Chapter 1

I NOTICED THE SWAGGER FIRST:  that arrogant saunter that said, “I’m irresistible and I know it.”  He was good-looking, yes—as emphasized by the tight jeans that displayed every muscle and more than hinted at one in particular.  And the chambray shirt open to show off a broad chest matted with jet hair that proclaimed his masculinity.

I had observed him around town occasionally.  He liked the cowboy look, always wearing boots and a Stetson outside.  Inside, he doffed the hat so all could see that glorious, thick, shiny head of black hair.  Usually clean shaven and always tanned.  He often hung around with the same guy he had come with tonight, a man of the same height, just as muscular, and with nearly identical facial features and hair—obviously a brother.

Sometimes he had a girl on his arm, one invariably young and busty, unlike me.  He seemed to have no preference in terms of hair colour, which was just as well given most of the youngsters streaked, tinted, or fully dyed their hair as well as inking themselves with real or fake tattoos.

I chuckled to myself and glanced around, wondering which of the many young women in the darkened hall he was aiming all that blatant sexuality toward.  There were plenty of possibilities near the brightly lit bar set into the long wall opposite the stage, and more clustered here and there on the periphery of the dance floor where couples of various ages pranced to the country tune belted out by a young man who wanted to be Johnny Cash.  But Mr. Hunk seemed to be headed for someone in my vicinity, and I turned to look behind, expecting to find a gaggle of teenagers or twenty-somethings in spandex tops and factory-faded, deliberately slashed jeans.

SHE WAS THE SORT your eyes glided off as you panned the room, like she was just part of the furniture.  Not dowdy.  Just, well, old.  Okay, not ancient.  But she hadn’t seen her teen years in a couple of decades.  Maybe more than a couple.  Which, of course, is why Chuck picked her out of the crowd.  Sonofabitch.

We had a bet going, Chuck and I:  I figured I could lay anybody I wanted.  He dared me to try somebody he chose.  And I was just drunk enough to take him up on it.  So, long story short, he picked the middle-ager in the ankle-length dress, and we shook on it.

And that’s why I hit on her instead of the one I’d spotted before:  the eager redhead in the blue halter that barely covered her teats.

Like I said, I was feeling no pain, that night, after a few shots of whisky to improve my mood because the company had laid me off for no reason I could figure.  So, any action seemed like a good way to make me feel even better.  That thought alone stiffened me.

WHEN I TURNED BACK, he was right there in front of me, and I glanced up and blinked, surprised.  I stepped to one side and said, “Sorry.  Excuse me,” thinking I had somehow got in the way.

He sidled to block my retreat and he grasped my waist.  “What are ye sorry for?” he asked, his voice soft and sensual but, despite the music, audible in such close proximity.

I blinked again and frowned.  “What?”

“What are ye sorry for?” he repeated, tilting his head and pulling his mouth awry in a lazy smile as his gaze pierced me.

“I,uh, didn’t mean to get in your way,” I said, keenly aware of the warmth of his large hands and the cool calculation in his bright eyes.

“Maybe I want ye in my way,” he said in a sultry tone that sounded loud in the sudden silence when the band finished the song.

I just stared at him a moment, nonplussed.  Then, I huffed a chuckle.  “Yeah, right,” I said, and I tried once more to sidestep around him.  But his hands gripped tighter as he blocked me again.  I looked up into his face, at a loss to understand what was happening.  The intensity of his bald stare startled me.

“What do you want?” I asked, trying not to feel the fluttering of my heart and clenching of my belly.

“Oh, I want a lot o’ things, darlin’,” he said smoothly.  “But we’ll start with a dance.”

At once, those massive hands propelled me to the centre of the room as the music started anew, and then they pressed me to him before brazenly sliding around to my backside.  He was hard, and I was astounded at the attention I would not have guessed a man like him would lavish on someone like me.  Though, at the smell of booze on his breath, it struck me that perhaps he was not entirely in control of where his outsized libido took him.

What truly dumbfounded me, however, was my own reaction to him.  I do not believe I had ever actually felt lust, before.  But I felt it then:  a powerful attraction that sent shivers up my spine and set me throbbing in places I had all but forgotten were part of me.  At the same time, my belly turned to jelly and I was not absolutely sure it was not fear that I was experiencing, rather than desire.

Logic said I should run.  But bewilderment and uncertainty kept me drifting in a daze as one dance led to another and another and I simply let him lead me about the hall, plastered to his pelvis.

IT WAS EASY.  She didn’t know what to make of me; so, she just followed my lead as I waltzed her around the room.  But she wanted me, too; I could tell by her split-second glances to my face.  It wouldn’t take long, I figured.

The great thing about country music is the fact you can dance close even to the fast tunes.  So, I just kept her tight to me.

She smelled good, even sweating in the heat of the overcrowded Armouries building still used as a community hall long after the end of the last war.  I sweated, too, but she didn’t seem to mind.  One more dance, I thought.  One more and I’ll take her outside.

As it turned out, that was the last song of the set and the band took a break.  While everybody else drifted toward the bar or the rows of tables on the east side of the room, I twirled the woman and pulled her toward the door.

“Let’s get some air,” I said.

She resisted.  “Uh, maybe you should just go ahead.  I’ll stay here.”

I was not about to take no for an answer.  “Come on, honey.  You’re sweating as much as I am.”  I gripped her and tugged to get her through the crowd and past the tables.

She shied again at the side door, but I put my arm around her and pulled her out into the parking lot.  On the sidewalk next to the building, I turned her away from a circle of smokers and walked on to stop in lamplight.  I figured that would set her at ease.  “There, now.  Better, don’t ye think?”

She looked up to me and away a couple of times before she said, “Yes.  It’s much cooler out here.”

I reached to push a strand of wet hair from her forehead and then I let my finger drift down over her cheek to her mouth and along her bottom lip.

“Let’s go somewhere else,” I said softly.

She swallowed and she wouldn’t look at me.

“I promise I won’t bite.”  Then, I smiled and whispered.  “Unless ye want me to.”

I WONDERED IF HE ALWAYS played this seduction game.  Then, it crossed my mind that he wouldn’t have to when the girls around town all drooled over him.  So, what did he want from me?

Struggling to retain what little dignity I had, I stood tall and looked into his eyes to demand, “Let’s not pretend you’re interested in me.  Chad, isn’t it?  Isn’t that your name?”

“You know mine, but I don’t know yours,” he said with another curious tilt of the head and insolent smile.  He clasped my hand and pulled it to the hardness at his crotch as he added, “And what makes ye think I’m not interested in ye when you’ve been feelin’ this awhile, now?”

I blinked and swallowed and looked away, knowing myself to be totally out of my depth with this man.  Then, my fuzzy brain focussed as I remembered:  “I’ve seen you.  You like the young girls with big boobs.  I don’t qualify on either count.”  Straightening and daring to fix his eyes again, I repeated, “So, let’s not pretend you’re really interested in me.  And with that established, I have to wonder what you’re up to in trying to make me think you are.”  I threw out, “What?  Did you lose a bet or something?”

He blanked a second.  Then, he leaned against the wall, looked me up and down, and said quietly.  “Don’t think much o’ yourself, do ye?”

I’m sure my lips trembled.  I know my eyes misted.  Again fighting to maintain control, I avoided his eyes as I replied, “What I think is not at issue.  It’s your motives that concern me.”

He pushed off the wall and stepped forward to stand so close his chest hair brushed my nose.  He whispered, “Have ye never just let yourself relax and take what comes?”

Just then, the door burst open and a gaggle of giggling girls poured out.  At sight of us, they stopped and quieted.  Then, one of them laughed and called out, “Chad, you aren’t actually, like, trying to lay Grandma, are you?”  All of the girls and several of the smokers erupted in raucous laughter.

I couldn’t leave fast enough.  I just walked away from them all, toward the street, with the longest strides I could manage in my heels as they continued to laugh derisively behind me.  I needed a toilet, but there was no way I would go back into the Armouries, now.  I had almost reached the sidewalk when I heard the truck pull up.  It screeched to a stop just ahead of me, and the door swung open.

“Get in.”

I couldn’t look at him.  Determined to pass him by, I said, “I can walk home, thank you.”

He swore as he stepped down and took one long stride to reach me.  He grabbed my arm firmly and all but dragged me around to the passenger side.  “Get in,” he commanded as he opened the door and pressed me toward it.

After a moment’s hesitation, I climbed into the cab of his monstrous Ford.  Despite my reservations, I decided I might as well take advantage of the offer:  At least the vehicle could get me away from the site of my humiliation and home to my bathroom quickly.

He slammed the door to and strode around to slide in on the driver side and shut himself in with another angry slam.  He wrenched on the gear lever and stomped on the gas to screech out onto the road.

“I live on Poplar,” I told him.  “Just past the corner of Peony.”


I DON’T THINK I’D EVER been so pissed in my life.  Sheila bloody Thomas and her big mouth!  And just when I was starting to make headway with this woman!  Now there was damn little chance I’d get any farther.

The worst of it, though, was that I could see tears on her cheeks every time I looked over.  She wasn’t crying out loud, thank God, but the wetness shone in the light of the streetlamps as I drove the back streets toward Poplar.  I don’t know why that bothered me so much; it’s not like I’d never had a girl blubbering and wailing and making a tremendous fuss when I stopped calling.

But, somehow, this was different.  Different in a way that made me feel miserable.  And guilty.

“The next driveway on the right,” she said.

I pulled in and stopped.

“Thank you for the dancing and the ride,” she said without looking my way.  Her tone said, “Goodbye.”

Then, she opened the door, hiked her skirt to step down, and shut the door to walk on toward the rear of the building.  When she rounded the corner, a motion light somewhere back there turned on.

I just sat cursing for a good five minutes with the truck idling.  All of a sudden, I couldn’t let her go like that; so, I threw the truck into gear and pulled forward to park in the nearest empty slot of the paved six-car lot at the end of the property.  Then, I got out and marched to the back door still lit by the exterior lamp and I opened the screen door into the little vestibule.  Up a half-dozen stairs, an argument behind the first door told me that was not her place.  A messy pile of newspapers lay heaped outside the top-floor apartment, spilling over the edge of the landing.  But a wreath hung on the door of the bottom unit.  I guessed she lived in the basement.

Not really sure this was a good idea and with no notion what to say to her, I stepped down the short staircase and knocked.  I waited maybe a minute before I heard the deadbolt turn and a second lock disengage.  The door opened in.  She stood there in a flowered blue cotton robe and just stared at me through watery red eyes leaking dark makeup.

“Look,” I started.  But I closed my mouth again, clueless as to how to make it right and wondering why I wanted to so badly.  Then, I said the first and dumbest thing that came to mind:  “It wasn’t a joke.  I didn’t lose a bet.”

Her mouth curled in a half-smile that didn’t reach her eyes.  She said softly, “No.  You just had too much to drink and took it into your head to seduce an old broad.  Like wanting chicken when you get tired of beef.”

She started to close the door, but my hand shot out to stop it.

“I’m sober,” I said.  Which was almost true.  It’d been a while since the last shot I downed, and I’d sweated out most of what I drank earlier.

“Look, just go home,” she said, sounding dog-tired.  “Or go back to the dance.  Or whatever.”

Again she tried to shut her door and again I stopped her.  For no reason I could tell you, I stepped in and pulled her into my arms and kissed her for all I was worth.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT POSSESSED me to let him in.  (Not that he gave me much choice, but I could have shooed him out, I’m sure.  He was persistent, but not a rapist.)  Maybe I just needed reassurance that I was desirable, after all, despite my age and the grey hairs and wrinkles that seemed to multiply by the day.  Maybe I needed to feel loved again.  Maybe I just needed to feel…something, after so many years alone.

But as soon as he kissed me, I wanted him.  The desire I had felt at the dance came back with a vengeance and caution vanished.  He stopped himself just long enough to close and lock the door before he picked me up and carried me along the hallway until he found the bedroom.  Once he had deposited me on the mattress, he made short work of my kimono and panties, kissing me as he did.  Then, in the light from the corridor, he stripped down as I awkwardly pulled back the bedding beneath me.

I was on my knees, having just scrambled over the rolled sheet and blanket and comforter, when he grasped my hips and tugged me back to the edge of the bed.  He pushed inside from behind, but I wasn’t ready.

“Damn!” he swore, and he reached around my waist to pull me up and back against him.  He was panting.  “Damn!” he whispered again.

Then, he threw me down and over onto my back to climb atop me.  He fondled and kissed my body with a greedy hunger I had never encountered before.  His own passion spurred mine and we were soon entwined and grunting like a pair of rutting animals.

Once we were both spent and lying in each other’s arms, I marvelled that I had done anything so outrageously bold, so uncharacteristically spontaneous.

WE LAY STILL, catching our breath, skin to skin and both damp with sweat.  Usually, I get up and shower and leave, but tonight I just wanted to sleep here in her bed.  I felt comfortable, as though I was home.  Which was odd, given that the place smelled of her and of lavender, and the bed was firmer than my old mattress.

Or maybe it was just the drink making me drowsy.

I drifted off.


Available in print in the Coffee Break Collection Fateful Attractions. Find it on Barnes & Noble or through a local retailer using IngramSpark’s iPage.