At least she hadn’t said no yet. He really wanted to experience the resort firsthand and he couldn’t do that as a single male. Melissa was the only woman he could reasonably ask to pose as his wife.
He could understand her surprise at his request. A few weeks ago, he would have been just as surprised as she was—until he’d had that conversation with Geoff, a new member of his golf club. After a few rounds of drinks and a long discussion about the low success rate of marriages today, Geoff had confided to Shane that he knew the secret to a long and happy marriage. He’d handed Shane a card for a swingers’ resort in St. Haven in the British West Indies. Shane had been skeptical until Geoff pointed out that he and his wife had been going there since it opened five years ago, and to local clubs before that, and they had been happily married for over twenty years now.
Maybe this really was the secret to marital bliss. Who was Shane, with his multiply divorced parents, to decide he knew better? And even if it wasn’t, it could prove to be a great investment. Either way, he had nothing to lose, and a great deal to gain.
“I think a place like this could allow couples to overcome the stagnation that occurs after years of sleeping with the same person and add enough spice and variety to their lives so that they could keep a happy and loving marriage going. If my parents had gone somewhere like that, maybe they wouldn’t have divorced.” Shane grabbed a roll and buttered it.
“I’m really not comfortable with the idea of going to a place like that.”
“I understand, but there’s an orientation session that allows newbies to take a look around with no pressure to join in the . . . activities. It’ll only be five days, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
She pursed her lips.
“It’s really a beautiful spot. It’s on a small island called St. Haven and it’s—”
Her cell phone chimed again.
“Sorry, excuse me . . .” She flicked it open. “Uh-huh.”
She grabbed her pocket calendar from her purse and flipped through the pages to April.
“The sixteenth? Yeah, that should be okay. How many days? Five.”
She jotted some notes in her planner.
“Where is this place?” She glanced at Shane then made some more notes. “Uh-huh. Sounds nice. Okay, I’ll talk to you Sunday.”
She glanced at Shane. “What was the name of that island again?”
“And the resort? Is it called The Sweet Surrender?”
“Yeah, how did you know?”
Her mouth compressed into a straight line. “Because that’s where Elaine and Steve are going.”
Melissa watched the road through the drizzle-coated windshield as the wipers whooshed back and forth. Thoughts of Elaine and that . . . resort . . . bounced around her brain. How could Elaine have let Steve talk her into going to a place like that?
Shane said he’d told Steve about his plans to buy the resort and that seemed to have given Steve ideas of his own. Melissa knew Steve and Elaine had been having intimacy problems, but they just needed to balance their love life with the kids. Granted, that wasn’t easy with three young children, but going to a swingers’ club was definitely not the answer.
Elaine was rushing into something she didn’t understand. Melissa’s only chance of convincing her to change her mind was to go to this place and learn as much as she could about it and about the kind of people who went there. Faced with the facts, surely Elaine would see reason.
Melissa sighed. At least Elaine had a husband to go home to. All Melissa had was an empty apartment.
Damn it. Earlier she’d been terrified that Shane had guessed the way she’d been feeling about him. Now, faced with going home to a lonely bed again, she realized how disappointed she was that he hadn’t.
She was so comfortable with Shane. The thought of falling asleep in his arms, snuggled against his firm, muscular chest, sent warmth washing through her.
As she drove, images of Shane in his swim trunks from when they’d gone to the beach last summer—his sexy, muscular body gleaming in the sunshine—washed though her mind. Her insides tightened at the thought of him pulling her against him and kissing her, consuming her lips in passion. Her lips tingled as she imagined his mouth moving against hers, his tongue slipping inside. She sighed. Sharp pangs of need pulsed through her as she imagined his hands gliding over her body, stroking her breasts, then his mouth covering her nipple. It hardened and elongated at the imagined pull of his mouth, the swirl of his tongue.
Oh God, she should not be obsessing about Shane just because she’d been without a man for a couple of months. She shifted in the seat, feeling hot and damp. Good heavens, she needed a man.
She turned right onto her street, then pulled into her driveway. She grabbed her purse from the seat and dodged through the rain to the front door. She unlocked it and, as she pushed it open, she heard the phone ringing from inside. She kicked off her shoes and raced across the room, then snatched up the receiver.
“Hi, there.” Shane’s deep voice greeted her.
“Oh hi, I just got in the door.”
“I figured. I wanted to make sure you got home okay. With the rain and all.”
“Thanks.” His caring gesture warmed her heart. “I’m glad you called. I wanted to talk to you about the resort. . . .”
“Liss, I’m really sorry that Steve—”
“No, that’s not your fault. What I wanted to say is that I’d like to go. I need to learn more about it. I need to be able to talk Elaine out of going there and . . . information is power. The more I know, the more convincing I’ll be.”
“Okay. I . . . uh . . . went ahead and booked us in for next week, just in case you said yes. We’ll have to leave next Wednesday.”
She smiled. “And if I’d said no?”
“Then they would have been stuck with an empty room.”
“Room? Just one?”
“Well, I can’t go as a single man. I assumed we’d go as a couple, but they do allow single women, so if you’d rather go alone . . .”
The thought of wandering around a resort like that on her own, among the sex-hungry males . . . and females . . . who would frequent such a place sent shivers up her spine.
“There’s no way I’m going alone!”
“Great. You’ve got a passport, right?”
“And can you make a doctor’s appointment this week?”
“Why? Do I need to get shots?” She cringed, hating the thought of a needle piercing her skin.
“No. The resort is very exclusive and requires medical testing for all its guests, to ensure they don’t have any sexually transmitted diseases. I saw Dr. Lane today and he told me he could get my results back in time. If you go in this week, he can rush them both through.”
Her stomach knotted.
“But I’m not planning on . . . you know . . . doing anything while I’m there.”
“They don’t know that.”
She sighed. Of course they didn’t.
“Okay. I’ll call tomorrow morning.” She grabbed the planner from her purse and jotted down a reminder. “Anything else?”
“Yes. It’s probably not a good idea to mention that you work for a news station. It could make people nervous. Maybe you should say you’re a freelance writer or something. Also, do you mind if we go as Mr. and Mrs. Woods? It’s better if we don’t use my name. I don’t want anyone to figure out I’m the one interested in buying the place.”
Mr. Shane Woods.
Thoughts of Shane at her side using her last name and pretending to be her husband sent her heartbeat racing, interesting possibilities flickering through her mind. The two of them in an intimate setting, acting as husband and wife. Tender touches, holding hands, a kiss on the temple.
“One room means one bed, right?” she asked.
“Uh . . . yeah. . . .”
Excitement danced along her nerve endings. She imagined being in that room now, Shane lying on the bed. Her hormones surged once again as she thought about undressing him, about exploring every plane and muscular bulge . . . every hard, masculine surface of that gorgeous body of his.
Her insides quivered as she realized she was about to do something very foolish.
Copyright © 2007 by Elizabeth Batten-Carew. All rights reserved.