WITH BENEFITS: The First Nine Chapters
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Christopher Bynum
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by
any electronic or mechanical means, including storage and retrieval systems, without
permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief
passages in a review.
“When emotions get involved…it becomes a relationship, whether you call it that or not.”
~Eric Jerome Dickey~
JUST ONE LOOK
Long Branch, New Jersey
Mavis threw a punch at him. Actually balled up her fist and threw a punch.
Kyle saw the blow coming and snapped his head to the side just quickly enough to avoid kissing her knuckles, but her fist clipped his ear and stung like hell. “Hey! What-the-are-you crazy?”
Mavis swung at him again, but this time he was ready. He grabbed her right wrist and stopped her punch in mid-flight. She made an awkward, flailing attempt at a left hook but he grabbed that wrist too, and held her arms up and immobilized between them. “Quit it!”
“You hit me, motherfucker!” Mavis growled between clenched teeth as she struggled without success to break free of his grasp.
“You walked into me!” Kyle shouted back.
“Uh-uh, no man puts his goddamn hands on me…”
She wriggled her arms harder, trying to escape his grip. It wasn’t happening. Mavis weighed more than him, but she was a woman and couldn’t out-strength him. He wasn’t going to let her go until she calmed down.
He hadn’t hit her. They’d been in the middle of yet another shouting, cursing argument—this time in the kitchen of his apartment—and he’d been gesturing to emphasize his point when she stepped to him and right into his pointed index finger. When his fingertip accidentally contacted her shoulder she reacted as if he’d slapped her – went all wide-eyed and slack-jawed – and then threw a punch at him.
Kyle kept his grasp on her wrists and his eyes on her legs in case she tried to knee him, then pushed forward, backing the woman-gone-crazy up until he had her trapped against the kitchen counter.
This is insane, he thought, too fucking crazy.
He couldn’t do this anymore. It had to end now; today.
He held Mavis’ wrists and let her struggle and curse at him until finally she’d exhausted herself. She stopped trying to break free and gasped, “Let me go, Kyle.”
“Are you done acting like you’re crazy?”
“You hit me.”
“I didn’t, and you know it. Now are you finished, Mavis? You know you can’t fight me – you can’t beat me. I don’t hit women, but I swear to God if you –”
“Let me go.” She didn’t seem angry anymore. At least not as enraged as a minute ago.
As usual with Mavis, her rage exploded out of nowhere without warning, like a volcano erupting. The verbal lava of her fury would spew out in the form of insults and curses to scorch whoever had gotten under her skin due to some real but more likely imagined slight. Then when her rage was expelled, she’d return to calmness as if nothing had happened, while her victim was still scalded by the heat of her fury.
This time she’d gone off because he’d decided to trade in his eight-year-old Toyota for something new. He’d decided on a 200; a nice but practical ride. Mavis hadn’t agreed with his choice. That was fine; they didn’t have to agree, and anyway she had no say in the matter. They’d only been seeing each other for three months, and he was spending his money, not hers.
As was all too typical when disagreeing with Mavis, disagreement turned into debate, and debate turned into argument when she took the disagreement as a challenge, and then as a personal attack against her. And then the explosion happened, and she attacked.
Until this evening, Mavis had only attacked with her mouth, using vicious insults and curses as her weapons. Until this evening Kyle had never known her to get physical. As he held her pinned against the kitchen counter he decided that it wouldn’t happen again, at least not with him.
The wildness in her eyes softened. Her feral snarl had vanished, replaced by her mouth quivering as if she were trying not to cry.
Kyle figured that if her evil ass was upset enough to cry, it was because she’d just lost a battle, so to speak. He made himself not feel sorry for her.
He was done with her. Three months of this bullshit was long enough. He let her wrists go and backed away, out of range of her fists in case she tried to slug him again.
She didn’t. She crossed her arms defiantly over her voluptuous nightshirt-covered bosom and snapped, “So do you feel like a big man now?”
Damn it, she just wouldn’t quit.
“There’s nothing to feel big about,” he said. “All I did was stop you from busting me in the head. Now I’m stopping this relationship. You need to go, Mavis.”
Her eyes widened, showing her surprise, but she recovered quickly and shot back. “See, that’s your problem, Kyle; you can’t handle a strong woman.”
“You don’t know what a strong woman is. A strong woman doesn’t have to go psycho every time she thinks somebody is challenging her just to prove that she’s badder than every man and woman…” Why am I still arguing with her? “You know what? Fuck that; I’m done arguing with you. Leave, now.”
Mavis stared at him for a few long seconds as if trying to decide if he were serious, and if he were, how she could salvage some dignity. Apparently she decided that arguing against breaking up would be too demeaning, because she clicked her tongue and shoved her way past him, out of the kitchen.
Kyle watched the sway of her round hips and bottom in her nightshirt as she stormed down the hall on her way to the bedroom to get dressed. Though it was early evening, she’d put on the nightshirt as soon as she’d arrived because they’d planned to get some early sex because they both had to work in the morning. He told himself that he wasn’t going to miss her curvy, full-figured body and the sex, not with what he had to put up with to have them. The tradeoff wasn’t worth it.
Being involved with somebody was supposed to enhance your life and make it better, not add drama and stress to it.
He was tired of the drama and stress.
Kyle got up off his sofa and looked around his living room, frowning. Something felt different.
His first thought was that Mavis had taken something of his as her parting shot, a way to strike one last blow against him. But he couldn’t see anything missing.
And then he realized that something was missing.
With Mavis gone for good the dark clouds of tension that had hovered over him almost since the beginning of their relationship had dissipated, allowing relief to shine through. He and Mavis were finished, and so he didn’t have to juggle the need for feminine companionship with the anxiety of wondering what the next pointless argument was going to be about and how he might avoid it. And now that it was over and the stress relieved, he realized that the companionship and sex hadn’t been worth it. Yes, at forty years old Mavis was in her sexual prime and when she’d wanted it—which was often—she’d wanted it, and that was all good. But looking back, it seemed that just as often sex didn’t happen because she was pissed off about something.
Now that he was out from under the shadows of the clouds of their relationship and could see clearly, he knew that she hadn’t been worth the aggravation. Pussy wasn’t worth sacrificing his peace of mind.
So good riddance.
His ear still hurt. Mavis’ parting shot. He touched the sore spot and checked his finger. No blood. What the hell had he been thinking, getting involved with a woman ten years older than him who was as evil as a pit viper and wanted to run his life? How had he let the misery go on for three months?
He should have known that Mavis was trouble when on their first dinner date she almost bit the waitress’s head off because the girl brought her a glass of water that she hadn’t asked for. But he hadn’t been paying much attention to that. Instead on the night of their first date his focus had been on the way Mavis’ skirt laid on the twin-basketball cheeks of her ass, and the way her chest stretched out the front of her sweater, and her thick, sexy legs perched in heels that had to be four inches high.
And he remembered thinking how pretty she was with her flawless milk chocolate complexion, and that there was a girlishness about her that belied her age. But as time went on he saw less of that girlishness. Instead, more often than not her brow was creased with a frown, her eyes bore the hard glint of anger, and the lines around her mouth had nothing to do with smile-induced dimples. It seemed that she was always upset about something or somebody: the people on her job, her two teenage kids, her mother, the sun shining too brightly. It was always something with Mavis. It had gotten to the point that when they got together he would check her mood to make sure that she wouldn’t bite his head off for trying to give her a hello kiss. You don’t stick your hand in a viper’s nest.
As he sat down again Kyle wondered how long he would he have put up with that miserable relationship if she hadn’t tried to hit him. How long would he have been blinded by his desire for a woman in his bed? Before he could consider an answer to that question his house phone began ringing.
Kyle felt a spike of anxiety lance through his chest. Barely an hour had passed since Mavis had left and she was calling already, probably because she hadn’t been able to stand to leave things as they were. She always had to have the last word.
He reached for the phone determined not to argue with her, but also not to let her shout him down. If worse came to worse he’d just hang up on her, as immature an act as that might be. But when he grabbed the handset its display showed that the caller was Baron Harris, one of his crew from work.
“What’s up, B?”
“Hey man, I just wanted to yell at you real quick, unless you’re too busy playing with Ms. Lovely Thickness.”
“I’ve got time.”
“Say what? She’s not with you?”
“Well damn man, let me look out my window and make sure the world’s not coming to an end. I thought after work sex with her was your regular.”
“You can look all you want. I’m done with that.”
“Since a little while ago and our last straw argument.”
“Damn, you’re fighting again?”
“Yeah. I had to cut her loose, man. This time things got kind of physical.”
“Oh man, you didn’t –”
“No, not like that. We were arguing hot and heavy—again—and I accidentally poked her in her shoulder, and she tried to go Mike Tyson on me. So I got sick of the BS and told her we were done.”
“Damn, sorry bro.”
“I’m not. This might sound crazy, but I feel like some kind of pressure is off me, like I can breathe again.”
“I feel you Kyle man. From what you’ve said before, it seemed like you two were fighting more than fucking.”
“Yeah, I bet it was about equal.”
“So you’re cool?”
“I’m so relieved that I’m not even a little bit pissed. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, letting things go on for so long when they were so bad.”
“I’ll tell you why: That good older woman pussy had your mind befuddled, bro. She cougarized your ass.”
“Hey, don’t tell her I told you, but after the first time we met Mavis, Charlene told me it wasn’t going to last. She said the vibe between you two was off.”
Charlene Williams was the third member of their three-member IT crew at STC Technologies. Kyle was the supervisor of their team, but their relationship was more like three friends hanging out and playing with technology than that of supervisor and subordinates.
“I wish she’d told me,” Kyle laughed. “It would’ve saved me a lot of aggravation.”
“Would you have listened to her, I mean with Mavis’ big titties and hot, thick body all up in your face? And I tell you man, she had some legs on her; strong, like she could kick holes in brick walls. Damn! You sure you’re not gonna miss all that?”
“Nope.” In truth Kyle hadn’t seen much of Mavis naked. Even though he’d often told her that he was cool with her full figure, she’d been too self-conscious about her body to take all her clothes off around him. The most she would do was wear nothing but a loose tee-shirt so that she could show off her ass. He hadn’t tried to push to convince her to get naked because that would have led to yet another argument. “I’m not going to miss jack. If you’d been in my shoes you’d understand.”
“Yeah well, it’s all good, I guess. Maybe now you’ll quit coming to work frowning like you’re pissed off at the world.”
“I bet Mavis’ problem was that she wanted herself a young thug, and she figured since you’re a thirty-year-old black man, you’d fit the bill. But you’re too nice to females, man, so she probably wasn’t feeling that. So she tried to push your buttons, you know, to bring out the thug in you. Women do that kind of shit.”
“Or maybe she’s just an evil bitch.”
Baron laughed, “Okay, or maybe that. Damn Kyle, she must’ve really gotten under your skin if you’re calling her a bitch. That’s not your style, bro. Yeah see, and that’s what you should be looking for next time: a nice girl who matches up with you.”
“Just a babe you match personalities with; laid back, nice, somebody who likes watching all those corny old movies you like, things like that. But I don’t know where you’re gonna find her unless you go up in the Ozarks somewhere and find some babe who’s never seen cable TV and thinks getting wild is putting on shoes when she dances to banjo music. Yeah, that’s what you need man—a backwoods hillbilly babe.”
“You know what, Baron? Fuck you.”
“Anyway man, the reason I’m calling is because Charlene wants to switch shifts with me for the New World upgrades tomorrow. That cool?”
Kyle and his IT team at STC Technologies had been tasked to upgrade the operating systems and memory for the computers at New World Laboratories in Holmdel. STC and New World Labs were sister companies, subsidiaries of St. Christopher Enterprises, the conglomerate founded and owned by billionaire Julian St. Christopher. New World had had its own IT staff, but they’d all just been fired. Rumor had it that they’d been trying to hack into the work files of some New World scientists who were working on some special secret project. So Kyle and his team were going over to install a new, modified, secure operating system on New World’s servers and workstations, and install enough additional memory to run it.
Based on the number of machines at New World, Kyle expected the upgrade job to take two or three days to complete. The original plan had been for him to take the morning shift over there starting tomorrow: Friday. He’d get a feel for the place while most of the New World employees were at work, and then switch off with Charlene at lunchtime. On Saturday he’d planned to work the morning shift and switch off with Baron, and hopefully they’d be done before their entire weekend was shot. Now Charlene wanted to switch days with Baron.
“Yeah, that’s cool,” Kyle said.
“So I’ll be over there at one, one-thirty, right after lunch,” Baron said. “Where will we meet up?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been inside, but it’s a pretty big place. Give me a call when you get there and we’ll hook up.”
“Should be a pretty smooth job, huh?”
“That’s what I’m thinking.”
“Yeah, you’ll probably be bored to death hanging around a bunch of scientists who’re bigger eggheads than us.”
“Right,” Kyle said. “That’s why I’m having us share the pain by splitting days. I’m expecting nothing over there but boring.”
Tinton Falls, New Jersey
“My god you’re gorgeous,” Matt gasped, then kissed the tip of her nose, rolled off her and onto his back on her bed.
“Do you always compliment women right after you come?” Britt teased.
Matt grinned his crooked grin up at the ceiling. “Oh yeah, even the ones I’d don’t have sex with. I get really weird looks after masturbation.”
“It’s not about coming, but hey, that was gorgeous too, thank you very much. I was just thinking…looking at you…touching you…your skin is so soft, golden. You’re like living gold, Britt…just so beautiful.”
“So it’s a racial thing?”
He rolled his head back and forth on the pillow. “Come on Britt, we’re scientists; physicians. We know there’s really no such thing as race. That’s just crap people made up to justify not liking each other. And it’s not what I was talking about.”
“Matt, I was kidding. Don’t let white paranoia shake you up.”
“I’m not paranoid.”
Okay Britt, shut up, she warned herself. He just made nice love to you and paid you a compliment, and you’re ruining the moment with bad humor. She patted Matt’s sweaty chest, and let her fingers linger on the slicked down hair there. “Sorry, I was just messing with you.”
Matt propped himself up on one elbow and let his brown eyes scan her nakedness from her face down to where the sheet covered her hips, and then back up to her eyes. “Well, I wasn’t kidding,” he said. Sometimes I look at you, even at work, and I can’t believe how amazing you are. Not just beautiful, but brilliant, funny…”
“Okay, my head is swelling, so stop.” Don’t stop.
“I thought that on the day we met Britt, that you were just amazing. That was my impression of you within a couple of hours of meeting you.”
When they met she hadn’t thought Matt was amazing because she hadn’t wanted to like him. He was hired at New World Labs after her, brought in to work with her and her teammates on the Passion Project. She and Matt both specialized in Behavioral Neuroscience, and at first she’d felt threatened and challenged by his presence. She’d wondered if her supervisor, Dr. Glenda Engerman, had thought she wasn’t up to handling the work alone because at age twenty-eight she was the youngest member assigned to the project and had the least amount of hands-on experience.
But Dr. Matthew Garrison had quickly won her over with his charm and self-depreciating sense of humor. He’d put her at ease, and as they’d worked together she became thankful that he was there because their workload was brutal. There was no way she would have been able to handle the hundreds of volunteer test subjects alone, not to mention the lab work. And okay, Matt was good-looking; dark-haired and softly handsome in a John Cusack kind of way.
As they’d worked together she got to know Matt, and then to really like him. He was thirty-six and a single dad. His son Davy was six-years-old.
They’d moved to New Jersey from Seattle after Matt was hired by New World. He’d told her that he’d wanted to start a new life after his wife Allison left them for a man old enough to be her grandfather and who had enough money to buy the American West Coast.
Matt leaned over, kissed her softly on her mouth and asked, “What’re you thinking?”
“Oh, nothing…just enjoying the moment.”
“We have some good moments, don’t we?” he asked. “Not just like this, either. Because of you I actually look forward to going to work.”
Now it was her turn to kiss him. She did, and then lay back again. She started to try to imagine a future with Matt, tried to see herself as his wife and as a stepmother to Davy. Then she told herself to quit it. She’d only known him for six months. They’d only been seeing each other for four months, and in accordance with her two-months-dating-before-sex rule, had been sleeping together for two months. Okay, not sleeping together: having sex with each other.
This was Episode No. 11 in their sex life. Nine of those episodes had occurred right here, in her bed in her condo. They’d done it once in the cargo space in her Land Rover in the parking garage at work, and had had a lunchtime quickie a lab storeroom. Those times were fun and hot but too risky to make a habit. Because of Davy they’d never done it at Matt’s house.
Matt was that rare man who liked to cuddle after sex, so Britt expected him to lie back down and snuggle with her for a little while the way he usually did. But instead, after he’d caught his breath he turned away from her, sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, but Davy was sniffling a little this morning and I’m thinking I should get home and relieve the babysitter.”
Another thing she liked about Matt was that he was such a good father. She touched his perspiration-slicked back and asked, “Do you want me to run down and grab you a bottle of water?”
He looked over his shoulder at her. She couldn’t see his mouth, but his shining brown eyes told her that he was smiling. “No thanks, there are gallons of it in the shower.”
“Yuck! How can you drink bathroom water?”
“Come on Britt, do you really think bottled water comes from some crystal clear babbling brook in the snowcapped Rockies?”
“Really, you should know this stuff better than me since you graduated high school as an embryo.”
“Hey, I was seventeen…well, almost seventeen…chump.”
“Still, you should know about drinking water. I bet they’ve got old Grandma Johnson in Detroit filling bottles in her bathtub.”
“No they don’t.”
“Probably while she’s taking her bath.”
“You can’t taste that old lady toe jam in each refreshing swallow?”
“Shut up! Go take your shower!”
This was the best thing about Matt, his quirky sense of humor. It was his sense of humor that had taken them from being coworkers to being in a relationship.
Well, sort of a relationship.
They’d been at work four months ago, in the lab reading together the first test report on the formula that would become the wine called Passion’s Nectar. The report had been submitted by Dr. Engerman herself, on a woman she’d called Subject 0. According to the report, after drinking an early version of the Passion formula Subject 0 had become so aroused that she’d had sex with multiple men over the course of a single night.
Standing next to her as they’d read the report on a monitor Matt had asked, “Do you think Glenda is really Subject 0?”
“Dude, you read my mind. I’m standing here thinking that she self-medicated.”
“I bet it is her,” Matt said. “The way she describes the subject’s physical reaction to the formula, it doesn’t read like observation or a transcription from a test subject interview. It reads like actual experience.”
“That’s what I was thinking. And what about the latent effects? Do you think our boss is walking around here horny all the time?”
Matt chuckled, “Now I’m scared to be alone with her.”
“Shoot, you and me both.”
Matt turned from the monitor to look at her. There was a mischievous glint in his chestnut eyes. “Knock, knock.”
Okay, seriously? “Who’s there?”
“The Passion formula is going to change lives.”
Okay, his made-up joke was terrible, absolutely terrible, but he’d flashed her a boyish, crooked grin, as if he were proud of himself for having been so clever.
It had been his crooked grin, not his awful joke that made her laugh and that had made her see how it was possible for a woman to love Dr. Matthew Garrison.
And then, somehow, his crooked grin and her laughter had become them kissing.
To this day she didn’t know how it happened. One moment they’d been standing next to each other in the lab, laughing over his stupid made up joke, and the next moment, they were kissing.
It wasn’t a long kiss but it wasn’t a peck, either, and then Matt had backed away and stammered, “Jesus Britt, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…I’m sorry…”
He’d looked on the verge of panic, as if he’d thought that at that very moment the Human Resources storm troopers were thundering down the corridors on their way to the laboratory to take him down.
“Hey, it’s okay; no need to apologize,” she’d said. “Maybe we’ll have dinner or something before the next time.”
He’d given her a confused blink and frown. “Dinner? The next time? Oh sure, right…dinner. I’ll definitely take you out to dinner.”
“Matt, you don’t need to take me out. We’ll go Dutch.”
He blinked again, and this time his confused look was a revelation. His expression told Britt that probably in all the time Matt had known and been married to Allison, he had never not paid for the pleasure of her company. In the end he’d paid with his heart.
“You’re not gonna join me?”
Matt’s question pulled Britt out of her reverie. He was standing in the bathroom doorway, peeling the condom off his limp thing.
Britt slid out of bed and grabbed another foil packet from her nightstand. Okay, maybe this evening they’d knock out Episode No. 12, too.
Holmdel, New Jersey
New World Laboratories
Late Friday Morning
Kyle was under a desk in somebody’s office, disconnecting their workstation’s cables. He was thinking that it sucked that he and his team weren’t getting extra pay for this job since they’d likely be working all weekend, too.
He was thinking that the least he could do after this project was done was give Charlene and Baron an extra day off when he heard a feminine voice say, “I hope you won’t take too long. I have a lot of work to do.”
Kyle looked out from the desk’s knee space and saw a pair of gray pumps with a pair of long golden legs attached. The shoes were low-heeled and conservative, except for a small red bow affixed to the top of each.
He knew women. He paid attention. Those shoes said this woman was outwardly conservative, maybe even had a repressed personality. But her passive exterior might be a mask for something much more exciting. Thus, the red bow.
He pulled out the remaining cables and slid out from under the desk, hoping that she wasn’t another one of those women who had a nasty attitude right out of the box. After Mavis he’d had enough of that bull to last him for a minute. And he wasn’t getting paid extra for this job, so he wasn’t up for dealing with extra BS from somebody who had nothing to do with signing his paycheck.
Because she stood with her hands on her hips, glaring down at him through the thin horn-rimmed glasses perched on the tip of her nose like she was aggravated by his presence, he only noticed in passing that she was kind of cute.
He did notice that her knee-length skirt was the same shade of gray as her shoes, and that she wore a white lab coat over a jersey knit pullover. As Kyle got to his feet he saw that she was on the tall side for a woman, maybe five-eight or nine.
As they came face-to-face she took her glasses off like she was getting ready to do battle.
God spare me from so-called strong black women!
He’d just walked away from a three-month relationship with fine ass Mavis because she always wanted to keep some drama going, and over the least little thing. He’d just broken free of that insanity and gotten his life back. He definitely wasn’t going to put up with more madness from some chick he didn’t know.
Kyle took his own glasses off. He leaned against the edge of the woman’s desk as if he were in no hurry at all and glared back at her. He got ready to tell her that he had work to do just like she did, and that if she wanted her system upgraded she was going to have to compromise some of her time. But as they stood glaring at each other, something weird happened.
They broke out in smiles.
Okay, she was cute as hell. Her complexion was smooth and flawless, and of a hue that reminded him of something sweet, like caramel candy. Her hair was a deep rust color and was cut in a short pixie style with a long bang that fell over one side her face. Her eyes were a warm hazel. And her lips…damn, her lips. She wasn’t wearing lipstick or gloss, and she didn’t need it. Her lips were perfect. They looked like they were made for one function and one function only: to be kissed, and kissed all the time.
When he remembered to do something besides smile Kyle said, “I shouldn’t be too long. But if you have something pressing I can reconnect you and come back later.”
Her hostility vanished, and she stammered, “Oh well, um…you have a job to do just like I do. It’s no problem. Go ahead.”
They were still smiling at each other.
Before he could say anything else her desk set beeped. She moved toward him, paused a step away and said, “Excuse me.”
For a moment her flowery-sweet fragrance rooted him to the spot. Then he made himself back away, and almost fell when he bumped her desk chair.
Smiling, she stepped into the spot he’d just occupied and punched a button on her desk phone. “This is Dr. Chandler,” she said.
Kyle leaned back and cocked a brow. She was a doctor? Damn.
From the phone’s speaker came a man’s voice: “Hi Britt, this is Matt. Hey, Davy is running a temperature and I have to pick him up at school. I cleared it with Glenda, and she said that it’s okay for you to do the interviews with the new group of Passion’s Nectar test subjects this afternoon. Do you mind?”
She said, “No, not at all.” Then she cut a fake evil glance at Kyle and said, “I can’t get to my desk right now anyway. Tell Davy I said to feel better soon.”
When she disconnected the call Kyle asked, “Did you say Passion’s Nectar? What’s that?”
“It’s a classified project,” the cute doctor said as she gathered some documents from her desk, “and if I told you, I’d have to pull your fingernails out with pliers and then kill you. We have a dungeon here for that very purpose.”
Okay, Kyle thought, I know four things about her: She’s some kind of doctor, she’s beautiful, she has a sense of humor, and her name is Britt Chandler.
Her office was large enough for a leather sofa and a coffee table. She went there and sat down with her paperwork, apparently to start handling her business.
Kyle figured that that was the end of their conversation, that whatever she did as a doctor would keep her too busy to waste more time talking to him. He crawled back under her desk and got back to work.
He installed the memory in her computer, closed the case and sat in her desk chair so that he could install the new operating system.
All the New Word Labs employees were supposed to have been briefed last week to back up all their important data to removable storage in preparation for the upgrades. It wasn’t Kyle’s responsibility to verify that they had, but it gave him an excuse to speak to Dr. Britt Chandler again.
“Excuse me, Dr. Chandler…”
She looked up from her paperwork and over the rim of her glasses at him. “Yes?”
“I’m about to install your new OS. Did you back up your data?”
“Yes, I did. But thank you for asking.”
She was smiling at him again. He could tell that it wasn’t one of those fake put-on smiles, the kind you give to people in service positions to pretend that you care about their existence when you really don’t give a shit. Her smile was genuine. Just as his head was about to swell Kyle realized that he was smiling again, too. At her.
It would take the better part of an hour for the software install to finish. He didn’t need to stay in her office for the entire process. After a couple of reboots and administrator logins the install would finish on its own, so he could go to other offices to upgrade more machines and get those software installations started before this one was done. But he couldn’t make himself move. He wasn’t ready yet to walk out of this office and out of the presence of the cute doctor. So he pretended to be focused on the installation status bar on her monitor while he stole glances at her.
Kyle wasn’t jealous of any man, but for the first time in his life he wished he had game with the ladies like Baron. Baron had no problem talking to women; it was second nature to him. Within a few minutes of meeting a woman he would either have her hating his guts or ready to slip her panties off. If it was the former he would laugh it off without caring because odds were, the next women would do the latter.
Kyle didn’t have that kind of personality. Once he got to know a woman he was okay talking to her. But the challenge for him had always been that first step: opening his mouth and getting to know her. A few minutes ago he’d been ready to argue with Dr. Chandler because arguing was something he’d grown accustomed to over the past few months. Arguing would have been easy because he would have been trying to push the doctor away so that he could do his job in peace. But her smile had changed everything. He didn’t want to push her away. He couldn’t even make himself leave her office so that he could continue to do his job. And all it had taken was her smile.
There was something about this woman that pulled at him. It wasn’t just her looks, though she was certainly attractive. There was something else about Dr. Britt Chandler that reached out and grabbed at him. That something made him want to be close to her, in the same space.
He couldn’t explain what caused the pull any more than he could explain why gravity existed. But he felt it all the same.
So he stayed.
By the time the software install completed Kyle was almost desperate not to leave Dr. Chandler’s office. There was something about her—that pull he felt—that made him want to know her better. The problem was that he didn’t have a player’s bone in his body. Unlike Baron and other guys, he couldn’t just come up with some line on the fly that would break the ice and allow him to create a conversation with a woman and get to know her better.
He got up and grabbed his backpack, thinking hard, trying to come up with something to say to her besides goodbye.
When he stood up she looked up from her paperwork as if she’d just remembered that he was there. She gave him a distracted smile, and then looked back at her work.
It was almost eleven o’clock. For lack of anything better to say Kyle tried, “So where are the good places to have lunch around here? I don’t know this part of the county.”
She looked up again, and seeing him about to leave gathered up her things. “Actually our cafeteria is pretty good,” she offered. “If my computer is online I can pull up today’s menu for you.”
“It is. Do you eat there?”
“Not too often.”
Okay, he wasn’t as smooth as Billy Dee Williams, but at least she was talking to him. “Oh, so your cafeteria is only good enough for visitors?” He hoped she got his attempt at humor.
As she stood up she let out a big, shoulder-hunching sigh and said, “Okay, to be perfectly honest, the EPA won’t let us throw away our lab rats when we’re done with them; something about toxic waste. We have to do something with all that rodent meat, right? So what’re you gonna do, you know?”
She got his humor. Cool. He said, “I’m gonna go find the closest McDonald’s, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
She smiled again. Her smile was as contagious as typhoid. Kyle felt like his cheeks were going to crack.
“Okay, I was kidding,” she said. “Our food really is good. I eat out because I like getting some fresh air and breaking up my day.”
“Nah, that’s okay. At least I know McDonald’s won’t kill me as long as I stick to small doses.”
She came around her desk then and said, “Oh no, now you’ve got to try our cafeteria. Otherwise I’ll feel like I scared you away.”
Kyle stood behind her as she leaned over her desk and let her fingers fly over her keyboard, logging into New World Laboratories’ intranet site and navigating to the daily menu page. He stared at her backside, trying to make out her figure beneath her lab coat, until she took a side step to make room for him and said, “Check it out.”
He stopped checking her out and looked at the monitor. The menu did look pretty good, especially the meatloaf and baked potatoes.
He decided to try their cafeteria for lunch. And he hoped that before the day was over he’d run into the pretty doctor again.
When the technician was gone Britt felt like she could finally draw full breaths again.
She’d sat on her office sofa for an hour like a dope while he’d worked on her computer. She’d pretended she was reading, but hadn’t seen a word on that report. All she’d been able to think about was him sitting over there at her desk, and wondering if he’d noticed her. It had seemed like he was totally focused on doing his job.
Jesus, he was fine! He had a shy but sexy smile, and when he’d looked at her with those sexy brown eyes that seemed to see right into her she’d thought she was going to melt into the carpet. His STC-logoed polo shirt had stretched over his broad shoulders, shoulders that really stood out because his waist was so trim. The lean, ropy muscles in his arms were evidence that he lifted more than software data discs. And his voice? Man! Deep and soft at the same time. The kind of voice that you wanted in your ear when the lights were low, when soft music was playing and the wine was flowing. Or better yet, whispering your name while you were grinding between the sheets.
He wasn’t wearing a wedding band, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t married. Since he worked with electronics he might have to take his ring off for work. She hadn’t been able to get a good enough look to see if there was a tan line on his finger.
And there was something about him besides his being good-looking and having that panty-disintegrating voice. Britt didn’t know what it was, but as soon as he’d gotten up from under her desk and looked at her she’d felt an urge, the feeling that she wanted to throw herself into his arms. Like she needed to do it.
As she logged out of her computer and got ready to go to lunch she tried to figure out what it was about the IT guy that had affected her so.
Okay, don’t even go there with your imagination.
Okay, he was cute, but there were plenty of cute guys around, a few of them right here at New World.
He had pretty brown skin and soulful brown eyes like he’d seen some stuff in his life, but so what? His life wasn’t her business. Anyway, he was clean-shaven, and she didn’t like clean-shaven black guys. But he had a five o’clock shadow thing going on, and that was kind of sexy.
He had broad shoulders and a trim waist and nice guns, but she wasn’t shallow like that. She just appreciated a guy that took care of himself.
And that voice…the kind of voice that made you want to be touched while you listened to it…
Okay, quit it, you slut. You already have a man.
Britt left her fifth floor office and walked down the hall telling herself that she was going out for lunch as usual.
She stepped into the elevator thinking that a Chipotle chicken wrap from Cracked Olive Market would hit the spot.
She stood in the elevator with her finger hovering over the floor selector, over the button marked “P” for the parking garage. She told herself that it was a nice spring day–sunny and not too warm or too cool–a perfect day to get out for lunch. If Matt had been at work today they probably would have gone out for lunch and to enjoy the day together.
Britt pushed the button for the parking garage. The elevator doors slid together and bumped shut.
As the elevator cab descended she told herself that if it had been okay for President Carter to lust in his heart, then it was okay for her, too. She told herself that lusting in one’s heart didn’t make a person a slut. A person’s actions were what made them slutty.
Above the elevator doors the floor indicator light glowed behind the number 4, then blinked off. A second later the number 3 lit up.
Britt stabbed the floor selector button for the second floor.
The cafeteria was on the second floor.
As the cab slowed to a stop Britt told herself that she was only going to eat lunch.
Kyle stood in the cafeteria serving line, now undecided about what to eat. That meatloaf looked good, but so did the spicy chicken gumbo. And then there was a loaded salad bar. He stepped back with his tray to allow employees to pass while he tried to make up his mind.
From behind him a voice said, “Try the gumbo. It’s really good.”
He looked around and saw Dr. Chandler smiling at him.
His heart did a bass drum solo.
“I thought you didn’t eat here,” he said, and Britt felt her face get hot. He couldn’t possibly know the truth, but even behind his glasses his penetrating gaze made her feel like he was decoding her brain cells. He couldn’t know that as soon as he’d left her office she’d felt an emptiness, a sense of incompleteness in her spirit. Just because he’d left the room.
For a few crazy moments she’d almost panicked at the thought that their meeting would be a one-time chance encounter, and that she’d never see him again and be left to forever wonder what her attraction to him was about. So she’d come to the cafeteria after him so that she wouldn’t have to live without an answer to which she didn’t even know the question.
“I changed my mind,” Britt said, “figured I’d save gas today. And because of you.
“This really is good,” he said. “Thanks for the tip about eating here.”
Britt felt herself blushing like she’d made the gumbo herself. “I felt like I owed you after my lab rat comment,” she said.
At the mention of lab rats he frowned at his plate and pushed cautiously at a piece of chicken with his fork. Then he looked up at her slowly, with a cocked eyebrow.
His comical expression made her burst out laughing before she could stop herself. And then because her outburst was embarrassing, she laughed more. She stole a teary-eyed glance around the cafeteria and saw some of her coworkers shooting curious looks her way.
He said, “I see that you chose the salad, Dr. Chandler. So come on, tell me…is this at least farm-raised rodent? I mean, I really don’t want any of that New York Sewer Cut.”
Britt slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle a new fit of laughter. When she had herself somewhat together she dabbed at her eyes with a napkin and said, “You know what? You’re crazy. And call me Britt, please.”
He smiled at her from across the table, and she started melting again. “Hi Britt. I’m Kyle Michaels.”
His eyes stayed on hers; in hers. Britt looked back at him, and got a sense of days–future days in which she would look into his eyes and would see his smile. Good days. She felt a chill that raised goose bumps on her skin. She wanted to shout, “Who are you?”
She thought something was going to happen. Somebody–one of them–had to say something to break the spell and take them to the next thing, whatever the next thing was. But then he looked away from her.
Something had drawn his attention. Britt looked around and saw a guy approaching in the aisle between the cafeteria tables. He was wearing an STC shirt and carrying the same type backpack as Kyle’s slung over his shoulder. He was taller than Kyle and a litter darker than Kyle’s milk chocolate complexion, and even more muscled. What did they feed those guys over at STC?
The guy stopped at their table and said, “Hey boss, where are we?”
Kyle said, “On the fifth floor. I got as far as Dr. Chandler’s office.” He looked her way and said, “Dr. Chandler, this is Baron. He’s on my crew. Baron, this is Dr. Chandler, one of the staff here.”
Britt said hello to the new guy, and since she was finished with her salad, stood up to leave. Kyle stood up, too. So he was a gentleman.
“Well, I need to get back,” she said. “It was nice talking to you, Kyle.”
“Nice talking to you too Britt,” he said, and threw his body-melting smile at her.
“Well um, if you get a chance, stop by and say goodbye before you leave.”
“Thank you, I will.”
They watched her walk away. When she was out of earshot Baron said, “She’s feeling you, bro.”
Kyle said, “Yeah, right. Did you smoke crack on your way over here?”
“Well hey man, you know I can hit the keyboard and dig up info on her if you want to know; get you an inside track. So her name is Britt Chandler, and she’s a doctor, huh?”
When it came to information technology Kyle and his crew were good, but Baron and Charlene took particular pleasure in hacking their way into places they weren’t supposed to be, including government systems. For them it wasn’t about seeking out sensitive information; it was just the thrill of knowing they could gain access. So digging up information on a private citizen would be a piece of cake. Kyle figured that if he wanted get into Dr. Chandler’s business, he could do it for himself. But he didn’t want to. To Baron he said, “How about you stick to upgrading these machines? That should keep you busy for a minute.”
“I’m telling you, Kyle. You can get that. That babe likes you.”
Kyle watched Britt’s back until she exited the dining area. He thought to himself, I don’t know what she likes, but I definitely like her.
Subject F-09 leaned forward in the easy chair and said, “I never used to have orgasms. Not real ones. But ever since trying your juice I have them all the time. And not just when Harry and I are…well, you know. I even have them when I’m driving or shopping and not even thinking about sex.”
Britt tried to pay attention to the subject, but she couldn’t focus. She wanted to punch herself in the head for being so stupid.
She’d told Kyle to stop by her office because she really wanted to see him again before he left. But she’d forgotten all about doing these interviews for Matt. She was going to be stuck here in Matt’s office until at least 5:30. Kyle would probably be long gone by then.
“…and they’re so intense, doctor. My legs literally give out on me.”
“And how has it affected your marriage?” Britt asked. “Are you experiencing any differences in the frequency or intensity of intimacy?”
“Well, since I went through menopause I’ve never really enjoyed it…sex, I mean. Not like I used to. I used to just do it to shut Harry up. But now I can’t wait for him to get home from work. It seems that now I want it all the time. To be honest, doctor, I think Harry is a little bit afraid of me now.”
Britt looked up at the wall clock. It was 4:12. Two more interviews to go. I wonder if he thinks I was playing games and wasn’t in my office on purpose?
Britt blinked and looked at the test subject, a fifty-two year old housewife. “What? Oh, I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“I said that I was wondering if your company provides free samples of your juice.”
After the last interview Britt hurried from Matt’s office, hoping that Kyle the tech guy would still be around somewhere. But he and his coworker were gone. She headed back to her office with her spirit heavy.
Oh well, it’s probably for the best.
She wasn’t going to do anything. She knew that. She was never unfaithful when she was in a relationship. She didn’t even flirt. She’d just wanted to see Kyle again before he walked out of her life forever.
She stepped into her office telling herself again that it was for the best. Besides saying nice meeting you and goodbye, what else could she have said to him? Nothing, that’s what.
Because she was in a relationship. She had a man.
As Britt rounded the corner of her desk she spotted a sticky note in the center of her desk pad that hadn’t been there before she’d gone to Matt’s office to conduct the interviews. She peeled it up and read the message written in small but masculine print:
Thank you for spending your lunch break with me.
I can’t begin to express how pleasant it was.
If you wish…
Britt cut a glance at her open office door, and then stuffed the note into the pocket of her lab coat.
Guilt made her imagine the worst. What if someone had come into her office while she was doing Matt’s interviews? What if they saw the note from Kyle on her desk? What if they told?
She’d wanted to see the sexy tech guy again, just for another look at him and to say goodbye, but she didn’t want this.
She wouldn’t see him again. She wouldn’t call him. She couldn’t.
She already had a man.
During her sophomore year in college Britt decided that she needed to stop being a loner hiding in the world of academics and develop some type of social life. Sports seemed like a safe bet. She liked volleyball and had been pretty good at it in high school gym class, so she tried out for the women’s team. She made the team as second-string libero, backing up junior Cheryl Montgomery.
Even though she was on the volleyball team, she’d still been too introverted to bond with her teammates. But one day while they were showering after practice Cheryl said to her, “Hey Britt, don’t take this the wrong way, but damn, I wish I had your body!”
Cheryl saying such a thing to her had shocked Britt to the point of near panic and put her on her guard. For one thing, they were standing a few feet away from each other while wet and naked. For another, she thought Cheryl’s comment had to be a joke—some kind of trick—because Cheryl had a body for days. They were about the same height, but where Britt was slender, Cheryl had a thick, powerful but sexy build; a Serena Williams-type frame. Even when she wore loose-fitting clothing she couldn’t hide her big booty and counterbalancing chest. Guys on campus chased after her like hungry wolves after a fat rabbit. So why, Britt wondered, would she want a skinny, giraffe body like hers?
Britt had been too surprised and apprehensive to respond, so Cheryl had added, “Hey, don’t pee on yourself, okay? Unless your clit is six inches long you’re not my type. What I mean is you’re sleek, you know? You’ve got nice curves—more than some skinny ass fashion model but not too much, you know?”
“You could pull a lot of guys if you quit dressing like an extra from the cast of Little House on the Prairie and showed off what you’re working with. Put on some tight jeans and some heels and girl, you’ll be fighting the boys off.”
“Well hey, if you ever want to hit the mall together sometime to pick out some nice stuff, let me know, okay? We can hang out.”
And so her friendship with Cheryl Montgomery began. They’d been best friends ever since; for the better part of ten years.
Cheryl had a degree in Physical Education and Therapy. She and her husband Mike lived in Brooklyn and owned a gym there. Even though they had busy careers and lived an hour apart, Britt and Cheryl usually managed to get together on at least one weekend a month. They talked on the phone several days a week, and always when one or the other had big news to share.
Britt had big news to share. She wanted to tell Cheryl about the cute tech guy she’d found under her desk at work this morning. Because it was going to be a good talk she decided to wait until she was home from work and comfortable before calling.
She parked in front of her condo and went inside, carrying her folded lab coat with the sticky note from the tech guy in its pocket under her arm like she was sneaking a loaded gun into her house. Inside, she stepped out of her pumps in the foyer and carried them upstairs. In her bedroom she stripped out of her skirt and top and replaced her accursed bra with a midriff-baring cut off tee-shirt. Now comfortable, she planned to go down to the kitchen, pop a salmon steak in the over, pour a glass pinot gris and settle into the sofa for a nice chat with her best friend.
On her way out of the bedroom, however, Britt paused. She closed the door so that she could see the full-length mirror affixed to its back. She looked at her reflection; studied the way her body looked in tee-shirt and panties.
Thank you God, for killing the giraffe.
She’d gained fifteen pounds since college, most of it (thank you again, God) in her thighs and calves. She didn’t have deer legs anymore. Now she could feel sexy wearing high heels rather than wonder if when she did people mistook her for Popeye’s stick-legged girlfriend Olive Oyl. She’d gone from a B to a C cup, too. She wouldn’t have minded a little more chest and booty, but considering what she’d come from, she wasn’t complaining. Because she’d come from a living hell.
In grade school through high school she was the outcast, the misfit who was teased, tormented and bullied because she was too smart, too tall, too skinny and for some, too yellow. Some asshole kid in the fourth grade had announced that she looked like a giraffe, and that nickname had stuck and had become so attached to her that by the time she reached the twelfth grade some of the kids who called her “G” for short probably didn’t even know the origin of the letter. It was just who she was: G; the giraffe.
Britt was thankful that her academic accomplishments allowed her to skip a grade and escape the hell of public school a year early, but she’d dreaded going to college. In high school she’d had to deal with the devils she knew. College would mean a new set of monsters, strangers who didn’t know her at all and therefore would care even less about her feelings or about hurting them. So during her freshman year at the university she’d kept to herself as much as possible.
To Britt’s relief no one in college seemed to care enough to want to bother her. The other students were too concerned about their grades, about partying, and about figuring out what they were going to do when they graduated and were forced out on their own into the real world to care about what one shy, skinny girl was doing. And so in her sophomore year Britt decided that she was going to venture out and meet people and try to be more normal. Volleyball was a way to do that.
When she began hanging out with Cheryl Montgomery she became popular by association. Guys were always hitting on Cheryl, and since she was around, some of them hit on her, too. At first she was too terrified to do more than mutter timid responses to their conversations and turn down every request for her phone number and God forbid, going out one-on-one on a date. But eventually she got better at talking to guys, and at the beginning of her junior year got her first official boyfriend.
Chauncey was a nice guy, and they had something in common because he was sort of a nerd like her. She’d liked him a lot. But thanks to her mother’s 2/10 rule, they were only together for a five weeks before he broke up with her. Nerd or not, Chauncey wanted to get laid.
Britt was ten years old when her mother sat her down and explained to her the facts of life and the pleasures and dangers of sex. It was her mother’s intent to break it down to her early, before her body’s hormones had begun to rage, so that her fear of sex would be greater than her curiosity about it. It worked.
What also worked was her mother telling her that every self-respecting woman should have a 2/10 rule: two months or ten dates with a man before sleeping with him. Her mother told her that any decent man—any man who respected a woman and cherished her as the feminine—would respect her desire to wait. Britt learned that most guys of college age didn’t have that kind of patience.
LeVon was the next guy to show promise. He was a hot, muscular dark chocolate version of manhood that on sight had her mouth and other parts of her watering. LeVon was a gentleman. He told her that he respected her rule to wait; that he admired her for it. Then he used his kisses and his touch to set her body on fire. After a couple of weeks of his sweet torment she wanted to give in. She begged him to let her give in.
She was young and foolish and thought she was in love. She had visions in her head of love and marriage and baby carriages and a house with a picket fence and of being the living embodiment of Claire Huxtable. Hell, she might not even be a doctor if LeVon wanted her to be a housewife. With such a future in mind she’d decided to hell with that 2/10 rule. She’d found her man. But LeVon told her that he wanted to abide by her rule, that when it happened he didn’t want her to have any regrets about doing it too soon. He suggested that in the meantime there were other things they could do to relieve the pressure. She took to doing those other things with him with great enthusiasm.
She and LeVon had two weeks to go before the two months were up when a girl she didn’t know stepped to her after volleyball practice, and in front of her teammates, her coach and everybody said, “You might give good head, bitch, but he’s getting the pussy from me.”
Cheryl had Britt’s back and cursed the girl out, but Britt barely heard her words. She’d been too stunned at the news that LeVon hadn’t been faithful to her, that what she’d thought was the beginning of the rest of her life was a lie. That was the end of LeVon in her life.
By her senior year she’d just wanted to get it over with. Andrew, her Psych professor was single and had his eye on her. She regarded him as a safe bet. She had no illusions that whatever they had would continue after graduation, and so she was able to keep her emotions out of their affair and keep things strictly physical. It was good and it was fun and after she’d graduated and moved on to medical school she’d missed the sex even though she hadn’t missed the man.
Since then she hadn’t met the guy. She’d had some relationships, and been intimate with some who had abided by her 2/10 rule, but her longest relationship had been for two years and ended when they’d agreed mutually that while they liked each other, they didn’t see themselves as meant for happily ever after. Why hang onto what you knew you didn’t want forever?
Now she was seeing Matt. She had no grand fantasy about their relationship. She knew what she was to him: a life preserver. His wife Allison had left him eight months ago. Just eight months ago. He was still heartbroken and still in recovery. She could see it in his eyes whenever he talked about Allison, which was often.
Britt knew that the time would come when Matt wouldn’t need her as he did now, that one day he would be over Allison and would find solid ground for his emotions and be ready to stand up and walk again. Then he would be able to look at their relationship with clear eyes, and would be ready to decide if she were what he really wanted.
Britt didn’t think that it would work between her and Matt in the long term. No one hung on to a life preserver after they no longer needed it. And then there was the issue of race. Maybe it wouldn’t be a thing, but maybe it would be, for both of them. She’d dated white guys before. She would have no problem loving a white guy if that’s who captured her heart. Matt was a cool guy. He was handsome and funny and smart. They had things in common, one of which was their careers. But she didn’t have that feeling about him–that twinge in her breast that signaled that he might be that guy. She thought that it might be because she was waiting to see if he would still want her once he no longer needed her.
Time would tell.
In the meantime she had a call to make.
She had a salmon steak in the oven, tossed salad in the crisper, and a glass of Pinot in hand as comfortable in panties and tee, she settled into her nest in the corner of her family room sofa. Her phone was on speaker and resting on the arm of the chair.
“Okay, first, I’m not a slut. Let’s get that established.”
“Britt, what did you do, how hard did you do it, and is Matt in the hospital?” Cheryl laughed.
“I’m assuming that whatever slutty thing you did, you did to Matt. Oh wait, was he the dom? You let him get on top? Details, wench!”
“This isn’t about Matt. Well, not directly.”
“Oh, hell. Britt, what did you do?”
“Why do you assume I did something?”
“You said you’re a slut.”
“I did not; I said the opposite!”
“Which means you did something slutty and want to confess your sins.”
“Why did I call you, with your jumping-to-conclusions self? I should’ve called my mother.”
“Oh please, you know Janice would want all the nasty, filthy details, just like me. I wish my mother was as cool as yours about talking about sex.”
“Why isn’t she? You’re married.”
“Girl, if I told that woman how I grab Mike’s braids and ride him like a cowgirl she’d have a stroke. So what did you do?”
“I kind of met this guy.”
“Ooh, you nasty little slut! Details!”
Britt told Cheryl about meeting Kyle the tech guy at work, but left out how she’d stalked him down to the cafeteria and instead made it sound like they’d met there again by coincidence.
“So you just happened to not go out for lunch like you usually do,” Cheryl said. “You just happened to want to eat in the cafeteria today. Yeah, right.”
The problem with having an absolute best friend to whom you told all your business was that she knew all your business. “I didn’t feel like going out.”
“Liar. And where was Matt while you were running behind this guy flicking pussy juice at him?”
“He wasn’t there. His son got sick in school so he had to go pick him up.”
“How convenient. So you and this guy really hit it off, huh?”
“It was weird, actually. At first I was aggravated because I forgot we were scheduled for upgrades on our computers and I had a boatload of work to do and I’d left my laptop home. But when we started talking it was like, like we had a vibe between us, you know? Not like flirting; just like…natural. He had me cracking up at lunch.”
“Well, you know what they say about a man who can make you laugh.”
“What do they say?”
“That he’s either a clown or the next man you’re going to screw.”
“You know you’re a fool, don’t you? And clowns are creepy.”
“And there you have it. So you’re going to call him?”
“No…I mean…I don’t know. That’s why I called you. Do you think I should?”
“What would you say to him?”
“I don’t know. I guess I just don’t want to leave him hanging, you know? He should know that I’m in a relationship so that he’s not left wondering why I didn’t call.”
“Mmm-hmm. Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
“What would you do?”
“He’s knows your name, right…your full name?”
Britt remembered telling Kyle in the cafeteria to call her Britt when he’d addressed her as Dr. Chandler. “Yes.”
“Okay then, look at it like this: He knows where you work, even where your office is. If he wants to reach you, all he has to do is call New World and ask for you. And hell, he’s an IT guy. If he’s worth his pay he can dig up your social security number, your DNA, and what color panties you wore today. If he wants to find you, Britt, he can. So you really don’t need to call him.”
“But you want to, don’t you? You want to talk to him again.”
Britt felt a quivering in that spot between her belly and her heart at the prospect of talking to Kyle again. The sensation made it hard to sit still.
From her nest on her family room sofa she could see the bay window in the breakfast nook. The setting spring sun had just fallen low enough to make the window panes gleam like fiery stained glass. Britt got up with her wine and the phone and padded to the nook to be closer to the beauty and to walk off the quivering in her breast.
“What? Oh, I don’t know. I mean, do you think I should?”
“Okay, this is where you need to apply the ‘Shoe-on-the-Other-Foot rule.’”
“Meaning what if it had been Matt in his office and some hot, sexy IT babe had come in to work on his computer? What if everything that happened with you and this guy Kyle happened with Matt and her? If she’d left him her number would you want him to call her, or just let it go?”
“Well, what I wouldn’t want is for him to let her think she had an opportunity with him if she didn’t. So I’d probably want him to call her and shut it down.”
“Well Britt, there you go.”
Tinton Falls, New Jersey
“How’s Davy feeling this morning?” Britt asked. She lay snuggled under the covers watching her future husband—CNN news anchor T.J. Holmes—explaining to her and her only what was going on in the world.
“He had it coming out of both ends yesterday,” Matt said. He sounded a little strange this morning. Not his sleepy voice, but kind of raspy.
“Now I think my turn is coming. I think he gave whatever he had to me, because I’m getting the bubble gut feeling.”
“Thanks, but I’ll be okay. Just gotta stay near the bathroom.”
“I was talking about Davy.”
“What, I don’t get any love?”
“Matt, please don’t tell me you’re one of those grown men who turns into an infant when he gets sick.”
“Hey, if it means I can get you to cuddle up on me I’ll bawl like a newborn.”
“You want me to come over?”
“Oh no, I don’t want you to catch this bug, too. And…Allison…she’s on her way up…to see Davy.”
Britt bolted upright in her bed with her phone smashed against her ear and her heart suddenly lying like a lump of lead in her chest. With the last of the air in her lungs she forced out an, “Oh.”
And so now here it was. Britt knew that the remnants of the love Matt had felt for Allison still lay in his heart. She understood that getting over someone who had extracted themselves from your life without warning took some time. She accepted that Allison was still with Matt in spirit. But the physical woman was supposed to be on the other side of the country, in California or Colorado some damned where. “Where’s she coming up from?” Britt had wanted to sound casual asking the question but her voice felt tight in her throat.
“Oh, apparently she and Charles were down in Washington DC,” Matt explained. “He’s meeting up with his old geezer political and business buddies, probably trying to figure out how they’re going to prevent Obama’s reelection next year. They’re probably working on drafting some law that’ll make it illegal for anybody with less than a million dollars in the bank to vote.”
He was trying to use humor to deflect from the central issue and diffuse any possible concerns she might have about him seeing his ex-wife. Screw that. “How long’s she been in DC?”
“A couple of days, I think. She called yesterday, and when I told her that Davy was sick she decided to fly up.”
“So she wasn’t planning to make time to see her son, even though she’s four hours away, until you told her he was sick?”
“Yeah. So she’s coming on a chartered helicopter, gonna land at Monmouth Executive Airport in Wall Township. Did you know there was an airport like twenty minutes from here? Then she’s coming here in a limo. It must be nice to be filthy, stinking rich.”
No, it would be nice if she’d kept her ass in DC, or better yet in California. Britt wanted to be angrier than she felt. But angry at who? She couldn’t fault a mother for wanting to see her child (even though she’d abandoned him for money) when he was sick. She couldn’t be mad at Matt for allowing it to happen. And Davy would be thrilled to see his mother after all these months.
The situation was what it was. All she could hope for was that whatever spark of feeling Matt still had for Allison wouldn’t be ignited to flame by her visit. “So how long is she staying?”
“Just ‘til this evening. She should be here in an hour or so.”
It was just past 7:00 in the morning. So Allison would be at Matt’s house all day. Britt hoped that Matt was really sick and that while his ex was in his house he’d be puking and having the runs so bad that he couldn’t leave the toilet. And then feel better as soon as she left.
“So Britt, are you okay about this?”
“Are you going to screw her?” Damn it, where did that come from?
“Hey, come on…that’s not a fair or a very nice question.”
“I think it’s a perfectly fair question. What if she tells you that the old rich guy isn’t flipping her switch and she needs what you used to give her? What will you do?”
“I don’t know whether to be flattered or worried by that question.”
“Be worried. Seriously.”
“Britt, nothing is going to happen like that. She and I are finished. She’s coming to see Davy, that’s all. Do you want to come over?”
“No.” Now that’s a thought.
“You can you know, if it will make you feel better.”
“I don’t need to feel better. I’m fine.” Sort of. “Anyway, I don’t want to catch your cooties. Give them to Allison. On second thought, don’t get that close to her.”
“I’ll consider myself warned. Hey, I need to go shower and get presentable.”
“Yeah, put some clothes on before she gets there.”
“Speaking of which, what’re you wearing?” He tried to make his voice low and sexy.
“I’m still in bed.” Nice try.
“Ah, lovely. All women should sleep au natural.”
“Forget all women. The only au natural woman you should be thinking about is me.” Consider this the warning shot.
“I’ll think about you while I’m in the shower and call you later with the details.”
Yeah, empty your tank before she shows up. “Bye, Matt.”
Matt’s news about Allison coming was a shot of high-octane caffeine to Britt’s system, and after their call she knew that there was no point in trying to get back to sleep. She slid out of bed and paced her bedroom and tried to organize her thoughts and feelings.
She trusted Matt. Everything she’d learned about him over the past six months told her that he was a good guy. And the one thing that made her believe that he had no intentions toward his ex was that he hadn’t had to tell her that Allison was coming today. But he had.
Still, a little part of her felt at a disadvantage, and felt jealous. She was supposed to be in a relationship with Matt, and yet here she was about to spend Saturday alone with nothing planned to do while he was hanging out with his ex-wife.
After talking to Cheryl last night she’d decided that she wasn’t going to call that guy Kyle. Because she was attracted to him she’d decided that even a phone call would be a betrayal of her relationship with Matt. It would be one thing if she didn’t want to talk to him and just wanted him out of her hair, but that wasn’t the case. She was interested…curious. Anyway, like Cheryl said, if Kyle wanted to track her down he could. So she’d decided that she wasn’t going to call him and that if he did find her number and call her, then she’d tell him in a nice way that she was in a relationship.
But that was last night. This morning things were different. This morning her relationship with Matt didn’t feel balanced. His ex-wife was coming to visit him and spend the day in his house, so why should she feel guilty about talking to a nice guy that she’d met professionally on the phone? Why should she feel bad about a simple phone call when Matt would be face-to-face and alone with his ex? Nope, that wasn’t balanced at all.
And anyway, what if Matt telling her that he was sick was a ruse? What if he’d known before today that Allison was in DC, and they’d planned for her to visit? What if they’d been in contact all along and Matt knew she was coming, and his claiming that he and Davy were ill was just a cover story?
Stop it! You’re over thinking things.
She thought about calling Cheryl again to get her take on the new circumstances. But she knew Cheryl, and already knew what she would say. Cheryl would tell her that she was stupid for believing Matt’s story. She’d say that she was being played.
Last night Cheryl told her to call Kyle Michaels, the fine IT brother with the panty-melting voice. Well, maybe she would. She’d make some coffee, have a little breakfast and think about it. And then, maybe she would.
Britt finished an egg white omelet and was on her second cup of coffee when Cheryl called. She should have known that her girl wasn’t going to wait too long to get the latest on her quandary.
“Did you call him?”
“I’m thinking about it.”
“Well, that’s some progress since last night. Your boy is looking a whole lot better in the light of day, huh?”
“Actually, the situation is a little different now…”
After Britt told her about her earlier conversation with Matt, Cheryl said, “You know that’s some bullshit, right?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Britt, you should’ve read him the riot act about having that woman in his crib. He has a lot of damn nerve.”
“He can’t really deny her the right to see her son. That would be a spiteful move.”
“Hell, women do it to men all the time. Some of us live on spite like it’s food.”
“Not all women, and it doesn’t make it right.”
“Yeah well, it’s not right for you to not call your IT man, either. Matt is having fun so why shouldn’t you?”
“It’s not about having fun. I’m supposed to be calling Kyle to let him know I’m in a relationship, remember?”
“I think that should change, seriously. Considering what’s going on now, you need to have another car warming up just in case your ride with Matt breaks down.”
“I’m not doing that to this guy. He seems nice, and I wouldn’t want to lead him on.”
“’Lead him on?’ Girl, Mike told me that if a woman just says ‘Good Morning’ to a man she’s leading him on, because that’s how a man’s mind works. Even if you call that brother and tell him you’re in a relationship he’s probably going to be thinking that that’s your code language.”
“Yeah, he’s probably going to think it’s your invitation for him to try to figure out how to get you to cheat.”
“It’s the world we live in, baby.”
“Then I probably shouldn’t call.”
“No, you should call, because you don’t know what’s really going on with Matt and his wife. Yeah, that’s right, I said it: his wife. They’re not divorced yet, so that’s what she is. And you’re sitting home alone while they’re playing house. If I were you I’d run myself a nice hot bath, put on some Smooth Grooves, pour myself a glass of wine and call that dude while you’re soaking. You said he has a sexy voice, right?”
“Then I’d phone rape his ass. Keep him talking to you while you rub one out.”
“You’re so damned nasty it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Britt, please! It always makes sense if it feels good.”
Shrewsbury, New Jersey
The Chrysler salesman’s name was Rick Garcia. Kyle had met him the weekend before, when after a couple of months of research on new model year automobiles he’d decided on the 200 and came to the dealership to check them out. Last weekend Rick tried to upsell him to a 300 or a Charger, but Kyle wasn’t into trying to impress people. He didn’t want a car that every other brother was driving, and so didn’t see the need to spend the extra money. He thought the 200 fit his style: fly but modest.
Garcia was all smiles from across his desk as he watched Kyle sign the loan paperwork. He asked, “So you’re sure I can’t hook you up with that undercoating, bro?”
Without looking up Kyle said, “Save that for the little old ladies who don’t know any better.”
Garcia laughed, “Hey man, in this economy I gotta try, right?”
Garcia was cool. He was about Kyle’s age—thirty—and they’d established a rapport last weekend while checking out and test driving vehicles. “Too bad you don’t have blacked out rims as an option,” Kyle said. “I think I might do that eventually.”
“Oh yeah, that’ll look sweet with that metallic silver pearl coat. You and your lady’ll be rolling in style this summer.”
Mavis had been with him last weekend when he came to the dealership. He figured that Garcia probably remembered her because she was all huffy; full of attitude, especially as he’d started leaning toward the 200. Mavis had vehemently disagreed with his choice of automobiles. That had led to their biggest and final fight. Now Mavis was history.
Kyle let Garcia’s comment go. Mavis was officially a part of his past, so much so that he didn’t feel a need to mention that she was. He gave Garcia his pen back and pushed the paperwork across the desk to him. “So we’re straight?”
“We’re straight, bro.” As they stood up Garcia bumped fists with him. “I’ll have your new ride detailed and ready for pickup Monday.”
“Cool. I’ll be here after work.”
“Hey, if you want to hook it up with some trunk subs I’ve got a partner who has a shop in Neptune. I can give you his card.”
Kyle loved music—especially the classic stuff—but he had no desire to blast it from his car so loud that people a block away could hear him coming. That was something else that wasn’t his style. When he was cruising to some old school R&B, Funk, or Rock he played his music for himself and whoever happened to be in the passenger seat. Fuck that Hey world, look at me disturbing the peace bullshit. He was raised to be considerate of and respectful to others unless or until they demonstrated that they didn’t deserve such treatment. Moreover, he was raised to respect himself. So he didn’t need or want trunk subs. “Thanks, but I’m straight,” he said.
As they stepped out of the office and onto the showroom floor Garcia asked, “What about your partner over there? Is he in the market for new wheels?”
Kyle followed Garcia’s eyes and spotted Baron at the cashier’s window. Baron had decided to work overtime this morning, and they’d met at New World Labs and between the two of them upgraded so many systems that Charlene was probably going to be able to complete the project this afternoon so they’d all have Sunday off. Then Baron met him at the Chrysler dealership because they were going to the STC gym to play racquetball after Kyle took care of the business of his new car.
Baron was talking to the sister working in the cashier’s cage. Leave it to Baron to find a babe no matter where he went. To Garcia Kyle said, “I think he’s already found what he’s looking for.”
Feeling good because the deal for his new car was done Kyle left the salesman and went to retrieve Baron. He wondered if considering that Baron had found a new chick to talk to he was still in the mood to hit the gym. He was glad now that they’d met at the dealership in separate cars, since Baron’s plans for the rest of the day might’ve changed.
When Kyle reached the cashier’s window Baron looked around. “Got your new ride squared away?” he asked. Kyle noticed that he put emphasis on new ride.
“Yeah; they’re going to clean it up and I’ll pick it up Monday after work.”
“That’s what’s up. Hey Kyle, this is Gerri; starts with a ‘G,’ ends with an ‘i.’ She’s a Gemini like you.”
Kyle leaned and peered past Baron’s shoulder through the glass at the cashier. Cute girl; cinnamon complexion, medium-short Afro and gold hoops in her ears that made her look like one of those babes from the Blaxploitation movies from the early seventies. The only thing missing from her look was some heavy eye shadow. “How’re you doing, Gerri?” he asked.
“I’m good Kyle,” Gerri smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
Baron turned his back to the window and stepped to one side, out of Gerri’s line of sight. He cut his eyes and tilted his head her way, signaling to Kyle that he hadn’t been talking to the cashier for himself. He’d been playing matchmaker.
Just like that Kyle’s tongue tied itself into a knot. He’d never been good with initiating conversations with women on the fly. Baron had just blindsided him by setting him up with this pretty chick.
He took a casual step closer to the window, trying to look like he was about to say something really smooth. In truth his brain had shut down and he had nothing. Baron, fuck man!
Gerri saved him by asking, “So how come your boy here knows your zodiac sign? You guys aren’t into some kinky stuff, are you?”
Baron must have realized that he was in trouble because he interjected, “I know because he’s my boss, and on his birthday all his employees have to bow down and kiss his ring.” He frowned at Kyle and jerked his chin toward the window, signaling him to get busy macking.
Gerri said, “Well, that sounds kind of kinky, too. You make them get on their knees for real?”
She was smiling at Kyle through the glass. He knew she was leaving the door open for him to make his play. “That’s not the kind of kinky I do,” he offered, hoping that he wasn’t coming off as lame.
Gerri cocked her head and frowned, faking suspicion. “Oh really? So what kind of kinky do you do?”
“That depends on the lady I’m with and what she’s into.” Okay, that was better.
“So you leave your kinkiness up to her?”
“I leave it up to nature. Spontaneity is usually more fun than planning, you know?”
Apparently satisfied that his good deed was done, Baron said, “Hey, I’ve gotta run to the restroom. Nice meeting you, Gerri.”
“Bye Baron. Nice meeting you too.”
Kyle noticed that her eyes stayed on him as she spoke to Baron. She was interested, as long as he didn’t screw it up.
“So Baron said that you just got out of something,” Gerri said.
Kyle huffed out a fake laugh. “Damn, did he give you my blood type too?”
“Nah, he just said your girlfriend—or ex-girlfriend now I guess—was crazy.”
Kyle shrugged. “Our personalities didn’t match.” He didn’t want to speak negatively about Mavis and give the impression that he was a complainer or that he’d make excuses for a failed relationship.
“Your friend said she was an evil witch and that you’re a nice brother. Are you nice, Kyle?”
“If you want to know that you’ll have to get to know me and form your own opinion.”
Her smile brightened. She had a slight overbite that made her plump upper lip extrude. It gave her a sexy, pouty look. “Oh, is that right?”
“Yep. So are you nice, Gerri?”
“I can be nice, or I can be naughty.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes it is. But not everyone gets to see my naughty side.”
“You would have to get to know me to find out. Then maybe you will, and maybe you won’t.”
Something moved in the reflection in the window. Kyle looked around and saw a customer standing behind him. To Gerri he said, “Hey well, I don’t want to get you in trouble by keeping you from handling your business. But if you want to give me your number we can continue this conversation…” Kyle mentally crossed his fingers, hoping that she would give him her number.
Gerri said, “Or when you come to pick up your new car on Monday after work you can take me out to dinner.”
“See man, you didn’t even get a chance to fall off the horse and get back on,” Baron said. “You just jumped your ass from one saddle to the other at full speed. That’s what’s up, Kyle. You’re not even gonna have time to miss Mavis before you’re knee deep in Gerri. So she invited you to dinner?”
“It was more like asked me to take her; told me, actually.”
“So where’re you taking her?”
“Someplace decent but not bank-breaking. Maybe one of the restaurants in the Pier Village.”
“I know that’s right, because you know who’s paying, even though she’s the one who asked.”
“Yeah, for real.”
Kyle’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket. They were in the dealership parking lot on their way to their cars so he had to use his free hand to shield his phone’s display from the glare of the early afternoon sun.
He smiled to himself when he saw the name on the Caller ID. He thought that if the call went as well as he hoped, the only thing he’d be paying Gerri; starts with a ‘G,’ ends with an ‘i’ was no attention.
Britt sat in her bathtub, up to her chin in foamy bubbles with her phone in one hand and the sticky note with Kyle’s phone numbers in the other.
Her wineglass sat on the tub’s rim, half empty. Until last night she hadn’t had a drink of alcohol in a couple of weeks. Now she was having her second glass of wine in less than twenty-four hours. She didn’t even know Kyle Michaels and already he was driving her to drink. Not a good sign.
She’d left the bathroom lights off and in their stead lit Hawaiian Jasmine-scented candles. Their tropical fragrance and warm flickering glow gave her bath space a mellow sunset vibe, and with her body immersed in steamy water she could almost imagine herself skinny-dipping in frothy surf as the sun dipped below the horizon.
She wasn’t playing music as Cheryl had suggested. She thought he might hear it and get the wrong impression and think that she was trying to be romantic. Her bath was set up for her, not him, as a way for her to relax. And contrary to Cheryl’s nasty suggestion, she was not going to rub one out while using his voice as a soundtrack. She was simply going to explain to Kyle that she was in a relationship, and if after that they had a nice conversation, then fine. But that’s all it was going to be.
Between feeling guilty and being nervous about calling Kyle her nerves were stretched tight and frayed to the point of breaking. She wanted the call to be a one-and-done; their first and last time talking. To that end she didn’t want to have to leave him a message, because if she missed him she’d be on pins and needles waiting for a return call that might come at an inopportune time. So in case he wasn’t at home she dialed his cell phone number.
The line started ringing, and Britt squeezed the phone tight to quell her sudden panicked urge to toss it through the open bathroom door like it was a grenade with the pin pulled. Okay, it’s just a stupid phone call. Just keep it smooth and professional. Say, “Hello, this is Dr. Chandler from New World Laboratories –
Shit! “You know what? I hate Caller ID.”
“Think how much worse it’s going to be when video phones become the norm.”
“Oh believe me; you should not be seeing me right now.” What are you saying, you dirty, Medieval whore?
“Why not? Don’t tell me the first time you call me you’re sitting on the toilet.”
“No!” He’s crazy!
“Then what, you’ve got curlers in your hair and your face covered with cream?”
“Forget I said that. Are you busy? You sound like you’re outside.”
“Just getting in my car. So why shouldn’t I see you right now?”
“Let’s move on from that. How’s your Saturday going?” She put her phone on speaker and laid it on the rim of the bathtub near her ear.
“It’s going. I was at your job this morning doing more systems.”
Damn it, why didn’t I go to the office today? “Oh, okay. So how’s that going?”
“Pretty good. Baron—the dude you met yesterday—came in too, so we got a lot knocked out.” As he spoke she heard the chirp of a car alarm in the background, and then the click-pause-thump as he opened his car door, got in and closed it. “My other tech should finish up this afternoon.”
From inside his car and without the noise from outside wherever he was his voice on her cell phone’s speaker had a slight digitized tone, but sounded close to the real thing: deep, soft and sexy. Yum.
She asked, “Is that where you are now, leaving New World?” Here’s me running naked and soapy wet through the streets on my way to catch him before he gets away.
“Nah, I had another errand to run. So why didn’t you warn me that you had armed guards where you work?”
“Oh yeah; at night and on weekends there’s security.” She took a sip of her wine, then laid her head back, closed her eyes and ran her bath sponge along the length of her arms.
“Oh, now you tell me. They followed us around like we were cat burglars.”
Water trickled from her arms into the tub and mingled with his voice like a rain shower accompanied by a gentle wind. “Probably because you look so guilty.” Now that she was actually talking to him rather than thinking about it her nervousness dissipated. Maybe it was the warmth of her bath, the wine and the sound of his voice that combined to have a calming effect. She pressed the sponge to her throat, squeezing water. A warm stream tickled her skin as it trickled between her breasts. Her nipples throbbed their jealousy.
“We’re all guilty of something,” he said. “It keeps life interesting.”
With his voice in her ear Britt let the sponge follow the stream, down to settle in her cleavage. A bead of perspiration above her mouth trickled over her lip. She licked it away, and made herself not think about all the things a tongue could do.
“So Kyle, what are you guilty of?” She was flirting and she knew it, and knew that he knew it.
“I don’t know; I guess it depends on who you ask.”
“I’m asking you.”
“I try not to do anything I’d feel guilty about.”
“Even if it’s something you really want to do?” Like having sex with a woman you just met?
He wouldn’t hit the ball over the net. He kept setting it up for her to make the spike by evading her questions.
She shouldn’t play his game. She knew she shouldn’t play. She should open her eyes and get his voice out of her ear and end this call…
She heard music, the mellow riff of a saxophone coming from her phone’s speaker. He was playing music in his car. Soft jazz. Nice. Too nice too open her eyes just yet. Too nice too move.
“So Britt, what are you doing with yourself on this Saturday afternoon?”
His voice was as soft as the saxophone; as melodic. She felt soothed by it, and by the warm water enveloping her body, and by the fragrance of her candles, and by the pretty music.
Soothed to distraction, Britt dragged the sponge across her breast. When it brushed over her nipple she started and shivered and pressed her lips together to trap her moan in the back of her mouth. Ahh… Her nipples had always been super sensitive when she was turned on and they got hard. Right now they were iron gumdrops.
“Britt, are you okay?”
Had she made a sound anyway? “Yes…” She imagined that he was there with her, speaking into her ear as he kneeled next to the–
“You’re in the tub.”
Her eyes snapped open. She sat upright too fast and started to slide, and after a quick thrashing of legs and splashing of water regained herself. “What?”
“Don’t try to front, lady,” he laughed. “I can hear the water.”
“Relax,” he said, “I won’t tell.”
Did he think she was embarrassed that he’d guessed that she was in her bathtub? Did he think she was a punk? Okay then, she wasn’t going to deny it. She wasn’t going to be ashamed. She wasn’t going to be a wimp because she wasn’t that person anymore. The giraffe was dead. “I am relaxed. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh, you should be. It’s not like I can see you.”
Yeah, but you know.
“Anyway,” he said, “I appreciate you calling. I did enjoy having lunch with you yesterday.”
“Well actually the reason I called was to tell you that I enjoyed our lunch too, and that I’m flattered that you left me your phone numbers, but after this call I can’t use them. I’m in a relationship.”
“But lunch really was nice.”
“Is it serious?”
“What? Oh, yes. It’s all good.”
“What’s his name?”
“Why do you want to know his name?”
“So I’ll know what to call the voodoo doll I’m going to be sticking pins in.”
“And why would you do that?”
“Because my gut says that if you’re not going to have lunch with me again it’s because you’re seeing someone.”
“So what’s his name?”
“Okay, but I’m not telling you so that you can stick pins in a doll, okay? His name is Matt.”
“The white dude?”
“Whoa, wait. How do you–”
“You had him on speaker when I was there.”
“Not too many dudes around named Matt.”
“And you just assumed he’s white.”
“He sounds white.”
“I’ve got a newsflash for you: you sound white too, so you can’t judge by how someone sounds.” But your voice sure is sexy.
“But he’s white, isn’t he?”
“So nothing. People get with who they get with and love who they love. I’m not one to judge. So it’s really serious, huh?”
“We’re in a good place.”
“How long have you been together? Don’t answer if you think I’m being intrusive.”
“No, you’re fine.” Yes you are fine! “We’ve been seeing each other for four months.”
“Yeah, that’s getting into serious territory. Well hey, I appreciate that you didn’t leave me hanging and gave me a call.”
“No problem. So what are doing for the rest of your Saturday?” Get your ass off this phone!
“Going to play some racquetball, then just chill.”
Britt remembered his broad shoulders, narrow waist and kick ass biceps. An image of him shirtless and sweaty as he dashed around a court popped into her imagination. She closed her eyes again, and then he was bottomless, too. And then the flickering candlelight made the perspiration on his hard, naked body shimmer. Get into the tub with me and clean up, baby.
“I played a little racquetball in college,” she said. “Our volleyball coach said playing it would improve our short-burst quickness.”
“Were you any good?”
“Maybe a low B. Where do you play?”
“STC Technologies has an employee gym. Do you still play?”
“Not since college.”
“Well hey, if you ever want get up a game, let me know. You need to have an employee key badge to get in, but you can be my guest. Anyway, our security guards are a lot friendlier than yours.”
“I bet it’s the same security contract, since we both work for St. Christopher. And I’ve got another newsflash for you. Try not to take it too hard, okay?”
“Since we’re all part of STC Enterprises, New World employee’s badges are coded to unlock the door to your company’s gym.”
“You know what? I knew that and had forgotten about it. We don’t see you guys over here that often. So do you use the gym?”
“Nah, my home treadmill is all the torture I want to deal with.”
“Well, that sucks,” he said.
“We work for the same employer, but I can’t get into your place without prior approval and an armed guard escort watching my every move, but you can get into mine whenever you want.”
“Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be between a man and a woman?”
“You know what, Britt?”
“Touché. That was a nice one.”
“I’ve got a million of ‘em.”
“Well hey, hang onto my number. If you and Matt don’t work out, feel free to use it so I can hear more Dr. Britt Chandler witticisms. Or we can play racquetball or do lunch or something.”
“It was nice talking to you again, Kyle.”
“You too, Britt.”
The line went dead. His voice was gone from her ear. Now her bath chamber seemed too quiet; so quiet that she thought she could hear the flicker of candle flame.
Eyes closed as she reposed in her warm bath, Britt replayed in memory the sound of his voice in her ear. She remembered his eyes—the way he’d looked at her yesterday as they’d exchanged their first smiles. She remembered the way she’d felt drawn to him.
Eyes closed, Britt sighed out a longing she couldn’t voice, a wish that conscious thought wouldn’t allow her to acknowledge. She inhaled the aroma of Hawaiian Jasmine and parted her legs. Beneath the water first the sponge, and then her fingertips found her longing.
Okay, it wasn’t cheating technically, but it was such a good orgasm that it should have been. She’d almost called out his name, it was so good. She’d thrashed and splashed water all over the place, it was so good. And Cheryl would die laughing if she told her that she’d come so hard she’d almost drowned herself. Because it was so good.
It was so good that after she dried off she’d staggered back to her bed and dove headfirst into a nap, and was gone until the doorbell brought her back from the dead.
Her brain clouded by the remnants of sleep, Britt shrugged into her answer-the-door robe. As she hurried down the steps she tried to remember if UPS and FedEx delivered on Saturdays, and if she’d ordered anything recently.
When she opened her door surprise blew away the last remnants of sleep and blasted away her logic, and for a split instant she believed in black magic and voodoo dolls and that the needles had done their trick. Then she remembered. As she opened the storm door she said to Matt, “Man, you look like leftover crap.”
“Then I look better than I feel,” he said.
His eyes were watery and red-rimmed. Red blotches colored his cheeks, and he’d been wiping his nose too much because the skin there looked raw and tender.
As Britt moved aside to let him in she asked, “What the heck are you doing out? You should be in bed or maybe in a coffin, the way you look.”
Matt sniffed and croaked, “I was thinking about the situation, you know with Allison and everything. And I was thinking that if our situations were reversed I’d be pissed. And I figured Davy will be okay with his mom, you know? And I didn’t want you to be worried, so…well, I figured I’d come on over.”
A couple of hours earlier she might have felt relief that rather than hang out with his ex, Matt had instead come to her. But she remembered her phone call to Kyle Michaels and what she did after that call, so instead of relief she felt guilt. The only way she could have felt worse was if Kyle were upstairs in her bed at that very moment.
No more playing with fire. As far as the sexy IT guy was concerned, that phone call was definitely one and done. She had a man, and from now on she was going to do right by him. As soon as Matt was gone she was going to throw away Kyle Michaels’ phone numbers. And soon enough her memories of him from yesterday and today would fade away.
 These events are detailed in the novella PASSION’S NECTAR by The Black.