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By THERESA ALAN KENSINGTON BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Theresa Alan
All right reserved.
The Tuesday before the trip
Amy Harrington had never been the kind of woman who was consumed by lust. Desire was a messy and fickle thing. Amy didn't act recklessly or hastily. She wasn't a big fan of spontaneity. She liked making rational decisions based on the best information available. She was a sensible girl, always had been.
That was why what was happening to her now was throwing her world into a frenzied, baffling orbit. She had never experienced such an immediate carnal reaction to anyone before, and the feelings were making her thoughts blurry and confused.
Amy couldn't focus on what he was saying. She watched his lips moving as he sat behind his desk in his tastefully decorated office, but she couldn't seem to actually put together what the words coming out of his mouth meant.
He was good looking, certainly, but that wasn't enough to explain what was causing this reaction in her. She'd encountered hundreds of sexy, handsome men in her life, and none of them had turned her insides into quivering mush like Brent Meyer did.
Amy's friend Caitlyn, the poet, would be able to find a turn of phrase that could explain exactly what it was about his smile that was so captivating. She would have the words to describe the precise bright green shade of hiseyes. Stoplight green maybe? No, that conjured traffic and headaches, not beautiful, brilliant Oz-emerald eyes. Amy didn't have Caitlyn's gift with words, that was obvious.
Amy's friend Leah, the scientist, would be able to explain the exact chemical and physical reactions that were happening in Amy's body. They involved an increase in adrenaline, probably, and maybe something about pheromones, but Amy didn't know about that sort of thing. She knew about financial planning and making budgets and ensuring that all the numbers at the bottom of the spreadsheet added up. Love? Attraction? Lust? These simply weren't her areas of expertise.
Amy imagined that their meeting would run long and he would ask her to dinner. The meal would go on for several hours and many drinks. She'd have a little too much alcohol, and he would offer to drive her home. She would say that was very generous of him. She would get in his car and relax in the comfortable leather seats. He would say he needed to stop by the office for just a moment. She would accompany him in. In the empty office building of the software company he'd founded, they would sit beside each other on the comfortable gray couch in the reception area. He would put his hand on her leg. She'd pretend to protest, but only for a moment. He would slide his hand up her leg, beneath her skirt ...
Amy realized suddenly that he'd asked her something, and she had no idea what, since she had been too busy fantasizing about an illicit tryst with him. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" she asked.
"I asked when you're getting married."
He gestured to her left hand. She followed his gaze and saw that she'd been spinning her engagement ring around and around with her thumb.
"Still getting used to the ring, huh?"
"Yeah, I suppose so." And still getting used to the idea of being married, apparently.
Amy suspected that it wasn't a good sign to be daydreaming about having sex with other men when she wasn't even married yet.
It's just a fantasy, Amy assured herself. She could think about anything she wanted. She just couldn't act on those feelings. And she didn't want to act on the feelings anyway because she loved Eric. He was the love of her life.
Amy and Brent continued discussing budgets and economic forecasts for another hour or so, with Amy struggling to focus on doing her job and trying to keep her lust for a man she'd met only a couple hours ago in check.
When the meeting with Brent was over at last, Amy put on her winter coat and her leather gloves. She picked up her briefcase, gave Brent a big, confident smile goodbye, and exited the Meyer Technology building into the cold March air of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
She got in her car, turned the ignition on, and sat for a few minutes as the car warmed up, staring blankly at her dashboard in a daze of confusion.
What was wrong with her? She never fantasized about hurling a strange man across his desk and doing X-rated things to him.
Amy just didn't do things like that.
Maybe that was her problem. Maybe that was why things had fallen into such a rut at home. Sex between Eric and her was so ... polite. It hadn't always been like that. When they first dated, she thought of him as clitoral heroin. They used to have sex for hours; there had been a time when they couldn't get enough of each other.
That time was long gone.
It wasn't that she was having problems with her husband-to-be. Not exactly. On the surface, everything was perfect. They'd moved in together eight months ago, and they rarely fought. They were comfortable financially and lived within their means. Neither of them gambled or drank to excess. In other words, their lives were unbelievably boring. And Amy had no idea what to do about it.
Lately, Amy's life felt hollow, empty. A husk. A shell. Something barren of substance. Her life was a memory. An aftertaste. Something that could be imagined but was not actually there.
She knew this was not how a bride-to-be was supposed to feel. The truth was that even amid all the hubbub of planning her wedding, her days were gauzy.
As she pulled out of the parking lot and into traffic, she thought for the millionth time of how much she was looking forward to her trip, to getting away from the prewedding insanity.
Amy had arranged to meet her college girlfriends, Caitlyn and Leah, at a spa in Mexico for two weeks. She wanted some sort of Aerobic Dominatrix to force her to get in shape for her wedding pictures. This way, she could get in shape while catching up with her two best friends. Caitlyn and Leah were going to be her bridesmaids, but she knew they wouldn't have any time to talk at the wedding. Things would be much too crazy for that. They'd been drifting ever since graduation when Leah took a job as a biologist in Portland, Caitlyn returned to Chicago where she'd grown up, and Amy accepted a position as a financial consultant in Denver. Amy supposed that there was no way to help the fact that they weren't as close as they'd been in school, but that didn't mean she liked it. On this trip they'd be able to relax and catch up and become skinny, sexy vixens while they were at it. It would be great.
Sun. Exercise. Friends. She would be feeling like herself again in no time.
When she got back to work, Amy dropped off her coat and briefcase and went to the kitchen to heat up a low-calorie, taste-free frozen meal. She brought it back to her office in time to hear her extension ringing. She figured it was her wedding planner calling yet again to ask her about yet another detail. Amy had done the financing on major corporate mergers that were less stressful and time-consuming than planning a wedding. It was just one more reason she couldn't wait to get away.
"Hello?" She sat in her chair, setting her lunch on her desk in front of her.
"Hey, babe." Eric's voice sent a jolt of guilt through her.
"Hi. What's up?" She attempted to sound casual; she wondered if she was pulling it off.
"Christine and Adam want to know if we want to go to dinner Thursday night before you leave for your trip."
"Oh," Amy said, disappointed. It wasn't that she didn't like Christine and Adam, she did; it was just that every time she and Eric got together with them, they talked about their experiences sky diving or hang gliding or deep sea diving or engaged in some other life-threatening activity. Amy had no desire to do any of the potentially deadly or injurious things they did, but it made her feel dull by comparison. All Amy could add to the conversation was, Well, this weekend we ordered in pizza and watched NetFlix so we didn't have to leave the house even once. It's not quite as thrilling as parasailing, but we live a full life anyway as you can plainly see. "Sure, that would be fun."
"Great. I'll let them know. How's your day?"
"My day? Oh, you know, the usual. And you?"
"It's going well. Do you want me to cook tonight?"
"Cook? Yeah, that'd be great."
"Okay. I'll think of something good. I love you."
"I love you, too."
"See you tonight, hon."
"Tonight," she repeated dumbly before returning the receiver to its cradle. She stared at the receiver for a moment as her heart thumped painfully, as if Eric could somehow psychically know all the traitorous thoughts she'd been having.
Exhaling, she turned to her computer and opened an Excel file. Listlessly she took bites of her chicken and vegetables, luckily not tasting any of it. When she dropped a sliver of a carrot into her keyboard, she turned the keyboard over and banged on the back of it as if she were attempting to make a baby burp, watching the food go flying out from her technological Heimlich maneuverings.
She tossed the rest of her lunch into the garbage and swiveled in her chair, her eyes taking on the glazed look of someone drooling at the asylum.
That glazed look was replaced with bright, alert eyes when her e-mail pinged to let her know she had new mail and she saw the name on the FROM line. As she read the e-mail, her heart raced.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com I really enjoyed meeting you this morning. You're an incredibly beautiful woman. And smart, too! Can I take you out for a drink after our meeting on Friday? Strictly for pleasure, no business. She blinked. Then, tentatively, hit Reply. To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com Thanks for the offer, but I don't think my fiancé would appreciate me going out for drinks with a handsome entrepreneur.
Before hitting Send, she stared at the word handsome. She knew she was being deliberately flirty and provocative. She was never flirty and provocative. But just now she didn't want to be herself. She wanted to be daring. She wanted to be a risk taker. As adrenaline surged through her veins, she hit Send.
She stared at her computer screen for a full minute. Oh, God. Had she stepped over the line? Had she ...
Her e-mail pinged again.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com
Your fiancé doesn't have to know.
Amy swallowed and tried to get her breathing to return to normal. She clearly wasn't cut out for a life of crime or high adventure if sending a few e-mails nearly gave her a heart attack.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com
It's tempting, but I'm leaving for Mexico on Saturday and I need to pack.
She was already packed; the truth was that she didn't trust herself alone with Brent and alcohol.
The ringing phone made her jump. She'd been so focused on watching her computer screen for a reply from Brent that the shrill of the phone made her feel like a burglar who'd been caught and the alarm was signaling the police. It was the reaction, she knew, of a guilty person. She wondered if it might be Brent calling her.
"Amy, hi." It was Gretchen, her wedding planner. "Listen, have you made any progress on the dress?"
Amy exhaled. "I told you, I'll make my decision just as soon as I get back from the spa. I want to lose a few pounds before I make my final choice."
"Amy, you know how important the dress is. The seamstress can always take it in when you lose a few pounds. I just don't get you. You searched for three weeks straight so you could find the perfect periwinkle blue shade of tablecloths, but when it comes to something as vital as the dress, you leave it to the last second. I've never had a client with more exacting taste than you. I like it, I'm a perfectionist myself, so I appreciate a woman who knows what she wants. I'm just saying ..."
"Gretchen, I appreciate your concern, I really do. I've narrowed it down to two dresses. I promise I'll pick one just as soon as I get back." One of the gowns was simple and conservative. It fit Amy's personality and body perfectly. She felt comfortable in it. The other dress wasn't Amy at all-it had elaborate beadwork and showed off Amy's ample cleavage-Amy never showed her cleavage. But she'd fallen in love with the dress when she'd tried it on. Maybe it was that when she tried the dress on, she felt like the woman she wanted to be instead of the woman she was. "Look, Gretchen, I really ..."
"Wait, wait, I need to ask you about-"
Amy's e-mail pinged. "Sorry, I need to go. I'll talk to you before I leave for Mexico, I promise."
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com
A rain check, then?
"Bye Gretchen." Amy hung up the phone, and before she could think, she wrote back.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com
We'll talk on Friday ...
On the way to the spa
Caitlyn looked at the digital clock blearily, not understanding what she was seeing. How could it possibly be 6:32 when she remembered very clearly setting it for 4:55 A.M.?
She bolted out of bed, screaming obscenities at her alarm clock, even though technically it had done nothing wrong. It had gone off when it was supposed to; it was Caitlyn who had shut it off and promptly fallen back to sleep.
"Shit, shit, shit!" she yelled, hopping around the room. She hadn't done her laundry or packed yet, and if she didn't haul ass, she was going to miss her flight. She hadn't meant to stay out so late the night before. She'd spent the night with Sean. His ex had the kids, so he and Caitlyn had been free to stay up into the wee hours of the morning, romping themselves senseless, which was exactly what they did. After five orgasms, Caitlyn had been ready to say goodbye to Kyle and Reg and declare her undying devotion to Sean. Then the orgasmic haze wore off and she came back to her senses and remembered that she and Sean didn't have anything in common outside the bedroom, and the only thing she really wanted to commit to with Sean was many more hours of obligation-free screwing.
What was the deal with flights leaving so damn early in the morning anyway? Caitlyn had searched for a flight that left at a reasonable hour, but everything she could find departed at the crack of dawn. It was so unreasonable to expect people to finish up their last-minute packing when they had just been woken from slumber in the middle of the night and were stumbling around groggily and still half asleep. Honestly, how could you not forget vitally important things under such trying circumstances?
Caitlyn put on a black push-up bra that matched her thong underwear and fished out of her laundry basket an outfit that was barely dirty. She slipped on a pair of clear plastic high-heeled shoes with hot pink heels and pulled her highlighted hair back into a ponytail. She opened her suitcase and laid it on the bed and threw whatever clothes weren't filthy inside. She tossed in her bikini and a few pairs of shorts and some T-shirts and declared herself done. She was forgetting something. She knew she was forgetting something. But what? A toothbrush! Make-up! A hair dryer! Oh, how calamitous it would have been if she'd found herself in the remote mountains of Central Mexico without her hair dryer or lip liner!
She sprayed herself in a cloud of Lancôme Miracle perfume, put on some ruby red lipstick, brushed mascara on her eyelashes, and rubbed lotion over her arms and legs. The lotion was a special blend she'd concocted at the lotion store where she worked. It was made especially for a Pisces to help improve her concentration and heighten feelings of well-being. With suitcase in hand, she raced to the elevator, waited impatiently as it descended eighteen floors, and bounded outside where she was promptly blasted by an arctic chill from which her thin blouse and skirt did little to shield her. She had already mentally been in Mexico and had forgotten that she was still in chilly Chicago in the middle of winter. She turned around, sprinted back inside, went back up eighteen endless stories, unlocked her apartment, set her suitcase down, threw on a winter coat, picked the suitcase back up, and struggled to get outside without walloping her suitcase into the walls too much (without success). After running the three blocks to where her car was parked, she turned the ignition over and was about to pull out when she remembered that she had no identification or money. Oops. That might be a problem.
Excerpted from Spa Vacation by THERESA ALAN Copyright © 2008 by Theresa Alan. Excerpted by permission.
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