L.A. Woman

L.A. Woman
Author:
Genre: Chick Lit
Publisher: Harlequin Readers' Choice
ASIN: B00NSES1I8
ISBN: 0373250169
Ever moved to a city you didn’t know, for a guy who wasn’t worth it… all because you thought you were in love? Sarah Walker has.
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About the Book

She’s just moved to L.A. and changed her whole life in anticipation of cohabitation with her fiancé, Benjamin. But he stalls, again. Pushed to the limit, the stability-seeking Sarah snaps and actually finds herself dumping him. Now she’s in free fall: no fiancé, no job. No idea what to do next.

According to her new roommate Martika, Sarah is now in the perfect place to start life in L.A.

Before she knows it, Sarah becomes Martika’s project, getting pulled headlong into a crazy, chaotic world of nightclubs and day jobs, where the only constant is change. Sarah’s about to discover that “single” isn’t a dirty word. Not that she’ll be staying single for long…

EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE

Sarah looked nervously around the apartment. “You know, this wasn’t how I pictured this. At all.”

She heard Benjamin sigh. “I’m at the office, sweetie. Is this going to be long?”

Sarah sighed. “I just… felt a little lonely. Felt like calling.”

“Well, you’ve been down in Los Angeles for a whole week. How are you doing? Feeling, you know, acclimated?”

“There are cardboard boxes up to the ceiling, but at least the bed’s in. Thank God Judith and David were able to help me.” She paused. “That wasn’t… I mean, I understand you had to work last weekend too.”

“Don’t even get me started.” She heard an impatient rustle of papers. “Judith… who’s she again?”

“She’s my friend. From college. She got married to David, moved down here — let’s see, that’d be three years ago. Remember? I took you to her wedding.”

A pause. “The Chinese girl?”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “That’s the one.”

“Huh. Well, anyway, it’s not like you’re completely alone down there.”

Sarah leaned against the arm of the couch. “It’s not the same, and you know it,” she teased, glancing out the window. It was looking fit to storm, she noticed. She thought that it never rained in Los Angeles. Maybe that was a myth. She hoped it wouldn’t storm. “I just can’t wait until you’re down here, tucked up in bed with me — picking out some more furniture, this place is very bare — you know. Settling in.”

As soon as she said the words, she winced. She hadn’t meant to say settling. This wasn’t about pressuring him to marry her… even if they had been engaged for four years. This was about her being a good girlfriend, helping him out.

Really.

“Well, what I’m saying is, sure, you miss me… but it’s not going to, you know, kill you or anything.” He laughed, warmly.

She felt a prickle of alarm. She knew that laugh. She’d been at a business party, and he’d made that laugh to one of the decision makers of a computer company he was trying to sell semi-conductors to. He’d walked away with the account.

“I’m not going to die if you’re not here, yeah, but I’m going to be miserable,” she said, hoping that didn’t sound too whiny. On second thought, she was in a city with millions of people she didn’t know. A little whining was probably not out of place! “So, how did Mr. Richardson take you going through with the transfer, anyway? You figured he’d be mad, but you figured once you’d signed with the L.A. office, there wasn’t anything he could do…”

He sighed deeply. “Turned out I was wrong there, actually.”

The prickle turned into a pang. “What happened?”

“Richardson’s being a dick,” Benjamin replied, his voice acidic. “He knew. He knew I’d try to sneak out of the office. With numbers like I bring in, though — I underestimated what he’d do to keep me here. He doesn’t want to lose one of his highest Northern Cal reps to Southern Cal.”

“But there isn’t anything he can do about it, right?” she pressed. “You’ve already agreed with the sales manager, what’s-his-name, right?”

“Sarah, he pulled the Vice President in… and he told me, point blank, that if I tried to leave Fairfield, I wouldn’t be moving to another district — I’d be moving to another company.”

Sarah blanched, and quickly sat down on the couch arm. “But… you’ve already signed a lease down here!”

I wouldn’t have moved down if you hadn’t!

“He knows it,” Benjamin’s voice dripped bitterness. “He pulled me aside privately and said that he’d work on Richardson, but they’re, you know, friends.” He all but spat the word out. “He said just give him a little time.”

“How much time are we talking about?” Sarah tried to keep her voice calm. She gripped the cordless phone like a life preserver. “A few weeks?”

“More like two months.”

“Two months!”

“You think I’m happy about this?”

Sarah started pacing. “Two months. Okay. That’s like… that’s like summer vacation. That’s not too bad.”

“Actually, it might be three,” he corrected. “It all depends on Richardson. Goddammit!” He paused, then lowered his voice, obviously remembering he was at work, even if it was a weekend. “Goddammit. I’m so sick of this little town!”

She looked out the window. The clouds were definitely heavy-looking, and some drops pelted the window. She turned on a light. “I don’t suppose… well, couldn’t you just get another job down here? Does it have to be with Becker Electronics?”

“Are you crazy? The job market’s terrible. I’m a proven commodity here,” he said, harshly. “I’m not giving all that up and starting over!”

“Just a suggestion,” Sarah replied, heading him off. I just want you down here. That wasn’t going to happen — not on his end.

“I could break the lease, move back…”

“You already gave up your apartment.”

“I could move in with you…”

“Sarah, the apartment’s in my name. I don’t want you fucking up my credit that way, okay?”

Well, it wasn’t my idea in the first place to sign it, now, was it?

She didn’t want to fight. She’d just have to make the best of things. “Okay. Three months by myself. That’s not so bad,” she said, even though it sounded even more ghastly every time she thought of it. “I guess I can get a lot of things planned in the meantime.” Like the wedding. He’d promised that it would be by the end of this year. He hadn’t mentioned specifics, but she knew he wouldn’t, so no sense rubbing his nose in it — especially with this Richardson business.

“Four at the absolute outside,” he said, not helping at all. “Man. I envy you.”

“Really?” Sarah smiled. “Why?”

“By the time I get down there, you’ll practically be a native. You’ll know all the places to go, you’ll already have a job, you’ll be genuinely…”

“Wait a second,” she interrupted. “I don’t know that I’ll find the job I want in three months, Benjamin, so you might not be a leg up on me there!”

He laughed — it was that selling laugh again. “I know you wanted to take some time to figure out what you really wanted to do, but that’s hardly realistic now, is it?”

She paced a little more quickly. “But that was part of the agreement. I’d move down to L.A. and get your house ready for you, and then you’d cover the bills for a few months while I figured out my, er, direction.”

“After three jobs in four years, honey, does it really matter if you get a job you don’t like now?” His voice was smoothly persuasive. “You can always quit it later, when I finally move down.”

Sarah felt like banging her head against the wall. “The point is, Benjamin, I don’t want to keep quitting jobs. I feel so… planktonic!”

“Planktonic?” This time, the laugh sounded more natural. “Is that a word?”

“I just want to stop floating around,” she said. “I want some stability.”

He sighed, more irritably this time. “That’s not exactly something I’m supposed to provide for you, Sarah. Is it?”

“You’re missing the point.” She frowned at the phone. “I’m usually so unhappy at work. I mean, there’s got to be something out there I actually enjoy.”

“Nobody really enjoys their job,” he dismissed out of hand. “Okay, maybe me. Still, it’s not like you’re going to be able to pay rent without a job, right? So now’s hardly the time to be picky. And bills… they’ll be coming up soon, too.”

“How much will you be able to help out?”

Another one of those long pauses. She was beginning to really hate those.

“Sarah,” he said slowly, “I’m not living there, remember?”

She blinked. “But you said…”

“Things have changed.” His tone was just this side of curt. “You wouldn’t honestly expect me to pay for the rent when I’m not moving down there.”

“Yet,” she said, bristling. “You’re not moving down here yet.”

“I mean, you wouldn’t think that,” he continued stubbornly.

“You’re right, Benjamin.” Her voice was cold. “I would have moved down here with what little savings I have, on a whim, all ready to pay rent even though you said you’d cover it, not knowing you wouldn’t move down here until I’m already unpacked and signed to a year lease. Of course! What was I thinking?”

“I paid the deposit and the first month, so please don’t give me that ‘I’m stranded here!’ bullshit,” Benjamin answered. “You’re the one who was saying, ‘Oh, L.A. will be so much fun’! You were the one who told me you’d love to move down there!”

That’s because you wanted to, you idiot!

She’d already let her temper get too far ahead of her. She didn’t want to fight… especially not with eight hundred miles and a telephone connection being her only hold on him. “I’m sorry. I… it was unexpected. I wasn’t expecting you to be my sugar daddy.”

“Yeah, well, imagine how I felt.”

She was trying to. Very, very hard.

Three months — and getting a job. In a city where she didn’t know anybody except Judith.

Sarah closed her eyes, breathing deeply. She wasn’t going to cry. He hated her crying and could sense it in a few seconds. “So are you going to visit me?”

“I’m in the middle of a killer quota, and we’re not even to threshold, much less target this year…”

Meaning no.

“Sarah, I can tell you’re getting upset about all of this. Believe me, you’ll be so busy, you won’t even think about me.”

Considering every decision she’d made up to this point was for the soul purpose of getting him to move in with her — to get him that much closer to the altar — that seemed highly unlikely. “I miss you already,” she said.

He sighed. “You know, I think this will probably be really good for us,” he said instead.

“How do you figure?”

“I mean, you were spending all of this time with me. We were together all the time.”

“Not all the time,” she protested. “Not with you working as much as you do.”

“But every time I came home, there you were. Now, you’ll have a chance to do outside stuff.”

“You want me to use this as, what, some kind of survival training?” She tried to make it sound like a joke, but her voice had other ideas.

“Well, it’ll show me how long you’ll last without me there.”

She gasped a little at this. “What are you saying?”

“Nothing… nothing. It’s just that, sometimes you can be a handful, Sarah. I feel like I’m taking care of you. Now you hit me up with the ‘how much can you help with rent’ and ‘when are you flying down to visit me?’ stuff, and I just wonder — how can you expect to survive L.A. without me, at this rate?”

“I didn’t realize I was going to have to,” she snapped back.

“See? That’s exactly what I mean!”

She sighed. “Benjamin…”

“I’ve got to go. These sales figures aren’t typing themselves into the spreadsheet.” She guessed he was trying to make a joke, too. Like hers, it came out wrong.

“I’ll get a job,” she said hurriedly. “And I’ll make it just fine.”

“I really have to go.”

“Jam,” she said, relapsing into her old nickname for him, “you know I love you.”

“I know, Sarah,” he said. “Talk to you next week.”

He hung up.

She stared at the phone, until it made that annoying beep-beep-beep and she hit the off button.

Lying naked on her back, feeling the soft strokes of his fingertips on her skin, Martika felt truly, utterly bored.

“What are you thinking?” he asked, his blue eyes huge and curious.

She glanced at him. “That’s a woman’s question.”

“You’re so mysterious,” he said, and she supposed he was complimenting her. It might help if he’d stop mooning about her like some Regency poet. “I always wonder what you’re thinking.”

I’m thinking, why the hell am I still here?

She’d been staying with… Andre. His name was Andre, she reminded himself, watching the way his blonde hair hung slightly in his eyes. It used to charm her. Now it just made her fingers itch for scissors. Anyway, she’d been staying with the man for the past five months. He’d been starting to pressure about things like “where are we going with this?” and hinting around “permanent relationships”. She thought he was about two years younger than she was chronologically — about five years younger emotionally, and about fifty years older when it came to things like marriage. She tried not to roll her eyes.

“So what are you thinking?” he pressed.

She sighed. “I’m thinking that I’d like to go clubbing. Maybe hit Sunset.”

He frowned. “You’ve been out three nights this week. I thought we could spend tonight at home.” He grinned, his dimples pitting his cheeks. “In bed.”

She was getting bored there, too… and bored in bed meant a hasty exit, stage right. “I really felt like going out.”

His frown turned into a scowl. “Fine.”

She huffed impatiently. “You don’t have to pout.”

“Sometimes, you can be such a bitch, Martika.”

She pulled on a loose black silk robe. “No ‘sometimes’ about it,” she agreed, grabbing her cigarettes and heading for the balcony. She was two steps towards it when she heard the high-pitched trill of her cell phone. She swiped it up on her way, shutting the glass door behind her as she hit the green answer button. “This is me. And you are?”

“Are we drinks?”

She grinned, leaning back and patting the cigarette carton, pulling one out with her lips. It smelled like rain… and looked like it. Fat drops were haphazardly hitting the pavement. She hoped it would storm. “Taylor, you are my white knight. I thought I was going to have to bite my own leg off to get out of this place.”

“Oh, Tika,” he said, with a slight note of disapproval. “Have we hit that point, then?”

“If you mean the leaving point, yes, we’ve hit it and run through it.”

“Damn. He’s got such a great body.”

“I know.” She lit the cigarette, taking a long drag. “Too bad he’s not a mute. Still, even then, I could only put up with those soulful looks for so long.”

She glanced back through the glass door. Andre was still sitting on the bed, naked, sulking.

“So. What’s the ETD?”

She grinned. “No departure date yet, Taylor… but soon. I feel like it’s coming up soon.” She took another drag on her cigarette. “Fuck. I hate moving.”

“Strange, for someone who does it as often as you do,” Taylor pointed out dryly. “You’re like the Bedouin Dater. Maybe you should try living with somebody you aren’t sleeping with.”

“I have lived with people I haven’t slept with.”

“Your family doesn’t count, darling, and that was how many years ago?”

“Touché.” She didn’t think about that, really. “But there was that guy… what was his name? Robbie?”

Taylor laughed. “The other restriction: you need to live with somebody I can’t sleep with. Remember?”

She chuckled. “Ooh. Right. God, what a fiasco that was.”

“Maybe you should try a girl next time.”

“What, to sleep with?”

Taylor huffed. “Roommate, silly. Although…”

Martika cut him off. “I don’t think so. Girls don’t like me.” She unleashed a feral grin. “Probably with good reason.”

She heard a rap on the glass, and looked over. It was Andre, obviously unamused. “Are you going to be out there all night?” he mouthed through the glass.

“Maybe,” she mouthed back, then turned back to look out on the road. “Taylor, there’s the warden. We are more than drinks tonight, sweetie, we are club. Sunset?”

“Oooh. Let’s be trashy and do martinis at the Viper Room.”

She grinned. “This is why I love you, sweetie. I think I want to full out this time — so add about an hour to my usual grooming regime, ‘kay?”

“I’m going to go eat first, anyway, and then say hi to Kit.”

“Okay. So Viper Room, around eleven.” She made a kiss noise. “Byee.”

She clicked the phone off, and opened the door.

“Don’t tell me,” Andre said, his arms folded across his naked chest. “Now that the other man in your life calls, you’ll be off running?”

“I can’t believe you’re jealous of a gay guy.”

“I’m starting to think they’re the only men you could love.”

She smiled at him, cruelly sweet. “I see. So is that why you’re acting so bitchy? So I’ll think you’ve crossed over and fall madly for you?”

“Dammit.” His gorgeously chiseled chin rippled as his jaw tensed. He looked like the model he was. Okay, give me angry! Angry! Martika almost laughed at the thought. “Martika, I think I’m in love with you. But I don’t want you to go out with Taylor tonight.”

She gave him a lazy once-over. While ordinarily she’d be applauding his growing a spine, he’d hit a hot button. Taylor was her best friend. Nobody fucked with her friends — or told her who she could and couldn’t see.

“I’m going out tonight, Andre. You can go with, if you want…” She paused. “No. On second thought, you can’t go with me. I am going out with my friends to try and ignore the idiocy that’s just transpired here. You can throw a tantrum, or you could do something productive. Sleep. Watch T.V. Write an angst-filled sonnet. Frankly, I don’t care.”

She stalked over to the bathroom, started the water running in the shower. She took of her robe and stepped into the stream, adjusting the heat. It felt good. Relaxing.

He followed her in, pulling open the door. She saw him, his handsome face obscured by the steam. “Maybe… maybe you shouldn’t live here anymore,” he said, and took a deep breath. His blue eyes were both angry and pleading. If he’d started crying, she wouldn’t be surprised.

She sighed. “I’ll be out by the end of the week.”

She shut the door.

Standing in the rain, Sarah glanced up at the sign: Basix Café. If she were going to start exploring the city, and getting used to it by herself, then this was as good a place as any. Granted, it was two blocks away from her house, but the fact that she was outside the apartment, among strangers, was a step in the right direction.

Of course, she’d tried calling Judith and seeing if she could see her for dinner, but she’d only gotten the message machine. It had only taken her another half hour to stir up her courage to come here by herself.

The place was crowded, with a patio area that was closed in with clear plastic curtains and those butane heaters that looked like torches. She made her way toward the inner restaurant, feeling self-conscious. She wondered if she’d see anybody famous. This was Hollywood, after all. Okay, West Hollywood, but still…

The “host” looked her over, smiling slightly. “Good evening. How many?”

“Just one.”

“Right.”

Was it just her, or did he give her an appraising once-over? Not the sexual kind, either, the way men might at home. It was more like… something was wrong with her, or something.

She discreetly checked her jeans zipper.

Maybe it’s because I’m here by myself, she thought. She noticed there were at least twosomes at most tables, usually more.

Next time, she told herself, she’d bring a book. If there were a next time.

He took her to a miniscule table in the corner, half obscured by a potted plant. She took a menu and sat. At least from her duck-blind vantage point she got to look around, which was nice. Nobody famous yet, but it was only, what, eight or so? She imagined they’d probably come out later. Somewhat like vampires.

The thing she noticed immediately was that the restaurant was predominantly filled with men… all well dressed, she noticed, in that stylish, edgy way that seemed very “MTV”. You wouldn’t see guys dressed like this in Fairfield. At least, not in a café, for dinner.

She turned her attention to the menu. Her stomach grumbled. The place smelled wonderful, and the desserts… what she could see in the glass case looked so good, she briefly considered having a dinner of chocolate cake with a side order of éclairs. Still, she was running on empty — she needed real food first, or she’d be twitching on the carpeted floor with a sugar rush all night.

“What do you mean, there’s no table for me?” a flamboyant voice pierced the rumble of conversation. All eyes turned to the new arrival. Sarah turned, too, then gaped, momentarily ignoring the menu.

He was one of the biggest men she’d ever seen. He had short hair that was obviously curly in its natural state — it waved over his forehead, obviously calmed by gel of some sort. He had big, dark eyes, broad shoulders, and like everyone else here, it seemed, his clothes were stylish. He was wearing black, shiny cargo pants and an almost metallic looking red shirt. He had two earrings in his right ear, and to her surprise, he had on black nail polish.

“But I’m starving, Mitch,” he said, in a melodramatic whine, then winked at the maitre d’. “Besides, I’m clubbing with Tika tonight, so I can’t wait two hours for a table!”

The giant glanced around, then suddenly descended on her. “Is anybody sitting with you?”

Goggling, she gathered enough presence of mind to shake her head.

“Great. Then I’ll just have dinner with you. Hi,” he said, pulling up a chair and sprawling down heavily on it. “I’m Taylor.”

She nodded, feeling overwhelmed. “S-sarah,” she said.

He beamed. “What a delicious voice! Like a Powerpuff girl. I love them. Did you know they were originally called the WhupAss Girls when they were just a student film? But of course, Cartoon Network wouldn’t let them stay that way… but I digress.” He looked at her. “You haven’t ordered yet, have you?”

“Uh… no.” She glanced back down at the menu. “I’ve never eaten here before,” she ventured, “so I hadn’t decided.”

“Never?” He sounded delighted. “Well, then, you’re in for a treat. Start with the corn bisque, then have a pizza… the barbecued chicken and gouda. It’s fantastic.”

Her stomach growled, and she pressed a hand to it, embarrassed. “That sounds great.”

“Obviously!” He looked her over. What was it with that look? But he was less disparaging, and smiled. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

You think? “Well, I am now.” She smiled weakly. “I just moved in. Up the street.”

“Really?” She wondered if he ever sounded disappointed about anything. “That’s great. I live right up the street, myself! Oh, hold on a sec. That’s a friend of mine.” He got up and maneuvered his way across the room, managing to catch the eye of every person in the restaurant. Which, Sarah supposed, was the point. “Michael! It’s been way too long. Why weren’t you at Beer Bust?”

Sarah watched in amazement as he exuberantly hugged the man in question, who was presenting another man to her dinner companion.

Well, it beats eating alone.

The waiter walked over to her. “Made your decision?”

She nodded. “Corn bisque,” she repeated dutifully, “and the barbecued chicken pizza.”

He smiled again, that sort of slick, polite smile.

“Oh, but he’s sitting with me,” she said, as the waiter started to walk away. “He hasn’t ordered yet.”

“He doesn’t have to,” the waiter said, with a little sneer in his voice. “He gets the same thing every time.”

“Oh.” The food here had better be damned good, she thought, because the service definitely leaves something to be desired.

Taylor was back in a matter of minutes. “Great guy, that Michael.”

“He seemed nice.” Sarah didn’t know what else to say.

He grinned at her, then winked. “Next time, I’ll have to introduce you. We’re practically neighbors, after all.” He sighed gustily. “I’ve been going on and on. You look like a little drowned rat, no offense, with not a friend in the world. So what’s your story, little girl?”

“I didn’t know it rained in L.A.,” she said in her defense, “or I would have brought an umbrella.”

He grinned at her. “So you don’t know L.A. Where are you from?”

“Fairfield.”

His brows raised. She wondered briefly if he had them plucked — they looked like perfect arches. “Fairfield? Where is that? Out in the valley?”

She shook her head. “No. It’s up by Sacramento, sort of. Well, closer to… well, it’s in Northern California,” she said, realizing if he thought it were in “the valley” he didn’t know the area at all.

“Oh, Northern Cal,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Well, that explains the clothes, at least. So you just moved down today? Are you… no, you’re not an actress.”

“How do you know?”

“Not a high enough bitch factor, to be perfectly honest. I mean, you could be an actress, but I doubt you’re a very successful one… of course, L.A. is full of those too. Besides, you look like you have too much money.”

She didn’t know if she should be insulted by Taylor’s reasoning or not, so she chose not to be. The corn bisque had arrived, and she sampled it, sighing deeply.

“Told you,” Taylor said smugly.

“It’s wonderful,” she said, trying her best not to gobble it down. She didn’t want to know what Taylor would say about deplorable table manners.

Taylor looked at her, his head tilted to one side. “You know,” he said, taking a spoonful of his own bisque and tasting it, “I’ve decided to like you.”

She smiled, the aches from moving momentarily forgotten. “Thanks. That’s nice.”

“And of course, you’re going to like me, so there it is,” he said, and she laughed… she couldn’t help it. He motioned for the waiter to come over. “I like her,” he said expansively. The waiter simply smiled, much more friendly and simpering, Sarah noted. “We’re going to need some wine.”

Sarah stopped him, alarmed. “Oh, no, really, I couldn’t…”

He stared her into silence. “Nonsense. You’re getting a Tyler welcome to L.A. Get me a bottle of that Ravenwood cab, would you? Thanks,” he said, dismissing the waiter, who just nodded and turned silently.

“Now then,” Taylor said, all but rubbing his hands together. “Being such good friends and all, you need to tell me your whole life, beginning to end. Leave out no detail. I want to know everything.”

The master bathroom in Judith and David’s house had two sinks: his and hers. It was a sign of how well David was doing. He’d be making partner any day now. His side of the sink reflected that: an organized display of toiletries, from his silver toothbrush holder and razor holder (no disposables for David), to the little silver mug that he lathered his shaving cream in, right down to the way he folded the towel that hung on his own towel rack, for his own use. He kept the toothpaste and other tackier items hidden in the drawer, even if the toothpaste was Rembrandt and not something cheap like Colgate.

Judith’s side was almost clinical looking. There was a complete line of Dr. Hauschka skin care, sitting companionably with its almost generic labels of white with a thin band of orange. Cleansing milk, cleansing cream, toner, moisturizer — daily and Rose Cream, for problem areas. Her toothbrush was sitting in a ceramic cup, a creamy white. The toothbrush itself was orange.

She went through the ritual: brush, wash, tone, moisturize. Search for wrinkles, even at twenty-five, even with her moisture-plump Asian skin that people at work continually proclaimed an envious miracle. Remove hair band. Brush lustrous black hair, fifteen measured strokes. Throw clothes in hamper, put on cotton nightgown. Climb into California King bed, on the right hand side, by the wall. David liked sleeping on the side by the door. She rolled and picked up the book she’d left on his nightstand. The Oz Principle. Something for work. She wanted to get a leg up on it — the next few weeks would be busy. Her Filofax was pretty full.

She barely registered the noises of David going through his ritual: long span in the bathroom, evacuating that night’s dinner (in this case, Ahi tuna appetizer and braised lamb chops from Chinois) with a book in the bathroom before brushing his teeth and surveying the wrinkle situation, a larger possibility considering he was thirty-two. She felt rather than heard him checking his hairline for signs of losing ground — a tiny buzz of apprehension before the shrug of denial. He wouldn’t stoop to doing a full nightly regimen including moisturizer, but she’d walked in on him trying some of the Dr. Hauschka. Judith planned on picking up some more bottles in preparation for the eventuality. She felt sure he’d keep his hidden in the other drawer, or in the medicine cabinet.

He lumbered toward bed in just boxers, and she handed him the book. He rested it on the nearby bookcase. David in just boxers signaled sex. She took off her nightgown and panties, handed them to him, as well. He stripped out of his boxers, and climbed into bed, settling the covers around him.

It would take about five, ten minutes of conversation for him to be ready.

“So. Anybody call while we were gone?”

“Sarah,” Judith said. “She wanted to know if I wanted to see her for lunch tomorrow. I think I’ll go visit… she sounded a little lonely.”

“Sarah. She was one of your friends from college, right?” He toyed with her shoulder, then absently with one breast.

She smiled. “She was my best friend from college. She was like my little sister. We roomed together as freshmen, in the dorms.”

“Little sister? Is she younger than you?”

Judith shrugged. He was stroking a little more insistently. “She always seemed younger. She changed her major four times,” she said with a laugh. “She just always needed to…. I don’t know. She had trouble getting it together.”

He laughed, his deliberate caressing sidetracked for a moment. “You two must have been the Odd Couple, redux.”

“I helped her, a little. She’s nice. You just want to give her a hand.” Judith sighed. “Still, I was really glad that she got involved with Benjamin. He is a very stabilizing force for her. Now, if she could just get him to the altar…”

David stared at her for a moment. “You say his name funny. Like it’s a title or something.”

“Do I?” She thought about it. “He’s the consummate salesman, from what I can tell. I’ve never met anybody more driven in my life.”

“Not even you?” He resumed stroking. She ignored the ticklish sensation as he traced across her stomach, and consciously moved so he’d tickle elsewhere. He didn’t notice.

“He went through his MBA program in record time, but he still went for sales — something about his personality. Very charismatic.”

“The guy’s got some redeeming features, right?”

That would be jealousy. David’s ego was bruising a bit more easily lately. Judith made sure some of her skin rubbed lightly against his developing erection.

“He’s loyal, I think.” Even as she said it, she wasn’t sure. “At least, I hoe so, for Sarah’s sake. He shouldn’t be long in moving, anyway. A man shouldn’t be left to his own devices for very long.”

“Why not?”

“He’s young, attractive, good income, good car, going places. Women target men like that — and men like that find women who target, hard to resist, I get the feeling. Sarah would be smart to keep an eye on him, until they’re married.”

The erection was still hovering at semi-hard, and Judith studied him to gauge possible problems. This might be a blowjob night. Damn.

He was staring at her with a look that was part fascination and part disgust. “Target, huh? That sounds downright eerie.”

“I don’t make the rules.”

“You just live by them, right?”

She inched away from him, irritated. Why couldn’t he just enjoy this and go to sleep? “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

He needed coddling, apparently. She should have chosen more appropriate foreplay conversation, but work was pressing her a little too hard lately. She needed to get back into her meditation. With a sigh, she concentrated harder. Leaning over, she kissed him rather thoroughly. “I landed you, didn’t I?” she asked, and was glad to feel the familiar press against her inner thigh.

If it were that easy, he couldn’t be too upset.

“That’s right. You did land me. Damned good choice on your part.” There was overtones of cocky lawyer back in his voice. He’d be energetic, she thought as she angled away from him. Chances were good he’d be relatively quick.

Within moments, he’d shut off the light. In the darkness, he felt her reach for her, turn her over onto her back. Minutes after that, she was being pressed into the soft, enveloping mass that was her mattress pad, Styrofoam egg crate, and gently resilient Sealy-Posturepedic mattress. She deliberately moaned, getting louder when his breathing picked up pitch.

When he groaned against her, she closed her eyes.

He rolled off of her and handed her nightgown and underwear. She could feel his weight pressing down on the bed, his maneuvering his boxers back on, clumsily.

His breathing turned to snores, not long after.

She put her clothes back on with a bare minimum of movement, careful not to wake him. She could picture her Filofax in her mind, mentally scheduling a call to that meditation coach after her ten a.m. meeting. Canceling her manicure. Seeing if there were a job opening for Sarah somewhere… maybe account management or H.R.

By the time she mentally got to the section of the day labeled “go to bed”, she fell asleep.

Endorsements
“…a fun book to bring to the beach on either coast.”
– Publishers Weekly
“With its engaging characters, snappy dialogue, and fast-paced story, Yardley’s novel is a winning standout.”
– Booklist
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