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Bar Harbor, Maine
The day Frannie Luttrell saved Marianne from drowning, she also fell in love with Dax Cordrey.
The whole thing played out in slow motion. A splash, a bloodcurdling scream, and everything stopped. No one moved. On the deck of the yacht anchored closest to the pier, people stood frozen.
Frannie stripped off her shorts and tee and dove off the pier. She didn't know that behind her, Dax had leapt into his speedboat to follow her; she was only aware of people pointing to where the girl had disappeared.
She didn't think -- she grabbed a deep breath and went down, immediately seeing the slack body of a slender girl descending toward bottom. Grasping the girl's arm, she pulled her hard and explosively up to the surface. As she broke, she heard a commanding voice -- "Here!" -- and a strong hand reached out to her and hauled the victim up into the motorboat.
She nearly fell on board next to the girl's limp body and felt for signs of life. There was no breath, no pulse, and she immediately began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as if she were on auto-pilot.
The commanding voice was speaking into his cell phone. "Almost there," she heard him say through her panic. "They're on their way."
No breath, no breath -- but just as the boat veered toward the dock, the girl suddenly choked and spewed seawater. Frannie thought her heart would stop.
Only then did she look up at her savior, her hair bedraggled, her eyes tearing up, her mouth vulnerable. She wore no makeup, her face was burned and freckled, her bikini plastered to her slender, boyish body, and she looked right into his intense blue gaze -- and her heart stopped.
The rest was like snapshots in her memory: the EMTs carefully lifting the girl into the ambulance, the applause from onlookers, the heat of the sun on her wet skin, the fact she was barely dressed, him standing so close to her.
But most of all she remembered that he scared the hell out of her. She wasn't supposed to meet someone like him when she was seventeen and looked like hell. And he surely wasn't supposed to look like him either: tall, angular, elegant, not remotely handsome. Not anything she wanted or expected or needed now. Just him, strong and long and elusively magnetic, with a perfect mouth and that cool, assessing blue gaze that made her heart stop.
And then she became aware people were watching them. She remembered slanting an uncertain look at him. "I have to go."
His gaze flickered slightly. "Her name is Marianne Nyland." His voice was deep, rich, faintly accented. "She'll want to meet you."
"I'll -- meet you there then," she said, trying to sound nonchalant.
He vaulted onto the dock and held out his hand. She had to take it, though she didn't want to touch him. His grip was enfolding and warm; she felt as if she were melting into it, and that she never wanted to let go.
She stepped up and quickly relinquished his hand. Someone handed her a shirt and she bundled up, feeling suddenly exposed.
"What's your name?"
She froze. She just couldn't give him her plain-Jane name, she just couldn't. She needed a pseudonym fast -- something exotic, sexy, memorable, romantic -- everything she wasn't.
"F-Frankie," she stammered after a moment.
He absorbed that, sweeping her with another one of those looks. "I'm Dax. I'll drive you."
"I don't know you."
"You know the important things," he said cryptically. "Come on."
She did. She thought she did. But she didn't know that he drove a new $45,000 Mercedes, that he was the son of one of the elusive, exclusive summer scions, that he would kiss her and she wouldn't deny him, and that everything was going to change.
A girl's life was defined by lines: fine lines, hairlines, bikini lines, class lines, the tightrope line between being a good girl and a slut. But there was always a moment when the lines blurred and a good girl had to decide whether to toe the line, cross the line, or stay safe behind the line that guarded her virtue.
Frannie knew she'd pole vaulted over that line the moment she'd agreed to let Dax drive her to the hospital, and she didn't care.
When he stopped the car in the parking lot, and just sat looking at her as if he were wrestling with his better instincts...her bones melted.
"How old are you anyway?"
Shit. The chasm. "Eighteen," she lied.
He made a sound. "I think I need to kiss you."
The lines dissolved. Need was grown-up stuff.
If he had any reservations, they didn't matter. The tension had already escalated to the screaming point, and every cell in her body wanted him to touch her. Taste her. Want her.
She wasn't conscious of leaning toward him, but she felt him cup her cheek; she closed her eyes as his mouth touched hers gently at first, and then he became a marauding pirate; he probed her mouth deeply and her whole body turned to tallow: thick, rich, hot, moist, malleable, ready to mold him to her burgeoning desire.
This was beyond...anything -- any other guy, any other make out; this wasn't casual, he wasn't even touching her and she was nearly naked. His tongue...oh God...she was going to die from the pleasure of tasting him and those tangy little orgasmic darts piercing her everywhere --
He pulled away slowly, leaving the taste of him still in her mouth, and she opened her eyes and stared into his for what seemed like forever.
"Marianne..." he murmured, easing her away.
Oh.... Damn. She'd almost forgotten about Marianne in her consuming need for his mouth. The hell with Marianne. She didn't care if she ever met Marianne, for God's sake. Who the hell was Marianne, anyway? She leaned toward him again hungrily.
But he was already out his door and coming around to the passenger side to open hers.
She never forgot her first sight of Marianne. Marianne was absolutely beautiful, with thick blonde hair and doll-like features -- those deep-set cornflower blue eyes, that perfect translucent skin, those perfectly arched eyebrows, her perfect pink mouth, and a wand-thin body any model would kill for.
She was sitting up in bed, primping in a handheld mirror, when Dax knocked.
"Dax!" she greeted him joyfully.
"This is Frankie," Dax said, diverting the joy. "She pulled you out of the water."
Marianne looked at Frankie, then at Dax, and then at Frankie again, hard. "Oh -- oh! You're..."
"Frankie," she jumped in.
"Omigod -- I owe you my life!"
Frankie held up her hand. "Anyone would have done what I did."
"Anyone didn't," Dax said pointedly.
"I have to do something to thank her. Don't I, Dax?"
"If you must," Dax said, with a shrug.
"I'll think of something wonderful," Marianne said, slanting a scathing glance at Dax and then turning to Frankie. "Saving a life is not something that should be rewarded lightly. I'm perfectly aware of that, Dax."
"I never thought you weren't," Dax murmured, and Frankie wondered how the touch of irony in his voice utterly escaped Marianne.
But Marianne was still staring at Frankie. "You're not one of the gang."
"Hell no," Dax said. "They didn't have the balls. They just stared at their Ballys."
Marianne shot him another look, and then stared long and consideringly at Frankie. "I know what we're going to do. I'm going to take you over altogether, Frankie. Introduce you to everyone. Take you everywhere. All you have to do is give me your life for the next month, in exchange for your saving mine. How does that sound? Don't think. Just say yes."
How could she say no? Another line crossed, the wide unbridgeable line between the townies and the wealthy summer residents who ruled the harbor for three months of the year.
This, secretly, was the life Frankie yearned for -- where you called a cleaning service to open the house and paraded your limousine up Main Street to the family's fifteen-room summer cottage overlooking the harbor. Who wouldn't want to be one of them? They had the most fun, the best times. They did everything and anything they wanted, with little supervision and no constraints.
They were all decadently rich, like Marianne, who was the only child of parents who were the sole surviving progeny of either family. Her father had retired, she told Frankie, and was now a consultant on the board of the investment company his great-grandfather had founded. Which meant his name was still on the letterhead to assure the investors that a Nyland was still in charge while he watched the money roll in.
Frankie couldn't conceive of that kind of life, that much money, that much excess, that much anything. Which amazed Marianne, all of whose friends were that rich. "Well, you're going to live how the other half lives for the rest of this summer. That's the least I can do, for what you did."
Frankie didn't protest. She'd grown up in a rural town, not far from the harbor; she'd worked every summer since she was twelve, whether blueberry picking up north, mucking stables, or the counseling gig she'd had for the past two summers.
She didn't have clothes or connections. She barely had conversation. She could do a few athletic things well: swim, ice skate, ski. She had a passable game of tennis and she could ride, skills she wasn't willing to test with Marianne's set. She played a mean game of Ping-Pong, chess, and checkers, and she'd learned rudimentary chording so she could accompany songs on a guitar around a campfire.
Not real useful things in Marianne's world.
The next evening as she walked up the steps to the country club where Marianne had invited her to the dance, she felt like she was Cinderella and Marianne her fairy godmother.
"There will be a ticket for you at the door," Marianne had told her.
"Me? I don't even have a dress for a dance at a country club."
"Sure you do. I have enough dresses to outfit the whole town. I'll send my driver with a couple, then he can bring you up to the club when you're ready."
This was so beyond Frankie's everyday life -- a world where you had scads of clothes, maids picked up after you, and drivers took you places and waited for you. She was out of her depth in just hours, utterly swallowed up in the ocean of Marianne's odd desire to befriend her.
The chauffeur came as promised, waited for her to change, and then delivered her to the alien world of the country club. She emerged into a fairy tale of bright lights and music, underscored by the low buzz of conversation and the gauzy whirl of couples on the dance floor, the girls all dressed in light-as-a-soufflé dresses, looking like ethereal flowers you could puff away with a breath.
She eased in among them, looking for Marianne. When she saw Dax, she stopped dead short. Dax in evening clothes was devastating -- tall and elegant, seemingly years older and miles apart from everyone, contained and austere, reserved and remote, but his intense blue eyes missed nothing. Not even her.
Her body went weak, her mind went blank, everything inside her reached out to him as he came to her and swept her onto the dance floor.
Another social grace she lacked, but Dax made it easy. He held her just right, just close enough, just perfectly. She wanted to tell him -- she was falling in love with him.
He saw it in her eyes and shook his head. "Not yet. It's too soon."
What? "Dax -- "
"Shhh...it's too soon. For anything."
She didn't understand, she didn't want to understand. As he guided her around the floor, she caught sight of people watching them. Marianne watching them with disappointment that she didn't bother to conceal.
Too soon, too late...
Nothing was going to happen between her and Dax; she saw it in his eyes, she knew it with a painful finality that cut like a knife as she caught sight of Marianne.
She pulled tight on her emotions and pulled away from him, but she hated that he just let her go. She wheeled away from him and nearly ran into Marianne, who gave Dax a furious look, and then she smiled at Frankie as Dax turned and walked away.
"He's such a snob," Marianne said, her voice soft but laced with malice. "Dear Daniel Alexander. Dax -- sounds a little like a dog -- you know -- here, Dax, come, Dax. Sit, Dax. Dax usually doesn't dance with anyone. Lucky you. Do you wonder everyone was staring?"
"I didn't know," Frankie murmured. What could she say? Two humiliations in one night was almost too much. And maybe what she'd expected among the sharks Marianne called friends.
"Well," Marianne said, her voice tempered now, "Dax notwithstanding, you are here to dance. That's why I invited you: to get to know people. Connections count, Frankie. So forget about Dax and just be real friendly to everyone. If the guys like you -- well, you'll see..."
Frankie saw. There was no better salve to her pride than immersing herself in all that salivating male attention. The inquiries into pedigree would come later.
Marianne pulled one sleek white-jacketed future CEO after another to her side, and charmingly introduced them all. Some of them were her age, some already in college, others graduated and working. They politely asked her to dance and twirled her around the dance floor, and sometimes out onto the piazza, to steal a kiss.
She had never been the focus of that kind of sexual barrage before, and these were grown-up, dominating rich-man kisses that presupposed a lot of things she wasn't initially prepared for.
It meant nothing to them; it was a life lesson for her: kisses didn't lead to anything but sex, and sex led to someone's gratification -- probably not hers. It was good to know how to deal with them, entice them, use them in the same ways that they wanted to entice and use her.
"You have to make sure you get yours," Marianne told her the next day. "Enjoy the kisses, the attention, the hot feelings -- and go as far as you feel comfortable. We all practice on each other, you know; we play with each other, and sleep with each other. Sometimes a newcomer sweetens the game."
"But you're not playing," Frankie pointed out.
"They bore me," Marianne said, "but they don't bore you. And that entertains me. So have a good time with them -- as long as you remember that they always marry their own in the end."
Frankie spent all her free evenings with Marianne. It seemed to her that Marianne refused to talk about the accident. Didn't care to remember, didn't want to speculate or discuss whether she'd fallen, was pushed, or deliberately jumped. She sloughed it off as the "thing that happened" and as if it had never happened.
So it became the thing that was never talked about even as they spent time together every day. A tightrope that Frankie walked between gratitude and concern, curiosity and hands-off altogether.
She played tennis, she rode, she sailed, she cheered on the sidelines at softball games and polo matches, and she pitched headlong into a new world of wanton sensuality.
She didn't know that there were ground rules, but Marianne laid them out for her.
"Of course they pay attention," Marianne said. "You're striking, athletic, you wear clothes well. Trust me, you'll never have another chance to experiment with the best. These guys are born and bred knowing how to screw. So go to it, but you have to tell me everything."
Frankie found it easy to tell Marianne everything: how she loved French kissing, and what she was learning about herself and her body, her dormant sensual nature -- and those hot-handed randy boys. She was smart enough not to allow penetration, but she adored them fondling her between her legs and she learned how to give good head. And between those two "gets," she reveled in being the go-to girl that summer.
"Just don't get pregnant," Marianne told her. "They'd kill us."
"I know; I'll get pills. It just feels so good -- it's like you're floating on this pillow of...I can't even describe it, it's so -- lush..."
"So how many have you let diddle you now?"
"Four. They're all different too, the way they do things and handle you...honestly, Marianne, you really should -- "
"No! No, I'm saving myself."
That sounded lofty, but it never occurred to Frankie to ask for what, and why Marianne had no compunction about Frankie's experimenting with the outer edges of sex.
"Has Dax approached you?"
Frankie squirmed. It was crystal clear that Marianne wanted Dax and Dax didn't want anyone. He was always there, watching from afar, his expression impassive. And Frankie knew everyone in that set gossiped and Dax had to be aware of just what she was doing in the dark, but she didn't care. If it was too soon for him, it wasn't fast enough for her. It was his choice, and she was perfectly willing to play it his way and take advantage of all those hot, randy playboys.
"I heard he went back to New York."
Marianne's face closed up. "So tell me again how it feels when they play with your nipples."
There was no end to them playing with her nipples, and goading her to go all the way. When Dax wasn't around, she let herself drown in the fondle fests. When Dax was there, prowling around the edges, she felt edgy and restless.
"I wish he would lighten up," Marianne said one afternoon when they were at the club, lazing on the patio that overlooked the harbor.
"Does he ever have a conversation with anyone?" Frankie asked idly, following his movements from under her eyelashes.
"Not even his parents," Marianne snorted. "A goddamned saint, our Dax."
Or maybe he had standards, Frankie thought. But it didn't matter. She had a date with Rob Gildred that night -- delicious, handsome Rob Gildred who kissed like a dream, handled her like a beloved sports car, and promised untold pleasure whenever she was ready.
She didn't expect much from her first time, but she was determined to lose her virginity this summer and that Rob would be the one, because Rob attracted her the most.
Only -- I wish it were Dax.
But Dax didn't play those games. By every account, he wasn't a make-out and break-up kind of guy. And he seemed to avoid Marianne.
It made her wonder about Marianne's feelings for Dax. But since she owed Marianne so much for this magical summer, she wouldn't think such disloyal thoughts. Marianne came first, and her own unrequited crush on Dax was unimportant next to that.
She dressed for Rob that night in a flirty summer dress of lime green knit that clung to her breasts, draped over her hips, and flared out around her tanned legs. She left her sun-streaked auburn hair loose around her shoulders, wore makeup that emphasized her eyes, and minimal jewelry -- earrings, a bracelet -- so nothing would catch if they happened to...
They met at the club, where they danced and nibbled hors d'oeuvres for about an hour while Rob nibbled on her ear. But it was obvious he wanted to get to the main course. And it wasn't the prime rib.
"Prime Frankie," he whispered against her cheek as they swayed to the music hip to hip and he rubbed his erection tight against her belly.
"Prime you." She'd learned the right things to say, the erotic arousing things, the coy exchanges that pumped up the volume.
"Let me prime you." He ran his hands over her back coaxingly, and, when they were turned away from the rest of the crowd, he cupped her buttocks and pulled her tight against his hips. "Oh my God, Frankie. Do we have to have appetizers?"
She loved the way he caressed her. She felt stoked, golden, the familiar curl of desire ruffling between her legs. But she wasn't quite there yet, wasn't feeling that molten melt, the telltale darts, the cream of her desire...not feeling the way Dax had made her feel, and she wanted to want that, badly.
She closed her eyes and swayed against his strong body. This was the night, the time, the man, the moment.
But suddenly his arms were not around her, someone else had caught her up and held her convulsively close.
She opened her eyes in surprise.
"I've been watching you. Don't do it. Don't sleep with him."
Her legs nearly went out from under her, and he held her hard until she steadied. She couldn't breathe, couldn't find a word to say, felt resentful and delirious both, especially after she caught sight of Rob's expression.
"Not your call," she murmured.
"Just don't." He pulled her closer.
"Dax..." She started to say, she wanted to say, she loved him.
"Don't say anything else. You'll do what you want to do, obviously."
And you know what I'm going to do, and you're going to let it happen. She couldn't believe it. She stared up into his shuttered eyes, willing him to tell her he would make love to her instead, that he wanted to be the one, because he couldn't stay away.
But then Rob was there, cutting back in, and Dax relinquished her without a word. Rob's embrace suddenly seemed paltry next to the confident way Dax held her.
"God, he's such a..." Words failed him. Even he didn't know how to describe Dax. "What did he say to you?"
"Nothing worth mentioning," Frankie said. "Idle chitchat.
Rob gave her a skeptical look that plainly said Dax? "Let's get out of here."
"My thought, too." Because otherwise she would dwell on Dax, and Dax was the last person she wanted to think about tonight.
An hour later, they lay side by side on the deserted beach, making out and goading each other with deep lush kisses and erotic whispers.
"...let me suck -- "
"Anything..." She cupped his erection, he lifted her skirt, and rooted between her legs. "Perfect...love it..."
"You do that to me..." She knew the exact words...no matter what, it was going to get done -- tonight...
"Insane for you..."
"All the boys say that."
"No..." he breathed around her well-sucked and distended nipple.
"Ask them." Her body pumped against his questing fingers. "Ummm..." She swallowed hard. "More, deeper..." She canted her hips. "Love that." She knew what to say.
"Yes, yes, yes..."
It was so dark, she couldn't see him yank down his pants, but she felt his shaft, suddenly, poking at her cleft. Now what now what now what? Oh God, it's here, he's there...oh Lord, now what? Does he even know? Why didn't I find out?
It didn't matter; she pushed every thought from her mind, wrapping herself around Rob in blatant invitation. She wanted it done, here, now, with him. But the thought surfaced anyway, just as Rob jammed his heft and heat hard between her legs and made her a woman forever: I wish it had been Dax.
And so it went the rest of the summer. Frankie was the lucky townie who had the coveted invitation to the party, to the yacht races, the country club dances, the tennis and croquet matches, the afternoons of sailing and sex, horseback and humping, bridge and boffing -- all the genteel pursuits of the wearily wealthy who were taking a month to wind down from their hectic city lives.
Rob was endlessly hers that summer. In the gardens, in his bed, in hers, in the woods, on the sailboat, in the stable...September was coming way too soon. They were already talking about packing up, about going back to school, about the winter social season, about things Frankie would never be part of once the summer ended.
But until then, with Marianne abetting her every step of the way, Frankie blossomed in Marianne's high-stakes, high-end world, took it for granted and took it all with both hands, while Marianne watched from the sidelines. And Frankie never thought to wonder why.
Copyright © 2007 by Thea Devine