MOVE TO BELL HARBOR? WHAT a ridiculous idea. I needed to clear the thought right from my head. Some solitude on the beach would soothe away my agitation. Too bad I couldn't seem to get any. No sooner had I stretched out my blue-striped towel on the sand before Dody and Fontaine were on me again. They clumped down the deck steps laden with umbrellas, beach chairs, and coolers. Dody was wearing her floppy red sun hat and a daisy-covered swimsuit. Jasper showed up twenty minutes later with three of his lanky friends, each carrying part of a volleyball net. I must have missed the memo about a beach party, but apparently I was the only one.

By midafternoon, a dozen people cluttered our beach. Kyle showed up, looking liked a well-oiled Calvin Klein underwear model. Dody's BFF, Anita Parker, arrived wearing purple sunglasses and carrying a feathered beer koozie. She was scrawny, freckled, and never stopped talking.

"Hello, Anita," I said. "It's so nice to see you again."

"Nice to see you too, Sadie. Dody's been keeping me up to date. Sorry to hear about your lousy husband." She took a loud sip of beer through a straw.

I exchanged a look with Fontaine. "Thanks. Sorry to hear your cat ate your bird."

"Oh, that was awful, let me tell you. Pure carnage! Fur and feathers everywhere, and nothing I could do to stop it. I don't blame the cat, mind you. It was purely self-defense. Birdie always was mean, but I never expected them to go at it like that. One minute I'm sitting on the couch watching my shows and the next thing I know, there's a deranged cockatoo pecking away at my poor old pussy."

Fontaine's eyes went round, but before he could form a response that was sure to be grossly inappropriate, I grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him to the deck steps, where we collapsed into a pile of laughter.

"What's so funny?" I heard Des's voice ask from over my shoulder.

My laughter faded. When the hell did he show up? I hadn't even seen him arrive! I suddenly became acutely aware of needing to suck some stuff in and stick some other stuff out. Even if I was mad at him, I didn't want to look pudgy in my swimsuit.

Fontaine squawked like a bird and started laughing all over again, but the joke was over for me.

I shaded my eyes and looked up at Des. "Oh, hi. It's nothing. Mrs. Parker's cat ate her bird. It was funnier the way she told it."

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"Mmm." He scratched his head absently and looked around. He seemed to be avoiding eye contact. "Fontaine, suppose you could give us a minute?"

"Sure thing, cowboy." Fontaine hopped up and was gone before I could grab his shirt again. He was a terrible wingman.

Des sat down on the deck step next to me, clearing his throat. He clasped his hands, tapping his thumbs together rapidly.

I leaned away. "So what's up, neighbor?" I meant to sound indifferent, but there was no disguising the edginess in my voice. I may as well have said, "What's up, asshole?"

He chuckled, dropping his head down for a second. "I think I might owe you an apology."

An apology? I rubbed the spot where my wedding band used to be.

"I warned you about the sake," he said. "But I guess I should've been more insistent. I didn't realize how bad off you were until that recruiter showed up. Well, and then you started crying. That was a dead giveaway."

A buzz began building in my head. "Who?"

"Reilly, the physician recruiter. She's been badgering me for weeks about taking an extended assignment in Bell Harbor. I told her I haven't decided yet, but she won't let up. That's why I didn't introduce you. She would've talked your ear off."

Little whorls of sand twisted around my feet. A white bird flew overhead. Waves continued to caress the shore, and all around, I heard people chatting and laughing. Nothing around me was different than it had been ten seconds before. But somehow, everything had changed. As Des's words sank in, I began feeling light and floaty, like somebody was dialing down gravity. The buzz swelled then receded.

"A recruiter?"

Des nodded. "Yeah. Stan Pullman has decided to retire and move to Arizona, so the hospital wants me to fill in until they hire his replacement." He turned to me, smiling. "I tried to explain that to you at the restaurant, but by then you were already crying. Then Jasper showed up and I was embarrassed."

There went the gravity, down another notch. I nearly lifted off the step.

"You were embarrassed?"

He nodded. "I don't usually make women cry until the third or fourth date. This was a new record for me."

This day was getting better and better. First Richard was polite, then I found out I had a job if I wanted it. And now Des was apologizing to me? And telling me that woman was a job recruiter? Was it possible? I suppose he could be lying, but why would he bother?

"She seemed awfully...friendly."

Des looked out over the water. "I'm not going to lie to you, Sadie. We went out a few times, but she's not really my type."

"Gorgeous isn't your type?"

"Vain isn't my type."

I crossed my arms. No one ever called me vain. At least I had that going for me. And maybe Penny was right. He could've been with that blonde but asked me out instead. For once I was the other woman.

"I made a fool of myself last night," I finally said. "I should be apologizing to you."

He shook his head and chuckled. "No, don't. I know how sake affects me, so I should've realized it would be too strong for you. Plus you drank about a gallon."

I was still hungover, come to think of it. "How does it affect you?"

"Well, let's see. One time it made me decide public urination should be a constitutional right. Nearly got deported for that one. And another time I decided to steal a street sign from right in front of the police station. I think my picture may still be on the wall of a little county jail in northern Illinois."

"Really?" If that was true, maybe my little bout with tears hadn't been so shocking after all. Was it possible I had overreacted? Me?

I smiled, inside and out. Sitting next to Des, warmed by the sun and his understanding, I felt good. Simply delightful, as Dody would say. For the first time in two days, I took a breath that didn't hurt my chest.

Des pushed his sunglasses up on his head. His eyes, even the bruised one, were bright and beautiful, and mesmerizing. I suddenly found myself breathless and mute. I smiled stupidly, lacking the wit to say anything clever. I pressed my knees together tightly.

Des made a funny noise in his throat and turned his head away.

After a minute I said, "Well, either way, I wasn't at my best. I'm sorry I ruined your evening."

"Likewise. So, you know, I was thinking, maybe we should - "

Sand spewed into my face as a volleyball slammed against my feet, bounced up, and smacked me in the cheek.

"Oh, hey, Sadie! Sorry!" Jasper called out, laughing. He collected the ball, nodding at Des. "Careful, man, she's a crybaby."

I tried to wipe the sand away, but it stuck like Fatso's fur on black pants. Des pulled me upright.

"Come on. Let's rinse that off in the water. I hope we don't have matching black eyes."

And so we frolicked in the lake like sixteen-years-olds playing beach blanket bingo. Ariel the mermaid never had it so good. Waves buffeted me against him, and I let them, thoroughly enjoying the sensations. When a particularly robust whitecap rocked me against his torso, Des caught me by the waist and held me there. For a brief, tantalizing second I thought he might kiss me. But he only dipped his head to my ear and whispered, "God, you're killing me."

The water began to steam.

We made it back to the beach eventually, and Des joined Jasper and his friends in a game of football. I grabbed my towel from where it sat near Dody and Anita Parker, who was now on a rant about her latest medical drama.

"The doctor says I need more fiber. Three bowls of bran cereal this week and I still can't poop for shit."

"I've told you, Anita. Try some flaxseed," Dody assured her. Then she lifted the brim of her big floppy red hat to smile at me. "Did you have a nice time swimming, dear?"

"Why yes, Dody. I did."

"Isn't that simply delightful?"

I went to sit by Kyle before Anita could say anything else about her bowel issues.

"Does that woman ever shut up?" Kyle tipped his head in Anita Parker's general vicinity.

"I don't believe so, no. Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all. Here, have a beverage." He adjusted the back of his chair and pulled out a bottle from his cooler. "So what's up with you and the man from Atlantis? Looks new."

I took the bottle. "Thanks. Um, it's, like, pre-new. It hasn't even started yet."

"Oh, it's definitely started. From where I'm sitting it looked like he got to second base."

A girlish giggle escaped. "What is second base for a gay couple?"

Kyle smiled and shook his head. "Uh, uh, uh. No changing the subject. You tell me yours first."

"There's nothing to tell, really. He lives down there." I pointed to the Pullmans' house. "He's here for a couple of months, like me, so I don't know. He's cute, don't you think?"

Kyle tipped his sunglasses to get a better look. Des, Jasper, and a few others were tossing the football directly in front of us. "Not bad at all. So are you in love?"

I choked on the drink. "Oh God! No. That would be a disaster! What a nightmare."

"Methinks the lady doth protest too much."

"What?"

"Shakespeare."

"Hmm." I know my Shakespeare as well as the next college graduate, but I was distracted watching the sun roll over Des's muscles. He practically shimmered. "Anyway, it's nothing major. Just, you know, practicing in case I ever decide to start dating again."

"Isn't a practice date pretty much a date?"

"Well...it's, I don't know. It would be terribly inconvenient to like this guy more than I already do."

Kyle stared out over the water. "Love is a grave mental disease."

"Shakespeare?"

Kyle shook his head. "Plato."

I crossed my arms and studied him for a minute. "OK, your turn. What's up with you and Fontaine?"

He met my gaze over the rim of his sunglasses. "Loving him would be terribly inconvenient for me, wouldn't it? Since he's my employee."

In spite of sharing every gory detail of his dating history, Fontaine had never mentioned Kyle in a romantic way to me. I had my suspicions, but since I couldn't be certain, I decided to keep my thoughts to myself.

The rest of my afternoon passed in a blissful haze. Things felt right with the world. I wasn't thinking about what tomorrow would bring. I was enjoying each moment as it came and went. Just as Madam Margaret had told me to do - not that I put any stock at all in what she said.

When the sun broiled, we swam. When the water cooled us, we lolled on the sand like sea lions. I could not remember when I'd had such a lazy, selfish day. I didn't even fold my towel when I left it behind.

Hours later, as the sun dipped into the horizon, Des plopped down on the beach blanket next to me, handing me a beer.

"These are the last two," he said, popping off the top for me with one hand.

"Thanks."

Kyle walked by on his way up to the house. "Hey, Sadie!" he called.

"What?"

"Plato was an idiot."

I laughed and didn't bother explaining that to Des. Let him wonder.

The rowdiness of the day mellowed. People were gathering up their things to leave or had already left. Soon it was just Des and me.

"You know, I was trying to tell you something before you got that volleyball in the face, and I didn't get to finish."

A flush started deep within me, spreading fast. He was about to ask for a second date.

He took another gulp of beer. "I know you're only here for a little while longer, and I don't know where my next assignment will be. So, all things considered, I think it's probably better if you and I, you know, keep things platonic. We should just be friends. Don't you think?"

Friends.

Friends?

Friends!

Are you frickin' kidding me?

He had spent the entire day strutting around like a peacock, feeling me up in the water, reeling me in like a master angler, only to fling me back? What the hell?

I'd been melting all over him for hours, and now, instead of falling into love, I was falling into white-hot despair.

Seriously. What an asshole. I was pissed, and it showed.

He took one look at my scowling face and burst out laughing. What kind of a sadist was this guy? He was laughing at me! This was beyond unbelievable.

Then he put his arm around my waist and turned his face to my neck, whispering, "I'm totally messing with you, Sadie. I absolutely want to get you naked."

That rendered me speechless. Utterly speechless. Get me naked? Is that what he just said?

Well!

I should be indignant.

I should be appalled.

A good girl would slap his face. A nice girl would get up and walk away. But I guess I wasn't good or nice because I started laughing too. And why not? Our courtship dance had been clumsy and haphazard from the start, so why should I expect anything different?

"That was mean," I finally responded, a catch of breathlessness still in my voice.

He hugged me tighter. "I'm sorry. But, wow, you should have seen your face."

"Yeah, yeah, OK." I brushed my head against his shoulder. "You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"

His laughter quieted as he answered simply, "No."

I didn't see how that was possible. But I didn't argue, because I could see in his eyes that he was finally going to kiss me.

My very first kiss was with a boy who tasted like bubble gum and smelled of fresh cut grass, a tangy, sweet combination I've never quite forgotten. No kiss since then had ever tasted or smelled or felt quite so good, until this one. It was flawless. Tentative, searching, then blossoming with the perfect intensity. It was better than I had imagined it could be, and I had imagined it pretty thoroughly. Des's arm pressed against my middle as I leaned into his sideways embrace. The kiss ended too soon, and I sighed like Juliet on the balcony longing for her Romeo.

I skipped up the steps, nearly tripping over Fontaine and Kyle, who were crouched on the deck.

"Well? How was it?" Fontaine was grinning from sideburn to well-coiffed sideburn.

"Were you spying on me, you jerks?"

"Of course."

"It was like watching National Geographic," Kyle added. "Like observing monkeys choose their mate."

I stepped around them. "Nice, you guys. And for the record, there was no mating. All he did was kiss me."

"And? Was it wet and sloppy?" Fontaine rubbed his hands together.

I couldn't help but laugh. "No."

"Dry and tight?" Kyle asked.

"No, Papa Bears. It was just right." I walked inside and headed toward the stairs. "And now I'm going to his house for dinner."

I heard the smack of their high five echoing behind me.

I hurried to shower and get ready. If I gave myself time to think, I'd get too nervous. But even rushing around, it was no use. Someone should invent full body antiperspirant for just such emergencies. Even the backs of my knees were sweating.

I put on a sundress and stood staring at my underwear drawer. I wasn't ready for the big deed with Des, of that I was certain. I pulled out a pair of maternity panties that I kept for especially fat days. Nothing would repel a single man quite like tattered beige underwear large enough to shelter a family of six. But I set them aside. Even if he never saw them, he'd sense them.

I wasn't about to go the other route and wear a thong, either. The only reason I even had one was because Richard bought it. I stuffed that back in the drawer, finally settling on some pretty pastel lace that I'd gotten when shopping for my date dress. This pair was neither too obvious nor too demure.

At last I found myself back on the Pullmans' steps, almost as anxious and worked up as I had been the very first time I rang that bell.

Des opened the door, his hair still wet from the shower. He had a navy-blue towel draped around his neck and wore jeans but no shirt. It rattled me and I didn't know why. I'd seen him shirtless a dozen times, including most of today. But something about the combination of pants with no shirt seemed naughty and risque. I bit my lip.

"Hey, come on in. I'm almost ready."

I noticed the table still in the spot where I had moved it. Bitchy the cat walked by and yawned. If it was possible for cats to roll their eyes, I'm sure she would've done it.

"I went to the store, that's why I'm running late. Just make yourself at home." He went back into the bedroom. I was nervous, so nervous I didn't want to say anything in case I had helium voice. I swallowed and tried to remember what Dody had told me about deep, cleansing breaths.

"You OK?" he asked when he came out from his room only to find me standing in the exact same spot. "You want a drink?"

I nodded.

"No sake tonight. OK?" He waved his hand over the room. "This is a crying-free zone right here."

He was funny. I started to breathe, finally. This was going to be just fine.

He opened a bottle of wine and handed me a glass.

I raised mine up. "To National Geographic." Damn it, Fontaine.

Des's smile was curious, but he toasted anyway. "If you say so."

He put me in charge of chopping vegetables. I considered cutting my finger so he'd have to hold my hand to examine it, but that seemed a little drastic. Maybe I could be captivating without resorting to self-mutilation. He put on some music and we hummed along while he cooked. I should've guessed he could cook. I wasn't too bad at it myself, but Paige and Jordan had very unimaginative palates, so my repertoire of dishes had been reduced to anything with noodles and butter.

"I think there's a steamer in the pantry, Sadie. Would you mind looking?" he asked.

"Sure." I walked into the tiny room off the kitchen, which doubled as a laundry room. Two of Des's lab coats hung on a drying rack. I ran my hand down one sleeve, unable to resist. Then I spotted the steamer on the top shelf. I tapped a foot against a lower shelf, considering the wisdom of using it as a step.

"See it?" he called from the kitchen.

My voice was strained as I reached. I could barely touch the edge. "Yes, but it's a little too high."

Des came in behind me, reaching over my head. He leaned forward, and his fabulous man parts came into full, delicious contact with my girly backside. I gasped in both surprise and delight, like a spinster librarian discovering pornography in the resource section.

I pressed back, a wanton spirit suddenly controlling my actions. Des's body went still, even as he exhaled slowly, his breath warm against my temple. For a moment we were frozen in place, yet exploding internally. Then his arms came down to wrap around me. He nuzzled my neck for the briefest second before placing a heated kiss in the hollow below my ear.

I ran into Dody's cottage and scrambled up the steps to the safe haven of my bedroom. I slammed the door and slumped against it. With trembling fingers I grabbed my phone off the dresser and dialed Penny's number.

She picked up on the third ring. "Hey."

"I am doomed." I collapsed onto the bed and curled into a ball.

"What happened now?" She was blase, underestimating the shock of what I was about to reveal.

"Getting drunk and crying at the restaurant? Child's play! I have officially humiliated myself beyond repair."

"How?"

There was a hippo of regret loitering on my chest. "I was at Des's for dinner, because it turns out the blonde chick from last night was a recruiter, right? So I'm over at his house and we're cooking and being all flirty and stuff. And then one thing leads to another, and the next thing I know, my panties are on the floor and I'm getting felt up in the laundry room."

"The laundry room? Is that a euphemism?"

"No, dumb-ass. I mean an actual laundry room."

"Why were you in the laundry room?"

God, how could she be so dense! "It's next to the kitchen, Penny. And that's not the important part. We went into the laundry room to get the vegetable steamer. But I reached for it, and he reached for it at the same time, and when his junk bumped up against me I turned into some crazed nymphomaniac porn star!"

Penny snorted with laughter. "No, you didn't!"

"Oh, yes I did. I was all over him. And it gets even worse." I could hardly tell her the rest. But I had to. I couldn't keep this burden to myself. "Penny, I...I...finished."

"Finished?" She could hardly talk through all her snorting and chuckling. "What does that mean, finished?"

"It means I...well, you know!" I had to drop my voice to a whisper. "I had an orgasm. But all he did was touch me with his hand for, like, two minutes!" I clutched the phone tighter, letting Penny's spasm of hysterical laughter run its course.

"So, wait," she sputtered. "Did you have sex with him?"

"No! We did not have sex! All we did was kiss and a little bump and grind, you know. And some groping. Actually there was quite a lot of groping." It was all a blur in my memory, driven by testosterone and desperation. His and mine, respectively.

"But it all happened so fast. I never saw it coming."

My poor choice of words sent Penny into another fit of hysteria. "Are you kidding me?"

"Come on, Penny! I'm embarrassed enough already. You're supposed to help me."

"Help you what? Not be a dope? Why is this even a problem?"

"Because we were in the laundry room, for God's sake! That's so not me. It was like something Richard would have done."

Penny paused. "Oh, now I get it. But you listen to me, Sadie Turner, there is nothing wrong with two consenting adults enjoying each other wherever and however they want, as long as they're not married to somebody else. What Richard did was adultery. What you did is good old-fashioned fun."

"Then why do I feel like such an idiot?"

"Because you are an idiot. Not for fooling around with Des, but because you're worried about it. Can't you just relax? You get more like Mom every single day."

"I'm nothing like Mom!"

"Of course you are. You're so worried about what everybody else thinks you can't decide what you want for yourself. Get over that. And tell me, what happened next?"

I didn't have the energy to take issue with her insult. We could postpone arguing about how I was nothing like our mother another time. "Next?"

"Yeah, what happened after you got your freak on?"

I winced. "God, Penny. I never should have told you."

She laughed again. "You're such a prude. OK, fine. What happened after your very unladylike response to his digital stimulation?"

I held the phone close to my mouth. "I ran."

"You...you ran? What do you mean you ran?"

"I mean I was so embarrassed after I...well, you know, that I pushed him away from me and ran out of the house. Then I ran all the way back here and called you."

"Oh. My. God. Sadie! You are an idiot! So what did he do?"

"I don't know!" I cried. "I mean, he wasn't in any condition to run after me, you know. He had a...well, you know! Guys can't run with one of those things, can they?"

Penny's cell phone clattered onto something rock solid as she dropped it, and the sound of her shrieking laughter will be forever imprisoned in the recesses of my mind.

When she finally spoke again, her message was simple.

"Go back there. Tell him you have some medical disorder or something, like orgasmaphobia. And promise him it won't happen again."

"He's a doctor, Penny. He'll know orgasmaphobia isn't a real disease."

"Fine, then tell him the truth. You find him wildly attractive, but you're clueless when it comes to men and too scared to get into a relationship."

"That's supposed to endear me to him?" I sat up on the bed.

"You're already endeared to him. At least you were, until you left him high and dry in his own laundry room. Pun intended," she added.

"Please don't start laughing again." I put my head in my hand.

"Sorry, but you need to go over there right now. The longer you wait, the harder it will get. Ha! No pun intended that time. I am on a roll!" I heard her fingers snapping.

I'd had about as much of her help as I could take. "All right, fine. I'm going. I'll call you tomorrow."

Des opened the door, his welcome much less enthusiastic than it had been earlier in the evening. He didn't look surprised to see me. Or glad, either.

"Hey," he said.

I fidgeted with the fabric of my sundress. "Hi. May I come in for a minute?"

"Sure." His tone was dry. He stepped aside, shoving the door open wide. "I'll leave this open in case you decide to bolt out of here again."

Ah, so that's how this was going to go, huh?

I felt disgraced, like Fatso being scolded for pulling a sandwich off the counter. I gingerly shut the door behind me. Then I stood there, my mind brilliantly, blindingly blank while Des glowered at me expectantly.

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

He scowled. "Sorry? What the hell, Sadie?"

"I didn't mean to run out like that."

"OK." It seemed he found my apology lacking. "But I'm not quite sure what happened. I mean, one minute, everything's going great, really great, then all of sudden you shove me aside and take off?" He crossed his arms.

I felt red blotches of heat covering my throat and face. "Have you ever heard of orgasmaphobia?"

He made a grunting noise and scowled.

I sighed. "I got flustered, OK?"

"Flustered?"

"Yes." I stared at my fingernails to avoid his eyes.

He tipped his head. "Flustered? What does that mean?"

"It means upset or agitated."

His arms dropped back to his sides, as if he wasn't sure what to do with them. His sigh was loud. "I know what the word means, Sadie. But I don't know what you mean. Why were you flustered?"

I bit my lip.

He clenched his fists. Frustration rippled on every contour of his face. "Look, I'm not trying to be a jerk. I just don't understand what I did to upset you this time."

Surprise skipped through me. Is that what he thought? That it was his fault? "You didn't do anything."

"Then why did you leave?" His voice crackled with annoyance.

"Because I got scared!" I blurted out.

And there it was. That pesky truth I was trying so hard to avoid. My attraction to him threatened to overwhelm. I couldn't give any man so much power over me again. Not after what happened with Richard.

Des rubbed his chin and exhaled slowly. "Sadie, I'm not some big, bad wolf."

"I know." Somewhere deep within my grossly underused intellect, I did know that. "Only I'm not usually so...spontaneous. And...reactive."

I saw his lips twitch.

"It caught me off guard, I guess," I murmured.

He walked to the sofa and sat down, running both hands through his hair. After a long pause he asked, "How long have you been divorced?"

"About a year." Thirteen months, twenty-three days.

He regarded me another moment, then patted the seat next to him. "It gets easier."

I sat down next to him, amazed again at his patience. Apparently while I was reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dating, he'd read The Guide to Dating a Complete Idiot. "I hope you're right. I do like you, you know. But you sort of discombobulate me."

His face relaxed slightly. "Likewise. So what do we do about it?"

This was my chance for a graceful exit. I could tell him, "Thank you very much but I'm not ready for you." Or I could stay and see what happened next.

"Maybe we could take it a little slower? Like, not so physical, maybe? Could we try that?" I asked.

"OK." He nodded, leaning back against the couch.

"Really?" I was pleasantly surprised. Richard would have...oh, who cares what Richard would have done?

Des gave me the first genuine smile of this visit. "Of course we can take it slow, Sadie. I don't know many people in Bell Harbor, OK? I just want some company. With or without benefits."

Company? Yes, I could do that. And I guess I could decide about benefits later. Or not. It seemed he was willing to leave it up to me.

"OK," I said.

"OK." He nodded.

We sat there, basking briefly in the ironic glow of agreeing to not have sex. When it quickly grew awkward, Des rubbed his hands together. "So, you want to watch a movie?"

Is that what other couples not having sex did? I imagined it was. "Sure."

We settled down on a cushy sofa with drinks and snacks and some boy-type movie with lots of blazing guns and gratuitous violence. I wasn't interested in the story, but I was happy snuggling up to Des. He reclined on the chaise side of the big L-shaped sofa with his legs stretched out in front of him. I curled up on the other side, leaning against him. Eventually I got the nerve to rest my head on his shoulder and he put his arm around me. It had been quite a day. I was exhausted.

Suddenly my own snort woke me up. Disoriented, it took a second before I realized we'd both fallen asleep. The movie was over. Des's arm was flung up over his head, his face turned toward the crook of his elbow. My arm draped around his waist and my head rested firmly on his belly, nearly in his lap. I raised myself up a little, noticing a dark, circular stain on his T-shirt from (oh God!) a puddle of my own drool! I had fallen asleep and drooled on his stomach. Darn it! I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, wondering how Miss Manners would handle this.

I looked up at Des's face, relaxed in sleep, his lips almost pouty. He sniffed a little, sighing in some dream in which I hoped to be the Star Attraction. I took this chance to stare at him. He was gorgeous. And I knew that if he saw the drool spot on his shirt, he'd laugh and make a joke. Because that's the kind of guy he was. No matter what silly thing I did, he rolled with it.

My heart swelled at the lovely realization. Maybe his charm and appeal weren't simply the work of my lonely imagination. Maybe he wasn't another asshole masquerading as a nice guy. Maybe he actually was a nice guy. They did exist! And luck had brought me one. (What was next? Unicorns?)

Then I had another lovely revelation, even more enticing than the first. Even if this was destined to be a brief fling, even if I went back to Glenville at the end of the summer and Des took his next assignment in Outer Mongolia, I still wanted this. I wanted him. We had right here, right now, and that was good enough. Dody kept telling me life was too short to not have any fun. My kids were coming home in T-minus ninety-six hours, so if I was going to make the absolute most of these next couple of days, I'd better get started.

I leaned over and lightly kissed his mouth, startling him awake.

He blinked, trying to focus. "Sadie?"

"I've changed my mind," I whispered, hoping to sound seductive.

"What?" He was still sleepy.

I kissed him again. "I'm not scared. Let's add benefits." I tugged at the hem of his shirt, inching it up his belly and making my intentions clear (and cleverly hiding the drool spot).

He caught my meaning, putting his hand over my wrist.

"We don't have to, Sadie. It's not a deal breaker."

"Don't you want to?"

"Hell, yes." His voice rasped.

My eyes traveled slowly down his body and back up again. "Me too. I'm sure of it."

He stared at me, his eyes darkening, then he sighed as if he'd been holding his breath for a very long time. His hand slid up my arm to cup behind my neck. He tugged me closer, and although I didn't need the extra encouragement, I welcomed it. I kissed him hard, and he chuckled deep in his throat. I smiled against his lips and ran my hand over his stomach, feeling his muscles quiver and bunch. The heat of his skin nearly melted my fingers, so smooth and hot. Farther up under his shirt I explored and caressed, kissing him until he made a noise of delighted frustration and leaned up from the sofa to gather me tightly in his arms.

Urgency replaced reason as I tugged his shirt over his head, and he pushed aside the straps of my sundress. I had only a moment to be thankful I'd worn the laciest of my bras before his thumb grazed along the clasp and it was undone, sailing across the room. I laughed, nervous again and feeling shy, until he tipped my face up to his.

"You're beautiful, Sadie," he whispered.

And in that moment, I believed him.