Zodiac Earth Anthology [Anthology]

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Zodiac Earth Dee S Knight, Emma Bruce, Cyndi Redding, Keira Ramsay (c) 2007 ISBN 1-59578-242-7

Zodiac Earth Dee S Knight, Emma Bruce, Cyndi Redding, Keira Ramsay Published 2007 ISBN 1-59578-242-7 Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © 2007, Dee S Knight, Emma Bruce, Cyndi Redding, Keira Ramsay. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author. Manufactured in the United States of America Liquid Silver Books http://LSbooks.com Email: [email protected] Editor Terri Schaefer Cover Artist April Martinez This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

Safe Sex Dee S. Knight

Chapter One Cynthia Williams, dressed to stun in three-inch heels, silk blouse and suede skirt, walked into The Starlight Room. Incongruously, she carried a folded newspaper under her arm and stood at the arch separating the lounge from the dining area, studying the patrons seated at the dark mahogany bar along the wall. She searched for the man with a newspaper under his arm. It seemed a cliché, really, to meet a blind date this way, but it had been his suggestion and she’d thought, what the hell? The bartender was efficient in handling the few early customers, spread out as they were. No one occupied the tables dotted around the small area. Cynthia immediately discounted the man moving his hand down a woman’s back to her butt in what he might have thought was a surreptitious, seductive move. By the look on his companion’s face, he was likely to discover soon that it was neither. The man on the other side of the lone female customer prepared to leave by picking up a briefcase, not a newspaper. Next in line were broad shoulders enclosed in a tweed jacket. Elbows on the bar, the man cradled a crystal glass holding two fingers of an amber liquid. His stare reflected in the mirror behind the bar was dispassionate, but Cynthia found him intriguing nonetheless. Perhaps because of the lack of emotion. Lines bracketed his eyes, indicating he hadn’t sat on the sidelines of life, although he wasn’t old—maybe late thirties or early forties. Short, light brown hair showed no gray. In the conventional sense, he wasn’t handsome. Cheeks, forehead, chin and nose were all rough but strong, and that produced a quality of handsomeness all its own. Cynthia found herself wishing he was her date, but there was no newspaper under his arm. Damn! Maybe her date hadn’t arrived yet, she thought, as she quickly examined the other occupants. She first passed over and then returned to a slim man in a suit, sitting near the end. Perched on the edge of his stool, poking his glasses up onto his nose and smiling at no one in particular, he looked like a puppy anxious for someone to take him out. The very antithesis of the other man. Oh, dear. The tell-tale newspaper was tucked securely under his left arm. Cynthia stepped into the bar to meet her fate. The man’s eyes lighted when he spied her, and he hopped off the stool to approach. In addition to an argyle sweater vest and plaid bow tie, the man had a cowlick on the crown of his head that looked wet. Evidently he’d tried to tame the hair, but without success. She held out her hand when he reached her. A wide grin split his face and he held up the newspaper, proving he was the man she sought. As if she had any doubt—this was the way her dating life had gone for months. Then he took her hand. “Hello,” she said. “If you’re Vern, I’m Cynthia.” “Who are you if I’m not Vern?” the suit asked, laughing at his own joke and giving her hand a polite shake. It was going to be a long night. “Out of here.” She allowed a small smile to brace herself. Oh, if only, if only, if only… He laughed again, a cross between a giggle and cackle. “Then I’m Vern. Pleased to meet you.” “It’s nice to meet you, too.” I hope so, anyway. Looking over her shoulder, he nodded to someone. “Our table is ready. Thank you

for being punctual. So many women aren’t.” Yup, punctual, that’s me. They followed the maitre d’hotel to their table and when he moved away, Cynthia pulled out her own chair, too late realizing that Vern had moved behind her to do it. Damn again! She hadn’t meant to be rude, but she was used to seating herself. One of the problems with being independent was that it often intimidated men when she showed she didn’t need to be pampered. From the look on Vern’s face, it had just happened again. “Sorry,” she murmured, as he sat across from her. He frowned, then settled his shoulders with a sigh and his face eased. Looking over Vern’s shoulder, she found herself facing the bar and the stare of the man who’d intrigued her. His look was anything but dispassionate now. In fact, lightninglike heat arced the distance separating them. Her breath caught as he lifted his glass in salute before turning around. Even then, his eyes met hers in the mirror, holding her captive with their intensity. Just her luck to be seated so that she faced both her fantasy and reality. Poor Vern. He might be a very nice guy but he could only suffer in comparison. “Cynthia?” Vern tapped her arm with his newspaper. “Cynthia, are you all right?” “What?” With effort, she shifted her gaze to Vern’s. There was no heat, no earthshattering intensity displayed in his soft gray irises, only curiosity. “I’m sorry, Vern. I thought I saw someone I recognized.” Only half a lie. In fact, the power in the stranger’s gaze was much like she’d read about in romances, where soul mates knew each other immediately, drew together and resisted any and all efforts to tear them apart. If she believed in romance, or love at first sight, or soul mates, she’d be beside that man like a shot. As it was, whatever attraction she felt for him made no sense. If she were going to be fair to Vern, she’d have to keep her eyes off the man at the bar. “Where?” Vern twisted in his chair to look behind him. “Oh, never mind. It wasn’t anyone.” Cynthia picked up her menu. “This is a very nice place. Have you eaten here before?” Facing forward again, Vern smiled. “A few times,” he said. “As soon as I found out your birthday from Julie I knew this was where we should meet.” He leaned forward. “I know you’re a Taurus.” “I am?” Smiling her thanks at the young man filling her glass with water, she fought to keep from looking into the bar to see if he was still watching. Then she snapped her head to Vern. “Julie told you my birth date?” “Oh, not the year, don’t worry about that. But the month and day, sure. I had to know if our signs were compatible. And we are—you’re Taurus and I’m Pisces. I know you really enjoy the finer things in life, including candlelit dinners. I like romance, too, and while I could have cooked you a gourmet meal at home, I thought you’d like this setting better for our first date.” Cynthia stared. He seemed so earnest she didn’t have the heart to tell him that dinner from a hotdog vendor was romantic with the right person. For the two of them, even this expensive, impressive evening would amount to nothing more than one event. “I wanted everything to be absolutely perfect for you.” He pushed his glasses up and blushed. “That’s very nice of you, Vern.” And it was. For the right woman, Vern would be quite a prize. Too bad it wasn’t her.

Feeling guilty, knowing the evening was going nowhere after all the trouble and thought he’d put into it, Cynthia took in the setting. The Starlight Room was designed with seduction in mind, whether for business deals or more personal propositions. Dimly lit, with the tables spaced well apart and thick carpeting and curtained walls keeping extraneous sound to a minimum, conversational privacy was ensured. Overhead, a depiction of the night sky, a rich midnight blue dotted with stars—really hundreds of tiny lamps inset in the gently rounded ceiling—continued the illusion. Soft lighting and candles further added to the ambience. If only Vern could prove worthy of the atmosphere. Like she somehow knew the man at the bar would. Sighing, she resisted the temptation to check her watch, but not the lounge area. He met her inquisitive glance, via the mirror. Surely the distance was such that she couldn’t really see the glint of desire in his eyes or his head tilt back as though to seek her scent. It was impossible. Yet, she would have sworn it happened. Self-consciously, she reached her hand to smooth the chignon resting at her nape and tug the collar points of her lavender silk blouse. She was awfully warm, but feared her elevated temperature had nothing to do with the restaurant thermostat. Forcing her attention back to the man sitting across the table rather than the one calling her silently in the next room, she smiled. “So, Vern,” she started. “You’re interested in astrology.” “Oh, much more than interested.” He broke off when the waiter approached. “May I take your order?” Cynthia looked at Vern. He gave her a look that said, “Watch this.” His chest puffed out as he adopted an authoritative tone, ordering dinner, the wine, even dressing for the salad, all without consulting her. And in French, which she wasn’t sure the waiter completely understood. Of course, she had to admit the wine he’d chosen would be superb with lapin. But couldn’t he have asked if she preferred rabbit to chicken? Irritation competed with guilt as the money he was spending on their date mounted. “Now, back to astrology,” he said. “I consult a professional and never make a move personally or professionally without consulting my chart.” “I don’t know anything about charts or such. I’ve always considered astrology to be such a f…” Just in time she stopped herself from saying feminine. “—fascinating topic. Really, fascinating.” Cynthia had never before met a man caught up in such farce. But she didn’t want to make him feel bad. Vern preened at her words of interest. “It is indeed fascinating. Not many people appreciate that fact. For instance, we’ve never met but I can tell you a great deal about yourself.” “Oh, like what?” Not that she believed, but if he talked, it would relieve her of having to converse. She hated feeling mean, and truly tried to look interested. How could she be so sure they had no chemistry, and Vern be so clueless? “Like…” He stared at her, his fingers steepled under his chin. “You’re intensely loyal, sticking with friends or ideas long after you should give them up, sometimes missing other opportunities. You like luxury, romance and all of the accoutrements of both, although…” he flicked his wrist, indicating The Starlight Room “—this is a bit extreme since you’re also a thrifty person. I just wanted to impress you with the most romantic spot I knew of, I guess.” He smiled. Guiltily, she smiled, giving him leave to continue. “I’ll bet you routinely shop at the Goodwill.”

Cynthia cocked her head, feeling heat rise in her cheeks. “There’s nothing wrong with the items at Goodwill. Why spend more than…” She squirmed in her seat. “Not that I do, of course, but as a matter of principle…” Chuckling, he continued. “Pinching pennies is okay, although chances are, your perseverance will ensure you’re successful and don’t need to. Let’s see. You are stubborn to the extreme and don’t like to be pushed into anything, preferring to come to terms with change in your own time. I’ll bet you were the final person in your group to use a cell phone, for instance. You’re practical and give sensible gifts, or gifts from the heart, homemade.” Somewhat impressed despite her skepticism, Cynthia thought of the number of bread and cookie baskets she put together for Christmas every year for her friends. “I’ll bet you’re in a job that requires attention to detail, right?” “Banking,” she said. “I’m in banking.” A small stretch. Well, okay, a giant stretch, but her job did require attention to detail. “Excellent choice of profession. Taureans are generally quiet and a bit shy. I’m almost surprised you go on blind dates, but I’m glad you agreed to meet me, Cynthia.” In fact, she hated blind dates, but besides the fact that she often intimidated men with her independence and drive, there was the problem of time. It took time to develop a comfort level for a man to ask a woman out, and for months she hadn’t had that luxury. At least now she knew why there had been no previous long-lasting relationships. Obviously none of the men had been the right sign. Maybe if she consulted an astrologer before agreeing to a date she could save a lot of headaches. Or not. After all, supposedly she and Vern were compatible. The waiter returned with an ice bucket and bottle of champagne, which he opened and poured before leaving them. Vern held out his glass in a toast. “To the sensual Taurus and the romantic Pisces. May each find joy in exploring the other.” He tapped his glass with hers. Oh, she thought, how sweet. He really was a nice man, and quite the gentleman. She clinked her glass against his and smiled. Maybe this evening was going to be okay after all. Vern grinned. “And I really mean that, Cynthia. No bull.” His giggle-cackle rang through the intimate, reserved dining room, causing wait staff and diners to turn toward their table. “Do you get it?” he asked, gulping for air. “Taurus is a bull.” Set off again, he could barely manage to add, “You may be a bull, but there’s something fishy about me. Pisces, get it?” He almost slapped the table in his mirth. Over Vern’s shoulder, Mystery Man was staring at her, his expression full of amusement. Yeah, she got it. **** After what must have been the longest hour of her life—it certainly had been of his—Bill Hawk saw the woman rise and head toward the bathrooms. Tossing a twenty on the bar, he swallowed the last bit of his Scotch and headed that direction himself, determined before he left to do more than lust after her across a room. He wanted to lust up close and personal. When she came out of the ladies room he was holding the wall up, waiting.

“Oh!” Looking surprised, she stopped short when she saw him. “Hello. I thought after the stares we’ve exchanged all evening we should at least meet.” He held out his hand. “I’m Bill, and you’re…?” She backed up a step. “With someone else.” When she tried to slip by him, his training took over automatically. He hadn’t been a Marine for nothing. If he couldn’t stop a beautiful woman from escaping him in a narrow little hall, then he should just hang his head and tell people he retired from the Army instead of embarrassing the Corps. “Yes, so I’ve noticed,” Bill murmured, blocking her exit. “Your companion seems okay for dinner and a few laughs…” he caught her sardonic look “—but you’ve eaten and had coffee and you can call it a night with Mr. Fun Guy. Are you ready to leave with a real man?” “Know where I can find one?” She cocked her brows over penetrating green eyes and crossed her arms. Aha, a challenge. “Without doubt.” If it was a pissing contest she wanted, well, he could piss with the best of them. But a pissing contest was most definitely not what he wanted, not with this woman. She snorted a laugh, then looked up to meet his gaze. The laugh faded away. Admittedly, even after the heated looks they’d exchanged all evening, he wasn’t prepared either for the fire that threatened to singe them. He leaned down, letting his eyes drop to her lips. His target. “I’ll meet you outside after you get rid of that guy.” Scant millimeters separated them. Her breath was soft on his mouth. The tease of a fragrance rose with her body’s warmth. She was going to kiss him. He was going to kiss her. It was inevitable and right. But… She pulled back. “I’m with someone. He’s been a gentleman and a pleasant dinner partner. He comes recommended by a friend and the stars. All you’ve done is stare at me all evening. Who recommends you?” Straightening, he struggled to come up with a good answer as well as to force his cock into good behavior. “Well, I don’t know any Hollywood types like your friend does, but I have managed to get you invited to a very important party. My friends—not stars but all members in good standing of San Francisco’s elite middle class—will be happy to put in a good word for me, I’m sure.” She smiled. “It’s not those kind of stars.” Easing away, she didn’t break eye contact. “I’m not sure I could take the word of your friends. Not exactly unbiased sources. Party, huh?” “Yes, it’s May 30 and you know what that is.” At her headshake, he pretended to be appalled. “Well, we really must fix that. Sergei will love having someone new for his birthday celebration. Come with me.” He tried for coaxing, seductive, and hoped he didn’t sound anxious, instead. Taking her bottom lip between her teeth she seemed to be considering the offer. Mr. Dick stirred once again as Bill took in the sight of her luscious lip gently held between her white teeth. He edged closer, hoping against hope to do the same. “It’s tempting, but…” she pursed her lips, making them even more appealing than they had been a short minute ago “—have I mentioned that I’m with someone?” God, she was stubborn. Once more she tried to brush past him, and once more he intercepted her path.

Tilting her head back, she gazed at him. Her emerald eyes revealed the acquiescence that her words hadn’t, and he knew in that instant that she wanted to come with him regardless of what she said. So why was she insisting on staying with that other guy? There was a time for loyalty and a time for destiny. Whoa! Back up a step, guy. Destiny is a big word. What was it about this woman that made him think destiny? She was delicate. Tiny, compared to his height of six-two. With the peach tinge in her fair complexion, that black, black hair tied in a knot on her neck, and the soft, flowing blouse she wore buttoned to the neck, she seemed prim, almost virginal. The tension in his groin ratcheted up another notch. He wanted to take her in his arms and protect her from all the bad stuff in the world. He wanted to make sure she had all she needed and all she wanted. He wanted to … fuck her senseless, and then take care of her and provide for her. And then he knew he’d want to fuck her senseless again. Bill looked up the hall and down, then pushed open the door to the ladies bathroom. “What are you doing,” she gasped. With one hand on her shoulder, he spun her around and nudged her back where she’d come out of seconds ago. Thank God no one else was in there. “You can’t come in here.” She sounded so affronted that he couldn’t help but smile. “Really? Looks like I’m already here. Come with me.” The privacy afforded to customers in the dining room was carried through to the bathroom, with each stall its own little room. He hurried her toward the last stall then pulled her in behind him and threw the latch. It was small but adequate. He looked down to see her forehead screwed up in a frown and that bottom lip between her teeth again. Jesus Christ, he was out of his fucking mind. What in hell had he done? If he’d misjudged and she started screaming or something, he’d be up shit creek for sure. But he couldn’t have misjudged, not the fiery looks they’d shared or the invitation in her eyes a few seconds ago. Before he could analyze his actions any further, she rose on her toes and twisted her arms around his neck. She trailed her tongue across his lips and he parted them, welcoming her tongue, sucking it into his mouth. Her groan penetrated the fog of his mind, and he gave an answering call as his hands headed south to rub across the cheeks of her ass. “Oh my God, you taste good,” he said when he raised his head for breath. “You, too,” she panted. “I—I can’t believe I’m dong this, doing this in here. I mean I’ve never…” she gasped for breath as he struck a path with his lips along her jaw, then unbuttoned her top three buttons to lick her neck and nibble the swell of her breast. “I’ve never, with anyone like you. Do you know what you do to me?” he whispered, and it shocked the hell out of him to realize that he meant it. He never had done something like this with someone like her. Someone who defined sexiness and class and desire. It changed the experience from one of lust to something more, though what, exactly, he’d think about later. Right now all he wanted was to feel her on him and then him inside her. He placed her hand over his cock, which fairly jumped with excitement. “See?” Pushing and pulling, he used her hand to stroke the ridge straining to be released from his slacks. “I want you, want to be inside you. I’ve never wanted any woman in my life like I want you right now. Can I…? Do you want me, too?”

Her breath was rapid. He had the feeling that if he didn’t hold her up she’d collapse, so he kept his arm tight around her waist and close against him. On her own, she squeezed him, making the friction from her strokes impossible to bear much longer. She nodded against his chest. “Yes? Yes you want me?” She nodded again, then looked up at him with tears shimmering in her eyes. That stopped him cold. Taking her hand off his shaft, he grasped for control to keep from taking her, in spite of the tears. Instead, he kissed each finger and laid her hand over his heart, hoping she felt more than the simple beat that he knew to be fast and hard. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to force you into anything.” Shaking her head, she stared at him in amazement. “You don’t understand. It’s too much, and so fast—but this feels right. Since I first saw you I’ve felt like we’ve known each other, like there was something between us that could only come with…” She stopped, then dropped her eyes as well as her voice. “What I started to say sounds stupid. Anyway, I’m just being emotional. I don’t want to stop.” Stepping away enough to reach his belt, she pulled it loose, then unfastened and unzipped his slacks. In one move, she eased slacks and briefs down his thighs and squatted. Bill braced his hands against the stall walls as she swirled her tongue over the head of his dick before taking the whole mushroom-shaped bulb in her mouth. Pre-cum mixed with saliva and served to lubricate her way. Her head pushed forward, taking more of him in. One of her hands grasped the base of his shaft, where it waited to meet her questing mouth. The other stroked and squeezed his balls until he thought he’d shout from the pleasure. He did, in fact, moan and felt her mouth quiver on his cock, as though she were trying not to smile. Dropping a hand to her head, he sought to guide her, or at least hold her while his hips moved involuntarily back and forth, into her hot, wet mouth and out, but there was no need. She was a master at what she did and needed no guidance. Still, he felt the need for contact with her, and her head was all he cold reach, so he held on for his dear life. With each pass along his length, her tongue never stopped moving. She scraped him tenderly with her teeth, providing the barest hint of pain before her tongue rasped over the spot and her lips smoothed it. He’d never been given head like this before, and feared he never would again unless he formed a relationship with this woman, and that was just what he intended to do. “I can’t hold back any longer,” he whispered. “I can’t…” At that moment, the door to the bathroom opened and the rustling sound of clothing sounded. Bill held his breath and looked down at the woman holding his dick in her mouth. Summer-green eyes peered up at him just above the place where his cock disappeared in her mouth. He barely suppressed a groan, and her shoulders shook in her attempt to keep from laughing. She’d stopped moving but she swished her tongue across him. He literally jumped in her mouth. A toilet flushed, a stall door banged against the wall as the woman exited. Then water ran and turned off. The stranger hummed for a few seconds before finally the door opened again and closed on a soft whoosh. The moment his companion’s lips compressed on his shaft and she moved, he erupted, shooting streams of semen in her mouth and down her throat. Her head never stopped its thrust and withdrawal, although her strokes were short. It felt like hours

before he emptied himself and she let him go. Reaching to help her stand, he wondered how he could ever repay her. A simple hand job wouldn’t be enough, not from his point of view, but with the logistics of where they were and without a rubber, he didn’t think he could do much else. And Bill wanted to do much, much more. Women didn’t seem to appreciate how men felt about blowjobs in general, but the feeling tripled when the woman took all of him. He frankly didn’t know how to say thank you. “Thank you,” she murmured against his lips, when he lifted her into his arms to kiss her. “You’re thanking me? My God, you’re fantastic, a goddess—don’t you know?” He couldn’t stop himself from thrusting his tongue into her mouth, to taste her and himself. She wrapped one arm around his neck, but her other hand stroked his cheek, his ear, his shoulder. Suddenly he pulled back. “I don’t know your name.” Smiling, she let her eyes rove over his face, settling on his lips. “Cynthia.” “Cynthia.” He tried it out. “Cyn. Thanks for letting me spend a few minutes in Cyn.” Her smile lit his world and he couldn’t help but smile back. “And now I’d like to do something in return.” His hand slid up her leg under her skirt. She wore panty hose, but he was undeterred in his mission to make her feel even a fraction of the pleasure she’d given him. He held her off the floor; her head rested against the door as he nibbled and licked her throat. The door opened again. “Cynthia? Are you here?” It was a woman’s voice, but a man could be heard in the background. “Are you still in there, Cynthia? Are you sick? Should I ask this nice lady to come in and help you?” Bill raised his head. Cynthia’s eyes flew open. “Vern? Oh, I’m sorry,” she stammered, “I’m a little … yes, I’m fine. No need to worry. I didn’t realize…” she took a trembling breath “—I’ll be right out. Go on back to the table.” “Well, okay, if you’re sure you’re all right.” A gaze like molten emeralds met Bill’s. “I’ve never been better, Vern, thanks.” As the door shut, mumbling could be heard. Soft, then softer as the two speakers, male and female, moved away. Bill continued to hold her. She cupped his cheek and smoothed her thumb over his skin. “Look, I already called and told my friends that I was running a little late because I was waiting for my date to finish her meeting. I’m parked right around the corner on Golden. You’ve got to come with me.” He dipped his head, taking her lips in what he hoped was a gentle, persuasive kiss. “It’s so unfair to Vern.” When he would protest she put her finger over his mouth. “But maybe.” “You’re very stubborn, you know that?” Taking her finger in his mouth, he ran his tongue over it. “I’ve been told that already tonight.” She smiled then cocked her head to look at him. “What’s your sign?” He chuckled. “My sign? I haven’t heard that line in a very long time. I’m not sure. It’s that thing with the stinger tail.”

“A scorpion? But you don’t know anything about it?” “Never cared to know, why?” Laughing, she finally dropped her legs. With surprising reluctance, he let go of her and stepped back to pull up his pants. “I never thought of scorpions in conjunction with sex before, but I won’t be able to help it from now on.” She smoothed her skirt and tucked loose strands of hair back in the bun. Bill buckled his belt and watched with longing. “Later tonight, I’m going to unpin your hair and take your clothes off of you. Then I’m going to sting you several times.” He put his arms around her. “I think both of us will get pleasure from it.” “I’m sure we would,” she said against his lips. “Will,” he said with finality. “Please come with me. I’ll wait as long as I can.” With a final fleeting kiss, she edged out. He heard the door open. “It’s clear,” she stage-whispered. Then the door closed. Thirty minutes later, Bill still leaned against a low-slung, silver Porsche, arms and ankles crossed, impatiently tapping his finger. Admitting at last that she wasn’t going to show, he climbed in and started the car. He could have marched back into the restaurant and dragged her out, but she knew where he was. Some crazy sense of duty was keeping her in there, and if she couldn’t do something about it to be with him, then that was that. Duty was something he understood and respected—usually—but damn it all, he hadn’t even gotten her last name. Kicking himself mentally, he allowed that maybe he’d been wrong all along. Perhaps she was the kind of woman who got off on a quick, anonymous blowjob. But he’d been certain there was more between them, as mystical and New Age as that shit seemed. The roar of the engine was a substitute for the roar he wanted to sound. Like most men, he’d been stood up before. But not in a very long time, and never by anyone he’d wanted to be with as much as he’d wanted to be with Cynthia. She was small, but her legs would have fit around his waist just fine. And he would have fit inside her just fine, too. With her size—and his—she was probably tight as a virgin, and wouldn’t that just have been Heaven on Earth? Surrounded by the leather interior of his car, his imagination took over. He smelled her arousal and felt her moist heat as her pussy muscles closed around his cock. With a fierceness that made him shake, he wanted her. Fuck! Tomorrow he went home to Nevada and the chances of ever seeing her again were nil. Of course, even in the short two years he’d lived in the state where gambling ruled, he’d learned the odds were against “never” really meaning never.

Chapter Two A thin sliver of moon was the only thing lighting the back of Timothy’s Wild Sports Emporium, on a side street in Sympathy, Nevada. That’s because Cynthia had broken the security lights in the alleyway. Slingshots were low tech, but they were underestimated in their usefulness. Like a gunslinger of old, blowing on the barrel of his Colt before twirling it into his holster, she blew on the Y-shaped piece of wood with its rubber strap, and tucked it in her backpack. Darkness prevailed, making her even less visible than she already had been, in her black knit cap and skintight, black ski clothes and pack. Wasting no time, she moved to the door of the sporting goods shop and selected a couple of metal picks from a leather case attached to her belt. In seconds, the door opened and she slipped inside. Thanks to her posing earlier that day as an inspector for Upstate Insurance, she knew exactly where to find the alarm panel. She shook her head in amazement at how easy it was to trick some people. A fake ID and calm, professional demeanor had convinced the store manager of her bona fides and he’d allowed her to stand beside him when he demonstrated arming and disarming the central system. Seeming not to watch as his stubby fingers pressed the buttons for the “secret” code, she had in fact, memorized the pattern. He’d been helpful in showing her other aspects of the store’s security and fire protection, too, walking her around the place and talking freely about how they didn’t need dogs and what the police patrol schedule was, as well as that of the guards when they were posted next door, where security was tighter than at Timothy’s. He’d thought the additional scrutiny in the bank that abutted his building enhanced the safety of his own shop. The poor man never gave a thought to the fact that Cynthia was really in Timothy’s Wild Sports Emporium to discover how to access the McKinley-Nevada Bank. Even though it was safe to move around after she’d disarmed the alarm, she kept to the shadows as she slipped into the storeroom. Every work area had a ladder of some kind, and this was no exception. She’d spotted it that afternoon, and now she dragged it to the corner of the room directly under a return for the ventilation system. A batterypowered drill removed the screws holding the faceplate. Looking into a hole two and a half feet by two feet, she blessed the long hours at Lady Power Gyms that kept her trim and in shape. She took off her knit cap and fitted a white air filter mask over her mouth and nose, hooking the elastic band behind her head. Tucking her hair under the cap, she mentally prepared herself to face the trek through the square pipe. She wasn’t claustrophobic, but neither did she enjoy enclosed spaces. Removing a piece of felt from her backpack, she reached up to lay it in the vent and put the pack on it before taking the last two steps on the ladder. Shoulder-height into the vent, she used her arms to pull herself the rest of the way up. Cynthia visualized the plans she’d looked up at the city clerk’s office. The two buildings were almost a century old, and when air conditioning had been added decades ago, the ductwork was shared as was a wall and foundation. This particular duct led to a T-intersection. The stem of the T dropped below ground, intersecting again with a duct

that ended inside the safe. The vent opening inside the safe was small, so she had chosen to make her entrance in the safe room, outside the actual vault. The only things standing between her and the old Smithton 360H safe containing hundreds of thousands of dollars were a few steel bars—easily dealt with—a computer system that wasn’t quite into the twenty-first century, and a twelve-foot vertical drop. The safe itself would be a piece of cake. “Coconut cake,” she whispered under her breath. “A big, fat piece once I get this job behind me and don’t have to worry about every ounce of me fitting into small holes in ceilings.” Shimmying along the vent, she silently pushed her backpack, placed on a piece of felt to dampen noise, ahead of her. A faint ripple of her whisper echoed off the metal walls of the vent and she slammed her mouth shut. The chance that she might alert someone to her presence with a whisper was slim, but still not an acceptable risk. For what felt like an hour, she crawled, pushed and pulled her way from the sporting goods shop to the point where a brick wall separated the two buildings, marked by four steel bars. Here was the first of her obstacles. The four steel cylinders barred her path horizontally, each end piercing the vent through an air-tight seal set in the brick and mortar of the wall. From her pack she carefully removed a box. Under the lid, nestled in Styrofoam cut to its shape, lay a vial of acid powerful enough to cut through any metal, including the steel facing her. She held her breath. Using a glass dropper, she applied the acid to the ends of the bottom three rods, then scooted back, away from any fumes, as the acid did its job. When the burning was finished, Cynthia pulled at the bars until they broke off where the acid had weakened them. To avoid unnecessary noise, she wrapped the metal in another piece of felt from her pack. She attached a carabiner and climbing rope to the remaining bar, then dragged the free end of the rope along with her as she continued into the bank. Another ten feet or so brought her to the vertical section of ductwork and a tricky maneuver. After reversing herself in the confined area, she dropped feet-first down the hole, her backpack slung over one shoulder and her hands controlling her descent with the rope. She turned to her right when her feet touched the basement-level vent. Straight ahead was the faceplate for the vent in the safe room. Pulling back her sleeve, she checked the time on her luminescent watch dial. It had taken only twenty-five minutes to get this far. She wanted to laugh, she was so far ahead of the schedule she’d set for herself. Nothing could stop her now. After crawling to the opening, she took out her battery-powered tool again, this time fitting it with a blade. Donning protective glasses, she cut a foot square from the side of the vent, revealing wiring—for the computer system controlling the time lock for the safe and the camera in the safe room. She attached an alligator clip to the wire for the safe and plugged in the other end to a small handheld computer with a timer program. Control of the time lock was now hers. Another clip fed the current image from the camera into the computer where it was stored and looped back out. A small flicker on the video screen is all the guard would see—if he didn’t blink at the wrong time. There was nothing to cause alarm. She laughed at her pun. But she would wait five more minutes, just to be sure. There was no rush now that the only thing left before her was actually cracking the safe. “Yup, piece of coconut cake,” she murmured.

**** Another early night. One would think he was old instead of just reaching his fortieth birthday. Bill knew it wasn’t age catching up to him, though, it was simply a lack of interest in doing what he was doing. After years of being in the Corps, sometimes longing for the ordinary, he now found himself barely out two years and wishing for excitement. The life of a fine, upstanding bank president wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. But doing something wild and crazy here in town was out of the question. Shit, thinking like that made him feel old. Bringing the Jeep to a halt at a traffic light, he reached up to loosen his tie. The most interesting thing that had happened in quite a while was going to his friend’s birthday party in San Francisco last month. Correction. The most interesting thing had been meeting Cynthia before the party. If he could have enticed her to come along, the party itself would have been much better. Even so, when getting together with old friends was the most thrilling thing to happen, life was pretty damn sad. A loud-pitched beep cut the silence of the Jeep, making Bill jump in surprise. Sonuvabitch! That was the emergency alarm he’d put in place to notify him if anything interrupted the vault computer system. He dug a handheld computer out of his jacket pocket and ended the signal. What was that all about? The light turned and he pulled to the curb. Pressing keys and reading messages displayed on the tiny screen, he checked the integrity of the bank computer system. Everything looked normal but the system had been interrupted, or the alarm wouldn’t have gone off. He pulled his cell phone from the other pocket and called the guard. “George, what’s going on there?” The guard sputtered. “Uh, nothing, Mr. Hawk. I just finished my nine o’clock round and everything was in good shape. Why?” “You haven’t noticed anything unusual with the cameras or the safe or anything?” “No, sir, everything’s just fine here.” “Okay, George. Thanks.” He disconnected, but sat there tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel. His gut told him something was up. Checking traffic before making a U-turn, he enumerated all of the reasons why there was no need to go to the bank, as though logic played some part in the decision to go. He’d put that emergency program into place when he took over the bank presidency from his uncle. No one else even knew he’d implemented the program. In fact, he’d forgotten it himself. The damn alarm had never gone off before tonight, and tonight was probably a glitch. He was only going to check it out because he hadn’t wanted to stay at the award dinner and he didn’t want to go home alone. Yeah, that was the reason—that and the nervous twitch in his stomach. Fifteen minutes later Bill strode into the bank and to the security room just off the lobby. “Mr. Hawk.” George jumped to his feet, practically spilling his coffee. Bill nodded his greeting. “George, I’m sure you’re right about everything being fine, but I’m just going to make a quick run through and then do some work.” He stepped behind the guard and took a look at the video monitors showing feed from the cameras posted around the building. Everything looked exactly as it should. “No need to come with me, and once I get in the office I’ll be awhile, so don’t worry if I don’t come down right away. End of the month always brings an extra share of paperwork.” Bill slapped

the older man’s shoulder and moved toward the door. “Yes, sir.” George called. Bill walked back through the lobby, taking an appreciative look around as he did. Highly polished oak counters topped with etched glass separated the tellers from the patrons. Chandeliers suspended from fourteen-foot ceilings sparkled when they were switched on. Crown molding carved soon after the beginning of the last century, when that kind of work was expected in a public building, outlined the perimeter of the ceiling. Solid, established, dependable. That’s always the feeling he got here. The way the bank had always been and the way it was going to stay on his watch. He descended to the underground level, unlocked the door at the foot of the steps and exited the stairwell into a narrow, short hall. At the end of the hall was another locked door into the safe room. As he found the second key on his ring, he chided himself for thinking anything was wrong. No one had tampered with the stairwell door that he could tell, and that was the only way into the safe room. The second door, steel with a small pane of glass to use for viewing, was more of a failsafe that he’d had installed himself. From this side, it also looked fine. He glanced through the glass, looked down to fit the key in the lock, then looked through the viewer again, frowning. Something did not look fine. Light leaked from around the edge of the vault door into a hall that should have no light except the eerie glow of the emergency exit lights over the door where he now stood. A closer look showed a rope dangling from the ventilation vent about six feet away. Holy shit! Someone was robbing the bank! He should go and get George. Hell, he should call the police. Taking his cell phone out, he flipped open the lid to do that. At the same time his brain was saying, “Wait for the police, big macho idiot!” his hand was unlocking the door. Someone was not robbing the bank, someone was robbing his bank, the secure, dependable bank in his care, and by God, the motherfucker wasn’t going to get away with it. The door closed behind him with a snick that sounded like a shot in the quiet of the safe room. Standing off to the side, in the thin line of light coming from where the door was cracked open, Bill eased the vault door open. He exhaled a tense breath. No sound came from the interior. Had the thief gone back up into the vent with a load of money? “Listen, you mother. If you don’t come out of there with hands up, right now, you’ll be sorrier than you ever imagined. You’ve got to three. One… Two…” For the first time, it occurred to him that there might be more than one person in there, robbing him of pride and reputation. Idiot, goddamned, fucking idiot! After feeling the first rush of adrenaline, he’d forgotten the major lesson the Corps had taught him: think, so you don’t end up a bigger asshole than the asshole you’re trying to beat. Obviously he’d been out of the service too long. He heard a noise from inside the vault. If there was more than one guy, he’d only be able to best them by moving fast and hard. He’d been trained in martial arts, so surely the fact that he had a cell phone, not a gun, in his hand wouldn’t be too much against him. Besides, like a roll of quarters, the phone would lend some additional punch if he connected with the guy. Yeah, right. You’re an idiot, Hawk! Through the small opening he sprang, shouting, “Three!” Something powerful slammed into his stomach. Just before he hit the floor doubled

over in pain, he got a glimpse of his attacker. Not two or three men, not even one man. Someone short, with long black hair. Oh, shit! He’d been brought to his knees by a puny, petite woman. **** Oh my God, that was no guard! And not another thief either, unless the thieves in Nevada dressed a hell of a lot better than those in California. Gun, he’d said he had a gun, but Cynthia was damned if she saw one. The small black object he’d been holding appeared to be a cell phone. She gave him another quick glance. He was on his knees, head bent, one hand to his stomach, the other, still clutching the phone, braced on the floor. Good, he didn’t seem too badly hurt. Down but not out. But out is what she’d better get—he still might have a gun hidden on him. She laid her backpack outside the vault, then grasped the door to give it a strong tug before slipping out herself. Suddenly a grunt came from behind and arms like vises locked around her waist, jerking her away from the door. “You’re not getting away!” the idiot screamed in her ear. “No! No, let go, you jerk! Don’t you realize…?” She released the door, but not soon enough. Momentum kept the door moving, and in less time than it took to say, “Safe and sound,” they were. Safe and sound and locked in until morning. Momentum affected more than the door. When Cynthia let go, she and the unknown idiot fell backwards. Fortunately, she landed on him. He landed hard, and from the solid thump she heard, hit the back of his head at the same time she was landing on top, knocking the wind out of him. Serves him right, getting us closed in like this. She looked at the hands fastened over her stomach and almost laughed. He still had hold of the cell phone, though little good it would do him in here. “Get… Get…” His words came out with a wheeze. “What? I can’t quite hear you.” Instead of rising, Cynthia crossed her arms, then placed one foot on the floor and rested her other ankle on her bent knee, jiggling her foot with irritation. A cry of surprise tore from her lips as her assailant twisted to the left, dumping her on the floor. “Get the fuck off me!” he finally managed. She scrambled to her feet and backed into the corner to watch him. With some effort, he pushed off the floor but remained bent over, hands on his knees, head down. He seemed to be mumbling nothing but swear words. “Goddamn, motherfucker, asshole…” He went on from there, using a few words she hadn’t heard before. “Your mama would be so proud.” The dryness of her tone finally made him raise his head. “Let’s just leave my mama out of this, you…” Recognition dawned simultaneously. Straightening with a speed she hadn’t thought him capable of a few seconds ago, he rushed the corner where she stood. “You!” he yelled, pointing his finger. “What in hell are you doing? How did you get in here?” Oh my God, it’s Bill. But not the man who had crowded her thoughts and controlled her dreams for weeks. That man was sexy and caring and—and … sexy. It was all she could do not to cower before this man, faced with his size and fury. “What am I doing here? What are you doing here, threatening me with a … cell

phone?” Shooting a meaningful glance at his hand brought on the near smile again. She remembered the gravity of her situation a second later. His voice dropped to a menacing growl. “I have a right to be here. It’s my bank you’re trying to rob, Cyn.” He made her name feel just like it sounded, evil and nasty. “My money you’re trying to steal.” He narrowed his eyes. “My word that’s going to send you to prison.” She felt the blood drain from her face. That was no idle threat. Bank robbery was a federal offense, and despite the fact that she hadn’t actually stolen anything, it was possible she’d be old and gray before she breathed air as a free citizen again. “Your bank?” she squeaked. “You’re a McKinley?” “I’m a Hawk.” He showed his teeth in a grin completely lacking in humor. “Uncle Mike was the McKinley, but it’s my bank now and still will be on that cold, gray day years from now when you get out of jail.” Concentrated, raw power emanated from him. She was a bug he could crush, and he knew it. The very force of him pushed, intimidated, flattened her. If she didn’t do something, she’d have no will left. She dropped her eyes, aware that her inability to look at him directly gave him even more control. Her heart raced as her mind searched for any means to equalize her position. There was no way to reach the vault door with him standing as close as he was, and it would do her no good anyway. Once the door was closed, the timer was reset, and right now her computer controlled the timer. Until the program was reset again, purportedly when the robbery was discovered and someone determined the bank owner needed rescuing, the door would remain locked. They were stuck in the vault together. In her wildest, sexiest fantasies, this would be perfect. The man standing before her, looking as though he wanted nothing more than for her to die slowly and painfully, was the very man she’d longed to see again. The man who had taken her breath away in a bathroom stall at The Starlight Room. My God, how his lips had felt, warm and pliant, with the promise of passion such as she’d never known. The memory of his flavor had stayed with her for days, suddenly filling her senses at odd moments. When it happened, her breath shortened and her juices flowed, soaking her panties and making her unable to concentrate. For over a week she’d masturbated to the thought of his cock filling her mouth, and her orgasms had swamped her. If their surreptitious gazes that evening had been like a match struck to dry kindling in the confines of a firebox, the experience of him had been a forest fire that raged out of control long after they’d parted ways. She’d been unable to hurt Vern’s feelings that night. Time had slipped by and her chance had slipped away, leaving her wishing things had turned out differently and aching for the touch of someone she’d never see again. Except … thanks to a vagary of fate, here he was. Raising her gaze, she didn’t see the man ready to condemn her to prison but the man who’d stoked her dreams. She reached her hand up to cup his cheek. His eyes widened with surprise and then hooded with distrust. “Don’t think you can charm your way out of this. I offered you a chance to spend time with me once before and you shafted me. Using sex now won’t save your sorry ass.” He leaned forward as he spoke, close enough that his breath was hot on her cheek. Assuming even more of her personal space, he caged her against the wall with his hands. His actions could be seen as a threat or a dare. Cynthia chose the dare. Scraping

against his body as she rose on tiptoes, she brushed her lips across his. Anger rolled off him but he didn’t react. Smoothing her hand up his jaw, she dug her fingers through his hair while stroking his ear with her thumb. Her tongue traced the seam of his lips. Steel controlled him and he didn’t react. With her hand on his nape, she held him firmly in place, her mouth covering his and her tongue seeking entrance. At last, with a sharp inhalation, his mouth opened and she surged forward, tasting a desire in him as strong as hers. Something hit the floor and his arms enveloped her, lifted her and crushed her to him so that she wasn’t sure she could breathe. His bruising hold didn’t matter. The kiss itself was enough to take her breath away.

Chapter Three Cynthia wrapped her legs around Bill’s waist. His hands dropped to cup her butt, stroking and kneading through her tight slacks. His tongue pushed into her mouth where he took control, stroking the roof, her teeth, and finally her tongue. Her hands were everywhere, scrubbing his cheeks, riffling his hair, caressing his ears, and stroking his neck, shoulders and back. He wanted her touching him in other places, too. He’d demand it, in fact. He broke the kiss, his rapid, shallow breathing betraying the disinterest he’d wanted to show. Although she was all muscle, she was small and weighed practically nothing. When he pounded into her later, her strength and muscle would add to the pleasure. “What’s this?” he asked, fingering the white facemask that hung around her neck. “To keep dust out of my nose and mouth in the vent.” She leaned for his mouth, but he had other plans. He hiked her up further on his body. “No need now,” he rasped, and ripped it off, clearing the path to her breasts. The shock of a thief in his safe was nothing compared to the sheer astonishment of discovering who the thief was. To find Cynthia again at all was astounding, but here, like this? He was glad there’d been no way to place bets at the local casino—he would have lost. Between being furious and—yes, he would admit it to himself—humiliated at being trapped in the safe, he’d quickly added another emotion: lust. Immediately, he’d noticed everything about her, including the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra. In proportion to the rest of her, her tits weren’t big, but the nipples pressing through the silky material of her top screamed to be sucked. Fumbling, he found the zipper tab for the smooth top she wore, and all but yanked it down, far enough to free one delectable breast. Open-mouthed, he latched onto the nipple, licking the little jewel, laving it with his tongue as he sucked. She arched her back, silently asking for more. He palmed her other breast. “What is this you have on?” he asked. “Ski clothes.” She could barely get the words out. It crossed his mind that she was acting, trying to save herself from being arrested, but he pushed the suspicion away. Maybe because he didn’t want to believe it. Anyway, against all odds, he was face to face with the woman who’d haunted him for weeks. Even if it was an act, she was offering and he was going to take. Fate probably wouldn’t be this kind again. “Right. It comes off. All of it. Do you understand?” He waited a moment to see if she protested, but she only nodded. Sliding down his length served the purpose of letting her feel just what she was in for, and his hardness and size didn’t escape her, if her widened eyes were any indication. He wanted her with every fiber of his body. God knew, if she said no to him, it was going to be one damned long night and he was going to be in a bitch of a mood the whole time. Feet back on the floor, she covered her face with her hands and gulped air. When she looked up, there was something other than lust in her eyes. “What in hell are we doing? If there’s a possible way out of here don’t you think we should look for it instead of—

instead of…?” She zipped up her top and pulled away from him. Shit. It was a ploy on her part after all. Bill backed up, willing himself not to grab her and do what he wanted, regardless. He threw his hands out in question. “How?” Then he followed her gaze to the ceiling of the vault where the ventilation system ended for this part of the building. The small hole led into the same vent she’d evidently come through. “There are problems with that.” He turned to look at her. “What?” She didn’t look up, already busy unsnapping some kind of drill from her belt and fitting it with a Phillips head screwdriver. “First, how are you planning to get up there?” She swept her eyes over him and then looked at the ceiling, He could picture the wheels turning as she calculated whether the two of them would provide enough height. “I think if I sat on your shoulders I would be plenty high enough.” He shook his head. “If my head gets that close to your pussy, I’ll be doing something other than holding you up to unscrew anything.” He almost smiled at her blush. “If you thought you could get through that size hole, why didn’t you just come in that way?” Her shoulders rose with her deep intake of breath, and her eyes closed. With her slow exhalation, she let her shoulders drop and her eyes open. Relaxation 101. Sometimes it worked better than other times. He had a feeling this was one of those instances where it wouldn’t be very effective. After all, she was locked in an eight-by-ten foot room with him. Then there was the small matter of being arrested at gunpoint when she finally escaped being in the eight-by-ten foot room with him. “I had a choice then. Now I don’t. Won’t you let me see if I can get through?” At least she asked her question and stood her ground instead of trying again to swish her way up to him for a little more sexual persuasion. He hated to think he was so weak it might work, but damn, she was a woman who fired his desire on every level. Too bad she was going to jail. “There’re steel bars above the grate. You can’t get through them.” “Yes, I can, I’ve got…” she scanned the floor and then slapped her forehead. “Hell, I put my pack outside.” “You’ve got what? Another drill…?” He watched with interest as her eyes lit up with the suggestion and she examined the tool in her hand. “Acid?” Guilt flashed across her face as quickly as the interest had. So, she’d used acid earlier. There were bars separating the bank from the store next door and from the outside, a short way in from where the vent entered the building. She’d come through one of those two ways. She started to speak, but he cut her off. “Forget it. You’re not going out that way no matter what you have.” He walked away and dropped to the floor, leaning against the old cabinet that had been used to store valuables before the use of safety deposit boxes. “You don’t really think I’d help you get out and leave myself in here do you?” He snorted. “I may be horny but I’m not stupid.” “I swear I’d let you out. This safe is a breeze to crack. Once I got…” “I said, forget it.” Patting the floor, he looked up at her. “Come on over here and tell me how you pulled this off. I’m curious and I don’t want to wait until the trial to hear all the details.” He saw her flinch before she bent her head to hook the drill back in place and drop

down against the opposite wall. “The details are between me and the police.” “The FBI, more like it. Are you prepared for that?” Saying nothing, but showing nervousness nonetheless, she wiped her hands on her pants and licked her lips. It was the last gesture that brought Bill’s cock back to life, but the first that made his heart turn over. Somehow, he couldn’t see this woman as a career criminal, roaming the countryside looking for safes to crack. She looked like a secretary or teacher or some man’s wife, some child’s mother. Of course, his experience with thieves was rather limited. Maybe this is how they made them these days. “You don’t do this often, do you?” He’d been unsuspecting when she almost knocked him out, then when she kissed him. Now, he found himself just as unprepared for her tears. **** Cynthia’s eyes filled as she stared at Bill. “It’s pretty obvious, I guess, since I got caught. And now I’ll never have the chance to…” The air conditioner flipped on and cool air poured down from the vent. A shiver ran along her arms. “Who ever heard of putting an air conditioning in a safe?” “Hey, haven’t you ever heard of cold cash?” She laughed, banishing the tears. He smiled. “Be grateful. We have lights available in here all the time, and the ventilation system is going to keep us breathing comfortably until morning.” He slid his jacket off. “Come over here and I’ll share my jacket.” She stood to walk the few feet and settle down next to him. He slipped the jacket over her shoulders and pulled her close, his hand chafing her arm through the wool. “What, did I interrupt you before you could get the loot out?” he asked, pointing to the Federal Reserve bag on the floor. Ducking her head against his shoulder, she answered slowly. “That’s what I hit you with.” He sounded incredulous. “You hit me with my own money?” Sitting quietly for a moment, he then burst into laughter. She looked up, surprised. “That’s irony for you. I came crashing in here like John Wayne to protect the cash and it almost knocked me out. You’ve got a good swing.” “Thank you.” As amazing as it seemed after all they’d been through, she felt shy. “What were you thinking, rushing in here like that? Suppose I’d been someone dangerous? Suppose it hadn’t been me, but real robbers. You could have been hurt, even killed.” A tremor ran through her voice and he held her even tighter. “Even with just me, being hit like that would have brought most men down.” “I’m not most men.” So damn true. God, she wanted him. She should change the topic. No matter what had happened at The Starlight Room, everything had now changed. This was neither the time nor the place to beg him to fuck her brains out, and yet that’s all she seemed to want. On the other hand, when would she ever get such a chance again? “That was apparent from the beginning,” she whispered, and turned in his arms. Sliding her hand up his shirt front, she caressed his chest. His heartbeat increased beneath her fingers, and though he said nothing, she believed he wanted what she wanted. To feel, not to talk or think.

Unfastening two buttons, he guided her hand inside his shirt, then moved it in slow, gentle circles over his stiffened nipple. A low groan escaped him. “I wanted to meet you that night at the restaurant, but I just couldn’t be rude to Vern. It wasn’t his fault I was totally disinterested in him, and I owed him to finish our date.” She kept her voice hushed and deep. “I hoped you’d understand. I’ve dreamt about being with you ever since that night, but never thought I’d see you again.” Without his guidance, she pinched the flat disk of his nipple and pushed the shirt away enough to lean forward and flick her tongue across it. “I haven’t forgotten you, either. I waited until I was certain you weren’t coming. I couldn’t believe how disappointed I was over someone I didn’t even know. But there seemed to be something between us, a current of electricity, a pull. I couldn’t resist it then and I don’t want to now.” He gathered her hair and wrapped it in his fist. “You know, what you’re doing, it won’t change anything. When that door swings open there will be men with guns to arrest you. There won’t be anything I can do, regardless of what happens in here.” She nodded against his chest. “I know. But fate brought us together for a reason, not once but twice. I just want to revel in what you do to me and not worry about tomorrow.” Lifting her head, she gave him a smile that she hoped relayed what she felt. That she wanted to be with him, not just for sex, but for something deeper. “Do you know, my date that evening told me all about myself based on my horoscope. But he wasn’t the first person to do that. Back where I used to live there was a kiosk in the mall, Cosmic Somethingorother. The lady who owned it sold crystals and books on horoscopes and other psychic stuff. A nice lady, Zoe, but she always made me feel a little spooked. Anyway, she stopped me one day and said that I should be on the lookout for a bird, a bird of prey, and that I shouldn’t be afraid because he would make me fly. And that’s how I felt about you, Bill, from when we first locked eyes at The Starlight Room, before I knew your last name was Hawk. That you would make me fly. “Considering the missteps we’ve made, though, I guess there was no way we were going to get together. After our first meeting, I looked up Scorpio. More than anything else, you respect trust, and you can’t be knocked off your sense of duty or honor.” She cocked her head and smiled sadly. “Not exactly the best match for a thief. Still, I feel drawn to you in a way I can’t explain. I won’t get any special favors, I know that. But this might be my last chance to be with someone special for the next twenty-five years. Will you…? I mean, would you mind…?” With lightning speed, he lifted her to his lap. “Oh, baby, would I mind?” He took her lips, caressing them with firm insistence before sliding his tongue into her mouth. Roaming her body, his hands pushed the jacket away and cupped her breasts. His thumbs pressed her nipples, roughly rubbing until she couldn’t stand not to have more. “Being with you is all I’ve thought about since that first night. Will we fly, baby? Yes, we’ll fly.” He claimed her mouth again while unzipping her top. Her fingers flew through the rest of his shirt buttons and within seconds they were at last skin to skin, Cynthia’s nipples to Bill’s broad chest. She sighed into the hollow above his collar bone. “So nice,” she murmured, then rocked against his groin. “But not nearly enough.” Breathing hard and fast, Bill urged her to stand. He used speed that matched her impatience, unlacing her shoes and pulling her ski pants down so she could step out of

them. He tugged her forward, bringing her crotch to his face. Inhaling deeply, he pressed his face to her plain white, cotton panties. In a moment of foolishness, she wished she’d worn lace or silk to break into the safe. Wished she’d dressed for seduction rather than larceny. “I don’t have anything with me to protect you, Cynthia, but I can do this. Will you let me?” His hands roved up and down her thighs. The vent still spewed air, and she was almost naked but she wasn’t cold. In fact, she felt overheated, from the inside out. “I don’t need protection, Bill. I need you.” His sharp intake of breath accompanied his hands as they moved up and under the leg bands of her underwear. His fingers curved over her hips and his thumbs wound through her pubic hair, meeting under the hood of skin at the top of her labia. Stroking her clit, he whispered, “I’d like that.” Curling tendrils of need rose through her, like smoke rising from a fire. The very fire Bill had started when his thumbs caressed her. Someone rapped on the vault door. No, that was just her heart. She looked down when he took his hands away. He was unbuckling his belt and pushing to his knees to pull his pants over his thighs. When he tugged on the waistband of her panties, she pushed them the rest of the way and stepped out of them. Thinking he wanted her on the floor, she started to sit, but he stopped her. “Straddle me, sweetheart.” He positioned her like the Colossus who’d had one foot on each side of the opening of the ancient harbor at Rhodes. Leaning forward, he slid his hands between her legs to her butt. His thumbs spread the lips of her labia open to his mouth. The tendrils of desire Cynthia felt when he scented her turned into roils of unbridled passion when his tongue found her clit. “Oh! Oh, my God, oh!” There was no doubt in her mind that she would have collapsed had not Bill supported her, holding her butt and pressing her against him. Still, she leaned forward, bracing her hands on the safe wall. With enthusiasm, he licked her lower lips from one end to the other, then focused solely on her clit. Stroke after stroke brought her to her knees metaphorically. While his fingers massaged her butt cheeks, his thumbs found their way past the opening of her vagina and now scrubbed the close lining of her passage. Her arms shook and she could only find shallow breath. She thought she might pass out from the intensity and gave fleeting thought to begging Bill to stop. But she couldn’t. On their own, her hips moved in rhythm to his tongue and thumbs, seeming to be the only part of her that knew how to respond to his ministrations. Hot! She was so hot. Burning from the flames, she felt her skin redden, rather than saw it. More, more, more. Pressing forward, her hips thrust toward his head, faster and faster. If she could have, she would have held him against her, inside her, within her, a part of her very being. She needed him to be part of her. She needed— “Ahhh…” She’d thought she would scream when she came, the feelings were so overwhelming, but instead she gave almost a sigh. She rested her forearm on the cabinet and dropped her head, barely able to move, not wanting to before the dizzying contractions and spasms ended. Not wanting the contractions and spasms to end. Her hand fell to Bill’s head. How could he not know he’d already brought her to the most glorious climax? Yet his tongue still swiped against her swollen, tender clit, keeping

her on edge. She would never feel calm again, not truly. Just a thought of his mouth on her would forever send her spiraling into the heavens. Finally, he stopped, raising his head slightly. She realized her hand stroked his hair and he turned his head into her hand, encouraging her touch. With a controlled strength she hadn’t imagined in him, he lowered her to his lap, gently seating her on him. He pushed her knees out and adjusted his hips until all she felt was Bill. Her black-asmidnight pubic hair, wet and scented with her juices, curled in riotous chaos with his brown hair. Her sensitive clit pressed into the hair above his cock and his balls strained tightly against her butt. The smell of her was on his breath. His eyes darkened and glazed, Bill stared at her breasts. He raised his thumbs and spread the results of her climax on her nipples. Pulling her forward, he groaned as his mouth latched onto first one nipple then the other, cleaning them of cream. At the same time, he started a slow rock with his hips. Without seeming to move, he thrust. Cynthia felt the surge of his cock deep within her. She’d known that he was big, very big. If she’d given it any thought she might have been nervous about his entry. Other men had complained about how small she was, how tight, and that they had a hard time gaining entrance. Not Bill. He’d seemed to slip in, and though she felt full to the extreme, there was no discomfort. Only exquisite friction. She couldn’t help but respond. Rising to her knees, she slid off of him then dropped back. Bill leaned his head against the cabinet, eyes closed. But his hands firmly grasped her hips and helped her rise again. Then fall. Rise and fall. Within seconds their panting filled the vault. The smell of sex was everywhere. Sweat covered them, helping their bodies slip and slide as their movements became more frenzied. Twisting her hair in one fist, Bill brought her mouth to his. His other arm trapped her waist, pulling her up tightly against him. His thrusts were sharp and short now. Her clit scraped the area above his cock; her tender nipples scoured his chest with each drive. In rhythm with his cock, his tongue mimicked the thrust and withdrawal, insinuating the flavor of cream into her mouth with each entry. She thought she would burst from the sensual overload. Her pussy ached for release again, the tension swirling from her clit to every nerve ending in her body. Then, it happened! Her internal spring coiled to a taut band and let go. Tingling spread throughout her body. She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Behind her eyes she saw blue sky over a meadow of flowers. A bird soared in the heaven and another joined it. The sounds they made in the throes of mating filled her head. Suddenly, Bill filled her body, his penis pulsing against the lining of her vagina, his moans barely perceptible to her ears. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him as close as she could. He crushed her to him, rocking into her, emptying a part of him into a part of her, as though he never wanted to let her go. If she could arrange it, she would, she assured him in her thoughts. Gradually, his arms relaxed and her head rested on his shoulder. Boneless, if the vault door had swung open at that moment she wouldn’t have been able to make an escape. Contentment ruled for a time, as she let everything else seep away. Bill readjusted her on his lap, turning his head to kiss her forehead. “Is that what you’d hoped for? Did you fly?” “Yes, I did. Thanks, Bill. This was…” She raised her head to look at him. “I hope it

wasn’t too uncomfortable for you.” His eyes narrowed, questioning her comment. “Why would you ask that? You’re incredible. Tight and hot, just like I’d imagined all these weeks.” He pushed her head back onto his shoulder and stroked her hair. “Made just for me to fill. Just me.”

Chapter Four They sat together for a long time, not talking, hardly moving, Bill’s hand smoothing her hair hypnotically until Cynthia dozed on his shoulder. He shook her awake after what seemed like minutes. “What is it? Is it time to go?” Coming out of her sleepy fog, she realized they were still sitting on the floor, mostly nude. “We’d better get dressed. You’re shivering and the guard should make his rounds in another twenty minutes.” His hands rested on her hips. Leaning forward, he kissed her. A soft kiss, gentle, free of his earlier wildness. Was that just sex, then? The strange attraction they’d felt all those weeks ago and again here, was it only the need for physical fulfillment? With help, she rose, still slightly disoriented from her sound nap. “Of course, you’re right.” Bending to pick up her top, she added, “The next time I break into a safe, remind me to bring a port-a-potty.” He chuckled, standing to fasten his slacks and button his shirt. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” She slipped into her ski pants and top then knelt on one knee to tie her shoe. “What’s this guard of yours like?” she asked while forming a bow. “I mean, will he try to take me himself or will he call the cops first?” It wasn’t that she was worried about being harmed by the guard—she knew Bill wouldn’t allow anything to happen to her. But she dreaded knowing that his last look at her would be at the front of a gun then handcuffed. Weak and conquered after the power they’d shared. “No, George is a good guy. He’ll go by the book and call both the police and the fibbies when he sees that rope hanging from the vent. And that’s why I want you to try to go out that vent before he makes his rounds.” She snapped her head up, then stood, her mouth open in surprise, shoes forgotten. “What?” His gaze was on the vent in the safe ceiling. “The air’s not blowing now so it won’t be as cool, although that metal vent will be chilly. I think I can lift her that high.” He spoke to himself, never mind that he said the words out loud. “And she’s got that handydandy drill…” Turning to her, he let his lips curve up into a half smile. “You’re no bigger than a minute, but that space is pretty small, too. Do you think you can fit?” “What about the steel bars?” He was letting her go? How could that be? Shaking his head, he bent to finish tying her shoes. “I lied. Never had them put in here. Never thought I’d need them.” Standing, he held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. Not just looked—concentrated. “But I have to know, Cynthia, did you take anything? Do I need to worry about what you put outside the safe? Because if you did, then it doesn’t matter how much I want you to get away. I won’t let my feelings go any further between me and what’s right.” Her heart raced. He cared for her and that’s why he was helping her. What they had was not just sex, but real feelings. “I swear to you, Bill, I took nothing.” After a moment he gave a nod. “Okay. We don’t have much time. Here.”

He stooped and waited while she climbed onto his shoulders, then slowly stood, holding her legs in a balancing act. “Cyn?” “Hmm?” It took no time to unscrew the vent plate. She tucked the screws in her pocket. “Why’d you do this?” Despite their situation, Bill edged his head around to nuzzle her thigh, causing her to suck in her breath with need. She thought for a minute before answering. “I had something to prove. I guess I could have done it in a different way, but I—I was stupid, Bill, and in need of a little excitement. Or flamboyance. Can you understand that?” He snorted. “Yeah, I can.” “I never meant to cause this kind of trouble, and I never would have touched this bank if I’d known you…” Dropping her hand to his face, she stroked his cheek in an upside down caress. “You’d better go,” he said in a gruff tone. “And Cynthia? I don’t think it would be a good idea for us to see each other again. I mean, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t come back and look me up, okay?” She said nothing. What could she say? With some shimmying and twisting, she squeezed through the small opening, then turned and looked back. Bill stood below the vent, head lowered, shoulders slumped. He had just let her escape, against what the law dictated and what his own code of justice said he should do. It was then she knew how much she meant to him. She had a feeling that to Bill, honor and doing what was right, meant everything. **** Taps and rumbles echoed off the metal as Cynthia hurried through the vent and away from the safe. Bill hung his head, knowing he’d done precisely the wrong thing for precisely the right reason. In his heart he knew Cynthia wasn’t a criminal. By all rights, she should be arrested and thrown in the slammer, which is exactly what he’d planned when he saw the safe had been cracked. But in some irresistible way, she’d gotten under his skin. Maybe a little into his heart. Certainly into his mind and dreams. Suck it up. What’s done is done. He snatched the white mask off the floor and jammed it in his pocket, then picked up his phone, dropped and forgotten when he’d first kissed Cynthia. Finally, he picked up the tan cloth bag holding the cash she’d used to hit him. Folding the bag, he stacked the rolls of quarters as neatly as he could. At least he hadn’t been slugged with pennies. The piercing alarm on his pager sounded, indicating Cynthia had messed with the safe computer program again. He turned it off, wishing he’d never paid attention to the damn thing to begin with. Yeah, the bank would have been robbed, but he wouldn’t have been complicit. Neither would he have discovered his feelings for Cynthia were real, for all the good that knowledge would do him now. So, there was a trade-off. There always was. At a noise from behind he turned, expecting to see at least George and maybe armed lawmen. Instead, Cynthia peeked in through the opened door. He hated the happiness he felt seeing her, and compensated by narrowing his eyes and jamming his hands on his

hips. “What are you doing here?” She pushed the door wide and stood for a moment, as though making sure it wouldn’t close on its own. Satisfied, she stepped in with a smile. “I assumed when you said not to come back you didn’t mean before I let you out.” She thrust her hands on her hips and raised her brows. “Or do you want to stay in here?” Huffing out a breath he dropped his hands. “No, of course not. Thanks.” The irony of it struck him again. He had only been locked in the safe because of her, and now relied on her to release him. Fate had a strange sense of humor. “Lift me up again so I can screw the vent back in place. Hurry.” She fairly bounced, waiting for him to stoop and pick her up. He wanted to kiss her so badly, it hurt. With the help of her drill-screwdriver, the vent was back in place quickly and Cyn was back on the floor. “Damn! I can’t find my mask.” “Here.” Bill pulled it from his pocket. “Thanks,” she said, taking it from him. “I shouldn’t leave anything behind.” Her eyes were sad, her posture slumped. Still, practically dragging him along, she exited the vault. He pushed the door of the big, old safe closed. “Well, Bill, I guess this is goodbye.” She squeezed his arms and rested her forehead on his chest. “It’s for the best. Take care of yourself, sweetheart.” She nodded. A sniffle said she was crying. “I wish I could say stay out of trouble.” His arms wrapped around her. At that moment, all he wanted was to stay there, feeling her sweet body molded to his. “You’d better go.” He glanced at his watch in the dim red illumination of the emergency light. “George will be here any minute.” Again she nodded, but didn’t move. Finally, he pushed her away and turned her toward the rope, dangling from the ceiling vent. She scooped up her backpack and, like a cat climbing a tree, she was up and out of sight. In another second, the rope disappeared. She leaned down only to pull the vent up, her eyes meeting his for a split second. He heard the scratch of metal on metal as she found a way to keep the vent in place. Then taps, scrapes and the piercing sound of his alarm once more. He flipped it off. “So that’s how you knew to come to the safe,” she said, the words echoing down into the room. “I wondered.” “Cynthia?” He whispered although they were the only two there. “Don’t ever come back to my bank, but don’t forget me, okay?” “There’s not a chance in this world, Bill,” came the low reply. He only hoped that meant she wouldn’t forget him. “Sir?” Bill jumped half out of his skin. He spun to see George standing in the open safe room doorway. “I thought I heard you say something, Mr. Hawk. Just making my rounds. Are you still being spooked with fears of something happening tonight?” “I was just talking to myself, George. And yeah, I guess spooked is a good word for how I felt. But it looks like everything is fine.” Or will be when I get NorthNev to fix the damned hole in my security. He put his hand on George’s shoulder and led him from the room. “Sir,” George continued on, “I know you get nervous every time we have the mine

payroll in the bank as well as the casino deposits, but it only happens once a month and under tight security. Who could know? Plus, like me, that big safe there is old, but it’s the most secure safe in the world, Mr. Hawk. No one’s gonna break that safe—they haven’t in over a hundert years, and they won’t now.” “Yeah, George, you’re probably right.” But just to be sure, Bill took one last look over his shoulder. **** “Thank you very much for selecting us as your bank, ma’am. We pride ourselves on being the friendliest bank in Nevada.” The lovely young woman handed Cynthia her passport savings book and counter checks for the accounts Cynthia had just opened. “I hear you’re one of the safest banks in the state. That’s why I chose you.” She tucked the checks and small leatherette book in her finely-tooled, real leather handbag. “Oh, yes, ma’am. Our president takes great pride in having the finest security of any bank in the state. Maybe the country,” the young woman gushed. Looking up over Cynthia’s shoulder, she smiled prettily and her cheeks tinged pink. “Oh, here he is now. Mr. Hawk, Ms. Williams has just opened a new account with us.” Cynthia took a deep breath before standing to face Bill. When she did, she allowed her eyes to roam his face searching for what he might be feeling. The same dispassionate gaze he’d worn when she first saw him stared back at her. But when he took her hand, the heat traveling up her arm gave the lie to his eyes. “Ms. Williams? Not Cynthia Williams?” She heard the clerk mutter, “Who is Cynthia Williams?” Cynthia laughed. “The very same, Mr. Hawk.” He pursed his lips and said nothing for a moment more, but he didn’t release her hand. “This is a pleasure. I hope you’ve been treated well?” “Yes, this lady says you have the friendliest bank around, but I assured her that security is more important.” “Yes, I’m sure you feel that way,” he said dryly. “Why don’t you let me tell you more about the bank? Come to my office for a minute.” He did let go of her hand then and spun on his heels. With a shrug of her shoulders, Cynthia followed. “Hold my calls, please,” Bill commented to another woman sitting outside the solid door marked President. When he closed the door behind Cynthia, he stood looking down at her with his arms crossed. “I thought I requested that you not come to my bank again.” “Well, I didn’t think you really meant it. I’ve just moved to your fair town and, in case it escaped your notice, I deposited money today.” She skimmed by him to look at the photos scattered over the bookshelves along the wall, her silk dress rustling as it brushed his suit. “And by the way, the ‘friendliest’ bank in the state might be seen as more friendly if your clerks didn’t ‘ma’am’ all the women who come in. I’m not exactly over the hill.” She threw a glance over her shoulder just in time to see a smile cross his face, and she smiled back. “Believe me, that fact hasn’t escaped my notice.” She walked back to him. “Good.” Once again, all was quiet between them. His eyes were bluer than a summer sky now, and as warm.

“I think I understand how you knew about the mine payroll and the security measures.” “Oh?” “When I called to give NorthNev Security hell, they told me they had a promising investigator who’d worked at the FBI for years. Wes Little, my representative at NorthNev was full of praise for this woman. Said she’d been working on improvements for my system.” “Really. A ‘promising investigator?’ He said that?” He shrugged. “I’m not sure. He might have said the best investigator they’d ever had, you know how companies kiss up when they know their ass is on the line.” She slapped his shoulder playfully. “I’m sure if Wes said that, he meant it.” “Anyway, Wes said this female investigator had found several holes in the bank’s security. Off the record, he told me that she’d had trouble convincing the higher ups that she was right. She’s supposedly a bit wild and passionate, and—although brilliant—tends to get herself in trouble with her exuberance. Said she’d almost gotten fired twice in the few short months she’s worked for them because she’d gone out on a limb to prove a point.” He clucked. “Hard to believe such a stubborn woman could actually be one of their best investigators, isn’t it?” “The best investigator they’ve ever seen,” she corrected. “I guess I do go overboard sometimes, but only with the best of intentions. Still,” she spoke lower, “if I’d been caught I would have gotten the book thrown at me. It’s one thing to theorize on loopholes in security, and quite another to prove them by breaking the law.” She shuddered. “I can promise I won’t be doing it again.” “You’ve got that right. I’m taking on the task of keeping you on the straight and narrow.” She smiled happily. Running her hand up under his tie, she undid a button and slid her hand to feel his heartbeat. “I think you’re happy to see me, after all.” “Hmm.” He took a step closer. “When I told Wes that I thought we had some serious problems, and that I was pretty sure the program I’d added to the system had stopped a robbery, he got right on it.” Cupping her breast, he winked. “You’re just as happy to see me. Anyway, I said that NorthNev had better give that investigator a huge bonus and assign her to my account.” “Which he did. It’s my bonus I just deposited in this very friendly, extremely safe bank. By the way, I don’t want you to think that I used inside information to break in here. It was all information I gleaned from sources, so I’m glad NorthNev decided to take my recommendations seriously.” “If they hadn’t, I would have hired you as an independent consultant. Can’t do that now, though.” He removed his hand from her breast and wrapped his arms around her instead. “Why not?” She locked her hands around his waist. “Conflict of interest. Can’t hire my girlfriend without someone thinking I’m taking inappropriate actions.” Rising up on her toes, she brushed her lips across his. “Oh, I’m your girlfriend? Sure you can stand having a bank robber so close?” He took her mouth in a deep kiss, searing her with fire all the way to her toes. “Are you kidding,” he whispered when they broke apart. “Let others take wine and cheese and

go out to the high plains to make out. I’ll gather up a couple of beers and a soft comforter and have my little safe cracker get us in the most secure place in the state to kiss and…” he cupped her butt “—do other things.” “Safe sex?” she asked, laughing. He groaned. “That’s a terrible pun. But the sex is anything but terrible. It’s the best,” he murmured, “with you.” The End About the Author: Dee S. Knight hasn't led a dull life, she's led a lucky one. For instance, she was lucky enough to grow up in a military household where she got used to seeing lots of handsome men in uniform. Thus, at thirteen she was prepared when she met her future husband. He also grew up in a military family and then attended a military high school and college. Another handsome man in uniform-YES! Lucky Dee! For the past thirty years, as long distance truckers, teachers, computer trainers and consultants, she and her hubby have experienced many of their dreams and happily lived the adventure they call their life. Wanderlust strikes often, but fortunately they consider anywhere they're together, home. Yes, again. Very lucky, indeed. Please visit http://deesknight.com to see what's currently going on in Dee's world.

Fateful Fieldtrip Emma Bruce Dedication To all the beautiful Virgo virgins everywhere.

Chapter One Tim Mitchell felt an awful lot like a guy who could get sick—really sick—really soon. But he was in charge here and there were twenty-five fifth graders tugging on him and asking where they were going next. “Are you all right?” asked a soothing voice just over his left shoulder. He turned to see an incredibly hot girl wearing the standard maroon blazer with the science museum logo on her lapel. “I uh…” He knew he was flushed as he reached to loosen his smile-face tie. “The Journey Through the Birth Process room does that to a lot of people,” she said softly. “I guess I didn’t eat much this morning and it was really hot in there.” She smiled, tilted her head so her sandy hair fell to the side and handed him a crinkly cellophane package of crackers. “It is warm. We like to represent the exact temperature at the time of birth.” “Mr. Mitchell! When do we get to the dinosaurs?” Tim turned his attention to Josh Connors, who was hopping, pleading and pointing. “Um…” Tim fumbled in his pocket for his trip itinerary, but his new friend intervened before he’d located it. She turned to the class and spoke in an authoritative voice. “I’m going to arrange for Miss Hoople to take you to the dinosaurs. She’s an expert on the Mesozoic era and she’ll be very informative.” A collective cheer sounded as the beautiful girl threw her hair over her shoulder and whispered to a woman standing a few feet away. In just seconds Mrs. Ryder’s fifth grade was following the Mesozoic expert up the stairs. A pit formed in his gut when Tim realized he felt disappointed because now Ms. Museum would smile sweetly, point him to a drinking fountain and be on her way. But she surprised him instead as she walked to his side, directed him to an empty bench near a display case of extinct birds and then lowered herself next to him. “I’m Suzanne Tate. I’m one of the curators here.” Tim took her extended hand and felt an instant zing during the quick shake. “Tim Mitchell. Substitute for Mrs. Ryder’s fifth grade.” She laughed then—clear and melodic. “Sub? That wasn’t nice of Mrs. Ryder to get sick on fieldtrip day!” “Or Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Parks and Mr. Hammersmith.” “You were choice number four?” Tim shrugged. “Maybe more, who knows.” Her eyes were a soft shade of blue. “So, Mr. Mitchell, what do you do on the days when you’re not lassoing fifth graders through the Museum of Science?” “I’m the district’s middle school gym teacher and football and baseball coach. But the middle school is closed until Monday to repair a leaky roof.” She raised her delicate brow. “And the gym teacher was the first one they asked when the sub pool dried up?” Tim leaned in and caught a gentle whiff of lilac. “I was the only one dumb enough to

answer the phone this morning at six.” She laughed again and swung her feet ever so slightly. “Ah. Well, the children would’ve been disappointed to miss this. Teachers tell us it’s the highlight of their science unit.” “Glad to be of service.” “You still look a bit pale. Would you like to take a walk over to The Constellations and Zodiac room? It’s nice and cool in there.” Tim glanced behind him. “I would, but will the class be okay?” Suzanne stood up and smoothed an unseen wrinkle on her blazer. “Miss Hoople is extremely long winded,” she said, with a smile he felt from his heart to his shaky gut to his crotch. He managed to stand, and though the nausea had really passed, he allowed her to steady his arm with the gentle grip of her hand. He followed her down a short corridor to a whirling tunnel that must’ve been representative of the Milky Way. Why the hell hadn’t this been on his itinerary? Instantly a cool puff of breeze hit him. “Look up,” Suzanne whispered, still holding on to his arm. Tim raised his eyes to the twinkling psuedo-night sky above. “Wow.” “Wow,” she repeated as she nudged him along. “This is Aries. It’s the first in line of the Zodiac, though many people believe that Aquarius is because it coincides with the beginning of a calendar year. In fact, Aquarius is actually the eleventh sign. Pisces is last.” “I can honestly say I didn’t know that.” “What sign are you?” she asked as they walked. There was something about her hair, her smile, the way her nose wrinkled up when she laughed that made his mind blur. He struggled to remember. “Virgo I think.” “You think?” she asked and his damn heart pounded, making him weak all over again. “September 14th.” “You’re a Virgo all right.” She stopped then and turned to him. “Guess what?” “Hmm.” “I’m a Virgo too.” “You’re kidding me.” She shook her head and her silky hair swung. “Uh uh. September 1st. I knew I was passing the Journey Through the Birth Process room at that moment for a reason.” Tim leaned against a railing that separated the curious public from the display. “So that’s why you intervened on my pitiful behalf?” She shrugged and giggled and he really wished to hell she’d stop doing that. They stood quietly for a moment, just looking, and he wondered if she felt it too. Did she feel something that was bigger than anything he could ever remember feeling before? He instinctively looked down at her delicate fingers. A class ring with a jewel of blue, but no diamond or band of plain gold to be found. She glanced at her watch. “What school are you from?” “Madison Elementary.” “In Red Brook?” “Yup.”

She palmed her flawless woolen skirt. “That would put you on the one forty-five pick up?” Feeling a bit less like a Martian now, Tim nodded. “That’s what it says on my trusty paper.” “I’ll hurry Miss Hoople along then. I wouldn’t want you to miss your bus. I do hope you’re feeling better now.” “I am, thanks.” She moved to leave. Uncharacteristically, Tim took her arm. “I know this is going to sound really weird, but would you like to go to dinner?” She didn’t say anything. He hadn’t felt like such a heel since he’d fumbled the last play that could’ve won the championship when he was in eleventh grade. Her pretty head tilted and he let go of her. “I meant with me?” he said, and she crossed her arms, making him feel like an even bigger jerk than before. “We don’t even know each other, Mr. Mitchell.” “Tim.” “All right, Tim.” “I know that, and believe me, I don’t generally go around asking out museum personnel that I’ve known for a total of four minutes, but I can’t help but think that we met for a reason. That I felt sick in here for a reason.” “And that reason was to take me to dinner?” “I’m not sure.” She looked toward the corridor beyond the display. “I’ll go hurry the children along,” she said and disappeared through the Milky Way. **** Tim was mighty proud that he’d spotted Lawrence Edward’s portable CD player and confiscated it as per Mrs. Ryder’s rules. He took one final assessment of his class list, double-checked that they’d all boarded and reached for the shining handle of the bus just as he heard his name. Suzanne was making her way toward him. “I’m glad I caught you,” she said, looking flushed herself this time. “Did I forget something?” She shook her head. “No, I just wanted you to know that I’ve thought it about it and I’d like to go to dinner if the offer still stands.” “Excuse me?” She looked from side to side and then stood on her tiptoes. “I’d like to see you again.” Tim shushed the rowdy ten-year-olds and then stepped to her side. “Are you sure?” Suzanne stuffed her hands into the pockets of her blazer. “Do you know the number of people who feel sick or faint after leaving the Journey Through the Birth Process display? On average, ten a day. The only other one I’ve ever assisted was a ninety-yearold woman who couldn’t believe she’d lived through all of that seventy years before. I generally let one of the guides take care of it.” Tim’s brow furrowed as he ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m not sure I understand.” She whispered, “I felt it too. Like it was meant to be. It scared me a little.”

“I know,” he whispered back and tried to ignore the teasing cackles coming from the bus. She crossed her arms. “So, does the offer still stand?” Tim smirked and felt so glad that he’d forgotten to eat breakfast in his hurry to make the eight o’clock bell. “Absolutely,” he said with a nod. “Great, but may I make a suggestion?” Tim banged the bright yellow panel of the bus when the class began to jump inside so much that the contraption actually started rocking. “I’m up for suggestions.” “The museum closes at six. Why don’t you come back and I’ll have the cafeteria chef make us something. It’s quiet and we can take a bit of time getting to know each other. That is, if you’re feeling up to this tonight after feeling sick earlier.” “I’m up to it,” Tim said, laughing to himself at the irony of his words. His dick was up to a full eight inches at the moment and still had one more to go.

Chapter Two Suzanne spit a bubbly mouthful of red gel toothpaste into the sink and rinsed with a cup of lukewarm water. She snatched a nearby finger towel and delicately patted her face as she glanced in the mirror. What the hell was she doing? What was there about this alluring guy? “Silly,” she said out loud to her reflection. She threw the towel down and unbuttoned her blouse. If she was going to have her one and only date in over a year, she might as well look good. It had been thirteen long months since a man had touched her, longer still since one had desired her so they both felt weak with need. She’d seen that need on Tim’s face, and it mirrored her own. Howard had been a staid Paleontologist, but he had a nice cock and knew what to do with it. His lovemaking hadn’t been terribly passionate, but it was satisfying and that had been enough until Suzanne’s thoughts turned to the desire for more—turned to settling down in a perfect little Cape Cod with nights spent in front of a television with a glass of wine and fuzzy slippers. Turned to starting a family and raising well-rounded children who would love more than cold, concrete science. Howard disagreed. She’d hung on a year longer than she should have, giving him the ultimatum when her twenty-eighth birthday had been in sight. He took the ultimatum—took it with him when he left for an archeological dig in Asia. Aside from a postcard depicting a mummified Pharaoh, she hadn’t heard from him since. Now, all this time later, she still wanted that wine and those slippers and that family, but not one other man had asked her to a movie, kissed her, filled her body with a pounding-but-decadent cock. She should have known. Howard was an Aquarius—Virgos’ worst possible match— and she should’ve heeded the signals much earlier. But life was full of learning, as her grandmother used to say, and Suzanne tried to keep that in mind. She unhooked her bra and watched her small breasts pop out. She lifted one and then the other before running a gentle finger over each tip. Why did she want Tim Mitchell to see these? Why did she want the rough-and-tumble coach with the sexiest smile she’d ever seen to bend down and kiss, lick and then, God forbid, chew? He probably had girls all over him, even given his weakness for fainting when viewing slides of live birth. But he had said he felt a connection, hadn’t he? Hadn’t he said that he couldn’t help but think he felt sick and nearly passed out for a reason? He was a coach, most likely had been a player, given his thick but lean frame. Hadn’t he been exposed to blood and pain many times before? But still, he’d been overcome with nausea just as she “happened” to saunter by after seeing the handsome teacher try and maintain order over a group of rowdy 10 year-olds. Suzanne bit her lip as her fingers began to pluck the sensitive tips. What if he could see her now? What if he knew she was standing in front of the mirror pleasuring her own breasts with thoughts of him on her mind? But she was a

Virgo—sensitive, loyal, ripe. He was too—not generally the best Zodiac match, but certainly not the worst. Perhaps at least there could be a sexual compatibility that she was sorely lacking. But would he want that? Would he want more than just dinner and an extra hour or two to try and figure out why the heck they both felt the need to meet just one more time? A tiny “ah” escaped her mouth as her fingers increased their pressure. She pinched a taut nipple and then set to work gently scratching the puckered tip with a manicured nail. “Ooh,” she moaned into the quiet of her office. She had her vibrator in her bag just across the room, used it often in the middle of the day for a quick pick-me-up before she headed home to do it in earnest with the rock-hard plastic rod for a good hour at least. But she didn’t move for it now. Didn’t move to grab it and lick it before she slid it into her burning core and frigged herself until she cried out far more than a little “ooh”. She tugged at her nipple, twisted it through a small, beating climax and then sighed. She looked at the flushed color in her cheeks as her breathing steadied and knew without question that she’d left the vibrator undisturbed because tonight she wanted the real thing. **** Tim rang the bell at the museum’s side door just as Suzanne had instructed him. He glanced at his watch. 6:30. He was right on time. He’d managed to get the kids delivered back to the safety of James Madison Elementary, grade a few spelling tests Mrs. Ryder had left and then dart home to rest for two hours before he showered, shaved and jerked off—in that order. He told himself he wouldn’t. Told himself he’d keep all the creamy cum he could so that if he got lucky enough to ejaculate tonight, it would be between the legs of pretty Suzanne Tate. But chances weren’t good that he’d get that lucky and he damn well knew it. Still, a guy couldn’t help hoping. He raised his finger to ring once again when he heard a lock slide and the door open. And there she was, dressed casually with her beautiful silky hair pulled back in a satin bow. “Hello.” “Hi,” he said, feeling like he was sixteen and had just arrived for the prom. “Come on in.” She backed up and he passed into a room filled with boxes and a wax figure of a caveman looking pretty fierce. “That’s Ollie,” she said as she closed and relocked the door. “He has a cracked sternum.” She spread a thick patch of hair to show a jagged rip down his chest. “An elderly man used his umbrella to point at something and Ollie toppled right onto the tip.” “Ouch.” She smiled and motioned him along. “We have all sorts of health problems here.” “I can see that,” Tim said as his eyes trailed over the defunct displays scattered about. “Don’t you ever get the creeps being in here alone?” She turned back as she led him through the corridor. “I’m not alone. I’m with you.” “I guess you are,” he said and without really thinking, reached out and grabbed her hand. “I’m sorry about this, but could I kiss you?” She looked startled for a minute and he wondered if he was moving too fast, but it

didn’t matter. His need was too strong. She moved against him, but ensured that he keep his distance by placing her palms firmly against his chest. “What if I say no?” “Then I’ll be disappointed.” “What if I say yes?” “Then I think we’ll both have an enjoyable minute.” She raised a well-sculpted brow. “Aren’t you sick?” He shook his head. “I’ve never felt better.” Her arms rose to wrap his neck. “Then kiss away, Mr. Mitchell.” So he did. He dove in, pulling her close as his lips devoured. She responded, kissing him back almost immediately. She tasted like honey and silk and anything else soft and sweet and alluring. He heard himself groan as his tongue slipped into the cavern of her mouth and his fingers traced her arms. He deepened it, heard her moan too as he continued his probing, pulling his mouth away to journey down her neck and stop just above the neckline of the simple pink tee shirt she’d changed into. He could see the outline of her small breasts rising and falling with her breaths. “Maybe we should stop.” “Maybe,” she panted and it disappointed him that she agreed. “I have dinner waiting in the Zodiac room. Shall we?” she asked as she nudged her shoulder toward the door. Tim followed her through the darkened museum. Most rooms and displays were lit with only the obligatory tract lighting. “Is everyone gone?” Suzanne nodded as she tugged his hand. “For now.” She paused and gave him one of those sexy smiles. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but the museum is completely empty from closing at six until midnight when the night security guards come in. It was a necessary budget cut that we implemented last year.” She was fascinating. Everything from her innocent hair ribbon to the sassy nail polish on her sandaled toes lured him. “Why did you tell me that? Do you think I’ll take advantage of you if I know that we’re alone?” One of her eyebrows lifted in a come-hither as she shook her head. “No, but you could be a thief with a good line.” He had to laugh. “No rap sheet. Promise.” “Come on,” she said and pulled him to the still refreshingly cool Zodiac room. Tim glanced above to the twinkling and morphing constellations. “I take it this is your favorite.” “I’ve always been fascinated by astrology. This display and the museum’s dedication to the science was one of the reasons I took this job.” She plopped cross-legged on a checkered blanket next to a traditional picnic basket. Tim pulled off his football jacket and flung it down before he sat, wisely placing himself across from her. “Have you worked here long?” “Four years. I started as an undergrad when I was still at the University. One of my professors arranged a fellowship for me and I’ve been here ever since.” She opened the creaky basket lid and pulled out a bowl. “What about you? Are you from the area originally?” Tim nodded, reached for a celery stick and crunched. “Yup, born and raised. I was only away for college. I’m actually teaching at my old school.”

“So you like it, I guess?” He shrugged and grabbed a carrot. “So no college coaching ambitions, or pro glories?” He snickered at the thought. He’d had dreams once—dreams of moving away, being somebody, coming home and riding the fire truck in the Fourth of July parade as he waved to the people who’d known him back in the day—but they’d disappeared a long time ago. “Nope.” “I’m surprised.” He met her eyes, held his stare. “Why?” She looked away and snatched a loaf of crusty bread. “I don’t know. You just seem to be capable of just about anything.” Tim laid back and laced his fingers behind his head as he watched the pseudo-sky above. Leo the Lion seemed to be winking. “I guess you don’t know me all that well.” “I guess not,” she said and set to work pulling out the rest of the well-packed dinner. Tim rolled to his elbow and watched her. She had the most beautiful, delicate hands, efficient yet alluring. She uncovered all of the bowls and reached in for two neatly rolled napkins containing their cutlery. “I guess we’re set.” “This looks good.” “It does. I’m sure it is. As I mentioned, we have a wonderful chef here. We often hold banquets so it was important to us that we had the best person on board.” Tim watched her unroll her napkin and cover her dainty lap. “My guess is they’re pretty lucky to have you on board too.” She looked shy as she shrugged. “I don’t know about that. I just love what I do and that comes through.” He nodded because he understood. She scooped a heaping spoonful of chicken salad onto his plate. Because he had to break the thoughts that were beginning to brew just from being close to her, he glanced up. “Tell me about these.” “The Zodiac? We’d be here all night.” He turned to meet her eyes. “That’s okay.” “Well, that’s Taurus. He, they rather, enjoy control, but are also known for being friendly. They’re not inclined to try new things though and that’s why they’re ruled by the bull.” “Ahh. How about that one?” “That’s Gemini. See the image of double or twins? They have an interest in everything, but sometimes just become spread too thin because of it and a high level of frustration ensues.” “I think my kid brother is one of those. There was stuff from model cars to musical instruments all over my room until I left for college.” She giggled and took a small bite of chicken salad. “Tell me about us,” he said then as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She swallowed and suspended her fork in mid-air right by her mouth. “Us?” “Virgo.” “Oh, us.” She set her plate and fork down, took a swallow of lemonade and settled back against her elbows. “There we are. See?” she asked as she pointed to the opposite end of the room. “Well, we love order—hence your hatred for your brother’s messy

ways.” Tim smiled and looked back to the sky. “We tend to be a bit critical and a little bossy, but we’re helpers and prefer to stay in the background as opposed to being front and center.” He turned to see her looking at him. “That might be why you stayed here when you probably could’ve done more with your life.” It would’ve pissed him off had any other person on the planet decided to analyze his life, but instead it fascinated him somehow. Fascinated him so much he felt the need to tell her what he hadn’t told anyone in years. “I did want more. I wanted a lot of things. But when I was home for spring break my senior year of college I got my high school girlfriend pregnant. I was drunk, we were at this wild beach party and it just happened. She’d never left here, went to the community college for a couple of years and then just hung around, working in a bank and waiting for me. I never led her on, but she always thought I’d change my mind and come back and build a life here with her. “She told me the day I graduated. She rode to the ceremony with my parents and then just laid it on me right there in the hall while I clutched my diploma. I had an opportunity to do my grad work at a Big Ten school and coach the offensive line for this phenomenal team.” Tim glanced up, took a breath and looked over at Suzanne, who hung on his every word. “Instead I got married two weeks later. My mother insisted and I really felt it was all I could do. I gave up the spot, took the job I have now which miraculously had opened after twenty-five years of the same guy having it, and I signed up for night courses at State so I could get my Master’s.” “Why didn’t you just take your wife to the other school with you and keep to your plan?” Tim laid back and balanced his plate on his chest. “I suggested it—about a thousand times—but she refused. She had a million reasons; she wanted to be by her mother, have the baby with the doctor that had delivered her, she’d miss her friends, she’d always liked a little house on Shady Lane that just had come up for sale and her father decided to buy it for us as a wedding present.” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be. It’s ancient history.” “May I ask what happened?” For some uncontrolled reason he reached up and gently touched her lips. “How do you know that something happened?” “Well, you’re here with me, kissed me about fifteen minutes ago and you’re not wearing a wedding ring.” He sucked in a breath and hated remembering, but really wanted her to know at the same time. “My first week of work I got a call from her mother saying she was in the hospital. I rushed over, but I was too late. She had a miscarriage. She was five months along so it was pretty brutal. They told us that she had an incompetent cervix.” “Oh, Tim, I’m so sorry.” “I tried to help her, tried to be there for her, but I wasn’t as supportive as I could’ve been. I just couldn’t help but think, now what? I was resentful, a bit of a prick I guess.” Suzanne stroked his cheek with the back of her fingers and he felt his eyes slip

closed at the gentle comfort. “It’s certainly understandable. Look what happened to you in such a short time.” “I know that now. I’ve worked through it all, but it wasn’t a great time for me. She left right before Thanksgiving. Turns out she’d had a thing for her boss at the bank for over a year. I’m not even sure that the baby was mine. He was married, so I was the only fool willing to make good on it.” “Where is she now?” “LA. She decided she wanted to break into acting. We got a nice quiet divorce and I ended up owing her father a hundred grand for the house I never wanted and with a job that I now care too much about to leave. It took me four years, but I finished my Master’s last spring.” He stopped and shot her what he knew was a charming smile. “I even got a raise and a cake in the teacher’s lounge.” She smiled and returned her hand to her fork. “No one since her?” “No one serious. A few randy student teachers that had taken apartments in town and were bored with off-campus nightlife after a few weeks, but nothing that meant anything. I think I’m a little leery.” “Which is certainly understandable.” Tim sat up, took a generous forkful of chicken salad and wondered why he felt purged. “Tim,” “Hmm.” “What was her name?” “Kelly.” “When was Kelly’s birthday?” He faced her. “Wintertime. February something. Near Valentine’s Day. She always reminded me that she should get double the gifts. Why?” Her face turned pale even here in the dim light. “She was an Aquarius!”

Chapter Three He looked sincerely startled—after all she’d blurted it out like a fool—but what were the chances that the girl who had ultimately been so perfectly wrong for him had been an Aquarius, just the same as the man who had been so perfectly wrong for her? “Aquarians and Virgos are a horrible love match, probably one of the very worst of the Zodiac.” “Why?” “We’re detail oriented, they’re broad scope. We can be serious, responsible and reflective, they’re not.” He methodically put down his plate, wiped his palms on his jeans and then moved closer until he grasped her arms with his strong hands. She remembered all too well what his kiss had done to her nether regions. “What about Virgo and Virgo?” he asked. “We’re not the best, not the worst.” “Why is that?” the back of his hand was brushing her cheek and her heart revved with each bit of contact. “We’re analyzers that can drive each other mad. We both are prone to bossiness and like to be right and our wishes adhered to.” “I could get into some adherence.” And with that, his mouth was on hers, more demanding this time as his tongue plunged away. She worried briefly that she tasted like cold chicken salad to him, but her worries fluttered off as he gently nudged her to the floor and within seconds his strong form was above her. “You’re beautiful,” he said softly and it didn’t sound at all like a line. “I don’t feel beautiful most days.” “How about today?” he asked as he leaned in to kiss her eyelids, her cheekbones, the tip of her nose. “More so than most.” “I would love the opportunity to make love to you, Suzanne. How do you feel about that?” She swallowed hard, worried she’d scream out, ‘Yes, please, now!’ but maintained her control and decorum. “I haven’t been in a relationship in quite awhile. I’m not on the pill any more and it would be foolish of us not to consider that.” “I have a rubber,” he whispered into her ear and they were the sexiest words she’d ever heard. He lifted and his dark hair tumbled into his dreamy green eyes. How could she refuse? How could any woman who was breathing refuse? “All right,” she muttered and swallowed his groan with a deep an alluring kiss of her own. He paused, rolled from her and snatched her hand. “Over here. Is that okay?” He indicated a small corner of plush rug that was situated directly below the voluptuous Virgo. And there couldn’t be a better place on earth. She led him with her hand, but didn’t turn when they’d reached it. Instead she carefully and systematically unbuttoned her blouse, let it fall and then unfastened the snap of her bra before she faced him.

He was feet away, but his eyes were fixated on the pert breasts she’d revealed. Though not huge, the few men who had seen them all agreed they adored their shape, their long dusty pink nipples and the ability to stand at attention at all times. “Fuck,” he said as he dropped back and grasped a display rail behind him. Suzanne began a gentle massage. “Do you like them?” “Oh shit,” he moaned as he squeezed his eyes shut and seemed to be grasping for some sort of control. “I guess you do.” She attempted to step toward him, but he extended a long, thick arm and positioned his hand in a ‘stop’. “Hang on a sec. I’m about to really embarrass myself here and I need a minute.” He looked positively adorable, still fully clothed but with a raging hard-on beneath his jeans as he grasped the rail with one hand. The big, tough athlete who couldn’t get a handle on a teeny bit of desire. Suzanne giggled a wicked giggle and stepped toward him. “Are you all right, Tim? You look as pale as you did in the Journey Through the Birth Process.” He bent slightly forward and squatted. “This is a little more enjoyable, but I’m pissed as hell.” She laughed then and moved in for the kill. “Lie back, Tim. Let me help you.” “Hang on,” he said as he sucked in a breath and looked toward the heavens. She wagged a finger in front of his charming face. “Uh, uh, uh, that bossy ‘Virgoness’ is showing. Lie down.” He nearly fell to his bottom and then as if he had no more fight left in him, sprawled out parallel with the rail. Poor boy! A huge tight ridge formed right beneath the painful zipper of his jeans. “Poor thing!” Suzanne said as she attempted to tug the evil zipper south. Though obviously weak as a kitten, he managed to help her ease it and then his jeans down. “Did you come yet?” she whispered as she stroked the massive shaft that was still covered by soft boxer shorts. “No, not yet, but I’m so damn close it’s killing me.” She swooped down to French kiss him, his tongue dancing with hers as his cock jumped beneath her fingers. “You’re so horny, Tim. When was the last time you had sex?” “With another person?” She laughed and found the opening at the front of his boxers. Her hand slipped inside the tight confine to arrive at granite silk. She began stroking. “Yes, with another person.” “Faculty Christmas party.” “That was three months ago!” “Yeah,” he groaned and helped her hand set a pace. “Then when was the last time you had it alone?” “What time is it?” “Seven-o-five,” she answered as she glanced at her watch that sat on the wrist which now slid up and down his huge and needy cock. “About an hour and a half.” “You jerked off before you came here?” “Oh God, yes,” he moaned as she stilled her palm and squeezed.

“Why?” “Because I kept thinking about you. I got a hard-on the second you walked up to me, even though I felt like I was going to die. A guy’s dick is a powerful thing, Suzanne.” “Are you prone to raging hard-ons in museums?” “Not generally.” She looked down and really took it in for the first time. It was fabulous. Long, fat, bulging with magnificent ripply veins running along each side and a dripping purple plum head. His testicles were still tucked away in the fluttery softness of his boxers, but she just knew they would be heavy, full eggs in her palm. “This is so beautiful.” And with that she bent and licked the tip. “Christ!” he shouted out and reached behind him to grasp the rail. “Like it?” she asked as her tongue paused briefly in its fluttering. “Oh shit!” “Don’t come yet, Tim. Hold on, okay?” He’d suffered enough, she decided as she leaned down and swallowed what she could in one hearty suck. He thrashed like a tortured man, but she worked him until she was able to take in all but about an inch, with the fat head buried in the outer portion of her throat. She had a wonderful ability to sidestep the gag reflex, however, which had made her Howard’s hero for a time. But Tim was so much larger and thicker and she was forced to call on every bit of her expertise. She sucked him like a baby would a beloved nipple and he whimpered in response. She’d tugged down his boxers so they rested just below his delectable ass cheeks. His enormous balls fell into her hands. She worked them like a juggler struggling to assess size and heard what sounded like an anguished cry. She pulled from him and began a rhythmic pumping with her palm. She wished she’d thought to pull his v-neck sweater and the tee-shirt revealed ever so slightly beneath it from his strong chest. She would’ve loved to nibble on his nipples. “How are you, Tim? You doing okay?” “I’m going to blow.” “No, not yet. Hang on.” She returned to him and started her suction again. He tasted so sweet and so male, the silkiness of his cock was the softest thing she’d ever encountered in her life. She could’ve sucked him forever, but felt the tightening of his balls and pulled away to tease for a bit longer until they relaxed and fell slightly into her palm. Then she dove in and sucked some more. She kept it up for long, delicious minutes until he called out to pornographic Gods of his own design. “Hang on,” she mumbled around the decadent hugeness and then pulled on him with the suction coming from deep within her throat. “Mother fuck!” he cried out into the stillness of the Zodiac display and detonated quarts of warm juice. She drank it all, tasted it mixed with tangy chicken salad and relished its warmth as it pulsated down her throat and into her belly. She had never swallowed a complete ejaculation before, generally pulling away after Howard’s first few spurts, but she stayed with Tim until the end and his cries halted as his thick breaths struggled to regain air. Suzanne laid her head against his tight abdomen and watched the last remnants of

pearly fluid form in the tip. She systematically squeezed them out, licked them up and repeated the process until he was milked of every drop. His hands ran through her hair, tugging at the ribbon until it came loose. Neither of them spoke, he was probably as unsure what to say as she was, until he finally nudged gently at her head and beckoned her near to his face. “Thank you so much. That was beyond good. Beyond fantastic. No one has ever done me that way—stayed with me through it all, taken it so deep. Thank you.” She kissed him, made sure he tasted his metallic sweetness on her tongue. “That’s their loss, Coach. You are a treat.” “My turn to treat you a little now, okay?” “Aren’t you whipped? You’ve had quite the day between subbing, feeling faint, coming from…” “My fucking toes?” “Something like that,” she said with a smile. “I do feel a little wobbly, but never more ready. You lie down now.” It didn’t take much for her to shift and meet the plush carpet beneath her. She watched as he pulled off his sweater and shirt, and kicked off his jeans before standing completely naked before her like an Adonis. The only clothing between them was her silky black pants and thong. He took a moment to kiss her, just a tender, telling kiss, before he journeyed down to her jaw, her throat, lifting her hair and leaving what she just knew was a tiny mark on her neck in a place that no one would see. “Christ, you’re beautiful,” he moaned as he continued on to her chest. He gave her breasts a reverent look. Only then did he lift his finger and gently rub the tip of one and then the other. Just the tiny contact sent ripples of desire through her. “I like these,” he said as he lowered and replaced his fingertip with his tongue. It was heavenly the way he fluttered it between the two beckoning nipples, only to replace it with his lips moments later. His hand worked to squeeze and hoist her breast to peak just at his lips where he suckled it in even as his other hand trailed a finger along the opposite waiting nipple. She cooed and squirmed and tried to remember that this was truly happening this time, not just a crazy and titillating fantasy. “You have the sexiest tits on the planet.” “Thank you.” “I could suck on them all night.” “Fine with me.” He pulled away then and caught her face with his palms. “But I’m not going to, because I want more, too. I want you every way I know how.” She swallowed and lifted to nip his chin, jaw and then finally lips. “Damn!” he yelled then and she instantly stopped. “What?” “I only have one rubber.” “Oh, I guess we choose your favorite way then.” He took a moment just to stare at her, perused her from her tousled hair to her hips where the rest of her faded from view since his own body pressed to hers. “I’m incredibly glad you sucked me to paradise. If you hadn’t I would’ve finished in six seconds flat once I got inside of you.”

“And you’re thinking you want more than six seconds?” He snickered, lowered to suck in a nipple that he then began to gently chew. When the heat had just begun pumping through her, Suzanne felt him pull away yet again and whisper into her ear, “Oh yeah.” **** Tim tried like hell to be patient. Tried to steady the incessant drumming of his crazy heart and whip his dick back so it wasn’t determined to be hard as a spike just minutes after the biggest, most incredible come of his life. He wanted this to last. Wanted to savor every bit of it and pull the experience out to stretch and extend over long erotic hours tied up in Suzanne Tate’s web. He wanted to fuck her in every position, even partake in the darkest fantasy that he’d only indulged in once before—one night when he and Kelly were both crazy drunk, he’d hit the wrong hole and she’d allowed him to stay. His stupor had faded quickly that night, as if he instantly sensed the warm dry tightness was a different animal all together. He remembered it so well even with the alcohol coursing through his veins. She whimpered a bit, but it only served to make him feel like a Viking king, impaling a reluctant beauty into submission. He relished it, fucked her hard and twisted her nipples while she squirmed. He came in a bubbling frenzy and pulled out because he still didn’t know how the hell the whole thing truly worked. Kelly never mentioned it, though his remnants had to have reminded her for days. She also never agreed to give him entry to that glorious place again. Sometimes Tim wondered if he’d imagined the whole thing. No one since had meant enough for him to ask for such a delicacy, but maybe Suzanne was the girl to relive it with. She was the picture of seductive beauty with her delicate arms raised above her head, causing her small tits to jut out and make him salivate just looking at her. Her waist was small and trim and the rest of her still needed to be revealed from beneath her sensible black pants. Tim set to work tugging at them and she helped by kicking until they were off. All that was left now was a tiny thong adorned with strawberries. “Nice,” he said as he wiggled his fingers beneath the panel and speared her in a second flat. “Oh!” she squealed and jutted her hips to better meet his hand. “Cherries would have been more appropriate, though.” Her head rolled from side to side as her eyes slipped closed. He fingered her with his middle and ring fingers, pulling out, making her cry and then jutting them back in again. He watched her face as she rode and then glanced down to see only his wrist since the rest of his hand was buried beneath the innocent cotton. The sight alone turned him on incredibly. He had to see the rest of her. He pulled his hand from her steamy tight wetness and violently pulled at the thong. In seconds she was exposed and he had to take a minute to swallow. She was almost completely shaved clean, aside from an inch long racing stripe of silky brown that covered the very apex. His hand hadn’t yet journeyed to her clit—he’d been saving that. He could see now he would’ve gotten a mighty surprise had he wiggled in to find her kernel of desire.

A sapphire winked from its hood. “Wow!” “My ex and I were on a dig in Madagascar. It was a whim.” Every so gently Tim reached up and wiggled it. Suzanne instantly cooed. “Did it hurt?” he asked as he twisted it and watched her head fall back. “Yes, it hurt, but my boyfriend held my hand.” “Did you get turned on while they pierced you?” She giggled as his tongue made the initial tingly contact. “A seventy-year-old veiled woman did it.” Tim’s tongue traced the glittering jewel. “Did your boyfriend have half a brain and fuck you senseless as soon as you were alone?” “Two days later. He was worried about infection. Howard was practical before passionate.” Tim’s hands stroked Suzanne’s hips as he steadied her and lashed out with his tongue to treat her to a wonderful ride. He played with the jewel; pulled back to just look at it every once in awhile because it was without a doubt the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. And then when the question entered his mind he had to ask. “How long ago did you guys break up?” “Over a year now.” “And you left this in all that time?” She found the waves of his hair with her delicate hands. “Yes. I considered removing it, but I actually like the sensation while I masturbate.” He almost blew yet again right then and there. “Christ!” “Lick it again, Tim,” she whispered and as her head fall back. “I love it when you lick it.” So he did. He whipped the jeweled hood and then the decadent bud beneath with his tongue while his long fingers battered her juicy opening. “Oh!” she cried out to the constellations watching them from above. “I can’t take much more. I’m really close.” He halted his tongue for just a moment to look at her face, eyes clenched as she gnawed her bottom lip. “You’ll have to take a little more, Suzanne. I’m not done with you yet.” He rolled her over onto her belly, then took a moment to massage her shoulders, rub her back softly and knead the plump-but-firm cheeks of her ass. When she was pliant and cooing, Tim eased his finger into her pussy from this backward angle. She jolted and he knew first that she’d never felt it this way before and second, that he’d found the washboard ripples of her G spot. “Ahh!” she cried and instantly began fucking his finger, begging for another and then another until all but his thumb was buried in her up to the ridge of his knuckles. His right hand continued to work her as his left rubbed circles into the small of her back. “Good girl, Suzanne. That’s the way, baby,” he muttered as she ground into him, literally crying out her delight. “Does your pussy ring feel good pressed into the floor?” “Yes! Oh yes! How did you know?” “I just knew.”

“I’m going to come, Tim. I don’t want to come this way. I want to hold you through it.” “There’s time for that, babe. Right now just let loose. Squirt on my hand and then we’ll both lick it up.” And with that she started pumping like a bronco. She cried out, swore, prayed and he rubbed her back and finger-fucked her pussy through the quivering waves that hit her again and again and again.

Chapter Four Suzanne clenched her eyes and panted like she’d just completed a marathon. Tim’s strong hand still stroked the small of her back, generating gentle tremors. His hand within her had stilled, but remained all but buried in her core. How had she taken all of that? How had he known she could? He leaned down and placed tiny kisses all over her back. “How are you doing, Suzanne?” “Where am I?” she asked with mock seriousness. He giggled and gently eased his hand from her deep cavern. “You’re being fucked under the stars, my beautiful Virgo.” Tim gently rolled her onto her back. He stooped to kiss her with his wet hand extended in the air so not to touch anything before he lowered it beneath his nose near her face and inhaled. “You are the sexiest thing alive.” His tongue jutted out and began to lick her essence from his fingers. “You too,” he murmured near her ear. “Let’s eat you together.” She’d never done such a thing, but the very thought of his suggestion turned her on all over again. Her tongue tentatively swiped at his index finger and before long she was sucking it in, licking the one beside it and groaning at the prospect of her own flavor. They kept it up for long minutes until his hand was cleaned but glistening from their combined mouths. “I have to have you, Suzanne. I have to fuck you now.” He darted up, crawled to his jeans lying in a heap across the floor, and dug for the condom. He was back a second later, shiny red packet in hand. “Do you want to wait a few minutes until we’ve both recovered?” she asked before he lifted it to his mouth to tear it open. “No.” The packet was firmly between his teeth. She laughed at his honesty as she lifted to balance on her elbows and watch him pull out the shimmery rubber. He extended it her way. “Do you want to do the honors?” “Cover up the weapon that will serve to impale me?” “Yeah, that.” “Of course!” she said and sat up. She stroked his long, fat cock. It almost looked as though it were begging. “Look up, Tim. Over there.” She bent down and swept the head with her tongue before she placed the condom over the thick plum. “Look at Sagittarius. He’s got that big mighty arrow. What do you suppose he wants to do with that? And it’s pointing right at Virgo … I always found that interesting.” Tim flinched as she used her teeth. “Spear her I guess.” “I guess,” Suzanne said. “But it’s so complicated. There’s the sun, moon ascendant signs… Real, weighty stuff.” She coyly tugged. “Real weighty.” “Christ, Suzanne. Let me fuck you please.” She rolled the condom down to cover the helmeted head completely. Just to tease, she swiped her tongue along the ripply veins before she covered them as well. “You want to fuck me, Coach?” she said innocently. “Christ, yes.” “How?”

“Any way. Every way.” She tugged at his huge cock and felt wetness stir in her core. “But we only have one little old condom. We need to be smart about this. What’s your deepest desire?” He shook his head and panted. “Not now.” “Why not?” “Because I need your pussy first.” And she understood. She’d never had someone use her ass before, though Howard once slid a finger inside as she rode him. She’d liked it, but he apparently hadn’t because he instantly removed it, never to return it there again. But she hardly even knew Tim Mitchell. That didn’t stop her from being about two seconds from fucking him senseless. She leaned in, whispered. “Maybe … later.” His head thrashed as she finished sheathing him and then swung her leg over him to mount. He lay flat on his back, his face pleading. “Thought I was going to let you be the alpha male, did you?” She lowered her dripping snatch so just the condom reservoir and the very tip of his cock head entered her. “But you were sick today, Mr. Mitchell. You need to be catered to so you don’t expend too much energy.” And then she took him; closed her eyes as her steaming pussy swallowed up each thick, decadent inch. His fingers had scratched her nether walls a bit as he’d played earlier, but the stinging sensation only heightened her desire. His eyes grew huge as she swallowed him inside of her body until he finally surrendered and threw his head back and allowed her to get busy. “Oh, what a cock!” she cooed as she started to move. “What a huge pole you buried in me, Tim.” “You buried it, baby. I just watched.” She gave him a tight pussy squeeze and started to ride. “You’re right. I did. I like it this way. I like to feel you way up in my belly.” “Oh shit,” Tim muttered and started pumping. Suzanne closed her eyes, savoring the sensation of his fingers pinching her nipples before they traveled south to spin her clitty ring. He was a master. A master at the game of lovemaking. “Tell me how it feels, Tim. Tell me what it feels like to be inside of me.” “Like fucking heaven. Like nasty silk.” “Oooo!” she heard herself cry and was both embarrassed and titillated by his raw description. She wanted him deeper—so deep he was swallowed up in her and she’d walk around with him inside forever more. She shifted and he slipped in up to his heavy balls. “Christ, I’m going to kill you, Suzanne. I’ll split you down the middle.” She bucked and felt the fluttering of the orgasm that would visit soon. “But what a way to go!” she squealed as she pumped for it, grasping what she could to pull it in. Then in a cruel move, Tim lifted her—pulling out of her slowly, in long inches until she was no longer impaled—and hopped up, his huge sheathed cock jutting out like a fireplace poker. “Stand up,” he growled. “What?”

He lifted her elbow and tugged. “Stand up.” She did, confused and unserviced. “I was going to come, Tim. I was so close.” He didn’t say anything, just took her hands and placed them firmly over the guide rail behind her. “Hold on,” he said then. “Tight.” And with that, Suzanne watched in amazement as he lifted her legs and wrapped them around his waist so she literally balanced on the rail with only her clutched hands supporting her. Then he lunged and speared like a crazed man. She felt the deep pressure and clenched her pussy and watched in awe as he stood and fucked her like a bull. His hands clutched her ass and every third or fourth stroke he gave her a tiny spank. She had no choice but to hang on for dear life as he pushed in, all of him, right down to the kinky root that led to his balls. “How do you like it?” he asked, though she knew he truly didn’t much care about her answer at the moment. “I … I…” “Deep huh?” he said and thrust again. “Oh yeah.” “I can feel the vibration of your little heart beating against the tip of my cock,” he whispered and that did it. She was lost in the orgasm that clawed at every cell in her body. He talked her through it. Talked of the deepness, the tightness, the warmth, but didn’t stop his pumping for even a second, even when she recovered just enough to hang, almost lifeless against him as he continued his assault. He looked to be in utter concentration as he bit his lip, bent his knees slightly to drive deeper. She felt battered and so incredibly turned on at the same time. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for him if he’d ask. With every ounce of strength she had left, Suzanne strained her neck upwards to catch his lips as he pushed in on a thrust. She nibbled and whispered. “Come on, big boy. You can do it. You can shoot your load.” “Ahhh,” he moaned and thrust all the harder. “Come on, Coach, you can do it.” “Shit,” he swore and extended it to three syllables. “Show me your stuff, Mr. Mitchell. Fill that big rubber with your cream.” And then he exploded with an anguished cry and powerful rhythm. She worried briefly that condom wouldn’t be enough to contain the geyser of his detonation, but forgot as she realized her arms were weak and he was falling against her. After a second he seemed to sense it and pulled her in to fall over him in a jumbled heap against the floor. Still attached, they wriggled for quiet comfort as the Zodiac figures danced above. It was surreal. In moments he was asleep, grasping her tight, still embedded at the heart of her. She followed him down; closing her eyes and relishing the closeness she couldn’t pretend to understand. **** Tim woke up to the feeling of soft warmth beneath his cheek and the twinkling lights of the Zodiac display swirling above. He struggled to get his bearings and then remembered.

Suzanne Tate, curator, and the best fuck of his life. She lay sleeping softly beneath him as his head rested in the crook of her shoulder. He looked down to see that they’d still been joined when they dozed. His cock had shrunk now and slipped from her, enabling a dribble of semen to seep out. “Shit!” he said and rolled over. He lowered to look at her battered entrance in earnest and felt an instant zing of odd male pride at its stretched state the fact that some of his semen was swimming around inside of her. He peeled off the condom, expertly knotted it and decided not to clue Suzanne in on the fact that he’d leaked. His hand stroked her soft belly as she slept, though her nipples beaded at the sensation even though she was unconscious. It was a fun experiment—stroking, tugging her clit ring and watching those precious little nipples stand at attention. Tim kissed her neck, her chest, let her coo and adjust and then ran a tongue around her nipple. She was awake then and he lifted his hand to be kissed by her tantalizing mouth. “Hi,” he muttered against her. “Hi. What time is it?” Tim glanced down at his watch. “Nine thirty.” “Wow! We slept all that time?” “We fucked, if you recall, then we slept.” “I recall.” Tim felt his dick harden as he slid down her body to lick that gorgeous jeweled clit. “We still have dessert in the basket,” Suzanne said, though her hand fisted in his hair. “Bring it out. I’ll spread it all over you and lick it up.” “What would the fine parents of the Red Brook Central School District think if they knew that one of their beloved teachers was a relentless sex fiend?” “Not sure,” he said with a sweep of his tongue against her clit. “But I don’t really give a damn at the moment either.” She moaned then at the gentle pressure he applied to her bud. “Tim,” she murmured. “Hmm.” “We don’t have another condom and I feel myself getting a little stirred up, so maybe we should stop.” He thought of telling her to hell with it—some of his cum was swimming around inside of her as they spoke—but instead he lifted and looked at her face; it was full of both desire and concern. Man, he wanted her and he wasn’t sure he had control enough to stop. He kissed his way back up until he was even with her face. “There is another way.” “Do you mean pull out?” Tim kissed her jaw line. “Truthfully, I don’t trust myself to have that much control when I’m inside of you, Suzanne.” “Then what?” “What I indicated before.” “Anal intercourse?” “Yeah.” She instinctively rolled herself into the fetal position. “I don’t know. I’ve never done that before.”

“I’ll be gentle,” he said as he stroked her back. “Have you?” “Yes.” “And you like it?” “Yeah, I do. A lot.” “Don’t we need lubricant or something?” “Ideally, but I can get you primed and you can be the lubricant.” Suzanne raised her eyes to the mock-heavens. “I need a minute.” “Okay,” he said and set to work nibbling on her nipples. She moaned at his ministrations, stroked his hair. Finally she spoke. “I want to, but I’m worried it will hurt.” “It will, but it’s a nice hurt. The kind that makes you feel sexy and alive.” Their eyes met and he could see her concern. “Did it hurt when your cherry was popped?” “Yes. It did.” “It’s no worse than that, babe.” Her eyes traveled back to the stars. “What would Virgo say?” Tim rubbed her shoulders. “She’s a virgin, Suzanne, but maybe if she’d been asked she’d have jumped at the chance to get ass fucked. Who knows, maybe she did.” “Okay,” she whispered and fell compliantly into his arms.

Chapter Five In just minutes she’d know what it was like to allow a man into the most private of portals. Her heart beat in a steady rhythm made up of both fear and curiosity. Tim gently stroked her hair. “I promise I’ll do my best not to hurt you.” “I trust you,” she said softly and relished the warm feeling of her head against his strong shoulder. He rubbed her back with an almost disturbing tenderness and she forced herself to keep in mind that this was simply mind-blowing sex and nothing more. They stayed like that for long minutes; her heart beating, him thinking God only knew what, until he finally spoke. “Do you think you’re ready?” Was she ready? Did she want to be? What would she feel or think tomorrow when he was gone and she’d given him this slice of her that no one else had ever known? But he was already kneading the supple cheeks of her ass. “You have the perfect ass, you know that?” “Why is that?” she managed to ask though her heart was drumming like a marching band. He lowered to kiss the flesh. “It’s small and firm and smooth and inviting.” “Thank you, I guess.” Tim flipped to his back and pulled her with him so she straddled his wide torso. “Come here, baby.” With that he nudged her up so her warm core rested against his chest. “Sit on my face, Suzanne. Let me get you ready.” She looked at him lying there, provocative lips, kind eyes, the sexiest tousle of hair. What was she doing? She didn’t know him, wasn’t careless by any stretch of the imagination; what in the world was she doing? But despite her questions and concerns she lifted, shifted and positioned her needy pussy over his mouth. He dove in instantly, twisting the little ring and then spreading her wide with his strong fingers as his tongue circled her pebbled clit. It wasn’t long until she was lost in the moment, her hands reaching to trail through her hair as she pumped above his mouth. He’d somehow managed to slide his middle finger in and out of her waiting hole and her head fell back at the sensation. What if the night guard arrived early? What if Virgo and Leo and the Gemini twins couldn’t keep a secret? But she didn’t care at the moment, didn’t care at all if she was ultimately caught and turned in and punished. All she cared about was this second in time and this man treating her to her own ride to the stars. “Oh, Tim,” she heard herself moan and he grumphed a response. “This feels so good.” “Keep feeling, baby. Just hold on.” He worked at her for long minutes until she was so close to the edge she felt as though she were strung as tightly as Sagittarius’ bow. “I’m so close, Tim.” With that he lifted her and rolled her onto her back in one swift motion. He met her eyes as he hovered and it took her a moment to realize that he was in the process of preparing her one final time. His fingers worked to extract her dripping cream from her core, spread it at her most private door, sliding a finger in varying degrees as he did. He held her stare as he continued methodically priming her for the kill.

When he seemed to be satisfied, he lowered and kissed her before turning to whisper in her ear, “Suck on me, Suzanne. Get it really wet and then leave it sloppy. It’ll help.” She nodded her understanding and shimmied down as he lifted in a pushup mode. She took him in, sucked, licked and even spit as she’d seen in a porno movie Howard had asked her to view and then spent the entire night analyzing the ramifications of. Tim groaned his approval until he finally grasped her shoulder. “Stop. It’s time.” He bolted up and gently bent her over his forearm, taking another moment to rub her back. “Just hang on, okay? It’ll hurt at first, but then you’ll be lost in how good it feels.” “Okay,” she muttered and relished the pressure of his large, warm hand against the small of her back. Her eyes slipped closed as he positioned her on all fours, spreading her legs at the hips and ensuring that her hands were flat against the cushy rug. “I wish you could see Virgo, Suzanne. She’s watching.” Suzanne bit her lip as she felt him massage her cheeks for a slight second and then drag his finger down to the puckered hole. Slowly he slid it in. She felt that now familiar intrusion, but did her best to breathe around it. As Tim moved it in and out, she relaxed to the point that she found pleasure in the tickly pressure. When he was aware, he added another and then another until the three long fingers were all moving inside the tight confines of her untried ass. Though time seemed to be of the essence he went slowly, easing, applying pressure, holding the fingers still as she rode around them. It took her minutes to realize that she was moaning, groaning, yelling out words she seldom used and muttering, “Yes, do it to me, Tim. Fuck yes!” as he giggled and continued to work this foreign magic. It the heat of it all as Suzanne found herself wishing there was another part of him to fill her needy pussy. He moved, shifted, removed the fingers and was now grasping her hips tight as he pulled her back toward him. And then she felt it—the head of him breach that tight hole. She must’ve tensed, flinched, yelped maybe, because he continued to ease as he bent low and whispered, “I’m here, babe. Just let me through.” His hand returned to that sexy place at the small of her back. She instantly relaxed and then felt another inch of him slip inside. “Oh, shit!” he groaned and tried desperately to forge ahead, but obviously still met with resistance. With his hand that hadn’t plunged into her nether hole, Tim reached around and began stroking her clit with seductive and demanding rhythm. “Ahh.” She wished she could think of something better to say, but there was no chance she could gain that much articulation. She shifted then and that made him crazed. With powerful force he grabbed her hips and plunged inside until he was buried to the root. Suzanne screamed out into the quiet room at the intrusion, but Tim didn’t seem to notice as he began fucking her in earnest, as if this tight and resistant hole was the juiciest pussy. “Tim,” she muttered, wondering if he’d stop if he knew she felt speared and skewered. Seeming to sense it, Tim reached around to tug each dangling nipple and then return to tease her clit into submission. And damn it, it worked. Though she wasn’t sure she liked it, a decadent sensation began building from the pit

of her, branching out like a needy tree limb to stroke every spot. His wiggling of her clit and spearing of her ass caused her to build to that point she’d always known had existed but never had experienced. She reared up so their bodies were aligned and her clit was more available to his stroking. And then she felt it—the thing that pulled her under. His thick balls were squeezed between her legs, practically entering her steaming pussy, causing the most decadent suction. “Oh my God, Tim. I, I, I…” “Do you like it, babe? Is it the sexiest thing you’ve ever felt?” Her head rolled against his shoulder, her eyes struggled to focus on the morphing Zodiac above. Her mouth hung open and only tiny mews could escape as he drove her from every side and angle. “Tell me, Suzanne. Tell me what it feels like and make me come inside of your sweet tight ass.” “It feels so naughty.” He laughed then, a sinister chuckle like a villain with a cape and handlebar mustache in a cartoon. “It sure as hell is that.” “I’m afraid.” His hand roamed to her beaded, pleading nipples. “Why?” “I feel so,” she felt the buildup that hovered. “I…” He pinched, scratched, twisted. “What?” And with that, swirling psychedelic lights and sounds visited her—back arched, eyes closed. “I’m coming!” she screamed out into the otherwise pristine quiet. “You’re a treat, Suzanne,” he said and before she’d safely landed, he took off, slamming her against him, pulling her nipples, biting her neck and detonating in the deepest, rawest place in existence. **** Tim felt his heart beating somewhere within a five-mile radius of his chest. Suzanne was slumped around him, literally hanging from him, still speared by his meat. It was up to him to free her. Slowly he pulled from her as he steadied her shoulders with his hands. She took it like a trooper, flinching and whimpering only when the huge helmet head popped through on dismount. He lowered her to the floor and tried to tell himself he hadn’t just fucked this classy and wonderful museum curator within an inch of her life. “Are you okay?” he asked, feeling guilty as hell for some strange reason. “Hmmm,” she murmured and shifted to rest on her side with her folded hands tucked angelically under her cheek. “Fine,” she whispered. Her eyes opened and he felt his heart flip, buck and damn near stop. “You were right. It hurt, but I loved it.” And suddenly it was all too real. Sure he’d fucked since his divorce—a few pretty kinky scenarios too—but he’d never quivered like this, wanted like this, felt guilty like this; even more, felt changed like this. Tim crawled over to the guardrail and snatched his clothes that lay beneath, sloppily kicking on his jeans. “I think I should go.” Suzanne hoisted, balancing on her delicate elbows behind her. “Why?”

“You said the night watch security would be coming. I don’t think I should be here.” “Are you all right?” she asked, tilting her beautiful head. He had to get out of there and the sooner the better. “Yeah, I just have a bunch of stuff to do at home. I have to sub again tomorrow.” He felt for his keys and was damn glad he found them first try. “Why don’t you get dressed and then you can walk me out. I’m not sure I remember the way.” She looked hurt and completely confused, but he couldn’t care, couldn’t take the time to think about it. He’d fucked up before, lost his head when he should’ve used it, and he wasn’t going to do it again. Then in a lucid snap he remembered the wilted cock and escaping sperm and felt earnestly bad. He couldn’t go there though. Couldn’t think that there was a miniscule chance that he’d knocked her up and she didn’t even know it. She robotically pulled on her clothes and he wondered briefly if her ass hurt as she slowly buttoned her conservative pants. “This way,” she said when she was completely dressed. He followed her through the eerily quiet building and right to the side door that she swung open after fingering a combination on a keypad. “I had a nice time,” he said like a fool and stepped out into the cool night. “Me too,” she replied and then instantly clicked the door closed behind him.

Chapter Six Two Months Later Suzanne glanced at her watch and hoped to hell that baseball practice wasn’t congregating on the back field. The last thing she wanted was to see Tim Mitchell. It had been a two long months, or eight weeks, or sixty-one days, however you chose to look at it. At first she’d been angry when he’d disappeared into the night after fucking her senseless, then it had turned to hurt and now it had settled into the feeling that for the first time in her life she’d lost something that might have been worth holding onto. But it was obvious that he hadn’t felt the same way. He’d desired wild and voracious sex with an uptight curator and probably had told his coach pals of his conquest over a cold and frosty one at Flaherty’s Pub. She’d done a good job of carrying on, nursing her wounds and crying when her period was late, but then arrived so there was really no need to contact him at all. But then the call had come for her to speak at a middle school symposium on the topic of The Northern Lights. She’d declined at first, but the director of the museum foundation had gently reminded her that the school district could make for great or detrimental press in promoting the museum and its programs. She’d argued the fact that she was too busy and couldn’t Miss Hoople do it instead, but of course it came back to her that she was the expert on the heavens, not the dour prehistoric-based Miss Hoople. Suzanne grabbed her briefcase and climbed out of her MG. She glanced down at the directions she’d been sent which ironically read, “Enter through the science wing via the door adjacent to the baseball field.” She sucked in her breath, smoothed her skirt and headed toward the muddy green diamond. The normal sounds surrounded her, pulling her back to the days of junior high with giggles, tame swear words and flatulence being faked against a chubby forearm to rave reviews. She gave a slight smile as she passed a group of pimply kids and then stopped dead in her tracks when a beveled windowed door swung open and Coach Tim Mitchell stood directly in front of her. **** What the fuck! He’d managed to avoid her. Managed to smack his hand against the wall instead of picking up the phone. He’d managed to tell himself that he would’ve heard by now if he’d planted a baby and since he hadn’t, his heart might just be home free. But here she stood and the news couldn’t be good. Problem was, she looked like decadent and alluring angelic sin. Tim slid the pencil he clutched behind his ear and managed to thrust his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants as he balanced a clipboard between his arm and hip. “Hello.” “Hello.” “Can I help you?” he asked with his damn heart drumming. What the hell would he

do when she told him that he was going to be a father? He’d gone that route before and though Suzanne had wormed into a spot deep inside of him that Kelly had never touched, it made him all the more scared shitless. “I’m just looking for the science wing.” And then it hit him. She was here for the science conference. “You’re here for the science thing?” “I’m speaking to a group of faculty.” He opened the door and stepped back to let her pass, wishing to hell he hadn’t caught the alluring scent of lilac. “Suzanne,” he said for some reason and she turned to face him. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out.” And then for the first time in his life Tim felt his jaw hanging from its hinge when pristine Suzanne Tate gave him the finger. **** “Thank you for your time,” Suzanne said and clicked off the projector. The group of staid faculty politely applauded. “Cookies and coffee are set up in the teacher’s room, Ms. Tate,” Mr. Hansen, the principal, said as he raised the screen in the science lab. A skeleton smiled behind it. “Thank you, but I really should be going,” she muttered. She had to get out of Red Brook Middle School. Had to get out of any place that arrogant Tim Mitchell had ever set foot. How could she have been so wrong? How could she not have seen from the very first second that he was nothing more than a player looking for an exciting fuck? “Well, if you reconsider, we’re upstairs adjacent to the main office.” “Thank you, Mr. Hansen.” He gave a stereotypic squirt of breath spray and smoothed his thinning hair with a wink before he was gone with the click of the door. Suzanne set to work rolling the cord of the projector around her blazer-covered arm. She was furious, but even worse she wanted to cry—wanted to cry for the loss of something that she truly thought might’ve been and cry for uncharacteristic surrender of so much of herself. She swiped her eye and willed herself not to let him win again when she heard the click of the door. She looked up to see Tim in his sweats with a whistle around his neck and a baseball cap backwards over his sexy hair. “Hi,” he said and stepped in. “Can I talk to you?” It took every ounce of strength she possessed to turn from him. “I doubt there’s much to say.” “I disagree.” He was in front of her now, handing her a heavy length of cord that he’d retrieved. “I need to say I’m sorry. I acted like an ass.” She didn’t look at him, couldn’t look at him, but he kept talking. “I felt something that night, Suzanne. Just like you felt it earlier that day when we first met and it scared you just like it scared me. It was all so fast and furious and I’d screwed up so badly before.” She whirled to face him. “You thought perhaps I’d attempt to trap you?” “No…” he ran his hands over his stubbled cheeks in quick succession. “I don’t know, maybe.” “I’d never do that.”

“I know that, Suzanne, but I was scared.” He touched her arms and pulled her to his chest with a thud. “You see, I’m a Virgo and we ponder and question the shit out of things,” he said with an erotic smile. “Is that so?” He kissed her then, soft and sweet until his tongue decided to push into the cavern of her mouth. “Wanna hear what I would’ve done if I were one of those other Zodiac guys? I’ve been studying up on them over the last two months.” How could she resist? “Aries?” He kissed her jaw. “If I were Aries I’d call my friends Taurus and Capricorn and do you every animalistic way we knew how. We’d ram you from behind, take you like a bull, you get the picture.” “I think I do. Gemini then?” “I’d love to be a Gemini because there would be two of me—one for your pussy and one for your ass—and I’d feel you all at the same time. It would be fucking heaven.” He nibbled her ear and Suzanne felt the heat rise. “Cancer?” “I’d have to call Scorpio. We’d each pinch one of your tits until you were crying for us to do you.” She bit her lip, found his face with her palms and grasped it. “Leo?” He smirked that wonderful, wicked smirk. “Lick your pussy over and over and over again until you were putty in my hands, or paws I guess.” “Libra?” “I’d spread you out between those two scale plates and finger your spread open, well-licked pussy.” Suzanne swallowed, kissed him until he pulled away and continued his erotic description. “And then I’d hope to hell I could turn into Sagittarius and spear you, Suzanne. Hard and long until you had no choice but to come.” “Oh, Tim,” she murmured against him as his wandering hand captured her breast. He raised one finger to her lips. “Then, when you were wet and wild, I’d turn into Aquarius and just relish all that wetness, that dripping wetness.” “And Pisces?” He smirked and pinched a nipple. “I’d enter you like a squirming, flipping fish and you’d ride that pumping and throbbing cock of mine until you squealed and creamed me.” She kissed him hard, passionately, unable to wait a second more. “Wait, wait,” he muttered and pulled away. “You didn’t ask about Virgo.” She bit his lip. “I know how Virgo fucks me. I felt it, remember.” He shook his head, rested his nose against hers and pulled her close. “No, Virgo makes love to you, Suzanne. Forever more.” And she sighed because she knew it would always be true. “Forever more,” she muttered and pulled him down by way of his whistle.

The End About the Author: Emma Bruce has been writing for several years with a number of scorching tales available. FATEFUL FIELDTRIPS marks her first anthology contribution and she hopes you have as much fun reading it as she did writing!

Blink of an Eye Keira Ramsay Dedication For my husband August, my biggest Air Force hero, and for the amazing Air Force Pararescuemen who live and die by the credo “So that others may live.”

Chapter One Scott Carnes was sick and tired of being a hero. Sick and tired of being put on display like a fucking show pony, with a chest full of medals to compensate for his missing left eye. He shifted in his chair, listening uncomfortably to a list of his accomplishments as a Pararescueman in Afghanistan. Tuning out the announcer’s voice, he looked over the fundraiser’s dinner crowd. All were opulently dressed, fitting the elegant setting of the Oklahoma Governor’s Mansion. At least he was home again, or almost home. “…Afghanistan, where he was awarded the Airman’s Medal, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts. Ladies and gentlemen, our honored guest, Senior Airman Scott Carnes.” The emcee, a burly lumberjack of a man shoehorned into an ill-fitting tuxedo, waved Scott to the podium. He stood, experiencing the same wash of vertigo he had for the past few days, since he’d been allowed to walk out of San Antonio’s Wilford Hall Medical Center under his own steam. They said it would go away as his equilibrium adjusted to the loss of sight, but it didn’t make life any easier in the meantime. An hour later, he choked down the last of his gourmet coffee and frou-frou cheesecake and fled for the door. Home. All he wanted was to make it home to Guthrie in time for his birthday tomorrow, lonely though it might be. **** Cassidy Thompson swiped a damp rag over the spotless linoleum counter and stared out the big picture windows into the ominously still Oklahoma night. The comforting, rich smell of coffee and pastry swirled in the air around her, but even that couldn’t settle her jangling nerves. Something was going down … she could feel it, and so could her customers, if their lack of attendance was any indication. She was glad she’d let her one full-time employee, Erica, take some extra time off. There wasn’t enough business to justify her pay tonight. Hell, it was late August and the weather just wasn’t right for this time of year. On a normal Tuesday night, Cassidy’s Cuppa Café would have been hopping with regulars and tourists who’d wandered out of the Main Street district. Even this close to her nine o’clock closing time. Not so tonight. The locals knew better than to stray far from home during conditions like this, and the visitors seemed to be sticking close to their hotel rooms. The bell above the door chimed, pulling Cass’ attention away from the window to her brave-the-elements customer. For a brief moment, she allowed herself to examine the young man standing in profile to her. With strong, regular features, he looked like any other twenty-something Oklahoma college student. Probably ROTC, she thought, noting the strawberry-blonde hair cut high and tight and the well-toned build only slightly camouflaged by faded jeans and Oklahoma State University t-shirt.

Ah, if only I were ten years younger… She took a closer look … yeah, he had an athletic, yummy body, but there was something about the way he carried himself—almost as if he were cradling an injury— that was in direct contrast to the air of invincibility he projected. It was strange, because she’d seen the same look in the mirror more times than she could count over the years. Cassidy liked to think she could tell a lot about people before they even opened their mouths. In this case, she was pretty sure she’d hit the nail on the head … this boy had suffered, was probably still suffering, as a matter of fact, but wouldn’t let a damned soul know about it. Then he turned and the breath clogged in her lungs. One sky-blue eye assessed her in a decidedly tactical manner; the other was concealed behind a black eyepatch that contrasted starkly against his pale skin. While she knew he could have lost the eye as a child, in a farming incident or car accident, something made her think it was recent, very recent … and most likely ugly. “What can I get for you?” Cassidy tossed the rag over one shoulder, happy her voice didn’t wobble. The last thing this kid needed was someone feeling sorry for him. Not that he looked as if he’d take it. “Leaded, no foof … and maybe a piece of pie.” His voice was deep and resonant, too resonant for a man in his early twenties. The impression of injury she’d sensed before was gone now, and in its place was certain, calm surety. “Comin’ right up. Pick a seat, any seat.” She waved a hand. He settled onto a stool before her. “Slow in here tonight.” Sliding a heavy porcelain mug in front of him, she grimaced as she poured. “Yeah. Storm’s got folks twitchy. What kind of pie you hungry for? We’ve got apple, cherry and lemon meringue.” He smiled, and it was a slow, beautiful thing that jumpstarted her pulse and set off a riot of butterflies in her stomach. “Apple, of course. Is there any other kind?” Oh hell. This kid is waaaay to young for me. “You got it.” She turned and took a calming breath before plating up hottie’s deep dish. “So,” she plastered on a bright smile and set the plate and a fork in front of him. “Who’re you visiting?” “Pardon?” His forehead scrunched for a moment, drawing her attention back to his hidden eye. “Well, I haven’t seen you before and I thought I knew everyone in town your age.” He laughed at that. “Honey, my age hasn’t been an issue since I turned eighteen. Anyway,” he paused to take a sip of coffee, “I used to live here … well, until six years ago. I’m revisiting my old stomping grounds and settling into a new job. But you’re new.” He looked around. “You’ve done a nice job in turning this place around. I remember when kids drank beer and smoked doobage in here, hiding out from their parents and the cops.” She propped a hip against the counter. “Yeah, it was a mess when I bought it. Took a lot of work, but it’s been worth it.” A gust of wind rattled the plate glass. “Guess the storm’s here. Yup, here comes the rain.” The window sheeted with the sudden downpour. Thunder boomed directly overhead, rattling the door on its hinges. She jumped, but her young customer didn’t even

flinch. “Well, so much for this kind of weather only rolling through in April and May.” He smiled again, but this time his smile was cold. “I’ve lived through worse. If you don’t mind, I’ll just hang out here until it blows over.” “Ummm, okay.” Cassidy busied herself with cleaning the already spotless counter, then turned up the radio, just enough to fill the tiny café with the twang of Tim McGraw. **** Scott watched the woman, Cassidy he assumed, putter behind the counter. I wonder if my eye makes her nervous. It wouldn’t be the first time. Watching her didn’t give him that impression. No, he got the feeling he made her twitchy. He stifled a wry grin and shot a quick glance over his shoulder at the now-foreboding night outside. It looked like they were gonna be caught inside for a while. “So, you’re Cassidy, right?” She looked up and caught his eye. He liked the way she met his gaze without flinching and found himself looking, really looking, at her. She was very pretty in a toned-down way, with laugh lines around her hazel eyes and mouth that made him think she smiled early and often. Faded blue jeans and a white t-shirt that stretched the restaurant’s name across full breasts, showcased a nice, rounded-in-all-the-right-places body. Her sandy-blonde hair was pulled up into a ponytail hanging halfway down her back. In his job, he was used to making instant assessments and he liked what he saw standing in front of him. Liked it a lot. “Yup, and you’d be…?” “Scott.” He extended his hand over the counter. She met him grip for grip and his awareness of her clicked up half a dozen notches. Damn. He held her hand for a moment too long, trying and failing to analyze the thrill of sensation jumping from her palm to his. She was still looking him straight in the eye, but there was something else in her expression now, something primitive that hadn’t been there before. God. He felt it too and his cock stirred in anticipation. The air thickened between them, charged with far more than the electricity building in the air outside. Cassidy pulled her hand back, fingers trembling faintly and cleared her throat. “Nice to meet you, Scott. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll join you with a cup of joe.” She turned to the coffee urn, mumbling good-naturedly under her breath. “Get a grip, you dirty old woman. He’s just a kid.” Scott caught every word—maybe he was supposed to. He stifled a grin. He couldn’t imagine a better birthday present than a good cup of coffee, great apple pie and an even finer woman. And that’s what Cassidy was, a woman. He’d shuttled between Iraq and Afghanistan fairly continuously since 11 September—special forces, especially PJs, didn’t get the same kind of rotation regular troops did—but he hadn’t forgotten the differences between girls his age and a lady like Cassidy. The good, “worth it” differences. Then again, he wasn’t the same boy who’d left Oklahoma all those years ago. That thought made up his mind. He could ignore her comment, finish his coffee and pie and go home to the comfortable, lonely bungalow he’d bought here three years ago on

an infrequent trip home. Yeah right. He’d take his chances on the lovely café owner and just see where things led. “I may be younger in years, but not up here.” He tapped the temple next to his wasted eye. The cup of coffee in Cassidy’s hand shook, sloshing scalding liquid over the side. “Oh shit. You heard?” She looked slightly embarrassed. “Yeah. I thought about letting it go, but figured ‘what the hell’. So, Cassidy, what the hell?”

Chapter Two Cassidy leaned back against the cool tile wall, studying Scott with fresh eyes. She’d felt the sexual tension humming between them. Hell, it had sent a bolt of electricity straight from her hand to every body part that made her a woman. The question of the day was whether she was going to do anything about it. Yeah, she was at least ten years older than he was, but did it really matter? She wasn’t going to be one of those women who pissed and moaned about age differences, not when the attraction hung in the air as thick and cloying as the storm around them. Besides, it was only a one-nighter, so any reservations she might have were moot. She let a full, wide smile bloom across her lips. What the hell, indeed. She wouldn’t mind playing Mrs. Robinson for a night to this beautiful, wounded man. She’d indulged in liaisons since Brian’s death almost twelve years ago, but nothing as opulent as the promise zinging in the air between them. Besides, she seriously doubted Scott was the clingy type to make things uncomfortable afterward. Yeah, this could be what both of them needed. She didn’t know what Scott’s demons were, and at this point, didn’t particularly care. Any talking they were going to do could take place over breakfast. “So, exactly what did you have in mind?” He gaped at her for a fraction of a second and his expression took on a distinctly wolfish cast. “Guess it all depends,” he drawled lazily. Cassidy could actually feel the physical sensation of his focus on her mouth. She licked her lips without thinking and felt a heady rush of power as his features tightened and his blue eye went stormy. “Hmmm,” she purred, “depends on what?” Scott pushed his plate and cup aside and leaned forward, forearms on the countertop. His expression was deadly earnest. “Depends on whether you’re teasing me or not.” Cassidy laughed. “I’m not much into games. Never have been. So what do you say, Scott?” He pushed back and watched her with an expression far too old for his years. “What’s the catch?” She threw her hands up in sudden frustration. She didn’t mind going after what she wanted, but a quickie wasn’t worth this kind of effort. “Oh hell. Never mind. Finish up your coffee and pie.” She’d begun to spin toward the back counter when his hand closed on her wrist. Her heartbeat sped into a gallop at his simple touch. “I don’t think so, darlin’.” His voice was throaty, sensual. “I don’t play either.” Cassidy turned slowly, then gulped. If she’d thought he was sexy before, she’d been dead wrong. Now he fairly oozed testosterone. “I just like to know where I stand.” He released her wrist, settled his fingers onto her pulse point and stroked lightly, sending shivers up her spine. A delicious tension curled in her loins. “Is that right?” Her tone matched his and it felt as if the temperature in the room shot up ten degrees. “Well, so do I.” Their eyes met and Cassidy saw this could be far more

than a simple, steamy liaison, if she allowed it. “I don’t know about you,” she continued calmly, even as her inner voice was screaming, if that’s what he’s doing to you by touching your wrist, think of what will happen when he lays those fine hands on the rest of you! “I’m not enough of an exhibitionist to drop down here on the cafe floor.” Her comment brought another slow, sultry smile that nearly had her knees buckling. “Oh, I totally agree. What we’re going to do isn’t a spectator sport.” Cassidy let out a long breath and pulled her arm free, snagging the keys from the cash register drawer. Rounding the corner of the counter, she locked the front door and flipped over the “Open” sign, feeling his gaze on her the entire time. His scrutiny made her hotter, and more ready than ever. She turned, and ran smack-dab into him. Damn, he’s quiet, was her first thought, followed quickly by a toe-curling rush of desire as they stood under the fluorescent lights of the coffee shop, toe-to-toe, chest-to-chest, eye-to-eye. The strong, muscular planes of his chest pressed against her breasts, and she felt her nipples peak and harden, already anticipating more, so much more. His mouth covered her lips in a simple, searing kiss that incinerated any subconscious reservations she might have harbored. She moaned, deep and low, and opened her mouth, swiping her tongue across his lips, hungry for the taste of him. He echoed her groan and leaned in to claim her mouth, meeting her stroke for stroke. This was no “what the hell” kiss … it was a primal claim to which she happily surrendered. Never mind the fact that his touch rocked more than her world—it jumpstarted the heart she’d long thought dead. She arched against him as his hands cupped her ass, bringing her up against his erection in a hard, swift move. A loud clap of thunder brought her to her senses. She pulled her mouth away and breathed, “Remember, no spectators.” Scott released her with a shaky laugh. “You’re right. So … where do we go from here?” Cassidy realized he was asking two questions … if they would continue, and if so, where. She tipped a grin at him. “No fear. Follow me.” **** Bemused, Scott followed her. He was horny as hell, but he couldn’t help reflecting on the oddity—he was accustomed to being the leader. The fact he would never again assume that role was a bitter pill to swallow. He absently touched the rough cotton eye patch. Nothing would ever be the same. He shook his head. What in the hell was he moaning about? He was about to get lucky with a seriously hot woman, which was more than he’d done since 11 September. He homed in on the ass swaying so temptingly in front of him as he followed her through the back of the diner. Cassidy walked through the storage room and opened what Scott assumed was the back door. Instead, it led into yet another part of the building, something she’d converted into a spacious, airy living area. She swept a hand out, “Welcome to my home, however humble it might be.” Dropping the keys on the coffee table, she kicked off her shoes and turned to him. “So,

where were we?” Scott kicked the door shut and pulled her into his arms. “Right about here, I think.” He crushed his mouth to hers, his tongue tangling with hers as he filled his palm with a perfect breast. Her nipple hardened beneath his hand and she moaned just as she had before, sending a rush to his already rock-hard cock. She tasted rich, all woman, and her flavor went straight to his head like a shot of tequila. He pulled her deeper into his embrace, molding her body to his as he began to grind against her slowly. She mimicked his motion, rubbing against his groin with fluid abandon. Her response galvanized him, making his heart thump hard in his chest. He’d never been with a woman who gave as good as she got. It was … exhilarating to think she would have no problem taking the lead. Stepping back, he broke their kiss long enough to run a finger over the swell of her breast, then circle a taut nipple through the silky material of her shirt and bra, watching as her eyes clouded and a visible tremor swept through her. “You’re beautiful,” he breathed, sliding his hand down her ribs to the indentation of her waist, before resting it on her hip. She traced his lips with her fingers. “So are you.” He laughed, a breathless huff of sound, the serious gleam in her eyes proving her sincerity. “No one’s ever described me as beautiful.” “Well, you are.” She smiled, looped a finger into the waistband of his jeans and pulled. “C’mon.”

Chapter Three Cassidy pulled Scott into the bedroom, anticipation fluttering in her belly. She’d never done anything like this before with a complete stranger, but it felt right … more than right. It seemed almost destined this gorgeous young man would walk into her business on a stormy night and sweep her off her feet. Who was she to bemoan such a gift? It almost made her wish she’d scanned her horoscope this morning, so she would have known a delightful evening was in store. She turned on the corner light, bathing the room in a soft glow. Scott stood in the doorway, taking in the large room in one thorough sweep. Tacit approval lit his face, and she was glad she’d taken the time to make the bedroom her sanctuary. This room, with its jewel-toned pillows, comforter and curtains, all covered in voluptuous silk and satin, made for a soothing, sensual retreat. The bed was the crowning touch, a huge king-sized tester, elevated so you actually had to pull yourself up to sit on it. His attention shifted to her and turned primal in a flash. Desire shuddered through her as he approved her body with the same appreciation he’d given the room. Thorough, complete, absolute attentiveness. And tonight it was all hers. He stepped forward until he was an arm’s-length away and reached out to gently trace the logo on her t-shirt. “I’ve gotta say, I’ve never seen a better advertisement.” Her nipples tightened almost painfully under his ghost-touch and breathing became an effort as wet heat flooded her pussy. “What are you doing to me?” she whispered as he circled her nipple with his finger, then closed the distance between them and pulled her shirt over her head. Dipping his head, he suckled her through the transparent lace of her bra. He lifted his head long enough to answer, “Shhh. Enjoy.” The storm of emotion and desire she saw in his eye almost dropped her to her knees. Switching breasts, he palmed the peak he had abandoned, squeezing and plumping and sucking until she had to grab his shoulders to stay upright. Her fingernails curled into his shoulders, her legs trembled. She’d never felt so turned on like this in her life. “Scott, stop. God, I’ve got to sit down.” “Hmmm,” he hummed against her breast, giving one last nip and squeeze before he straightened. Sweat sheened his face and the outline of his hard, ready cock strained against the faded blue jeans. Knowing she was responsible for bringing him to life sent a thrill through her. She licked her lips, anticipating more of the same, and suddenly her strength was back. She grasped the hem of his shirt and drew it over his head, mindful of his eye. His exquisitely defined muscles bunched with coiled tension when she ran a trailing caress down the middle of his lightly furred chest. She circled the indentation of his belly button and traced sculpted six-pack abs before settling on the steel tab of his jeans. He came alive, no longer content to let her set the pace and hauled her against him. His lips crushed hers, tongue swiping inside her mouth with voluptuous, worshipful strokes in a kiss that consumed her. She sagged against him, circling his tapered waist with her arms and pulled him close.

His body was an inferno, scorching through her clothes as his kiss boiled her blood. He boosted her up onto the silk comforter and covered her with his body, snuggling in tight between her thighs, thrusting against her until her pussy wept. She kneaded his ass, whimpering as skin met skin for the first time. He trailed his mouth down her body, placing whisper-soft kisses on her stomach, dipping a tongue into her navel before moving up, skimming his hands up her ribs. He flicked the front closure of her bra open and palmed her breasts, latching onto one nipple with his talented mouth. God, the sensation was incredible, and doubly so because making love was something she did so rarely. As she arched up into him, sheer, primal lightning shot through her body, from her nipples to her pussy straight down to her feet. She curled her toes as he sat up and looked at her with pure male appreciation that had her gasping breath stuttering to a halt. “What are you doing to me?” She knew she was repeating herself, but damn! When was the last time a man had looked at her like that? Maybe never, and her heart swelled in a way it shouldn’t. She pushed the feeling aside forcefully. She would enjoy this, and she’d make sure he did too. “Exactly what we both want. What we both need.” He scanned her body in one long sweep, male satisfaction evident. **** Scott drank in the sight of her. He didn’t ever remember being this hungry for a woman, hell, this hungry for anything. Not even on those long, lonely, cold nights bivouacked with a Marine battalion in Tora Bora. Cassidy was long and lean, with a generous body that swelled and dipped in all the right places. She surprised him by jackknifing into a sitting position, running her hands over his chest, kneading his pecs, tweaking his nipples. He drew in a tortured gasp. Damn, he’d never even realized he liked that. What else would the delectable Cassidy show him about his own body? How could a woman he’d met less than twenty minutes ago, sense the things that would turn him on? “God, do that again,” he breathed. She gave him a wicked smile and pinched harder, leaned forward and laved away the petite pain with dainty licks and nips. His cock hardened even more, threatening to burst through the soft, faded material of his jeans. Now. He needed her underneath him right this second. He stood, vision graying for a moment before coming into sharp focus. It wasn’t vertigo, it was the fact that every stray drop of blood was in his dick. He toed off his shoes and shucked his pants, hanging on to his wallet, watching her as she propped up on her elbows and looked him over with a feminine awareness that made his heart beat in double time. “Protection?” she asked with a raised eyebrow, her casual attitude belied by the tremble of her lips and the enticing jiggle of her breasts as she inhaled and exhaled in quick little bursts. “Some,” he replied, grinning. “But not enough for what I have in mind for you, Cassidy.”

She returned his smile slowly, sensuously and reached up to free her hair. It shimmered over her like a silken veil, covering her to the waist with the exception of her breasts, which peeked through. It was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen. “I think we’re covered.” She shimmied out of her slacks and panties and simply stood there, letting him look his fill, with the confidence of a woman who knew exactly who and what she was shining out of her like a beacon. She deserved his honesty, at least, even if she took his breath away. “I don’t think I’m gonna last very long. It’s been a while.” He should feel self-conscious, explain there weren’t many chances for loving out in the field, but he could see she knew exactly what he was talking about. She closed the space between them and curved her hand behind his neck, bringing them into full body contact. His body superheated wherever skin touched. “Then we’re in the same boat. Now fuck me.” Jesus. He’d never heard that come out of a lady’s mouth, but he had no doubt she meant exactly what she said. And it turned him on … ferociously. So, like the good soldier he was, he followed orders. He pushed her back onto the bed, removed the condom from his billfold and made quick work of putting it on. He took another long look at her, lying on the emerald bedspread, blonde hair fanned around her. “You’re a goddamned feast for the eyes, darlin’ “ Damn, he’d said it aloud, hadn’t he? She smiled and ran her fingers over her breast, tweaking the nipple. “So are you. Get down here.” He could have looked at her for hours, days. The throbbing in his cock reminded him exactly why he was here. He dove onto the bed, careful to keep his full weight off her, and startled a laugh out of her, exactly as he’d intended. While he definitely wanted to fuck her, he also wanted to store up this memory for a while, and damn it, it wasn’t going to be a poke-and-run. Lowering himself carefully, he eased onto her, settling between her legs. He could feel her heat against him, could smell her arousal on the air; all the muscles in his body pulled bowstring tight. God, had anyone ever felt or looked more perfect, more right? Her eyes narrowed and she let out a sigh as he pulled her into his arms, nudging into her pussy with care. She seared him from head to toe with her blatant sensuality and the fact she wanted him as much as he wanted her, stirred something deep inside. Something he’d never felt before. He pushed the feeling back down to concentrate on the here and now. Jesus, she was tight and wet, and he was almost ready to come just from touching her. She wrapped her legs around his back, opening for him, urging him deeper until he’d sunk into her to the hilt. He dragged in a strangled breath. “Don’t move, baby. Please don’t move.” If she did, it’d be all over bar the shouting. Her hands strayed from his shoulders down his back, caressing the lower part of his spine with whisper-soft touches, until he had his breathing under control again. Levering up on his arms, he looked down into her face and began to thrust, slowly. She surged up and met him, stroke for stroke, her nipples hard little points against his chest. Her expression contorted and for a moment, he thought he was hurting her, and then realized she was coming. The thought that he, a man who had lost his eye, lost his career, hell,

lost the things that made him who he was, could make someone like Cassidy feel this way swept through him, making him feel powerful and alive. Her pussy muscles contracted around him as her legs clenched him like a vise and her fingernails dug into his back. The unexpected pain pushed him over the top and he began climaxing right along with her. It was, without a doubt, the longest orgasm he’d ever had. Cassidy’s pussy milked his cock, wringing every last bit out of him. He braced himself above her on shaking arms, breath whooshing out of him in great bellows, and found himself looking at a supremely sated woman. Her pale skin was highlighted by hints of pink on her cheeks and upper chest, as she lay there, limp as a rag doll. She looked like he felt. He rolled over and lay next to her, chest heaving, sweat stinging the raw crater of his eye where it had run down beneath the eyepatch. “Holy shit,” Cassidy breathed. “Yeah,” he replied, too wasted to do anything more than breathe and thread her fingers through his. He felt himself fading and knew he should say something, anything; it was what a lady deserved. But the thought went hazy as he dropped off into sleep.

Chapter Four Cassidy awoke to the gentle pluck of callused fingers at her nipples, between her legs. Heaven. Pure heaven. She fought to stay in the dream because it was so very delicious and it had been far too long since she’d dreamed herself into orgasm. The heavy mane of her hair lifted and an insistent mouth cruised over her nape, nipping, licking, tugging at her until she squirmed beneath those hands, that mouth, begging for more, even as she realized it was no dream. This had to be the best way to wake up ever devised and there was no way she was going let it to end. Those magical lips moved down her back, until, with a sudden swift move she was shifted from her side to her back, her legs hanging over the edge of the bed. She stared at a blond head burrowing between her thighs and began to breathe in short, sudden pants. He found her clit, his tongue licking the hard nub with first teasing, then hard, wide swipes. Her pussy gushed wetly as he pushed first one finger, then two inside her, twisting and turning until she could feel his knuckles hard against her. The pads of his fingers discovered and exploited her g-spot. She shuddered, a full-body shiver, and clenched her thighs tight around his head, weaving her fingers through the short spikes of his hair, urging him on. He increased his pace; glittering sensation rocketed through her, sparking in her womb, her clit and nipples all at the same time, catapulting her over the top and into an orgasm so intense she thought she just might die. Dimly, in the back of her consciousness, she heard the soft tear of foil and felt a heavy body settle between her legs, lifting her hips until his hard cock pressed insistently against her pussy. She began to protest … no, too tired … and then he was inside, stretching her almost to the point of pain, and there was no way in hell she was giving this up. She opened her eyes and stared up at Scott, his single eye burning with an intensity that shook her down to her soul. She knew how she was supposed to feel about the magical way he handled her body, but what about the havoc he was beginning to wreak in her heart with his soft, worshipful touch and smoldering gaze? She shut her eyes, concentrating solely on the sensations whirling through her, and not on the impossibly tender look gracing his face. He thrust slowly, the angle of his entry driving him deeper than she’d ever been penetrated. She twined her legs around his thighs, anything to keep him inside, and felt one of his hands leave her hip. His fingers honed in on her clit, strumming it in time to each plunge. She hovered on the edge of another climax, and still he moved with slow certainty. “Cassidy,” his voice was impossibly deep and the simple sound of it almost pushed her over the edge again. Almost. “Cassidy, look at me.” He was commanding now and she couldn’t help but obey. Her eyes fluttered open. “I want to see your expression when you come.” He picked up the pace as their eyes locked. Their bodies slapped together in a sound as old and sensuous as time. She felt her body begin to tense, he pressed a broad thumb against her clit, and she exploded, screaming his name.

**** Scott drew in a ragged breath as Cassidy squeezed and pulsed around him, gritting his teeth to keep her from pulling him along. To hell with that. He’d come like a fifteenyear-old the first time. This time he was going to use both of their bodies until neither of them could lift their heads. She went limp beneath him and he eased his thumb off her clit. He’d never known a woman who was so responsive … hell, he’d never known himself to have this kind of willpower, wanting to prolong it, to encourage the exquisite torture. He leaned forward and ran his hands over her breasts, drawing a tormented moan from her. Her nipples peaked beneath his palms as she shivered. “Scott,” her voice was guttural, satisfied. “I don’t think I can come again.” He smiled and tweaked a nipple. “You will, and I’ll be right there with you.” His mouth replaced his fingers. Increasing his suction, he brushed his fingers down her arms, catching a wrist in each hand. Releasing her breast with a pop, he shifted up, pulling her arms over her head and captured her lips with his own as he began to thrust, deep and powerful. She came alive beneath him, bucking up to meet each surge, straining against the hands manacling hers together. Her pussy was wet and slick around him, quivering as he slid into her forcefully. “Let me touch you,” she gasped. Scott shook his head with a wicked grin. “Remember … enjoy.” Her pulse thrummed beneath his fingers, and he knew she was as turned on by the submissive pose as he was. He picked up the pace, sliding against her, their bodies lubricated by good, clean sweat. Releasing her wrists, he threaded his fingers through hers and pumped toward ecstasy. She matched him stroke for stroke, wrapping her long, lithe legs around his ass, pulling him even further inside until he could feel the head of his cock nudging her womb. His balls tightened, his chest heaved. Cassidy’s body began to quiver uncontrollably beneath him, sexy little mews escaping her lips, her hands clenching his, her legs a vise around his hips. “Oh God, Scott…” It was the sound of his name on her lips as she moaned that did it for him. He climaxed with her, surging against her again and again until he was totally spent. He flopped onto his back, leaving his fingers twined with hers and lay by her side, fighting for breath. **** Cassidy woke with a start, flushed from sleep by the unfamiliar male body in her bed and the mumbled words coming from his mouth. As she focused on his face, his words became clear and anguished. “Breathe, damn it, breathe. Fuck. Smitty, don’t you die on me.” His words faded back into gibberish. Chills raced down her spine. She had a pretty good idea of what he was muttering about. How could such a young man live with trauma like that? She stared up at the ceiling. Why should she even care? Tomorrow this would be a sweet memory. Still, she couldn’t stop herself from laying a hand on his arm and

stroking, trying to alleviate the nightmares haunting him.

Chapter Five Today is your lucky day, Virgo. Jupiter, planet of good fortune and finances, is at a perfect angle to light up your seventh house, accentuating long-term partnerships, business relationships and marriage. Meanwhile, tonight’s full moon will team up with romantic Venus in your house of true love, assuring it will be a hot summer’s night in more than one way. Scott snorted and closed yesterday’s newspaper. He never read the damned horoscopes, but he figured since it was the edition that had fallen on his birthday, and he’d gotten one hell of a present, he might as well. Just showed how much a pile of crap they were. He’d followed his cock last night, not his heart, and it had been one hell of a ride. One he’d never regret, even if it was just a one-nighter. He felt a little guilty in bolting before she’d even stirred, but he wasn’t a fan of the whole morning-after dance. Not that coming to work was a better way to spend the morning. His office was sterile and the job was boring as hell. Six hours into his first day, and Scott knew the Air Force had made a big mistake in sending him back home. There had to be something better for him to do. Something that would utilize the abilities they had pounded into him over the three-month indoctrination course and the two years of High Altitude Low Opening parachute training, dive qualification and advanced paramedic instruction. He wadded up yet another piece of paper and used the wall across the room as a backboard for his shot. Two points. As it had for the past six hours, his mind turned back to last night and the phenomenal bout of lovemaking with Cassidy. And that’s what it had been … lovemaking. Not a round of fucking as he’d expected and welcomed, but something far more complex. He wasn’t sure he liked the difference, and it had taken him all day to work his way into admitting it. Fucking he could handle. The thought didn’t quell his urge to revisit the coffee shop and see if she’d be willing to go at it again. He shook his head. Now he was forcing himself to think coarse thoughts, rather than what he really felt. What he’d really like to do is give her a call and see if she wanted to go see a movie, or something equally mundane. And that was a dangerous thought, because as soon as he could rig it, he was blowing this Popsicle stand. He knew people, could probably swing a much better assignment than this. If nothing else, he could fill his free time by trying to get back into the field rather than sitting on his ass, playing hoop with himself. With the decision made, he swung toward the phone and started dialing. **** As the bell over the door tinkled Cassidy threw a glance over her shoulder and froze in mid-stride. Scott. Her heart did a slow roll in her chest. Damn. She certainly hadn’t expected to see him again, not after his stealthy exit this morning. Not that she had minded it … well, maybe a little … but she understood the male urge to fuck and run. It seemed to be a

genetic trait, one she’d witnessed time and again as her older brothers skulked into the house during the wee hours. Last night had been spectacular, the best sex of her life, even, but she’d thought they’d agreed, albeit silently, it was a one-time gig. Her body ached in all the right places, and even if she was more than a little sore this morning, it had been worth it. Scott’s presence here, right in the middle of her early-evening rush hour, definitely threw her for a loop. His smile, direct, hot and sexual, made it even worse. He settled onto the only empty barstool and blatantly ignored the looks of interest directed at him by her regulars. He looked at her with an intent far from casual, even to the most disinterested observer. Cassidy winced inwardly. As soon as he left, they’d all ask her who the one-eyed boy was, and how was she supposed to answer that? She never could lie very convincingly. The fact she knew Scott on a decidedly personal level was probably already apparent to everyone in the cafe. She could just imagine the tongues wagging about how Cassidy had taken a young lover, how she was robbing the cradle. Another thought struck her … what if someone here knew him? It had been six years, but what if? Her eyes darted around the room, but didn’t find any faces lighting with recognition. This was her business, her life, and there was no way she was going to sacrifice what she’d spent years working on over a one-nighter with a kid. She had to at least try to salvage the situation. Walking calmly to him, she asked, in her most businesslike tone, “What’ll you have, stranger?” He leaned in over the counter and whispered, “You.” Feeling the blood surge quickly to her face, and then directly to her breasts and pussy, she tried to keep a straight face. “Not on the menu tonight, sorry. Try again.” Oh hell, where had that come from? While she certainly wouldn’t mind another go-round with the lusty hard body, this was her business, for God’s sakes. Anyway, hadn’t she promised herself never to get too involved again after Brian? Losing someone in that way had killed a part of her, and it had taken her over two years to even begin dating casually. Scott settled back on his stool looking nonplussed and answered the last part of her statement first. “I think I just might. I can wait. Guess I’ll have a cup of coffee.” She swiveled and poured him a cup, feeling not only his intense stare, but the eyes of the entire cafe on her. It wasn’t until she’d placed the mug in front of him that she realized she hadn’t even asked how he took it. She’d known, and from the stifled grins on several of the faces seated next to Scott, her regulars had noticed. **** This was never going to work, Cassidy thought. An hour later, the coffee shop had emptied and filled again and Scott just sat there, nursing his coffee, watching her with a hooded gaze. She could feel his stare straight down to her toes, had been able to for the last hour. It had her on edge more than she’d like to admit. Erica, a woman much closer to his age, had tried to engage him in conversation and been gently rebuffed. Now her sole waitress watched, amused, as they circled around each other. “Why don’t you clear out early, Cass?” Erica suggested none too discreetly. “I can handle it from here.”

Cassidy looked around the coffee shop. Yeah, she could leave and the business wouldn’t suffer. The question was, did she want to? Scott answered for her. “C’mon Cassidy. We need to talk.” She felt pissed off a bit even though he was probably right. “Not gonna wear you down, am I?” she whispered, trying and failing to make her voice sound cold. All she could think of was his body riding over hers, his head between her legs, that single, smoldering blue eye as he’d undressed her. “Wear me out, maybe. Wear me down? Never.” His reply was cocky and oh-so serious. Erica snorted from behind Cassidy. With a sigh of feigned disgust, she pulled her apron off and hung it on a hook next to the walk-through. Scott stood, threw a ten-spot down and sauntered behind the counter as if he had every right in being there. This time Cassidy’s sigh was real. She’d never, ever hear the end of this from Erica and the resident busybody, Mrs. Crane, who was watching the proceedings with hawklike eyes over the rim of her mocha latte. Scott moved in front of her, opening the door as if he were a gentleman and this was a fine restaurant. For a brief moment, Cassidy soaked in the feel of being treated like a lady, but pushed it back in favor of reality. They’d end up in bed in approximately one minute and he’d be gone in the morning. Again. And this time her feelings really would be hurt, because while she could understand that behavior once, twice was out of the question. To say she was surprised when he escorted her to the couch and seated himself in the big, comfy chair opposite was a bit of an understatement. “I meant it when I said we had to talk.” His voice was quiet, introspective. “I guess I really didn’t believe you,” she answered candidly, her interest piqued. He leaned forward, forearms on his thighs. “I know we both thought last night was a fling, but I can’t stop thinking about you.” “Oh,” she replied in a small voice. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about him either and it bothered her slightly that she hadn’t admitted it to herself until now. “We don’t know the first thing about each other,” he began, and smiled. “Okay, so we know more than a lot of people who met less than twenty-four hours ago … you get what I mean.” Cassidy nodded, still not sure where he was going with this. It didn’t stop her heart from speeding up though. “I didn’t even catch your last name,” he finished and swiped a hand through his hair. “I don’t know yours either and I’m not sure I want to.” Now was the time for truth, even if it pained her more than it should. “I don’t do this kind of thing very often, and when I do, it’s for a reason. I’m very attracted to you, Scott.” She buried her shaking hands in her lap. Why in the hell was this so hard? He was a one-nighter, not someone like Brian, whom she’d expected to grow old and gray with. “But I lost my fiancé in the Murrah bombing and that was enough heartache for me, thank you very much. I’ve got my coffee shop and my friends and family, and that’s all I need. It has to be.” Surprisingly, for the first time since that fateful day, she didn’t feel the old, familiar ache in her heart when she mentioned Brian. Instead of bolting as she’d expected, he settled back into the chair and studied her

with a disconcerting expression. “The Murrah Building, huh? The world changed that day for a lot of people, including me. My name is Scott Carnes and I’m in the Air Force.” His profession didn’t surprise Cassidy, but his name did. She’d heard it on the radio just yesterday, that a war hero had come home, and was being honored at the Governor’s mansion. How in the hell a bona-fide hero had jumped from the ritziest digs in Oklahoma City and into her bed was a mystery. “Cassidy Thompson.” After that, she didn’t know quite what to do. She’d been clear about what she expected—nothing—and still he sat there, just looking at her. “What else do you want?” “I want you to say yes when I ask if you’ll go out to dinner with me.” Cassidy spluttered and forced herself to be brutal. Deep down, in a part she didn’t want to acknowledge, she realized there was only one way to get out of this with her heart intact. “Listen, I thought I’d made myself pretty clear. Last night was it. Done. Finished.” Scott stood, and she was mesmerized by the play of muscles beneath his jeans and tshirt, remembering all too vividly the lean, muscled splendor lying beneath. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, and friends go to dinner, don’t they? Plus, it was my birthday yesterday and I’d like to celebrate it in a more traditional manner.” His mouth quirked into a wry grin. There wasn’t a good answer that wouldn’t make her feel like more of a bitch than she already did. She stood on shaky legs. This was not going the way she’d thought it would. Her body’s urges, shunted to the backburner for their conversation, let up a strident cry. She could have him now if she wanted, she was sure, but there was no way she was going to give into traitorous desire after her little speech. No way in hell. “I’ll think about it,” she said, far more steadily than she felt. She needed to get him out of here so she could regroup and figure out if she could handle being “just friends” with Scott Carnes. It wasn’t a bet she was taking at this point. Besides, they’d have little in common with the age difference. He walked to the outer door and she followed him, prepared to lock up after he left. She wasn’t prepared for the kiss that swooped down and almost floored her. After last night’s display, it was chaste, just the brush of his lips over hers, but it set her now-throbbing body on fire. He pulled away with a rumble in his throat, like it was paining him to do so. “I’ll call you tomorrow about dinner.” Reaching up, he pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Cassidy Thompson.” With that, he stepped out the door, closing it quietly behind him and was gone.

Chapter Six Scott sat in the cab of his pickup, staring at the exterior door of Cassidy’s building. His shaft throbbed, telling him to walk back inside and sink into her warm, wet, willing body. Instead, he forced himself to stay inside the cab, replaying the conversation over in his head, realizing he’d done the right thing, even if he did feel like someone had tied his dick in a knot. He’d been serious when he’d asked Cassidy out to dinner. The calls he’d made this afternoon, trying to find a way, any way, back into Pararescue had deflated him. By five, the only thing he could think of to lift his mood was to see Cassidy. It had lifted him all right, in more ways than one. He was sure he could have stayed the night with her, but that wasn’t what his heart told him was the right thing to do. Oh, it had been the first thing on his mind when he’d walked into the coffee shop, but watching her interact with the customers had changed his physical feelings of want into something more esoteric. Those people hadn’t reacted to his appearance with pity, but rather interest. They’d seemed more intrigued by his single-minded attention to Cassidy than they had been by who or what he was. That kindness, for want of a better word, was something he’d overlooked growing up, and it surprised him. Shaking his head, he started up the truck and headed down the road feeling sorry for himself. Hearing that the career, hell, the lifestyle, you’d poured a hundred and fifty percent into for over six years was absolutely, utterly gone was more of a blow than the loss of his eye had been. He wheeled into the driveway of his house, taking the stairs to the front porch two at a time. Standing in the empty living room, he felt the sudden, overwhelming urge to talk to someone, but who? The friends he had made in the Air Force were all PJs. They’d listen to him, sure, but they’d be uncomfortable with it, because it would make them face their own mortality. He understood, because he would have been exactly the same way two months ago. He plopped down in the easy chair in the darkness-shrouded house, a hand on the receiver of the telephone, and in that moment, he’d never felt more alone in his entire life. **** The ring of the phone jarred Cassidy out of her reverie. She smiled and picked up the receiver. Her family seemed to have an almost telepathic ability to know when she needed to talk. Even her butthead of a brother Jay. The voice that met her ear was the very last one she expected. “So, have you thought about it?” “Scott,” she replied slowly, carefully. “It’s only been an hour.” “Yeah.” His voice was muted, as introspective as it had been earlier this evening. It almost sounded as if he was melancholy. “Listen, I’m sorry for bothering you. I’ll talk to

you later.” Melancholy was gone, replaced by a distance so great it felt like an ocean was separating them, not a few simple miles. She should have let it go, let it all end right there, however something inside compelled her to speak. “Wait…” silence met her plea. “Scott, are you there?” “Yeah.” More silence. “What’s wrong?” And she knew something was. Something beyond the fact they weren’t testing her mattress springs right now. He sighed in response. “I don’t know. I just needed someone to talk to.” Didn’t he have family, friends he could call? She was getting the serious impression that Scott Carnes was all alone in the world, maybe when he needed someone the most. Normally, she would have been frightened by his sudden, intense interest. Instead, it warmed her from the inside in a way physical contact couldn’t. What was it about this wounded warrior that made her push aside her own self-imposed rules? The rules that said he was good for one night only and they shouldn’t even be having this conversation. She settled deeper into the couch. “So talk. I’m not going anywhere.” “If I’d been smarter tonight, we could’ve gone places even I haven’t imagined.” His voice was wry, self-deprecating. It put her at ease more than it should have. “Good try, soldier. Those evasion techniques won’t work with me. Remember, I’ve already sampled the goods. You wanted to be friends? Well, this is how it starts.” “I dunno,” he breathed out a frustrated huff that had her smiling into the phone. “Oh hell, all right, here goes. I got some bad news today from the Air Force. Recruiting is the only real job they have for me now, maybe ever. There’s no way I can go back to my old job with one eye. Being stuffed into a cube with a bunch of other paper pushers isn’t why I signed up.” “What did you do?” She spoke carefully. It had to have been very important to win him the accolades she’d heard on the radio. “Pararescue.” His reply was short, clipped. “No shit?” Cassidy drew in a breath. She had seen a three-hour documentary on the Discovery Channel about the indoctrination training only twenty percent of enrollees finished. Now she knew where his innate sense of self came from, the self-confidence that belied his years. What did being medically removed from such a tight cadre do to a man’s self-worth? It was damned hard to be a medic, to look at blood and gore and still go home with a shred of sanity intact. “No shit. So I have to choose between sitting on my ass for the next fourteen years or doing something out of the Air Force.” His voice was desolate and it broke Cassidy’s heart. “What happened to your eye?” The mortifying words were out before she even thought about them. “Oh God, never mind. I can’t believe I asked.” He was silent for a long moment. “No, it’s a valid question. Most everyone looks, but no one ever asks, except the shrinks. We were pulling out a forward air controller and came under mortar fire. Shit was flying everywhere. We got the eagle eye out and I caught a piece of shrapnel as we were loading him.” His voice was almost disconnected as he related the mission. At that moment, she wanted to see him, to hold him in her arms and soothe the pain away. “Listen, do you want me to come over there, or do you want to head back here?” She

purposefully gave him only two choices, which he deftly sidestepped. “As much as my little head is screaming for that, I don’t think it’s a real good idea. This is nice though. Easier. I don’t think I could look you in the eye and say the same things.” Cassidy understood, sort of, but it didn’t allay her need. “If you’re sure.” “Yeah, I’m sure. So,” he changed the subject one hundred and eighty degrees. “Tell me about your fiancé.” Ouch. That hurt. But he’d been honest with her, so… “Brian was a manager at HUD. It was something he did as kind of a public service, since he’d inherited a bundle from his folks. Old oil money, you know. I was at home when it happened, watching the morning news.” Her voice cracked, as much as she tried to force it to remain steady. “They never found his body.” “I’m sorry, Cass. If it helps, I’ve been there too.” “It helps; it always has, especially after September 11th. Terrorism is terrorism.” She got her heartbeat back under control. Talking about Brian always hurt, but just like earlier, the pain was duller now, more of an ache than a sharp gouge. “So, what are you wearing?” Cassidy laughed at the playful note in his voice, thankful he’d sensed it was time to move beyond the serious. “Hmmm,” she looked down at the same clothes she’d been wearing when he left. “A black teddy.” He groaned and the sound vibrated straight to her pussy. “You just had to put that picture in my head, didn’t you?” “Afraid so.” Cassidy grinned wickedly. “So where do we go from here, Scott?” “Phone sex?” His voice sounded hopeful and made her laugh. “Not tonight.” She left it open-ended, because she’d never met a man who could wrench her from one emotion to the other with such effortless ease. It opened dangerous doors to her heart, but she couldn’t seem to stop responding to him. “Say yes, come out to dinner with me tomorrow night.” “Yes.”

Chapter Seven Cassidy waited inside her living room, unwilling to go outside and ruin the upswept hairstyle she’d spent so long on. The wind howled around the building, a replay of just two nights ago, but it looked like the rain was holding off … for now. If she hadn’t been looking forward to this date so much, she would have scheduled it for another night, but all day long her mind had flashed back to last night’s conversation. It had been a soul-baring experience, and if he’d asked more, she would have told him without reservation. If he’d asked, she would have told him she’d drowned her grief in a whirlwind of activity that included becoming a reserve police officer and volunteer firefighter. She’d have told him how she still felt guilty about inheriting Brian’s money. Yeah, she would have told him all of it, and it didn’t make any sense. While sex with Scott had been phenomenal, it shouldn’t have started her heart thumping at the thought of seeing him again. Shouldn’t have made her want to tell him things she’d never mentioned before. The outer door opened right on time. Scott stopped dead in his tracks as he caught sight of her. Oh, damn. She’d overdressed. He still wore his blues, short sleeves straining against the corded muscles of his biceps. The sky blue shade set off his complexion to perfection, making his unfettered eye that much more vivid. “Jesus, Cassidy, you look amazing,” he breathed, his gaze raking her from head to toe in one scalding sweep. The little black dress and three-inch heels made her look good. Even knowing that hadn’t prepared her for seeing herself with his perspective. The fact that he appreciated the change jangled her pulse, sending a charge through her body, lighting her nerves on fire. “Thanks,” she replied breathlessly, “but I probably need to change.” She gestured at him with a weak wave of her hand. That brought him up short. “No, I came straight from the office because they just issued a tornado watch.” He dropped his eyes to his feet. “If anything happens, it’s probably headed this way, and I, um, I wanted to let you know.” Cassidy was speechless. The commanding lover was gone, replaced by an endearing, and dare she say it—shy—young man, who’d thought of her safety first. The dichotomy floored her, and cracked her heart wide open in a way nothing else could have. She stood there, frozen, for a long moment, not sure what to say or do. Erica’s pell-mell entrance through the café’s entrance broke her moment of indecision. The waitress breathed rapidly, her eyes startled and wide. “A tornado just hit the outskirts of the city.” Cassidy laid a calming hand on her arm. “How many customers do we have?” “Only a few.” “If, and I repeat, if, the siren sounds, get them back here. Keep them in the living room, it’s the safest. Right now you need to stay calm, all right?” Erica took a deep breath. “Okay. Wait. What about you?” Cassidy turned to Scott, who had already stripped down to his t-shirt, draping his

dress blue overshirt across the easy chair. She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Blues burn too easy … polyester. Stay here. I’m going to head into the city and see if they need medical assistance.” His demeanor had changed a hundred and eighty degrees from his earlier shyness. Now he was in his element. “Let me get some sneakers on. I’ll drive.” “No…” “To hell with that, Scott. With all the shit in the air, we’ll need two good eyes on the road.” He flinched. “I’m sorry, but you know I’m right.” “Doesn’t mean I’m supposed to like it,” he muttered at her departing back. She scooped her sneakers off the floor and pushed her nylon-clad feet into them, realizing she looked ridiculous in her going-out-to-dinner clothes and fancy hairdo, but not really giving a damn. Something urged her to do this, to be there with Scott. She’d never ignored that Aries part of herself, and wasn’t about to begin now. When she reemerged into the living room, he was waiting impatiently for her, and Erica was nowhere to be seen. She followed Scott out the door wordlessly, immediately buffeted by the strong gusts of wind. Ozone tainted the air along with the distinct smell of rain. Oh yeah, this was going to be a humdinger all right. He led her to a four-by-four SUV, unlocking it with the remote, still not saying a word. She’d probably hurt his feelings, and part of her bemoaned the fact she had, even as she reassured herself it was the right thing to do. Scott might have been trained for combat, but the loss of his eye was too new for him to take this on alone. Without a doubt, he would be the most qualified person in the state to attend to any injuries, given his PJ training. She’d seen what a tornado could do firsthand. The carnage was as close to a battlefield as you could possibly get without shots firing overhead. She climbed into the cab as he dove into the cargo area. “Go. I need to get some of my supplies ready, just in case.” She should have known he’d be equipped, even if it wasn’t his life anymore. They peeled out of the parking lot, heading south as everyone except storm chasers and emergency vehicles headed north. With no traffic, it only took ten minutes to reach the outskirts of Oklahoma City, and following the excited voices of the radio newscasters, less than five minutes to find the devastated area. Trees were uprooted and power lines down, sparking intermittently as surges shot through them. She navigated the mess with care, avoiding upended trampolines, yard junk and the occasional roof until Scott hollered at her to stop. He was out of the truck in a flash, shrugging into an enormous olive drab backpack as he ran. Cassidy threw the vehicle into park and jumped out, following him. A young girl crouched on the stoop of a devastated house, crying as she cradled an obviously broken arm. Scott spoke a few soft words to her, and ran a hand down her hair before shooting a glance at Cassidy. His eye conveyed what he was asking of her without words. She nodded and went to the girl. What she chose to ignore was his parting command of, “Stay out here.” As soon as she took care of the child, she’d be in the house in a flash.

“Come on, sweetie. Scott’s going to find your family. Why don’t you come sit in the truck?” The child snuffled and allowed herself to be led to the safety of the SUV. “What’s your name? Corina? All right Corina, just keep holding your arm this way, okay? I’m going to see if I can help him out. I’ll be right back, I promise.” At the girl’s tremulous nod, Cassidy left the vehicle at a run, just as a black-andwhite Oklahoma Highway Patrol car and fire truck wound their way down the road. “Ma’am, stop.” The loudspeaker on the cruiser blared at her. She hollered right back. “People trapped inside. Little girl in the truck, looks like a broken arm.” “Ma’am … holy shit, Cassidy, is that you?” The cop dropped his mic and stuck his head out the window. It was her brother, Jay. “Get help, Jay. Someone’s inside looking for survivors.” By now he’d heaved his muscled bulk out of the car and was half running toward her. “Hell with that. I’m going in, you stay here.” As always, she ignored the brute and kept jogging toward the damaged building. Jay caught up to her. “Goddamnit, Cass, you can’t go in there.” “Shut up, Jay.” “You haven’t been a volunteer firefighter for years, Cass. Let the professionals handle it.” They’d reached the stoop and there was no way in hell she was going to let her big brother bully her. “You don’t forget things like this, okay? And Scott is a professional.” “Bullshit. And who the hell is Scott?” Then they were over the threshold and into the murky light of the bungalow’s living room and Cassidy didn’t need to answer his question. Scott was working on freeing an elderly man trapped beneath a heavy wood beam, purple latex gloves contrasting starkly against the pale musculature of his arms. A woman, presumably the man’s wife, sat propped up against the wall, one hand holding her bleeding head, the other gripping her husband’s hand. “I told you to stay outside. It’s dangerous in here, Cass,” Scott growled, casting a worried glance her way before returning his attention to his patient. “Forget that.” Cassidy looked for Scott’s bag and found it lying next to him, top opened. She scooted to his side, snagging a field dressing kit. Apparently the military didn’t work too differently from rural fire departments. Jay took one look at the scene and strode forward, gripping the massive beam, his eyes ping-ponging between the two of them for a brief moment before his expression hardened. “Careful there, hoss. Just enough for me to slide him out.” Scott’s voice sounded authoritative now and cool as a cucumber. Cassidy went to the woman’s side and removed her hand from the head wound, pressing the dressing against it to staunch the bleeding, trying to make herself as small as possible so she wouldn’t get in the way. Jay heaved and shifted the beam enough for Scott to slide a portable c-spine collar on the man before inching him out. He went to work, checking the man’s extremities, his pulse, his reactions. All the while, the old man clutched his wife’s hand fiercely. “Officer, look for something, anything we can put him on to stabilize him.”

Jay disappeared down the hall. Seconds later Cassidy heard the squeal of nails and the crack of wood coming from that direction. He returned, carrying the top of the family dining room table. The two men didn’t even break a sweat as they slid the improvised backboard under their patient. The house shifted and groaned around them, sounding eerily like a woman’s moan. Cassidy’s heart leapt into her throat and her breath stilled as the staircase to the second floor imploded, sending plaster, dust and fragments of wood flying through the air. Cassidy ducked, shielding the woman with her body, feeling the shrapnel pepper her back as her heart went from zero to sixty in one second flat. And in that frozen moment in time, all she could think of was Scott’s safety, of the absolute joy she’d discovered in his arms. She didn’t care if she was robbing the cradle, or if Brian’s memory was dimming with every passing second. If she made it through this, she was going to latch onto Scott Carnes and never let him go. It didn’t matter if she was a one-nighter for him … she’d take what she could get. A scream sliced into her thoughts. She realized it was the woman beneath her. “Shhh, we’ll be all right,” she soothed, not sure she was even right. “Ma’am,” Scott’s voice cut through the din, command vibrating through his tone. “Please calm down. I need you to let go of your husband’s hand so we can get him out of here, all right? Cassidy, do you think you can shoulder my bag?” She stood and her eyes swept the scene. Scott and Jay knelt beside the old man, cool as only cops and rescue workers can be, covered in chalky white dust and debris, their eyes and mouths outlined starkly. Her heartbeat slowed down and she pulled the woman up, disentangling her panicky grasp from her husband. Cassidy twined her fingers through the woman’s freed ones, looped the heavy backpack over her arm and led her patient out the door ahead the men. Jay and Scott set the victim down in the middle of the street, then her brother stalked toward her with an angry stride. Oh hell, she didn’t really want to deal with this. She’d take care of her overbearing brother the way she always had. She’d expected a full frontal assault on her being right in the middle of the shit. What she got was something else altogether. “Who’s the baby doc and what are you doing with him?” “Scott Carnes, and I don’t think it’s any of your business, is it?” “I saw the way he looked at you, Cass, and vice versa. Since when did you get into cradle robbing?” She rocked back as if slapped. “What the hell? Did you just say what I think you did?” It didn’t matter she’d thought almost exactly the same thing just moments before. “Damn straight I did. What’s Mom going to say when you bring Junior home for dinner? Or are you just screwing him?” Cassidy’s blood began to boil. Jay could be an overbearing ass, but this was overthe-top, even for him. “I have no idea what the hell is up with you, but we’re finished with this conversation. When you figure out what it was you were trying to say, in your muscle-thickened brain, you know how to get in touch. And there’d better be a fucking apology to start it off.” She whirled, and her fury drained as she took in the scene unfolding before her. Jay’s butt-headed behavior could never matter as much as this. The firemen attending Corina and another patient who’d materialized from a different house had rushed to Scott’s side, ordering the civilian away to let them do their

job. Cassidy held her breath. Now she knew why she’d insisted on driving. She’d wanted, no, needed to see Scott in his element, to see what had been taken away from him. Would he accede to the paramedic’s insistence, or revert to the man honed by six years of battlefield experience?

Chapter Eight Scott reached into his bag and located his field scissors, slicing through the man’s tshirt before donning his stethoscope and laying the diaphragm on the victim’s chest. “Patient is approximately seventy, possible fracture of L5S1 from initial assessment.” He paused, fingers on the man’s pulse as he listened to his heartbeat. “BP is thready but not alarming. He’s not going defib, but he’s shocky.” He pulled the stethoscope out of one ear. “Y’all got a backboard on your rig or is there an ambulance in route?” He met the paramedic’s eye. The medic stared straight back at him for a brief second, sprinted to his truck and returned quickly with the board. His partner had taken over caring for the woman and was bundling her and Corina into the back of Jay’s cruiser. “How bad is it?” Scott referred to the damage path of the twister as he and the fireman carefully shifted the patient onto the backboard. “Just this neighborhood. It sucked back into itself, but fucked up the streets enough that it was hell getting through with the rig. Ambulance should be along in just a minute.” The paramedic shifted his attention to their patient. “Sir? Officer Thompson will be taking your wife and granddaughter to the hospital in his patrol car. We’ll follow as soon as the ambulance gets here.” Scott lifted his head, suddenly realizing the area had become a swarm of law enforcement officials and rescue workers while he and the unnamed paramedic had worked on stabilizing grandpa. He wasn’t needed here anymore, he could see that. But damn, it had felt good to be part of the action again. He stood wearily as the adrenaline started to fade and noticed Cassidy standing next to the patrol officer, deep in conversation. She looked gorgeous, even though her sexy dress was dirty and her pantyhose had a huge run in them. Her hair had fallen out of its careful arrangement and hung to her waist, disheveled. The sight made his chest ache. It didn’t help his struggle to stay mad at her for endangering herself, for going against his order to stay outside. The cop glared at her angrily and she stared right back, obviously furious. Instant rage careened through Scott. Who in the hell was this guy? Cassidy turned, caught his eye and smiled, a full-wattage, no-holds-barred smile telling him he’d done everything right. It was then he knew he wanted her for more than a one-nighter. He hadn’t died when he lost his fucking eye, so there was no way in hell he was going to live like the walking dead. He’d figure something out, some way to make this work. The thought calmed him. He remembered the paramedic talking to their patient, telling him Officer Thompson would be taking his family to the hospital. Thompson … her brother, he was sure. He looked hard and saw the family resemblance, even though both were obviously pissed as hell at each other. “Doctor?” The tone in the medic’s voice told Scott he’d queried more than once. “Where should I drop off your medical stuff?” “Sorry.” He swept a hand through his plaster-crusted hair. What he’d done here

today felt good, but he realized, really realized, for the first time, he’d never be a PJ again. Cassidy had been right, he’d needed someone to drive him, and even though they’d been a great team, he’d never be a part of the brotherhood of the Air Force Pararescue Service ever again. He caught the paramedic’s eye. “I’m not a doc. Don’t worry about my gear. I won’t be needing it again.” The medic, Hayes, by his brushed-aluminum nametag, coughed and cast a quick glance at his eyepatch, then dropped his attention back to their patient. “Whatever you say, Doc.” **** Scott slid into the bucket seat of the SUV, more exhausted than he could ever remember. He’d come to too many realizations today, and it wiped him out. While he might recognize, in his heart, that the woman in the driver’s seat was everything his horoscope had prophesied, he had no idea how to make it become a reality, not now when his brain was turning to Jell-O. “That was one helluva date, Cassidy. Let’s not do this again.” He turned to face her. “What the hell were you thinking, going in there after I told you not to?” “You sound just like Jay. I knew what I was doing, so chill. Everything worked out all right.” She shot him a grin that bathed her face in pure beauty. Impossibly, his cock hardened. Apparently he wasn’t too tired for that. It made it really difficult to stay angry. “Relax, okay? I’ve got an idea.” He rested his head against the slick leather, ignoring his throbbing dick. Right now, he was more than willing to follow Cassidy’s lead. He found himself dozing, and brought himself awake with a start. He’d never napped after an op unless he was with his team, and then it was because any kind of sleep was an imperative. Doing so in her presence signified just how much she’d wormed her way into his head and heart in two short days. He studiously ignored the surge of jealousy he’d felt … he’d been envious of many things in his life … family, belonging, but never of a woman. She wasn’t his to “own.” Hell, Cassidy Thompson would never be beholden to anyone but herself. And how could someone like him ever fit into her life? Did he even want to try? The truck rolled to a stop in the small lot behind her building, and he pulled himself out with an effort. The culmination of the night, and the sudden realization that Cassidy had become frighteningly important to him in such a short amount of time left him utterly desolate. It should have pissed him off that he was so weak, but he was too damned tired to be mad. The docs had told him he’d tire easily, but this was freaking ridiculous. He’d lost an eye, not a limb. Cassidy led him inside and pushed him down into the easy chair. “Have a seat. I’ll be out in a sec.” He sank back into the plush fabric, staring blindly at the brick wall opposite him. He dimly heard the sound of running water, the pad of her bare feet as she walked behind the chair into the open kitchen, and the soft clink of a bottle being uncapped. Rising out of the chair, he met her halfway across the open space of the living room/kitchen combo, gratefully accepting the beer she extended. He took a moment to appreciate the jade green robe draped silkily over her curves, making her fair beauty all the more startling. Her hair was piled on top of her head with one of those contraptions

only women know how to operate, leaving the long curve of her neck exposed. He licked his lips. He’d never wanted a taste of something so bad in his entire life. Cassidy shook her head with a smile, took his hand and led him into the biggest freakin’ bathroom he’d ever seen. He might have used the facilities the other night, but he hadn’t really noticed. The enormous tub frothed with bubbles pushed lazily by hidden Jacuzzi jets. “I like your idea just fine.” She smiled and stepped forward, tugged his filthy t-shirt over his head and dropped her hands to his belt. He set his beer on the side of the tub and took over the job of undressing, watching with avid interest as she loosened the robe and let it puddle at her feet. He pushed his slacks and briefs past his stiffening cock, toed off his ruined patentleather shoes and stripped off his socks before stepping into the warmth of the bath. Cassidy joined him, hissing in a breath as she eased down into the water, the jut of her nipples just peeking through the foam. Her hiss turned into a long moan of pleasure that reverberated through his body. He pushed away from his side of the tub. Her foot in the middle of his chest stopped him getting any closer. “Down, big guy, we’ll have plenty of time for that later.” Settling against the padded seat, he sighed, took a sip of his beer and really looked around for the first time. The bathroom, like the rest of the house, was simple and comfortable, but expensive nonetheless, with a top-of-the-line glass shower opposite the tub. Maybe now was the time to start getting to know who Cassidy really was, rather than who he imagined her to be. “I don’t mean to sound nosy … how in the hell do you afford all this?” She looked uncomfortable for a moment, then answered forthrightly. “Brian and I drew up our wills before the wedding and I was all he had. So when he died…” she let the sentence trail off. “It took me years to accept that he would have wanted me to be happy. Years where I did the things I thought he’d do.” “Like what?” he asked softly. “Reserve cop, even though it gave Jay hives. I thought my Mom was gonna have a stroke when I started the volunteer fire department here in Guthrie and insisted on going on every call myself.” She lifted her beer to her lips and took a thoughtful swig. “In a way, I was trying to honor his memory.” “And maybe kill yourself in the process?” Scott had seen it more than once in the line of duty. Survivor’s guilt. Her statement also reinforced what she’d said earlier about knowing what she was doing. He wondered if anything shook her, since she’d lived through and recovered from the worst. “Maybe.” She hesitated. “A few years ago I walked past this building and could see the potential. It was way too big for the coffee shop alone, so I converted the rest into my home.” “How is it we never met each other, before?” Even though he’d been a kid, he couldn’t believe he’d missed a presence like Cassidy. “I mean, I may have been in and out of foster care after my parents died, but I should have run into you or your brother.” She looked him in the eye, no pity or censure at his revelation. Being an orphan had been a sore point with him until the Air Force became the first family he’d ever had.

“There’s quite a few years between us, Scott, and while it didn’t bother me when we were doing the one-nighter thing, now I’m starting to wonder.” “Wonder what?” A sudden pang of panic went through him. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted from Cassidy Thompson, but he knew he didn’t want it to end so soon. “Why it’s not bothering me more, since we’re getting past that stage.” Scott pondered her words, still meeting her eyes. Relief flooded through him. “So what do we do now? You’re probably strung tight from this evening, but I’ve got to tell you, I like you a lot, Scott even though I don’t know you very well.” God, her honesty was refreshing, as it had been from the first night. “The feeling is mutual, Cass. I’d still like to take you to dinner. I don’t have any idea what life has in store for me.” He shook his head and shifted the bottle to his other hand. “But I’d like to spend time with you, get to know you.” **** Cassidy smiled. She had a pretty good idea of where Scott Carnes’s life might be going, even if he didn’t. She’d heard the paramedic’s words this afternoon. She could see “trauma surgeon” written all over Scott, but that was a decision he would have to make on his own. Jay’s bitter words were something she was leaving until tomorrow to dissect. “I think that can be arranged. Put down your beer and come here.” “Yes ma’am!” He sliced through the water, grinning like a pirate who’d spied a particularly tasty wench. She laughed, and he captured the sound with his mouth, diving deep with his tongue as he slid slippery hands over her breasts and down her hips. Moaning, she twined her hands around his neck, pulling his body between her thighs. The callused pads of his fingers probed her pussy, drawing teasing circles around her opening. He captured her clit between two fingers, squeezing lightly as he eased the head of his cock inside her. “More,” she gasped, reaching through the suds to guide him into her more fully. “Can’t,” he panted. “Protection.” She fumbled behind her head for the box of condoms she’d bought that afternoon. Instead of the smooth, suave move she wanted to make, the package slipped in her wet fingers and the whole damned thing went tumbling into the Jacuzzi. Foil-wrapped packages bobbed like tiny little aircraft carriers. Scott barked out a laugh and scooped one up and stood, tearing off the top. “Wait.” He froze, gazing down at her. He looked like an ancient god, all tightly-hewn muscle, with his glorious cock jutting out, just begging for a taste. She closed the short distance between them and circled her fingers around his shaft. Sucking him into her mouth, she caressed the length of him as she did so, drawing a wrenching groan from deep within him. He filled her mouth, stretched her lips. The salty flavor of pre-cum swept through her taste buds and her nipples hardened in carnal response. When he anchored his hands in her hair, she moaned and felt him jerk in response as the vibrations thrummed through his cock. His hand tightened against her scalp as he took over the rhythm, sliding in and out of her mouth slowly, as if he wanted to imprint

both of them with the image and sensation. She grabbed his ass with both hands, sinking her nails into his well-defined glutes and swirled her tongue over the head of his cock as he withdrew. He groaned and picked up speed. She stroked his ass with one hand, moving the other to his balls, squeezing slightly. He groaned again, his fingers clutching her hair and his control snapped. The head of his cock thrust against the back of her throat repeatedly. He stiffened inside her, his cum flooding her mouth. Reveling in his taste, his feel, she took over. Sucking, pulling, swallowing. Her pussy flooded with scalding heat and her clit throbbed. God, she was so turned on from giving him pleasure she was ready to come herself. He let out one last shudder and slumped forward, bracing himself against the side of tub. Cassidy sighed and leaned back into the curved seat, licking her lips. “That’s much better, if I do say so myself.” “Jesus, woman. What in the hell are you doing to me?” She laughed, feeling more carefree than she had in years, maybe ever. There was no way in hell she was giving this up, at least not without a fight. The thought was liberating. “I thought it was quite obvious.” He sunk into the seat next to her and let out a grunt. “Well, you pretty much took all the fun out of it for yourself, because I can’t move a fucking muscle.” Leaning over, she placed a kiss on his cheek. “Good, because I think we both could use a good night of sleep.” She tugged on his arm. “C’mon, get up. Let’s shower off and hit the sheets.” **** Scott staggered into the shower, wishing like hell he could return Cassidy’s generosity, but he was beat. The euphoria of adrenaline had long since faded, and his weeks of convalescence had taken more of a toll on him than he’d like to admit. He stripped off his eyepatch and dropped it on the sink, not wanting to get it wet. Multiple jets of warm, soothing water sluiced over them, making him even more languid than before. Cassidy soaped up a washcloth and ran it over his back and shoulders, her touch gentle as she massaged him. Turning, he took the cloth from her and repeated the favor, running his fingers through her hair as she tipped her head under the flow of water. As much as he willed his body to respond to her absolute, unfettered beauty, it was no use. Right now he wanted nothing more than to lay her down on that fabulous bed, curl up next to her, and fall asleep. And after rinsing and drying off, they did just that.

Chapter Nine Cassidy awoke first, and as much as she wanted a little morning delight, she needed some distance, and they needed to talk. She’d seen Scott stripped naked last night when he removed his eyepatch. The fact he’d done it naturally, without conscious thought, told her more than any words could have. The image haunted her this morning … a raw, red scar where a healthy eye should have been. How did he cope? She wandered into the kitchen and flipped on the coffee pot, then fetched the paper from the back stoop. The front page drew her eye. It featured a picture of Scott, bent over the old man, the expression on his face intense as he listened to the man’s heart through his stethoscope. She slumped down into a kitchen chair, heart pounding in her chest. She’d seen that look directed at her before, at her pleasure. What would it be like to see that, to feel it every day? Did she have the courage to find out? If she were to go down that road, she needed to figure out what she was going to do about her family, about Jay. Of all her brothers, he’d always been the most protective, yet also the most honest. If he felt outraged about her seeing a younger man, what would the rest of her family think? She knew people would talk about cradle robbing and make sly innuendoes about how nice it was to have a young, virile lover. But she had to be true, honest with herself, and when she really thought about it, none of it made a damn difference. Instead, she found herself longing for a continuation to the connection she and Scott had made—the connection of two people who had their lives ripped away. She’d had years to get over the trauma and repair her life, but Scott was just starting down that road. Her musings were cut short as he moseyed out of the bedroom, boxers hanging off his lean hips, morning erection prodding at the opening. He shuffled toward her and dropped a kiss on the crown of her head before tilting her face up and giving her a sweet kiss. His kiss, and the casual way he’d delivered it, cemented what her heart felt, even if her rational mind was still kicking and screaming. Scott Carnes was hers, and she’d do her damnedest to convince him of it, and soon. “How about dinner and a movie tonight … and no tornados.” Scott looked at her and grinned. “Sure, Cassidy, what the hell?” **** Four years later Scott leaned back against the ornate headboard, heart pounding frantically in his chest, body sheened in perspiration. He’d never get tired of making love to Cassidy, never be too busy or tired to revel in the glorious body and generous spirit of his wife. She completed him in a way nothing ever had, even if it had taken him a whopping six weeks to realize it before asking her to marry him. Since then, he’d never felt a day of

regret for the path his life had taken. In fact, he thanked the fates that had taken his eye, for without that loss, he would have never found his true destiny. He was part of something bigger again—the family he and Cassidy made, and the larger, extended one consisting of her rowdy, over-the-top parents, brothers and cousins. Even her brother Jay had slowly come around. Scott suspected her brother harbored something none of them knew about, something or someone had hurt him deeply, and he had to wonder if it hadn’t been an older woman. He even read his horoscope religiously now, because the words written on his birthday all those years ago had been prophetic… Today is your lucky day, Virgo. Jupiter, planet of good fortune and finances, is at a perfect angle to light up your seventh house, accentuating long-term partnerships, business relationships and marriage. Meanwhile, tonight’s full moon will team up with romantic Venus in your house of true love, assuring it will be a hot summer’s night in more than one way. As Cassidy snuggled into his arms, Dr. Scott Carnes realized, really for the first time, how life can change in the blink of an eye. The End About the Author: Keira Ramsay is the pen name for TL Schaefer, paranormal mystery writer. She has been writing seriously since 2000, finishing four mainstream projects and beginning her life as an erotica writer with the publication of Blink of an Eye for the Zodiac series.

Guardian of the Angels Cyndi Redding

Chapter One Kurt Conrad politely greeted the other passengers on the elevator and rode in silence to the TV news office carrying his briefcase and a steaming paper cup of aromatic coffee. He strolled by the expansive windows taking in one of his favorite views—the city of Philadelphia covered by fresh snow on an early winter morning. Its derogatory nickname, Filthadelphia, no longer fit the city when transformed into a sparkling white panorama. The newsroom was bustling with activity. It looked as if some disaster story requiring reporters and anchors to scramble for updates was going to add to the usual noise level. Whatever it was, he didn’t want to hear about it. Kurt considered himself lucky to have his glass office that looked down over the newsroom and he shut the door as he stepped inside. How could anyone work day after day waiting to be interrupted by the anticipation of bad news? He shook his head and reminded himself that he was lucky. At least he had a good job, even if it was a little boring, and he enjoyed occasional banter with his friend and co-worker, Frank. Good thing, since they shared the office. Kurt carefully hung his gray wool coat over the hook on the back of the door. Sitting at his desk in peace, he sipped his low-fat latte and pulled a contract out of his inbox. His office mate arrived just as Kurt was incorporating the notes he had made from his meeting with the sponsor. Frank settled himself at his desk, which faced in the opposite direction, and then he cleared his throat several times. “Bad cold you’ve got there, Buddy,” Kurt said. “I’ll live. I was merely trying to get your attention without interrupting you.” Kurt kept pecking away at his keyboard, trying to finish the paragraph correctly so the sponsors wouldn’t want it reworded. As soon as he typed the period, he whirled around in his swivel chair. “Now that you’ve interrupted me, what did you want to say?” “Have you been to the break room this morning?” “Nope. I bring my Starbucks with me.” “Well don’t be surprised if one of the women asks you what your sign is.” “My Zodiac sign?” Frank nodded. “Yup. All the women were gathered around a copy of Cosmo’s bedside astrologer this morning. Don’t ask me why buddy, but they’re trying to figure out what your sign is and which single chicks are compatible with you.” “Me? Why me? Why not the tall, dark and handsome anchor?” “They seem to think you’re the pretty boy. I guess ‘almost gay’ is in this year.” Kurt narrowed his gaze. “You’d better mean ‘metrosexual.’” “Whatever. What the hell does that mean, anyway? Metrosexual?” “It means I wear ironed, coordinated clothes and I like to try a little gourmet cooking once in a while, but I have mad skills with the ladies.” Frank chuckled. “For some reason, they think you’ve got it goin’ on. Besides, anchor Andy’s an asshole. They’re under the mistaken impression that you’re not.” Kurt smirked and turned back to his computer. “Thanks, pal.” A moment later one of the producers opened their door and popped her head in. “Hey, Kurt. How was your Christmas?” Picking up his paper cup, he turned toward her with a smile. “Hi, Susan. It was nice. The whole family got together for once. Yours?”

“Great. I found out I’m sexually compatible with my husband.” Kurt almost dropped his coffee. She giggled. “Oh it’s no big surprise to me, but it’s nice to know that we have Cosmo’s blessing.” She waved the magazine she had in her hand. “The January bedside astrologer edition was in my stocking. So what’s your Zodiac sign?” “Do not disturb.” Frank laughed. “I told you, buddy.” “Oh, c’mon… Everyone wants to know.” Kurt shook his head. “Forget it. Tell them I’m Barney the dinosaur.” Susan folded her arms and didn’t budge. “They’re going to hound you all day if I don’t find out.” Kurt groaned but smiled inwardly at the compliment. “I would, Sue, but I have a birthday coming up, and if I tell you what I am, they’ll want to know what day my birthday is. Then they’ll bake a cake and I’ll be expected to sit through an embarrassing rendition of 'Happy Birthday to You' in the break room.” “You’re kidding. What day?” “See?” Susan giggled. “Okay, Mr. Capricorn. I won’t bug you anymore.” “Damn. How’d you know?” “Because we’re in Capricorn for the next three and a half weeks.” She rifled through the magazine until she came to the right page. “Okay, you’re supposed to date Taurus or Virgo. Pisces and Cancer are okay too. Stay away from Gemini and Sagittarius, though. You may be attracted to them since they’re witty and fun, but they’re too flighty for you. You need honesty and trust.” Kurt snickered and shook his head. “Thanks, Sue. I’ll remember that.” **** Five months later, having ignored the warnings, he had dated and been dumped by a beautiful Gemini. Now with his weekends free, he was driving to Pittsburgh to visit his family. He should have made it home weeks ago to congratulate his little sister on her engagement. It wasn’t that family didn’t matter to him. He missed his folks and his younger sisters, but other things kept getting in the way. Kurt’s late model BMW convertible sputtered, limped off to the side of the road and died. The sun was directly overhead and he squinted, despite wearing sunglasses, as he looked around for some sign of civilization. He didn’t see anything at first so he stepped out of the car, opened the hood, and attempted to diagnose the problem as if he knew his engine from his elbow. Driving cars was his passion, not fixing them. The midnight black BMW was usually so dependable. It was a hot day though, and he figured its radiator had overheated. He tried his cell phone but that was dead too. “Shit.” Kurt glanced at his light gray slacks and crisp white shirt and stood next to his car scowling. He scanned the countryside again, and this time he spotted a farmhouse off in the distance. That’s weird. I don’t remember seeing that before. Even though the road seemed deserted, he checked the Bavarian sports car’s interior for anything he shouldn’t leave out in the open and grabbed a paper bag from the passenger’s seat. Resigned, he strolled in the direction of the old farmhouse. It appeared solid enough to be

inhabited, but desperately needed a good coat of white paint. When he wandered up the grassy rise, he noticed a clothesline attached to the back of the house with a pair of lovely legs visible behind the clean white linens flapping in the fresh air. As he drew nearer, he saw flashes of a pretty young woman between the hanging clothes and sheets. Hoping he wouldn’t startle her, Kurt called out ‘hello’ from a few feet away. She startled anyway. “Oh!” The young woman’s wide blue eyes peeked around the laundry on the line. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.” “No. That’s all right. I just didn’t expect…” She stepped toward him and offered a shy smile. Kurt noticed her big, bright eyes first. They were more turquoise than straight blue and held him with a deep, mysterious pool effect. Then he took in the rest of her. Beautiful medium brown hair with copper lights fell over her shoulders. It remained shiny and soft looking even though it had been tossed by the wind like the clothing on the line. Her body … dear God, it had to be a perfect 38-24-36 dressed in casual blue jeans and a light cotton top. Kurt had seen plenty of exquisite women in and around Philadelphia, but this one captivated him. He flashed his most charming white smile and took in a deep breath before he came to his senses and thought he’d better explain his presence. “My car broke down. It’s a little ways down the road, and I could see your house in the distance. I’d like to use your phone to call Triple A if you don’t mind?” She blinked. “We don’t have a telephone and what’s Triple A—a farm?” Her sweet, innocent, azure eyes seemed to grow and sparkle as she stared at him. The city dweller in him couldn’t imagine living out here in the back-of-beyond without a telephone. He could barely imagine living without a computer, PDA, and cell phone, but he recovered quickly and hoped she didn’t notice his moment of shock. His eyes wandered over the country girl for another long moment. He was unable to help himself. Her full bosom and deep cleavage winked at him through the ivory blouse tied with a pink ribbon at a peek-a-boo neckline. Outfitted in tight blue jeans, he wished she’d turn around. Her bottom was probably as shapely as the rest of her. I thought this was Amish country. If so, the black uniform reaching from chin to boots has certainly changed. He continued to appraise her and noticed dark copper, luscious lips, perfect for kissing. When he managed to bring himself back from his befuddled state for a second time, he didn’t know precisely where his brain had been or how long it had lingered there. It was probably in his cock, expanding as the blood rushed to it. “Well, that’s all right. If I could just get some water for the radiator, I think I could convince the engine to run again.” “Yes I can get you some water. Wait over there.” She pointed to a white, wooden table and chairs by the side of the house. He sat, as instructed. She smiled as she strolled past him to the side door, swinging her hips seductively. Oh, yes. Her ass was as gorgeous as he thought it would be. * In the kitchen, Becky heard her brother-in-law, Jake, talking in a low voice to her mother.

“Sorry, Emma. I had to tell him. I’m afraid I made a mess of it.” “Well, Oliver’s only thirteen. You were upset when you found out about the girls’ powers at twenty. I’ll talk with the boy.” As she walked in, Jake kissed his mother-in-law on the cheek and left through the swinging kitchen door that led into the dining room. The outside door shut with a bang behind her, and Becky’s mother whirled around. “Becky, what’s the matter with you? You’re twenty-five years old, not ten. What’s got you so fired up that you have to let the door slam?” “There’s a man outside, Ma.” She reached into one of the cabinets painted a fresh shade of green and pulled out a glass. “He wants water.” “Where did this man come from?” “Just down the road. His car broke down.” “Really? And all he wants is a glass of water?” “Well no. He wanted a telephone at first.” She filled the glass from the dull, metal tap. “I told him we didn’t have one, then he said that was all right, and he could get his car going again with water.” Her mother laughed. “You can give him a glass of water to drink, but he might need a whole pail of water for the radiator in his car.” Becky felt the blush of embarrassment rise to her cheeks. She dragged the metal bucket from under the sink and filled it with their well water. “I feel so stupid when it comes to the ways of the world. I wish I knew more about how life is for folks in other parts.” “Well, just keep in mind that there are many things wrong with the world. I wouldn’t covet first-hand knowledge, if I were you.” Becky rolled her eyes. She opened the side door with her pinky since she held both the bucket and the glass of water, and her mother issued a final word caution. “I know he’s handsome. I can see it in your eyes, but be careful. Don’t give your heart away too soon.” “He only wants some water.” Becky let the screen door slam on purpose. “I doubt that,” her mother muttered. Kurt stood when he saw her approach and moved quickly to take the bucket from her. She placed the glass of water on the table sitting in the chair opposite his and said, “We don’t get many visitors here.” He returned to his seat and smiled. “Have you lived here long?” “All my life. And my mother before me and her mother before her and another generation before that. Our family has been living in this house for at least a hundred years.” “That must be nice. I can’t imagine what’s that’s like. I’ve moved so many times.” “Really? What places have you lived in?” Becky leaned forward, exposing her full cleavage. She enjoyed the heat in his eyes as he glanced into her low-cut neckline. “Oh, that is, if you don’t mind telling me or if it’s not a secret.” Kurt laughed and then stopped and cleared his throat. It looked like he thought she was making a joke. “No. It’s not a secret. I was born in Germany. My parents moved to Alaska when I was a baby, then we lived in California when I was in high school. I went to college in Boston, and now I live in Philadelphia. My family moved to Pittsburgh, so that’s where

I’m headed now.” “My Lord! All those places?” She counted them on her fingers. “Germany, Alaska, California, Boston and Philadelphia! You must have lived a very exciting life!” * Kurt took a deep breath. He was about to explain that his father was in the Army, but he didn’t have a chance. Those eyes! They were big and bright, and there was something special about them. He just stared into her deep mesmerizing eyes and didn’t say a word. He thought about what it would be like to make love to this refreshing, innocent, young woman, the likes of which he had never known. He finally managed to look down at the grass, breaking his riveted gaze. “We don’t even know one another’s names.” “Oh! I should have introduced myself right off, and here I’ve already told you my whole life story. I’m Becky Morgan.” Kurt put out his right hand to shake hers. “Kurt Conrad,” he said. She took his hand and he noticed immediately how soft and smooth hers felt. How wonderful it would be to have those soft hands caressing his erection, which felt as big as a salami at the moment. Thank God, there was a table between them. Kurt picked up the paper bag and handed it to her. “This is for your kindness.” She reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of champagne. “This is wonderful! We don’t make wine, so we almost never have any. Sometimes we get a bottle from town at Yule. I’ll have to save it for then.” Kurt finished his cool water and placed the glass on the table. “No need to do that. I’ll bring you another bottle before Christmas.” Becky sat back looking surprised but her smile grew wide. Her nipples were now visible peaks under her thin blouse. Kurt was surprised to hear his voice inviting himself back, but he never wanted anything more in his life. He had to see her again. He forced himself to think of baseball until he could stand. Picking up the bucket, he realized there was an important question he should have asked first. “Are you seeing anyone? I didn’t see a ring on your finger.” “There’s no one around here to see.” She smiled as she looked down and stared at the grass around her bare feet. Kurt sighed with relief. “Okay. Well, I’ll be back with the bucket in a few minutes.” “Oh I don’t think you’ll need that anymore.” She must have seen the doubt in his eyes. “Really. I think maybe your car just needed to rest a bit. Try starting it now. It should most likely work again.” He gazed at her innocent face like she was the rarest child that God had ever created and said, “You’re not like any girl I’ve ever known.” He strolled toward the road carrying the bucket, and Becky returned to her family’s laundry. He turned around briefly and called out to her. “And to think I never would have met you if it weren’t for that detour a couple miles back!” Becky grinned and winked. When he reached his car, just for the heck of it, he jumped in and turned the key. It started up and purred as contented as a cat.

Chapter Two “How was your trip home?” Frank asked. “It was eventful.” Kurt stopped typing, but continued to face the opposite wall, smiling as he thought about the farm-girl he had happened upon. “Really? Is your family okay?” For all his usual wise-ass remarks, Frank’s friendship and loyalty were never ambiguous. Kurt turned around deciding to confide in his buddy. “Oh, sure. They’re fine. You asked about my trip home. That was what was eventful. I met someone on the way.” “Oh, yeah? How’d you meet her?” “My completely dependable car broke down.” “Really? The Volkswagen broke down?” “It’s a BMW, please. As it turned out, it was just vapor-lock or something, but I met the most amazing woman when I was stranded.” “I want details.” “Sorry,” Kurt said, “I couldn’t put her into words if I tried all day and all night. I’ve been trying to decide what it is about her…” “The man who puts details into words for a living? She’s got you tongue tied?” Frank laughed. “Yeah.” Kurt leaned back in his chair, folded his arms, and thought. “Well, I can describe her physically. She has this beautiful, shiny, brown-copper hair and the bluestgreen eyes I’ve ever seen.” “I suppose she’s got the tall, skinny bod, like most of the anorexic model types you date.” Kurt knew the women he was dating weren’t his type, but it hadn’t deterred him from taking them to his apartment. It eased his urban loneliness. Right now the only woman he wanted to sleep with was country-girl Becky Morgan. “No. She’s quite healthy-looking.” “Are you saying she’s chubby?” “No, not at all. She has this taut, athletic build, with a nice waist, perfect ass, and— brrrreasts.” Kurt’s breathing deepened as he thought of her peek-a-boo blouse, and he drifted off into a netherworld. Frank grinned, “Sounds promising. Go on.” “I can’t. I don’t know what… There’s something special, something uniquely different.” “Mmm. Impressive. Sounds like you’re stupid in love. Are you going to see her again?” Kurt chuckled. “I promised to come back before Christmas bearing another bottle of champagne.” “Another tip from the master. Not too anxious, but classy. I might borrow that approach someday. So where did you find this indescribably delicious woman?” “Lancaster County, I think. I had to detour off the highway.” “Lancaster County? That’s Amish country—and you brought her champagne? I’d call those folks teetotalers, but I don’t think they drink tea, either.”

“Yeah, well she seemed happy to accept my gift.” “Leave it to you to find an Amish wino.” Frank laughed out loud. Kurt grinned. “Stop it, Frank. You barely know the girl.” “Hey, I don’t know her at all, but I know you. If you wanted to badly enough, you could charm an Amish girl into using electricity.” “I wouldn’t dream of changing her. I like her just the way she is. She’s so refreshing.” “Believe me, I’d love to be wrong. Maybe you finally found the perfect girl. It would mean there’s hope for me too.” “There’s no hope for you, Frank, trust me.” “I trust nothing except your ability to get into her pants by next weekend.” “Oh no you don’t. No challenges.” Kurt suspected that his Becky must be a virgin, and he had never deflowered one. This had to be done right. He turned back to his desk and remembered his own first experience. She had been a young divorcee and he was so anxious he had nearly attacked her. It was over in minutes. He knew that something more tender and gentle was called for when it came to Becky. **** The oversized rustic wooden table accommodated the entire Morgan family. Their dining room was decorated simply with stenciled walls, a long oak sideboard, and a massive braided rug. A simple, green linen tablecloth, a basket of fruit, and white stoneware dishes with blue stripes adorned the table. There were huge bowls filled with steaming homegrown vegetables and a large pork roast that covered a platter. Becky watched as Emma Morgan took her place at the head of the table in the only armchair. Her children and grandchildren sat on plain ladder-back chairs lining both sides. One chair stood empty at the opposite end. Becky’s oldest sister, Martha, sat on the matron’s left with her husband Micah and their four-year-old daughter Ruthie. Jake and his wife, Flo, the next to the oldest Morgan sister, sat on the matron’s right with Sally in her booster seat and Oliver fidgeting next to her. Becky was seated, with hands folded neatly in her lap, across from Oliver. Bowls were passed, and everyone with the exception of the small children were allowed to help themselves. “Where’s Aunt Sophie?” Oliver asked. Becky answered him quietly. “In the bathroom. She’ll be here in a minute.” Meanwhile, the family seemed to take no notice until Sophie, Becky’s identical twin, finally slid into her chair at the opposite end of the table from her mother. Sophie had tried to distinguish herself as an individual by squirting lemon juice on her hair when she was out in the sun, trying to make herself a blond. Her hair was brown with a few golden highlights, but not blond. “Feeling all right?” Becky asked. “Yeah, it’s just nausea.” Sophie burped. “Again?” Sophie gave Becky a meaningful look, and as if the two could read each other’s minds, Becky knew it meant, “Change the subject.” Becky was about to comment on Sophie’s hair when Oliver, without realizing it, took care of the diversion. “Aunt Sophie, guess what?”

Sophie smiled at him. “What, Sweetheart?” “I know all about you and Aunt Becky and Aunt Martha and Mom and Grammy and the babies having powers!” Everyone stopped eating, frozen with forks in mid-air. “Whatever do you mean, Honey?” his Aunt Martha asked. “Your powers! You know, like my baby sister, Sally, floating!” Oliver beamed with pride. Jake quickly interjected, “Take the little ones into the kitchen.” Flo and Martha jumped up, carried their little girls and their plates of food into the kitchen to finish dinner there. Sally fussed for a moment at the abrupt change, but Flo said, “Shhh, baby,” and she quieted. Oliver looked as if he didn’t know what he had done, but he knew it was wrong and that he had done it. His grandmother gently corrected him. “The little ones are still too young to understand that they’re different from other people, Oliver honey.” “You mean my sister can float above her bed when she’s happy to see me, but she doesn’t know she’s different?” “Not at the age of two,” Jake said. Sophie reached over and patted the boy’s shoulder. “So you know all about it, Oliver?” “Well, I don’t know if I know all about it. Grammy was telling me some.” “Welcome to our inner circle, Kiddo,” Becky said, and she kicked him under the table. Oliver grinned. “I even have something to help us celebrate the occasion.” Becky rose from her seat and took the bottle of champagne out of the cabinet under the sideboard. Micah’s eyebrows shot up. “Where’d you get that?” “A handsome stranger gave it to me.” “Handsome stranger, huh?” Jake scratched his chin. Becky was annoyed when it seemed as if no one was going to express any happiness for her. “It’s about time you met someone,” Sophie said. “Thank you.” Becky handed the bottle and the corkscrew to her mother and found five wine glasses in the cabinet. She placed one in front of each adult and a juice glass in front of Oliver. Mrs. Morgan uncorked the bottle, poured a glass, looked at the bubbles and took a sip. “You gave him water and he gave you wine. Hmmm. Champagne no less.” Becky returned to her seat and said, “I guess I must have made an impression.” “Quite an impression, it seems,” Micah said. Becky noticed her mother’s suspicious glance, and then she passed the bottle to Jake. Jake poured his glass and passed the bottle back to Becky. She poured her own glass and passed the bottle to Sophie. Sophie passed and poured Oliver’s, giving him half the amount that the adults received. “Hey, that’s only a sip!” Oliver protested. “That’s enough for now,” his grandmother said. Her eyes were glued to her twin

daughters. “Mother, why are you looking at us like that?” Becky demanded. “How much of an accident was this accidental meeting?” she asked, point blank. “What?” “You know what I mean.” “And you know that when an unmarried woman in this family reaches the age of twenty-five, she’s allowed to use a little ‘influence’ if she hasn’t found someone.” Her mother threw her hands up in the air. “I knew it! Becky, sometimes it backfires. That isn’t the best way.” “Well, the natural way wasn’t apt to happen at all! Sophie got the last half-way decent, marriageable man in the county.” “Half-way decent?” Sophie narrowed her gaze at Becky. “Pipe down, girls. We’re meant to celebrate Oliver’s new knowledge, not to get upset over trifles.” “My life isn’t a ‘trifle,’ Mother,” Becky muttered. The sky darkened and a rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance. The sky had been clear and sunny up to that moment. Oliver looked out the window and over at his Aunt Becky with fear in his eyes. “Becky, relax. Perhaps it was the only thing you could do. We’ll talk more later.” The matron had spoken. No one would pursue the topic further. As the sky cleared, Becky’s smile returned and she thought of her handsome prospect. Emma lifted her glass in Oliver’s direction. Everyone took the cue and raised their glasses. “Dearest, Oliver, there is one thing I want you to remember.” “What’s that Grammy?” “That with your new privilege comes an even greater responsibility. You must guard this knowledge to protect your family. You know you’re not always careful with secrets, but this is the greatest secret you will ever know, and these women are the most powerful people you will ever know. Never, ever, betray this secret to anyone. You must protect us.” Oliver’s expression became quite solemn. “Okay, but Grammy, if you’re all so powerful, why do you need me to protect you?” She chuckled. “We all need each other, dear. Life would be harder without us, and it would be much emptier and less rewarding without you. Lord knows what people would do to us if they found out.” “Okay. I promise,” he said, and they all clinked glasses as if sealing the deal. Oliver sat up straight and proud. “I don’t care what happens or who asks me … I swear to protect you and the secret.” Becky knew he would need to be reminded of that promise a few times in order to reinforce it. They could take no chances with a child’s loose tongue. Sophie patted his hand, and voiced what Becky had been thinking. “You need to remember this at school, Oliver. Never, ever, ever brag about living with a houseful of women who can make good things happen—or you’ll see the bad they can make happen too.” ****

A week later, Becky and Sophie were making beds as they had done hundreds of times before. They talked casually while working. “So, when are you going to tell everyone?” Becky asked. “I’m not sure I have to. Mom, Martha and Flo probably know. Any woman who’s had a baby must have figured it out, by now. They’re probably able to sense it.” Becky shook her head. “You and I can sense what’s going on with each others’ bodies because we’re twins, but our sisters and mother might not, and the men definitely can’t.” “Let me tell Timothy first,” said Sophie. “He might need a head start once Jake and Micah find out.” Both girls chuckled. “What about Oliver?” Becky asked. “What about Oliver?” “We have to keep Oliver from spreading the news around! God forbid any of the Morgan women should have sex before marriage!” Becky said. “Even though Timothy sleeps over every weekend…” They both burst out laughing. Just then, their mother walked in. “I’m glad you girls are in good moods. Becky, your young man is outside.” Becky’s jaw fell open with delighted surprise. Their mother turned to Sophie with a stern look on her face, and stated, “You, Miss, shouldn’t be joking about something so shameful.” “Shameful? Mother, what are you talking about?” Sophie asked in her innocent voice. “We know, Sophie. Your sisters and I all know what’s growing inside you. Tell your young man as soon as possible.” Sophie crossed her arms. “I will, but if it’s so shameful, then tell me exactly why our father married you only a few months before Martha was born?” Mrs. Morgan acted like she was about to say something but thought better of it and left the room. Becky hugged her sister and patted her on the back before running downstairs. **** Kurt, pacing back and forth, clutched another paper bag and a bouquet of spring flowers. Becky emerged from the side door with a sweet smile and graceful gait. Her rosy cheeks lit her face with a beautiful, healthy glow. Kurt was temporarily unable to speak. She’s so… He swallowed hard. “Becky, Hi! I didn’t expect to be here again so soon. I hope you don’t mind.” “Of course not! Are you on your way home again?” “No,” Kurt said. “I came to see you this time. I just wanted to talk with you some more and get to know you. I would have called, but you don’t have a telephone.” “I guess it would be handy to have one. Was it a long trip?” “Long? No! It really isn’t that long. Only about two hours, but I had to be sure that I could find you again.” Becky grinned and looked down at her shoes. “Oh, and I brought this for you.” He smiled, as he handed her a paper bag containing another bottle of champagne, and then the flowers.

“How thoughtful of you,” she said. “I’ll just put them inside. I’ll be back in a moment.” She was good to her word. Becky was back in seconds. He noticed she was wearing another pretty peek-a-boo blouse, but this time in pink. He couldn’t get over how luminous or radiant, or … whatever she was. What the heck is it about her? Kurt didn’t know if he’d ever figure it out. He was just glad to see her again. “Would you like to take a walk?” he suggested. Becky nodded, flashing a big smile. When he held his hand out to her, she grasped it firmly and walked with him away from the farmhouse. She didn’t seem to want to go to the road but led him past the barn, toward one of the newly planted fields. He hoped she wanted to go somewhere private. He wanted to taste her mouth and touch her hair. He had been thinking about it all week. “Where do you like to go for walks?” “There’s a bridge over a river on the other side of those trees,” Becky said. “I’d like some distance away from the house and family. It’s a pretty place.” As little as they had in common, socially, being together felt completely comfortable. Their hands felt good pressing together and she chatted easily, smiling over at him periodically. She led him from the tilled field, through the tall, sturdy oaks, maples and pines. The bridge was made up of only a few wide planks held together by a couple of narrow boards attached to the underside. The river was rushing over rocks, forming small rapids. It had been a rainy late spring. Kurt imagined it might be a lazy stream later in the summer. Becky crossed it adeptly and sat on the opposite side. He followed and sat next to her on the grass, not caring if his slacks became grass-stained. “This is where I go when I want to daydream,” Becky said. “I wish I knew what you were daydreaming about.” She laughed. “You, silly.” He chuckled. No city woman would admit to that on a first date. She leaned over and whispered conspiratorially, “I’m not supposed to be here.” “Why not?” “Because the river is the border of our land.” Kurt realized how very little he knew about this strange girl, and he wanted to know everything. But bombarding her with personal questions might be a bit overwhelming. He’d start with an easy one. “How old are you?” “Twenty-five years and eleven and a half months. Almost twenty six!” Kurt shook his head. “By the time most girls reach the age of twenty-five they’re out on their own with no one telling them where they can or can’t go.” “We’re not supposed to leave home,” Becky said. Alarmed, Kurt opened his mouth to say something, but whatever it was had vanished from his mind. She simply gazed into his eyes, and he relaxed. “That’s nice,” he heard himself saying. “It’s good to stay at home when you love your family as much as you do.” “Yes. It is nice.” He held her mesmerizing gaze for who knew how long. Contented, he sighed, “I hope to meet them soon.”

“You will. First though, I think it would be smart for us to get to know each other.” She looked down shyly. “I’d rather no one knew when or where we were meeting right now.” He gazed at her beautiful body and imagined kissing and fondling her full breasts in this picturesque place. He was hard in seconds. “How will I know when you want to see me?” “You’ll know,” she said. “Trust your heart and what it’s telling you.” “Mmm. I might be here quite often.” * She leaned into him and Kurt slipped an arm around her waist. She met his kiss with her own anxious, waiting lips. She loved his warm, supple mouth, and when his tongue began exploring her lower lip, she opened and let him in. An odd contraction gripped her in the core of her abdomen. Although nearly hyperventilating, she didn’t want to pull away. Kurt deepened the kiss and his breathing took on the same rapid quality. She didn’t want him to stop kissing her … ever. He didn’t seem to want to stop, either. He leaned back and looked at her briefly, but leaned in again right away. He nibbled her upper and lower lip, alternately. As her temperature rose she not only let him take command of her mouth, but she frequently sought his tongue with hers. Their hands traveled over one another’s sides and backs. Sometimes daring to caress a hip, fingers brushing the other’s buttock. They kissed for what seemed like an hour. Becky, anxious to go further, wondered if she should reuse her power on Kurt. It seemed to have worn off. She took in a deep breath and basked in the joy of his sensual kisses. No. I want to know that he wants me. Eventually she realized that it didn’t mean she couldn’t make a subtle suggestion. She took his hands and placed them on her breasts. Kurt leaned back and scrutinized her. She avoided his gaze by glancing down. He seemed to understand what she wanted and didn’t disappoint her. He rubbed her firm, supple breasts through the thin gauze blouse, causing her to moan with the sensation coursing through her nipples to her clenching vagina. Her cheeks warmed as she purred his name in approval. Soon she wanted his hand on her tingling skin. If feeling her through her clothing elicited this kind of electricity and excitement, how pleasant would skin-to-skin contact be? She removed his hands, gently, and then guided them up under her blouse. He leaned back and raised his eyebrows. She just nodded, and he smiled. As soon as his fingers reached her sensitive nipples she reared back and let out a groan of overt pleasure. Oh, dear Lord! I can’t wait for the rest of it. I have to know what I’ve been missing. “Kurt?” she panted. “Yes, angel?” “I want you to make me a woman.” Kurt placed slow sucking kisses along her neck, down to her shoulder, and worked his way back to her ear. He licked and blew his breath inside. Becky shuddered deep in her viscera and despite his cool breath, heat rippled through her. She glanced down and saw his cock was hard and straining against his zippered fly.

He paused a moment and smiled. “What are you telling me, Becky?” “That I want you to make love to me.” Kurt looked a little surprised. “Are you really ready to give yourself to me?” She nodded eagerly. “Well, let’s see what happens. Are you all right with a little slow exploration?” “I’m fine with it, but how slow are you talkin’?” Grinning, Kurt shook his head at his lap, but he began unbuttoning his shirt. When she removed her blouse, he glanced up as if he were only going to take a peek, but instead he did a double take and stared. She paused and basked in the warmth of the compliment. She loved how he admired her fully exposed large mounds. She knew he liked what he saw. She glanced down at her smooth skin, tanned from sunbathing nude. It was softly shining in the sunlight. He moved toward her slowly, kissing her clavicle and her shoulders as he squeezed her breasts and ran his thumbs over her taut nipples. Incredible. This must be the most wonderful feeling in the world! Becky sighed and unsnapped her shorts. He pulled her body against him while kissing her mouth and slipping his hand over her shorts and between her thighs. She responded with tingles and tightening deep in her womb. She wanted him to touch and kiss every inch of her. He started with her collarbone and then he worked his mouth down, planting sweet, sucking kisses all the way to her cleavage. When Kurt slid his tongue over to play with her nipple, she planted her hands on the cool grass behind her and reared back. Her arching moans invited him to suckle her. He took the hard nipple into his mouth and sucked with gentle pressure. It was glorious. Her mind emptied itself of any other thoughts or distractions and concentrated completely on reveling in the new stimulation. All she knew was that she wanted to feel every bit of this experience. Lying back in the grass she pulled his head down against her breast, allowing him to continue his exquisite foreplay. She thrust toward him, encouraging him to take in more of her. He suckled her deeply and she nearly cried out in joy. He used his other hand to rub and squeeze the nipple of her other breast. She hoped for more of the same attention over there. Soon her other nipple ached for his mouth, and as if reading her mind, he moved to the other breast and began his unhurried and thorough suckling all over again. Moaning her appreciation, she tried to imagine the feel of his cock inside her. She was thrilled knowing she would find that out very soon. Kurt moved one of his hands into her shorts until his fingers parted the dark curls and found her clit. She arched and gasped as she felt the deepest sensation yet. It radiated out, around, and through her genitals. Kurt massaged her sensitive clit and she began gasping and arching from the delicious torrent building and radiating throughout her body. She braced her arms against the earth and concentrated on the fingers rubbing her sensitive nub, taking her higher and higher. All-encompassing desire filled her and spread fast until it reached a shattering peak. She let go completely, crying out in ecstasy as she bucked and jerked against him. “Oh, Goddess!” She howled. As soon as she could breathe again, she relaxed her limp body and sighed. “Kurt Conrad, I can’t wait to feel your body in mine. I want you!”

**** “How much do you know about that?” “I know your penis goes in my vagina and we fuck.” Kurt swallowed a chuckle, but he had to admit he was thrilled with the uninhibited vixen he had discovered inside this shy country girl, and taking her virginity would not be difficult at all. Being gentle enough, considering his lust for her, might be the challenging part. “Now it’s your turn,” she said, reaching up and pushing his shirt off his shoulders. His tanned chest with “gym-workout” muscle definition was nothing he was ashamed of, and he intended to let her explore his body as thoroughly as she liked. He removed the shirt and tossed it aside. She ran her hands over his fine, brown, chest hair and pushed him onto his back. Kurt grinned as she lowered her head to kiss his neck and collarbone. She trailed her tongue along his skin and worked her way down to his nipples, kissing and sucking them tenderly. Tingling sensations ran through him, and he let out a soft moan. She was as thorough as he was. She was stroking the bulge through his jeans and giving him immense pleasure. Without warning, she stopped, stood and dropped her shorts. “Now you,” she said. Kurt’s mouth went dry, and he stared at her for a full minute. She stood there in the light of day displaying the most glorious nude body he had ever seen. Apparently she didn’t believe in underwear. There was nothing around her ankles but her cut-offs. She stepped out of her shorts and Kurt’s words lodged in his throat. He had intended to be the perfect gentleman. This was his moment of truth. Did he mean it? Could he wait for the right planned moment? He didn’t want to simply screw her their first time alone together, probably her first time, ever. That would be exactly what he’d do if he took her now. Still, her body was unbelievably distracting. It was difficult to think at all. “Becky, are you a virgin?” “Uh huh,” she replied. “Well, I—I want you, yes. If you only knew how much. But I want our first time to be special.” “Is it your first time too?” she asked wide-eyed. He turned to hide his smile and looked at the trees. “No.” “Oh, thank goodness. I wanted one of us to know what we were doing!” “I want you to know that I’m delighted by the invitation. You’re … you’re… As tempting and as beautiful as you are, my angel, I would rather wait for the right time … the perfect moment.” He couldn’t stop staring, and she must know she was driving him to distraction. She twisted to the left, then right, showing off her striking body. “Are you sure you want to wait?” she asked. He hesitated, stared, and swallowed. At last, he blurted out the truth. “Hell no.” She dropped to her knees and nodded at his straining crotch. “I want to see your body too.” Taking a deep breath, he said, “That’s only fair.” He unfastened his belt and zipper. Her eyes seemed to bore through the fabric as she stared. He started by pulling off his boots. He stood and pushed the jeans around his ankles and stepped out of them, kicking

them aside with one foot. Now he was down to socks and underwear. Standing on one foot and then the other, he pulled his socks off and tossed them on top of his jeans. “Are you sure you’re ready for more, Becky?” “I’m sure.” To prove her point, she scooted forward on her knees and fastened her wide, azure eyes on his briefs. Kurt whipped them off, freeing his enormous erection. Her mouth formed a perfect “o”. She reached out tentatively and touched his cock. “Go ahead. Take it in your hand.” She glanced up at him, and he smiled, hoping to encourage her. She didn’t need any more encouragement than that, apparently. She enclosed his aching shaft in her right hand, curled her fingers around it and stroked. Kurt let a soft moan escape. “Am I hurting you?” “Oh, no, angel. It feels very good.” “Okay.” She smiled and slid her hand up and down the shaft. His sexual desire intensified, and he craved completion, but he didn’t have a condom, damn it. He doubted she had any diseases, but he didn’t want to get her pregnant. He highly doubted she was on the pill. Oh, yes. That feels very, very good. He’d have to stop her, soon. He didn’t want to push his luck. “Hang on a minute, angel.” She stopped stroking, but literally, hung onto his shaft. “We need to stop, now.” “Stop? Are you crazy?” “I don’t have a condom, sweetheart.” She cocked her head to the side. “What’s a condom?” Oh boy. “It’s a covering that goes over my cock and keeps you from getting pregnant. Some people call it a rubber, or protection. We shouldn’t make love without a condom.” “Oh.” She dropped her head and looked crushed. “So we’re not going to make love?” A cloud passed overhead and a low rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance. “Not today. Next time. I want to make it very special for you, Becky. I’m honored to be your first, and I want to do it right.” He waited for her to acquiesce. She was usually so agreeable, but not this time. She seemed to be pouting. “I don’t like this condom idea. It sounds unnatural. You’d never… Don’t you want kids?” The thunder rumbled as if it were coming closer. Kurt jumped up and reached for his underwear. “Someday, but not right now. It sounds like a storm is coming. We’d better get dressed in case we have to run for cover.” Becky slumped and eventually nodded. She retrieved her clothes and dressed as the sky slowly cleared. “Can you stay a while and meet my family?” “Sure, if you think they’re ready to meet me.” “I think so. I just hope you’re ready for them!”

Chapter Three Becky burst through the back door and held it open for Kurt to enter behind her. She looked up to see her twin sister. Sophie, and Timothy sitting at the kitchen table with two plates of strawberry shortcake in front of them. Timothy seemed to be staring at a blank spot on the table. He stood up slowly; then had to sit back down as if shock had liquefied his knees. “No. That can’t be.” “Well, it is. I don’t know why you’re so surprised. We’ve been having sex pretty regularly for about a year now.” “But we were careful.” Becky could feel her sister’s anger and realized she had picked the worst possible moment to introduce her handsome stranger. “Um, Kurt, this is my twin sister Sophie and her boyfriend, Timothy.” “Happy to meet you,” Kurt said. Becky couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable he must be. The tension in the room was palpable. “Ah, we were kind of in the middle of something,” Sophie said. Sophie nodded toward Timothy, who sat white-faced, pushing strawberries around on his plate. Becky pulled Kurt through the swinging door into the dining room. “Sorry to interrupt!” she called over her shoulder. Kurt glanced at her curiously as she took his hand and led him through the living room to the main outside door. “I wonder where my mother is?” She shrugged and led him straight to the garden where both Emma and her grandson were picking beans. Oliver looked up but the matron didn’t. “Mother, this is Kurt. He’s the young man who brought us the wine before, and he brought us some more today.” “He must like his wine, then.” She responded coldly, as if icicles hung from her words. Surprised, Becky snapped, “Mother! Is everyone in this family going to be rude to my guest?” “I’m not!” Oliver said. “Nice to meet you Mister…” “Mr. Conrad.” Kurt extended his hand. “Mr. Conrad, then. I’m Oliver.” Oliver smiled as he shook it. “Nice to meet you too, Oliver.” He extended his hand toward Becky’s mother. “Mrs. Morgan?” The matron finally straightened up slowly from her bent position. She looked him up and down without smiling. “I can see that Mr. Conrad is a city man. Probably works in an office and drives a fancy car.” “Yes, that’s true,” Kurt said. “You must have extra-sensory perception.” That finally got her to smile and laugh. “You could call it that. The women in this family are very perceptive. Becky, have

you asked him to dinner yet?” “No, but I will, if it’s all right.” “It’s fine,” her mother sighed. She shook her head and chuckled under her breath. Suddenly Sophie could be heard yelling, and the screen door slammed a couple of times. Becky, her mother, Oliver and Kurt ran through the house until they reached the kitchen. Lightning bolts crackled through the air. Both Jake and Micah rushed in the side door as if terrified for their lives. Whipped cream stuck to the screen and the men skidded and fell in cake, strawberries, and whipped cream, making a slippery mess. “Calm down, Sophie. You really have to calm down,” her mother demanded, firmly. “I didn’t want to use my power over him. I really wanted him to decide to do the right thing on his own.” She began to cry and rain pattered on the roof. Becky gasped. “For God’s sake, Sophie, we have company!” Everyone took a deep breath and looked at Kurt. He didn’t seem to be reacting in any way. Sophie either forgot he was around, or she just didn’t care. Becky stood by him calmly and held Kurt’s gaze. “Oh, what does it matter anyway,” Sophie sighed. “She’s just going to make him forget, or maybe he’s been under your spell all along.” Becky shot back at Sophie, “He has not, and what business is that of yours anyway?” “Well, look at him!” Sophie insisted. Kurt was gazing adoringly at Becky. Emma gave both her daughters a stern look. “We’ll talk about this later. Right now it may have come in handy, but you cannot…” “Oh, and to let him go unshielded in front of this whole deranged family would have been so much better!” Becky shouted. The rain fell harder and thunder rumbled. Sophie bolted for the door. Micah, who had found his feet, grabbed her around the waist. “Ho there! Where do you think you’re going?” “I’m going after him!” “Sophie this isn’t the way—not in that mood,” her mother commanded. Sophie pushed past Micah and stormed out the side door. “Do you want me to go after her?” Micah asked. “No. You wouldn’t be able to stop her,” his mother-in-law sighed. “She’s too angry. She could hurt you accidentally if you tried.” “I just hope she doesn’t hurt that poor confused boy!” Jake said. “I can stop her,” Becky said. “I’m the only one who can.” Everyone in the room looked at her with some trepidation, but eventually, all of them nodded. Becky ran outside and stood on the steps, looking toward her sister who was about to disappear in the rain. As she stood there, she raised her hands, palms up. Then she curled her fingers as if dragging her sister back. Oliver asked, “Why is Aunt Becky the only one who can stop Aunt Sophie?” “Because she’s five minutes younger, dear one.” His grandmother answered. “The power grows stronger with each successive female.” **** Jake and Micah guided Becky’s new boyfriend to one of the damp chairs by the side of the house and asked him to wait there, saying they’d send her along shortly. Kurt felt

more comfortable outside by himself, anyway. Her overprotective family was very unusual, and there was something he couldn’t pinpoint that niggled at the back of his mind. It was several minutes before Becky came out of the house. She said her sister was upstairs and she was having a really bad time of it. “She and her boyfriend just had a lovers’ spat,” Becky explained. “Oh, That’s too bad. I thought it was something like that.” “Yeah. I’m sure they’ll work it out. They’ve been going together for a couple of years. I’m afraid this isn’t the best day to stay for dinner, though. My mother would like to have you, but Sophie’s in a tizzy and making everybody nervous.” Kurt was actually relieved. He would like to have a little more time to prepare for dinner conversation with the family. What do you say to a bunch of farmers? “How’s the corn growing?” “When should I call on you again?” “Whenever you feel the desire to, I guess. If you still want to see me after you get home and think about this crazy family of mine, you’ll be more than welcome.” She gazed into his eyes and something stirred deep within him. “Oh, I’m sure I’ll be back. I feel like we have a lot more to learn about each other. We have a nice relationship forming. I’d like to continue it.” “Good,” Becky said. “I was hoping you wouldn’t give up on me just because my sister was putting on a side-show. I want to kiss you some more.” She lowered her voice and sidled up next to him. “And I want you to finish what you started” “I want that too,” Kurt said, grinning. “We’ll make it memorable.” Then she stunned him by taking his hand from her arm and stuffing it into her shorts right there in the yard where anyone could walk out and see them. “You make me feel so good. I can’t wait.” **** Kurt had returned to his apartment in Philly, still bewildered. He looked out of the windows that ran almost from ceiling to floor. He loved this view at night with the twinkling lights of the city below. He tried to picture his beautiful Becky in his home, and it wasn’t easy. She didn’t belong here. How would they ever be able to have a sex life? Would he have to take her to the other side of the river every time? What if they were still together when the weather turned cold? Would they be able to find a friendly place to fuck that wasn’t under the family’s roof? Then he thought of how she offered him her luscious breasts, her velvet-soft body and how badly he wanted, no, needed to feel his cock deep inside her heated core. The whole situation preoccupied him and demanded an answer. He had already tried reading, listening to music, and watching TV. It was no good. He couldn’t stop thinking about her. There might be a motel nearby. Ugh. That had the stench of sleaziness attached to it and he’d do anything to avoid that. Where can we go? My car? God no. That’s even worse. He had to get her back here, somehow. Still, that seemed unlikely, especially after what she had said about not being allowed to leave the farm. He might think it was ridiculous, but he remembered the sweet girl he was falling in love with and how he

admired her loyalty to her family. It might be good for her to spend some time away from them, though. What had happened with the sister and her boyfriend anyway? Was screaming and throwing things something the whole family did? It might take a while, but there had to be a way to get Becky away from them. He’d like to show her some of the people and places in his life. And he absolutely had to make love to her in a comfortable bed. He scrubbed a hand over his face and sat on his couch to rack his brain for a while. All he came up with was a headache. As hard as it would be, he had to find a reason for her to get away, but he didn’t want to scare her or alienate the Morgans. He would have to come up with something creative—and special. He’d try to think of something. She wasn’t like other women, and that’s what attracted him to her in the first place. C’mon, Conrad. Think! Finally, in utter frustration, Kurt poured himself a scotch and decided to ask Frank for advice the next morning. Of course, he’d have to phrase it in a roundabout way. if he told him the truth, Frank would probably laugh. If he helped solve the dilemma Kurt would risk all the taunting his friend could dish out. Kurt stretched and yawned. Maybe by making some kind of a decision, however lame, he’d be able to relax his busy brain and get some sleep. God forbid, if he wasn’t able to solve this problem and had to give her up, he’d probably never sleep again. **** Kurt arrived in his office, pulled some papers out of his briefcase and pushed them aside. Frank walked in shortly after that with two muffins, plunking one down in front of Kurt. “Low fat blueberry, warm with butter—just the way you like it, buddy.” “Wow! What did I do to deserve this?” “Nothing special. Just wanted to spend a few minutes finding out how your weekend was. Thought I could entice you into a brief conversation with food.” Kurt chuckled and turned his chair to face Frank’s, wondering how to explain his weekend. “Not that I need to tell you anything, of course…” “Of course. Now spill it.” Frank’s sly smile told Kurt he was sincerely interested and wasn’t taking “No” for an answer. “Well, I drove out to see her again.” “Daisy Mae?” Kurt frowned. “Becky.” “Sorry. I mean, Becky. ‘Miss Special.’” “Yeah. Well something odd happened, but I’m not quite sure what it was. I’ve been thinking about it, and all I can come up with is that I must have missed a step somewhere.” “You? Miss anything? I find that hard to believe!” “Well, I must have, and it’s bugging me. All I know for sure is that I was meeting her mother and her nephew in the vegetable garden behind their house one minute, and we heard one of the girls yelling bloody murder the next. We all ran to find her sister in the kitchen, with whipped cream, cake and strawberries stuck to the screen door and all

over the kitchen floor, and then it was like I blacked out or something.” Kurt scratched his head, still confused. “Blacked out? Why? Did you fall and hit your head, or were you drinking their moonshine?” “Cut it out. They don’t make moonshine, but the next thing I knew I was outside with her brothers-in-law.” “And you lost whatever happened between the strawberry shortcake and the walk with the boys?” Kurt nodded. “That’s bizarre. Has anything like that ever happened to you before?” “Never.” “So who threw the cake?” “Becky’s twin.” He shook his head. “Better watch it,” Frank warned. “Tempers sometimes run in families, and the gene pool doesn’t get any closer than twins. Wait a minute. Did you say twins?” “Forget it, Frank. She’s practically engaged, although they had some kind of lover’s spat. I haven’t seen any sign of a temper in Becky yet, but I’ll keep my eyes open.” “Maybe I should go out there with you sometime and see if I have the same strange blackouts if I hang around her sister?” “That’s okay, Buddy. Thanks for your concern, but I think I’ll go it alone for a while. I’m just getting to know them, and I doubt if they’re ready for the likes of you. Maybe I’ll ask her more about what happened next weekend.” “Again? Wouldn’t you like to spend a weekend with your good friend once in a while?” “Yeah, maybe I should. I’m trying to take it slow, and all I want to do is rip off her blouse and jump in her pants.” Frank laughed. “Well, I’m here for you, pal! Hey, maybe you can get a little action on the side to take care of that nasty craving. We could double with those flight attendants again.” “Thanks, but no. I’d rather stay low key, if you don’t mind.” “What if I do? Would it help?” “No. Maybe we can go out somewhere, but I don’t want another woman. Got it?”

Chapter Four Two weeks dragged by. Kurt couldn’t wait to see Becky again. He drove a little faster on his way to the farm. He must have been daydreaming because he missed the little turnoff that led to her farm. He turned around at a gas station, filled up, and went back a couple of miles. How could I have missed it? The road was right there, plain as the beautiful day. It was extraordinarily hot in the city, but there was a cool breeze here, and he estimated that the temperature was a balmy seventy-five. Perfect for getting laid in the woods. He was glad he had tucked a few condoms in his pants pocket and brought her a gift. Soon he was driving up her dirt driveway, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake. Before he could reach the side door, Becky bounded outside and rushed to meet him. He caught her in a firm hug. She smelled like vanilla and something else. Was it pecan pie? Her soft, warm body melted all thoughts of caution from his mind. “I’ve missed you. Is there someplace we can go?” Kurt whispered. She draped her arms around his neck and trailed her finger seductively along his jaw. “I missed you too, and there’s always someplace we can go. Want to go a little ways past the river to the orchard?” “I’d like that.” Kurt smiled and picked her up in another hug, as if he couldn’t get close enough to her and wondered what had possessed him to stay away for an entire thirteen days. The two of them walked with arms around each other’s waists, across the large field toward the trees. Kurt caressed her from her hips to her torso where, with a casual stroke, he could graze the side of her generous breast. He almost lost his mind trying to discipline his erection. Take it easy, damn it. He had to come up with something else to focus on. “Is any of this field planted?” he asked. “Sure. Most of it is planted with corn. Some wheat back there.” She pointed toward the dark, plowed earth behind the house. “Should we be walking on it, then?” Kurt asked. “Oh sure. Nothing ever happens to our crops. They come up healthy and hearty every year.” “That’s lucky. Don’t you ever have drought or heavy rains that affect the outcome of the harvest?” “Nope. The weather’s almost always perfect where we are—long, sunny summer days and cool starry nights. At night we have just enough rain, but not too much.” “That’s amazing. I’ve never heard of weather so consistent in this part of the country. Most farmers would love to be able to depend on a good harvest year after year.” “Yeah. We’re really lucky.” They walked toward a stand of trees and soon disappeared from view. The trees cooled the air and Kurt let go of her warmth reluctantly to follow her over the wooden bridge and arrive on the opposite side of the rushing stream. As soon as his feet hit the soft grass, he turned her toward him and pulled her close. He gazed into her eyes, and she looked down shyly. Kurt picked up her chin and saw that

her eyes were already closed. He kissed her fervently, and she returned his kiss just as passionately. She was fully pressed up against him, and he couldn’t wait to feel her naked softness. They each took in a large breath when their lips separated. “The orchard’s just a little further.” She took his hand, and they walked in silence glancing over at each other with knowing smiles. The orchard was large enough to get lost in. Dying to explore her body, he lowered her to the ground. “Becky, I don’t know why I didn’t come back sooner. I really did miss you.” “I missed you too. Tell me how you spend your time when you’re not here with me.” He positioned himself behind her so she could lean back on him as if he were a tree. He kissed her neck and shoulders when she had settled between his legs, and decided that easing into whatever else would happen with some conversation might not be a bad idea. There were things he wanted to know too. “Well, my work week was fairly typical. I signed a new sponsor, suggested a couple of ideas for ads, wrote up the contract, and… Are you really interested in this?” “Not really, no.” She chuckled. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but maybe if I did, it wouldn’t seem like you're speaking in a foreign language.” Kurt had to laugh. “I love your honesty. Don’t ever change that.” “Why would I?” “Mmm. Let’s not think about that. I’d rather listen to you for a while.” “What do you want me to tell you?” “I’d like to know everything about you. Like, where did you go to school? Did you like it? What’s the rest of your family like?” “Okay. I’ll tell you what I can.” Becky chuckled and guided his hands from around her waist up to her breasts. Kurt figured it wouldn’t hurt to give her a little frontal massage while she talked. He cupped and stroked as she let out a long satisfying breath. “Ahhh. That feels so good.” “Tell me about yourself, Becky.” “Okay, but there’s not much to tell. I went to school right here on the farm. Yes, I enjoyed it very much.” “What subjects did you enjoy?” “Oh, I don’t know. I liked ‘em all. My mother and sisters tell me I’m pretty smart.” Becky took Kurt’s hands and moved them to lift her blouse, exposing her bare breasts, and then she placed his hands over them. His breath hitched. When he began to rub, she leaned into him and sighed. He cleared his throat. “And the rest of your family?” “As for the rest of my family, there’re only my older sisters and their two little ones to meet. I think you’ve met everyone else.” “What about your father?” “He died when Sophie and I were four. That’s how old Ruthie is now. It’s hard to remember him, but I still miss him. I really don’t want to talk right now. Can we just take our clothes off?” He smiled. Kurt placed little sucking kisses along the back of her neck, to her ear. She giggled when he licked inside. Becky pulled open the ribbon of her blouse. She wore shorts that exposed her long, sexy legs and that, plus the feel of her breasts, tightened his

gut and sent heat searing through him. His cock was rock hard and straining against his zippered fly. “How far should we go this time, angel? It’s okay if you want to wait.” “No. I want to do it all. Make love to me this time.” Kurt smiled and removed her blouse. He looked over her shoulder and admired her fully exposed chest from above. She had beautiful, smooth, perfect, tanned breasts reflecting the sunlight. He moved slowly, kissing her shoulders as he alternately squeezed her firm breasts and ran his fingers over them, catching her taut nipples. “Are you sure you're ready?” Becky sighed and unsnapped her shorts. “So ready. More than ready.” **** She moved her body around to face him, kissing his mouth and slipping her tongue inside. He responded with enthusiasm and she felt him lowering her to the cool grass. She wanted him to fuck her right away. She pulled her shorts down and began working frantically on his belt buckle and zipper. “Wait, Angel. I want to taste you and plant sweet kisses all over your body.” When Kurt let his tongue slide over to play with her nipple, she arched her breast into his mouth. “Oh, I love it when you do that. It feels so good.” He took the hard nipple into his mouth and sucked with firm pressure. She became wet between her thighs and knew enough of lovemaking to imagine the glorious feeling of his penis penetrating her there once he had breached her maidenhead. She knew there would be a sharp pain at first, but all she wanted was to feel. She would bear it quietly, and then concentrate completely on the new sensations to come as soon as that was over. Lying in the grass, she pulled his head down, allowing him to suck her in deeper. “Ohhh … I love you suckling me, Kurt. It feels good in other parts of my body that you’re not even touching.” When he had paid thorough attention to both of her mounds, he moved off of her breast to continue his exquisite and torturously slow foreplay. She pulled at her shorts, encouraging him to take them off. He had suckled her deeply and used his hand to rub and squeeze the sensitive nipples. As far as she was concerned, she couldn’t wait any longer. He licked and kissed down her torso and began an unhurried removal of her denim shorts. Moaning her appreciation, she lifted her hips and happily felt his hand slide over her buttocks and then her mons. She was thrilled with the knowledge that he would create that wonderful sensation that had her tingling and quivering inside and maybe more. She wouldn’t be a virgin much longer. They’d be having sex soon and as hard as it was to imagine, perhaps that would feel even better. She hurried to kick off her shorts and Kurt let his fingers part the curls until they found her clit. She moaned and arched into his hand. Moaning louder as he stroked her sensitive nub, the fabulous build-up coursed through her again. She was going to crash over the edge like she had before. This time though, he slipped two fingers into her vagina and maintained the pressure on her clit with his thumb. This must be what having his cock in there would be like. It felt so good and she was so grateful to him for taking her there in steps, letting her imagine and crave the next level of intimacy.

She arched and gasped as she felt the deep vibrating sensation concentrate first in her clit and then radiate out, encompassing not only her genitals, but more and more of her whole body. She began spasming and trembling from the beginning of her delicious release. She braced her arms against the earth and arched, digging her fingers into the ground shaking and crying out her joy as her orgasm rushed throughout her body. Allencompassing pleasure filled her as she bucked and jerked. When she could finally speak, she said, “Oh, Kurt, what more can there be than this?” He lifted his head and grinned. “You’ll see, angel, but first, I have to get naked.” Becky was thrilled to be thought of as his “angel.” She helped him undress, folded his clothes and tossed them out of the way. With his clothes off, the two of them kissed and fondled each other for a little while. Taking his erection in her hand felt wonderful too. He felt like velvet over something solid. Finally, Kurt managed to pry their bodies apart. **** “Becky, do you know what an aroused man likes?” “I’m not sure. Tell me.” She pulled herself up to a sitting position and bit her lip. “Honey, are you afraid of something?” “I’m only afraid that I won’t please you like you pleased me. I don’t know what could make you that happy. And I want to know that.” He put his arm around her. “Don’t worry, angel. It’s easy to please a man. I’ll tell you what I like first, and if you don’t think you can do it, I want you to be honest with me. Okay?” “I will.” She trusted him. She’d be honest with him. Now could he be honest with her? After only a moment, he knew he’d damn well better be. He tried to look into her eyes, and she looked down. “Now, you see? That’s what makes me nervous about telling you this. You seem to be ashamed.” She turned her wide eyes to him and they seemed even more frightened. “No! That’s not it all! I want you to tell me what to do!” He studied her face. She seemed more anxious to please than afraid. Perhaps her only fear was exactly what she had said—that she wouldn’t make him feel good. By God, he’d tell her how and let the chips fall where they may. It was time for both of them to be brave. “Becky, I want you to go down on me. Do you know what that means?” The confused look on her face matched her one word answer, “No.” She stared at his erection and touched it carefully. “Do you want me to touch you like I did before?” Kurt smiled and said, “Yes. It’s okay to start by touching my cock. I like that.” Becky glanced up at him and smiled. Then she gazed at his long, thick erection again and stroked it with her curled hand. “That’s it…” he said. “Now close your hand around it a little more and feel it up and down. Can you do that?”

“Yes.” She did exactly as he said and didn’t seem to react with distaste. In fact, she seemed fascinated. “Does this feel good?” He let out a sigh. “Oh, yes, angel. That feels very good.” He decided to up the ante and give her the encouragement she might need. “Becky, honey?” “Yes?” she whispered. “Do you think you could put your lips around the tip and suck it like I sucked your breasts?” She looked up at him in surprise, but then a smile passed across her face. “I guess that must feel as good to you as sucking on my nipples feels to me.” “Oh yes, angel. At least that good.” Becky wrapped her lips around his swollen cock and pulled back over the sensitive head. Kurt leaned back, closed his eyes and moaned. To his delight, he didn’t have to ask her to do it again. She suckled the tip of his penis and advanced it into her mouth. Then she applied suction and withdrew. “Oh, yes. That’s it.” He moaned again. She was very good at that. He would have liked to ask her to take him in deep, but not yet. Maybe later in the relationship. He reveled in the lovely sensations she was creating, yet he wanted more. He wanted to give her more too. “Becky, what I want to do with you has to be special. As special as you are.” “What could be more special than making love? I want you so badly I could scream.” “Well I want to make you scream, but only with delight. There are different ways to make love, darling. If I do it gently, it may hurt at first, but before you know it, you’ll be wanting to make love a lot.” “I want to make love a lot right now. What if something happened to you? Dying a virgin is something I have no intention of doing, and I’ve wanted this so much that my yearning is becoming more powerful with every passing moment.” Kurt sighed. Even though he thought he should proceed slowly, how could he deny her? He didn’t want to deny himself, and here she was sounding as desperate as he felt. Kurt usually went with conventional wisdom every time, but not this time. She wasn’t conventional and neither were his feelings toward her. Never having felt this way, though, he couldn’t identify his emotions. He was crazy about her, but didn’t know if it was love—yet. “Becky. I’ll give you what you want, but please know that it might hurt you at first. I’ll be as gentle as I can, but it’s going to hurt the first time.” “I know that. I’m not worried. I trust you, Kurt.” Dear God. I trust you, Kurt. Responsibility was nothing new to him, but this kind of responsibility was. Emotional responsibility. How could he take that step if he didn’t know how he felt yet, or how he’d handle it if he did? “Becky, I want you. I need you. I’m even close to loving you.” There he had said it. Too late to go back now. He had been honest, and any minute, she was going to fly into a fury over the words, ‘close to.’ She looked up at him and smiled. “I’m close to loving you too. And I want and need you just as bad. Let’s not wait any longer.” She lowered herself onto her back and spread her legs. “I want you to take my

maidenhead, Kurt. Not some farm boy who wants to rut like a pig.” Picturing his Becky having to go through that sickened him. That was it. He would make her first sexual experience one they would both remember fondly. He crawled between her legs and looked down at her face. She looked so beautiful and so filled with expectation. He hated to pause for the condom, but he wasn’t about to throw caution to the wind. He reached his pants and fished into his pocket. She watched as he tore open the package and rolled the latex over his shaft one-handed. Kurt kissed her gently on the mouth and tested her wetness with his fingers. She was soaked. He brought his throbbing penis to her opening and said, “This will only hurt this once, I promise, and I wish it didn’t have to hurt at all.” She nodded. He hoped doing it fast would be like ripping off a Band-Aid and rammed himself inside her hot, wet opening, hard and deep. She gasped and sunk her nails into his shoulders. Holding her tight with one arm, he kept her close and waited until her breathing returned to normal. “Are you all right, my darling?” He pulled back and looked at her face. “Yes,” she said. “Can you fuck me now?” Kurt kissed her and smiled. He slowly slid his cock back and entered her again, but slowly. He was so hard and she was so tight. It was all he could do to discipline his driving desire. “Are you still all right, angel?” “I’m fine, and I heal really fast. Go ahead, fuck me. Please?” He smiled. It made him even hotter when she asked for it that way, and he cautiously began a moderate rhythm. She lifted her bottom and met his thrusts, cooing. Her lubricated vaginal muscles tightened around him and he hoped he could hold off until he felt her coming. He couldn’t help moaning in pleasure and wondered if that would be an option. Her moans increased as he thrust into her faster and deeper. He checked her face and she didn’t seem to be feeling any pain, so he relaxed and found a pleasurable rhythm, thrusting in and out of her in earnest. She opened her eyes and looked down. “I love this feeling so much. I want to see you fucking me, Kurt.” She tipped her pelvis up, and he slowed, sinking his large, engorged cock into her again so she could appreciate the view. She laid back on the grass grinning. When she reclined and closed her eyes, he concentrated on grinding into her pelvis, increasing the friction and building the exciting sensations between them. Moments later he could feel himself ready go over the edge and Becky was beginning to vibrate at the same time. Kurt’s orgasm hit him hard and he came longer than ever before. He could have sworn he felt the earth shake. Becky’s vagina spasmed, clenching him. She cried out and shuddered. He propped himself up with one arm and reached for her clit with his thumb. When he found it Becky shouted out his name and he knew she was about to come again. He kept up the rhythm on her clit, leaving his penis in her body. She spasmed and jerked while letting out a long, loud stuttering groan. At last, she was satiated. Both of them were complete and content.

Chapter Five When Kurt determined that she had recovered, he rolled off to one side and lay beside her. Kissing her fingers, he asked, “Angel, when’s your birthday?” Becky lay spread eagle on the grass and gazed at him, dreamily. “What?” “Your birthday. I know, it seems like a stupid question, but I want to know what your Zodiac sign is. You said you were about to turn twenty-six.” Kurt held his breath and hoped he hadn’t made a complete fool of himself. “My birthday is tomorrow. May fifteenth. I’m a Taurus. My sister wanted to be born next week and be Gemini the twins, but no, we’re Taurus the bull.” He smiled to himself, inwardly remembering what Sue had said. Taurus was one of his compatible signs. When it came to sexual compatibility, Cosmo sure knew what they were talking about. His lusty country girl made him feel things he’d never experienced before. Kurt smiled and pulled his underwear and jeans back on. He kneeled between her thighs and kissed her tenderly. “Happy birthday.” She sat up when he handed her an envelope. “A card,” she said, delighted. Tearing it open she cried, “Oh, and there’s more.” She read the card and unfolded the small bit of tissue paper that was enclosed. “It’s a…” She looked perplexed as she stared at the gold anklet. Could she have no idea what jewelry was? Come to think of it, he’d never seen her wearing any. “Here. Let me put it on for you,” he said. He wrapped the shiny chain around her ankle and fastened it. She touched the tiny sparkling gold heart as if it were made of fragile spun glass. “It’s so pretty. I love it!” She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him close. “I loved what we just did too. I want you to do that to me again and again. I want you to live here with me and make love to me every night.” Oh God. His mouth went dry and he couldn’t speak. It must just be the girl thing. She’s just dreaming out loud. “My brothers-in-law added on another room for me when Sophie and Timothy began sleeping together. We can make love in my room any time we want.” She meant it! “You’re kidding. With the family in the house?” “Of course. They know things. They probably already know we’re close and need to make love and sleep together.” “I can’t do that.” She stared at him wide-eyed. “What do you mean, you can’t?” “It’s crazy. Under your mother’s roof, knowing she’s not fond of me, and she’s very protective of you? Besides, I work in Philadelphia. I can’t live way out here.” She glared at him. The sky darkened, the earth trembled. Kurt looked skyward, but there didn’t seem to be thunderclouds overhead. “I still don’t understand why you can’t come to visit me in the city once in a while. We can date for a couple of years and then…” A lightning bolt shot out of the sky, splitting a nearby apple tree right down the

middle. The trembling earth shook and tore open in fissures. Becky yelled, “Run!” She left her clothes and charged naked back toward the house. “Becky, wait!” Kurt ran after her, scooping up his shirt and shoes on the way. She bounded over the bridge and was way ahead of him, but he found a new burst of speed once he had struggled into his shirt, and the sky shot more lightning into the trees right behind him. He made it to the clearing and hoped the tall trees would continue to attract the storm, keeping them out of harm’s way as they dashed across the field. He had almost caught up to her as they passed the barn, but a startling sight stopped both of them cold. All of the Morgan women stood naked in a circle surrounding the four-year-old, Ruthie. She lowered her arms and smiled when she saw Becky. As soon as Mrs. Morgan spotted Kurt and her daughter, she yelled, “Becky, where have you been? No one could sense you anywhere. Little Ruthie had to be initiated long before she was ready and taught how to find and retrieve you!” Kurt backed toward his car. “Shit. What the hell is this?” “Wait, Kurt. I can explain…” Kurt wasn’t about to wait for an explanation. He turned and ran. Several of the women cried, “Becky! Stop him!” He heard her firm voice answer them. “No!” As he jumped into his BMW and revved the engine he saw her, arms extended and rays of white light radiating out from her fingers. She seemed to be blocking the path between him and her whole family. “I won’t force him to stay against his will,” she cried. “I love him, but he has to love and want me too.” Terrified, Kurt threw the stick shift in reverse and backed down the driveway, throwing gravel in every direction, then he roared down the dirt road, and it started to rain. **** Back in his office, Kurt tossed his favorite leather jacket at the coat hook. When it missed and landed on the floor in a rumpled heap, he left it where it fell and plopped into his chair. Frank turned around as Kurt scratched the stubble on his chin. “You’re late again, Conrad.” “So?” “Buddy, I know you can get down, but I’ve never seen you go all ‘El Depresso’ like this. You’ve looked like hell ever since you broke up with Becky.” Kurt turned to his overflowing in-box and ignored his friend. “I mean it, man. I thought you’d get over it in a week or two, but if anything you look worse. You’ve got to forget about her. Look, it’s Friday. Go clubbing with me tonight. We’ll find you a gorgeous piece of ass to take your mind off…” “No.” Frank was silent for a moment, then said, “You can’t keep doing this.” “Doing what?” “You’re burying yourself in work and wearing a rut between your office and your apartment.” “What if I am?”

Frank walked over and sat on the corner of Kurt’s desk. “I’m serious. I’m starting to worry about you.” Kurt crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, but he refused to make eye contact. “Look Frank, I know you’re trying to help, but please stop. I’m not going to forget Becky. You could introduce me to the whole Eagles cheerleading squad, and I wouldn’t forget her.” “Well, if you’re so ruined for other women, what are you going to do? Work at this boring job and go home to your empty apartment indefinitely?” Kurt took in a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh. He didn’t have an answer. “Look, maybe you could figure out a way to make it work. You say she won’t leave the farm, but maybe you could get a job closer to her. Ever thought about starting a business? Being your own boss? I think you’d be good at it.” “Yeah. I’ve thought about it.” Kurt snorted. “Maybe I could start the ‘Lancaster Farming Channel.’” “Maybe you could do something on-line. Sell their jams and jellies … or something, anything!” Kurt waved Frank off and tried to get back to work. His friend hung up Kurt’s coat and left the office shaking his head. Reading the same paragraph three times, Kurt wondered how the hell he’d sell anything on-line without a phone, never mind a modem. Maybe they could conjure up a link with whatever kind of sorcery or witchcraft they were into. Even if he could figure out what to do for work out there, could he accept whatever the Morgan family was? … and what the hell were they? … and if he lived on the farm, would they let him leave? Jesus, how can I stop ruminating like this? There was only one way to answer all of his questions. He’d have to talk to Becky Morgan and her family. And in order to talk to them, he’d have to go back there. **** The following morning, with a small suitcase on his passenger’s seat, he drove through the Pennsylvania countryside wondering if he was losing his frigging mind by doing this. Didn’t matter. He was losing his frigging mind, anyway. He roared down the dirt road and hoped he’d make it to the farmhouse before he regained his sanity. He hoped by the time he left her, he’d know enough to make an informed decision and maybe find some peace of mind. He glanced at the suitcase and didn’t know if he’d need it or not. They might toss him off the property for what he did to Becky. As the house came into view, he prayed that things would go well. That whatever happened, it would be for the best. He saw no one outside and was somewhat relieved. He drove up the gravel drive, turned off the engine and sat there. What the hell am I going to do if they won’t let me see her again? He was shaken out of his musing when a small figure approached from the side of the house. It was Oliver. “Hey, Mr. Conrad. I didn’t think I’d see you again. Grammy said you probably wouldn’t be back, and if you did come, you’d probably bring the men in white coats with ya.” Kurt chuckled and felt oddly comforted. “Oliver, I’m here to ask a few questions, but

maybe I could start by asking you one.” “Sure,” Oliver said. “Can I sit in your car?” “Of course.” Kurt moved the suitcase to the tiny space behind the back seat. “Are you planning on stayin’ this time?” “I don’t know. That all depends on the answers to those questions, I guess.” Oliver opened the door and jumped in. “Wow, this is nice. Sure is a lot nicer than the school bus or daddy’s truck.” He stroked the leather upholstery. Kurt adjusted in his seat to face him. “So, that question…” “Oh, yeah. What did you want to know?” “The women in this family are, um, a little different from most people I know. Do you know what I mean when I say that?” Oliver’s eyes opened wide and he stared at Kurt. “What’s the matter, Oliver? You look scared.” “Um… I, Um… Well, I’m not supposed to talk about that.” Oliver opened the door and stepped out. He backed a few feet away from the car, then turned and ran around the side of the house yelling, “Daddy! Grammy! Come quick!” Oh no. Kurt had just turned the key and was prepared to back down the driveway when Jake rounded the corner. “Hang on there, Kurt,” he called. Kurt debated with himself for a couple of seconds. Just long enough for Jake to put his hands on the car and lean on it. “Why don’t you come into the house? I think I know what you’re here about, and it’s kind of a long story. One we were preparing to tell ya, though.” “I don’t want a story. I want the truth.” “And that’s all you’ll ever get from us.” Jake’s eyes were sincere. Mrs. Morgan rounded the corner and said, “Jake, invite our guest to come in.” “I did, Emma. I think he’s considerin’ it.” “There’s nothing to fear, Mr. Conrad. We won’t hurt you, and we all have our clothes on.” Then she let out her tinkling laugh. At that, he had to chuckle, and he shut off the engine. “Bring your suitcase with you, too.” She turned and went back to the house. When he stepped out of the car and reached over the seat for his suitcase, he realized she couldn’t have seen it. Oh, shit. It’s started already. What have I gotten myself into? As if reading his mind, Jake clapped him on the shoulder and said, “You have to get used to it, but they’ve all got good in their hearts. Especially Becky. We’re a mite protective of her, but that’s because she’s the sweetest one. Sophie’s a scrapper, and she can take care of herself, but Becky, well, she needs a little lookin’ after. Someone could take advantage of her loving, good nature.” The look crossing his face left no doubt in Kurt’s mind. They didn’t want him to be that someone. He didn’t want to be that guy, either. He was here with the best of intentions. Taking a deep breath and standing up straight, he said, “Lead the way.” Kurt was ushered into the living room. The matron, already sitting in a chair, was sewing a button on what looked like one of Oliver’s shirts. Micah sat on the couch and stood to shake Kurt’s hand.

Kurt sat in an armchair and Jake took the other side of the couch. “Do you know why I only have the men here to speak to you?” she asked. “No, but I hope you’re going to tell me everything.” Kurt couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable and folded his hands. “We will, in due time.” She turned to her son-in law, Micah. “Tell Mr. Conrad what it’s been like with your Martha.” Micah sat forward and so did Kurt. It looked like the meeting of the minds. “I was the first man in this family since their poppa went to his maker over twenty years ago. He was run over by a truck in town. I guess Emma and her sister both had the gift and their mother before them. It’s hard to say about the women before that, it’s probably been passed down through this family ever since they came here from the Black Forest a couple hundred years ago, but it’s just the women and it grows with each generation. They have to be kept here to protect them from outsiders as well as teaching them to use and discipline their gifts in secret. It’s important that they don’t get upset.” He looked at Kurt and paused for effect. “The thing is, you won’t never find a better situation than this. These women can make all kinds of good happen, and they love their men completely—body, mind and soul. Especially body, if you know what I mean?” Micah smirked. Jake chuckled. “Yup, the chores practically take care of themselves. They never get headaches and we’re never too tired. There’s a lot of love in these women, but only for their one chosen man, and you should be honored that you’ve been picked by one of ‘em.” Been picked? “But what do you do way out here?” Kurt asked. “Just about anything we want to.” Micah smiled and nodded to Jake. “Now you can talk about Polly and Flo, Jake.” Jake looked at the floor and said, “I thought Polly was going to be my wife. But I chose her. She didn’t choose me. She ran off with a city fella who didn’t marry her and didn’t treat her right. She fell into some trouble by doing things he didn’t bother to understand, and the city policemen didn’t either. She was probably just trying to help him. Anyway, she landed in jail and couldn’t handle the betrayal. She chose not to live anymore.” “You mean—she killed herself?” Kurt asked softly trying to be sensitive to Emma. “That’s what we figure. Anyway, twins run in this family, and Flo was Polly’s twin. She helped me get through all that, and then Flo and I fell in love. She chose me. Now I’m the happiest man alive. I couldn’t ask for a better wife.” Kurt sat back and digested this so far. He turned to the Matron and asked his most burning question. “Is that why you won’t let them leave the farm?” “They don’t leave until they have a husband to protect ‘em.” Kurt looked at her quizzically, but she never took her eyes off her mending. “Are you telling me that if I married Becky, she and I could leave the farm?” “For periods of time. You wouldn’t want her going anywhere without you, and we’d really prefer she stay on the farm until Ruthie grows up and learns to handle her gift. That powerful lightning storm you saw was a four-year-old’s attempt to use her power without enough training.” “But Becky and I were just in the orchard.” “We didn’t know that. For all we knew you kidnapped her. I think that’s why Ruthie

was scared enough to send lightning bolts toward you.” Kurt cleared his throat and sat up. “Well, she succeeded in scaring the pants off of me.” Kurt turned his attention back to the men. “How do you feel about a wife who can control you like that?” Micah and Jake laughed. “Once we marry ‘em, they can’t do a thing to us. It’s in the vows.” Kurt stood and paced. “So, that’s why I don’t remember anything between running in the side door to see strawberry shortcake all over the place and you two taking me outside. Who did that to me?” The matron spoke, and he stood still in front of her. “Becky did. She didn’t want to, but figured you’d never understand when Sophie talked about not wanting to use her powers on Timothy. Becky isn’t as volatile as Sophie. In fact, no one else in the family is. She’ll be all right though, soon as she and Timothy get married. Once the females are married and get sex as often as they do, they’re too content to get upset about the little things.” “Why was Sophie upset?” The matron took in a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “It wasn’t a little trifle. Timothy got her pregnant and didn’t offer to do the right thing. He asked her to marry him on her birthday, though. Thank goodness.” It took all his courage to ask the next question. “What are you? Witches? Magicians? Goddesses? I want the truth—whatever it is.” Emma shrugged. “So do we. We don’t know what we are. That’s part of why we stay together. We know we’re different, but here on the farm we don’t feel like we have two heads.” Kurt nodded. “You’re telling me the absolute truth?” “We’re not good liars, Mr. Conrad. Our lives and emotions are tied to nature and we’d give ourselves away. If we’re sad, it rains. Angry? It thunders. Lightning comes from extreme emotions, and the earth trembles when we’re afraid. Lying usually comes out of fear, and the earth shakes so bad it splits in places.” “Who lied when we were in the orchard?” “We all did. We were saying you were an evil man who had taken Becky. That’s how we knew you weren’t. The ground shook and spit, so that was a lie. We’re bound to tell the truth. We don’t like earthquakes any more than the next person.” “How do I know I’m not under a spell?” “You’re not missing any time are you?” He checked his watch. No. He estimated that he had been there for about twenty minutes. It was 10:30 when he arrived. It was now 10:50. The matron laid her sewing aside. “Frankly, if I had my way, I’d have stopped you and erased your memory of the lightning and the naked circle too. But Becky wouldn’t have it.” “Why not?” “She wanted you to know what we were. Well, as much as we know, anyway. If you could accept her with all her unusual traits and talents, she wanted you worse than you knew. But, she won’t force you to take the happiness she wants to give you.” Kurt sat on his chair with a thud. Could he accept her? He had just been given a large dose of truth and he needed a moment to swallow it.

The matron stood. “You’ve heard a lot. I’ll get you some lemonade. The men will leave you alone for a while if you’d like to think.” Kurt nodded. Just before Micah walked out of the room, Kurt stopped him. “Wait. What do you do with yourself all day? I’d have to work. I couldn’t just sit around and drink lemonade. I’d go out of my mind with boredom.” He nodded in understanding. “I know what you’re trying to say. Jake and I are farmers. We enjoy working the land, especially when the sun is shining, the temperature is pleasant, and the crops grow well without bugs or rodents to worry about.” “But what would I do? I’m no farmer.” “Well, what have you always wanted to do?” Kurt thought. “I’ve thought about starting a magazine. A news magazine, but focused on some good news for a change. Medical research. Charitable organizations. People turning lives around.” Micah laughed. “Well then my advice is to have a long honeymoon and start a magazine. As long as you protect our families and don’t draw attention to us, I imagine you could set up an office anywhere you like. Harrisburg is nearby.” Kurt stood when Emma entered the room with Becky behind her. Even his nearphotographic memory didn’t do her justice. She was such a beautiful woman, both inside and out, and the only woman he wanted for the rest of his life. “Harrisburg it is, then.” Becky flew into his arms, and he hugged her tight. “Does that mean you know about us and you want to marry me?” Kurt leaned close to her and whispered, “We don’t have to get into one of those naked circles, do we?” Becky laughed. “The men don’t go to those. We women only do that when there’s some great evil happening to someone innocent and we have to pool our power to get rid of it. We’re stronger together.” “Does it work?” Emma proudly said, “It sure does. Every time.” “How do you get the news way out here?” Emma nodded to her sons-in-law. “The men go into town and sometimes they hear about some terrible thing that’s happening to some innocent child, or group of people, or animals.” Energized by the possibilities, Kurt asked. “Can you do this all over the world?” Emma laughed. “Heavens no. But, as each generation grows, we get stronger and can reach out a little farther. We hope each generation will teach the next. Eventually even more skills may emerge. Perhaps, some day…” Kurt looked at Becky and put an arm around her shoulder. “So our grandchildren and great grandchildren?” Becky grinned and said, “May save the world.” Kurt scratched his head. A mixture of hope and disbelief flowed through his mind. At last, he nodded and smiled. “I know what you are, now.” Mrs. Morgan raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You do?” “Yes.” Kurt focused on Becky. “You’re angels. And if I’m lucky enough to be chosen by one, then I’ll love and protect her and our family secret for the rest of my life. It would be such a privilege to see some good happenings in our lifetime.” Becky tipped her face up to his and he kissed her tenderly.

“Oh, Becky! I just remembered something. Can I ask you a favor?” “Of course.” “Before we get married, can you please erase my memory of your naked mother and all your naked sisters?” Everyone in the room laughed. She put her arms around his waist and gave him a quick, affectionate hug. “I’d be glad to.” Pulling away a few inches, she stared into his eyes with hers. Blue as a lake, deep as the ocean. Then looked at the floor and asked, “What do you remember?” Kurt smiled and said, “Everything. What a funny question. Now let’s get down to business. We need to make some plans. We’re getting married, and then we’re going to take a long honeymoon and make those children whose grandchildren may help save the world.” The End About the Author: Cyndi Redding is a New England native. She began her new career after 20 years as an RN. To keep her creative side active, she learned to write screenplays. Hollywood didn’t want her romantic comedies, so she tried authoring a book. Her first manuscript landed on a shelf in the back of her closet, but she maintains it was worth doing as a learning experience. She monitored her reading choices for a while and found she liked the ‘hot stuff.’ As soon as she made that admission, and stopped blushing, she thought she might try writing it. She read Harlequin Blazes and Temptations until she had an idea. She’d turn one of her screenplays into a steam bath of a novel! She is thrilled that her work has found a home and will reach readers who enjoy what she writes. Cyndi insists she doesn’t write smut. She writes original, sexy stories using her previous knowledge of plotting, pivotal turning points, realistic characters, and happy, but not sappy, endings. She is also known for her quirky plot twists, sense of humor, and fascination with paranormal phenomenon, all of which show up in her contemporary novels.

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