"It's decided, ladies. I'm taking the sex-for-hire route."
Holly, Annie, and Sophie all choked on their drinks. "What?" they squawked almost simultaneously.
Christy propped her legs on the empty chair in front of her and, throwing her head back, finished her shot. Yep, tequila nights were definitely the best.
"I'm going to hire myself a first-class stud," she stated, her gaze fixed on the dark sky, literally bursting with stars. "If you're smart, you will too. Although you guys need to get your own--I'm not comfortable sharing."
She left the shot glass on the table of her deck and smirked at the stupefied girls.
A stud for hire.
She had no clue where the heck that thought had come from. It'd probably crept in sometime between the fourth and fifth rounds of shots, but now that it was out there, it made a world of sense...in a totally messed-up, sex-deprived, alcohol-distorted sort of way.
"A stud for hire? What on earth for?" Annie asked in a slurred voice.
Holly waved in exasperation. "Please, Annie. Isn't that self-explanatory? Sex, honey, sex."
Annie's glazed eyes opened wide. "As in a man whore?" She shook her head. "But...but you're beautiful, Chris. You don't need to--"
Christy cut her off. "Hell yes I need to." Beautiful or not, she knew her limitations. Landing a decent guy on her own--for sex or for anything else--was apparently one of them. "I want to, actually."
She was drunk enough to be blunt, and well, she hadn't had sex for ages and good sex for a hell of a lot longer--her whole life, probably. It had never bothered her that much, but tonight the unfairness of it all stunk to high heaven.
"I've come to accept that love and happily-ever-afters are not meant for me. I get it. I really do," she said, turning her glare up to the black sky. "But where is it written I have to make do without experiencing good sex for the rest of my life, huh? Where?" she demanded, raising a fist into the night a la Scarlett O'Hara.
The girls giggled.
Christy sighed. "It shouldn't be this hard. There's gotta be something wrong with me."
Duh, no shit. The understatement of the century.
Holly came to her rescue. "Nothing's wrong with you, sweetie. It's the male pool that's rapidly decaying. Brainless jerks, the whole bunch of 'em."
"I'll drink to that," Sophie said.
Christy wasn't so sure. She understood Sophie, who was after all in the middle of getting a divorce and had no sympathy for the opposite sex. She also understood sexpot Holly. The girl could catch and keep any man she wanted--if she wanted to, which was the key point here--but other people found great guys all the time, real keepers. It had to be Christy's fault that she always drew the shortest straw.
This is truly pathetic! I'm pushing thirty-four, for crying out loud. There must be more to sex than what I got, when I got any. I want to see fireworks, bright lights...I want vortices of passion, the pulsing, the clawing, and the screaming. The multiple orgasms! Instead all I got was...
"...unskilled men unable to find your G-spot even with a state-of-the-art GPS embedded in their finger," Sophie finished. "I know, sweetie. Join the club."
Oh God! Had she said that out loud? Apparently.
Annie choked on her drink again while Holly broke into a laugh.
"Well...that too," Christy said, feeling her cheeks flame. That wasn't what she'd meant, but it wasn't exactly a lie either.
Holly jumped in. "That's nothing, girl," she said, addressing Sophie. "There's unskilled, and then there's unskilled. I have pretty horrible war stories myself. What about the jerks who think good oral sex consists of sucking your clit so hard it feels like you're stuck to a vacuum cleaner? You're there, squirming, about to pass out from agony, slapping at him and yanking his hair to get him to stop, and what does the moron do? Thinks you're coming, redoubles his efforts, and obnoxiously grins at you."
They all dissolved into laughter while Holly rolled her eyes. "Laugh all you want, ladies, but let me tell you, I'd rather get my teeth removed, one by one, without anesthesia, before letting anybody unqualified near my poor clit again."
The girls were now laughing so hard they were crying and holding their stomachs.
"At least he went down on you. Shouldn't he get points for trying?" Sophie asked.
Holly snorted. "Nope. No sympathy points. I'm a person, not an NGO. I want them housebroken; absolutely no beginners. Either they know what they're doing, and I mean really know, or they can hit the door."
"When did that...uh...vacuum cleaner experience happen?" Annie asked, mopping her tears.
Holly took several seconds to answer, building their expectation. "Um...remember that GQ investment consultant I dated a while back?"
Annie's jaw dropped to the floor. "No way! The smooth talker?"
Holly assented. "Useless mouth if you ask me."
They all doubled over again. Christy was the new kid on the block and she didn't know any GQ investment consultant, but she knew outspoken Holly wouldn't put up with much shit when it came to men, much less oral sex gone bad.
"And don't get me started on foreplay..."
"In that area," Sophie began, "you got nothing on me--I win hands down. Have you ever had an ice cube on your privates straight out of the freezer? Without any warning whatsoever?" She looked around. "No, I guessed not. Well, I have. The height of foreplay, I tell you. My soon-to-be ex decided to get creative and go all 91/2 Weeks on me."
Christy was confused. "I don't remember that scene in the movie."
"Exactly my point," Sophie said with a grunt.
Now Holly's jaw went slack. "Oh shit! What happened?"
"What happened? Frostbite happened. I should probably be grateful he didn't think of getting it near my clit because it would've fallen off in pieces. Talk about permanent damage!"
The three girls looked at each other in stunned silence; then they looked at Sophie, who was sourly pouting, before breaking out in uncontrollable laughter yet again.
It took several attempts before they got the giggles down to manageable levels.
"You're outrageous when you're drunk. The three of you," Annie said.
"More like straight to the point," Christy muttered. She'd never been that sexually active, or that adventurous. She could count on one hand the guys she'd slept with--never one-night stands, always committed relationships, but she'd had her share of experiences. Her share of bad ones, that is. Good ones had, for the most part, eluded her. Maybe those were just urban legends. Freddy Krueger, the tooth fairy, and multiple orgasms.
Annie shook her head. "Come on, Chris, don't listen to these two. Despite your previous experiences, you can get both the lasting relationship and the great sex. I was quite happy with Ben in both areas. No big complaints."
Both girls glared at her until she capitulated with a long sigh. "Until of course he got that job in Boston, met Stan, and switched teams on me. That was the mother of all surprises."
"And a deal breaker, with you having a vagina and all that," Sophie said while Holly chuckled.
"Don't be mean," Annie chided and then turned her attention to Christy. "And you, nowhere is it written that you won't get your happily ever after. Give our little town a chance. You've been here for what...four months?"
"Five," Christy answered.
Annie gave her a "duh" look. "Exactly. Short prelude if you ask me. Alden has some fine men; you don't need to go hiring gigolos out of...out of God knows where."
"Maybe, but do you see any of your fine men falling down at my feet? Or showing any interest at all, for that matter? Because if so, sorry, I've missed them."
Annie rolled her eyes. "You're the one running away from anyone who shows the slightest interest in you. The guy from the video store, for example."
Now Sophie was choking on her drink. "Please, Annie. He's weird, talks to himself when he gets nervous, which is all the time."
Christy sighed, resigned. "Nothing new there--weirdos gravitate toward me. Same shit happened in LA. I lived in that city for over ten years and didn't see a single movie star in the flesh. Not one, not even from afar. But weirdos? Ha! Those I met plenty. No, what I want for a change is someone who can fire me up. I want hot sex. Animalistic heat. Primal connection. I'd love the candlelight and the romance to go with that, but since it isn't meant to be, I'd settle for something I've never had: screaming, blinding orgasms," she said, not quite believing she was uttering the words. She was more inhibited than that when it came to sex. It must have been all the liquid courage she'd guzzled down, because she couldn't bring herself to feel too much shame. Self-pity? Yeah, boatloads of it, but no shame.
"Oh boy, Christy's been reading steamy romances again, haven't you?" Holly said, frowning. "Honey, those aren't real. I wish they were, but they aren't. That kind of man doesn't exist. Take my word for it."
"Holly's right," Sophie said. "Reality is frostbite and vacuum-cleaner horror experiences, five-minute lays, unskilled fingers, and other rather unappealing appendages probing all over the place and frustrating the hell out of you. And nasty, expensive divorces, of course."
Annie looked up from her drink. "You need firing up? Then you should try one of the Bowen brothers. They'll scorch your underwear just with a look."
"And how would you know about that, Ann Marie? Have you been holding out on us?"
Annie blushed. "No, but I sell candy. People like to talk around sweets." And it was no big secret those three Bowen brothers were the county's most sought-after bachelors. Even Christy had heard about their exploits during the first week of being in Alden. Hell, she hadn't checked, but they were probably featured as centerfolds in the town's tourist guide. James, the middle one, had now gotten engaged, which had apparently sent the town's entire female population into full-blown, hold-on-to-your-panties, get-yourself-a-Bowen-husband-before-they're-gone hysterics.
"Sure, like there's a chance in hell they'd give me the time of the day," Christy said, rolling her eyes. Although Cole, the older of the Bowen brothers, always so contained, with that Viking-warrior vibe he had going on, those rugged, sexy looks, and that I'm-in-charge attitude, sure made her mouth water every time she saw him. And her nipples peak and her sex flood too, not that she was admitting to anything. And not that he responded in any way. Every time they were in the same place, he seemed to be in pain or pissed, more interested in finding the nearest exit than in talking to her. It was depressing, really. "Let's get real here. Those guys are so frigging out of my league we might as well be from different planets. I'll stick with your average, run-of-the-mill Joe, thank you very much. They do enough damage as it is."
"You know, not everyone is like Todd."
Todd? Ah...yes, Todd.
It was a pity not even five heavily loaded tequila shots and a couple of beers had the power to erase that lower-than-dirt sneak from her memory.
"I know not everyone's like Todd." She sighed, looking down at her sad, empty glass. Intent on remedying the situation, she reached toward the table, in the process almost knocking over several empty beer bottles, and grabbed the tequila. Tequila nights were definitely a great idea--finest idea since coming to Alden. Thank God she'd let Annie, her old roommate from college, convince her to come visit. It'd been a wise move. At first she'd bunked on Annie's couch, intending to lick her wounds before returning to LA, but she'd loved the small town and the people and decided to stay. There was nothing back in LA for her, nothing at all. Besides, her successful career as a software engineer had left her in a very cushy spot financially, and she could afford the unpaid leave. Heck, she could even afford to invest her time in updating the town's library for minimum wage.
"Has he been calling you again?"
Christy nodded wryly. He'd been calling. Her mom had been calling. All she needed was her LA neighbor to call.
"Asshole," Holly hissed.
Yes, that he was. "He's history. Back to reality. I hate to state the obvious, but someone has to. I don't see a horde of admirers interested in me. And even if there were, I don't want to go through the whole trial-and-error crap again." Her shaky self-esteem couldn't take any more hits. "I don't want to date. I want to get laid. Big difference. And properly laid, mind you."
The girls giggled while Christy clumsily poured everyone their sixth round, some of the liquid sloshing out from the shot glasses in the process. She looked at the salt and the limes on the table. Ah, forget it. They were past formalities. It was time for old friend Jose Cuervo straight up.
"You don't want to date? Really?"
"Really." It wasn't so much that she didn't want to but that she sucked at it, and by now was pretty much scared shitless of it. And tired of trying her damned best and coming up short--in the sack and out. Wasn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? So there it was, certified nuts. Besides, Christy was well on her way to getting plastered and felt like giving in to excess, so she shook her head energetically, almost causing a dizzy spell. "Nope, no dates for me. As a matter of fact, now that we're into soul-deep confessions and life-altering decisions, I'm going to do something I should have done long ago. Wait here," she said as she left the glass on the table and shakily made her way inside from the deck. It was time. Drunk or not, now was the perfect moment to let go.
After tripping over her own feet several times, she decided to lose the summer sandals. There, much better, she thought as she found what she was looking for. Moments later and a bit wobbly from the extra movement, she made it out again to where her girlfriends were looking curiously at her. She released her tight grip and gave the pretty ring a last look. It was shiny, elegant, and beautiful. Pity she couldn't stand the sight of it.
"Is that your engagement ring? Your twenty grand, drop-dead gorgeous engagement ring? What are you going to do?" Holly asked, concerned.
Emotional feng shui.
"I'm cleaning house. About time too."
Before anyone could utter any complaints, she turned her back toward the yard, looked mischievously to her girlfriends, and, lifting on tiptoe, threw the ring high over her head as far away as she could manage. "There. Gone with the wind." She exhaled, throwing herself into the chair. "No more searching for my soul mate; I've given up on that. I won't ever deceive myself either. No more relationships. Obviously there's no need for me to save any bucks for a mortgage on a big house, kids' college funds, a minivan, or family vacations, so I'll invest the surplus wisely--I'll get the best escort money can buy, and I'll get monumentally laid. Professionally laid. If I'm lucky and the work holds, more than once." She'd always put the relationship before the sex, and neither one had worked. She'd felt inadequate in bed and unappreciated out of it. No more. Time to change tactics.
She reached for her tequila shot. Holly was wrong. Christy hadn't been reading steamy romances. No, she'd been devouring self-help manuals, which was about to come in handy. "You know, it's within everyone's own reach to get what they want out of life. It's just a matter of attitude and positive affirmations." Without thinking too much, she clambered up, shakily climbed onto the empty stone flowerpot sitting at the edge of the deck, and raised her hands to the sky, spilling half her tequila in the process.
Holly chucked. "Get down from there. You'll break your neck, and no one here is in any condition to take you to the ER."
"What on earth are you doing?" Annie asked with wide eyes.
"Pledging myself to this new course."
"Your stud won't come from the skies, Chris," Sophie answered. "You are a techie. You should know the Internet is a better option. Let's just Google it."
Christy ignored them. Extreme situations called for extreme measures. "My neighbor said the night of June twenty-fourth is magic, and she also said my backyard is strategically located. 'Cosmically speaking, very powerful' were her exact words."
"Your neighbor's loony tunes, and it's the twenty-eighth, almost a week later, honey."
"So? Some power must be lingering," she said, refusing to be derailed, and her back to her friends, she proceeded to scream to the night, "I, Christine Sheridan, vow that I'm done. No more searching for husband material. Or for love. No more meaningful long-term relationships. Just give me orgasms! Big, mind-blowing ones!" she added, flashing a look at her girlfriends, who were dissolving into giggles. Christy fought to keep her face straight and continued, "I'm getting on with my sex life and I...will...get...my...stud!"
It took her some moments to realize that her friends' laughter had suddenly died out and someone was clearing his throat.
"Holy tamoli. It works," she heard Annie mumbling.
With her arms still up to the sky, Christy turned her head, and her gaze strayed to the left, where Cole Bowen was standing with his bulging arms crossed over that rock-hard chest, his left eyebrow raised. Her footing gave out.
"Careful there," Cole said as he caught Christy on her way down, that raspy, low voice of his sending her pulse skyrocketing and giving her goose bumps even under her nails.
She landed in his arms, and less than a second later, the booze landed over his chest.
"Oops, sorry," she whispered, trying to clean the liquid from his shirt, which did nothing but spread it out and give her a chance to totally and shamelessly feel him up. "When...? How...? Where did you come from?" she asked, equal parts awed and embarrassed.
"Mr. Spock, the quantum hyperparticles time-space disturbance has been spotted hiding in the stone flowerpot. The Federation is saved," Holly joked as Sophie dissolved into laughter.
Christy threw both a hard glance.
"Hello, ladies," Cole answered, his gaze never straying from Christy's as he steadied her on her feet but didn't let go. "I was on my way home when this landed on my head." He showed her the ring.
"Oh." Fantastic. Time and space were definitely conspiring against her. The ring was back. Not acceptable. She tried to straighten herself and appear less drunk. If not less drunk, then at least less slurred. "Thanks, but I meant to throw it away," she managed to say, those deep green eyes of his holding her spellbound. Jesus, he was handsome. Rough and masculine, with dirty-blond hair framing harsh, angular features and a glint of golden stubble marring his jaw. And not only was the sight of him mesmerizing, but his scent...wow. So male, so sexy. Mouthwatering. As a matter of fact, this close, if she swayed a bit his way, she bet she could taste him. Flick her tongue over his gorgeously tanned skin without him noticing. Before her fuzzy brain could process the thought, her body leaned toward him, mouth already open. Oh God, what the hell was she doing? She jumped away. She had to put some distance between them before she convinced herself that giving him a big lick was the thing to do.
She cleared her throat. "I didn't mean to litter. Please leave the ring in the Salvation Army's donation box, will you? Or in the church's. It's just at the end of this street. Someone should benefit from it, after all; no sense in throwing good money down the sewer," she said as she sat down on her chair.
"If you insist," he replied, a slow smile creeping across his face. Whoa. He never smiled--at her, that is. Around her he had only two moods: either he was glowering or about to. Which was good, work conducive really, because if he was handsome while glowering, when smiling he was just devastating--flat-out irresistible.
"Are you ladies okay?" he asked, looking around.
They all nodded. "Ladies' night in."
"I see. Good night then," he said as he turned to leave.
Boy, the man looked as good going as he did coming. He had without a doubt the most magnificent body she'd ever seen. Broad shoulders, lean hips, strong, powerful legs, tight a--Yeah, well, tight.
When she managed to unglue her eyes from his backside, she noticed Annie was making her way up on top of the flowerpot. "What are you doing?"
She was already raising her hands to the sky. "What do you think I'm doing? Claiming my stud, of course!"