"For God's sake, have you lost your mind?"
Lon evaporated, and her ex-husband materialized, Roger's scandalized, hushed admonishment yanking her out of her fantasy at a critical juncture. Limbs flailing, Dana sank beneath the water of her swimming pool. Her nose and mouth filled. She rose to the surface, coughing and choking.
As she scissored her arms and legs to stay afloat, Dana glared at her ex poised on the deck. The omnipresent anger that simmered on a back burner flashed to a steaming boil at the sight of him, her ire heightened by the embarrassment of having been caught masturbating while floating in the pool. Her gaze shifted to the moonlit night sky in a brief, thankful acknowledgment that at least Roger hadn't been able to see inside her head.
"Are you crazy?" He scowled at her and then pointedly shifted his attention to the Corbins' wooden fort, which topped the eight-foot privacy fence. "Anybody could be watching you." Anybody meaning the two curious, towheaded, elementary-school-aged boys who lived next door and who frequently occupied the fort. All the homes in her neighborhood were single-story ramblers like her own, and the fence had shielded the pool from view from all sides until the tree house was erected several months back. That had put an end to her skinny-dipping.
"First of all," Dana said acidly, ruing the fact that her swimsuit lay in a heap on the deck, "the Corbins are gone this weekend. They went camping." Before she'd left for work at the Creek's Crossing Power Company, she'd observed the parents packing up the twins, sleeping bags, ice chests, and other gear into the family SUV.
"Second, you have fucking nerve saying anything after I caught you and your bimbette." Her life had capsized the day she'd arrived home from work unexpectedly early and found Roger and the girl laughing and playing kissy-kissy-suck-face in her pool. The pool she'd wanted forever but Roger had dragged his feet about installing. The pool in which Roger rarely had swum, turning down her invitations to join her for a dip, citing fatigue or some rerun he'd missed on television. In an incomprehensible way, it pissed her off more that he'd gone swimming with the bimbette than the fact he'd fucked her.
Roger flushed, but his words overrode his conscience. "Let's not bring Mila into this."
"I didn't bring your bimbette into this. You did," Dana snapped. She refused to ever utter his mistress's name.
Roger's lips thinned with disapproval, whether at her accusation or the way she referred to his girlfriend, Dana wasn't sure. She didn't care. The truth was what it was.
This year they would have celebrated their twenty-fourth wedding anniversary, but their marriage had ended long ago. With the clarity of hindsight, Dana realized Roger had been cheating on her for years. However, this time Roger appeared serious about this girl, who had graduated high school only two years before their daughter. That's how Roger had met her--a friend of a friend, she ran in Katie's social circle and had been to their house.
Dana could understand Roger growing bored and seeking outside excitement, but she couldn't fathom him hooking up with a person young enough to be his child. Or vice versa. What did the girl see in a squat, middle-aged balding man who snored? The bimbette should be dating boys her own age--like the neighbors' older son, Lon.
Lon. Her stomach quickened, and her clit perked with interest at the mere thought of him. How old was he, anyway? Twenty-five, maybe?
How would Roger feel if she took a young, virile lover? Inadequate, she hoped. Not that she would do it. She didn't understand the cougar-relationship thing women her age raved about. What did you do with a young lover besides the obvious? After you screamed your final "oh baby," what did you talk about? Dana wasn't into rap music or video games or celebrating one's fledgling adulthood by getting drunk. Her adulthood was long past fledgling.
Nor would Lon be interested in a woman who had been born when music was still played on vinyl records.
People told her she looked good. Of course, they almost always added the qualifier, "for your age." Her hair brushed her shoulders and was the color of sable, according to the box in her bathroom medicine chest. Her brown eyes were fringed with thick lashes, her mouth neither too thin nor too plump. She weighed close enough to what she did on her wedding day to fudge on her driver's license and not raise eyebrows.
Still, if she dated a younger man, she would feel compelled to keep her chin up, her stomach in, and her makeup on. Who wanted to work that hard?
Lon would have to remain cemented in fantasy.
If it was a little hypocritical to even imagine bedding a man young enough to be her son while condemning Roger for screwing someone their daughter's age, then so be it. She was only pretending. Roger had acted on his prurient impulses. Not the same at all.
Her ex couldn't be content with upending her life--he had to interrupt her much-needed Friday-night downtime and her fantasies too. Dana scowled at him. "You moved out. We agreed I would have the house until we worked out the settlement. You have no right to just drop by."
Her arms and legs were starting to feel heavy and ache with the effort of treading water. She wasn't a strong swimmer--could barely get from one end of the pool to the other--and staying afloat while carrying on a full conversation was taxing.
"I left four messages between your cell and the house phone. You won't return my calls."
True. She'd noticed his messages and deleted every one without even listening to them. "If you have something to say, have your attorney speak to my attorney."
"We were married--we ought to be able to talk to one another."
Talk to one another? The simple word scraped across a still-tender wound. She had tried to talk to him during the silent, sexless months when she knew something was wrong. She had tried to talk to him when he admitted he was having an affair and announced he wanted out of their marriage. She had tried to talk to him to settle the divorce without attorneys. She had tried to talk to him when Roger reneged on his initial agreement to let her keep the house and instead insisted they sell it and split the assets. "Talk to my attorney," he had said.
"You...you--" Dana stuttered, unable to call forth a name bad enough. She jerked her arm back and drove her palm forward, shooting a wall of water into his perfidious face.
"That was childish, wasn't it?" Roger said, dripping water and condescension.
"The only thing childish is your bimbo." She thumped her forehead with the flat of her hand. "Oh, I forgot. That's because she is a child." Dana jerked her head back and spied a flash of light coming from the children's fort. What was that?
Roger stalked to her lounger near the shallows and used her towel to dry his face. "Why don't you get out of the pool, and we'll discuss this like--" He broke off and took a breath.
Like adults, he'd been about to say. But he'd cut off his retort because he was trying to act reasonable, calm. Now that was novel.
Dana counted to ten to give reason time to gain control of her mouth. As much as she longed to tell her ex to fuck himself, if Roger wanted to deal, it was in her best interest to hear him out. She needed to act smart, not let resentment make her decisions.
"I can't get out--I'm not wearing anything," she announced as if he couldn't see through the water, as if her suit wasn't puddled on the deck, as if he hadn't caught her masturbating only minutes earlier.
"I've seen you naked before." Roger surprisingly left the worst unsaid.
Why should she cower in the water because he couldn't keep his dick in his pants? She had nothing to be ashamed of, least of all her body. Add to that, she wasn't sure how much longer she could continue to tread water. Dana struck out for the side of the pool, slapping and churning up froth like an ungainly creature nature had never intended to enter water. Anyone who happened to see her swim could be excused for thinking she was drowning.
At the edge of the pool, she hesitated only slightly before accepting the hand Roger offered. He hoisted her out of the pool with a tug and then pressed a towel into her hands, averting his gaze from her nudity.
Was that how it was? After fucking his young girlfriend, he'd found her forty-five-year-old body so lacking he didn't even want to look at her anymore? Another kick to a tender wound. Dana wrapped the towel around herself with a snap; she didn't want Roger to leer at her, but she wanted him to want to.
Her wet hair clung to her neck, dripped down her back. She crossed her arms, her left atop her right, her gaze flicking over the sight of her ringless fourth finger, a testament to the fact she was getting over the breakup. She no longer felt naked not to wear her wedding band. "Okay. Talk," she said with a huff.
Roger focused on the flowers cascading out of a tall pot. Dana recalled his criticism of her container garden. He'd considered it unnecessary and silly when she filled the dozen large planters with colorful, fragrant blooms to soften the expanse of the cement surrounding the pool. He turned his gaze from the peonies and looked at her. "You can buy me out of the house. I wanted to tell you in person, so you don't wonder anymore."
The settlement of their house had held up finalization of the divorce. To Roger, their home had never been anything more than a house, but to Dana, it was a sanctuary, a place to rejuvenate and refresh from the craziness of the world. She didn't know why Roger had been so insistent on selling it, only that he had been.
"Why now?" She arched her brows.
He sighed and ran a hand over the remaining wisps of hair that clung vainly to his scalp. "Because...because after everything that has happened, it's...it's..."
Dana could see the wheels cranking in his brain as he searched for a word that wouldn't unleash her temper.
"Fair," he finished.
Her amusement at the way he'd tiptoed through the minefield diffused the fury his comment might have ignited. Nothing about the breakup had been fair, but she could read the sincerity on his face. Roger had been a decent person until his dick had gotten the better of him.
"All right." She shrugged as if his concession were insignificant. She'd be damned if she thanked him for letting her keep her own house, for leaving her with a few crumbs while he skipped away with the entire loaf of bread.
"I'll, uh, have my attorney draw up the paperwork."
"Fair enough." Her lips twitched with amusement over the use of the word.
Roger nodded awkwardly, then turned and walked away, his wet shoes emitting a satisfying squeak on the concrete. After he exited the gate, she tilted her head back and gave the orb in the sky a thumbs-up. "I don't know how you did it, but thanks," she said.
Roger's abrupt about-face provided another piece of evidence to the veracity of the old tale that a full moon enticed people to act impulsively, recklessly. Not that she needed proof. The full moon had coincided with the worst freakish summer heat wave anyone in Creek's Crossing could remember.
As PR manager of the Creek's Crossing Power Company, she had spent her day trying to convince the whack jobs transferred to her office that aliens had not caused the heat wave nor had the government masterminded the rolling brownouts that resulted. In between, she'd fielded a barrage of media inquiries as to how the utility was handling the crisis. By the time she'd arrived home late in the evening, her nerves had been frayed like a pair of denim cutoffs. Her only thought was to relax with a skinny-dip in her swimming pool.
She glowered at the night sky. How was it possible it was over one hundred degrees at ten o'clock? Meteorologists had promised temperatures would subside within a week, but they were the same people who'd failed to predict it, so she put little faith in their forecasts.
After Roger's infidelity, she had little trust in anybody these days, even herself. And the tug of the moon didn't help.
But what an exceptional moon it was. Despite its deleterious effects on reason and sanity, it presented a magnificent lunar display. Its glow transformed night to dusk and illuminated her backyard, making lanterns unnecessary. Under its light, her motionless pool glistened like liquid silver.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spied another burst of light emanating from the children's fort, and then her ears picked up a shuffling noise. Dana's frown transformed to heart-stopping shock when a figure appeared in the doorway of the tree house.
Her jaw dropped.
"I'm sorry." The star of her secret fantasies stepped onto the first rung of the ladder.
Knowledge of what Lon must have witnessed flooded Dana in an explosion of heat, but she hoped against hope that somehow he'd sneaked into the tree house without her noticing during the last few minutes. "How long have you been there?" she demanded, silently cursing the unusually large and bright moon that had probably lit up her pool like a stage.
"I can explain," he began, and then she spotted the camera in his hand.
The flashes of light! "You took pictures of me?" Every possible worst-case scenario reeled through her mind. Would she have a starring role on the Internet? Yet beneath the wave of horror lurked an undertow of salacious excitement.
"No!" He motioned with both hands and nearly fell off the ladder. "No, I only came to retrieve the camera. My brothers left it in the fort. My family went camping, and my dad asked if I would pick it up for him." His words spilled out in a rush.
"You can check it if you'd like." Lon held it out to her, and a beam of moonlight glinted off the oversize face of his heavy wristwatch.
Her hammering heart slowed, and Dana pressed a calming hand to her chest and shook her head. "That's okay," she said on an exhaled breath. She believed him. Didn't know why she did, but she did. "Isn't it rather late to run errands?"
"I had a long shift at the hospital. I'm a physician--a resident. I thought I could get it this evening and save time tomorrow. I had just climbed up here when you came out."
"You should have announced yourself right away."
"You're right. But everything happened so quickly."
She'd gotten naked so fast was what he meant. She'd stripped off her black maillot and cannonballed into the pool within seconds of entering her backyard.
Dismay still burned her face that Lon had watched her, but a curl of desire flared lower in her body. He'd liked what he'd seen enough to stick around.
"I'll go. Again, I apologize for embarrassing you." He sounded sincere, but in the glimmer of his moonlit gaze, she spied appreciation. He could have his choice of women--young, pretty girls--yet he found her attractive. A pulse throbbed in her neck and between her legs.
Lon began to descend the ladder, then stopped midway and twisted around. "It's none of my business, but I think your husband is giving up a lot more than a house." There was no mistaking the admiration in his eyes this time.
"Thank you." Her voice came out husky as all her senses shifted from yellow to red alert. A gorgeous, hot man she'd admired from afar was looking at her as if she was the hot and gorgeous one. She felt like she was poised atop the high dive of life about to plunge headfirst. As she peered up at Lon, the moon's glowing face egged her to take the leap. Do it. Do it.
"Don't rush off on my account. Why don't you join me for a dip?" Dana took a deep breath and released her inner siren and her towel. Head high, she sauntered to the pool and sashayed three steps into waist-deep water. With a slow pivot, she turned to face him.
Lon was gone.
Humiliation blazed, leaving no cell uncharred.
Dana hugged herself, crisscrossing her arms over her naked breasts in a futile attempt at comfort. Idiot! What did you expect? Of course he's not interested in you. She'd mistaken simple politeness for attraction. God, he probably would regale his buddies with the story of the pathetic, nude, middle-aged divorcee who had come on to him. Thank goodness Lon didn't actually live next door, so their paths wouldn't meet very often. She hoped never.
She should feel grateful his rejection saved her from embarrassing herself further. Good God, what would she have done if he'd accepted her rash offer? She had no business plunging off the high dive--nonswimmers belonged in the shallow end. No wonder her bold gesture had turned into a humiliating belly flop. What had she been thinking? Perhaps Roger was right. She was insane.
The gate creaked, and Lon appeared.
Every molecule of her body began to vibrate. Unable to move a single muscle, she gaped as Lon ambled to the pool, pulled off his T-shirt in a single fluid motion, and tossed it onto the cement. "I was hoping you'd ask," he said, her fantasy springing to life in word and deed.