"Hey, everyone, Faith's got a sex problem she needs to talk about."
It was very late on a hot February evening, and Faith had almost dozed off, lying on the cool tiles with her feet in the pool and her arm across her face. However, as Eve threw the comment into the conversation like a hand grenade, Faith winced and sat up, sensing an impending explosion. She didn't have long to wait. The three guys sitting around the pool with her and her best friend were quick to voice their opinions on the subject.
Her brother was first. "Jeez, why the hell do I want to know about that?" Dan looked dismayed, as he always did when his little sister's sex life was the topic of conversation.
The other two shouted him down, however. Toby, who'd also been semi-dozing after his half-a-dozen beers, now sat up in his chair and turned it to face her. "Come on, give us the details."
Rusty, laconic as ever, lying stretched out on a sun lounger, just said, "Oh yeah," and winked at her.
Faith refused to be embarrassed. She'd known them all for ten years, since she was twelve and the boys were sixteen. She wasn't about to start being shy now. Still, she looked at the glass in her hand and cursed Eve for mentioning the issue. She'd only found out about it the day before, and she was still mulling over the details.
"Have another glass of wine," said Eve. "Then spill the beans." She'd just got out of the pool, and as she leaned over Faith, drips fell from her wet blonde hair. She offered Faith the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc they were halfway through.
"Thanks." Faith gave her a glare and took the bottle, topping up her glass. She shouldn't really have another. She'd been drinking all evening during the party--she found it difficult not to when the weather was so warm. Summer in the sub-tropical Northland of New Zealand was hot and humid, and they spent most of their evenings in and out of the pool, trying to keep cool. Now most of the Waitangi Day party guests were gone, and only the five good friends were left. Faith was tired and ready for bed, but they were all unwilling to end what had been a beautiful sunny day and a fun evening. Which was why they were still sitting by the poolside in the dark, the only light from the solar lamps around the fence, the girls with their feet in the water, listening to the cicadas and the occasional mournful cry of a kiwi bird in the bush.
She sipped her wine and cleared her throat. "Okay, I'm writing a new series of articles for the magazine, and they'll also appear on the magazine's website."
Her brother shook his head. His hair, light brown like hers, curled around his forehead and neck, and she made a mental note to remind him to get it cut. "I still can't believe there are so many people interested in listening to you witter on about nothing."
"Thank you, Daniel, for that vote of confidence."
Eve waggled her finger at him. "You shouldn't mock her--you know she's the magazine's most popular writer. And her column on their website's been voted the best editorial on women's matters in the southern hemisphere."
Toby grinned. "An editorial about ironing and lace curtains?" As Faith opened her mouth to protest, Rusty reached out a foot and pushed Toby's chair sharply so he nearly fell in the pool, and he squawked. "Hey."
Rusty raised an eyebrow at him. "Don't be so patronising. She deserves a bit more credit after all her hard work."
Faith nodded. "When you've read it, then you can pass comment on it."
Toby snorted. "Why would I want to read a website about periods and stuff?"
"Don't be such a bloody Neanderthal," Faith said. "I hope it's a bit more interesting than that."
"It is," said Rusty.
"Like you've read it," Toby scoffed.
"As a matter of fact I do read it. Every week." Rusty shrugged as everyone looked surprised. "Hey, rule number one, know thine enemy."
Faith laughed, pleased he'd made the effort. "Sounds very sensible to me."
He grinned. "So what are the new articles about?"
"Well, I did one a few weeks ago about women's sex lives. It was really popular, and it raised some very interesting statistics."
"Like..." prompted Dan.
"Like the fact that four out of ten of the women who commented rarely have oral sex performed on them."
"You're kidding." Dan spoke, but they all looked horrified.
"Nope. And for women over thirty, sixty-five percent of them had sex less than once a week."
Eve sighed. "Well that's something to look forward to."
Faith nodded. "It's quite a shocking statistic. Anyway, they've asked me to write a series of further articles about ways to spice up your love life." She sipped her wine. "I've had a think, and I'm going to call it 'Seven Sexy Sins'. I'm going to base it on the seven original sins, with each one relating to a 'sexy sin'. The idea is that your average housewife, who's struggling in the bedroom, could show her partner the list and work through them with him."
They all nodded. "Sounds like a good idea," said Dan. "So what are the seven sins then? Run them by us, see if we agree."
"Okay." She took another sip. "Number one: envy. I'm thinking of relating this to watching porn, you know, looking at other people's bodies and what they get up to, so housewife and hubby can come up with some ideas for things to do themselves."
They all seemed to agree with that. "Two?" asked Toby.
"Sloth. Oral sex. Letting your partner do all the work."
"Absolutely." Dan frowned. "I still can't believe four out of ten women aren't getting it."
Faith cleared her throat. She had her own views on that statistic but didn't want to share just yet. "Three, gluttony. I'm thinking...sex and food. Whipped cream, chocolate sauce. Spreading it on and licking it off. Like in Nine and a Half Weeks with Kim Basinger. Remember the ice, and the strawberries?"
"Oh yeah," said Rusty.
"Sounds calorific," said Eve.
"Well, there are low-fat options if you're watching your weight. And ice hasn't got any calories in it."
"True. Number four?"
"Pride. Having pride in your own body--doing a striptease for your partner. Dance of the seven veils and all that."
"Another good point," said Toby. "Five?"
She grinned. "They're getting a bit naughty now. Number five's wrath." She saw Rusty's lips begin to curve. "You can see where I'm going with this one. Some light bondage. Nothing scary, fur-lined cuffs or scarves, tying each other up."
"Six?" Rusty asked, looking more interested with each sin.
"Avarice. Greed. For orgasms. Multiple. As many as you can both manage in one night, using as many methods as you can think of, oral, sex toys, you name it."
They all started laughing. "I hate to ask what seven is," said Dan.
"Well it's lust. But ending on a nice, romantic note. Tantric sex."
"Thinking about sex all night and then not doing it at the end," said Eve.
"Sounds like your average night to me," said Toby ruefully. He hadn't had a date for several weeks.
They all giggled. "Actually," said Faith, "in this case I plan for it to mean taking time to just be with one another. Not touching, looking into one another's eyes, then when you do get down to it, taking it really, really slow." Unintentionally, her eyes met Rusty's. He'd been watching her as she spoke, an elbow on the arm of the sun lounger, resting his head on his hand. His reddish-brown hair, which had given him his nickname from a very young age, was curly and ruffled from repeated dips in the pool. His real name was Richard, but she'd never heard him called it. He wore only his swimming shorts, and the hot sun had turned his arms and chest a deep brown. Unlike the rest of them, Rusty hadn't been drinking, and his eyes were half-lidded from tiredness rather than alcohol. But there was still a spark of something deep within them, twinkling like a faraway star, something she couldn't quite place.
As he caught her gaze, he sipped his Coke and winked at her, and she stuck her tongue out at him before looking away. "So what do you think?"
"Sounds interesting," said Dan. "What's the problem?"
"Well, my readers like it when I talk about my own experiences. I think it makes them feel more normal, and it's one of the key successes of my blog."
Faith glanced at Eve, who smirked. Faith shrugged and looked down at where her legs were making circles in the water. "Well...the trouble is...I haven't actually done any of the things on the list."
She closed her eyes. The admission was not an easy one. They'd all been friends for so long that she knew about their love lives intimately. Toby was always explicit in describing his sexual encounters and left little to the imagination. Dan was a bit more circumspect with his little sister, but Eve--who'd been dating him for over six months now--gave her more of a rundown than she needed. And Rusty... Well, she'd consoled more of Rusty's ex-girlfriends than she cared to count, who were all more than willing to explain how they thought he loved them because he'd done this, and this, and this... So all in all, she had a good idea that between the three of them, the guys had probably covered every one of the seven sins she'd just detailed, and a few others to boot.
There was a moment of silence. She left it for as long as she could bear before looking up.
Toby's eyebrows had disappeared into his thick black hair. Dan looked uncomfortable. Rusty was studying her, head still tipped to one side, a slight frown on his face.
"You're kidding me," said Toby.
She swooshed her legs around in the water. "No."
"No." For the first time that evening, she felt her cheeks redden. Damn it. She'd promised herself she wouldn't get embarrassed. Her blog addressed the most intimate questions in women's lives, for God's sake--she discussed everything from sexual issues to personal medical problems. How could she let a tiny thing like this get to her?
"But..." Toby looked aghast. "You've had boyfriends."
"Selfish bastards, by the sounds of it," said Rusty.
Dan sighed. "Well I for one am glad to hear my little sis isn't that sexually experienced."
"Oh come on." Toby rolled his eyes. "That's hardly fair. How old are you, Faith, twenty, twenty-one?"
"Twenty-two, Dan! I mean, honestly. Do you want her to be one of the four out of ten women who don't get oral sex?"
Faith's cheeks burned even hotter. Toby grinned at her. Dan looked even more uncomfortable. And Rusty... He studied her, his green eyes still lit with that emotion she couldn't quite place. Why was he looking at her like that? She looked back at her feet, studying her painted toenails.
Dan cleared his throat. "Well, you can still write the articles, can't you? Just do some research on the internet."
"I can. It's just... Well, it's sod's law I get this commission after I split up with Jason. Not that he would have been much help," she added.
Toby laughed. "I knew he was a wet blanket. You need someone with a bit more know-how." He waggled his eyebrows.
Dan pointed his beer bottle at him. "Don't even think about it."
Faith sighed. "Dan..." Ever since their parents had died in a car crash three years before, her brother had become increasingly protective of her. Most of the time she welcomed it, but his fatherly attitude toward available men had begun to irritate her recently.
Toby shrugged. "What? I'm just saying, surely you'd rather your little sis be shown the delights of lovemaking from someone you know and trust?"
Faith grinned. "'The delights of lovemaking'? You're kidding me, right? If I need a quick shag around the back of the bike sheds, you'd be first on my list, sweetie."
They all burst out laughing at Toby's indignant face. "I'll have you know I'm a very considerate lover."
Eve patted his knee. "Of course you are, dear."
"I'm just saying, the offer's there."
"Thank you." Faith sighed. "But I guess I'm just going to have to use my imagination."
"Or watch a shed load of porn." Dan got to his feet. "I'm going to bed. Coming, hon?"
Eve took his outstretched hand. "Sure. See you guys."
They all said goodnight, and Dan and Eve disappeared inside. Toby yawned. "I'm off too. Want me to walk you home, Faith?"
"It's okay," said Rusty, "I'll drive her--I'm going past her house."
"Okay. See ya." Toby winked at Faith. "Don't forget--the offer's always there. I hate to think of you suffering."
"Thank you for being so thoughtful," she teased. "Goodnight."
He kissed her on the forehead, nodded at Rusty and walked off.
Faith stretched. "What time is it? I'm shattered."
Rusty looked at his watch. "Nearly one."
"Jeez. I've got a meeting in Whangarei tomorrow at nine. My eyes are going to be bloodshot."
He laughed. "Come on then, let's get you home."
They walked to his car, and she opened the passenger door, sighing as she saw the usual pile of books and papers on the front seat. "Rusty, honestly."
"What? My marking gets lonely if I leave it in the classroom. I like to give it a little ride home and back." Rusty taught history at the local high school.
"You know you're supposed to actually do the marking if you take it home?"
"You are? Damn, now I know where I've been going wrong." He cleared the seat, dumping everything in the back.
"I still can't picture you teaching." She slid into the seat. "Do your students write 'Love You' on their eyelids like they do to Indiana Jones?"
"Not quite." He got into the driver's seat, started the engine and headed out of the drive toward Kerikeri.
She sighed and closed her eyes. She hadn't told the others that she felt depressed about not having tried anything on the list she'd compiled. True, she was only twenty-two and had plenty of time to meet someone and experiment, but she hadn't even had a sniff of a date since she split up with Jason. She'd slept with two guys in her life, and neither of them had been inspiring in the bedroom. Like most of her readers on the blog, she was desperate to meet someone warm, funny and sexy, but at the moment the possibility seemed light years away.
She opened her eyes and smiled at Rusty. He was still bare chested, and she could feel the heat from his sun-brushed skin. If only his students could see him now. "Yeah. Just tired."
"You look down."
"I'm sexually frustrated. I need to be screwed senseless a few times and I'm sure I'd come good. Pardon the pun."
He laughed, his gaze leaving the road to glance at her. "You're not considering Toby's offer, are you?"
She stared at him, startled. "Good Lord, no. Why?"
"I just wondered."
"I mean, can you imagine? I love him dearly but I don't quite think he's the sort of guy I'm looking for."
"No." He smiled. "Have you got anyone else in mind?"
"No. That's part of the problem."
He stopped at a T-junction, but there was nobody else on the road. He glanced across at her again before he pulled away. "What about me?"