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"WHAT DO YOU MEAN you aren't going to have a traditional bachelorette party?" Tina Henderson wiped the perspiration from her neck and nearly bare breasts with a swipe from her towel. "I've got the most magnificent stripper in mind for the party. He's called 'The Bandit." She leaned forward and added in a stage whisper, "And he's hung like a stallion."
"I'm not going anywhere near some naked male stranger when I'm about to be married," Emma Daniels protested vigorously.
"Okay, okay, fine, Emma--though it's too bad since you're going to be stuck with the same sex partner for the rest of your life." Tina shuddered.
"Just think how good we'll get at pleasing each other sexually," Emma said with a confidence she hadn't had months ago, before her cruise of self-discovery. During a little jaunt to the Bahamas, she'd discovered her sensual self with the help of a handsome boy toy. A man who had turned out to be not just a toy, but Mr. Right.
Except, Tina didn't really believe there was a right guy...only the right guy for the moment. Mr. Right Now. "You were coming out of your shell so well, having fun, meeting people. When you fell in love you reverted back to your uptight self," she complained.
"No, I committed. And it's amazing."
But Emma's bold talk was spoiled when a man entered the coed sauna and she immediately adjusted her towel to cover her thong.
Sometimes, Emma still acted like the girl next door. "This stripper's amazing," Tina coaxed. "You'll regret it if you don't have him at your party--" she winked "--or just have him."
"Even you wouldn't do that."
Tina mopped some sweat off her arm. "Be careful. You knowthat I'll do just about anything." Her attention wandered when a man stripped down to a thong and displayed a rather stunning set of abs.
"Hello? Tina, are you paying attention? No stripper. In fact, I'm having a coed bachelorette party."
"It's rather inconvenient, you acquiring a backbone now, when I've got my heart set on The Bandit."
"Your heart isn't set on anything, only your libido."
"That hurts." She shrugged. "But it's true. Take that man who just came into the sauna."
"The one you've been drooling over?"
"Absolutely. My libido is definitely set on that guy." Tina smiled, and then slowly uncrossed her legs and casually adjusted her thong.
"You may have to cut short your own little striptease. It appears his girlfriend has come to save him."
"Damn." Tina shrugged as the woman settled herself beside the man with a proprietary air.
"You are so naughty. What have you got against relationships, anyway?"
"Have you seen the divorce statistics? Divorce is what keeps us lawyers in four-hundred-dollar shoes." She wriggled her manicured toes.
"Stop being so cynical. If half of all marriages fail, that means half of them last forever," Emma insisted.
"Look at how understanding Tony was about my fertility problem. We're going to last forever, for sure."
"I guess that's the glass-is-half-full way to look at the divorce statistics. And Tony was pretty good about that. Of course, if he hadn't been, I was prepared to do something drastic," Tina teased. She actually liked it when Emma stood up to her. "But it's safer and a whole lot cheaper if you just play the field." Tina preened for the man whose gaze kept straying to her toned body, despite that he was spoken for.
"I know you're cynical because of your job," Emma said, waving off Tina's immediate protest, "and because of being bounced around during your childhood. But you had enough faith to put yourself through school, and then make something of your life. Why is it so hard to believe in love?"
"I could love an unlimited supply of designer shoes, I think, although my attention span is woefully short."
Emma just smiled that annoying I'm-your-best-friend-who-knows-you-better-than-you-know-yourself smile.
Tina wondered how a loner like herself had ever ended up with a best friend. Emma had sort of snuck up on her.
"How is Tyler? What kinda cases is he taking these days?" Emma said with another one of those stupid smiles.
"Criminal cases, I imagine, since that's what he does." Tina gave the ab man a teasing smile, and then shrugged so her erect nipples pressed against the thin material of her top. She didn't have many inhibitions: where she'd grown up there had been no privacy, no room to herself, no real parents to look after her. She'd had to fight for anything she'd wanted, using her brain, and later her body, to her advantage.
Emma straightened up. "Stop flirting with someone else's boyfriend. She's going to attack you with those lethal-looking fingernails."
"I'll bet my manicure against her manicure any day."
"You won't be as pretty with bloody gouges on your face. Besides, there might be a weapon under that towel."
"The only thing she's hiding under there is cellulite. What does she expect? She should go work out. Why should I sweat at the gym, and then hide my body just to make her feel good?" Tina's voice got a little shrill. Lately, she'd been going to the gym just to kill time, and to try to get rid of the lethargy dogging her evenings.
Emma held up a hand. "Shhh. What's wrong with you? Since when do you have to poach? You usually only act like that when you're pissed off, and since talking about Tyler seems to piss you off, I think you might consider the ramifications, counselor."
"Ramifications?" Tina rubbed her index finger and her middle finger together, a nervous habit she hated. She never thought about Tyler. He'd overstepped her careful boundaries, for which he'd been banished, and then buried, as deeply as all the rest of the shit in her past.
"Okay, ignore the obvious if you think you can. You may not care about romance, but I want it, all of it. And I don't want to ruin this special time by spending the evening of my party watching some stripper and throwing up on my best friend."
"Well, thanks for thinking of me, but I'd rather get stinking drunk than get caught up in any romance." Tina shuddered for effect, making her breasts giggle. The man across the sauna made eye contact with her chest, making her grin. His girlfriend grabbed his arm, muttered something in his ear and then pulled him to his feet.
"That wasn't nice."
"I'm in a rut, and he looked like he could pull me out. It's frustrating--my job's going great, and I'm still restless. What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing a relationship with Mr. Right wouldn't cure."
"Right. I'll take The Bandit."
"That's not a relationship. You're dangerous in this mood. That poor guy is going to get it from his girlfriend. She couldn't wait to get him outta here."
"I can't help it."
"Just try to concentrate on the party, okay? This is my night, so I get what I want. And I want a cruise theme." She blew out a breath. "Tony's family is huge, and we're going to be inundated with them." She eyed Tina. "But the more the merrier, so if you want to invite..."
She knew whom Emma would suggest she invite if Tina allowed her to continue. "We can start on the beach, and then move the later portion of the party to a nice inside suite. The guests who are interested can get rooms for the evening. And your hair won't get all frizzy."
Emma ran a hand tentatively through her hair. Tina smiled. Mentioning frizz usually distracted Emma from those topics Tina most wanted to avoid.
"A bonfire with those flaming torches would be nice," Emma said, sounding wistful. "It would be informal and fun."
Tina resisted the urge to sigh. "We could go for a walk in the moonlight." When Emma got that distant look, Tina knew she was remembering the beach where she'd met Tony. It wasn't hard to see the magic between them.
I'm not jealous. "Everyone will be waiting for the falling-down-drunk part of the party, so we should at least get them started with those drinks mixed in coconuts."
Emma shook her head. "Not everyone will be looking to get drunk."
"Yeah, well, without The Bandit, you need to spice up the party somehow. You'll regret not having him. Believe me, it would make it a memorable evening. One fortunate lady might have even gotten lucky with him."
"No one sleeps with a stripper--especially not you. You're not desperate. You're just in a little rut."
"Thanks." Ever since the cruise, when Emma's life had fallen into place, Tina's seemed to have fallen apart. She couldn't seem to find a man to satisfy her.
"Maybe you'll meet someone at the party." Emma patted her arm, and Tina resisted the urge to pull away. She wasn't used to sympathy, and usually resented it. But for some reason, Emma mattered to her.
And it still surprised the hell out of her. "What? And have the night ruined? There are rules against men interfering with our female fun, you know."
"Since when are you a stickler for rules? I agree that the girls should have a little fun, but no strippers. Promise me."
Tina rubbed her fingers together. It was an old nervous habit she'd thought she'd conquered. It certainly wasn't appropriate for a hotshot lawyer who looked to make partner in Jacksonville's biggest law firm. She glanced down at her fancy manicure and realized that technically, her fingers were crossed.
"Tina, promise me!"
Those naughty fingers, Tina grinned.
"Okay, I promise."