“I can’t believe you’ve gone an entire year without sex. And by choice.”
Sandra grimaced at her friend’s comment. She tightened her fingers around her champagne flute. Many times she’d regretted telling Aimee about her resolution, but in fact, her confession to Aimee had forged a closer friendship between them. A friendship that had helped her through some tough times over the past year. Especially the loneliness.
Aimee held up her glass. “Happy anniversary.” She grinned. “A year well behind you.”
Sandra clinked her champagne glass against Aimee’s, then sipped the bubbly wine. Not that a failed marriage was something to celebrate.
She glanced around Maelstrom’s Bar, wondering when Devlin would arrive to join them. He’d called to say he’d be a little late because he’d had to attend an afternoon meeting on the outskirts of the city. That meant he had to brave the rush-hour traffic driving back downtown to meet them. Once he got here, he’d have some trouble finding parking, too, since the bar was in a busy area.
Sandra pushed her long hair behind her ear as she shifted on the upholstered seat. It was Friday evening and the bar was filling up fast, but she and Aimee had walked over right after work and grabbed one of the cozy curved booths near the window.
“So, you’re sticking with your story that your ex wasn’t a complete loser? Because I’m all ears if you want to dis him. It’ll help get it out of your system.”
“No, Eric was just the wrong guy for me.”
Not that it hadn’t hurt to find he no longer loved her. Or really, that he had never loved her. They’d dated since high school, and for many years, they’d mistaken being comfortable with being in love. But neither of them had wanted the marriage to fail—to admit they had failed—so it had taken ten years for them to finally realize that divorce was the only answer. They simply weren’t happy together. They were great roommates, but their connection had broken down years ago—if it had ever been there in the first place.
Aimee pursed her lips. “Okay then. Moving on. Tell me what you’re looking for in a man.”
She leaned toward Sandra and her lips turned up in a crooked smile. Sandra could tell Aimee had had a little too much to drink. And Sandra probably had, too. Champagne tended to have that effect on her.
Sandra attempted to answer her friend’s question, but when she tried to picture the man of her dreams, all she came up with was a blank.
Aimee seemed to understand her dilemma. She sipped from her glass, then giggled. “I have an idea. Let’s make a list.”
She opened her purse and pulled out a pen, then grabbed one of the small square cocktail napkins the waitress had left on the table with the appetizer platter. Aimee wrote down the numeral one followed by a dot.
“Okay, I want you to think about”—she giggled—“you know … men … and what you’d really like.”
“What I’d like? I guess I’d like a guy who’s really sensitive, with a good sense of humor and … well, a sense of adventure.”
Aimee pointed at her and winked. “That’s what I’m talking about. Adventure.” She sipped her drink again, then set down her glass. “Forget that Mr. Sensitive stuff. Think about Mr. Muscle-Bound-Hunk meets Mr. Sexy-Bad-Boy and how he”—she winked—“or, better yet, they could make your dreams come true.”
Sandra knew exactly what Aimee was talking about. Sandra had made the mistake of telling Aimee about one of her ultra sexy dreams, dreams that had been a frequent occurrence over the past few months. Fantasies brought to life in steamy erotic detail in the middle of the night, leaving her hot and frustrated in the morning.
“Before you settle down with Mr. Right, you need to get your mojo back. You know, enjoy the single life and see what’s out there. Now”—she pointed at Sandra with her pen—“tell me what kinds of adventures you want to have. Your wildest, craziest fantasies. Let’s write them down.”
“I don’t see the point in making a list.” Sandra really didn’t want her fantasies written out in black and white. That seemed too … sordid.
“Ah, come on. If you can dream about them, you can talk about them.”
Sandra’s cheeks flushed. “I don’t think so.”
Aimee patted Sandra’s hand. “Honey, there’s nothing wrong with having fantasies. And it’s good to examine them. It’ll help you know what really turns you on. Which is good since you’re going to start dating again. Look, I’ll get us started. You told me about that one where you were captured by pirates and carried off to their ship, so…”
Sandra watched as Aimee wrote Be held captive beside the numeral one.
“Now you,” Aimee said, pen poised.
Sandra shrugged. “I don’t know. I can’t think of anything.”
“What about that book you were reading a couple of weeks ago? It had bondage, didn’t it?”
“Um … dominance and submission, actually.”
Aimee smiled. “You’d like to try that?”
Sandra shrugged again. Aimee nudged her shoulder.
“Come on. Get into the spirit of it. I’m just trying to help.”
Sandra took a sip of her champagne and gazed at Aimee’s deep blue eyes. She did want to help. Sandra sighed.
“Okay. Well, I’m not sure about the bondage and domination stuff. I’d have to know the guy pretty well.”
“Well, yeah.” Aimee nibbled on one of the chicken wings, then picked up the pen again. “Okay, let’s leave that one a little open.”
She wrote down item number two as Experiment with bondage.
“What else? Think about some fantasy that has really intrigued you that you know you’ll never try but wish you could.” She grinned. “And don’t be shy.”
One fantasy immediately popped into Sandra’s head. She’d caught part of a show on sexual fantasies and she’d been intrigued by one woman’s fantasy about being with a stranger. To her surprise, that had turned on Sandra immensely. Which was just crazy, especially since the only man she’d ever been with was her ex-husband, Eric.
“You’ve got one. I can see it in your eyes. Spill it.”
Sandra pursed her lips. “Well…”
“If you go, I’ll go.”
Sandra nodded. “It’s … well, being with a stranger.”
“You mean a one-night stand?”
“No, more like making love with someone and not knowing who it is.”
“So, like, some sexy guy is making out with you and you can’t see who it is? That’s pretty intense.”
Aimee wrote down item number three as Make love to a sexy stranger while blindfolded.
“Now yours,” Sandra said.
Aimee wrote item four on the napkin, then turned it toward Sandra so she could see.
Have sex with two men at the same time (maybe more).
Sandra felt her cheeks heat. “That’s some list we have there.”
Aimee laughed. “It’s only four items. We’re not done yet.”
“I think I am.”
“Okay, then. I’ll just put some down for your consideration.”
Aimee jotted several more items on the napkin as Sandra watched. Finally, she turned it so Sandra could read it.
1. Be held captive.
2. Experiment with bondage.
3. Make love to a sexy stranger while blindfolded.
4. Have sex with two men at the same time (maybe more).
5. Be a love slave.
6. Have a love slave.
7. Be a voyeur.
8. Try exhibitionism.
“Want anything else?”
Sandra nearly jumped at the waitress’s voice. She wanted to snatch the list from Aimee and stuff it in her purse, but the young woman didn’t even glance at it.
“Yes. How about a couple of piña coladas?” Aimee said.
Sandra smiled and nodded. She loved piña coladas.
The waitress picked up the empty champagne bottle from the table and placed it on her round tray, then grabbed the two empty flutes. She disappeared into the crowd.
Sandra picked up a piece of zucchini from the appetizer tray and dipped it in the dressing, then took a bite. The waitress returned a few moments later with their drinks. Sandra took a sip.
“It’s about time.” Aimee glanced over Sandra’s shoulder.
Sandra glanced around to see Devlin approaching their table. His glittering gaze locked on her as he walked toward them with his usual relaxed gait, a charming half smile curling his lips.
Although she couldn’t see the color of his eyes in this light, she knew they were as blue as the sky at dusk, dusted with golden specks, and surrounded by a midnight blue ring. The raspy shadow across his jaw gave him a definite masculine allure, and he’d tied back his medium brown shoulder-length hair, which was typical on a workday. His relaxed casual-Friday outfit consisted of well-worn jeans and a brown tweed blazer over a brown striped shirt.
Sandra slid farther into the booth to make room for him, and he sat down beside her.
His gaze fell to the table. “What’s this?”
Oh, damn. Sandra tried to grab the cocktail napkin as he plucked it from the table—the napkin with the list scribbled on it—but he snatched it out of reach and began to read.
His grin broadened, revealing his strong white teeth. “Well, this is quite the menu. Are there pictures to go along with it?”
“You are so bad.” Sandra’s hand brushed across his broad chest as she tried to reach the list, but he held it farther away from her. She stretched her arm more, trying to grab the small square napkin, but his arms were longer than hers. Suddenly, she realized she was practically draped across him, her chest against his, and she became intensely aware of his muscular arm beneath her fingertips, her breasts pressed against his solid, ridged chest, his face far too close to hers. Kissably close.
And kissing wasn’t something she intended to do with Devlin. He was her friend.
She drew back and tugged the sides of her shirt down, then smoothed it over her hips, her lips pursed.
Now would come the teasing.
“Is this your weekend to-do list?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“Well, maybe you and I can talk her into it,” Aimee said with a wink. “I’ve convinced her to stretch her imagination a little. Now we need to convince her to go a bit wild.”
Devlin grinned, his amused gaze settling on Sandra.
“Especially now that she’s lifted her ban on sex.” Aimee rested her chin on her hand. “A whole year without.” Aimee shook her head and gazed at Sandra. “I don’t know how you lasted so long.”
* * *
Devlin watched Sandra’s cheeks blush softly. He didn’t know how he’d lasted so long. From the first time he’d met her, he’d been crazy about her. Aimee had told him Sandra had recently divorced and how tough it had been on her, so he’d decided to tread carefully. He’d gotten to know her, becoming her friend, making sure to give her plenty of time, hoping when she was ready, she’d agree to go out with him. Then he’d show her why the two of them were perfect for each other.
But timing was everything. The woman hadn’t been with anyone else since high school, and she was clearly on the rebound. The first few guys she dated wouldn’t—shouldn’t—lead to something permanent. He needed to wait it out awhile longer, let her get a taste of the single life. Then once she was firmly ensconced in the dating world, he’d swoop in and make his move.
* * *
Sandra held one of Devlin’s arms and Aimee the other as the three of them stepped outside into the warm summer’s evening. Sandra took a deep breath and realized she felt more than a little light-headed.
“My car’s around the corner,” Devlin said as he tugged her to the left.
“I’m glad we’ve got you as our designated driver,” Aimee said. “It beats taking the bus at this hour.”
Sandra took the bus to work and no express buses ran at this hour, so it would have been a long commute. Sometimes Aimee drove her car, but Devlin hadn’t even asked. Aimee and Sandra had both had enough drinks that he would ensure neither of them drove. Even though Sandra didn’t need a guy looking out for her, it was kind of nice that he did. Devlin was a good friend.
He opened the front passenger door and Sandra climbed in. Aimee got into the backseat—the usual arrangement, since he would drop off Aimee first. As he drove, Sandra relaxed in the front seat, her head against the headrest. Suddenly she realized they’d stopped—she must have dozed off—and Aimee was getting out of the car.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Devlin said. “I’ll just make sure she gets in all right.”
Sandra watched Devlin walk Aimee to the door of her apartment building, wondering why the two of them weren’t dating. Devlin was such a great guy, and available. Aimee really was missing out. Sandra sighed. Maybe she should say something to Devlin.
A few minutes later, Devlin opened the driver’s door and slid into the seat beside her. He pulled the car into traffic again.
“So, the year’s finally over.” He glanced toward her, then back to the road. “Are you looking forward to dating again?”
She shifted in her seat. “Not really.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Well, I’m out of practice, for one.” She glanced over at him. “And don’t say it’s like riding a bike.”
“I guess I’m worried I won’t find anyone who wants to date me.” She fiddled with her hands in her lap. “And then I’m worried that if I do date someone, it won’t go well … I won’t know what to say or do. That kind of thing.”
“I’m sure you won’t have any problem finding someone—probably a lot of someones—who would love to date you.”
He gazed across at her. Was it her imagination, or was there a heated interest in his eyes? Butterflies quivered through her stomach, but she realized it was most likely her imagination. Probably the alcohol hazing her judgment.
“And if you want to go on a practice date or two—”
“You’ll volunteer? But that wouldn’t really be the same thing. You and I are comfortable together. There wouldn’t be any of the awkwardness of being with a stranger.”
Devlin smiled but shook his head. “No, I was going to say that I could set you up with someone. Maybe introduce you to a couple of my friends over drinks, to see if you hit it off in a casual sort of setup.”
“Oh.” As much as she’d protested, she’d actually liked the idea that Devlin wanted to do some test dates with her. The idea that he wanted to pawn her off on his friends disappointed her for some reason.
He pulled in front of her building and parked the car, then walked around it and opened her door. She stepped out of the car and, as she breathed in the fresh night air, felt a little woozy. Devlin took her arm.
“I think someone celebrated a little too much tonight.” He took her hand and rested it on his elbow, then walked with her to the front door of her apartment building.
She rarely had more than a glass or two of wine with dinner, or a single cocktail in an evening, so the champagne and piña coladas had definitely gone to her head. She pulled her key from her purse and pushed it into the front door lock and turned it. Devlin opened the door.
“I’ll see you up,” he said.
She walked beside him across the air-conditioned lobby. He summoned the elevator and they stepped inside. As the doors closed behind them, Sandra realized how small a space it was and how tall Devlin was standing beside her. And how broad his shoulders were.
And how safe she felt around him.
His arm brushed hers, and she realized he hadn’t actually moved toward her; she’d listed a little to the left and now leaned against him slightly. She should move away, but it felt cozy leaning close to him like this. Her good friend. Her buddy.
Her sexy, extremely masculine buddy.
The elevator dinged and the doors opened. She stepped into the hallway and walked toward her apartment, Devlin by her side. The lights of the city glittered below them as she walked toward the big window at the end of the hallway, where her apartment door was. Devlin took her key from her fingers and pushed it into the lock, then turned it.
“You want to come in?” Sandra asked impulsively.
Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Batten-Carew