"You're saying the only guy you've ever had sex with was the creep you were engaged to?"
Maddie Carlisle hushed her friend and cast a furtive glance around the crowded Boston bar. With no one paying attention to the three women at their table, she leaned forward and lowered her voice. "So what? Sex is overrated anyway."
Kelly and Jules stared at her with open-mouthed astonishment. Jules dared to ask the next question. "Have you ever had an orgasm?"
"Of course I've had an orgasm," Maddie replied with a feigned pout of indignation. She could not hide her laughter for long. Her lips curled into a mischievous grin and she picked up her drink to give a jaunty toast, "But not with a man!"
Kelly gasped. "You're a lesbian?"
Both Maddie and Jules laughed loudly at her naive comment.
"Electronics, honey," Maddie drawled. "Who needs a man when I've got BOB--my Battery Operated Boyfriend?
"Seriously, Maddie," Kelly wrinkled her dainty nose and pushed her empty nacho plate away. "You and the hemorrhoid have been over for a year now. When are you going to start dating again?"
"I'll start dating again," Maddie twisted a lock of around her fingers, "when I find a man who meets my criteria."
"Do you have a list?" ever-practical Jules asked. Jules lived her life with lists. Her friends often teased that she might even have lists for her lists, but Jules never would confirm or deny the vicious rumor.
"Sure." Maddie winked at Kelly when Jules pulled out her Palm Pilot to take notes. "He must be single, never married and no kids. Financially stable, a non-smoker, tall, dark and drop-dead gorgeous."
"What about a great kisser and fabulous lover?" Jules twisted her flaming red hair up into a loose bun, a style she often wore at work.
Maddie laughed. "Uh-oh. Here comes the legal interrogation. The only thing you need now are granny glasses to complete the look."
Jules stared Maddie down, causing Kelly to giggle and Maddie to shift uncomfortably on the vinyl bench. She brought a sandal-clad foot under her while Jules kept up her penetrating stare.
"I told you, sex is overrated."
"Then you know what, honey--you've never had sex," Jules drawled.
Kelly giggled. "Yeah, Maddie, you're still officially a virgin."
"Oh, please!" she scoffed. "I'm twenty-seven and I was engaged to be married. Remember?"
"I think you should have a one-night stand." Jules stated matter-of-factly. Kelly nodded in agreement.
Maddie stared at her friends in bewilderment. "Why in the world would I want to do that?"
"A man could meet every item on your list, Madison, but if the sex ain't good, there ain't no reason to continue."
"Come on, guys. I'm not a one-night stand kind of person." Maddie pursed her full unpainted lips. "I'm a romantic and believe in long-term relationships based on communication and trust."
Kelly and Jules both rolled their eyes at her usual mantra, but Kelly patted her arm with a sympathetic 'tsk.' "There's nothing wrong with romance and communication, hon, but great sex makes those things even better."
"Maybe." Maddie shrugged and finished off her Captain Morgan and Coke. "But I've always thought a great relationship with a man made the sex better. I want the relationship first, then the sex."
"Uh huh." Jules's beautifully pointed chin lifted in disdain. "That has worked well for you in the past."
Maddie rolled up a napkin and threw it at her friend. "You have a point, but things are going good for me now. I have a great job, a new car, and I'm even going back to school for my Bachelor's degree. I'm much too busy to even think about a man right now."
"Perfect time for a one-nighter," Jules allowed.
"How many have you had?"
Jules tossed a shrug of nonchalance. "Honey, you are talking to the queen of one-night stands."
Shaking her head, Maddie turned to her other friend. "Kelly? Have you ever..."
Kelly's pixie face flushed pink. "A couple of months after Jeff and I separated, I went on a date with a friend of my cousin. Truthfully, the sex was lousy. I have to give Jeff credit. He was good in the sack."
Kelly's blue eyes clouded over. Although the words did not cross her lips, Maddie knew what her friend thought: Jeff was a good lover because of the succession of affairs throughout their eight-year marriage.
"Jeff is a peckerhead!"
Leave it to Jules not to mince words. Kelly's eyes cleared from their brief hint of pain and she raised her glass in a toast. "Ain't that the truth?"
The three clinked glasses in agreement as the waitress appeared, asking if they wanted a refill.
"Sure, we'll have another round," Jules answered with a mischievous tone. "I've also got a question."
Maddie met Kelly's horrified stare, which echoed her own thought. She wouldn't dare, would she?
"This is a busy place. I bet you see a lot of people hook up. Are there any guys in particular we should stay away from? You know who I mean. The ones in here every week looking for a new score?"
Subtle, Jules, real subtle. As much as she wanted to berate her friend for being so forward, the look on the waitress's face was worth it. Her eyes dilated wider than if she had been on crack cocaine and her mouth started moving but nothing came out.
"Oh. Uh." She looked around, probably searching for a reason to escape their table, but somehow managed to gain her composure. "I guess we have regulars, but they usually head toward the patio out back. Let me take those plates for you."
The waitress lunged for the empty appetizer plates and flipped Maddie's over onto the table. A single nacho flew through the air and landed with a splat onto her shirt. Maddie picked the chip up only to find a red glob of salsa staining her white blouse. She sighed. It couldn't be a tiny drop of salsa. Nope. It was a glaring red bulls-eye on her left boob.
"Oh! I am so sorry."
She hurried to reassure the flustered girl. She didn't want the waitress to make a scene. Thankful for the distraction, she excused herself and made her way to the ladies' room located behind a maze of hallways.
Love, sex, and relationships were common conversation topics between the three friends, yet this particular subject never came up before. Their revelations weren't surprising. Men tripped over themselves to be with either Jules or Kelly.
Men adored tall, model-thin Jules Sinclair with the long hair the color of autumn leaves and the devil-may-care attitude. Plus, she was rich. With her father owning the premier fashion magazine in Boston, her name alone became a beacon of her financial status. It was a curse as far as Jules was concerned.
As for Kelly, despite having two children, she managed to keep her athletic body fit. Kelly, always the go-getter, could tackle a broken pipe, or fix the lawnmower. Yet she also brought out the protective nature in the opposite sex with her delicate, compact frame and untamable blond curls. It didn't matter how hard she tried to do things on her own, before long men swarmed by her side to take over the difficult tasks.
They were perfect friends. Jules taught her and Kelly all about clothes and makeup. Kelly taught her and Jules about strength, fortitude, and how to ride out the rough times. And she gave her two friends a look at the humorous side of life along with the close-knit family they craved.
Staring in the mirror in the tiny restroom, Maddie examined her Plain-Jane looks. Average height. Stick-straight brown hair. Her face lacked a heart shape or prominent cheekbones and her lips seemed too full. Although thick, dark lashes tipped her eyes, the ordinary brown shade of her irises overshadowed such a small point of beauty.
What she noticed most was the weight she had put on during her tumultuous relationship with Clark. In a crowded bar filled with beautiful women like Jules and Kelly, men would not notice an average-looking woman like herself. Add those extra pounds and forget it. She might as well be invisible.
With a heavy sigh, she wet a paper towel and dabbed at the salsa stain. She had carefully chosen this outfit, too. Whenever she went out in public with the girls, she spent hours going through her closet to find the right clothes to help her fit in with her friends. Not that they ever cared, but she did.
While Kelly always dressed casually, her flawless skin required no makeup, and her thick blond curls drew lots of attention. Jules, on the other hand, never left her house without the full array of makeup in place and her clothes were always of the best quality and at the height of current trends.
Maddie chose the navy Capri pants because they slimmed her hips; the white, button-down blouse slimmed her waist even if it didn't conceal the fullness of her chest.
Another glance in the mirror made her cringe. She'd erased the salsa with the wet cloth. Now, instead of the "hey, look at the slob" look she'd sported a minute ago, she stared at a wet, white blouse which, with the summer air-conditioning on full blast, did nothing to hide the pucker-factor, and, instead of the comfortable white cotton support bras she normally wore, she'd opted for the more expensive, let's have more lace than material type of bra.
Still fidgeting with her blouse, Maddie exited the restroom, turned down the hallway and shoulder-nudged through the door at the far end. Instead of the noise of bar patrons and cheesy jukebox music she'd expected, she stared at a row of white urinals.
"Oops!" Despite the cool air-conditioning, a warm blush heated her body. A giggle escaped, echoing in the empty room. She'd had two drinks in the past hour, and while she wasn't completely sober, she was a far cry from labeling herself as drunk, either. She wondered how many drunks missed the door to the bar and ended up here? She'd lucked out with the restroom being empty, but she could imagine the surprise of the men when a tipsy woman entered into their domain.
With a grin, she turned to exit the restroom and instead slammed into a hard wall of a body, much taller than her own five-eight frame, with a solid chest and shoulders that would make a football player envious.
He reached out to steady her and a whip of lightning zapped through Maddie. A tingle started where his strong hands gripped her shoulders and surged in all directions. Those thoughts vanished when she glanced up from the man's black shirt and into a face Michelangelo could not have sculpted any better. Green eyes sparkled with boyish charm.
One thought crossed through her mind: gorgeous.
"I believe this is the men's room." The male voice washed over her like pure, sweet honey. Damn! Bad enough having been caught in the wrong bathroom, but did it have to be by a man who turned her brain to mush with only a few words?
A new wave of heat crept up her neck and swept over her in a tidal wave and Maddie did what came naturally, she made a joke. "Yes, it's the men's room. Ever since my sex change, I can never remember where I belong."
She gave a dazzling smile and maneuvered around the man's large frame to find her way back to the bar. Her body hummed from the one brief touch. She could still feel where his hands had grasped her shoulders and her heart hammered as if she'd swum a mile.
What was happening to her? Men were an everyday occurrence in her life. Her two brothers filled their home with friends, many Maddie found quite attractive. She had even played on a co-ed swim team in high school, and those scantily-clad men never left her as flustered as she was now from the brief encounter with the stranger. At least she'd been quick with a good comeback. Jules and Kelly would have a good laugh over this one.