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NOTE: I finally managed to finagle a few moments away from family responsibilities to rewrite this old chapter. My parents are still ill, elderly, and still living five hours away from me, so I don’t know when I’ll have another chance to work on the story, but I hope you enjoy this installment! Sleeping Beast is still at the top of my To Do list, whenever I get a minute to work on it.—Stefanie


Maybe I am a coward.

That’s what I was thinking when Grabwicke started talking, not that I heard him right away.

“Sim? Sim . . . Sim! SAMANTHA IRENE MOREAU,” my head was up by then, but Grabwicke kept up the act, one hand cupped beat-box-style over his mouth as he intoned sternly, “PLEASE COME TO THE NURSE’S STATION AND COLLECT YOUR RITALIN.”

I took my elbows off my desk and leaned back, making a face that said he wasn’t as funny as he thought he was. Grinning, Grab propped a shoulder against the doorjamb and flicked a glance at the cell-phone centered on my desk blotter, which I’d been glaring at when he wandered by. “What did that poor cell phone do to deserve whatever nasty consequences you’re considering?”

I grimaced. “You mean besides wrecking my entire life that time I accidentally updated all my apps at once?”

Grab smiled. Bitching about operating systems had been the foundation of our friendship, way-back-when. While our contact was chiefly limited to the workday, I nevertheless considered him a reasonably close and completely reliable friend.

“Yeah. Besides that,” he answered, folding his arms across his chest to let me know he’d stand there all day if necessary.

I frowned at the phone again.

“I hate sucking up,” I grumbled.

Grab waited patiently, and I sighed, folding my arms, too. “I had a huge argument with Randi, and one of us has to end it by picking up the phone. I think it should be her, because she’s the one who called her best friend a delusional, brain-damaged coward, but…” I telegraphed my conclusion with a pissy mouth-pucker. “I’m fucking sick of mumbling comebacks to imaginary arguments whenever I’m alone.”

Grab’s attentive expression morphed into puzzlement. “You never struck me as the type-” He stopped mid-sentence to arch backwards, glancing both ways as he did.

I waved him into my office, because I had a good idea what he was going to say. A couple of months earlier, Grab had a front-row seat when a senior account executive tried to smack me down at a staff meeting because I’d been refusing to make the changes he suggested. Ron was in charge of the project, but I was in charge of the art, and I’d worked with the client several times in the past. I wasn’t about to waste two days playing with cameras, computers, and product packaging to satisfy Ron’s ego-erection: when the client shot down the changes, I’d be the one who looked like an idiot. No. Way.

Unfortunately for my jackass sorta-boss, I don’t do peer pressure. Not when it comes to my work. When he attempted to bully me into submission, I very calmly reiterated the reasons I wasn’t leaping onto his bungling, butt-fucking bandwagon (I may have phrased it more nicely at the time), at which point the senior account executive’s very senior boss told him to shut the hell up (he may have phrased that more nicely at the time, too), because Ron was obviously not as “in tune with” the client’s wishes as “dear Samantha.” (The guy is like a million years old and a horrendous conversational misogynist, but I get paid the same as the guys, and he hasn’t grabbed my ass once in four years, so he can call me “honey” as often as he likes.) I managed not to gloat-overtly-and the meeting moved on.

Ron did not.

He opened the door for me after the meeting was over, but stopped halfway, holding me captive for whatever threats he’d planned to make. It didn’t get that far because the super-senior misogynist sidled up behind him during Ron’s introductory insult. I swear, Ron must have run over a kitten on his way to work that morning, because karma was seriously kicking his ass.

ANYWAY, the point of this whole story-yes, dammit, I do have one!– is that when Ron muttered, in a very nasty tone, “Why are you such a bitch, Samantha?” I answered with a carefree shrug and a few flip words. “Genetics? Environmental toxicity? Hard to say, Ron.” His head and neck flushed flamingo-wing-pink, but he didn’t even have time to pry the tight white line of his lips apart before the old guy wheezed into chuckles behind him, forestalling anything else Ron might have said.

Yup-me and karma are both bitches, Ron.

ANYWAY, this is a guy who has significant-if infrequent-situational power over my career-he could probably fire my disrespectful ass-but even if Ron’s comment had contained far more insightful personal slurs, I wouldn’t have worked up the energy to care. Yet one harsh word from Randi-at least when that word was “coward”-had schooled me on the meaning of true PEER pressure escort bayan mecidiyeköy and ruined my whole damn week-and it was winding up to ruin the following week, too.

I answered Grabwicke’s unasked query about one second after he closed the door. “I don’t give a shit what Ron thinks of me, but I don’t give a shit what Ron thinks about anything else, either. I’d never in a million years ask for his opinion. Ever,” I added, just to be clear. “But when your best friend-who knows you better than anyone else on earth-when she calls you a coward, you start wondering if maybe she’s right.” My eyes went back to the shiny black rectangle on my blotter, which was loudly seconding Randi’s opinion of me at that very moment.

Grab plunked down on a visitor’s chair and interlaced his fingers, making a hammock to sling behind his head. “Give,” he said, and I did.


It was ridiculous. After my second Bill’s Club fantasy date-unarguably the best GYN appointment in the history of chick check-ups-I spent the majority of the following two weeks stumbling into walls in a lustful daze. I mean seriously ridiculous. …

I masturbated every night at least once, and usually more often, with no pornographic nudges required to set my fantasies free, whatever the time or setting. In meetings with clients and colleagues, I struggled to pay attention to the matter at hand, rather than where my hands would rather be. Between my shower massage and the edge of my bra tweaking nipples which were constantly erect, I could barely get dressed in the morning. After a couple of days, I switched to wearing my tightest bras and loosest panties, because the slightest brush of fabric across my skin was enough to set my body afire and my mind adrift on a sea of sensual memories, bouncing from the brightly-lit examining room table to the geometric pillows perched strategically around my favorite stranger’s bed.

I was tired from not enough sleep, twitchy from too much caffeine, and irritable because copious amounts of self-service weren’t enough to take the edge off a libido thrust suddenly into overdrive by the shock of a second adolescence.

I was probably already subconsciously on the verge of blaming Randi for all of this when she arrived at my house on a Friday night for one of our semi-regular, semi-formal dinners. Since I was ready a bit early, I’d bitten off a big hunk of one of my boredom-killing hobbies, mostly in an effort to prevent my hands from wandering.

Long story short-Martin and I sometimes take extension classes at the local colleges, and he’d once traded me a full day of flower-arranging for six Saturday mornings of blacksmithing. I was elbow-deep in hothouse flowers when Randi arrived, but she’s used to my foibles and poked around the living room while I finished up with what I was doing.

Fully immersing myself-hands, nose, and heart-in creative activity had dulled the edge of my newly-chronic crankiness, so everything was going great-right up until I casually mentioned I was thinking about requesting a repeat of my first Bill’s Club date, the stranger in a bar scene, which hadn’t left my mind for more than a day or two since it happened.

If I hadn’t been distracted by peonies and poppies, I might have noticed Randi’s reply was uncharacteristically slow in coming and suspiciously short on opinion.

“Why not one of the big ones you joined up to try?” She didn’t know specifics, but we’d spoken about fantasies in general, and I’d concluded aloud that my dilemma was probably fairly common-a “big” fantasy too intimidating to attempt without backup or insurance.

Still unwilling to discuss details, I blew off her question.

I paused right there in my retelling, making solid eye contact with Grabwicke to mutter, “Huh-I guess I am a coward.”

Grab laughed and waved me back to my story, which was at the she-said-she-said part. Incidentally, Grabwicke was hearing almost none of the real story. Although he knows I have “friends”-Alex and Martin-Grab doesn’t know anything about the club, so I changed our purported topic of dissension: I said Randi was pressuring me to try speed-dating with her, which wasn’t bad for a spur-of-the-moment fabrication, if you ask me.

So when Randi asked why I was putting off my “serious” fantasies, the rest of the actual conversation-not what Grab heard-went something like this:

Randi: Why not one of the big ones you joined up to try?

Sim (me): Not yet. (Completely blowing off Randi’s second sincere attempt at heart-to-heart communication.)

Randi: You joined for something more than no-strings sex, Sim; I know you did. Stop dicking around and get on with it.

For some reason, I interpreted that as her criticizing my morals, and I froze, paying all sorts of attention.

Me: What’s your problem, Randi? (Smooth, Sim.)

Randi: It’s not my problem. I’m not the one who has to join a sex club because fındıkzade escort I’m too afraid to try my lame-ass vanilla fantasies with people I actually know.

Me (abandoning any attempt to stay calm): Seriously, Randi, what the fuck is your problem? What’s it to you who I have sex with?

Randi (after chewing on it for a minute, literally-jaw moving side to side around nothing at all): Seriously? You’re my best friend! I’m supposed to overlook the fact you’re so afraid of anything resembling a real relationship that you altogether avoid having real-life fun with the two great guys you’re currently fucking-and fucking over?

Me: (Mouth open. No words whatsoever.)

Randi: (on a roll) Get a clue, Sim. Sooner or later Alex and Martin are gonna get sick of your shit, and you’ll spend the rest of your lonely-ass life regretting the fact you were such a coward.

Me: (Mouth still open, wondering who the hell she’s talking to. . . I don’t necessarily plan on staying single forever, but if I do, I’m not the moping-old-maid type.)

Me (starting to come out of my coma): Coward?

Randi (nodding vigorously): Yes. Coward. A delusional, brain-damaged coward wi-

Me (interrupting because I’ve finally lost my shit): Hey! You don’t get to criticize my decisions just because I’ve been seeing the same two guys for three years, when you can’t even keep one guy happy for a whole twelve months!

After I picked up the broken dishes she threw at me on her way out-well, okay, I’m exaggerating: Randi lobbed a couple of paperbacks, one of which knocked a fruit bowl off the top of my fridge.

At this point in my re-telling, Grab’s cell-phone piped up. He fished it out of his pocket, making a smart-ass comment about sexually-deprived women as he did so. He must have seen what I was thinking because he got the hell out of my office before I found something to throw at him. The interruption was fortuitous: Grab can be a pretty good listener, but he’s also a pretty stereotypical guy. More than likely, he would have just told me how to “fix it,” when all I really needed to do was vent a little, and I’d already done that.

I was past the worst of my anger by then, anyway, and I’d had all week to dwell on Randi’s accusations. I knew the “alone and lonely” part was more about her fears than mine, and her rant had been at least partially motivated by honest concern, but I’d spent a lot of time questioning whether she was right about the other stuff. See, that’s the difference between Randi and Ron: I value her opinions, even one that could have been wrapped in a more tactful package.

So, was she right about the fuck buddies? Was I overlooking something obvious because I was so used to keeping Alex and Martin in their neat, carefully segregated compartments in my head? Was I missing something wonderful by not being with one of them in “real life”? I picked apart my attitude toward those relationships, managing to completely avoid Randi’s real point by focusing on the sex.

I concluded that, yeah, both relationships were kind of vanilla. Don’t get me wrong-vanilla’s my favorite flavor for everyday romps—I’m talking small-batch, boutique, organic-bean vanilla here-but I was open to all sorts of other suggestions when I was in a “real” relationship. I’d been treating Alex and Martin like they were strangers, sexually speaking, and banana-bread, chocolate-chip, white-fudge sundaes weren’t on the menu for casual hookups. I might have referred to Martin and Alex as “fuck buddies,” but only in private, and only with Randi, because I actually liked and respected both men. I trusted them. In that sense, I decided, Randi was right.

But I was still pissed off enough to retaliate for her insult, which I did by taking her advice. That’s how I wound up lounging around a martini bar on Saturday night, wearing a killer dress and new shoes, planning to seduce a guy I’d been fucking on and off for at least four years.


My game was off.

It was a good thing I’d planned the evening in advance, because I couldn’t have caught a guy with Knicks’ tickets and a case of beer that night, I swear.

I made boring chit-chat with a gay bartender for half an hour without getting a single nibble from the predominantly straight, predominantly male crowd, and I didn’t even question the failure. It never occurred to me to check a mirror for raccoon-eyes or resting bitch-face, because I was clearly emitting an impenetrable barrier of anti-man pheromones.

Alex arrived twenty minutes after I did, exactly on time, sparing me a nasty stress-related aneurysm, but he was only two steps inside the door when some guy down at the end of the bar recognized him and waved him over. A minute later, he had a drink in his hand and three new friends. At least one of us has game, I thought, suddenly worried that he’d get side-tracked by server-side gossip and altogether forget my presence, which was fatih escort idiotic: Alex is a sincerely nice person who enjoys our trysts as much as I do. I needn’t have been concerned. We made suggestive eye contact only three times before one of the others caught me shyly averting my gaze. I couldn’t hear the commentary, but the shared laughter was clear, as were the sly sideways looks and the clink of glassware when the guy who’d invited him over toasted Alex.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. All four guys-Alex included-were twenty-something office nerds in khaki-casual attire. Was I coming off like some desperate MILF hitting on a bunch of frat boys? I glanced down at my dress, which was fitted, but not flashy, then rolled my eyes in disgust at my stupid self-doubts. I brazened it out for another five painful minutes before I started feeling really, really awkward.

Abandoning the remainder of my overpriced cocktail, along with the stranger-in-a-bar scenario, I faked the confidence I wasn’t feeling and strode right over.

I had zero game, but the half-dozen guys within earshot seemed pretty impressed-with Alex-when I looked up, licked my lips (yes, I know it’s pathetic, but I already admitted I had no game, didn’t I?) and asked, “Take me home and fuck me?”

Alex had no problem shifting gears on the fly. Setting his scotch glass on the bar with a crystalline thud, he replied gruffly, “Hell, yeah, sweet-cheeks.”

I was horribly self-conscious and blushing scarlet when Alex escorted me from the building, but I forgot all about it when he shoved me up against the side of his new SUV, growling, “I like your dress.”

I forgot my missing game, my mean best-friend, Alex’s new pals, and everything else as soon as his lips touched mine, because Alex more than meets my requirements in one very important department. That man can kiss. Soft but not mushy, assertive but never harsh, his kisses were seduction itself, made more intense by Alex’s occasional appreciative sound-like the quiet, drawn-out mmm he sometimes made when he lifted his head to look at me, as though he’d been sampling the most delicious, decadent chocolate ever created. Every kiss was perfect, because Alex is attentive, but never, ever fake or insincere.

I wasn’t shy about showing physical affection in public, nor was I averse to a bit of playful slap-and-tickle tussling in a movie theatre, but what happened on the sidewalk that night was further than I ever imagined I’d go. Maybe it was the stress of arguing with my best friend, or maybe it was just plain lust, but I never tried to corral Alex’s wandering hands, which grew bolder with every successful foray. A passing car might have caught my attention, but the narrow side-street where Alex had parked dead-ended in the factory’s old dirt parking lot, and it was only travelled by people who were actually on their way to and from the bar. With my eyes closed and no nearby noises to remind me of the setting, my mind was free to be filled by all those potent kisses Alex was lavishing upon me.

He made love to my mouth with complete devotion, as though nothing existed outside the world we created between us. I probably wouldn’t notice a parade of buffalo thundering along the city streets if Alex was kissing me when they passed, never mind a dozen or so guys quietly watching from the bar’s dark interior, but there was no chance whatsoever of our encounter being private: we were scarcely ten meters from the plate glass window at the end of the bar. His old buddy and his new bff’s were getting an eyeful, and I was oblivious.

Alex wasn’t.

The dress he liked was midnight blue, short and stretchy, with long sleeves and an off-the-shoulder neckline, which Alex tugged way, way further off-the-shoulder than the designer intended. My strapless satin bra didn’t resist when he pushed one side down, baring my skin to him, and neither did I. The sexy, guttural undertone of the compliments advertising his arousal, the soft, skillful kisses, and Alex’s uncharacteristic aggression sent my mood rocketing precipitously from pasty wallflower white into a rainbow of sparkling shards behind my eyes. I wrapped myself around him, moaning as Alex thumbed my nipple.

I swear my pussy melted.

I’d been utterly UNaroused all evening, and focused solely on that kiss for maybe two minutes, but Alex’s hasty, unsubtle caress instantly woke millions of cells and miles of nerves. Every sensation I’d been fighting exploded into exuberant, victorious life at one time, and my body flushed hotly, desire bursting from the center of my chest, pouring through my core. Liquid heat suffused me, opening and softening my body for penetration. I’ve never been as aware of the mechanics of reproduction as I was at that moment.

Dimly, distantly, I felt the shock of Alex’s actions settling into my mind. This was hardly the vanilla version of Alex I’d become accustomed to enjoying a few times each month. Out of bed we argued companionable over indie bands and foreign food and the animated films he found so compelling, but in bed we were completely in sync, a sensual symphony of movements we’d practiced again and again. Alex never left me unsatisfied, but we rarely surprised one other.

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