Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 1
"Yes!" She leaned back in her chair and pumped the air with her fist, her high heeled feet tapping out a victory tattoo on the hardwood floor. Her little dog yipped excitedly in response. "Harvey," she scooped him up and hugged him tightly. "I knew I could do it. You knew I could do it too, didn't you?" He licked her face and she laughed aloud in delight. She jumped up from her chair and began to waltz around the room humming delightedly to herself. Finally, out of breath, she collapsed on the sofa. Harvey stood on her stomach and yipped again, his tail wagging frantically. Thankfully, he only weighed about seven pounds soaking wet.
"Oh, heavens! Look at the time! I have to get changed!" Suddenly she was up again, dashing for her bedroom, the dog gamely following at her heels. He jumped up on the bed and settled himself to watch her every move with interest, and he wasn't disappointed. Clothes began flying out of drawers and off hangers with wild abandon. A filmy pink blouse landed over his head, but he shook himself and it fell around his little gold and beige body like a cape and he was satisfied. Over an hour later, his mistress was finally satisfied.
"There." She gave herself one final look in the full-length mirror. "Not bad if I do say so myself." She grinned at Harvey, whose tail thumped the mattress appreciatively under the pink blouse. She could have been wearing rags for all he cared. He just adored her.
Of course, it wasn't rags she was wearing. A spagetti-strapped silk sun dress in shades of powder blue with clung becomingly to her upper body while the full skirt billowed about her shapely legs. Her feet were now slipped into dark blue sandals with wisps of leather for straps. A shawl patterned with blue flowers matching the blue of her sandals was ready to go over her shoulders after the sun went down. Her hair was pinned up in a seemingly artless fashion by a beautiful silver clasp that matched the silver at her ears and the bangle bracelet on her right wrist. Make-up with a light, deft touch completed the picture. One her way from the bedroom, she grabbed up a small blue purse just as the doorbell rang.
"Now, Harvey, that is timing." She informed the little dog with a happy grin. He yipped in reply; he really was a very bright little fellow, and dashed by her to stand expectantly at the door of the apartment.
"Oh my!" She opened the door to the biggest bouquet of flowers she had ever seen.
"Oh my!" The flowers lowered and a pair of bright blue eyes under a tousled blond head widened in appreciation at the picture she made. "You are beautiful!" There was something approaching awe in the male voice that issued from behind the blossoms.
"Thank you." She blushed, suddenly shy. "Won't you come in?" She invited. Harvey began to bark and dance about as the man entered the apartment, and they both began to laugh, the atmosphere lightening a little at his antics.
"My new best friend." The man bent down and gave the little dog an affectionate rub behind the ears.
"Here, give me the flowers before they end up on the floor." She suggested, smiling at the contortions he was going through, trying to pet the dog and keep the bouquet away from the lively little furball. She took them from him and headed off into the kitchen to search for a vase and a moment later he followed, unwilling to lose sight of her for very long.
"Would you like a drink before we leave?" She asked. "Do we have time?"
"I made the reservations for seven, so we should probably hit the road sooner than later." He replied, leaning against the counter. She liked the way his eyes followed her every move; she always had, she remembered. She turned and placed the now full vase of flowers on the middle of the kitchen table and gave him a smile.
"Well then, let's get a move on, shall we?" She took his arm. "I have so much to tell you. My day has gone very well."
Mart Belden gazed at the lovely woman across the small, candlelit table and for not the first time in the past two weeks marveled at his good fortune. Whatever greater power had decreed that his latest novel had to be set in the city of Montreal was certainly on his side. He had known her since they were children; they had been very close as teenagers but as the years went on and life began to take on some semblance of shape, they had somehow drifted apart. Oh, they still had seen each other a couple of times a year over the past decade, mostly at holiday time. The past couple of years however, they had missed each other, both immersed in their successful careers. Then, with his latest best-selling techno-thriller on the shelves, it was time to think about the next one. For some reason, the Canadian city of Montreal had appealed to him as the setting and he made arrangements to head north to do some extensive research. Upon hearing through the family grapevine that she was just wrapping up her latest movie shoot on location in the city, he knew he had to look her up. It had been far too long. She had decided to stay in the city for a little while after the shoot, enjoying the European flavour of the city and hoping to unwind from the long shoot. When he had appeared at her apartment door, her address given to him by his sister-in-law, she had been so pleased to see him. He hadn't been sure after so long an absence, but his worries were swept away by the genuine warmth of her welcome and the sparkle in her lovely eyes. The past two weeks had been almost a dream. They had spent so much of it together that he hadn't gotten much research done for his novel. But he didn't care. He was with his Diana in one of the most romantic cities in North America and he was falling head over heels in love with her all over again. This time, however, he was thirty-one years old, a grown man, not a silly adolescent of fifteen and he knew he was falling hard, and falling forever.
Diana Lynch was now one of America's favorite actresses. Suprising everyone, shy Di, as she had been known, had gone to acting school right out of high school and within two years made her debut on a popular New York based soap opera. A couple of years later, a leading role in a small independent movie had made her a household name across the country. There was no looking back for her. She was the next Elizabeth Taylor, the press proclaimed; and indeed, with her long raven hair and startling violet eyes, the comparison was unavoidable. That she was also stunning to look at, with a figure that fairly screamed woman instead of the usual stick-thin form that seemed so popular, and could act up a storm, he supposed it was inevitable that she be one of the darlings of the industry. That she still retained the sweet, sunny nature of her youth after her rise to stardom was a marvel. So many of her contemporaries had become hard and jaded, but Diana was still Di and he was so very thankful.
"So tell me about your day." He prompted, once they had given their supper orders to the waiter and approved the bottle of wine he had selected.
"Well," she gave him one of her lovely smiles with just a hint of the shyness that he found so disarming. "I did it. I finally got confirmation from all the Bob-Whites that they will be arriving on Friday." Her eyes sparkled with excitement.
"All of them?" He repeated in amazement.
"All of them." She confirmed with a slight giggle. Twenty-nine years old she might be, woman of the world, but she still had a charming little giggle. She took a sip of wine and waited for him to find his voice again.
"And how the heck did you do that?" Mart was truly floored. After all that had gone on over the past ten years, all the different paths they had all taken, he had been certain that her plans would all come to naught. The little group of seven that had been so close back in Sleepyside, their home town in New York State had drifted so far apart that if she had truly succeeded, it was a miracle.
"Well, Honey and Brian were the easiest. We talk just about every week, you know, so I knew that they were looking into taking some kind of vacation. Honey needs to get away, and Brian has been working so hard that I didn't have to work very hard to convince them. Brian was a little leery at first, but then knowing he'd get to spend some time with you, his little brother who he hasn't seen in over two years tilted the decision in my favour." She favoured him with a small pouty scowl. "You really have been quite neglectful of your family, you know." She told him.
"Hey, I called regularly!" He protested, but deep down he knew that a couple of times a year was really not enough. "Writer's funk, I suppose," he admitted sheepishly a moment later. She raised a finely arched eyebrow and he knew she didn't quite buy it.
"Anyway, once they were on board, Jim was easy enough to convince. If anyone needs a vacation it's him. He's been so involved with his school and his 'boys' that I don't think he remembers how to relax. Brian told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn't take this time off he wasn't going to be in any shape to run the school in the future. And he pointed out that the staff needed some time away from the boss as well. So, Jim listened to the good doctor and agreed to come. The fact that one of his favorite professors from college is here at the University helped as well. I think he wants to spend a little time with him before the old fellow retires." Di paused to take another sip of wine.
"Whatever works." Mart grinned.
"When I called Dan, a couple of days ago,at first he was reluctant, but then the next day he called and said that he'd be here with bells on. I don't know what happened to change his mind, but I think something happened." Di frowned in puzzlement. "I didn't like the way he sounded, Mart. I couldn't pinpoint it, but he didn't sound like Dan. It's good he'll be here."
"And Trix? How'd you get her to come?" That his sister had agreed to this idea was the biggest bafflement of them all. She had been so dedicated to her career over the past decade that even their parents had a hard time convincing her to stay for a visit that lasted longer than two days at Christmastime. Diana smiled the smile that had broken millions of hearts.
"I told her I needed her help." She said simply.
"Her help? With what, pray tell?" His blue eyes widened in amazement.
"I didn't say. Just that I needed help." Diana sipped daintily at her wine. "I can be convincing when I want to be, you know. It's what I do for a living." She batted her long dark eyelashes at him and he found himself laughing at her audacity. Who would have thought that Shy Di, the quiet one, would put one over on his sister.
"You are one fine piece of work, sweetie." He chuckled. "I predict that the next couple of weeks are going to be anything but predictable." He raised his wine glass in a silent toast to her accomplishment.
It was no use. She couldn't sleep. Her mind was a-whirl with too many thoughts. Mart had dropped her off at her apartment over an hour and a half ago, then headed back to his hotel. Her lips still tingled from his goodnight kiss. She smiled a little and touched her fingertips to them. He always had been a terribly good kisser, she reflected.
Forsaking any thought of sleep at this point, she climbed out of bed and headed for the kitchen. Quickly, she made herself a cup of mint tea and went to sit in the window seat of her large living room. The view of nighttime Montreal was spectacular. The penthouse apartment that her assistant had found for her before the start of filming of her latest movie couldn't have been more perfect. Whoever had decorated it had been an expert. Luxurious without being ostentatious, refined without being stuffy; and totally comfortable. Unfortunately, only the past two weeks had seen her being happy here.
The movie shoot had been long and arduous. She had a hard time getting a handle on the character she was portraying, but finally, thanks to a very good director, she had found her way and knew that her performance had been excellent. Now if only they didn't ruin it in the editing room. And she was tired. So very tired. To the bone. She decided to stay in Montreal for a while and try to get some rest and relaxation, away from the hectic hustle that was her life in Hollywood these days. And she was lonely. She missed her family and she missed her friends. Truth be told, she had missed the closeness of the Bob-Whites for years. From that lonliness had come the kernel of her idea. Then Mart had arrived.
She had been watching an episode of her old soap opera of all things, when the doorbell rang. It was a cool, rainy day outside and she had dressed in a pair of sweatpants and over-sized tee-shirt, her long black hair tied up in a pony tail, no make up, and bunny slippers on her feet. Not the outfit she would have chosen had she had any kind of warning. Trying in vain to quiet the barking Harvey, she had opened the door and looked into a pair of the bluest eyes she had ever seen.
"I hope I'm not catching you at a bad time." He said, smiling. It had been too long since the last time she had seen that smile and with a shock, realised that she had missed it very much.
"No, no! Of course not! Come in." She motioned for him to enter the apartment, wondering why she was so flustered. And what was that fluttering in the pit of her stomach? Nerves? Over Martin Belden? She told herself sternly to pull herself together and followed him into the livingroom. Thankfully, the dog had stopped his yipping and yapping. Possibly the fact that Mart was crouching down to pet him had helped. Still a little flustered, she watched him make friends with the dog.
Over the years, she had consistently pictured Mart in her mind's eye as a gangly, good-natured seventeen year-old with a blond crew cut, teasing blue eyes and a mouthful of over-sized words. The same fellow she had dated for most of her high school years. Even after they had gone their separate ways, only meeting once or twice a year at family gatherings back home in Sleepyside, she had seen him as such. Even after his first novel had become a best-seller he was still a teenager to her. But now, reality hit her like a ton of bricks. This was no teenager in her living room, she realised.
Not quite six feet tall, Mart's gangly frame had filled out and he was now what the ladies would call 'nicely buffed'. His crew cut was long gone and in it's place was a mop of blond curls that she knew would be quite untameable. The boyish planes of his face had hardened some in maturity, but she found this quite attractive. As were the faint lines at the corners of his startling blue eyes. Rugged was how she'd describe it, she decided. Yes, dressed in blue jeans, black tee-shirt and faded jean jacket he was definitely ruggedly attractive. Somehow, the small diamond sparkling in his left ear, which would have been entirely out of character for the Mart of her mind's eye, was perfect for the Mart that straightened up and gave her the jaunty grin that would never change.
"So, are you glad to see me?" He asked impudently before enfolding her in a bear hug that nearly took her breath away.
"Oh, Mart, I really think I am, more than you know!" To her horror, she burst into tears.
"Diana, honey, what's wrong?" Mart was shocked and led her to the sofa where they sat down and he continued to hold her while she sobbed. Finally, the great gulps slowed to intermittent hiccups and sniffles and she was able to raise her head and look at him once again.
"I'm sorry," she sniffed. "I don't know what came over me. I really am glad to see you, you know." She smiled tremulously through the last of her tears.
"I'm glad you told me. I wasn't quite sure." He smiled gently at her and ran a thumb along her cheek, wiping away the tears. "And I think you're little friend here was worried too." She followed his glance down to their feet where Harvey sat gazing up at the both of them, his little face almost forlorn. A little whimper sounded deep in his throat and they both laughed.
"It's okay, Harvey." Diana bent over to pet him. "Mummy's all better now. Her fit has passed." She smiled at Mart again. "Actresses. Emotional as all get out." She told him, trying to make light of the matter. He raised an eyebrow in reply, obviously not believing her. She decided the time was ripe for a change of subject.
"Now, tell me what in heaven's name you're doing here in Montreal?" She demanded.
"I came to see you of course!" He pulled off his jacket and tossed it on a nearby chair. "Have you got anything to eat in this joint? I'm starved!" He grinned that grin once again, but she knew they'd get back to her outburst at some point. Mart had a long memory.
They had spent every day of the next two weeks in each other's company. There were many things to see and do in Montreal, and since Mart was supposed to be doing research for his next book, they explored almost every day. Her hair often tied up in a ponytail, her stunning violet eyes hidden behind sunglasses, Diana was seldom recognised. When she was, it always seemed to be by nice, polite people who were happy to meet her, say a few words, get an autograph then leave them to their business. Mart himself was recongised once or twice, thanks to the headshot that adorned the back cover of the dust jackets of all his books. Di teased him unmercifully about that, but he didn't seem to mind at all.
When she finally broached her idea of getting their gang together again, he had been skeptical. No one had been able to do it in the past ten years. She assured him that this time she had a plan that would work. By whatever means she had to use, she was going to get them all to Montreal and they were going to spend two weeks together. She had it all planned out. She had found out about a small 'bed and breakfast' owned by the brother of one of the make-up artists on her latest shoot. It had just undergone extensive renovations, and new reservations were not coming before another month. They could have it all to themselves for as long as they needed until then. Diana had hit the phones at that point, and for once, it seemed that it was all going to work. Mart had been pleasantly amazed when she had told him over supper that night. Of course, he bemoaned the fact that he wasn't going to have her all to himself after Friday, but since neither of them had any plans to be leaving Montreal in the near future he figured he'd live through it. She found herself quite happy at the thought that he might not want to share her with the others. All the sunny days spent together and all the intimate little suppers in quiet, out of the way restaurants seemed to Diana to be leading her to a single conclusion.
She was not letting Mart Belden out of her life again.
C'est La Vie - Chapter 2
"So, I've put what little I've managed to accumulate over the years in storage and I'm off." Dan Mangan sighed and looked around the small, one room apartment he had called home for the past five years. "You know, I don't think I'm going to miss this place very much at all." He admitted.
"Are you sure about this, buddy?" The tall-grey haired man standing in the doorway echoed his sigh. "It's all been kind of fast, hasn't it?" He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets.
"It's been coming for a long time, Jake." Dan turned to face him. "This job hasn't been doing it for me for a long time, you know that. This week was just the last straw." He shrugged his broad shoulders. "I dunno what I thought I was going to accomplish here. I had such dreams coming out of the academy. They sort of got lost in the day-to-day, I guess." He ran a hand through dark, almost black wavy hair that was badly in need of a haircut. "And then not getting the gold shield again..... " His voice trailed off.
"You just wouldn't play the game the way they wanted you to play it, I guess." Jake had been Dan's partner on the New York City police force for the past four years. "You're a great cop, don't let anyone tell you any different." He clapped the younger man on the shoulder. "I've been proud to have you as my partner, you know."
"And I you," Dan sighed again. "I've learned a lot from you, Jake. You're the best street cop on the force. If only the 'higher-ups' were more like you, I wouldn't be doing this now."
"You don't have any idea of what you're going to do?" Jake hadn't believed it when Dan had handed in his badge two days ago. He had realised what a blow it had been when once again, Dan had been overlooked for promotion. What had the Board been thinking? The boy was a damned fine cop and deserved to be a detective. Politics, that's what it was. Dan refused to toe the company line, as it were, and it had caught up with him. Yes, he was unorthodox; yes, he had a problem respecting those above him who really had no business being where they were; yes, he could be a lone wolf much of the time; but he was still a damned fine cop. Maybe his wife was right. Dan Mangan was never going to be happy in the NYPD, no matter what he was doing. He was like a square peg in a round hole.
"Right now, I'm going up to Montreal, meet my friends and try to relax for the first time in a long while." Dan smiled at his friend. "Don't worry about me Jake, I'll be fine, just fine. I have money in the bank, enough to see me through a few months at least before I even have to think about getting a new job. That's one good thing about having no life outside work, I suppose. Saving is easy." He chuckled slightly. "And I leave no loose ends when I leave town."
"I guess that invitation from your movie star friend came at the right time, didn't it?" Jake bent to pick up the sports bag, that along with a matching knapsack was the only thing that Dan was taking with him on his trip.
"I didn't think so at first," Dan admitted. "But then, after tossing my badge on the lieutenant's desk and a couple of beers, the idea started to look more interesting. Diana's a great gal, and the others are all going to be there for the first time in ages so I'm actually looking forward to it. Mart was my best buddy in high school and it's a shame that we drifted so far apart over the years." Dan hoisted the knapsack to his shoulder and after one last look at his small apartment closed the door behind him. He headed off down the hallway.
"He's the writer fellow, isn't he?" Jake asked following him. Dan had told him a little of his teenage years and of the seven of them who had been so close.
"Yup, just had a new book published recently. Funny, we always thought that Mart would end up as a farmer or an English teacher. He does actually have his teaching degree. But after university, he took a year off to do some travelling and just started writing. His first book was a best seller and that was the name of that tune." Dan chuckled. "He's sent me an autographed copy of each one of his books. This last one was the sixth, and I actually think one of his characters was based on me. I'm going to have to set him straight on a few things, though." They had reached the front door of the apartment building by this time. Dan held up the key to the apartment and twirled it in his fingers before slipping it into the slot of the mailbox that had been his. The superintendant of the building would pick it up in the morning.
"Well, buddy, I guess this is it." Jake turned to him as they reached the sidewalk, a tight note in his voice.
"Yup." Dan took his bag and tied it to the back of the gleaming motorcycle at the curb. The knapsack followed. "I'm going to miss you, my friend." He reached out to take Jake's offered hand. A moment later, he was enfolded in a bearhug that threatened to break his spine. Jake was a big guy.
"You take care of yourself, Dan."
"Keep in touch."
"I will, I promise."
"Oh, and Dan...." Jake managed to find a teasing grin from somewhere deep inside before the goodbyes got too maudlin. "Kiss a nice little French girl for me while you're up there, will ya?" Dan threw back his head and laughed, his first true laugh in many days.
"I'll give it my best shot." He promised. "Thanks for everything, Jake." He swung a leg over the motorcycle and a moment later the motor gunned to life. He grabbed his helmet from behind him and settled it over his dark hair. There was a suspicious brightness to his dark eyes as he snapped the chin strap into place. He gave his partner a last, cocky grin, raised his hand in farewell and roared away from the curb.
"Hello! Anybody home!" Trixie Belden's clear voice rang through the house. There was a small thud from somewhere upstairs and the sound of a door slamming at the back of the house.
"Auntie Trix!" A small dark-haired girl of about eight years of age fairly flew down the staircase and launched herself at the woman who stood just inside the front door.
"Hey there, Punkin! You're getting too big to be tackling me like that!" Trixie protested laughingly, just managing to keep her balance in the face of the small whirlwind.
"Trixie! We weren't expecting you for another couple of hours at least!" A woman appeared from the kitchen, a wide smile on her lovely features.
"I left earlier than I thought I would this morning." Trixie said, moving to hug the woman, despite the child still wrapped around her waist. "And there was hardly any traffic on the interstate."
"Which suited your lead foot just fine, I suppose." Honey Wheeler Belden chuckled, releasing her best friend and sister-in-law from her embrace. "Good grief, Casey, let your aunt breathe a little!" She scolded her daughter amusedly.
"I'm just so happy she's here!" The girl exclaimed, her hazel eyes so like her mother's, sparkling happily. "It seems like almost forever since I've seen her!"
"Well, I'm happy to be here." Trixie informed her niece. "And we saw each other at Christmastime, didn't we?"
"Too long, too long, too long!" Casey protested, shaking her head so that her dark brown braids whipped about with each half turn.
"I agree!" Trixie and Honey said in unison and promptly burst into laughter. Arm in arm, the two women headed for the kitchen, the girl dancing about in their wake.
"You look great, Trix." Honey observed as she put the kettle on to boil. "You've got a bit of a tan and that new hair style is terrific on you."
"I just got back from an assignment in the Caribbean, hence the tan." Trixie told her, taking a seat at the table. "And I just felt it was time for something different, so I let my mop of hair grow." She ran a hand through the cascade of naturally blond curls that she had worn short for so many years. Now it tumbled to just below her shoulders in artful disarray, framing her pert features to perfection. "I sure like your new do, though"
"Thank you." Honey smiled. "I was just so tired of the same old thing, you know. And it's so much less trouble like this." For years, Honey had worn her light brown hair from which came her nickname, in a long page boy cut. Now, it was cut short, giving her face a gamin look that was very attractive.
"What did my big brother have to say about that?" Trixie demanded with an amused chuckle. Brian had always loved Honey's shoulder-length locks.
"He hardly even noticed." Honey replied with a rueful shrug, but Trixie caught something in her friend's eyes that gave her a start. A flash of hurt had appeared in those hazel depths.
"I like Mummy's hair. It's cute!" Casey proclaimed.
"Speaking of Brian, when's he coming home? And where's Peter?" Trixie asked. Peter was Honey and Brian's six year old, named proudly after his paternal grandfather.
"Peter's over at his friend's house collecting bugs or some such thing. And Brian is supposed to be home early today because you're here, but who knows if he will be." Honey busied herself preparing two cups of coffee. "Between the school and his town practice, his schedule is pretty unpredictable these days."
"Daddy didn't come home 'til after I was in bed yesterday." Casey informed her aunt. "I wasn't asleep though. He came up and tucked me in and then I went to sleep." The phone rang at that moment and she rushed to answer it.
"He works too hard." Honey said quietly as she set two mugs on the table and took a seat.
"He always did." Trixie didn't like the sudden strain that appeared on her friend's face. This was not good. What was going on here? All her instincts told her that things were not right in this household.
"Mummy!" Casey dashed back into the room. "Can I go over to Beth's until supper?" Beth was her best friend and lived just down the road from the Belden home.
"Of course, sweetie." Honey smiled at her daughter. "Don't be late, though. You know what time to be here."
"I know, I know!" Casey exclaimed as she raced back to the phone to say she was on her way. A moment later, the door slammed behind her.
"Sometimes your daughter seems eerily familiar to me." Trixie chuckled, remembering her own hoydenish ways.
"Me too." Honey agreed with a roll of her eyes. The subject of her husband was shelved for the moment as she recounted Casey's latest adventures.
They passed the next hour pleasantly bringing each other up to date on the latest events in their lives. Trixie had quite a bit more to tell. Her career as an investigative reporter for CNN took her all over the country and she always had at least three stories going at the same time. Honey loved hearing Trixie's tales. Once upon a time, she and Trix were going to have their own detective agency and spend their days hunting down criminals and putting them in jail. They had been involved in quite a few mysteries during their teen years and where intrepid Trixie had led, loyal Honey was never far behind. They had grown up, however, made different choices, chosen different paths and the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency had remained a girlhood dream.
"Anyway, Honey wants to go, and since I haven't seen Mart for quite a while it sort of seemed the thing to do." Dr. Brian Belden logged off his computer and turned off the monitor. "That's it, all done." He smiled at his best friend of fifteen years. "Do you want to come home for supper with me?" He asked, giving his desk one last look-over to make sure everything was in its place.
"Oh, I don't think so, Bri. If I want to get off at a decent hour tomorrow I have a lot of paperwork to finish." Jim Frayne leaned against the doorjamb watching Brian go through his end-of-day routine. "Though it kills me to miss one of Honey's terrific meals." He patted his flat stomach with a chuckle. His sister was one of the best cooks he knew and he had been neglecting her of late.
"Trixie's going to be there." Brian arched a dark eyebrow at his friend.
"Well, I'd love to see her, it's been an awfully long time, but we are going to be spending two weeks in each other's company - if I get everything done that I have to do." Jim told him. Once he and Trixie had been a couple, but that was years ago. Different life paths, much water under the bridge; it had taken some time, but now they could actually spend a little time together and not be at each others' throats. It had only taken, what, five years before they could be friends.
"James, my friend, the school will be fine for two weeks. Especially this summer. There's only twenty or so kids here until regular school starts again in the fall." Brian turned out his desktop lamp. "And surely, after all this time, you trust Meghan, Chris and Doug to take care of everything."
"I guess so," Jim sighed. "But it's hard to let it go. I've taken care of everything for so long that I guess I like to feel that I'm indispensable."
He grinned ruefully. "How's that for conceited?" Brian just chuckled in amusement. He understood Jim completely, for they were both cut from the same responsible, hard-working, dedicated cloth.
When Jim had finally opened his school for troubled kids in their hometown of Sleepyside it had been his life dream come true. It had been what he wanted to do for all the time Brian had known him. Jim lived for the school. There were kids there all year round, and a waiting list for the regular school year. Jim had been extremely lucky with his staff from the beginning. Chris Tolliver was his assistant principal and one of his core teachers. Meghan Samuels was the school's administrator and mother figure to many of the boys. Her husband, Doug was in charge of the younger kids, twelve and under, as well as being one of the best math teachers in the state of New York. Jim knew that he could leave the school for more than the two weeks he was planning and all would be well. They were as dedicated as he was, and with the other staff, more than capable of handling anything that came up. It was just that he hated giving up control of his 'baby', and they all knew it.
"Is Trix flying up to Montreal with you and Honey?" Jim asked, changing the subject as he and Brian walked to the front door of the school. Brian spent Thursday and Friday afternoons at his office at the school, he was the 'resident doctor', as well as being on call for them twenty-four/seven.
"Yeah, we leave around three tomorrow afternoon, so I guess we'll probably be there before you." Brian said. "We're going to head over to the Farm early in the morning though, so Trix can visit some with Moms and Dad. They're watchng the kids for us, you know." Crabapple Farm was the Belden homestead where Brian's parents still lived, down the hill from Jim and Honey's parents' home. The school and Jim's small cottage were on the other hill on the estate of Ten Acres that Jim had inherited from his great-uncle many years before.
"I have to stop in and see your parents when we get back." Jim said as they exited the school into the early evening air. "It seems like forever since I had some of your mom's apple pie." Mrs. Belden was the best cook in the world, hands down, even better than his sister, and that was saying something.
"You know the door is always open for you." Brian said. "They've adored you for years!"
"And me them." Jim grinned. "You know, I've been thinking, this vacation might turn out to be fun after all." He ran a large, faintly freckled hand through his thick auburn hair. "I'm looking forward to seeing Professor McCallister again, and I think you're right. The staff needs a vacation from me." He admitted. "And I need to get more than five hours of sleep a night."
"You and me both, brother." Brian grinned. He was glad that Jim had finally listened to him. They both had been working too hard for far too long, making burn-out something they really had to think about. Diana must have had some kind of ESP to come up with this invitation when she did.
"Well, I guess the next time I see you, we'll be doing the 'parlay-vous'." Jim grinned in response as they shook hands.
"Don't stay up all night. You have a long drive tomorrow, remember." Brian got into his blue van and rolled down the window for his parting words. "Listen to your doctor now." He warned.
"You worry far too much." Jim laughed. "You sound like an old woman instead of a young doctor of thirty-three. I'll be fine." He raised his hand in farewell as Brian started the motor and put the van in gear.
"I've sounded like an old woman for years!" The doctor said wryly, inwardly wincing at the truth of the words. He returned Jim's wave and turned the van to head down the long driveway to the main road. They both needed to unwind something fierce, he decided.
Chapter 3: C'est La Vie - Chapter 3
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 3
"Arianne, everything is perfect!" Diana exclaimed, exchanging a pleased smile with Mart. Her violet eyes sparkled in excitement. "This is going to be wonderful, don't you think so?"
"It sure sounds like it." Mart agreed. The young woman seated at the table with them blushed prettily.
"I'm happy that you approve." She said, a slight trace of a French accent in her voice. "Diana explained how important these two weeks are, and I certainly want your friends to enjoy their stay in my city."
"Well, if they don't, it won't be because of anything you failed to do!" Mart told her.
Arianne Chevalier was the daughter of the man who owned the bed and breakfast that Diana had reserved for herself and her friends. She was the manager of the establishment and would be the only other person in the converted Victorian house during the two-week stay. She had also helped Diana plan things for her guests to do, sights to see, places not to miss and of course would make sure that everything went smoothly. The past few days had been full of phonecalls between her and Diana with a couple of lunches thrown in. Diana wanted everything to go well and it seemed that with Arianne at her side it would.
"Let me just check again." She tucked a strand of copper hair behind her ear as she bent over the pad of paper on the table in front of her. "Brian, Honey and Trixie will be arriving at the airport at five minutes past four tomorrow. You will be meeting them there, no?" She glanced at Diana who nodded in confirmation. "Jim will be arriving in his car sometime around six, he told you?" Again Diana nodded. "And Dan? We have no idea when he will arrive."
"We have no idea." Diana sighed. "He just said he'd be here sometime on Friday."
"I will be at the house all day, so if he arrives and you are not there, I will be able to welcome him." Arianne smiled. "I think that is all, is it not?" She slipped her pad and pen into the small tote bag that hung on the back of her chair. "I had better go. I have much more shopping to do for tomorrow. All the fresh fruits and vegetables, you know?" She took her leave quickly with a quick hug for Diana and friendly smile for Mart.
"Isn't she something?" Diana asked, closing the door behind the French girl. "Isabelle, her aunt, told me that I had nothing to worry about with Arianne to help me and was she ever right!"
"She sure seems to have a handle on everything." Mart agreed. "I hate be a party pooper, though, sweetness, but I have to get some work done on my research." He changed the subject with a small, reluctant grin. "But, if you don't mind, I can do it here. I brought my laptop with me and thought I could work at the kitchen table, then later on we could go out for supper?"
"Oh, Mart, I don't mind at all!" Diana flopped down on the sofa with a grin. "I have a new book to read, so you can work for the rest of the afternoon in peace." She held up a brick of a hardcover book that looked very familiar to him. "It's by my favorite author."
"That's my latest one!" He was pleasantly surprised.
"I've read all of them but this one," she told him. "I like them." She settled herself into the corner of the sofa and gave him a smile. "Off you get, now. I won't bother you for at least a couple of hours, I promise." Her little dog hopped up to curl at her feet. "And neither will Harvey." She chuckled.
"You amaze me." He said and bent to give her a quick kiss on the top of her head before heading back to the kitchen and his work. Diana watched him go, a small smile playing about her lips. She hadn't been this happy in such a long time. Things were practically perfect!
"Diana, sweetness..." She awoke slowly, smiling at the sound of his voice. "Diana...." His hand brushed strands of hair from her face and she opened her eyes. "Is my book that boring?" He asked with an amused chuckle.
"I guess I was tired." She stretched along the length of the sofa. "What time is it?" She asked.
"Almost six." He looked at his watch. "I got a good four hours of work in while you were getting your beauty sleep." He was sitting on the floor beside the sofa, one knee drawn up so he could rest his arms on it.
"I just couldn't keep my eyes open any more." She admitted. "I guess I haven't fully recovered from the movie shoot yet." She smiled wryly. "If you asked me right now if I wanted to do another film, my answer would be a definite negative!"
"I thought you enjoyed it?" Mart studied her face with a serious blue gaze. She was a lovely woman, and oh so desireable, all tousled and flushed with sleep. But underneath, and he realised that it had been there all along, there was a fatigue, a slight strain about her fine features. Suddenly he knew that now was the time to pursue the subject of her tearful outburst the day of his arrival. "What's wrong, sweetness? What's really bothering you? Why is this gathering so important to you?" He took one of her small hands in his and brushed her knuckles with his lips. "Maybe it's time to tell someone." He suggested.
"Maybe it is," she agreed softly. "You know something, Mart? I don't think it's a coincidence that you arrived at my door when you did. You were always the one that listened to me, really listened, and understood what I was feeling, even when I didn't." She laughed a little. "When we were kids, I know everyone thought I was the airhead. The flake as it were. And honestly, I was quite the dipstick sometimes." She blushed a little at the memories of the teenaged girl she had been.
"You were adorable!" He protested, but she shook her head.
"I was always the pretty one. The scared one. The window dressing." She held up her hand when he made to protest again. "No, Mart, I was. But when I was with you, it was different. You always made me feel like I had something worthwhile to contribute to whatever was going on. And you took the time to explain things to me that should have been so darned obvious!" She laughed slightly again. "Oh, I was a case, wasn't I?"
"I knew you never felt quite as up-to-par with Trixie and Honey. They were always getting into some kind of exciting and mysterious situation. You know, we boys often felt like we were just along for the ride as well." Mart shook his head. "I always felt that I had to compete with Trixie and that was why I was so obnoxious with her sometimes. And Honey was just so darned perfect all the time! What a bunch we were!" He marvelled.
"We were at that." Diana nodded. "Anyway, when I decided to pursue my acting career, it was all about looks again. Nobody cared if I was smart or anything, they just cared that I looked good." She clapped a hand over her deep blue/violet eyes. "God, I sound so conceited!"
"It's the truth." He pulled her hand away and gave her a grin. "I love to look at you!"
"Oh, stop! I'm baring my soul to you!" She blushed prettily. Why didn't she mind when Mart told her she was beautiful? "Anyway, this has been going on for ten years now. I'm tired of being 'The Face'. I'm tired of being known for having long black hair and these stupid eyes! I'm tired of everybody looking at me and never really seeing me! Even my friends all the people who work with me day in and day out don't really see me!" Two trails of tears tracked down her cheeks. "And Mart, I'm just so darned tired of everything!" She closed her eyes and let the tears come full force.
"Diana!" Instantly, Mart was sitting on the sofa and gathering her into his arms. There was no talking to her now, so he held her and let her cry. He hadn't realised that she had never gotten over that inferiority complex that had plagued her as a teenager. She was so successful that he'd figured she had worked it all out and come to terms with it. She was far more than a pretty face; far, far more. And he was going to do his best to make her see that.
"Oh, Mart, I'm sorry I keep blubbering all over you!" She said, a long while later, her sobs subsided. She moved to sit up straight, but he held her tightly to him.
"No, you stay right where you are." He directed. "And you listen to me, Miss Diana Lynch. There's no denying that you are one helluva beautiful woman. Lord, I melt everytime you even look at me! But if you weren't the woman you are underneath all that beauty it wouldn't be that way." He stroked her long dark hair gently. "From the time that your Dad made his fortune way back when, you've thought that you had to measure up to something. What, I don't really know, because it's never been obvious to me. So you had money? Big deal! It's only money. It never made you the girl you were, the sweet, generous, funny girl I used to date. Cripes, I had a crush on you when you were six years old, way before Papa Lynch hit the big time!" He chuckled and kissed the top of her head. "And personally, I have always found your slight dippiness extremely charming. But, be that as it may, you have to know that you are a bright and intelligent woman. You know, I think that ever since you were a teenager, you let the sophistication and aplomb that is Honey; and the sparkle and pazzazz that is Trixie overwhelm you. And then, you happened to end up in a world where looks are the measuring stick. I know you love acting, and making the movies, but the rest of the stuff is not your speed, is it?" Cushioned against his chest, her head nodded slightly and he continued. "If people took the time to see the real you, they'd know that you are very intuitive about people. You know what's bothering them and what to do about it. You are one of the gentlest people I know, you wouldn't harm a fly. You care more for everyone else than you do about yourself. You think you're throwing this house party because you miss your friends, but in reality, you know that they need this. And you have the quirkiest sense of humour, never mind being honest to a fault. And you're an idealist, Sweetness. A dreamer and an idealist, and I hope that never changes." He sighed. "Of course, that's bound to get you hurt somewhere along the line, always believing the best of everyone, but darn it, you get disappointed in something and then bounce right back again. I don't know how you do it."
"Mart, you're making me sound like a saint!" Diana protested, raising her head to look at him. He shrugged slightly and gave her a rueful smile.
"It's all the truth." He said. "And you are tired. Really physically and mentally tired. Bone deep. It's only to be expected, you haven't stopped since you first set foot on Broadway. You were telling me that Brian was on Jim's case about him burning out, but I think you're close to it yourself."
"You're right," she admitted a moment later, recognising the truth in what he said. "That's why I stayed here instead of going back to the coast. I wouldn't have admitted it to anyone, even myself, but I just want to be away from everything having to do with my career right now."
"And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that." He told her firmly.
"Try telling my manager and my agent!" She laughed dryly. "Never mind my assistant. What a fight I had with all of them to get them to leave me here alone! Carl and Vince call me every second day wanting to know when I'm going back to L.A., and my assistant Gina keeps sending me scripts via Purolator or UPS and calls me on the days the other two don't!" Her exasperation was plain to see.
"Return the scripts unopened, and let me answer the phone from now on." He suggested. "I'm serious, Sweetness. You need a rest and I'll see that you get one!" His blue eyes flashed angrily. How could the very people who were supposed to have her best interests at heart, treat her in this fashion? It was beyond him. Couldn't they see that she was near the breaking point?
"Do you really think that's the thing to do?" She asked in a small voice, not sure about the whole idea.
"Diana, it's time you stopped thinking that you have to be what everyone else wants you to be and start doing and being what you want!" Mart's voice rose in volume and she stared at him with wide violet eyes for a long moment. He had just begun to think that he had come on too strong when her chin lifted slightly and a small grin began to play about the corners of her mouth.
"Mart, you're absolutely right." She said. "I'm not sure if I can do it, but I'm willing to give it a try." She ran her hands through her hair and suddenly gave him an unfathomable look from under thick, dark lashes. "Will you help me keep to the program?" She asked softly. "I don't think I'll be able to do it alone. At first, anyway."
"Sweetness, I'll help you do anything you want. I just want you to be happy." He told her earnestly. And he realised that he wanted that more than anything he'd ever wanted in his life.
"Oh, Mart!" Suddenly she was in his arms again, this time covering his face with kisses, her arms wound about his neck. "You are the most wonderful man!"
"Well, I don't know about that!" He protested with a chuckle, quickly over his startlement and enjoying the sensation of her body so close to his and her lips on his skin.
"I do." She drew back for a moment and stared deeply into his eyes. She really was heartbreakingly beautiful, he thought. "I always thought you were the most wonderful boy back in the old days, and now......" She smiled and he felt his pulse quicken.
"And now?" He echoed, raising a sandy eyebrow. Sudden memories of dark nights and stolen teenage kisses and fumblings that had come to naught flashed through his mind. She certainly wasn't a teenager anymore.
"Now, what I would like...." She got to her feet in a graceful motion and stood in front of him. "....is for you to come with me into the bedroom and make love to me." She turned and slowly walked across the living room, leaving him sitting, speechless, mesmerised by the subtle sway of her hips.
"Diana....." He could barely get the name past the sudden dryness of his mouth. Was this the right thing to be doing after the past hour of soul-baring? He surely didn't know. What he did know was that his whole body was tense with desire for her and he'd be a liar if he said that he hadn't thought about it many, many times over the past two weeks. But she was worth far more to him than a roll in the hay. Her emotions were so fragile right now and, he admitted openly to himself for the first time, what he felt for her was far more than simple physical desire, that he would cut off his own right arm before hurting her. "Diana...., are you sure this is really what you want?" He finally managed to get out. She had reached the bedroom door by this time, where she stopped, turned and leaned against the doorjamb.
"Mart, this is the one thing I'm totally sure about." She told him, her eyes deep violet. "My mind is more or less at peace for the first time in a long while - for how long, I don't know...." She tossed her head slightly and he wondered if she had any idea just how delectable she looked. When she raised her hands to begin undoing the buttons of her denim shirt, he groaned aloud. "But my body is far from being at peace. I want you, Mart." She stated simply before turning and disappearing into the bedroom.
"Well, since you put it that way." He muttered under his breath. He knew when he was beaten, and it was a victory he was more than happy to relinquish. It felt right. It had to be right. A small yip broke into his thoughts and he stared at Harvey, still curled up on the chair, looking at him with large brown eyes. It was almost as if the darned dog was giving him its blessing! "Okay, okay, I get the message, mutt!" He said finally, getting to his feet.
"I thought you were going to argue with yourself forever." She said as he entered the bedroom. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her, kneeling on the middle of the big bed, bathed in the late afternoon sun that was pouring through the window and nothing else. How had she gotten her clothes off so fast? Had he really been sitting out there for that long? He moved to the bedside and set a knee upon it. "I don't think I've ever seen you speechless." She laughed, a throaty, sexy sound, then a moment later rose on her knees to slide into his embrace. "I want you, Mart." She whispered the words again.
"I'm yours, Sweetness, all yours." He assured her with a gentle smile before bending his head to kiss her; all vestiges of doubt fleeing his mind.
"Mart?" Diana raised her head from the cushion of his shoulder a long while later and passed a hand over heavy lidded violet eyes.
"Hmmmm?" His hand rubbed along the length of her arm. A small, smile lingered about his lips and the sight warmed her. There had been men in her life over the past ten years, but never one that had made her feel like this. Teenage fumblings were far in the past.
"Have you noticed the time?" She raised herself up on one elbow. "It's almost eight o'clock!"
"Did we have some place better to be?" He asked teasingly.
"No," She pushed her long hair behind her shoulders. "I just thought you might be hungry." She ran a hand over his flat stomach enjoying the slight roughness of the faint mat of fair hair that covered it. "I've never known you to willingly miss a meal, Martin Belden." She chuckled.
"Well, while you are a definitely delectable morsel, I will admit to experiancing a slight depletion of my inner resources that could be assuaged with some true victuals." His blue eyes were wide with feigned innocence as he looked up into her lovely, loved, laughing face.
"You can still do it!" She exclaimed with one of her charming giggles. "That always impressed the hell out of me." She admitted.
"That was my aim." He grinned as he rose from the bed. "To impress people. Especially a certain raven-haired BWG." She watched him go to the window and look out for a moment before turning back to face her. His naked form was masculinely beautiful, she decided. She especially appreciated the slight curve of his buttocks and the broadness of his shoulders. "C'mon, let's go see what you have in your fridge that we can rustle up." He bent to pick up his jeans from the floor.
"Mart." She sat up in the bed, suddenly serious. "Right now, I'm so very happy." She told him, a slight catch in her voice. He smiled gently at her and held out his hand.
"C'mon, Sweetness. Let's get some food." He pulled her to her feet and gave her a long, gentle kiss. "I'm happy too." He said softly. "Very, very happy."
Chapter 4: C'est La Vie - Chapter 4
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 4
It was long past midnight, yet there were still a few lights shining from the windows of the large Victorian bed and breakfast. The sign at the bottom of the walkway swung gently on its post in the breeze. Auberge des Cailles, it proclaimed proudly. The night was clear and warm, and the street quiet, even though it was in the middle of the busy city of Montreal. The crickets were clearly audible against the faint backdrop of sound coming from the busier streets a few blocks away.
Diana sat at her window, gazing out at the night, a hint of a smile curving her lips. Soft music played quietly in the bedroom that was lit only by a small bedside lamp. The scent of the flowers from the gardens below her windows came to her on the breeze and she inhaled appreciatively. Arianne and her family had certainly done a wonderful job with their bed and breakfast inn, both inside and out. She was glad she had been able to convince the young woman to stay with them instead of heading off home to the suburbs every night. Arianne seemed to fit in just right with everyone.
"Sweetness? You sleeping?" Her bedroom door opened and Mart's blond head peeked inside. Seeing her still awake, he slipped into the room closing the door quietly behind him, a warm smile on his face. "You don't mind, do you?" He asked.
"Of course not! I was hoping you'd come. Come, sit next to me." Diana smiled and made room for him on the window seat. She sighed happily as he sank beside her and put his strong arms about her shoulders and pulled her to lean against his chest. He was clad only in his cut-off jean shorts and she could feel the wiry hair on his chest prickle on her back through the thin material of her short nightgown.
"I couldn't sleep. I missed you," he told her, kissing the top of her head.
"I was just thinking about everything that happened today," she said. "All in all, I'd say it was a pretty interesting day, wouldn't you?" She trailed her slender fingers along the length of his arm thoughtfully. "It's so good to have everyone together under one roof again. Just like the old days when we used to have house parties."
"Only this time we have no chaperones." Mart chuckled. "Thinking back, I wonder how Miss Trask and the others ever managed to put up with us, time and time again."
"We weren't so bad," Diana claimed. "We really only got into trouble when Trixie and Honey were involved in one of their adventures." She twisted her head so she could look up at him. "Speaking of whom, if you're not careful, your sister is going to figure out pretty quickly that something is going on between us."
"Me! You're the one who was doing terrible things with those strawberries we had for dessert!" He protested laughingly. He had wondered at the time whether or not any of the others had noticed the sultry way Diana had consumed the fruit when she thought only he had been watching. Had they been alone, he would have been unable to stop himself from sweeping everything from the dining room table and ravishing her right there. And she knew it.
"I couldn't help it! You kept undressing me with your eyes. What was I to do?" She laughed up at him, her violet eyes shining in the dim light.
"I kept thinking about this morning," he admitted. They had awakened in each other's arms just after sunrise and made love slowly until long after the time they should have been on their way to the bed and breakfast. Arianne had arched her eyebrows knowingly when they arrived, but said nothing. Mart doubted that his sister would have been as accomodating. "I don't know how long I can keep this under wraps, Sweetness. It's very difficult to keep my hands off you until we're alone." He bent his head to place a soft kiss on the curve of her neck and was gratified by her soft intake of breath.
"I know, but I just can't see us making some kind of grand announcement, can you?" She asked, running a hand along his thigh. She had wanted to touch him all afternoon and evening but they had never been alone for longer than a minute. What had happened to her, that she should crave the closeness of this man after so short a time?
"No, that might be a little, um...tacky," he agreed. He gazed down at her finely boned face and she felt her cheeks colour with a sudden surge of desire. To her surprise, he suddenly got to his feet and swept her up into his arms. "I can't stand it any longer, Diana! I just want to totally ravish you!" His voice was rough with want and her breath began to quicken at the sound. Her arms tightened their grasp around his neck and she pulled his head down to kiss him hungrily. Her mouth felt plundered by his tongue and she revelled in the sensation.
"Oh Mart! I do so want to be ravished!" She gasped out raggedly a long moment later. A small groan escaped him as he claimed her mouth again while setting her on her feet. Her knees were weak, but she clung to his lips with a fervour that kept her just barely upright. Her hands fumbled at the button of his jean shorts as he moved her back towards the bed. Just as she was finally able to undo the uncooperative fastening, the backs of her knees touched the edge of the bed, his lips left hers and as she fell back across the bed he slipped her flimsy nightgown up and over her head.
"Diana, you are so breathtaking!" He whispered, prayer-like, as he stared at her naked form. In the faint light of the bedside lamp, her skin seemed to glow with a creamy sheen. She was unabashed by the way he looked at her, revelling in the heat of his gaze as it trailed from her face, to her breasts, to the dark vee of her thighs and along the long length of her shapely legs. Biting her lower lip, she raised her feet to hook her slender toes through the front belt-loops of his shorts. In a move that raised her hips from the bed, she twisted her ankles slightly and pulled down. After a moment of initial resistance, they slid down his thighs to a heap around his ankles.
"Why Mart! Didn't your mother ever warn you about going out without your underwear on?" She purred, violet eyes shaded by her dark lashes.
"And just what might the consequences be?" He demanded, stepping out of the puddle of denim at his feet. She raised her arms invitingly,
"Come here and I'll show you," she whispered.
He came to her then, and she gloried in the feel of his muscular frame within her embrace. She wanted to touch him everywhere, kiss every inch of his body, crawl inside his skin if she could. She ran her hands through his hair, thankful that he had let the crewcut of his youth grow out. His hair was so thick and soft. He nibbled behind her ear and she clutched at his curls, a low moan issuing from her throat. His hands; his large, wonderful, strong hands, cupped her full breasts and he bent his head to capture one swollen nipple and tease it with his tongue. Her nails dug into his back as little shocks shot through her. One of his well-muscled legs moved between hers and she rubbed against it, craving more. Eons later, his hand trailed down and the firmness of his leg was replaced by exploring, caressing fingers. She bit down on his shoulder at the shudder of pleasure it gave her. Her own hands moved down to run over the small of his back to the curve of his buttocks. He groaned slightly as her long nails traced outlines on his sensitive skin. She pulled away slightly and stared down at him, her breath coming in gasps.
"What's wrong?" He asked worriedly, raising his hand to touch her flushed face. She rubbed her cheek against it, giving him a smile that spoke volumes.
"Nothing at all. I just wanted to look at you the way you were looking at me," she said softly. Bottom lip caught between her teeth, she ran a hand down his chest to his stomach, pausing a moment before moving even lower. His eyes closed and he smiled as she ran her fingers over his erection. "You are so fine, Mart. So masculinely fine!" She breathed, a catch in her voice. He lay there, allowing her to explore his body as she would, with hands, mouth, tongue. Finally he could stand it no longer.
"Diana.....Sweetness.....I can't take much more," he told her, taking one of her hands by the wrist and holding it. "I'm only human," he admitted, his blue gaze burning her with its intensity.
"It turns me on to do that to you," she said, twisting her wrist to free his grasp. She then lay back, took his hand and guided it between her legs. He inhaled sharply at the heat and moistness he found there. "I'm more... than ready... for you." Her voice was uneven with passion as his fingers found all her sensitive spots at once. With a small moan of triumph, he pulled her to him, maneuvering her so that she straddled him on her knees. Her long black hair about her shoulders like a cape, she lowered herself slowly, throwing her head back in pleasure as his hands sought her breasts. A long, low sound issued from deep in her throat as she lowered herself all the way and he was deep within her. Her hips began to move in time with his, slowly at first, then with more urgency as their passion increased. A tingling began deep within her, spreading out through her torso, then her limbs, finally making her toes curl as she gasped out his name at the same moment that he exploded with in her. She collapsed on his chest and lay there for a long while as small aftershocks rippled through both their bodies.
"Sweetness?" Mart stroked her hair gently.
"Oh, Mart, I think you've killed me!" She giggled softly.
"Baby, I hope not." He kissed her forehead. "Because I want to do that many, many, many more times." His hands ran up and down her back in a soft, rhythmic motion. "I love it when you call my name like that," he told her.
"Oh, I hope no one else heard!" She exclaimed with a sudden start, and he laughed amusedly.
"It wasn't that loud," he said. "This time." He raised an eyebrow and gave her a devilish look that promised many things. She shivered slightly in his embrace and he realised that it had gotten considerably cooler in the bedroom. He couldn't pull any blankets over her, because they were laying on top of them. "Sweetness, do you have a towel or something in here?" He asked. She raised her head and looked around.
"Over on the chair, I think," she said, pointing. Her face was flushed and her eyes and lips swollen with expended desire and he thought she had never looked so beautiful. Gently, he rolled her off him and got to his feet. He could feel her eyes on him as he moved across the room, and enjoyed the feeling it gave him.
"I'll be back in a minute," he said, wrapping the towel that was indeed on the chair around his trim waist. He came back to the bed and bent to give her a quick kiss. "Don't disappear on me now." He grinned and she smiled contentedly in return. The grin still on his face, he slipped quietly from the bedroom and moved quickly to the bathroom at the end of the hall. Scant moments later, he had returned, a warm washcloth in his hands, along with another towel.
"You didn't let anybody see you, did you?" She asked as he came to sit on the edge of the bed.
"I think we're safe," he told her. "Here, lay back and let me clean you up a little and get you under the covers." He ran the washcloth up her thigh and she thought it was the most romantic thing she'd ever experienced. She lay back and enjoyed being taken care of.
"Mart, please stay with me tonight?" She scrambled under the blankets that he held up for her. "This bed is more than big enough for two." She looked up at him with wide violet eyes and he knew he'd never be able to say no to her when she looked at him in that fashion.
"People might talk," he warned, dropping the towel to the floor and climbing in beside her. She snuggled into the crook of his arm, her own arm flung across his chest.
"The hell with them!" She exclaimed as he reached to turn out the light. "Honey and Trix will take one look at me in the morning and know everything anyway. You're too damned good!" She kissed his chest and snuggled even closer. "You've left your mark on me."
"I'll take that as a compliment." He chuckled and closed his eyes with a happy sigh. No one had seen him in the hallway anyway. They had nothing to worry about, their secret was safe for a little while longer at least.
Chapter 5: C'est La Vie - Chapter 5
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 5
Trixie slipped back into the kitchen, her blue eyes dancing merrily. Honey looked up from her cup of tea, eyebrows raised in curiosity. Trixie sat back down at the table and leaned forward conspiratorially.
"You'll never guess what I just saw!" She whispered, trying hard to stifle her laughter.
"What? What?" Honey's hazel eyes were wide with curiosity. She and Trixie were indulging in a late night cup of tea and girl-talk.
"I just saw my almost-twin brother sneaking into Di's room, wearing nothing but a towel!" Trixie told her, grinning. "I told you there was something more here than meets the eye!" She was triumphant.
"Oh, Trix! Really!! After all these years??" Honey leaned back in her chair and grinned back at her best friend. "Good for them!"
"I didn't think the boy had it in him!" Trixie giggled. "I should have figured it out as soon as we arrived. He barely left her side the whole time. And she couldn't keep her eyes off him. I should have known!" She clapped a hand to her forehead in mock disgust with herself. "And I'm supposed to be the one who can spot a story a mile away!" She rolled her blue eyes.
"Well, I knew that he was up here, but I thought it was just happenstance." Honey mused. "But come to think of it, Di was starting to sound a little more....um....happy the last week or two. And honestly, I should have figured that something was up myself. I'm the one that gave him her address here!" She rolled her own eyes, much as Trixie had done.
"Do you think it could be something serious?" Trixie sipped at her tea thoughtfully.
"Oh, I hope so!" Honey smiled. "It would be nice to see them settle down together. The writer and the movie star! So romantic!" She sighed. "Seriously, Trix, I told you that I didn't think that Di was quite herself the last little while. She seemed so down and tired whenever we'd talk on the phone. But I did notice that she seemed to perk up a few days after Mart arrived." She said, turning the idea over in her mind.
"Mart and Di always seemed to understand each other far better than most people could," Trixie remembered. "We'll have to keep an eye on them tomorrow and see what we can figure out." She grinned.
"We couldn't all be together without some kind of mystery, could we?" Honey chuckled as images of their teenage escapades flew through her mind. They had certainly had some interesting times. "Poor Arianne! I wonder if she knew what she was getting herself into when she let Diana convince her to stay." They had both taken an instant liking to the young woman who had greeted them at the door upon their arrival that afternoon.
"I think she was still shell-shocked after meeting Dan." Trixie laughed. "Did you see how wide her eyes got?"
"She blushed almost as much as you do!" Honey teased. "And he was just as bad!"
It hadn't taken long for Trixie, Honey and Brian to settle in once they had returned from the aiport late that afternoon. A quick change of clothes, and the three travellers had joined Di, Mart and Arianne on the large front verandah to wait for the last two arrivals. In the midst of Mart recounting stories of his latest book tour, the faint growl of a motor could be heard in the distance. As the sound grew in volume, all eyes turned curiously to the street to see a black-clad rider roar up to the small parking area at the side of the house on what Trixie termed 'a hot beast of a motorcycle'. Dan had arrived. He cut the motor and waved up to the group on the porch before removing his black helmet. White teeth flashing in a wide grin, he bounded up the staircase that led from the lot to the walkway in front of the house, and up on the verandah to enfold Honey, Trixie and Di in a huge bear hug.
"Now that's what I call a greeting!" He grinned over the heads of the three women to Brian and Mart who stood patiently behind them. He gave each of the trio an exuberant kiss before stepping forward to shake the Belden brothers' hands. "It's great to see you all!" He exclaimed, dark eyes dancing. "Where's Jim? Not here yet?" He looked past Brian and Mart and his eyes fell on the tall, slender redhead who had been partially hidden behind them. Not the redhead he had been expecting to see.
"Dan, this is my friend Arianne Chevalier. Her family owns and runs this place." Diana introduced, exchanging an amused glance with Trixie and Honey. "Arianne, this is one of my oldest friends, Dan Mangan."
"It's....um...nice to....um....meet you." Dan extended his hand dazedly. Brian and Mart grinned at each other.
"Enchantée." Arianne said softly in french, taking his hand and looking up at him through her long, dark lashes. Her cheeks coloured prettily as she raised her head slightly and gazed into his eyes. They stood, frozen for a long moment, staring at each other bemusedly.
"If that's 'pleased to meet you' in french, it certainly sounds wonderful." Trixie observed finally, trying almost successfully to hide her grin. "Enchantée......enchantée...." She rolled the word around on her tongue appreciatively.
"Somehow, it doesn't sound quite the same as when Arianne says it." Mart chuckled. "You'd better get her to give you lessons." He advised his sister. Arianne tore her gaze away from Dan and smiled at Trixie.
"It would be pleasure to teach you a little of my language so that you could get around during your stay." She smiled. "Diana has told me that Honee has a little french." Her accent was not terribly thick, but it charmed her audience completely.
"High school, high school, Arianne," Honey protested with a small laugh. She took pity on the still entranced Dan at her side and slipped an arm around his waist. "Would you like a drink, Dan. You must be parched after that long trip."
"Hm? Oh, yeah, sure, Honey." Dan shook his head slightly, as if clearing the cobwebs and smiled at her. He didn't see Mart and Brian turn their faces to hide their grins of amusement, nor Trixie and Di exchange meaningful glances with twinkling eyes. Arianne was just as oblivious as she gazed thoughtfully at his black clad figure.
"It's going to be very interesting to see how the next two weeks play out, Honey." Trixie said finally, draining the last of her tea. "Arianne and Dan. Mart and Di." She grinned at her friend and was suddenly struck by the faint smudges of darkness under Honey's eyes. And you and Brian, she thought.
"It sure is." Honey agreed and was taken by surprise by a huge yawn. "Oh, I think I'd better get up to bed." She said, getting to her feet and putting the two tea mugs in the sink. She turned to face her friend. "Trix, I'm so glad we came up here!" She exclaimed suddenly. "It's so wonderful to have everybody together again!" Including you and Jim, even if you did avoid the subject all night, she thought. I won't let you avoid it much longer!
"It's perfectly perfect!" Trixie laughed. "C'mon, let's get some shut-eye." Arm in arm, they went up the stairs, leaving the kitchen in darkness behind them.
Jim Frayne laid on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He was exhausted from his drive up from Sleepyside, but now he was finding it next to impossible to sleep. Too many thoughts that he'd kept buried for too long were now circling in his mind with an almost perverse glee. He had turned on the bedside light and tried to read Mart's latest opus, but he found he could not concentrate for any longer than a paragraph or two. So now he stared at the ceiling and thought.
He had been the last of group to arrive, pulling his black Viper, his one extravagance in life, into the small parking lot just before supper. Everyone had been sitting on the verandah, chatting happily, getting caught up on each other's lives. They all stopped as he killed the car engine and got to their feet waving madly as he exited the car. Diana looked fabulous, as usual, he noted as he hugged her affectionately. Mart and Dan, side by side, looking like two ruffians, shook his hand warmly, teasing him about his car. His sister, Honey, hugged him warmly and scolded him for not coming to supper the night before while Brian just grinned from behind her. The engaging young woman who was introduced to him as Arianne welcomed him warmly with a few words in french. And then Trixie had hugged him and kissed his cheek in greeting. It had been years since their breakup, yet even after all this time, just seeing her wide, china-blue eyes was enough to make him catch his breath, never mind feeling her arms about his waist and her lips brush his cheek.
There had been other women in the years since Trixie. More than a couple, if the truth were known. They had never lasted any longer than six months, if that long. There had always been something missing, something he couldn't quite figure out that Trixie had and they did not. He had not been serious about a single one of them.
That he and Trixie had managed to rediscover, albeit slowly, their friendship after the initial shock of their break-up was something he credited to her good sense. She and Honey were so close, even though many hundreds of miles apart, that she didn't want to make their interaction any harder than it had to be. And he agreed. Honey, and by extension Brian, hadn't needed to be placed in the middle of their problems. So they had finally agreed to put aside their differences and try to keep any bitterness to themselves so that their respective best friends and siblings would not be hurt. Too often, however, they ended up arguing about something; usually something stupid, he admitted to himself, all their good intentions flying out the proverbial window.
But everytime he saw her over the years, his stomach did the same flip-flop and he knew that his feelings for her had not subsided. She, however, showed no signs of going through the same thing. She treated him as she treated her brothers, with a casual, affectionate and teasing manner. As a matter of fact, she seemed far more aware of Dan as a man, than she was of him. He was relegated to the fraternal ranks, and he had to admit that he did not care for the feeling.
Just past her thirtieth birthday, she still looked like a girl of eighteen. He found that he liked the way her longer blond curls tumbled to her shoulders. There was still a faint trace of freckles across her upturned nose despite the tan she told him she had acquired on her latest story assignement. Her powder blue t-shirt and jean shorts accentuated her small athletic form which he still found maddeningly attractive. Was he ever going to get Trixie Belden out of his system, he wondered?
Dan looked at his reflection in the mirror, trying to figure out what was going on with the man who stared back at him. Dark eyes regarded him with frank puzzlement, one eyebrow slightly raised. Deciding that there were no answers to be found by staring at himself, he snorted in self-amusement and turned away to continue getting ready for bed. He quickly stripped, tossing his black jeans and t-shirt onto the nearby chair then flopped onto the bed. He pulled the sheet up to his waist and stretched to turn out the bedside lamp, plunging the room into darkness.
The moment he had laid eyes on Arianne Chevalier he felt as if he had been struck by lightning. Even now, in the darkness, all he could see was her, standing there on the verandah behind the Belden brothers. Tall and slender, long copper hair falling down her back to her waist, her golden eyes met his and he felt as if he were drowning in them. Then he had taken her hand and her touch was electric. Everyone around them faded from his awareness and there was only himself and the vision before him. She turned away first, reluctantly he had noted bemusedly, and only Honey slipping her arm around his waist had brought him back to earth.
He had spent the rest of the evening stealing convert glances at the young French woman, searching out reasons to sit near her, to talk to her, even to touch her. He was behaving like a man possessed and had no idea how to stop. This was so totally out of character for him. Daniel W. Mangan was always in control, always knew the score and always kept his mind on the business at hand, never letting his emotions off their tight leash. That was what made him a good cop. But one look at this girl and he was lost. Even loving Trixie hadn't made him feel so confused and addlebrained!
Maybe he should have a talk with Trix, he mused. He could be open and honest with her after everything they'd been through and what they meant to each other. He did still love her, but it had long since lost it's power to hurt. She was the person who knew him best in the world, better than his ex-partner, better than Mart, better even than his Uncle Bill. Maybe he could talk to her and figure out why he was so captivated by Arianne. He sighed into the darkness; even her name was gorgeous!
"Idiot!" He exclaimed aloud. "Go to sleep and stop acting like a teenage girl with a bad case of the 'In-Syncs'!" He scolded himself, but it was no use. He couldn't get the thought of her out of his mind. He wondered what it would be like to hold her in his arms, to run his hands through her long copper hair, to kiss her........... Stop it, you fool! You just met the girl! He pulled the pillow over his face and groaned. It was going to be a very long night.
Arianne sat at the small desk in her bedroom at the top of the stairs, writing furiously in her journal. Her long hair had been hastily woven into a long braid that hung down her back and she had changed from her jeans and t-shirt into an emerald green kimono. What had happened to her that afternoon? She had taken one look at Diana's friend Daniel and lost her mind. Never had a man left her feeling that her breath had been knocked out of her with just a smile. She had watched him hurry up the walkway to meet his friends and knew that trouble was headed her way. She had always had a penchant for tall, dark, slim men who dressed in black. Then Mart had stepped aside, and she had met those dark eyes. Coup de foudre they called it. Struck by lightning, right in the heart.
She had been aware of his gaze following her all night long. His manouverings to be near her or to touch her were obvious to her as well. That he was interested in her warmed her and made her smile, even now, hours later, writing in her journal. Five pages she had already written tonight, and most of the words were about him.
She stopped writing finally, seven pages filled in her journal, set down her pen and stretched. Tomorrow would be another day and what would be would be. If her heart was going to pound every time he looked her way, then it would pound. If tomorrow he looked at her and there was nothing, then there would be nothing. To borrow a phrase from Diana's Mart, she would 'go with the flow'. Deep inside, however, she knew that the flow was going to lead her in the direction of the tall, dark, motorcycle-riding man who had quite literally taken her breath away.
Brian awoke suddenly as Honey slipped into the queen-sized. He turned over to find her in the darkness. "Where were you?" He asked sleepily.
"Trixie and I were having some tea and talk." She told him, her voice barely above a whisper. "I'm sorry I woke you." She pulled the blankets up over her shoulders and lay her head on her pillow.
"It's OK. Don't worry about it." He reached up and touched her cheek lightly. "Night." He smiled slightly, then turned over, moving his body a little closer to hers.
"Night, Brian." She replied with a small sigh. A few moments later, her breathing became even and he sensed that she had fallen asleep. When had it changed, he wondered, just before drifting off himself. When had it become all right to fall asleep not holding each other? When had they become just all right? He slid back into sleep.
Chapter 6: C'est La Vie - Chapter 6
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 6
Trixie flipped the switch on the coffee maker and waited until it began to drip before turning her attention to the view from the window over the sink. The early morning sunlight sparkled off the blue waters of the swimming pool offering a serene invitation. She looked at the clock. It was still early. None of the others would be up for a while yet, she assumed with a sigh. Since that morning long ago, when she almost drowned, she had never gone swimming alone. However, she was ready as soon as someone made an appearance, having donned her swimsuit under her oversized t-shirt.
When the coffee was ready, she poured herself a steaming mug and went through the patio doors to sit on the deck that overlooked the pool area. Large trees shaded the far end of the yard, but the deck and most of the pool were bathed in the bright sunlight. Trixie stretched out on one of the chaise lounges and enjoyed the solitude.
Invariably, her thoughts turned to her friends. It was so nice that they were all together again. Almost like old times, she smiled to herself. She tried to remember exactly when the last time all seven of them had been together and came to the conclusion that it had been at her nephew's christening. Just before the summer she had spent with Dan. The summer she had broken up with Jim.
Leaving Jim had been the hardest thing she had ever done, for she had truly loved him with all her being. Probably more than had been good for her, she acknowledged. He had thought she was perfect and it was hard to live up to perfection. Especially for one who knew darned well exactly how imperfect she was. He had wanted so badly to protect her from anything unpleasant that he'd ended up stifling her. Why he assumed that he always knew what was best for the both of them was a mystery she had never been able to crack. She had a sneaking suspicion that Jim had control issues that were the root of their problems. She had tried to deal with it, to be patient and understanding, but finally she had reached her limit. It seemed that in the eyes of the man she loved she was always wrong; what she wanted never measured up to the way he wanted things to be. She began to doubt herself, both as a woman and as a reporter, and that was more than she was willing or able to handle. Her self-confidence was in danger of crumbling, so she had turned to the one person she felt she could trust and with whom she could be herself with no restraint.
Her summer with Dan was filled with memories that she treasured to this very day. For the first time in a long, long while, she had ceased to feel that her every action was being judged and often found wanting. And she had blossomed under the freedom. She felt truly carefree for the first time in a long while. Dan had allowed her to be the woman she was meant to be. Trite, yes, but definitely true. There had never been any talk about what was the 'right' thing to do, no planning of things that would have been better left to spontaneity and no concerns about what the future would bring. They had snatched a short moment in time, Trixie reflected, and lived it to its fullest. She had the tattoo on her butt to prove it, she grinned inwardly. Dan had been good for her. He had given her back her self-confidence and shown her a side of herself she hadn't thought existed; an earthy, sexual side. And she had been good for him too. She wasn't certain how, exactly, unless it had been to lighten him up a little. Dan had always been so intense as a teenager and young man. She hoped she had taught him how to play. She still loved him dearly, and thank heavens there had been no awkwardness between them once their summer was over. She had called him every week on the phone and once they both had internet connections, they had kept up to date on each other through emails and sometimes instant messaging services. There was a stong affection between them now that could never be broken, even if they had both gone their separate ways. It was really too bad, she mused, that she and Jim couldn't have done the same.
When Jim had arrived the previous afternoon, she realised a slight tightening of her stomach muscles. It was always the same whenever she saw him. They had not spent more than two days in each other's company since their break-up and Trixie was constantly aware of an underlying tension between them. There was a small corner of her mind that wondered if she was truly over James Winthrop Frayne and it worried her. She could not deny that she still found him powerfully attractive - any woman would. The thick auburn hair, amazing green eyes, broad shoulders, extremely fit form, he was a package to delight anyone of the female persuasion. How she was going to deal with two whole weeks in his company was anyone's guess. For not the first time, she wondered if she had done the right thing in accepting Diana's invitation, but that was her fear talking she realised. She was going to have to look at this in a postitive manner, she scolded herself as she took the last sip of her coffee. Maybe these two weeks would finally see her lay the ghost of her relationship with Jim to rest. She hoped so.
"Need a refill?" A voice startled her out of her revery. She twisted in her chair to see Dan lounging in the patio doorway holding the pot of coffee.
"Your timing is impeccable." She grinned, holding out her mug.
"So how have you been, Trix?" Once the mug had been refilled and the pot returned to the kitchen, he came to sit in the chair beside hers, his own mug of coffee steaming. "I haven't spoken to you in almost three weeks."
"Conflicting schedules, I guess," She chuckled. "It happens sometimes. I've been good, but busy mind you. What about you? Did the promotion list come out?" She asked hopefully. She knew he had been waiting anxiously for the current round of promotions at the precinct.
"Yeah, it came out." He replied flatly and she knew instantly that it wasn't good news. She reached out a hand to touch his arm.
"Oh, Dan, I'm sorry." She said. He covered her hand with one of his.
"Don't worry about it, Trix. It's okay, really. It actually made me re-evaluate things. Finally." He flashed her a sudden grin. "I resigned."
"Really?" Her blue eyes were wide. He nodded.
"Yup. I decided that it was way past time that I took my talents elsewhere." He explained. "You know how tough it's been for the past while. I came to the conclusion that I don't belong on a big city police force. Far too much politics for my liking. I can't play their game. So I resigned." He shrugged slightly and gave her another of his smiles.
"What are you going to do?" She asked. "Do you have any ideas?"
"I really don't know yet," he admitted. "But I have enough money put aside to give myself some breathing room. I don't have to make a decision tomorrow, if you know what I mean." He ran his hands through his wavy, dark hair. "I'm actually feeling more positive than I've felt in quite a while."
"Well then, maybe it's a good thing." Trixie acknowledged with a bob of her blond curls. "Sometimes just making the decision to leave is the toughest part." She studied him for a long moment. He appeared to be at peace with his decision, no worried frown creased his forehead, no shadows lurked in his dark eyes. Satisfied, she grinned mischievously. "So, um, Dan, what do you think of Diana's friend Arianne? Looked to me like you were pretty taken with her yesterday."
"Aw, Trix!" Dan did something he seldom did. He blushed. "Was I that obvious?"
"Obvious, Danno?" Trixie arched her eyebrows. "A deaf, blind mute couldn't have missed it in a London fog," she teased.
"Terrific!" Dan was dismayed. He sank lower into his chair and stared glumly out over the pool. "I hardly slept a wink last night, Trix. What the hell is that all about?" He demanded.
"I think the word is smitten, Dan," She told him with a chuckle. She was so enjoying his discomfiture. That the coolest of the Bob-Whites should be so completely at sixes and sevens was something she had never thought to see.
"Smitten, huh?" He shrugged slightly. "If that's what it is when I can't get the girl out of my mind, then I guess I'm smitten."
"That bad?" Trixie struggled to hide her grin but failed miserably.
"Trix, when I first lay eyes on her I couldn't see anything but her! She mesmerised me. All night I kept thinking about her, replaying every time she talked to me, every time she touched me by accident, every time she even looked at me! I was even mooning over her name at one point!" He groaned. "Honest to God, I never felt anything like this before!" He slid even lower on his spine so that the top of his head was barely visible above the back of his chair. He looked so dejected that Trixie finally decided to take pity on him.
"Well, if it helps, I'm pretty sure she felt much the same about you." She told him. One dark eyebrow raised in hopeful query. "I don't know the woman at all, but it seemed to me that she showed the classic signs of being hit by a Mack truck at the same time you were."
"You could tell this how?" He was skeptical, but there was a spark of interest in the depths of his eyes.
"Danno, I'm an investigative reporter. I'm paid big bucks to spot these types of things." She informed him loftily. He rolled his eyes in response, not amused by her teasing. "Trust me." She grinned. "Have I ever led you wrong before?"
"Oh, you of all people don't want me to answer that!" He exclaimed. A sudden, wicked grin creased his cheeks. She was having far too much fun at his expense. "Say, Trix," he began, setting his coffee mug on the table and getting to his feet. "You tried the pool yet?" He dove for her and before she could figure out what was happening, he had grabbed her and thrown her over his shoulder.
"Dan, you wouldn't dare!" She yelped, realising his intentions. She struggled to get loose from his grasp, her legs flailing, fists pounding ineffectually on his back.
"Daniel William Mangan! You creep!!" They were at the edge of the pool and still she struggled madly. "You'll regret this!" She cried and he laughed.
"I don't think so." He gave one large heave of his shoulders and tossed her. With a shriek, she headed for the water but at the last minute caught his shoulders just enough that he went tumbling in after her. They came up sputtering and laughing, drops of water flying everywhere.
"Oh, you'll pay, buddy, you'll pay!" She stated, pushing bedraggled blond curls from her eyes. He grinned sweetly at her just as she grabbed him and pushed him under. The battle was joined. Splashing, laughing, calling dire warnings and mock death threats to each other, they were like two ten-year olds. Finally, gasping through her giggles, Trixie reached for the side of the pool and admitted defeat, albeit temporarily. Dan came alongside her and together they hung calmly, regaining their breath.
"I'm glad you decided to come," Dan said quietly, giving her a kiss on her forehead. "I think I'm going to need you over the next couple of weeks," he added. Trixie smiled and began to speak, but a movement at the patio door caught their attention. A tall, redheaded male form turned and walked back into the kitchen. She could feel her cheeks flush, in spite of the cool water of the pool. Had Jim been watching for long? And why was it bothering her? She sighed heavily and gave Dan a rueful smile which he returned understandingly.
"I think I'm going to need you too," she said. "I believe I'm coming down with a relapse of JWF Syndrome."
"It's the damned red hair." Dan observed. "We both ought to know better."
An hour later and chaos reigned in the large kitchen. Breakfast was underway and the table was full. The decision had been made to take turns cooking the meals in the house, and Mart and Arianne had pulled the first shift.
"We're going to make you an honorary Bob-White." Trixie told the young French woman. "Right, Mr. Co-President?" She looked down the table towards Jim.
"Right, Madame Co-President." He affirmed with a smile at the woman in question.
"What is a ...bob-white?" Arianne asked in confusion. Diana chuckled and laid a hand on her friend's arm.
"Remember I told you about the club we had when we were teenagers? We called ourselves The Bob-Whites of the Glen." She explained.
"Because we all lived along Glen Road," Brian added. Arianne nodded slowly.
"Yes, but what is a bob-white?" She repeated. "This is not something I know."
"Oh! It's a little bird." Dan understood her confusion immediately. "A quail. Jim taught us to whistle just like one of them." He gave her an example, pursing his lips. Bob-white! Bob-white! She watched him in fascination, much to the amusement of the others. "Try it, Ari. It's easy enough." He whistled again. She watched him closely, then shook her head ever so slightly, as if to clear her mind. Her cheeks flushed becomingly and taking a deep breath, gave the call a try. It was soft, but it was clearly the sound of a bob-white.
"A little practice and you'll be as good as any of us." Dan told her, never taking his eyes from her face. She gazed back at him, then deliberately pursed her lips to whistle again, oblivious to anyone else.
"She's good." Honey leaned over to murmur appreciatively to Trixie at her side, her hazel eyes dancing.
"It is getting rather warm, isn't it?" Trixie giggled softly, then raised her voice. "Well, then it's decided. Arianne is an honourary Bob-White." She grinned as the couple started, realising they were not alone in the room.
"Mart, is there any more coffee in that pot?" Honey, in her usual tactful way, turned attention away from them. "And have we decided what the agenda for today is?"
"We had thought that we'd just all relax around the pool today if the weather cooperated," Diana said as Mart rose from his chair to refill coffee cups. "And since it seems to be a beautiful summer day out there, that's the plan."
"Sounds good to me." Brian stretched in his chair. "I could use a day of doing absolutely nothing."
"Oh, no, you're on lunch duty, my friend!" Jim grinned, indicating the schedule that they had laughingly stuck to the refrigerator the night before. "You and Trixie." Brian rolled his dark eyes and sighed heavily in mock despair.
"I think ordering some famed Montreal pizza is a good idea, brother mine, don't you?" Trixie suggested, and he nodded in quick agreement. The storm of protest that met this idea was totally expected by both of them. In the midst of the teasing and laughing, the sound of a cellular phone chirped intermittently from the corner of the kitchen counter.
"That's mine." Diana sighed, her expression changing from one of pleasure to one of resignation. "Please excuse me." She got to her feet and grabbed the phone, heading for the hallway. Glances were exchanged around the table and the grim look on Mart's face was duly noted by all.
"I have the list of things that we thought you would like to do during your stay." Arianne offered into the silence.
"Good idea. Let's take a look." Dan nodded, realising what she was trying to do. He gave her a quick wink and was pleased when she smiled slightly in return.
The group clustered around Arianne as she pulled the list from her large totebag. Only Mart held himself somewhat aloof from the discussion, much to his sister's curious interest. She watched as a small muscle in his cheek clenched and unclenched as he stared towards the doorway through which Diana had disappeared. His blue eyes were dark with an emotion that Trixie had seldom seen in them. Anger. Intrigued, she listened to the discussion going on around her with only half an ear, the rest of her attention riveted on her brother. She thought she had the answer to the question she had posed to Honey the previous night. Things were serious between Mart and Diana; at least on her brother's part. As she watched, he suddenly cursed under his breath and darted from the kitchen. Honey looked up from the table and exchanged a glance with her. Something was wrong. They waited. Neither of them were paying attention to the conversation around the table now. Their patience was rewarded a minute later. All talk stopped abruptly as Mart's angry voice boomed from the hallway.
"Now you listen to me, buddy! Diana has told you numerous times that she's not interested right now. She has asked you, with far more class than you deserve, to let her enjoy her vacation without thinking of work. Just who do you think signs your paycheck anyway? You will not call her again until she calls you; you will not send or messenger anything to her until she calls you; you will not tell anyone where they can find her until she calls you; you will do as she requests with no discussion and no arguments. Or I will personally catch the next flight to L.A. and rip your damned head off! Is that understood?" Mart was more furious than Trixie had ever heard him, and she had been on the recieving end of his fury on several occasions in the past.
"And they accuse me of having a temper." Jim murmured. There were grins around the table, even from Arianne. After all, she too had red hair.
A few moments later, Mart came striding into the kitchen, Diana's cellphone clutched tightly in his fist. She trailed behind him, her cheeks streaked with tears, but a small bemused smile on her lips. Her violet eyes watched his every move. All eyes watched the couple with interest.
"You see this, sweetness." He held the phone up and she nodded mutely. "You will not be bothered by this anymore. I made you a promise and I'm keeping it." He pushed open the patio door and flung the phone with all his might. There was a faint splash echoed by his satisfied grunt. Diana's eyes were wide, all thoughts of tears apparently forgotten for the moment. "No more answering the phone, ok? Let Arianne or one of us get it." She nodded mutely. "Di, those people work for you, not the other way around. You are their boss; they do what you tell them to do. If you say you want to be left alone, they leave you alone. Stop being so damned nice to them, for pete's sake! Be the diva you were born to be, just for a little bit." He smiled gently at her then, and there was not a doubt in anyone's mind about how he felt about this woman.
"Oh, Mart!" She flung her arms about his neck and gave him a resounding kiss. Both were oblivious to their audience as the kiss turned into something more passionate. Only when Brian and Jim both cleared their throats and Trixie muffled a chuckle did they remember where they were. Diana turned within a blushing Mart's arms and faced her friends.
"Isn't he just the smartest boy?" She demanded happily.
Chapter 7: C'est La Vie - Chapter 7
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 7
The four women congregated in Trixie’s bedroom, leaving the men to clean up after breakfast was finally dispensed with. They were supposed to be changing into their swimsuits, but in reality they were all four giggling like schoolgirls. Trixie and Diana were seated cross-legged on the bed, Honey in the window seat and Arianne in the easy chair in the corner.
“It’s been years since I’ve seen Mart in so much of an uproar!” Trixie gasped. “And when he told you to be the diva you were born to be!” She dissolved into laughter once again. “Diana, I’ve known you for most of your life; you’ve never been even close to being a diva!”
“But I can play one on TV.” Diana quipped, joining in her friend’s laughter.
“If I had not thought so before, now I know that he truly cares for you.” Arianne observed with a wide smile. “He is very...um.... imposing is the word? Yes, imposing when he is angry.” Her tone indicated that she highly approved.
“Oh, Di, no one has ever been able to stand up for you better than Mart could,” Honey sighed, wiping tears of laughter from the corners of her eyes. “I agree with Arianne. He was magnificent.” She drew her knees up to her chin and wrapped her slender arms around them. “It’s very romantic,” she added wistfully.
“So tell us all about it! When did this all happen?” Trixie wanted to know. “How did it all come about?” Diana blushed prettily as three pairs of eyes gazed at her expectantly.
“Well, we were hoping to keep it a secret for a little while longer, but I guess the cat’s out of the bag now.” She smiled, violet eyes glowing happily. “Ever since Mart came to town a couple of weeks ago, we’ve hardly been out of each other’s sight. I just feel so comfortable and right with him, you know? And I don’t have to be ‘Diana Lynch, Movie Star’ when we’re together. He knows the real me, and to my surprise, he actually seems to like that person.” She pushed a strand of black hair behind her ear.
“And why not? You’re a wonderful person!” Honey exclaimed.
“Honey, you have no idea what it’s like to be part of the Hollywood community,” Diana countered with a shake of her head. “How it feels to be valued for your looks alone; no one caring what’s going on in your head, unless it’s going to make their picture behind schedule or over budget. I was honestly beginning to believe that I was the airhead everyone thought I was. And I still had that old demon of insecurity to deal with. I’ve never gotten over it; just gotten good at hiding it over the years. But Mart saw all through that.” Her features lit up as she spoke his name.
“I’ve discovered that Mart has become pretty perceptive with age,” Trixie agreed with a grin. “And he always had a soft spot for you, Di. You should have seen them when they were teenagers, Arianne.” She turned to the redhead in the chair. “Mart and Di used to go everywhere together. It was almost as if they were joined at the hip or something. And Mart would do whatever Di asked him to do. We were all actually kind of surprised when the two of them drifted apart after high school. I personally thought they’d be married within the year.”
“So did I,” Honey agreed with a bob of her golden head. “I always thought they were so perfectly perfect together.”
“I would guess that they both had some growing to do before they were ready for each other.” Arianne observed wisely. “And now they are perfectly perfect together, as you say.”
“Are you falling in love with him?” Trixie asked bluntly, fixing Diana with a suddenly serious blue gaze. “Because it sure looked that way downstairs.”
“Oh, Trix, never mind falling! I think I’m already in all the way!” Diana admitted with a wide smile, all thoughts of secrets gone from her mind. She wanted to share her newfound emotions with her closest friends. Suddenly she realized that one other thing hadn’t changed over the years. Trixie and Honey were still her best friends, even if she hadn’t seen that much of them during her rise to stardom. That was going to change, she vowed to herself. Many things in her life were going to change, now that she had been given the chance to make those changes. And she wasn’t going to let Arianne fade from her life either. They had clicked the moment they had met and Diana sensed that the French girl would become someone very special to her, given half a chance. “Yes, my friends, I seem to be madly and passionately in love with the guy who pitched my cell phone into the pool.” She grinned happily. “And I think he feels the same way about me! He’s not actually said the words, and to be honest, neither have I, but...there it is.” She spread her hands out in front of her.
“That’s wonderful!” Trixie crowed. She reached over and enveloped Diana in a tight hug. “I knew something was up when I saw him sneaking out of your room last night.” She chuckled over Di’s shoulder.
“I had an idea that he was the one making you sound so much better over the past couple of weeks,” Honey said with a happy smile of her own. “I was getting rather worried about you before that, you know.”
“She was very tired,” Arianne offered. “Tante Isabelle was quite worried about her during the last few weeks of the movie shoot. But lately, I have seen Diana become less worried and stressed and that is your brother’s influence, Trixie.” Her golden eyes twinkled. “Mart is a good medicine. He makes Diana laugh. This is a good thing.”
“He makes her glow too.” Trixie gave her friend a sidelong glance.
“Then I would also say that he is a good lover, no?” Arianne arched a fine reddish-brown eyebrow wickedly. Diana blushed a shade of deep pink that had heretofore belonged only to Trixie.
“I would say, yes.” Honey nodded vigorously, choking back threatening giggles. She could not decide which was the more amusing result of Arianne’s unabashed frankness; Diana’s charming embarrassment or Trixie’s struggle between her innate and insatiable curiosity and not really wanting the details of her brother’s sex life.
“Mart always was … um … enthusiastic about his passions,” Trixie finally observed and the quartet dissolved into giggles once again.
“Heavens! I feel sixteen again!” Diana exclaimed when she could speak again. “I’m so happy we’re all together after all this time!”
“What’s that?” Trixie asked as an odd scratching noise came from the door. She arose from the bed to open it and began to chuckle as a small form trotted into the room. “I think Harvey is annoyed that we left him out in the cold.” She closed the door again and bent down to give the little dog a friendly pat.
“Oh, he didn’t have too hard a time of it, I’m sure.” Diana grinned. “Mart feeds him table scraps when he thinks I’m not looking. And judging by this crumb on his chin, Harvey’s been enjoying leftover bacon.” She picked up her pet and hugged him to her.
“Well, I guess we really should think about getting into our bathing suits,” Honey said, casting a quick look out the window. “The guys are already settling around the pool. My goodness! When did they all get so hunky?” She turned from the window, her hazel eyes twinkling.
“They were always hunky, Honey,” Diana chuckled, going to join her for a look. “We were just far too used to the sights to enjoy them, if you know what I mean.” She winked. “Oh my! Have Jim and Brian been working out in the school gym? And when did Dan get all those shoulder muscles? Ooh, and that tattoo!” By this time, Trixie and Arianne had stationed themselves at the second window in the bedroom and were watching the scene below, appreciative grins on both their faces.
“We have the beginnings of our own Chippendale’s calendar down there!” Trixie observed, unable to take her eyes from one figure in particular. Why did he still have to be so sexy and supple? The sight of Jim Frayne in his bathing trunks was doing funny things to her breathing, she realized. It wasn’t fair! She was supposed to have been over him long ago!
“Magnifique.” Arianne murmured softly. </i>“Trois beaux hommes et un méchant pétard.”</i>
“Translation, please?” Trixie demanded, thankful to have something else to think about. “I got the magnificent part and the three beautiful men, but you lost me with the last bit.” She grinned. Arianne bit her lip shyly, then gave a shrug.
“It does not need to be a secret with you three,” she said. “I said three handsome men and one, how could I say… damned fine specimen?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Dan!” Trixie, Honey and Diana chorused triumphantly.
“It is this obvious?” Arianne asked in amused embarrassment. “I cannot help it. Look at him! He is so…so…so…male!” She held her hands wide in helplessness. “I cannot resist a man like Daniel.” She sighed ruefully. “He is far too much to my taste.”
“Why would you want to resist?” Honey asked, gazing out the window again. A small smile flickered across her face as she watched her husband dive cleanly into the water. He certainly hadn’t lost his form over the years. I suppose he has been working out with Jim at the school, which would explain some of the late evenings.
“I do not think I do,” the French girl admitted with a sudden grin.
“Then by all means, don’t resist!” Trixie laughed. “I don’t think Dan will mind in the least.”
“You don’t?” Arianne’s eyes sparkled. “I should then bring out the bikini?” She asked in an innocent voice that fooled no one.
“Oh, most definitely!” Diana agreed. “I love seeing Dan at a loss for words.”
“I remember when I could render Brian speechless just by what I was wearing,” Honey said softly, then started as she realised she had spoken aloud. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Trixie was at her side in an instant, throwing her arms around her friend’s shaking shoulders. Diana and Arianne gathered near, concern written all over their faces.
“Nothing, really,” Honey protested, dashing the tears away and trying to gather her composure.
“Bull!” Trixie wasn’t buying it for a minute and a quick look exchanged with the other two told her she wasn’t the only one. “Something’s been bothering you for a while. I sensed it the moment I walked into your house two days ago.” She manoeuvred her friend to the easy chair and sat her down, perching herself on the arm of it. Diana settled on the floor at Honey’s feet, Indian-style, and Arianne pulled the desk chair over to sit slightly behind Di.
“Oh, I’m just being stupid, I guess.” Honey ran her slender hands through her short-cropped hair.
“You feel badly. Something is wrong. This is not stupid.” Arianne pointed out gently.
“Let us help.” Diana reached out to touch her friend’s knee lightly. Harvey jumped up into the chair beside Honey, and curled up next to her, sensing her distress. Honey could not suppress a small smile at this, and scratched the dog’s ears fondly.
“See, Honey, even Harvey wants to help.” Trixie grinned but her blue eyes were filled with concern. “It has something to do with Brian, doesn’t it?” She surmised, not surprised when her sister-in-law nodded mutely.
“Are you guys having problems?” Diana asked softly.
“Oh, I don’t know if we’re having problems, or if it’s just me overreacting.” Honey sighed deeply. “Maybe I’m imagining it, but it just seems to me that lately, Brian doesn’t notice me at all! He’s always working; either at the office or at the school. He comes home late half the time, and the other half, when he comes home on time, he barely seems to notice that I’m there!” Her eyes filled with tears again and she dashed at them almost angrily. “He never even said anything about my haircut, and it’s not like it’s a trim or anything!” She exclaimed.
“He does have this single-minded streak at times,” Trixie mused. “And I’m sure there’s no other woman.” She shook her blond curls decisively.
“Brian has only ever had eyes for Honey.” Diana agreed. “There can’t be another woman. You know, he’s probably just so wrapped up with his work that he’s forgotten about the other parts of his life.”
“Men can be so stupid sometimes!” Trixie rolled her eyes in exasperation. She wished she could shake her eldest brother until his teeth rattled. How could he neglect his wife! Even the kids had noticed, she realised, remember Casey’s remarks when she had arrived in Sleepyside. “Do you want me to talk to him, Honey?”
“God, no!” Her best friend shook her head vehemently. “It’s something I have to work out for myself. And with him.” She toyed with the dog’s ears as she spoke.
“If I may?” Arianne spoke up. “Maybe we can give you some behind the scenes help,” she said. “That is the right words, Diana?”
“They are.” Diana nodded. “What are you thinking?” She twisted around to look at her young friend, while Trixie and Honey both gazed at her expectantly.
“Well, it sounds like Brian needs to notice Honee again, n’est-ce pas?” Arianne leaned forward in her chair to explain. “What better place to rediscover love than here in Montreal? It is the most romantic city in North America,” she flashed a quick smile. “Diana and Mart are proof, no? In any case, we will adjust the agenda to include a few more romantic things. I think that no one will complain?” The three women shook their heads, Trixie slightly reluctantly. “Another thing we will do. There is a wonderful boutique only a few blocks from here. It is commonly called a sex shop.” She grinned at their raised eyebrows. “But they have some beautiful lingerie as well as some amusing toys. We will be going for the clothing.” She turned serious once again. “Of course, this will not solve the problems you are facing, Honee, but once you have regained his attention, it will be easier to talk, I think.” She tucked a strand of copper hair behind her ear and settled back in her chair.
“Well, it’s worth a try, Arianne,” Honey said finally. “God knows, nothing I’ve tried in the past few months has seemed to work! I just want him to notice me again! Me, Honey; not Mom, not the wife, not the chief cook and bottle washer. Me, Madeleine Wheeler. Is that too much to ask?” She sat a little straighter in her chair. “I just want him to look at me the way Mart looks at Di. He used to up until the last little while.”
“Don’t you worry, Honey. Brian can’t be stupid forever. He’s a Belden for crying out loud! He’ll come to his senses real soon, I’m sure. He’s just forgotten what a good marriage you have and that to keep it good, you have to work at it. You guys just need to…uh… ‘Kick it up a notch’; as that Emeril Lagace guy says in his cooking show.” Trixie reached over and gave Honey a bracing hug.
“Yeah, Brian just needs a little ‘BAM!’' upside the head!” Diana chuckled, patting Honey’s knee. “You know, my Mom and Dad went through something similar a while back. They were so busy in their marriage, that they forgot the relationship that was the basis of the union. It’s like they were so busy being married that they forgot why they were married.”
“I didn’t know that!” Honey was surprised, as was Trixie.
“It was after the girls finally left the house,” the actress explained. “Mom realised that Dad wasn’t really seeing her any more. It was like they were going through the motions, she told me. She was certain he was having an affair.” Diana flipped her long hair over her shoulders, rolling her eyes at the idea of her father with a woman other than her mother. “And you know that Dad just adores Mom. Anyway, she got mad and decided to do something about it. She made reservations at the exclusive resort down in the Cayman Islands everyone talks about; then she called up Dad’s office and cancelled all his appointments for the next two weeks, swearing his secretary to secrecy. She picked him up at the office that night, bags packed and in the back of the car. This is my mother doing this! She drove right to the airport, put herself and Dad on the plane and then, according to her, they had the hottest two weeks since their honeymoon. She said she made him remember why they got married in the first place. ‘By word and by deed’ were her exact words,” she chuckled. “And they’re happier than ever now.” She finished triumphantly.
“You might be right, Di.” Honey began to brighten. “Maybe we just need to put a little oomph back into our marriage. We get so wrapped up in day-to-day life that we forget sometimes. I mean, maybe Brian isn’t seeing me the way I want him to, but maybe that’s because I haven’t tried so hard to be seen that in that way lately. You know?” She wiped the last of her tears from her cheeks, straightened her shoulders and smiled at the three women who surrounded her. “I guess it’s time I took charge, huh?”
“Most definitely!” Trixie agreed with a wide grin as a loud banging began on the door.
“You gals gonna spend the whole day gabbing in there?” Dan’s voice demanded from the hallway. Diana scrambled to her feet, and with a quick look at the others, threw open the door.
“We were talking about you!” She informed him, poking him in the bare chest with a long fingernail.
“Oh.” He grinned cockily and leaned against the doorjamb. “Please continue. I’d love to hear.” He looked past her, caught Arianne’s eye and winked.
“You’re conceited, that’s what you are!” Trixie accused laughingly. “How do you know we weren’t talking about all those dismal dates you had in high school? Or that ridiculous act you did for the University Review your senior year? Or that awful habit you have of humming the theme from the original Star Trek when you’re balancing your chequebook? Should I go on?” She widened her blue eyes innocently.
“No, please no!” He raised his hands in surrender. “My ego is sufficiently damaged now, thank you very much.”
“Any time, Dan. We aim to please.” Diana grinned cheekily. “Now get out.” She pushed at him, laughing when Harvey jumped from Honey’s side to stand in the doorway barking excitedly.
“C’mon Muttley.” Dan bent down to scoop up the little dog. “Don’t need a brick to fall on me to tell me when I’m not wanted!” He pasted a hurt look on his face and turned back down the hallway, leaving the four women exchanging amused grins.
“You know, I’ve seen that tattoo of his before,” Honey mused as Diana closed the door once again. The talk with her friends had cheered her and she felt more optimistic that she had in a long while.
“We’d better get our acts together, or we’re going to have someone else banging on the door wondering where we are.” Trixie suggested hurriedly. Honey glanced at her sister-in-law curiously. Suddenly she realised that they had talked about Di and Mart, Arianne and Dan, and herself and Brian; but they had never broached the subject of Trixie and Jim. “I’m a patient woman, Trixie,” she thought. “You can’t avoid it forever. Now where the heck have I seen that tattoo?”</i>
Chapter 8: C'est La Vie - Chapter 8
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 8
“So, Mart, do I understand that you and the fair Diana are a serious item?” Brian asked, joining his brother on the far side of the pool.
“I’d look kind of silly if I denied it, wouldn’t I?” Mart grinned. “I guess I made a bit of a spectacle of myself back there in the kitchen.” The twinkle in his blue eyes belied the sheepishness of his words.
“What was that all about anyway?” Brian asked curiously, sinking into one of the green resin lawn chairs scattered around the circumference of the pool. “I don’t remember the last time I saw you so angry about something.”
“She’s worn out, Brian.” Mart turned serious. “You couldn’t really tell from last night or this morning because she’s so happy and excited to have everyone together, but trust me, she’s been working non-stop for so long that I wouldn’t be surprised if she weren’t on the edge of a burnout.” He ran a hand through his blond curls. “And those people, her people as they say, just won’t leave her alone for two minutes. She’ll tell them that she doesn’t want to be bothered by anything for a few days and then an hour later they’re at her about some script, or some personal appearance, or some interview. It’s a crazy life she leads, Brian. I worry about her.”
“So you’re setting yourself up to take her away from all that?” Brian raised a dark eyebrow. Mart’s impetuousness was often on a par with Trixie’s and he wondered if this was one of those times. “To rescue her?”
“Not at all! She loves to act. She loves the actual craft of it. And to be honest, she enjoys the attention from her fans. But the business of being a big star? That’s the part that she doesn’t like, and I can’t say that I blame her. Who wants to be looked at as just a commodity? None of them really care about Diana Lynch, the person.” Mart shook his head in incomprehension. “For the life of me I don’t see why; she’s so wonderful!”
“You do have it bad, don’t you?” Brian could not help but feel a slight twinge of envy at the realization that his brother was happily and head-over-heels in love with a wonderful woman. It seemed such a long time ago that he had felt the same way, thinking about his wife, their whole lives stretched out ahead of them to share and enjoy as a couple. It’s been ten years, you fool, of course things have changed! You and Honey have a nice, comfortable life now, what’s the problem with that? Times change, real life intrudes and you just get on with it, he scolded himself. You have two beautiful children, a terrific woman, a great career, what more do you want? It’s not like you should expect fireworks and brass bands after all this time! He gave himself a mental shake; this was neither the time nor the place to think about this.
“Brother mine, I don’t mind admitting to you that I think… no, I’m sure that Diana is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. It’s all felt so damned right since we’ve been together here.” Mart’s eyes were bright with intense emotion. “I love her, Brian.”
“May I say that you took your own sweet time about it?” The older Belden teased gently. “We all expected this years ago.”
“Honestly, Brian, I don’t think either of us would have been ready for this years ago,” Mart said soberly. “Well, at least I wouldn’t have,” he amended. “Back then I probably would have wanted to rescue her from what I perceived as an unhappy existence. “He turned thoughtful, his blue eyes squinting as he gazed off into the distance. “You know, it’s a good thing I got my ass out of Sleepyside after graduating from college. I was a terribly obnoxious, young know-it-all back then. Two years of sitting in front of a computer screen in a little dump of an apartment in Baltimore while working shifts in the shipyards will knock the arrogance right out of a guy. I didn’t know a tenth of what I thought I knew.” He chuckled ruefully. “That was a truth I found very difficult to swallow.”
“You’ve never said much about the time between school and your first book hitting the bestseller lists. Rough, huh?” Brian’s brown gaze was sympathetic. It had been a very long time since the brothers had shared confidences and he suddenly realized that he had missed the experience.
“I suppose that it was, but it was what I wanted to do. See, I knew the book would be a winner, if only I could get it out of my head and down on paper. And I also knew that I didn’t have enough life experiences to write truthfully. Man, was I naïve back then! I suppose I could have done something other than work in the shipyards, but I wanted the type of job where I didn’t have to think too much so I could think about my book while I worked. Besides, dock work pays pretty decently.” Mart grinned. “And I got to know a lot of people that have very little in common with the folk from Sleepyside. I’m telling you Brian, it was quite the eye-opener. We were very sheltered growing up, you know; Trixie’s adventures notwithstanding.” Suddenly he smiled a little wistfully. “There was this one girl I went out with for a while…”
“I should have known there’d be a girl somewhere.” Brian rolled his eyes slightly.
“Her name was Phoebe and she was nothing like the girls back home or the girls I met in college.” Mart’s grin widened at the memory. “She’s the one that pierced my ear for me.” He fingered the small stud in his earlobe. “And she taught me more about how to satisfy a woman in and out of the bedroom than I had ever thought possible. Every man should have at least one woman like her in his past somewhere. Luckily, I have a couple.” He stated with a chuckle. “From different parts of the world.” It should have sounded like boasting, but oddly enough, it did not.
“Compared to you, I’m not even sure if what I have can be determined as a past,” Brian observed ruefully. “You’ve certainly come along way from Crabapple Farm, little brother. I guess it never hit me before, despite all the postcards you’d send the kids from different places all over the world.” Brian felt the envy begin to rise again, and ruthlessly shoved it to the back of his mind. He didn’t want to be jealous of his younger brother. That was not how an older brother did things. He should be proud of him, glad he’d had the chance to experience the things that helped to make him a success and happy that he’d fulfilled so many of his lifetime dreams. Brian felt slightly disgusted with himself.
“But that’s in the past,” Mart continued after a moment. “All I want now is to be with Diana. Nothing else seems terribly important compared to that. Even this book that I’m supposed to be working on.” He shrugged. “But since we’re supposed to be on vacation, I’m not going to worry about it. It’ll get done at some point.” He grinned and slouched a little lower in his chair. “For now, I’m going to stretch out here by the pool and enjoy the beautiful sight that’s coming out of the house as I speak.”
“Martin Belden, if you think I’m diving in there after that cell phone, you have another thing coming!” Diana laughed gaily as she came out onto the deck, Harvey dancing at her heels. The other women followed her, ready for a day by the pool.
“I don’t think it’ll be ringing again any time soon,” Brian said to Mart with a chuckle. “You’ve seen to that.” He was thankful for the diversion of the arrival of the female quartet. He was disturbed by the feelings the talk with his brother had exposed and could not bring himself to examine them too closely. That would have to wait. He’d take a page from Mart’s book for now and try to relax and enjoy this vacation.
“Bet you can’t do that again.”
Jim turned from the barbecue to grin at the man who stood behind him holding a tray of hamburger patties.
“A buck says I can, Mangan.” He challenged with a laugh. The two men were on supper duty and had decided that a barbecue by the pool was the only way to go after Brian and Trixie’s good-natured cop out of pizza for lunch. Jim was first up at the grill and was showing his prowess by flipping the burgers high into the air and catching them with the spatula before laying them back over the coals.
“You’re on.” Dan grinned, setting the tray on the table and folding his arms across his chest. “It’s got to be the same height and rotations as the last one, remember.”
“Piece of cake.” Jim claimed airily. “Piece of cake.” He waited for a moment, then with a practiced flip of the wrist, tossed a patty high into the air. It turned end over end before coming back down to land squarely on the spatula. Jim grinned as he slid the meat back onto the grill and turned to face the other man. “I am the King of the Grill. It’s good to be King.” He laughingly proclaimed.
“I’m going to have to owe you, buddy,” Dan said, patting his dark swim trunks, then spreading his hands. “No cash.” He laughed.
“You’re good for it.” Jim acknowledged with a chuckle. “Now let’s get the rest of these burgers going.” He gestured towards the tray with his spatula.
As they worked, the other members of the group left them to their own devices, preferring to gather around the pool to watch Mart and Honey race laps. Jim eyed Dan speculatively out of the corner of his eye, wondering if he should broach the subject that had been niggling in the back of his mind since breakfast that morning. Dan could be extremely reticent about his private life when he wanted to, and Jim had to admit that it had been a long while since the two of them had talked about anything serious and personal. Finally, figuring that nothing ventured, nothing gained; he spoke.
“So, Dan, did I understand correctly that you’ve left the NYPD?” He asked, trying to be nonchalant. He kept his attention on the grill in front of him. He felt Dan’s dark gaze stab him for a moment, then heard him sigh slightly.
“I guess I shouldn’t have expected to keep it quiet for very long with this gang,” Dan observed ruefully. Jim chanced a quick glance at him and saw his friend smiling. With a grin of his own, he felt himself relax.
“I heard Trixie mention something to Honey,” he explained. “Do you mind telling me what happened? I thought your life’s dream was to work for the NYPD.” He patted the burgers with the spatula in the time-honoured method of men through the ages.
“You know, Jim, it’s a funny thing about dreams. Sometimes they end up being quite different in reality.” Dan perched on the deck railing. “I just wanted to do good police work, you know. Hopefully make detective one day. At least get the chance to help some folk who really need help.” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “But it didn’t happen. You have no idea how political things are in that police department. If you want to get ahead, you have to play the game. And I don’t play games. I just wanted to do the best job I could, but that wasn’t good enough for the powers that be. So, when I got passed over for promotion, yet again, I decided that was it. I’d had enough. So, a couple of days ago, I handed in my resignation and here I am.” Dan grinned. “And actually, I feel pretty good about it.”
“No plans?” Jim asked, reaching for the empty platter destined to hold the cooked hamburgers. He could understand what Dan was telling about dreams. He had dreams that in reality had turned out to less than ideal. The vision of an eighteen-year old Trixie flitted through his thoughts and he resolutely refused to follow it.
“Not really. Diana’s invitation came at just the right time, I suppose.” Dan slid from the railing to hold the platter while Jim filled it. “After this I figured to go visit with Uncle Bill for a bit and then see what happened. I’ve got no responsibilities to worry about, so the future is pretty much wide open.”
“Can I make you an offer?” Jim asked, fixing his friend with a steady green gaze. Dan motioned for him to continue. “Well, I sit on the town council, and I happen to know that we’re looking for a new assistant chief of police in Sleepyside. The last guy got a hankering for the big city life and resigned about a month ago. We really don’t have anyone on the force that either wants the job or has the credentials for it. How about if I put your name up for consideration?” Truth be told, he thought Dan would make a fine assistant chief of police and with Chief Molinson looking at retirement in a few years, it didn’t have to end there.
“You’d do that for me?” Dan was surprised and Jim found himself wondering why. Had they drifted that far apart over the past few years? Regretfully, he supposed they had.
“Dan, I know what kind of guy you are. What kind of work ethic you have. You telling me that the politics of a big police force aren’t your thing only confirms what I already know about you. Damn, if I thought you’d do it, I’d offer you the job of head of security at the school, but you deserve better than that!” Jim grinned. “Look, Dan, we’ve known each other for almost seventeen years, believe it or not. Granted, we’re not as close as we used to be, but I have no problem at all with endorsing you for this job. That is if you’re willing?”
“Well, I can’t say that it’s something I’ve thought about, but if you’re willing to stick your neck out for me maybe I should start thinking along those lines. Tell you what, give me a few days to turn the idea over in my mind before I give you a definitive answer, okay?” Dan chuckled suddenly, his dark eyes twinkling. “Hey, does that daughter of Brian’s show any inclination towards being a detective?”
“Schoolgirl Shamus the Next Generation?” Jim laughed. “She hasn’t shown any yet, but she’s only eight. Trixie was thirteen when she found me, and I was her first mystery.” The men shared a wry look, remembering the days when Trixie would drive Chief Molinson crazy with her penchant for solving mysteries and getting them all into trouble as she did so.
“Our girl has come along way, hasn’t she?” Dan commented, looking towards the pool. “Do you manage to catch her reports on CNN?” He asked.
“Sometimes.” Jim was not about to admit, especially to Dan that he seldom missed any of Trixie’s on air presentations. He wasn’t sure he wanted to admit it to himself yet. “She’s pretty good, isn’t she?”
“Award winning,” Dan agreed. Jim noticed that his gaze strayed over to the slim redhead at Trixie’s side and could not suppress the satisfaction he felt deep inside. He had long ago ceased to wonder why he had always seen Dan as a rival for Trixie’s attentions. All he knew was that he did and it had thrown a slight shadow on his and Dan’s relationship for years. He was not very proud of that fact.
“Arianne seems to fit in easily with the rest of us, doesn’t she?” He observed as he watched Dan continue to watch the French girl, a small smile on his lips. Let’s see just how interested he is.
“It seems like we’ve known her for years, doesn’t it?” Dan took the now-filled platter of hamburgers and set it on the table, reluctantly taking his attention from the young woman and returning it to the job at hand. He turned back to Jim with the tray of uncooked patties to fill up the grill again.
“I liked her right away. And you have to admit, that French accent is very appealing.” Jim’s green eyes twinkled.
“Extremely appealing.” Dan seemed to gather his thoughts for a moment before continuing. He met the other man’s gaze with a look filled with both puzzlement and rueful amusement. “Jim, have you ever met a woman that you couldn’t get out of your thoughts from the get-go?” He asked.
Jim looked at his friend for a long moment, suddenly nonplussed by the innocent question. A long ago memory flooded into his thoughts. Standing nose to nose with a thirteen year old Trixie while she refused to be intimidated by him the day she and Honey had discovered him in his uncle’s dilapidated mansion. For over seventeen years, her blue eyes and tousled blond curls had never been far from his mind. At that moment he chose to admit to himself that he was still in love with her and found that there was almost relief in the admission, as well as some sadness. The French called this type of sadness tristesse he believed. A small, somewhat regretful smile creased his cheeks.
“I have.” he said softly. “And my advice to you, my friend, is to not let the moment pass. You can’t get these days back no matter how much you wish you could.” He glanced down at the grill, then over towards the table.
“Hey, folks!” He called. “Come and get it.” He busied himself with the burgers, avoiding Dan’s sudden, penetrating look.
“Jim…” Dan began, but he only shook his head in response.
“Just don’t wait and screw it up, Mangan,” he said seriously. “Carpe diem. Seize the day.” He ignored Dan’s raised eyebrow and turned to grin at the others who were approaching from the pool. “Seize the damned day,” he repeated with a wealth of feeling.
“Damn!” Trixie muttered as she shut the refrigerator door with an annoyed sigh.
“What’s up, Trix?” Mart looked at her in puzzlement. He had followed her into the kitchen to refresh drinks for the group around the pool. After Jim and Dan’s barbecue, everyone had settled outside, determined to enjoy the hot summer evening.
“I have a craving for chips and onion dip, and while there is a plethora of potato chips in this house, there is absolutely no sign of anything approaching onion dip!” Trixie exclaimed with a chuckle. “And I would kill for some onion dip right now.”
“Plethora! Trix, I’m impressed!” Mart teased. “I guess some of me wore off on you after all.” He grinned cockily, and his sister rolled her eyes.
“If you’re not careful, I’ll take my chip and dip frustration out on you,” she warned. Two pairs of twinkling blue eyes met and they both burst out laughing. “Oh, I’ve missed you, Mart!” Trixie flung her arms about him and hugged him tightly.
“Me too, sis.” He hugged her back. “I promise I’ll be better at staying in touch. With everyone.” He reached up and ruffled her hair, much as he used to when they were teenagers. “I just wish I had some onion dip for you.” He grinned, just as Arianne entered the kitchen.
“Arianne!” Trixie spun away from her brother. “Tell me, is there anywhere at all that I can get some onion dip? The sooner, the better.” She added.
“Onion dip?” Arianne thought for a moment. “Ah, oui! Trempette. There is a depanneur a few blocks from here. I can go and get some if you would like,” she offered.
“No, no. I’ll go.” Trixie shook her head. “I could use a walk after that supper. Just tell me how to get there.” She paused for a moment, her eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “And exactly what is a depanneur?” She asked.
“It is what you would call a 7-11, I think.” Arianne chuckled.
“Sort of like the local Lytell’s,” Mart added as he headed back outside, his hands filled with drinks.
“We will have a deal, OK?” Arianne said. “We will both walk together. I could use some exercise as well.” She patted her flat stomach in explanation. “Daniel and Jim make super bon burgers.”
“That they do!” Trixie agreed with a grin. “I’ll just go throw something over my bathing suit and we can be off, okay?”
“We will meet at the front door in a couple of minutes.” Arianne nodded. “I must change too.” She indicated her green and turquoise bikini. The bikini that Dan had not been able to take his eyes from the whole day.
“Whoo Hooo! Onion dip!” Trixie chanted happily, dashing off up the stairs, Arianne close behind.
Five minutes later, both women had changed into shorts and tee-shirts and were headed out the door, calling goodbyes to the group in the backyard as they passed through the kitchen. As they headed down the twilight darkened streets, Trixie was glad that she was able to get some time alone with the object of Dan’s interest. She wanted to see which way the ground lay, for even though she thought that her companion was as interested in Dan as he was in her, she wanted to make sure. She did not want Dan getting hurt if she could help it.
As they walked to the convenience store, or depanneur as it was called here in Montreal, the duo spoke of many things but not the subject of Dan Mangan. Trixie found that despite Arianne being her junior by almost six years, she had a wise and knowledgeable way about her that belonged to a woman far older. She has her head screwed on nice and straight, thank heavens, she thought, Dan couldn’t deal with an airhead. By the time they reached the store, she had decided that she liked Arianne Chevalier very much.
“Trixie, I do not know how you can drink that stuff!” Arianne observed as they left the story. She was speaking of the strawberry soda that the American woman had been so thrilled to discover behind the stacked bottles and cans of Coke and 7UP.
“I’ve loved it since I was a kid,” Trixie admitted with a sheepish grin. “You can’t find it everywhere any more, you know. Why, one time, Dan and I ended up buying four cases of the stuff in a little store in upstate New York just so I could have a stash.” She chuckled, then suddenly her eyes went round as saucers and she clapped a hand to her mouth in dismay. How had she let that slip out?
“Ah, I thought it was so.” Arianne nodded. Trixie stopped in her tracks, uncertain of what to do or say next. She looked at the other woman who smiled warmly and grabbed her hand to pull her along. “Trixie, do not worry about it. This is not a surprise to me.”
“It…it’s not?” Trixie was amazed. She fell into step beside the taller woman. This was not how she envisioned this conversation when they had started from the house.
“We can be honest with one another, yes?” Arianne asked and smiled again when Trixie nodded. “Diana has confided a little to me about what has happened between all of you in the past…”
“Di can’t know about me and Dan!” Trixie interrupted.
“No, no, not about you and Daniel,” Arianne went on. “I know about the seven of you as teenagers, and about you and Jim. I know that the two of you broke up. I know about Jim’s sad and tragic childhood. I know about Honee and Brian getting married and starting their family so young. I know about Diana and Mart. I know that Daniel has never had a serious relationship. Diana told me much about all of you. She has missed you all very much.”
“So how do you know about Dan and me?” Trixie demanded in confusion. “That was years ago! And honestly, we weren’t together for very long, you know.” She quickly ran through her behavior over the past couple of days. She was sure that neither she nor Dan had acted in a way to make anyone think that they had what could be termed as a past.
“I think it is because you are all so close that no one can see.” Arianne continued to explain. “But to me, it is evident that there is something between you and Daniel that is more than just friendship. I think it is because when a man and a woman have known each other intimately, their attitude changes in small, subtle ways. Subtle is the word, yes?” She asked, turning her golden eyes to meet Trixie’s amazed gaze. Again, Trixie nodded. “It is in the way that you touch him, the way that you look at him. There is no artifice in it. It is the most natural thing for you. You never wonder how he is going to react to what you say or do.” She shrugged in a totally Gallic fashion. “It is a comfortable thing between you. There is no fire, no passion between you anymore, just comfort and affection. You care for each other deeply, but no longer in a romantic way.” She grinned suddenly. “And for this, I am thankful.”
“You’re absolutely amazing, do you know that?” Trixie demanded. Her head was spinning at the younger woman’s astuteness. And she had thought her own intuitiveness was good! “And you’re right, Ari. I do love Dan, but not that way.” She smiled gently as memories of that summer came flooding back. “He’s very, very special to me.” She took a deep breath and began to tell Arianne the story of why he was so special.
“There is far more to Daniel than appears on the surface.” Arianne observed wisely when Trixie had finished. They were nearing the bed and breakfast by this time, so they slowed their steps, wanting to continue their conversation in privacy.
“He was so good to me. I was such a young and mixed up thing back then.” Trixie chuckled wryly. “I couldn’t deal with Jim trying to control everything about our relationship. I was too young and immature to know how to handle it. Jim wasn’t trying deliberately to control things. It’s his nature. I mean after everything he went through as a child, who could blame him. His father dying when he was so young, his mother remarrying a total jerk who beat him. Believe me, now when I look back, I think I could have handled the whole thing much better between Jim and I.” Trixie sighed deeply. “But I was young and silly. Thank God for Dan. He gave me back the self-confidence I had let slip away. He expected nothing from me that I wasn’t ready to give. And whatever it was, it was always fine by him.”
“He did not expect you to be perfect.” Arianne nodded in understanding. “Jim did, even if he did not realize it.” She laid a hand on Trixie’s arm. “And you know, it seems to me that you and Jim have some unfinished business. You are too aware of each other, and too wary. Is this the right word? Wary? Like two wild animals circling each other?”
“Jim is in the past,” Trixie told her, willing herself to believe the words. “I won’t deny that I still find him attractive. Any woman would, I think.” She grinned despite the seriousness of the conversation. “But I think there has been too much water under the bridge for us to start any kind of relationship or anything at this point. We’ve both gone our separate ways for years.” She ran a hand through her hair.
“Believe this if you wish, Trixie.” Arianne said gravely. “I think you are not totally honest with yourself.”
Trixie stared at the taller woman, silent for the moment. She did not know what to think. Was she lying to herself by saying that Jim Frayne was in her past? Was what she felt when she looked at him simple physical attraction? And what was he feeling about her? What was Arianne seeing to make her think that there was unfinished business between the two of them? She raised her hand and clutched at her hair in exasperation.
“Why can’t life just be simple and straightforward?” She demanded, and Arianne laughed, not unkindly.
“Because that would be very boring.” She gave an amused shrug as they reached the walkway to the house. “Trixie, mon amie, c’est la vie!”
Chapter 9: C'est La Vie - Chapter 9
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 9
Trixie turned over for the fifth time in the past ten minutes and tried once again to beat her pillow into submission. With a huff of irritation, she pulled the sheet up over her shoulders and firmly ordered herself to go to sleep. Moments later, she ripped the sheet from her in exasperation, cursing all redheads, male and female, under her breath. Ever since her talk with the copper-haired Arianne that evening, she had been unable to get the image of that other red-haired person out of her mind for longer than five minutes. Unfinished business…pagh! She swung her bare legs over the edge of the bed and jammed her feet into their nearby slippers. Tugging in irritation on the over-sized tee-shirt she wore to bed she got to her feet and glared about the darkened bedroom, hands on hips. This was absolutely ridiculous!
"Beatrix Belden, you are thirty years old and you’re supposed to have some sort of control over yourself!” She scolded herself in a low voice. With a heavy exhalation of breath that ruffled the curls on her forehead she admitted to herself that sleep was definitely not to be forthcoming. Some restful vacation this was turning out to be!
“I’ll go downstairs and get that magazine Di was showing us earlier. Reading about movie stars ought to be enough to put me to sleep, ” she mumbled. “Great! Now I’m talking to myself.” She shook her head wryly. Was this why she had avoided extended contact with Jim for so long? Had she somehow sensed that her peace of mind would be challenged in his presence? Suddenly she longed for the simple days with Dan when it had all seemed so easy and she had been certain that she could forget the first love of her life.
“That would have been far too easy,” she sighed and opened the bedroom door as quietly as she could. It was late and she didn’t want to wake anyone. She’d just creep downstairs; grab the magazine and head back up to bed. But first, a stop in the bathroom.
She tiptoed down the hallway, smiling slightly as she passed the door to Diana’s bedroom. There had been no need for Mart to sneak in there tonight; he’d put his arm around Diana’s shoulders and announced to the group in general that it was getting late and they were headed off to bed. Good for him. Good for Di! She was happy for them both and they seemed so perfect together. The way Diana’s eyes shone when she spoke of Mart was all the evidence she needed. Still smiling, she pushed open the door of the bathroom, never realising that the light was on and stopped dead in her tracks.
“I…I didn’t think anyone … else was … awake,” she stammered, meeting a pair of surprised green eyes.
“Couldn’t sleep, so I decided to take a shower.” Jim explained, pausing in the towelling of his dripping hair.
The fact that he was stark naked didn’t seem to phase him one bit and Trixie could feel her cheeks heating in embarrassment. She didn’t know where to look. She could not continue to meet that now amused emerald gaze, and she could not stop her own gaze from slipping down over the body she had been resentfully admiring that afternoon by the pool. Confused, and angry at herself for being so, she garbled out an apology, turned and fled down the stairs to her original destination.
“Oh, that was brilliant!” She muttered. “Very adult of me!” She flung open the patio doors and stepped out onto the deck, letting the soft night breeze cool her burning cheeks.
She was angry with herself. She who had faced down drug dealers, crime bosses, politicians, heads of corporations and protective executive secretaries in the daily execution of her job, should not have been so discomfited and disconcerted over the sight of a man’s naked form! Oh, but what a naked form, one part of her mind protested.
Trixie looked out over the pool and allowed herself a small rueful grin. If she was to be fair and honest with herself she would have to admit that she had always been physically attracted to Jim Frayne; even back when she was too young to have realised it. She had dreamt often of his naked form, especially in the days when he had so frustratingly pushed her away each time the intimacy threatened to become too great. The reality was no disappointment, she acknowledged to herself with a slightly wistful sigh. Damn he was fine! She visualised the breadth of his shoulders, the trimness of his waist, the power in his long legs, the slight mat of reddish curls on his chest tapering down to…
“Trix.” She jumped at the sound of his voice behind her.
“I’m glad to see you managed to find something to put on.” She looked pointedly at the bath towel he had wrapped around his waist. Her brothers had taught her early on in her life that a good offence was always the best defence.
“Just in case there was someone else prowling the hallways,” he told her with a slight grin. “I didn’t mean to startle you upstairs.” He moved to stand beside her at the deck railing.
“My mind was elsewhere, and you didn’t close the door properly.” She turned back to look out over the pool once again, trying to calm the sudden rapid beating of her heart. Was it simply his nearness and his near-nakedness causing this? That couldn’t be good. She realised that she herself wore nothing more than a t-shirt that barely covered her own behind. That definitely wasn’t good.
“I’m sorry if I upset you,” Jim apologized, leaning his elbows on the railing and gazing out over the pool himself. “I probably could have handled that better.”
“I wasn’t upset, just startled!” She protested. A moment later a small giggle began to bubble up within her. “Not the best choice of words, Jim. You weren’t really handling anything.” Her giggle turned into outright laughter.
“Trixie!” His green eyes were wide with amazement at her boldness.
“Well you weren’t!” She laughed all the harder at the surprise in his expression.
“No, I suppose I wasn’t,” he agreed, finally breaking into chuckles of his own.
“Oh, Jim,” Trixie sighed when her laughter subsided, “do you realize that this is the first time in a long time that we’ve been alone together and laughed?”
“You’re right. Usually we avoid being alone altogether.” He looked out over the pool once again. Trixie felt a sudden urge to reach out and brush the unruly wave of hair from his forehead. She breathed in the clean woodsy scent that had always been his and a wave of desire washed over her, leaving her weak-kneed and light-headed. So many years and still he had this affect on her! Arianne was right after all, there was unfinished business here. She was just as smitten with him as she had been on that morning long ago when she and Honey had discovered him laying on the mattress in the dilapidated living room of Ten Acres.
“Do we?” She asked softly. He turned his head to answer and she was reminded once again of just how handsome he truly was.
“We do.” His green gaze moved over her face, a question in its depths. She wondered if the same question was in her own blue eyes. Her breath was coming a little faster now, her heart beating loudly in her ears and she felt incredibly warm, despite the flimsiness of her t-shirt. Her hand reached out and touched his arm where it lay along the railing. Her fingertips barely brushed his skin and his eyes widened in response. She leaned towards him slightly and caught her lower lip between her teeth, suddenly uncertain.
“Jim?” His name was barely a whisper. He straightened and slid a hand around the back of her neck, tangling his fingers in her blond curls. Slowly and gently he pulled her towards him, bending to brush his lips along hers.
“Seize the moment,” he said softly, his mouth moving against hers. Coherent thought flew from her mind as she leaned into him, her hands moving up his chest to twine around his neck, her lips parting under his at last. The length of her body was seared by the heat from his as his other hand held her closely. She could feel the scrape of the hair on his leg along the soft skin of her own and a small sound issued from deep in her throat. His lips were firm, yet demanding against her own, his tongue twining with hers in an age old dance. She arched her back, only wanting to feel him along every inch of her. Her fingers wound themselves through his hair and she revelled in the silkiness of it. His large hands began to roam over her back and drift down to her buttocks, leaving a trail of heated skin in their wake. She wanted nothing more than to tear the t-shirt and towel from their bodies and lay down with him there on the deck. His hands reached the hem of her t-shirt and slid underneath, softly caressing the smooth skin he found beneath them. She moaned deep in her throat, her own hand moving down his back to glide under the towel. Suddenly, she stopped and pushed away from him.
“No!” She looked at him wildly, breathing heavily, confusion and desire warring within her. “We can’t do this!” His want for her was evident under the scant protection of the towel and her body cried out to meet it. Her skin craved the firm touch of his hands and her lips ached for his. She took another unsteady step backward. The bewilderment in his green eyes was obvious to her but she could not give in to the demands of her unruly body. Not now, not like this! Not when she had no idea what was going on between them other than this burning physical attraction.
“Trixie?” Her name on his lips was almost her undoing.
“I can’t!” She cried out and turned from him, wanting only to get into the house and back to the peace and solitude of her bedroom. As she slid the patio door shut behind her, she heard him say her name once again. Cursing under her breath, she brushed the sudden tears from her eyes.
Chapter 10: C'est La Vie - Chapter 10
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 10
Honey opened her eyes slowly. The early morning sunlight filtered through the lace curtains to caress her face gently. She extended her slender arms over her head and stretched languorously. It had been a while since she had slept so well, she realised. It had done her some good to unburden her heart to her friends yesterday. She rolled over and caught sight of Brian lounging in the armchair, his dark eyes upon her.
“What are you doing?” she asked, feeling suddenly shy.
“Just sitting,” he answered with a small smile. “Watching you sleep.”
“In heaven’s name why?” she asked curiously, sitting up in the bed. This was not normal behaviour for her husband. “Was I drooling?” She chuckled slightly and he shook his head in amused denial.
“I guess it’s just us all being here together, and then talking with Mart yesterday,” he ran a hand through his dark curls, becoming serious once again. “I was remembering,” he told her.
“Remembering what?” Her voice was soft, her hazel eyes wide.
“Remembering back to the days when we were all together all the time. When we had everything in front of us and life was one big adventure.” He grinned somewhat ruefully. “On the one hand it seems so long ago, and on the other it seems like only yesterday,” he admitted.
“Awfully deep thoughts for so early in the morning,” Honey observed, wondering at his odd mood. He shrugged good-naturedly and got to his feet to come and sit on the edge of the bed.
“And I was remembering our first trip alone.” He reached out a hand to touch her cheek. “We had ourselves a time, didn’t we?”
“Brian, I…” Honey began but was interrupted by a quick rap on the door, which was flung open almost immediately, much to her dismay.
“Honey, I have to talk to you. Now.” Trixie stood in the doorway, a very determined woman. “Brian, get your butt downstairs or something and leave me to talk to your wife,” she ordered. “Please! I need to talk to Honey,” she pleaded when he hesitated. He glanced back at Honey and gave her a small, regretful smile.
“Yeah, Trix, sure. Whatever.” He frowned down at his sister in irritation and allowed himself to be pushed out the door into the hallway. “Pain in the ass,” he muttered, looking up just in time to avoid running into Jim who was exiting his room across the hallway.
“Excuse me?” Jim raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, not you,” Brian gave a slight chuckle. “It’s Trixie. She just threw me out of my own bedroom.” He shook his head, still annoyed at the interruption. “She had to talk to Honey.”
“Probably wanted to discuss the ramifications of my kissing her last night,” Jim told him matter-of-factly as they both headed off towards the stairs.
“You did?” Brian glanced at Jim, then back down the hallway. “Why?”
“She looked like she wanted me to.” The redhead shrugged. “But then she took off, so maybe I was wrong.”
“Women.” Brian sighed, clapping a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I don’t understand them.”
“Neither do I,” Jim concurred. “Especially that one,” he added, and Brian could only chuckle.
“Trixie, your timing sucks,” Honey informed her friend sourly as the door closed behind Brian. “Big time,” she added, drawing her legs up to make room for her on the bed.
“Oh, Honey, I interrupted something, didn’t I?” Trixie flopped across the foot of the bed, her face a picture of guilt.
“Don’t worry about it, it was probably nothing anyway,” Honey sighed. It was never anything these days, it seemed.
“Oh, it’s all your brother’s fault!” Trixie exclaimed, her cheeks turning pink.
“Jim? What did he do?” Honey was puzzled.
“He kissed me!” Trixie pushed herself up to a sitting position. “He kissed me last night on the deck.” She seemed almost affronted by what had happened. “And I haven’t been able to think straight since! I don’t think I got a minute’s sleep.” she admitted.
“He kissed you?” Honey blinked her eyes rapidly. “Out of nowhere, he just kissed you?”
“Well, not quite out of nowhere.” Trixie quickly told her of walking in on Jim in the bathroom and her embarrassed flight to the deck. “And then we just started to laugh together and it felt so nice. I haven’t felt that comfortable with him since before we broke up. All of a sudden he was kissing me. And I was kissing him back!” she admitted, barely above a whisper. Honey gazed into her friend’s eyes and saw conflicting emotions in their depths. This was about more than a kiss.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, Trix,” she observed calmly. “Besides, it’s not as if you haven’t kissed him before. And as I remember, there was a time that you quite enjoyed it.” She raised a finely arched eyebrow in slight amusement.
“Honey, that was years ago!” Trixie protested. “Oh, man, I thought I was over him!” She moaned. “I was sure I was over him.” She grabbed at her dishevelled curls in despair and Honey stifled an affectionate smile. She remembered another time, long ago, that Trixie had clutched her hair in that manner.
“Honey, will you stop worrying? I know what I’m doing. I’ll be fine. This is why I didn’t want to tell anyone!” Trixie clutched at her curls in frustration and despair.
“But it’s so soon after you and Jim…” Honey let her voice trail off. Trixie’s admission that she had been involved with someone for the past four months had thrown her for a bit of a loop. That she hadn’t told anyone was even more disconcerting. “How can you be so sure?”
“Trust me, will you? Please?” Trixie looked at her beseechingly, reaching across the table and grabbing her hand to give it a reassuring squeeze. “Look, Jim and I were having problems long before I decided I had to end it. He was stifling me, Honey. Stifling me with all his expectations for our future. I could never live up to what he wanted. He tried to control me, even though he didn’t realise he was doing it. Control me with his love, you know? I wasn’t made to be on a pedestal.” She shook her head ruefully.
“But it’s just so soon to be actually living with someone.” Honey tried valiantly to understand but found herself failing. “Doesn’t the word rebound mean anything to you?” she demanded. She had never realised that things had gotten so bad between her brother and her best friend. She had been so taken up with her pregnancy and the birth of baby Peter that many things had gone unnoticed.
“Honey, it’s not a rebound!” Trixie laughed. “Listen, this guy makes me feel good. He doesn’t put me on a pedestal. He lets me be who I am and actually likes who I am. It’s nothing serious, Honey; we’re just having fun. And it’s the first time I’ve had fun in so long. Please understand!” She gripped Honey’s hand tighter. “Please?” she repeated hopefully.
“Oh, Trix!” Honey sighed. “I have to admit, you do seem happier these days. Maybe you’re right. Maybe this guy is good for you.” She shrugged, then suddenly smiled, pushing away all her inner misgivings. Maybe Trixie had the right idea. “He’s certainly put a sparkle in your eyes,” she observed. “Why won’t you tell me who it is? I’d like to meet him, and I’m sure Brian would too.”
“Nope.” Trixie shook her blonde head firmly. “This is just for me, Honey. It’ll be over at some point and I don’t want to have to go through a thousand and one explanations. It’s better this way, believe me. He’s a wonderful guy; you’d like him.” She smiled secretively and Honey wanted to scream from curiosity. Why wouldn’t Trixie tell her who this mystery man was? And why would there have to be a thousand and one explanations?
“Trixie, I’ve trusted your judgement many, many times before, so I guess I won’t be setting any precedent by doing it again.” Honey gave up with good grace. One day, Trixie would tell her, she would just have to be patient. “At any rate, this mystery man seems to have given you back your devil-may-care attitude,” she chuckled, and Trixie’s eyes twinkled happily.
“You want to see devil-may-care?” She grinned mischievously, getting to her feet and coming around the table to stand in front of her. “Check this out.” She turned slightly and lifted the tail of her shirt while pulling down on the waistband of her shorts. “I actually got a tattoo!”
Honey sat staring at Trixie, pieces of the puzzle falling together in rapid succession. It couldn’t be! It must be! A determined light entered her hazel eyes and she erupted from the bed, much to the other woman’s shock.
“Honey, what the hell are you doing?” Trixie yelped as she was pushed down on the bed, face first by her suddenly possessed best friend.
“Looking for proof positive!” Honey informed her, ignoring the shout of affront as she pushed up the hem of Trixie’s nightshirt. This was no time for delicacy. “Besides, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before! Aha!” She smacked the rounded cheek smartly, finding the proof she needed. I knew I had seen Dan’s tattoo before, she thought triumphantly.
“Have you gone absolutely psycho?” Trixie scrambled back to a sitting position and glared at her. “What the hell was that all about?” she demanded, her cheeks fiery red, her blue eyes ablaze. Was she looking just slightly guilty under all that righteous anger?
“I told you I had seen Dan’s tattoo somewhere,” Honey said smugly. ”And that somewhere was your butt. It was Dan!” she declared, proud of her deductive reasoning. “Oh, my God, it was Dan!” she repeated, her mouth forming a stunned O.
“So I went off to Atlanta and my dream job at CNN,” Trixie finished her tale and looked at Honey expectantly. “I still love him, Honey. Just not as the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. He’s very, very special to me.”
The two women were seated cross-legged on the bed, their knees almost touching. Trixie had poured out the story of her time with Dan and, once finished, was surprised to feel as if a small weight had been lifted from her heart. She realised that she had always regretted not being able to confide in Honey and was happy that the opportunity had at last presented itself.
“He was your first?” Honey asked with a small shake of her head. “I always assumed that it would have been Jim.” She leaned an elbow on her knee and propped her chin on her fist. “I’d have put money on it.”
“That was part of the problem with Jim and me,” Trixie explained. “He kept holding me off, telling me that it wasn’t the right time. He wanted it to be special, but the end result was that I thought I wasn’t good enough.” She grinned suddenly, mischief dancing in her eyes. “I soon discovered that I was mistaken.”
“Trixie!” Honey could not keep the bubble of laughter from welling up in her throat. “You’re bad.” She grinned, then a moment later turned thoughtful. “But maybe it was Jim who didn’t think he was good enough?” She leaned forward slightly. “You know, he has this control thing that really comes to the fore when he’s not sure about things. Or when things get too intense. Almost as if he thinks that if he controls everything, it won’t blow up in his face.” She tapped one slender fingernail against her teeth. “He does it with the school all the time. He almost didn’t come to Montreal because he didn’t want to leave the school in somebody else’s hands for a couple of weeks.”
“That’s what Arianne and I were talking about yesterday,” Trixie agreed. “I’ve realised that I was too young and immature to know how to deal with that side of Jim. So the easiest thing was to go. Not that it was so easy at the time.” She rolled her eyes expressively. “But I got over it.”
“Did you?” Honey asked. “So why get all bent out of shape over a kiss on the deck?” Trixie blushed and lowered her gaze, studying her stubby fingernails. When she raised her eyes to meet Honey’s once again, they were filled with confusion.
“Because I never wanted a man as badly as I wanted him right then,” she admitted quietly. “And nothing has ever really been settled between us. We have no relationship at all today.” She sighed heavily. “I used to think he was the most wonderful boy in the world, and, to be honest, part of me still does. But is that the hormones talking?” She spread her hands helplessly. “I don’t know if this attraction is just physical or if there’s still something there.”
“Talk to him then,” Honey said simply. “Or sleep with him. As I see it, those are your only choices.”
“Or I could just forget the whole thing,” Trixie suggested hopefully.
“Could you? Forget?” Honey reached over and grasped Trixie’s shoulder. “You haven’t been able to yet, and it’s been a long, long time.” Trixie looked at her with eyes suddenly shiny with tears, and shook her head. “I didn’t think so.” Honey bit her lip, blinking back sudden tears of her own.
“Hey! You two femmes coming down anytime today?” Mart’s voice called from the other side of the bedroom door. “We’re heading into Old Montreal as soon as you’re ready.”
“Keep your shirt on. We’re coming!” Trixie yelled back, irritation plain on her features. Mart would never develop a decent sense of timing as far as she was concerned. “I guess I’m going to have to face Jim sometime, aren’t I?” she asked Honey, a helpless note in her voice. Honey smiled sympathetically.
“You are,” she agreed and clambered off the bed. “But you won’t have to do it alone just yet.” She extended a hand to help Trixie to her feet and grinned suddenly, hazel eyes dancing. “Trix, can I ask you a question?”
“Well, like most of the girls we grew up with, I always had a bit of a crush on Dan.” Honey’s grin grew wider as Trixie smiled in response. “And I’ve always wondered…” She paused for a second, a slight blush tinting her cheeks. “Is he a good lover?” Trixie blinked her blue eyes for a moment, then began to giggle. Honey joined in and soon both women were laughing hysterically.
“Very, very good,” Trixie choked out finally.
“Lucky Arianne,” Honey managed before they both fell back on the bed, overcome with hilarity.
Chapter 11: C'est La Vie - Chapter 11
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 11
“Arianne, please tell me that we’ll be able to eat here!” Mart rolled his eyes in exaggerated despair as the group stopped in front of a small pub only a few blocks from the bed and breakfast.
“Yes, Mart. We will eat here.” Arianne giggled, pulling open the heavy wooden door. “They have some of the best roast beef in Montreal. Not to mention some micro-brewery beer that is merveilleuse.”
“You have discovered all my weaknesses.” Mart grinned happily as he held the door for the rest of the group to enter the pub.
“Not all of them, darling.” Diana patted his cheek fondly as she passed him, and his grin grew wider.
La Kachette was a small establishment, luckily not too crowded on this Sunday evening. The group of eight quickly took over the single large table and greeted their waiter boisterously. Their day spent in Old Montreal, sightseeing and roller-blading, had everyone in high spirits and definitely ravenous. Orders for food and drink were quickly given to the amused waiter and finally everyone began to relax.
Trixie sipped at her beer and stole a glance at Jim over the rim of her mug. There had been something different between them today. An edge. An anticipation. An electricity that had not been there before. All from one single kiss? Oh, but it had been such a wonderful kiss! Trixie gave herself a mental slap. It would do no good to go there. She was acting like a moronic teenager instead of the thirty-year old woman she was. She watched as Jim smiled at something Arianne said and realized that her toes were curling tightly in her sandals. Why did he have to affect her this way! It was extremely unnerving. Her thoughts drifted back to Honey’s words of that morning. ‘Talk with him or sleep with him.’ Why did the latter idea hold so much appeal? She took a quick gulp of her beer.
“Trixie, I managed to catch your interview with Eli Callaghan. You certainly nailed him.” Jim grinned. “I was impressed.” His green eyes sparkled in her direction and she felt herself beginning to blush.
“Eli Callaghan? Who is he?” Arianne asked curiously.
“Callaghan is a powerful, misguided idiot,” Jim told her. “He’s the latest rage in how to deal with troubled kids. He has two books out and apparently a third is on the horizon. His ideas seemed to have caught on with the public at large, unfortunately. As I see it, they’re more a quick fix with no lasting value than anything else. Oh, don’t get me started!” He fumed. “Trixie interviewed him and with a few well-placed questions and observations was able to put him on the spot so that it was obvious to anyone with half a brain that the man’s ideas have no foundation in reality.”
“Unfortunately, his books are still selling like hotcakes.” Trixie sighed. “But I’m glad you liked the interview.” She smiled shyly in his direction, unable to quell the warmth that crept over her at the thought that he actually had taken the time to watch her.
“My favorite was the one with the guy who was bringing illegal immigrants into the country. Don’t know how you got that one, sis.” Mart shook his head in amazement. “Damned dangerous thing to be doing.”
“Trixie, you do … umm … take precautions when you do those types of interviews, don’t you?” Brian asked hesitantly, and Trixie grinned. He’d never stop being her overprotective big brother.
“Brian, you know she does,” Jim said before she had a chance to reply. “She’s not a kid anymore, and it’s obvious she knows her stuff,” he added matter-of-factly as he reached for the breadbasket.
“Thanks, Jim,” Trixie said in a strangled voice as she nearly choked on her beer. Her cheeks were tinted a bright pink as she exchanged glances with an amused Honey who sat across from her. How many times in her youth had she dreamt of hearing those words from Jim Frayne?
“So, Arianne, what was that disgusting stuff that Mart and Dan had at lunch?” Honey tactfully changed the subject. “French fries, gravy and cheese curds?”
“Poutine.” Arianne laughed. “And it is a Quebec original.”
“Traditional Quebec food is hard on the arteries, isn’t it?” Brian observed, the doctor in him appalled, but the Belden in him intrigued.
Trixie breathed a small sigh of relief as the attention was turned from her and silently blessed her best friend’s quick thinking. Jim’s comment had definitely taken her by surprise. First that earth-shattering kiss, then unqualified support; this was not the Jim Frayne that she expected at all. As the conversation swirled around her, she found her thoughts drifting back to the previous night on the deck. Could it be possible that there was more between them than a physical attraction? Honey thought it possible, as did Arianne. Covertly, she glanced to the side to study the profile of the man who was causing her such confusion. Had she given him a fair chance in recent years? Had she kept her guard up so high that she never took the opportunity to re-acquaint herself with a more mature Jim Frayne? She had grown and matured; maybe he had as well? Should she, could she take the chance to find out? Older and possibly wiser she may have become, but the headstrong and impulsive Trixie she had been was never very far from the surface. She took a long pull on her beer and straightened slightly in her chair.
“Jim?” She touched his arm lightly to get his attention. He turned an inquiring green gaze on her, a slight grin creasing his cheeks. Trixie felt her toes beginning to curl again. “Tell me about your school. Brian’s told me some, but I would like to hear it from you.” She met his look steadily and allowed a slow, almost shy, smile to curve her lips.
It was a beginning.
Dan leaned back in his chair and gazed around the table. The supper dishes had been cleared from the table and the decision had been taken to stay at the pub for a few more beers and some dancing. There had been a perceptible shift in atmosphere in the bar as the lights were lowered and the volume of the music increased. He smiled as Diana squealed in delight at the choice of music and demanded to get up and dance. Seventeen years and some things never changed. Diana loved to dance and had always been the first one of the Bob-Whites on the dance floor. Moments later the four women had taken to the small dance floor, leaving the men to ‘digest their most excellent meals’ as Mart had so plaintively put it.
Dan studied the four figures on the dance floor, his gaze constantly drawn back to the tall copper-haired beauty he could not get out of his thoughts. She was so beautiful! The day had been warm, and she had dressed accordingly. Short black shorts showcased her long, tanned legs to perfection. She wore a sleeveless black blouse with the top three buttons undone, hinting at the curve of her breasts. Dan took a long pull of his beer and allowed a small smile to form on his lips. If she was going to invade his every waking moment, he was determined to enjoy it.
“Dan, my friend, you are leering.” Mart leaned over to observe a moment later, his blue eyes dancing with amusement.
“Can’t help it.” Dan grinned in response. “Trixie says I’m smitten.” He chuckled.
“I’d say she was right,” Mart agreed. “You haven’t been able to take your eyes off her since you got here.” After a moment, his expression turned serious. “Are you going to do anything about it?” He asked. Dan tore his gaze away from the dance floor and looked at Mart for a long time. They had been friends forever, it seemed. No one, with the exception of Trixie, knew him as well as Mart did. Despite the different paths their lives had taken, they had constantly stayed in touch. He glanced over his friend’s shoulder and made sure that Jim and Brian were deep in conversation before proceeding.
“Mart, I think I could fall for this girl very, very easily,” he admitted finally. “She’s all I can think about! I’ve never felt this way before.” His dark eyes were confused. His emotions were out of control and he was at a loss as to how to deal with it. Even his months with Trixie had not bewildered him to this extent.
“Not even that time with Trixie?” Mart asked, as if he had read his thoughts.
“What do you mean, that time with Trixie?” Dan returned, raising one dark eyebrow. No one knew about his and Trixie’s summer together.
“Dan, this is me, Mart, you’re talking to. I knew how you felt about my sister from the get-go. You two may have fooled all the others about what happened after she and Jim broke up, but I know Trixie and I know you. We talked a few times during that time, and I also talked to Trix. You thought you were hiding it, but she’s not the only one who can put two and two together, you know,” Mart explained gently. “I didn’t need to see the two of you together to know that you had connected.
“And you never said anything?” Dan was amazed. For not the first time, he thought of how the rest of the Bob-Whites had underestimated the middle Belden brother. He often saw more than anyone gave him credit for.
“It wasn’t my secret to tell.” Mart shrugged slightly. “Had you wanted anyone to know, you would have said something. As it was, all I cared about was that my sister was truly happy for the first time in a long while. She was becoming self-confident in a way that she couldn’t when she was with Jim. And you were happy too. That’s all I needed to know.” He smiled again.
“Well…umm…thanks,” Dan stammered and took a large sip of beer. “You’re a good friend, Mart.” He gripped the other man’s forearm quickly but firmly. “The best.”
“So, what about la belle Arianne?” Mart continued after a moment. “You think she may be the one?”
“I’m thinking it might be worth looking into.” Dan allowed his gaze to drift back out to the dance floor and the subject of their conversation. “Jim actually gave me some advice on the matter,” he said, unaware of how his expression softened as he looked upon the young woman moving so gracefully to the music.
“He did?” Mart was surprised.
“Told me I should seize the moment before it slipped away,” Dan said musingly.
“Jim Frayne said that?” Mart exclaimed softly, not wanting to be overheard by the man in question. “Getting wise in his old age, I guess.” He grinned.
“Talking from experience, I think.” Dan was thoughtful. “And, Mart, I’m seriously tempted to take his advice,” he added as suddenly Arianne turned and flashed him a smile that made his breath catch in his throat. “Oh, man, seriously tempted.”
“Viens, Daniel. Dance with me.” Arianne extended a slender hand towards him, a subtle invitation in her golden eyes. For the past hour, they had been exchanging glances and smiles in an age-old dance of flirtation, almost oblivious to the action and conversation that swirled around them. Wordlessly, Dan took her hand and followed her to the middle of the room. Her fingers were cool and dry, entwined with his, and he tightened his grip slightly. A quick thrill of anticipation shot through him as he slid his other arm around her waist.
As the strains of Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ surrounded them, Dan felt Arianne move into his embrace as if she had always been there. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply of her scent. Spicy, it was something spicy. His pulse began to beat just a little more rapidly. Her free hand curved around the back of his neck, her fingers tangling in the dark waves and he could not help but pull her closer. Nothing existed but the music and the softness in his arms. He rested his cheek along the side of her shining copper hair, feeling the curve of her ear brush his lips. Jim’s words echoed in his brain, Seize the day.
“Ari?” he spoke her name softly, barely audible over the music. He felt a small shiver run through her frame as she raised her head to meet his dark gaze with her own glowing golden one.
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
I can feel it in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord
And I've been waiting for this moment all my life, oh Lord, oh Lord.
“Oui?” The way her mouth formed the word sent all coherent thought from his mind. Heedless of who might be watching, he lowered his head ever so slightly and claimed those entrancing lips with his own. As the trademark drums of Phil Collins rolled about them, her mouth was warm and pliant beneath his. With a small moan that he felt rather than heard, she parted her lips willingly, allowing him to gently explore and tease with his tongue. Her fingernails dug slightly into the back of his neck and he knew that she wanted him as much as he desired her.
“Ari.” He raised his head, his breathing ragged. “Ari, I want to take you home and make love to you all night,” he told her, his eyes fiery coals as they caressed every inch of her slightly flushed face. “May I?”
“Oui.” She said that word again, sending his pulse into overdrive. “Now, Daniel. Right now,” she demanded softly with a smile that promised everything.
Holding her hand tightly in his, he turned to see Mart and Diana dancing nearby. He tapped his friend on the shoulder, his cheeks warming at the knowing smile Diana shared with Arianne.
“We’re heading back to the B&B. You guys know the way, right?” he asked, somewhat distracted by the way Arianne was leaning into him. Mart nodded.
“We’ll get everyone home, don’t worry,” he said. “Carpe Diem, buddy,” he added with a wicked grin before swinging Diana away again.
Dan shook his head in amusement and put an arm around Arianne’s shoulders, suddenly realising that it felt very, very right to hold her close. Quickly, they left the pub and began the short walk home.
Dan leaned against the doorframe of Arianne’s bedroom at the top of the stairs and watched her move about the room in silence. They had not spoken since leaving the pub, satisfied with their physical closeness as they strode down the streets, his arm about her shoulders, hers around his waist. It was with great reluctance that he let her slip from his embrace when they entered the house. He smiled as he thought of how she had led him by the hand up the dimly lit staircase to her room. She had smiled shyly over her shoulder and his heart had begun to thud painfully. This was becoming more than simple desire on his part, he realised.
“Daniel, come in and close the door,” she urged gently, turning from the bedside table where she had lit a pair of fragrant candles. More spice.
He did as she requested, flipping off the overhead light as he moved to join her beside the bed. The candlelight cast warm sparks in the copper of her hair and he could not restrain himself from burying a hand in its thickness. She closed her eyes and leaned into his caress.
“Ari, you are so beautiful!” he murmured, drawing her to him for a soft kiss. “And I want you so badly,” he said against her lips. A tiny sound issued from deep within her throat as she brought her hands up to touch either side of his face.
“And I you,” she whispered when he freed her mouth once again. “But we must talk of something important first.” She looked into his eyes with a serious expression that barely hid the banked fires within.
She was right, he knew, but it was so difficult to hold back from planting kisses along the side of her neck. “Protection, Daniel. I have the birth control pill,” she said with an odd mixture of shyness and matter-of-factness. “But we can use the condom, if it is what you wish.”
She ran her long fingers through his wavy dark hair and he wondered how long he could keep from throwing her on the bed if she continued. “I would rather not.” She lowered her eyes for a moment, before looking up at him through dark lashes. “I have never made love without, but with you, I think I would prefer it,” she admitted.
“Ari, if that is what you want.” He lifted her chin slightly with his index finger and looked deeply into her wide, golden eyes. “I promise you that it is safe. There have been tests and I am fine.” He paused and kissed her lightly, knowing that his heart was lost. “I don’t want anything to come between us either,” he said softly. “If you’re absolutely certain.” He gripped her shoulders gently.
“Oui,” she whispered and twined her arms about his neck. “Oh, oui, Daniel!”
He pulled her to him then, wanting to feel the length of her along his body. He kissed her with a violence that was barely restrained. He wanted her so much! She returned his kiss with a fervour that equaled his own, curling one of her long legs around his to bring him even closer to her. He plundered her willing mouth, reveling in the taste of her, the scent of her, the passionate heat of her held tightly against him.
After what seemed an eternity, he pulled away slightly and gazed into her flushed face. Gently, he brushed a strand of fiery hair from her cheek then let his finger trail down the side of her neck and into the vee of her blouse. A shiver of anticipation shook her and she closed her eyes. Slowly and deliberately, he undid the buttons and slid the blouse from her shoulders. He moved his hands to cup the black satin-encased breasts that seemed made to fit his palm perfectly. He rubbed his thumbs gently over her nipples and smiled at the small moan that escaped her.
He continued on his route of exploration, moving down to the waistband of her shorts. With a practiced twist, the button was freed and the zipper lowered slowly to an intake of Arianne’s breath. Sliding his hands around her waist, he began to slip the shorts down her legs, enjoying the silky feel of her skin. He kept his eyes on her face as he bent his knees to take the shorts all the way down and guide her feet in stepping out of them. Her eyes were still closed, her lips slightly parted as her breath came quicker and quicker. Dan smiled again, placing a butterfly kiss just above the line of her black satin panties. She gasped in surprised delight.
He stood again, letting his fingertips trail along her skin, struggling to keep his own mounting passion under control. It was getting increasingly difficult. Dropping light kisses on her shoulder, he reached around to undo her bra, sliding it from her now trembling body. Moments later, the tiny panties were gone as well, and she stood naked beneath his gaze, her eyes still closed.
“Ari, you are so perfect,” he breathed, drinking in the sight of her slender form. He reached out and brushed his thumb against her lips.
She swayed slightly, before slowly laying back on the bed, her long auburn hair spread about her in a cloak of fire. Her golden eyes fluttered open, desire shining brightly in their depths.
“Daniel.” Her lips curved in a sensual smile of invitation, and he groaned aloud. He swiftly pulled his tee-shirt over his head and divested himself of his footwear. His black jeans joined the pile of discarded clothing beside the bed and for not the first time in his life, he was glad of his habit of not indulging in underwear.
“Daniel, tu es magnifique.” She sat up and drew him to her, running her slender hands along his muscular arms and over his chest. “Love me,” she demanded softly, pulling him down on the bed beside her. “Baise-moi.”
“I have no idea what that means, but I’ll improvise.” He chuckled in amusement before claiming her lips once again. As he teased her tongue with his own, his hands moved over her body, discovering all her subtle curves and tender spots. Soon his mouth was following, much to her quietly vocal delight.
“Ari.” He raised his head to look at her and smile. “I think you were made to my exact specifications,” he told her, gasping as her hand moved over his flat stomach and downwards. Her golden eyes sparkled mischievously.
“Touche-moi.” She commanded with a rich chuckle. He raised an eyebrow before bending to nip at her earlobe.
“Here?” he asked as she moaned slightly.
“Oui,” she gasped.
“Here?” His hand stroked the curve of one breast as his tongue twirled around her puckered nipple.
“Oui!” She gasped a little louder and her hand curled about his erect penis. He bit his lip.
“Here?” He bent to run his tongue around her bellybutton.
“Oui!” Her hand tightened around him and he stifled a small groan. He raised his head to watch the expressions play across her finely boned face.
“And here?” He slid his hand between her silky thighs and as his knowledgeable fingers discovered her moist, heated, sensitive folds, he could not contain the moan that escaped him.
“Oui!” She cried out before he could bear it no longer and covered her mouth with his. He pulled her to him, unable to control himself for another minute. He rolled to his back, wanting her to straddle him, wanting to watch her face, wanting to run his hands over her as she arched above him. He grabbed her hips and guided her into position over him. Slowly, she lowered herself, her head thrown back, her hair cascading around them in a luxurious copper curtain.
“C’est bon?” Dan dredged up what little French he had picked up in his youth and the past few days, his voice ragged with want. He felt her constrict around him. It certainly felt good to him.
“Oh, oui,” She sighed contentedly as her hips began to move instinctively in rhythm with his. “C’est tres … tres … bon.”
Time and time again, he brought her to the brink of orgasm until finally they could no longer hold back. His strong hands gripped her hips as her own hands held his forearms and, as he watched, her eyes widened and met his, her face contorting with a mixture of pleasure and pain that was as old as time. Only then did he release his hold on himself and allow the shuddering release of his own climax. She sank into his arms and lay on his chest where he held her until their breathing became even and steady once again.
“Daniel?” She murmured his name and he brushed the hair from her face. “Daniel, I have died, I think,” she said with a soft chuckle. “We have all night, n’est-ce pas?”
She raised her body slightly and began to slowly move her hips, her eyes twinkling in the candlelight.
He grinned up at her, certain that he was the luckiest man on earth. “Oh, oui!”
Chapter 12: C'est La Vie - Chapter 12
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 12
Trixie sat at the kitchen table with her chin resting on her clenched fist, staring off into space, a glass of orange juice sitting untouched before her. A light, early morning rain fell outside, giving a grey cast to the day; a grey cast that she refused to allow into her thoughts. She had spent a pleasant evening talking and dancing with Jim, and she felt good about it. So why did a small, niggling doubt keep disturbing her flow of contented thoughts? She sighed heavily.
“Good morning, Trixie.” Arianne entered the kitchen, her emerald green kimono a bright spot in the dreary light of the morning. “You are up early,” she noted, giving her a cheery smile.
“So are you.” Trixie grinned, raising a sandy eyebrow. There had been no doubt in anyone’s mind the previous night about Dan and Arianne’s intentions when they left the pub so suddenly. Arianne gave her a twinkling look from her golden eyes.
“I don’t think I have slept, to be honest,” she said with a betraying giggle. “At least not much,” she amended and Trixie burst out laughing.
“Arianne, you know what I like about you?” She chuckled. “There’s no pretense about you whatsoever. Nothing bogus or fake at all. No wonder Dan is crazy about you!” She grinned as a becoming blush crept up the French girl’s cheeks.
“Trixie, is that you down there?” Dan’s voice came floating down from the room at the top of the stairs. “C’mon up here for a sec, will ya?”
“Sure.” Trixie got to her feet, and then turned to give Arianne an inquiring look. “You don’t mind, do you?” She suddenly realized that she might be intruding on something new and fragile.
“Voyons, Trixie!” Arianne shook her long, tousled hair. “You and Daniel have been friends for how long?” she asked rhetorically and made shooing motions with her hands. “Go, go. I will bring us all coffee when it is ready.” She smiled reassuringly and with a hint of fond amusement at her friend’s concern.
“Arianne, you are truly one of a kind!” Trixie marveled before turning and heading up the stairs.
“Trixie, come and talk to me.” Dan greeted her from the bed as she stopped at the doorway. He was sitting up, leaning against the headboard, his knees drawn up under the sheets, a smile on his handsome features.
“You know, Danno, there are lots of people who would find this very odd.” Trixie laughed coming to sit cross-legged at the bottom of the bed. “You and me, sharing morning-after confidences?” Her blue eyes twinkled with amusement. “While the young lady in question makes us coffee downstairs?”
“Trix, there are many people who find our relationship very odd, period!” Dan chuckled.
“But I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she told him with a gentle smile.
“Nor would I,” he agreed with a smile of his own.
“That being said, I need a woman’s opinion.” He sighed after a long moment. His dark gaze dropped from her face and studied his hands intently, considering his words carefully. Trixie knew him well enough not to press him. They would come when he was ready; she just had to be patient.
“Trixie,” he finally spoke, his voice barely above a whisper, the bantering tone of the moment before replaced by a tone of seriousness and some confusion. “I think I’m falling in love with her.” His eyes rose to meet hers. “Damn, who am I kidding? I have fallen in love with her. It’s been what…three whole days? Aw, Trix, this can’t be good!” In the depths of his dark eyes, Trixie could see the fear that resided there; the fear of giving his heart and being rejected; the fear of the unknown; the fear of hurt. It was a fear she knew all too well.
“Dan, are you sure?” she asked, leaning forward and grasping one of his hands. “I mean it’s not just lust and hormones talking, is it? A vacation fling?” Even as she suggested it, she knew it was far more than that, but the words had to be said.
“I’d almost like to be able to say that I wish it was, but you know what?” Dan grinned slightly, almost sheepishly. “I don’t. I want to be in love with her. It scares me spitless, but there you go.” He shrugged. “I’m scared to death of what could come of this. What if I’m wrong? What if she’s not the one? What if I’m just fooling myself that something could actually come out of this vacation fling? Three days is not a long time, no matter how you look at it.” He ran a hand through his mussed hair.
“Sometimes one day is all it takes.” Trixie told him, startled by the sudden memory of a hot summer day many years ago, in a dilapidated old mansion, and a pair of hostile green eyes glaring at her. Oh, dear! She tucked the memory and her reaction to it away to be examined later; now was not the time.
“Look, Dan.” She became suddenly businesslike, “Trust yourself. Trust Arianne. I’m pretty sure that she isn’t just playing with you. She feels something for you. I’d stake my instincts on it. Don’t get all wrapped up in what might happen down the road. If it was meant to be, it’ll all work out.” She gave his hand a final squeeze and grinned. “My advice? Enjoy each day as it comes. She’s making you happy. I haven’t seen you smile like this in ages.”
“Maybe you’re right, Trix,” Dan said after a moment’s thought. His expression lightened and he grinned cockily at her. “Carpe Diem seems to be the slogan of choice these days. I have it on good authority.”
“Seize the day? Sounds like a plan to me,” Trixie returned. A wicked glint appeared in her eyes. “But just how much seizing are you going to be able to do without any sleep, Mr. Mangan?” she demanded archly. “You’re not as young as you used to be, you know.”
“Hell, I’m not that old!” Dan protested, breaking into amused laughter. “Care to go for a five-mile run?” he invited teasingly. “I’ll bet I could still beat your butt, Ms. Belden.”
“Maybe you should have coffee instead.” Arianne entered the room, carrying a tray laden with three steaming mugs and setting it down on the bureau. “It is very wet outside. Too wet for any butt-beating, I think.” She smiled at the duo on the bed.
“It’s raining?” Mart’s voice came from the hallway. A moment later he stood in the doorway, his face a picture of comical dismay. “What are we going to do with our day then?” he demanded.
“Why don’t we go and discuss it?” Trixie suggested, clambering off the bed and grabbing one of the mugs before pushing Mart back out the door. “Thanks for the coffee, Ari. We won’t expect you two for breakfast.” She grinned cheekily at Arianne and Dan before closing the door behind her.
“You do realize that Dan is on breakfast duty this morning,” Mart informed her as he followed her down the stairs.
“Dan has other duties this morning,” Trixie grinned. “I guess you’re nominated to fill in.” She clapped him on the shoulder.
“Ah, what antemeridian exertions I will undertake for my boon companion!” Mart exclaimed airily, ducking the blow that his sister meant for his head.
Diana stretched her long legs along the length of the bench and gazed out over the backyard. Where the others got all their energy, she didn’t know. After another full day of sightseeing, the last thing she wanted to do was indulge in a vigorous game of pool volleyball. She much preferred to relax on the deck and watch the proceedings, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. The fact that Mart was nearby, firing up the barbecue for the evening meal may have had something to do with her decision, she admitted to herself with an inward chuckle.
The past week had been spent sightseeing and sampling the myriads of wonderful restaurants that Montreal had to offer. The evenings were spent enjoying the boisterous nightlife for which the city had earned an international reputation. This evening, the decision had been made to stay in and enjoy a quiet night at home. Diana couldn’t say that she was sorry, for the busy days and nights were catching up with her. A relaxing night in would be just what she needed to recharge her batteries and prepare her for the second week of the Montreal reunion.
Diana found herself smiling as she watched Dan grab Arianne from behind, steal a kiss and then dunk her under the water. That couldn’t have worked out better if she had planned it. It had been so obvious that they were attracted to each other from the beginning; they had all seen it. Diana didn’t think that she had ever seen Dan so free with his smiles and laughter in all the years she had known him. And the sudden goofiness, that was a side of Dan she had never seen in all the years she had known him. He had always appeared so cool and self-possessed. It was a cute side of him, she decided. Just this morning, she had caught him preparing a breakfast tray for Arianne, including a beautiful red rosebud, cut fresh from the garden, in a bud vase he had pilfered from the living room. He had blushed and stammered for a moment before bursting into laughter and shrugging his shoulders. What could he do, he asked her, he was totally enthralled.
Arianne wasn’t much better, Diana reminded herself. How many times in the past days had she caught the younger woman staring off into space, a dreamy smile curving her lips? She had lost count. It was obvious to Diana that her young friend was head over heels, but was it something that would last? Neither Dan nor Arianne appeared to be worrying about what would happen at the end of this interlude, seeming to live only in the present, enjoying the intensity of their sudden relationship. Is that so different from Mart and I? She rolled the thought around her mind for a moment, realizing that they had never really talked about the future. Not that we’re avoiding it, we’re just taking it for granted that there will be a future. She couldn’t imagine the years ahead without Mart by her side.
“Sweetness, can I refill your wine for you?” Mart asked, approaching with the bottle. She smiled up at him, her heart indulging in the small flip-flop she had become used to over the past few weeks whenever she looked at him.
“Thank you.” She held up her glass. “Do you need any help with supper?” she asked.
“Nope.” He grinned down at her, his blue eyes twinkling. “You just sit there and inspire me.” He bent swiftly and placed a soft kiss on her lips before returning to the barbecue.
Diana returned her attention to the pool where the volleyball game was still in full swing. It was good to see Honey laughing again. She had lost some of the sad, wistful air that surrounded her upon her arrival, replacing it with a quiet flirtatiousness that was definitely not lost on the man towards whom it was directed. To Diana, it appeared that Brian was noticing his wife more and more with each passing day. And to Honey’s credit, she wisely was not making a big deal of it. Bit by bit, the fire was being rekindled and privately, Diana wondered if Honey was also rediscovering the man she had married. She was finding it very interesting to watch.
Also very interesting to observe was the dance between Trixie and Jim. Mart’s sister seemed determined to get to know the man that her first love had become. They spent much of their time together talking either about Jim’s school or Trixie’s news career at first, but the past day or two, Diana had noticed that the subject of their conversation had become more personal. Just that morning, she had overheard them talking during their tour of Montreal’s famed Botanical Gardens. They had been reminiscing about orchids. Orchids, as she remembered, had played a big part in their youthful romance. Amusedly, she wondered when they were going to acknowledge what was so obvious to everyone else. Their feelings for each other had never died, despite whatever problems that had driven them apart all those years ago.
Arianne had called Montreal a city of romance, and Diana definitely agreed. Romance was certainly in the air of Les Trois Cailles. She glanced over towards the barbecue. A moment later, Mart turned his gaze from the grilling chicken and met hers with an inquiring look. She smiled radiantly at him.
“I love you.” She mouthed the words and was rewarded with a widening of his blue eyes and a grin that threatened to split his face in two.
Honey closed her book with an annoyed sigh and laid it upon the night table. Sometimes her mother’s literary recommendations left something to be desired.
“Not good?” Brian asked from his side of the bed where he, too, was reading. He looked at her over the top of the half-glasses he had recently discovered the need for, dark eyes twinkling knowingly. “You should know by now that your mother has no taste when it comes to books.”
“How can a woman who insists on the finest of everything claim that these trashiest of novels are the latest in literary masterpieces?” Honey demanded in amusement. “She frightens me sometimes.” She chuckled, reaching over to turn out her bedside lamp. Brian closed his own book and placed it on the table by his side of the bed, laying his folded glasses on top of it.
“Just remember, this is the woman who adores corn dogs,” he advised her.
“Ah, but she does demand the Grey Poupon mustard for them.” Honey giggled as her husband switched out the light.
The room fell quiet as they settled themselves for sleep, only the sound of the late-night crickets drifting in through the half-open window. Honey lay on her side, fully expecting Brian to turn over and face away from her, as was his habit of late. Surprisingly, he did not. After a few long minutes of silence, he cleared his throat slightly.
“Honey?” he began hesitantly. She could hear him swallow nervously. “Honey, I think we have to talk,” he finally said. Her heart began to thud painfully in her chest. Despite her seeming to have taken control of herself over the past days, she was still terribly uncertain about her relationship with her husband. With the encouragement of her three friends, she had managed to half-believe that the problems between her and Brian could be helped with a little bit of old-fashioned feminine flirting and apparent nonchalance, but the one thing they had all been certain of was that the couple needed to talk. Now that the time apparently had come, she was suddenly afraid. What if he tells me he doesn’t love me anymore?
“Talk about what, Brian?” she asked softly, trying to keep the tremour from her voice. She raised an arm to turn on the light, but he put out a hand to restrain her.
“It’s easier to talk in the dark, don’t you think?” he said, his hand moving to take hers. “At least it is for me.”
“Me too,” she agreed, all the while her thoughts in turmoil. She had thought she was ready for this conversation, but now that it was here, she wasn’t quite so certain.
“Honey, I have a confession to make,” Brian began and she closed her eyes against the tears that threatened. Inwardly she braced herself for the awful words she was certain were to follow. “I haven’t been the best of husbands lately, have I?” He sighed heavily. “I’ve been so wrapped up with feeling sorry for myself that I’ve neglected the one person I should never have neglected for anything.” His hand tightened around hers and suddenly she felt the stirrings of something other than despair within her.
“You’ve been busy with work,” she said quietly.
“Honey, don’t make excuses for me, please!” he responded almost desperately. “Don’t. It’s too important… for both of us.” He freed his hand and ran it through his hair in agitation, before turning on his back and staring up at the ceiling through the moonlit darkness.
“I’m sorry, Brian.” She bit her lip worriedly. “Tell me what’s on your mind. I promise I’ll listen and not interrupt.” She bunched her hands under her pillow and lay watching him, trying to gauge his expression.
“You know what I realized the other day, Honey?” he began. “I realized that I was jealous of my younger brother. I was jealous of the exciting life he was living; jealous of the exciting road he took to get there; jealous of the fact that he’s in the first glow of an exciting new relationship; jealous, frankly of everything that Mart has. I felt so boring!” Brian rubbed a hand over his eyes and she could sense the anger he felt towards himself. She knew him well enough after all their years together to know that he would have no idea how to handle these less than shining emotions. Brian Belden had no idea how to be petty.
“So, I looked at the life I had and realized that I felt as if I had missed out on something,” he went on determinedly. “But there’s nothing wrong with my life. It’s a life any man would be happy to have. I’ve got a great job doing what I love, two great kids, a wonderful and beautiful woman to come home to every night… what the hell is wrong with that? It’s all I ever really wanted, you know.” He fell silent for a long moment, so long that she wondered if she should say something.
“And the worst thing? I knew I wasn’t making you happy any more. Not like you used to be,” he finally admitted.
“Oh, Brian!” she exclaimed and reached out a hand to lay it gently on his chest. Tears rolled from the corners of her eyes unnoticed.
“Baby, I’m so mixed up.” He took her hand. “When did we stop being like Mart and Di?” he asked raggedly. “When did I become older than my own father?” It was a quiet desperate cry from the heart.
Suddenly Honey understood. She and Brian had fallen into the trap that so many married couples fall into after the arrival of children. Daily life and routine had taken all the romance and spontaneity from their relationship without either of them realizing it. They had started taking each other for granted and leaving their love to languish undernourished and neglected as they tended to the business of every day. In comparison, Mart’s exotic writer’s life looked extremely appealing, as did the blossoming of his romance with Diana. Brian felt that he and his chosen life looked woefully inadequate when placed side by side with his brother’s. Mart hadn’t caused this dissatisfaction within her husband; he had just been the catalyst to bring it forth.
“Brian, what do you want to do?” Honey finally spoke into the silence that had fallen between them. “Where do you want us to go from here?”
“I have no idea, Honey!” he exclaimed. “I just know that whatever we do, or wherever we go, I want it to be together.” His gaze moved from the ceiling to her face, pale in the moonlight. “I think that life, any life, without you by my side would be more than I could bear. And I’m so sorry I seem to have forgotten that lately.” His large, gentle hand cupped her cheek and his thumb brushed away the wetness that glistened in the faint light. “Baby, I just don’t know what to do to make it better,” he whispered.
“We’ll figure it out.” She turned her head slightly to place a soft kiss in the palm of his hand and gave him a shy smile. “Together. I promise.” She moved closer to him, cuddling up to his side and laying her head in the crook of his shoulder. His arm curled about her and she felt reassured for the first time in a long while. As the minutes passed, she could sense the tension leave his body and knew they had made a beginning.
“Brian?” She raised her head suddenly and looked at him, a small grin teasing the corners of her mouth. “Maybe we should start by getting your ear pierced?”
“Um…maybe not?” His arm tightened around her, and she returned her head to the comforting curve of his shoulder, pleased at the laughter she heard in his voice. It was definitely a beginning.
Trixie and Honey sat by the pool, enjoying their coffee in the early morning sunlight. Faint sounds drifted out from the kitchen as Dan and Jim took on the job of preparing breakfast under the teasing guidance of the rest of the crew. By silent consent, the best friends had taken their freshly-filled mugs of coffee and settled by the pool, feeling the need for some quiet conversation.
“Brian and I talked last night, Trixie. Really talked, for the first time in a long while,” Honey said with a small, happy smile.
“Judging by the look on your face, it went well.” Trixie sipped at her coffee, eyes twinkling. “I knew Brian couldn’t stay stupid forever.”
“Well, let’s say we’ve acknowledged that there’s a problem, and that we want to work on solving it together,” Honey said. “It’s a beginning.” She smiled softly again.
“You still love him as much as you ever did, don’t you?” Trixie was pleased that the sadness that had haunted her best friend’s eyes had all but disappeared.
“Oh, more, Trix! Even more.” Honey held her coffee mug in lightly laced fingers as she gazed thoughtfully out over the sparkling water of the pool. “You know, I still get a little thrill every time he comes in the house from work at the end of the day. Sometimes, when he’s playing with Peter or teasing Casey, I get this huge lump in my throat because I love him so much. I know it sounds sappy, but I still think he’s the most handsome man on earth.” She chuckled slightly, a slight blush tinting her cheeks.
“Well, he does look an awful lot like Dad.” Trixie grinned. “And I’ve always thought my father was devastatingly handsome. Moms keeps telling me it’s so,” she added.
“I think Brian has been thinking that he’s growing into your father before it’s time,” Honey mused. “I mean... his life has followed this set path for so long. Getting married, starting up the practice when he finished school, having the kids… It’s all been almost pre-ordained.” She sighed. “I think he feels that there should be more excitement or something in his life. And he looks at where Mart, his little brother, is with his life, all the things Mart has done, and he feels almost inadequate. I think he’s feeling that the chance for excitement has passed him by. He says he feels boring.” She smiled a little guiltily. “And I guess I haven’t exactly been doing my utmost to convince him otherwise. We should have talked a long time ago, Trixie,” she admitted. “It probably would have saved both of us a lot of heartache.”
“But you did talk now, Honey, that’s the main thing,” Trixie reassured her. “If anyone was made to be together, it’s you and Brian. Things can only get better from here on in.” She reached over and gave Honey’s arm an affectionate squeeze. “And you can tell Brian from me that he has nothing to feel inadequate about. I happen to know that the both of us, Mart and I have always admired and envied Brian for, amongst other things, always knowing what he wanted and going out and getting it. And that’s a fact.”
“Thanks, Trix.” Honey’s hazel eyes glistened slightly in the morning sunlight as the two women shared understanding smiles. A moment later, she cleared her throat and a mischievous grin curved her lips. “So tell me, what’s been going on between you and my brother? Don’t think I haven’t noticed that the two of you have stopped avoiding each other over the past few days! What’s going on?”
Trixie blushed. “Well, I guess I decided that I had better try and figure out what exactly I was feeling about him.” Her expression was faintly puzzled. “After freaking out over that kiss the other night it seemed the thing to do.”
“And have you figured anything out?” Honey asked.
“I don’t know if ‘figured out’ is the right way to put it.” Trixie rested her elbow on the arm of her chair and settled her chin upon her fist. “One thing I can tell you is that I still find him awfully damned attractive. I mean, he’s not classically handsome like Brian, or smolderingly sexy like Dan, but he’s definitely got something that appeals to me. He’s good-looking in a rugged, outdoorsy sort of way, and when he gives me that crooked grin of his, I just about melt! And he’s got this way of looking at me that makes me feel, well, almost beautiful.” She blushed again at the admission.
“Trixie, you are beautiful!” Honey protested. “I would think that by now you would have realized that. I mean, you haven’t exactly been a nun since that summer with Dan.” She raised a finely arched brow.
Trixie waved away the protest with a slight roll of her eyes. She had been hearing the same thing from Honey since they were teenagers.
“And Jim’s changed too, Honey,” she continued. “Oh, he’s still the honourable, upright, wanting everything to be perfect guy I ran away from all those years ago. But he’s mellowed too. It’s almost as if he realizes that he can go overboard on all that perfection and protection stuff and is trying to restrain himself.”
“He’s mellowing.” Honey grinned. “At last.”
“And I’m liking this sort of mellow Jim,” Trixie admitted. “When he stood up for me the other night at supper, you know, when Brian was worrying about how dangerous my job can be? You could have knocked me over with a feather. Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to hear him say something like that?” She bit her lower lip thoughtfully. “To be perfectly honest about it, I want more from him. I think that now that we’re both older, and understand ourselves better, we can get past those things that were destroying us back then.” Trixie’s eyes were wide with the emotions her words had stirred within her. “Am I crazy, Honey?”
“No, sweetie, you’re not crazy,” Honey reassured her gently. “You’re just coming to accept the fact that what you and Jim had back then hasn’t died and gone to dust. It’s just been lying dormant for a long while.”
“Honey, I think I’m falling in love with him all over again!” Trixie whispered, her voice filled with both incredulity and apprehension.
“And would that be so bad?” Honey asked.
“No, I don’t think it would.” Trixie said after a long moment, a soft smile of wonderment transforming her features.
“Hey you two!” Diana called from the patio door. “Come on in. Breakfast is ready and then we’re going to hit the boutiques.”
Trixie and Honey exchanged amused glances, as arm in arm they walked back to the house. As they approached the doorway, the relief of having confided in each other washed over them and they began giggling like the teenagers they had once been.
“Oh, Trixie, I think everything is on its way to being perfectly perfect!” Honey observed happily around her laughter.
“I hope so, Honey, I certainly hope so!” Trixie agreed.
Chapter 13: C'est La Vie - Chapter 13
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 13
“I’ve never been in one of these stores before.” Honey giggled slightly as she looked up at the sign over the doorway. Jardin de Minuit. “Midnight Garden,” she translated, her cheeks slightly tinted with pink. “It sounds romantic.”
“Much more romantic than Shop de Sexe.” Trixie laughed with an amused roll of her blue eyes.
“Even asking for directions to the bathroom sounds romantic in French,” Diana observed with a chuckle.
“Unless you are French,” Arianne said with a grin. “Then it only sounds like you are asking where the ladies’ room is.” She motioned towards the shop doorway. “Shall we?”
“Arianne! Quelle surprise! Ça fait tellement long temps! Ça va bien, ma belle?” The flamboyant young man behind the cash greeted as they entered. He came around the counter and enfolded Arianne in an affectionate hug and kissed both her cheeks resoundingly.
“Oui, Jean-Phillipe, ça va très bien. Tu vas bien aussi? Laisse-moi introduire mes amis.” She turned to face the trio of women at her side. “This is Diana, Trixie and Honee. Ladies, this is my old friend Jean-Philippe. We were at school together,” she introduced.
“Bonjour! Enchanté. Soyez bienvenues au Jardin de Minuit!” Jean-Philippe greeted warmly, grasping each hand in turn. “Be welcome in my shop. It will be un plaisir to help you.”
“Frankly, I have no idea where to begin!” Trixie glanced around the shop, eyes wide. “The few places like this I’ve seen have always been dingy little holes in the wall. This is nice!”
“Let me show you around,” Jean-Philippe invited. “I am certain I have something for each of you.” He smiled charmingly.
It was difficult to remain shy under Jean-Philippe’s gently teasing and encouraging ministrations. Before long, the women’s scope of attention had grown past the lingerie to the variety of erotic reading materials and sex toys. Even Honey’s natural reticence all but disappeared as the time passed and she realized that there were no other customers in the store.
“It is early,” Arianne explained. “I thought it would be calmer and more low-profile for Diana and more comfortable all around.” She held up a wisp of a teddy in fire-engine red satin and lace. “This would be tres belle for you.” She grinned. “With a pair of those spike heeled shoes you were looking at earlier. Tres sexy.” She winked.
“You think so?” Surprising herself, Honey could imagine the picture she would make in just such an outfit. Brian had always loved her long legs, and this would show them off to perfection. Never mind what else it would show off! A slow smile curved her lips as she checked the size of the garment. Perfect. She laid it on the counter beside the cash register and moved to check out the shoes while Arianne watched in satisfaction.
“Are you telling me that people actually wear these things, JP?” Trixie demanded from across the shop. She had determined early on that his given name was just not going to roll musically off her tongue and had requested permission, readily granted, to use his initials.
“That doesn’t look comfortable,” Diana agreed, peering around a nearby rack of thong underwear at the mess of leather straps and buckles that Trixie held.
“Trixie, I would not have picked you to be the … dominatrix …type.” Jean-Philippe observed teasingly. “But if leather is your choice, I have something here that you might be interested in.” He motioned for her to join him.
“Trixie with a whip, now that’s a frightening thought!” Diana chuckled. “What would Jim say to that, I wonder?” She grinned saucily as the blonde woman passed her.
“He’d probably tell me to use it responsibly,” Trixie retorted good-naturedly, sticking out her tongue at her friend. “After asking me if I had a license for it.” There had been a time when any mention of Jim by her friends would have sent her into paroxysms of embarrassment, but she was older now and the fact that she had admitted to herself that she had feelings for the man in question made the teasing much easier to bear.
“What about this, Trixie?” Jean-Philippe held up a small vest of supple leather. “With a pair of form-fitting jeans? Superbe!” He grinned at her instant interest. “This Jim of yours would be right to ask you if you had a license, I think.”
“I think you’re exaggerating a little, JP,” Trixie said, “But I definitely will try it on.” She smiled.
“Trixie!” Honey rolled her eyes at her friend. “Stop putting yourself down, puh-leese!” She reached out to touch the leather garment, eyes widening at the soft feel of it. “Oh! I think I’ll try one of these on too, if you don’t mind!”
“Hey girls, do you think Mart would like this?” Diana had moved from the thong rack to a rack of filmy floor-length negligees. “It is my colour.” She held up a confection of sheer, midnight purple that was cut very low in the front and even lower in the back. Pressing it against her, she whirled about.
“The question is, do you like it, Diana?” Jean-Philippe asked. “If you do, then the man in your life definitely will. You women must learn to dress for yourselves, not for the men. There is nothing more attractive to a man than a woman who feels good about the way she looks and knows it,” he told them.
The next hour was spent in trying on item after item of clothing, most of it lingerie. After the first few items, none of the women had a problem with modeling the outfits for Jean-Philippe as well as each other. This was business to him, after all. Steadily, four piles of clothing grew on the counter next to the cash amidst much laughter and good-natured teasing. Soon other items began to be added to the piles. Scented and flavoured massage oil, fragrant bubble baths, edible body paints; varieties of each were selected by each woman.
“I certainly hope this isn’t all for nothing,” Trixie mused as she signed her credit card bill. She sent a rueful glance at Honey who stood at her side. She toyed with the bottle of massage oil that Arianne had convinced her to add to her acquisitions. There was a small part of her that found the whole thing absurd. Honey, Di and Arianne all had a man in their lives with whom to enjoy all these interesting purchases. She, on the other hand, had only tentative hopes and dreams. Was she jinxing everything by bringing home all this stuff? She ran a hand over the leather vest that she had fallen instantly in love with and tried to focus on JP’s advice of earlier. Dress for yourself, not for him. She sighed heavily.
“Don’t worry, sweetie,” Diana came up on her other side and gave her a quick hug. “You two are going to get it together; I just know it. I have one of my feelings, and they’re almost never wrong,” she told her.
“You listen to Di,” Honey ordered gently. “I know my brother, and I know you. It may not happen today, it may not happen tomorrow, but like Di, I’m sure it will happen, if you want it to.” She squeezed Trixie’s hand and smiled.
“And it is obvious that you want it to, Trixie. Trust yourself, and trust him.” Arianne smiled from behind Honey. “He is a good man. His eyes light up when he watches you. Do not live in the past anymore.” She advised.
“Damn you guys anyway!” Trixie dashed away the tears that welled in her blue eyes and gave them a tremulous smile that soon turned into a watery giggle. “I can’t believe you made me cry in the middle of a sex shop!”
“Jim! We’re over here!” Mart stood to wave at the figure standing in the doorway of the brasserie that Arianne had recommended. A brasserie was much like a tavern, serving hearty meals with either beer or wine to accompany them. While the women were off shopping, the men had gone their separate ways, planning to meet for a late lunch in a central spot. Jim had gone off for a much-anticipated meeting with his college professor, while Dan had headed off for a morning in a nearby Harley motorcycle dealership, and the Belden brothers spent the time shopping for souvenirs and gifts for their parents and Brian’s children.
“Dan not here yet?” Jim asked, taking a chair at the table a few moments later. “I figured I’d be the last one to arrive. I kind of lost track of time,” he admitted with a grin. “Professor McGarrett wanted to hear all about the school. And you know how I love to talk about it.”
“Yeah, we know.” Mart rolled his eyes teasingly. “When I make it back to Sleepyside, I hope I’ll be getting the ten-dollar tour.”
“Are you planning on coming back soon? Moms and Dad would love it, you know, and the kids need a chance to get to know their famous Uncle Mart.” Brian raised a hand to indicate to the waitress that she should bring another stein of beer for the latest arrival. “It’s been way too long, brother.”
“I know it has.” Mart sighed. “I fully intend to do something to rectify that in the near future. I guess I hadn’t realized how long I had been gone,” he admitted. “I’ve been thinking about home a lot the last little while, if the truth be told.”
“It’s this vacation,” Jim observed. “Do you guys feel that you’ve been sort of taking stock of your lives since you got here?” he asked suddenly. He leaned back as the waitress brought his beer. Brian and Mart exchanged glances.
“I have to admit to doing exactly that,” Brian finally said. He turned to his brother. “You?”
“If you call rediscovering the love of your life and realizing that you’ve been alone far too long taking stock, well then, I guess I have.” Mart nodded. He felt a piercing green gaze stab him as he sipped at his beer. Aha! Hit home, did it, Mr. Frayne?
“She told me she loved me yesterday,” Mart said suddenly. “After all these years, Diana Lynch realized she loves me.” He marveled.
“So what are you going to do about it?” Jim prodded.
“Do about what?” Dan appeared at the table suddenly, dropping into the remaining empty chair. “Sorry I’m late. What are you going to do about what?” He grinned, signaling for a beer.
“Di told Mart she loves him,” Brian brought him up to speed. “Jim wants to know what he’s going to do about it.” His brown eyes twinkled over the rim of his beer mug.
“Marry the girl. Make an honest woman of her,” Dan quipped. “Honestly, you know that’s what you really want to do,” he added a moment later.
“Well, after ‘taking stock’, as Jim calls it, would you believe that I can’t think of anything better than settling down with the most beautiful woman in the world and raising a couple of kids?” Mart looked at his friends and his brother in turn. “I guess I want what my big brother has.” He spread his hands helplessly. “I can’t think of anything I want more.”
“Taking stock? Is that what we’re doing?” Dan nodded his thanks to the girl who brought his beer. “Four of us in our thirties, beer, no gorgeous women to distract us … works for me.” He raised his mug in a silent toast to his friends.
“Mart, how did you know? That it was right with Di?” Jim asked, studying the circles left on the table from the condensation on his beer mug. “I mean… you haven’t been together for very long.”
“I guess there was a part of me that never let go of Diana.” Mart watched his friend closely. The redhead seemed to be struggling with some inner turmoil and it didn’t take a genius to figure out who was causing it. “It just feels right when I’m with her. Like I’ve come home. When I wonder about what the future is going to bring, I always see her there with me. Whether it’s some soundstage in Hollywood, an apartment in New York, some hotel in some city where I’m doing research or even Crabapple Farm. She’s always there.” Mart smiled. “I don’t question it, Jim. I just accept it.”
“I’ve always had trouble just accepting things. Especially good things.” Jim sighed and took a long sip of beer. Mart exchanged quick glances with Brian and Dan. Jim Frayne had never been one to share his innermost feelings and doubts easily.
“I guess it’s no secret that I always like to be in control of things,” Jim continued somewhat sheepishly. “Accepting doesn’t quite fall into the scope of being in control.”
“It’s a hard habit to break, and you backslide.” Dan offered, his own experience apparent in his tone. “But there are just some things that you can’t control, Jim. And you know what I’ve learned recently? It’s very liberating to just let things happen as they will. Scary, but liberating.” His slight grin was a self-conscious one. “I always thought I’d end up alone, you know? Wandering Uncle Dan to all of your kids; the guy showing up out of the blue at family gatherings and telling them all the old stories, suitably embellished, of course,” he chuckled slightly. “But lately, I’m starting to think that might not be the case after all. I have no idea where this thing with Arianne is going to go, and I don’t think I could control it if I wanted to. I just gave myself permission to be happy.” His grin was much wider this time. “And I am!”
“You make it sound so easy,” Jim observed.
“Man, it’s not!” Dan laughed. “Definitely not. But very rewarding.” His eyes sparkled wickedly as he raised an expressive eyebrow, and there was laughter around the table.
“Jim, don’t think so much,” Brian advised. “You think too damned much. Sometimes it’s best just to do.”
Jim chuckled wryly. “Yeah, I just have to figure out what to do!”
Jim perched on the railing of the back deck, swirling the brandy in his glass thoughtfully as he gazed out into the darkness. It was late, but there was plenty of activity going on inside the house. The group had recently returned to the Bed and Breakfast after an elegant evening of dinner, dancing and a floor show at the premiere Montreal restaurant Le Caf’ Conc. As had become their custom in recent days, a nightcap had been called for before heading off to bed. Feeling the need for some quiet, Jim had taken his snifter of brandy and slipped out onto the deck to enjoy the cool night air. He had thrown his suit jacket across the back of a chair, loosened his tie and undone the top two buttons of his dress shirt. He breathed in deeply of the night scents from the garden below and began to relax.
Trixie had looked stunning tonight as she came down the stairs, ready for the evening ahead. He knew his eyes had grown wide and he couldn’t swear that he had not audibly gulped. Thankfully, no one had felt the need to comment on his reaction. Trixie should always wear blue, he decided. That slip of a dress, it’s sparkling fabric hugging her curves, the deep v of it’s halter style neckline leaving her shoulders bare and hinting at the shadow between her breasts, the scoop of the back; it was a wonder he had been able to concentrate enough to help her on with the matching jacket. As he stood behind her, the scent of her hair near drove him to distraction. And when she turned to smile her thanks up at him, he was certain he had stopped breathing. The other three women were also beautiful; Honey was sophisticated in black, Diana audacious in red and Arianne statuesque in green. He only had eyes for Trixie, however. I always only had eyes for Trixie.
Jim sipped contemplatively at his brandy. Many times during the evening he had heard echoes in his mind of the conversation with his friends that afternoon. Could he just accept these feelings he was rediscovering for Trixie and the idea that she might be feeling the same way? Over the past days, they had spent much of their time together talking and getting to know the adults they had each become. He found this mature Trixie even more intriguing than the memories he had of his first love. She seemed so sure of herself, certain of her abilities as a journalist and confident in herself as a woman. Yet underneath it all, he sensed that small pocket of youthful exuberance that he had always found so utterly charming. Could he accept that he was in love with the woman that Beatrix Belden had become and that it was all right to be so? And could he believe that he was worthy enough to have that love returned? Why am I so scared?
Rejection. He was afraid of offering his heart and having it spurned again. A cascade of thoughts and realizations began to tumble through his brain, unable to be contained, even if he wanted to; things he had always suspected but never wanted to acknowledge. He had not offered his heart freely all those years ago. He had put conditions on his love, even if he had not realized it; honestly believing that if he was in control there would be no rejection. It had to be on his terms, his view of the perfect relationship, his dreams of what their lives should be. No wonder she left me!
“Damn, I was a young and pompous fool,” he muttered with a shake of his head, then grinned ruefully as a cat howled in the distance as if in agreement.
“Talking to yourself?” A quiet voice asked from behind him. He turned to smile down into the face that haunted every moment of his days lately.
“You caught me,” he acknowledged, appreciating the way the moonlight lit the planes of Trixie’s face and lent an extra sheen to her sparkling eyes.
“What are you doing out here all alone?” she asked with a smile, moving to lean against the railing next to him.
Her scent washed over him once again, sending his senses whirling. Does she have any idea what she does to me just standing there? He downed the last of the brandy in his glass in an effort to gather his wits to answer.
“I suppose it would be too tacky for me to say I was waiting for you to join me?” he asked, opting for the familiar light-hearted banter he felt safe with. She raised her glass to her lips and met his eyes with a steady gaze. He felt his pulse quicken as she sipped her drink.
“It wouldn’t be tacky if you meant it,” she finally said in a soft voice. “Do you?”
At last Jim understood what it meant to drown in the pools of a woman’s eyes. His hand gripped the railing as the full intent of her words penetrated his seemingly befuddled brain. Don’t blow this, Frayne!
“I think I’ve been waiting years for you to join me, Trixie.”
Chapter 14: C'est La Vie - Chapter 14
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 14
The sound of the crickets chirping was thunder in her ears. A burst of laughter from inside the house had the intensity of a physical blow. A car motor revved in the distance, yet she would have sworn that it was right on the other side of the tall hedge that surrounded the yard. Trixie’s mind flittered from one memory to another; the house at Ten Acres, the tunnel beneath Rosewood Hall, the silver ID bracelet on a plane from Iowa, a stolen kiss outside the BWG clubhouse, a midnight picnic by the Wheeler Lake, a youthful declaration of love on the verandah at Crabapple Farm. Another night, this time a deck, another place, a kiss that made her every sense whirl with desire. I think I’ve been waiting years for you to join me, Trixie.
“Jim,” she spoke his name in a voice that was barely a whisper. Her eyes fluttered closed as he bent to lightly touch his lips to hers. A soft brush of velvet that made her knees turn weak. She sensed him begin to straighten and leaned into him, deepening the kiss. She clung to his mouth, tasting the smokiness of the brandy he had been drinking just seconds before. There was a hint of familiarity in this kiss, a slight recognition from long ago that made the taste even sweeter and Trixie felt a surge of contentment well up within her. This had to be right!
“Trix, I’m sorry.” Jim sighed as he gently released her and turned to stare back out into the night. “I shouldn’t have done that.” She noted the small muscle working along his jaw line, the sudden tension of his stance, and another familiar sensation flowed through her. Annoyance. How does he manage this, every time?
“Don’t you apologize to me, James W.,” she began heatedly, only to be interrupted by the sliding of the patio screen door.
“Trix, Jim, we’re all going up now. Don’t forget to lock up when you come in,” Brian said, stepping onto the deck. “Arianne’s taken care of the front.” He smiled benignly at the couple by the railing and Trixie marveled that he could be so oblivious.
“We’ll take care of it, Brian. We won’t be long. Have a good sleep.” Jim smiled back at him and Trixie stifled the urge to punch him.
“Night guys.” Brian waved a hand and disappeared back inside, his sister’s glance shooting daggers at his retreating form.
“You two could drive me easily to violence, you know that?” Trixie exclaimed, depositing her glass on the patio table with an emphatic thunk. She glared up at the tall man beside her.
“What?” Jim’s green eyes were wide with surprise and she rolled her own eyes in response.
“This is serious, Jim, and here you are exchanging pleasantries with my brother!” Trixie sighed in exasperation. “Can’t you ever focus on what’s going on between us?”
“What was I supposed to do, Trix? Tell him to take a hike and leave us alone? Throw my glass at him?” He echoed her previous move and slammed his brandy glass on the nearby table. “I swear, woman, you are as unfathomable as you ever were!”
“I’m unfathomable!” Trixie gasped. “You’re the one who blows hot one minute and cold the next!” She accused, her small chin jutting out stubbornly. “I swear to God, Jim, you’re doing your best to make me wish I had never left Atlanta!” She clutched at her curls in frustration.
“And maybe I was better off staying in Sleepyside! God knows, I’m only screwing things up here!” he said between clenched teeth. “It’s hopeless, totally hopeless!” he declared angrily.
Trixie felt her control slipping away from her and tried desperately to hold on to it. She was not going to let this degenerate into another useless argument, not after that kiss they had shared, not after what he had said to her. One look at Jim’s set face told her that he was on the verge of losing his own legendary temper. Lord, he’s magnificent when he’s angry!
“Do you have any idea just how frustrating you can be? Jim, this has to stop,” she said determinedly, turning and stalking down the deck stairs towards the pool. She needed to put some physical space between them in order to think straight. She was not going to let this late night encounter end the way the previous one had.
“I can assure you that I don’t deliberately set out to frustrate you, Trixie. Despite popular belief, I don’t lie awake at night thinking up ways to annoy you. It’s never been one of my hobbies.” Sarcasm was thick in Jim’s voice and she winced inwardly. His sarcasm had always been able to wound her. It was a sure sign that he was extremely angry. “But it seems that I’m very good at it.”
“Oh, Jim, just stop it!” She glared up at him. “Why do we always end up doing this?” she demanded, clapping her hands to her sides and turning to look out over the rippling water of the pool. Tears pricked at her eyelids, but she refused to allow them to spill over. There was silence for a long moment, then the sounds of his shoes on the stairs as he moved to join her.
“Doing what, Trixie?” he asked from right behind her, his tone now softer, yet somehow bleak. “Yelling at each other? Confused and frustrated with each other? I have no idea how I always manage to get us going. I am sorry, though.” He sighed heavily and she spun about to face him.
“And you’re doing it again!” A single tear rolled down her cheek and she dashed it away with the back of one hand.
“Doing what?” he exploded in utter confusion. “Trust me, Trixie, if I knew what I was doing to make you so angry, I’d stop. The last thing I want is for you to be angry with me.” He ran his hands through his fiery hair and gave her a look of total helplessness. “I want things to be right between us.”
“Oh, Jim, I want that too, but it’s never going to happen unless we let it!” She longed to reach up and brush the hair from his forehead, but she refused to let herself be sidetracked. If they were ever going to move forward, there were things that had to be said.
“I thought that was what we were trying to do?” The confusion on his face was obvious, and Trixie could not help but smile slightly.
“All that money, and you can’t buy a clue,” she said, affection edging out the frustration from her voice. She looked into the green depths of his eyes and felt an overwhelming wave of love crash through her. She knew that whatever happened, her heart would always belong to this man, this frustrating perfectionist; this aggravatingly stubborn, annoyingly honourable, exasperatingly idealistic man. After all this time, was she secure enough and confident enough to deal with all these things she loved about him? Could she let herself be loved by him yet remain in control of her own self? If I don’t stop running from him, I’ll never know. She took a deep breath and threw caution to the winds.
“Jim, if you want things to be right with us, the first thing you have to do is stop apologizing for everything,” she said gently. “That’s why I got angry. I enjoyed that kiss, and then when you said you were sorry I felt as if you thought there was something wrong with that. Didn’t you enjoy it?” she asked with a hint of a smile curving her lips.
“Of course I did!” he exclaimed, taking one of her hands in his. “Trixie, how could you think otherwise? I just thought that maybe I was being a bit forward… rushing you.” He rubbed his thumb lightly along the back of her hand in a gesture she found remarkably intimate. “I guess I just want things to go perfectly where you’re concerned. I let you down once before and I don’t want to do it again.”
“You never let me down, Jim. Quite the contrary, I think I was the one that let you down,” Trixie disagreed. “I had some growing up to do back then, I realize that now.”
“We both did, Trix.” He was silent for a moment, studying the hand he held in his. Trixie wished she could peer inside his head to know what he was thinking. His thumb still caressed the back of her hand, sending a curling tendril of warmth throughout her frame.
“I don’t want to disappoint you, Trixie,” he said finally, raising his gaze to meet hers. She almost gasped at the intensity of the emotions she saw in those emerald depths. “A long time ago, I overheard you tell Honey, or maybe it was Di, that you thought I was the most wonderful boy in the world. I couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen at the time.” He shook his head and gave a small, rueful laugh. “Since then, I’ve done my best to live up to those words, and failing more often than not. I tried so hard to make everything right, to make it perfect, certain that if I did, you would never leave. Never want to leave. No, Trix, let me finish…” He laid his fingers across her lips when she began to speak. “See, I have these issues about being abandoned; doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. First my dad, my real dad, and then my mom… I just thought that if could make everything just right, be your perfect guy; I wouldn’t have to go through that again. I’ve taken enough psychology courses to understand that it never works out that way, but I was young and thought if I wanted it bad enough…” his voice trailed off and he sighed heavily. “I was rather arrogant, wasn’t I?” He raised one ginger eyebrow in wry amusement.
“I’d rather say determined,” she returned, blinking back the tears his admission had caused. “Maybe, if I had been more mature, more self-confident and maybe even more trusting, I would have been able to see what you were going through and made you realize that what you were setting out for us was impossible. I should have understood, but I was so fearful of not being able to live up to the ideal you had set for us, that I just took off. I couldn’t do it because I never was perfect and never will be. And Jim,” Trixie raised her free hand to lay it against his cheek. “I always thought you were wonderful, not perfect.”
“Trixie…” He turned his head to place a kiss in the palm of her hand that sent sudden shivers down her spine. “Where do we go from here? How do we get past this? I don’t want to scare you away again.” His hands slid to her waist and her pulse soared at the touch.
“I don’t scare quite so easily any more,” she told him in a voice that was somewhat breathless as she moved her hand to rest on the back of his neck. “I think we have to…stop worrying about…living up to ideals…that really don’t exist…just stop…thinking…so…much.” Letting her instincts take over, she moved forward and melded the length of her body to his, pulling his head down to kiss the lips that were so tantalizingly close. His arms encircled her and held her even closer as he met her kiss with a fervour that surprised her with its intensity. She gave herself up to the desire that had been simmering below the surface for so long, aware only of him, his firm lips on hers, his strong hands moving on her back, his heated body against hers, the feel of his hair as she twined it about her fingers and the strong, rapid beating of his heart beneath her hand that was trapped between them.
“Trixie…” Suddenly his mouth was no longer there and her eyes fluttered open to stare up at him in surprise. “Trix, sweetheart, are you sure this is the right thing to do? Is this truly what you want?” His face was flushed with desire, but his expression was solemnly questioning.
“Dammit, Jim!” she exclaimed breathlessly, stepping back from the circle of his arms. How could she get through to him? The perverse imp that had been the bane of her brother Mart’s existence for many years came to the fore, and her blue eyes began to glint dangerously. With a swift move that took him completely unawares, she raised both hands and pushed at his chest. With a yelp of shock, he tumbled backwards into the pool, surfacing a moment later, sputtering angrily.
“Now you listen to me, James Frayne,” Trixie ordered, her hands on her hips as she glared down at him. “I am going up to my room. I would prefer not to spend the night alone. I would like it very much if you were to join me. I want to make love with you, but I’ll leave the decision up to you. Is that clear enough for you?” she demanded, smiling inwardly as the annoyance left his features and an amused grin began to twitch at the corners of his mouth.
“Clear as a bell,” he replied. Before she gave into the giggles that threatened, she turned and headed back towards the house, making certain that her hips swayed in the most provocative manner she could summon.
“Oh, and Jim?” She stopped at the patio door and looked over her shoulder. “Remember to bring in the glasses, will you?” She gave him a final saucy grin, heart soaring at the sound of his answering laughter.
Trixie kicked the silky blue fabric that was her dress to the corner of the room and pulled open the top drawer of her dresser. There was no doubt in her mind that he would follow her and there was not much time to prepare. She wanted to look just right. Oh, there had been other men since that sweet interlude with Dan, but somehow none that were as important as this man. This was Jim. He was her first love; the man upon whom she had once pinned all her youthful hopes and dreams, the man she had tried unsuccessfully for years to excise from her emotions. The mere thought of him stepping into her bedroom sent her pulse racing and made her breathing ragged.
“This won’t do!” She tossed aside a filmy peach silk nightgown that she had bought three years ago but had never worn. “Or this.” She held up a fuchsia teddy. What was I thinking? Flannel pajamas? Definitely not! She tore open the bags she had brought home that afternoon and cursed under her breath. “These aren’t right either!” she fumed, clutching at her curls in frustration.
“Why is this so difficult?” She groaned in exasperation. Then her eyes lit on a certain article of clothing and a slow smile spread across her lips. “Perfect,” she whispered.
Moments later - or was it hours - the light knock that she had been expecting caused her to catch her breath and grip the edge of the dresser anxiously. She had been so sure of herself down by the pool, determined to take this relationship past the tentative stages, but at this moment she felt as nervous as a teenager. She ran her hands down the sides of her well-worn, over-sized tee-shirt and took a deep breath.
“Come in,” she called softly, the pounding of her heart loud in her ears. The door swung open and he stood there, a small grin on his rugged face, his damp hair curling on his forehead. He leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed over his bare chest and a very familiar bath towel wrapped about his hips. Trixie felt her nipples harden under the cotton of her shirt as a flush of desire spread through her whole body. Her toes curled into the plush pile of the carpet even as she reminded herself to breathe.
“I’m sorry I took so long,” he said, entering the room and closing the door behind him. “I wanted to get out of my wet clothes before tracking water over more of the house than I already have.” His gaze was warm as it trailed lingeringly over her, as substantial as a physical caress.
“Seems to me I’ve seen that towel somewhere before,” she teased with a suggestive arch of one sandy eyebrow. “Is that your usual nighttime attire?” She released her grip on the edge of the dresser and leaned against it, eyeing his muscular frame appreciatively. It was increasingly difficult to maintain a façade of nonchalance when all she craved was the touch of his hands, his lips, and his body against hers.
“No, I usually sleep without the towel,” he admitted with a small grin, stepping further into the room. He moved to stand next to her, leaning his hip against the dresser, mimicking her stance. She caught her lower lip between her teeth, noting that he was as aroused as she was and her cheeks coloured attractively. Blue eyes met green in a long, searching gaze until she put out one hand to lay her fingertips lightly against his chest.
“Jim, I’m not going to run away this time,” she said softly, trailing her fingers through the wiry, ginger hair.
“That’s good,” he replied, putting a finger under her chin to tilt her face upwards, then bent his head to brush his lips lightly against hers. “Maybe it’s time we both stopped running.”
“Oh, I would like that, Jim,” she breathed, raising her hand to caress his cheek. Her eyes widened in surprise as he suddenly sighed and straightened. “What? What’s wrong?” she asked, confused. “What did I do this time?” Exasperation edged into her voice, even as he began to chuckle amusedly.
“Trix!” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “You didn’t do anything! Sweetheart…” His chuckles turned to outright laughter as she stamped her foot in frustration. “Listen to me, please, Trixie,” he pleaded, holding her in place when she would have spun away from him.
“You have one minute, Frayne. One minute.” She glared up at him, all the while still wanting him to touch her, to hold her, to kiss her. Beatrix, you are so perverse, she thought wryly.
“Trixie, sweetheart, it’s not about you at all,” he began, schooling his features into seriousness. He couldn’t hide the amusement dancing in his eyes, which did nothing to diminish her ire. “Look, I’m thirty-two years old, and here I am, as nervous as a kid of eighteen about to lose his virginity. It’s so me that it’s laughable! I’m on the verge of something I’ve wanted forever and I’m petrified!”
His cheeks began to stain with a reddish tint and Trixie couldn’t help the sudden feeling of affection that cut through her frustration. He always blushed so easily. At this moment he looked like the boy of eighteen he had been and a small smile began to tease at the corners of her mouth.
“Trix, believe it or not, I’ve dreamt about this night for years. More years than I care to admit if I’m to be totally honest about it. There have been other women, that’s no secret, but jeez, Trixie… this is you!” He ran his hands through his fiery hair and gave her another grin, this one sheepish. “I want this night to be so perfect, but I’m so afraid that I’ll manage to screw it up somehow. I always do.” He spread his hands helplessly. “It’s as if being here with you has become this big, huge, important thing… far beyond two people sharing a bed – sharing themselves. Something that should in reality be so easy and simple suddenly isn’t. It’s so damned par for the course, isn’t it?” He laughed and her heart tore a little at the slight note of bitterness that had crept into his words.
Trixie looked up into the ruggedly handsome features that she could now admit had always been so dear to her. The intense green gaze, the freckles that had faded over the years, the nose that had been broken in a touch football game so long ago, the wide, generous mouth with its charmingly crooked grin, the square jaw that so often was set stubbornly… she loved every inch of it. What she said and did next was of the utmost importance to both of them.
“It has sort of taken on a life of it’s own, hasn’t it?” She smiled hesitantly at him. “If I let myself think about it too much, I’m sure I’d be as skittish as one of Regan’s new fillies. We have way too much history, Jim. It makes us stupid about the whole situation. You know, we should have slept together years ago – but we didn’t.” She reached out and ran a hand down his forearm. “I was thinking before you came upstairs about how this time it was going to be different from any other man. This was James Frayne that I had invited into my bed. My God, Jim, do you have any idea how often I’ve fantasized about this moment? To the detriment of some of my past relationships I have to admit.” She chuckled wryly as she felt herself begin to blush furiously. He was not the only one with that problem. “Do you think that after seventeen years of knowing each other we might have built up some unrealistic expectations of each other?” she asked. “And of ourselves?”
“Do you think?” A small laugh escaped him. “It does seem that we turn everything into a big production. Why do we get so damned dramatic about everything?” He was silent for a long moment, gazing past her to the bedroom window and for not the first time this night, she wished she could see inside his head to know what thoughts he was thinking.
“Trixie?” His green eyes focused on her face and she warmed at the lights dancing within them. “I think too much and I’m too damned serious about everything.” He reached out and tugged gently on an errant blonde curl in a gesture that she found incredibly erotic, given the events and conversation of the past hour. The desire that had never truly abated arose within her once again.
“I won’t argue that point,” she agreed with a slow smile. “What do you want to do about it?” She ran her tongue lightly over her bottom lip and was rewarded by a widening of his eyes and another more obvious indication of his arousal.
“I want you, Trixie. I want to make love to you all night long.” His large hands reached out to cup her face, one thumb running softly over the lip that so entranced him.
“Not so nervous anymore?” she asked breathlessly, bringing her own hands up to rest upon his bare chest. His skin was warm beneath her palms, warm and alive.
“I’m as nervous as hell,” he admitted, his voice low and husky, sending a thrill through her. His hands slid to her shoulders and along her arms until he held both her hands. “Aren’t you?” He raised one hand to his mouth and placed a kiss in her palm.
“I guess I am.” She gasped slightly at the unexpected touch of his tongue on the tender skin of her wrist. “But don’t let that stop you.” A small moan followed her words as he began work his way up the inside of her arm planting butterfly-soft kisses along its length. She closed her eyes, aware only of the feel of his lips on her skin, the closeness of his muscular, hard body to hers, the ache in her loins that was growing stronger with each passing second.
“Oh, Jim, I want you so much!” Her eyes fluttered open as she felt his head raise. She twined her arms about his neck and pressed her smaller frame to his, wanting to be as close to him as she could. She planted a kiss in the hollow of his throat before throwing her head back to look at his face. His eyes were hooded with desire and his breath now came in short exhalations that were echoed in the rise and fall of his chest.
“Kiss me,” he commanded gently and she willingly complied, her lips parting under his eagerly. Her head whirled. His mouth was demanding, almost plundering, and she reveled in the passion she sensed was lurking just beneath the surface. She returned his kiss with a fieriness of her own, noting with one part of her mind the insistent pressure of his erection against her belly. The realization enflamed her even further.
His hands, which had been resting lightly on her hips, moved downwards to cup the gentle curve of her buttocks and the ache within her grew. Her fingers curled into the hair at the nape of his neck and she felt him smile through their kiss. It was not long before his hands found their way under the thin material of her tee-shirt and the feel of his roughened palms against her soft skin sent her senses reeling. A low moan came from deep within her.
His mouth released hers at last, only to trail down the side of her neck, driving her to new heights of desire with each slight nibble. Her hands trailed over his broad shoulders, enjoying the play of the muscles under her fingertips. Wanting to explore more of the powerful frame beneath her hands, she moved them across his chest and down over his stomach, smiling inwardly at his sudden intake of breath as she found the sensitive spot just beneath his bellybutton.
“Jim, about this towel…” She pulled back slightly to look at his face once again. “It’s annoyed me for days.” With a throaty chuckle, she slid her hands down the small of his back and a moment later the towel was a puddle of terrycloth at their feet.
“And I thought it was me,” his voice was soft and teasing. She looked into his dancing eyes, ready to reply in kind, but he suddenly scooped her up and claimed her mouth with his once again, effectively forestalling any words she might utter. Wrapping her legs tightly around his hips she gave herself up to the experience of being kissed more thoroughly and completely than ever before in her life. Her world consisted of his lips on hers, his tongue entwined with hers, his rock hard body pressed against hers and his warm hands on her skin.
“Oh, God!” She gasped when she could breathe again. She unlocked her legs and slid down, shuddering with pleasure as her sensitive folds passed over his erect penis. “Now, Jim. I can’t wait any longer.” In one swift movement she stepped back and pulled her tee-shirt over her head, dropping it on top of the towel.
“Sweetheart…” His voice was strangled by powerful emotions, passion firing his emerald gaze as he drank in the curves of her naked body. He reached out to brush a hand over one perfect breast, then trail a finger down her side to rest on her hip. She shivered in delicious anticipation.
“Now.” It was part command, part urgent entreaty.
“Now,” he affirmed, gathering her to him once again and moving the few short steps to the bed. Gently he laid her back across the patterned comforter, then stretching out next to her, his hands began a voyage of discovery that his mouth soon followed. Small moans escaped her as wave after wave of heated sensations crashed through her. Her own hands were busy touching, caressing, locating the spots that made him moan in response.
“Jim, I need to feel you in me!” Trixie stopped her ministrations and raised herself up on one elbow. Nothing else would satisfy her craving for him. Her hair tousled, her lips swollen from his kisses, her eyes heavy with desire, she gazed down at him. A slow smile spread over his lips as his hands went around her waist and he began to pull her on top of him. Suddenly he stopped.
“Trixie!” His eyes widened in sudden realization. “I don’t believe this! I don’t have any protection!” He released her and clapped a hand over his eyes in total dejection. “I always have protection!” he groaned.
Trixie’s mind raced. She mentally rifled through her suitcase, her drawers, her purse – nothing. Damn! I never replaced that box after Chicago…and that was almost a year ago! She looked down at his dejected face and felt a bubble of laughter well in her throat. The absurdity of the situation hit her and her shoulders began to shake until she could no longer contain her giggles. Jim’s hand lifted from his eyes and he fixed her with a baleful green gaze that caused her to laugh all the harder.
“I’m glad you find it amusing,” he said sourly, even though his lips had begun to twitch suspiciously.
“It … is … funny,” she told him, punctuating the words with soft kisses on his face. “But … not … the … end … of … the … world.” She finished with a long, lingering kiss on his slightly parted lips. Her eyes twinkled wickedly as she ran her nails down his chest, over his belly and into the thick cluster of dark auburn curls below. He gasped as her fingers curled about his semi-erect penis, coaxing it back to full arousal. “I’m on the pill,” she whispered close to his ear, smiling as her words elicited a low moan from him.
“Trixie, you are a tease!” he accused twisting so that she was suddenly on her back and he was looming over her. She smiled up at him, desire and anticipation shining in her eyes.
“You’re an easy mark,” she replied breathlessly, “and I adore you for it.” She ran her hands through his thick, mussed hair and pulled his head down to enjoy another devastating kiss. “Love me, Jim,” she murmured against his lips. “I don’t want to wait any longer. Love me now.” She arched her body into the curve of his, her nails digging into his back.
All the fantasies that Trixie had indulged in over the years paled in comparison to the reality. Slowly and deliberately Jim entered her, his eyes locked with hers in a gaze of such intensity that it fairly crackled with electricity. When she felt as if she could take no more of him, he began to move his hips in a leisurely fashion that soon began to intensify as she matched her movements to his. Her legs wrapped around him, pulling him closer. She wanted to take as much of him as she could and still she craved more. Her hands clasped his forearms, feeling the muscles in them tense as he held much of his weight off her. Her eyes never left his, even when the rhythm of their lovemaking increased and intensified. Small whimpers of pleasure issued from her throat. Almost frantic in her passion, her nails dug into the skin of his arms and she bit her lip as her whimpers turned to deep-throated moans. Then, as a Mississippi levee giving way to the incessant pressure of the formidable river, a flush of molten sensation flowed from her core, through her limbs to her very extremities. Her toes curled as her voice rose in a primal moan to echo the deep vocal sigh of his ultimate release. He rolled to his side, clasping her trembling body to his and together they rested.
“Now that was a big production,” Trixie finally observed a long while later.
“I thought size didn’t matter to you women?” Jim teased, tweaking her nose lightly, then kissing it. She laughed and snuggled even closer to his warm, accommodating form.
“Jim-baby, it doesn’t if you know what to do with it,” she drawled and grinned up at him. “And you do. Best of both worlds.” Her eyes widened in amusement as he blushed.
“Sweetheart, you have become terribly bold over the years,” he told her, reaching to pull some of the disarranged bedclothes over their lower halves. “I find it incredibly sexy,” he admitted with a crooked smile.
“That’s good.” She smiled in return. As her fingers tangled through the mat of hair on his chest, she turned thoughtful. “You know what?”
“What?” His own fingers were busy toying with the jumble of blonde curls that framed her face.
“I’ve never made love without a condom before,” she told him, her cheeks turning a rosy pink at the confession. “So you were sort of like my first, you know?” She bit her lip and looked up at him through her tangled lashes. “Corny, isn’t it?”
“Not at all,” he disagreed and kissed her gently. “I never have either.”
“Which means that, even after all these years, we still end up being each other’s firsts?” Trixie wrapped her arms about his neck and sighed happily. “There’s something perfectly perfect about that, isn’t there?”
“Yes, Sweetheart,” he whispered, green eyes shining. “Perfectly perfect.”
Chapter 15: C'est La Vie - Chapter 15
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 15
The sun had not even begun to rise when Honey’s eyes opened. She lay there for a while, listening to Brian’s even breathing, hoping that she would be able to go back to sleep. It was a vain hope, she finally acknowledged to herself. Too many thoughts were whirling through her mind to enable her to drift off once again.
First came the situation with Trixie and Jim. Honey was delighted that her best friend and her brother had seemed to be growing closer over the past few days. It had always been one of her dearest dreams that the two of them would get back together. She had been heartbroken at their break-up all those years ago, even though she had managed to hide it from the both of them. Honey had been the third person that long-ago day in the rundown mansion; she had seen what had passed between Jim and Trixie upon their first meeting. Something that powerful just couldn’t be forgotten, even with time. Of course, she hadn’t realized it back then, she had been too young, but in retrospect, she was convinced of its inevitability.
The previous night, waiting for Brian to return to the bedroom from the shower, she had watched Trixie and Jim by the pool. They could have accused her of spying, she supposed; she had turned out the bedside lamp so they couldn’t see her silhouette in the window. It soon became apparent, however, that the couple had eyes for nothing but themselves. With an amused smile, Honey had watched as her friend had sauntered enticingly into the house, leaving Jim to scramble from the pool with great alacrity. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the outcome of this encounter. Honey had crossed her fingers and made a wish. Please, don’t blow it this time!
Her thoughts strayed to her own life. There had been a time when she had dreamt of being a successful private investigator, solving mysteries at her best friend’s side, fixing problems and helping people. She had begun college with those dreams, but she and Trixie had chosen different paths as their adult lives loomed closer on the horizon. Trixie had gone into journalism, and she had kept on with her computer and psychology courses. Eventually, she had married Brian then, soon after, Casey was born and suddenly she found herself a wife and mother. She had wanted nothing more at the time, being perfectly happy making a warm and loving home for her husband and raising her family. The kids were older now, and she suddenly realized that she wanted more. She wanted to feel busy and useful. Boredom had become part of her life, and it was not a welcome addition.
These past days in Montreal with her old friends had made her realize many things. She had been drifting through life, doing things by habit, the same thing, day after day. No wonder Brian felt the way he did! Neither of them had put much effort into their marriage or their lives for a while. She was determined that would change. It had only been a few days and already, an intensity had developed between herself and Brian that had been sadly lacking in their lives for so long. They were remembering exactly why they loved each other, and it was good. Now, she had to discover what she could do about the other areas of her life. She was still young, she was smart, and she had money and connections at her disposal. Surely there was something she could do with her life!
Admitting, finally, that sleep was not going to return any time soon, she slipped out of bed, grabbed her robe and headed for the shower.
She returned to the bedroom a short time later, still moving quietly, not wanting to disturb her sleeping husband. The sky outside the bedroom window was just beginning to lighten and the illuminated clock face on the dresser told her that it was just after five o’clock. Raking her slender fingers through her short hair, she stood at the window, still sunk deep in thought.
“You’re up early.” Brian’s voice was soft and raspy from sleep as it startled her from her reverie.
“I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep,” she explained, turning and giving him a small smile that was barely visible in the faint dawning light. “So I went and took a shower. I figured it would speed things up later on.”
“What were you thinking about so deeply?” He asked, patting the empty half of the bed beside him, indicating that she should come and sit next to him.
“Stuff.” She accepted his silent invitation and sat in the curve of his body, curling her long legs beneath her.
“You looked very serious.” His brown eyes were still half-lidded from sleep under the tousle of mahogany curls that fell over his forehead. She stretched out a hand and brushed them to the side before answering.
“Well, I was thinking about serious stuff,” she said, determined that she would no longer keep these things to herself. The distance that had developed between her and Brian could be partially attributed to her reluctance to share her thoughts and worries with him for fear of bothering him… fear of disappointing him, she realized.
“Something I can help with?” He asked in the serious way he had that she found so endearing, so safe and so Brian. It struck her suddenly that she had forgotten just how much she loved this side of him. A small, shy smile curved her lips as she shifted her weight to lean against him.
“I started off thinking about Jim and Trixie,” she admitted with a small chuckle. “She pushed him in the pool last night,” she confided. “I was watching them while you were in the shower.” Her lowered lashes could not conceal the amusement dancing within their hazel depths.
“Spying, were you?” Brian laughed softly. “Babe, that is so unlike you!” He took her hand and raised it to his lips to softly kiss her fingers. “What else did you see?” He asked, eyes now fully open and twinkling with interest.
“Nothing much, but I honestly think that they might finally both be on the same page at the same time,” Honey told him hopefully. “I believe they’ve always loved each other, Brian. They just needed to get over their unreal expectations of what that meant,” she added with a small smile. “Like a lot of people.”
“I have to agree with you.” He looked at her for a long moment. “Unreal expectations can make a mess of things, can’t they?” He kissed her fingers again and rubbed her knuckles gently with his thumb. “But that wasn’t all that you were thinking about, was it?” He encouraged her to continue.
“No, it wasn’t.” Honey took a deep breath. “I was thinking about us… about how wonderful these past couple of days has been…about how feelings I had thought were fading have come back even stronger than before.” She laughed a little self-consciously. “It’s almost like I’ve had a revelation, Brian.” She bit her lower lip. “Silly, isn’t it?” Her cheeks coloured.
“Not silly at all,” Brian said gently. “Not at all.” He squeezed her hand lightly and she felt a happy warmth flow through her. He understood!
“And I was thinking too, that I want to do something new. What, I don’t know. I just know that, with the children needing less constant attention I’m feeling rather lost now. Aimless, maybe? Wasted?” She strove to explain her innermost feelings to him. “I guess I want to contribute in some way.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I want to be interesting again.” Her voice was almost a whisper as she admitted one of her deepest fears. “I want you to find me interesting again.”
“Oh, baby!” Swiftly, he raised himself to sit up and gather her to him. His strong arms enfolded her slender frame as the tears overflowed and silent sobs set her to trembling. “We have made a mess of things, haven’t we?” She felt him whisper into the golden wisps of her hair.
She lay against his bare chest until finally the sobs subsided, and the tears were no longer tumbling down her cheeks. Her husband’s arms about her were safe and comforting, calming the turmoil within her. Things would work out, somehow. They had to!
“Honey, look at me.” Brian urged gently. She raised her head to meet his earnest gaze and almost gasped at the intensity of it. “Baby, you and I talk far too much sometimes,” he told her. “We talk too much, and we think too much. Mart tried to tell me the other day, but I didn’t hear him. I was too wrapped up in feeling sorry for myself.” He cupped her face in his two large hands, his thumbs wiping the trails of tears from her cheeks. “I love you.”
“Oh, Brian, I love you too!” Honey exclaimed. “I…I am just so afraid that you’ll be disappointed in me.” She lowered her eyes.
“And yet I’m the one that’s been disappointing you.” Brian told her softly, his own eyes shining with welling tears. “Baby, I’m so sorry.”
“No, Brian!” She protested. “Never! Not real disappointment.” She shook her head vehemently. “If there was any disappointment I felt, it was because I thought you didn’t find me interesting any longer. Not the way you used to,” she admitted. “I guess I felt you were just seeing the mother, the homemaker, the friend, not the woman…you know?”
“I was.” Brian’s voice was rough with emotion. “And it’s something I’ll never forgive myself for.” He closed his eyes for a long moment. Honey knew that, if left unchecked, his guilt would have the ability to consume him.
“Brian, I forgive you,” she whispered, leaning closer to place a feather-light kiss on his mouth. “It’s partly my fault anyway. I wasn’t exactly broadcasting my womanliness, was I?” She smiled shyly and was pleased when his eyes opened, and mingled with the guilt she had known she would see, was hope and warmth. It emboldened her, and she let her instincts take over. “Can’t we get past the blame and start again? You did say we talk and think too much.” She raised one fine eyebrow suggestively. “Maybe it’s time for another approach?” She watched as a spark kindled within the mahogany depths of his eyes.
“What approach would that be?” Brian asked, taking his cue from her.
Honey trailed a manicured fingernail down his chest, gratified by his swift intake of breath. It had been so long since she allowed herself to take the lead in any of their lovemaking that she had forgotten the power her touch could have over him. She laid her hand flat over his heart and could feel the faint pounding beneath her palm. A wave of love washed through her at the realization that it was beating for her. Overcome, she bent her head to rest above her hand.
“Baby?” Brian’s fingers tilted her face upwards. His eyebrows were knitted together in concern, but she reassured him with a smile as she slid her arms about his neck.
“I love you,” she told him simply, before claiming his mouth with her own, demanding that he respond with equal fervour, which he did without hesitation. Her hands slid up into his hair as she rediscovered the searing sweetness of his kiss, the way his tongue caressed the underside of her lower lip, the soft moan from deep within him as she nipped gently at his lips in response. Kissing Brian had always been a delight, one that she realized she had sorely missed.
She gasped as his hands slid beneath the folds of her silken bathrobe to move lightly over her heated skin. His touch was so familiar, so knowing, but at the same time, felt new and fresh. As his hands moved caressingly up her back, her robe gaped open and she pressed herself against him, needing to feel the roughness of the hair on his chest against the tender skin of her breasts. A small moan escaped her and she felt him chuckle slightly in appreciation. Her desire increased and she pushed him back into the pillows, raining kisses along his neck and down his chest as she did so. He pushed the robe from her shoulders, letting the cool early morning breeze from the open window cool her heated skin.
“Brian!” Honey gasped, raising herself away from him. “Oh, Brian, hold on a second. I know what we need!” She scrambled from the bed, her breath coming in quick gulps.
“Madeleine Wheeler Belden, what do you think you’re doing?” He demanded indulgently, as he gazed upon the slim beauty of her naked form in the ever-brightening morning light.
“I bought some stuff the other day that might prove to be interesting,” she explained, rooting around in the bags she had left on the chair. Intent on her search, she didn’t realize he had come to stand beside her until his hands caught at her shoulders and turned her about to face him.
“What’s wrong?” She looked up at his face, so serious as he gazed down at her.
“Baby, I don’t need any of that stuff to find you interesting,” he said earnestly. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” His hand moved from her shoulder to caress her cheek softly. “I love you. I love everything about you. I love your huge hazel eyes, especially when they look at me the way they have been this morning. I love this straight little nose of yours and your sexy mouth. I love the way your neck curves in just the right way into your shoulders, with the perfect little hollow just made for me to kiss.” He suited action to words, causing her to shiver in delight. “I love the way your breasts were made to fit just perfectly in my hand…now isn’t that an interesting coincidence?” He grinned teasingly at her as he proved his point. “And these faint little stretch marks?” He ran one hand across the silky skin beneath her belly button. “I find them very intriguing and interesting. They’re an outward sign of something very profound and loving that we’ve shared.” He bent over and kissed her gently and almost reverently, and it was all she could do to remain upright. “Baby, I don’t need toys and extras to find you interesting. Right now, I just want to make love with you. To reacquaint myself with the interesting woman I married and want to spend the rest of my life with. Nothing else matters. Nothing else interests me.” He swept her effortlessly into his arms and carried her back to the bed.
“Brian, we’re truly on the right road, aren’t we?” She asked, looking up at him with wide eyes.
“We are.” He nodded.
“Then love me,” she invited, raising her arms enticingly towards him.
“I will. I do. Always.” He slid into the bed beside her. “Forever.”
Arianne stood at the kitchen counter, gazing unseeingly at the gradually filling coffee pot in front of her. It was still quiet in the large house, but she knew, from recent experience, that the morning chaos would start all too soon. As a matter of fact, things were a little late getting started, she observed, turning to glance at the clock over the stove. With a small sigh, she returned her attention to the coffee pot and waited for it to fill.
Arianne had not awakened as her usual cheery self this morning. She knew it the instant she slipped from beneath Daniel’s arm in the bed they shared. Despite the fact that the sun was shining on another beautiful Montreal morning, her thoughts were dark and gloomy. Merde! She had sworn to herself that she was going to take things as they came and not worry about consequences. Some things were easier said than done.
Indeed, it had only been a few days, but she knew without a doubt that she had fallen in love with Daniel. And fallen hard, she reluctantly admitted to herself. She had entered into this situation feeling that she could handle whatever the fates decided to throw her way, but now she wasn’t so certain anymore. Five days were left in the Bob-White vacation. Five days before he hopped on his motorcycle and roared out of her life. Was she going to be able to handle it? This morning, she didn’t think so. All of her high-flying words about living in the moment, seizing happiness while she could, without contemplating the future, taking things as they came... they were all just words now. Merde! Merde! Merde!
How did he feel? They had come to a tacit understanding that they were not going to talk about the future, an agreement that right now she would happily do away with. Did he care more for her than just a vacation fling? Was there more than the obvious and devastating physical attraction? She wished she had the courage to come right out and ask him, but the thought of doing so absolutely petrified her. Bah! You are so quick to offer advice to the others, but when it comes to yourself, Arianne Chevalier, you are a frightened little girl!
“Ari! Are you the first one up?” Mart entered the kitchen, exuding energy and good humour and she stifled the urge to throw the now-filled coffee pot at his head.
“It would seem so,” she replied, finding a smile from somewhere and turning to face him.
“Good. I wanted to talk to you before any of the others were around. I need your help.” Mart gave her one of his most engaging grins, one to which she could not fail to respond. Mart Belden at his charming best was a force to be reckoned with. She pushed her gloomy thoughts from her mind as best she could. She had made her bed, so to speak, and now she must lie in it.
“I will do what I can,” she replied, pouring them both a cup of coffee.
“Okay, here’s the thing…” Mart sat at the table and began to explain. Arianne’s golden eyes grew wider as he went on, a genuine smile lighting her features. Her own worries and concerns drifted to the back of her thoughts as she concentrated on what he was telling her.
“Oh, Mart! That is merveilleux! Marvelous!” She clapped her hands in delight as he finished his explanation. “I am certain I can help.”
“I knew you could!” Mart sat back in his chair with a satisfied grin. “Now, not a word to anyone,” he cautioned.
“Not a word,” she agreed.
The softness in his arms stirred, and Jim’s eyes fluttered open. The wisps of sleep dissipated, and a slow, contented grin spread over his face. It hadn’t been a dream. After all the heartache and anger, frustration and fears, he and Trixie had finally been able to come together. To finally put the past where it belonged and recognize that there was something between them. Something strong. Something good.
If only I don’t screw it up.
The niggling thought crept into his musings, causing the grin on his face to fade somewhat. His track record was not one to exactly inspire confidence. He had a controlling and obsessive side to him that he wasn’t terribly proud of, and Trixie definitely didn’t deserve to have to put up with it. He loved her, for God’s sake; he didn’t want to make her miserable dealing with his faults. She deserved to have everything right in her life. Could he deliver?
“That’s not a happy face,” Trixie’s sleepy voice observed as she raised her head from his shoulder.
“That’s because you weren’t waking up,” he grinned at her, setting aside his worries for the time being. “I was lonely.” He put the most woebegone face he could on his features and was rewarded with one of her rich chuckles.
“You poor thing!” She began to inch her way up his chest and at the feel of her smooth skin moving against his, the faint desire that had been simmering beneath his surface began to grow. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“I thought you might be tired after that workout you gave me last night,” he teased, running a hand down her back and over the firm curve of her buttocks. She closed her eyes, her full lips curving in pleasure at his touch. She was laying almost fully on top of him now, her body moving against his with a suggestion he was not about to refuse. He moved both hands to caress her bottom, enjoying the response his hands were evoking.
“I’m on vacation,” she purred, her lips moving lightly along the side of his neck. “I don’t give a damn.” She nipped at his earlobe, and he couldn’t stifle the groan that rose from deep within him.
“Well then!” He made a sudden movement and flipped her over on her back where she blinked up at him with her blue eyes filled with amusement and heated desire. “I would say a morning workout is in order, wouldn’t you?” He ran a finger down her torso, from the hollow of her throat, through the valley of her breasts, over the faint curve of her belly, until his fingers buried themselves in the mass of golden curls between her legs.
“Oh, most definitely!” She gasped, her legs spreading in eager response.
In the darkness, their lovemaking had been intense and passionate, but with the morning sunlight streaming though the window came light-heartedness and fun. Jim had never experienced sex filled with teasing affection and giggling laughter, and he found something liberating in the sheer joy of it. As they both rose towards orgasm, their antics became so boisterous that they slid off the bed with a thump.
“God, Trix, I think I’ve broken……ahhhh!” His whole frame tensed with his release, leaving him gasping for air. “……ahh……my back.” He relaxed again, tired chuckles welling up within him.
“Thank you for cushioning…my…umm…fall,” Trixie giggled, limp from her own orgasm. “Now, that was definitely a good morning workout,” she added with a wicked grin.
Jim opened his mouth to reply in kind, but was interrupted by a soft knock at the door. Wide blue eyes met wide green eyes in shock. This was not a position in which either of them wished to be found.
“Everything okay in there?” Dan’s voice, filled with amusement filtered through the bedroom door. It was a toss-up as to who blushed with more fervour, Jim or Trixie.
“Yup, just fine!” Trixie responded, her voice quivering with suppressed laughter. “Little accident, no harm done,” she added, laying her hand over Jim’s mouth to keep him from laughing aloud.
“Well, the bathroom’s free, and everyone’s downstairs for breakfast,” Dan said. “We’re just waiting for you…and Jim.” His chuckle was quite audible, even through the door, as was his jaunty whistling as he moved off down the hallway.
“Oh, terrific!” Jim clapped a hand to his forehead. A moment later, his shoulders began to shake with laughter.
“Busted! By the cop, of all people!” Trixie quipped, dissolving in laughter of her own. Jim snaked his arms around her and pulled her close to him as they laughed at the absurdity of it together.
Maybe it’ll be all right after all. Their merriment subsided and Jim claimed Trixie’s still smiling mouth with a tender kiss. Maybe I won’t screw it up. Maybe there’s hope for us after all!
“C’mon, Big Fella!” Trixie scrambled to her feet, kicking the tangled bedclothes out of the way. “Let’s get in the shower and get downstairs for breakfast before they send Mart up to look for us!” She grabbed his hand and pulled at him until he was standing in front of her.
“Trixie…” He wrapped his arms around her and drew her to him, enjoying her closeness. It just felt so right! Lord, give me the strength and wisdom not to ruin this! “Trix, I’m happy. For the first time in a long while, sweetheart, I’m actually happy.” He kissed the top of her bright head and held her for a moment longer before letting her go. She took a step back and smiled up at him, the smile that had haunted his dreams for years.
“So am I, Jim.” Her eyes were shining and she looked beautiful, naked in the warm morning sunlight. This was a picture he would carry within him forever. “So am I.”
Chapter 16: C'est La Vie - Chapter 16
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 16
“Honey, I just don’t know what to do!” Trixie sighed heavily and gazed glumly at her best friend across the table. The two women had slipped away from the B & B in the late afternoon, claiming the need for a long walk, and headed for a small café a few blocks away.
“I thought things were going well between you and Jim?” Honey was surprised. “For the past two days, the two of you have seemed so happy!”
“I know. We are!” Trixie shook her blond curls emphatically. “It’s not that. Everything is wonderful, and that’s the way I want it to stay, but I’m petrified that it won’t!” Her fingers drummed on the table top in agitation.
“Whyever not?” Honey demanded, but had to wait for an answer as the waiter arrived with their coffees. Once he had departed, she leaned forward and prompted her sister-in-law again. “What are you so worried about, Trix?”
“Honey, I have to tell him. I can’t keep something like that from him!” Trixie stirred cream into her coffee and bit her lower lip anxiously. “I thought it wasn’t going to matter, but it does. It really does!” In the wee small hours of the early morning, listening to Jim breathe steadily in sleep beside her, she couldn’t stop these thoughts from battering at her new-found happiness.
“What matters? What do you have to……Oh!” Honey suddenly realized exactly what she was talking about. Her hazel eyes grew round with concern. “It’s Dan, isn’t it? You have to tell him about Dan and you.”
“Oh, Honey, you know there have been more men in my life than just Dan, but somehow, he’s the important one. Jim could care less about the others, but if I keep this thing with Dan a secret, it’s only going to end up biting me on the ass.” She ran her hands through her blond curls, her face a picture of dismay.
“Right on the damned tattoo,” Honey agreed with a nod.
“It’s not that I’m ashamed of what Dan and I shared. Quite the contrary. It’s just that it’s Dan and Jim we’re talking about.” Trixie sighed. There was so much history to be dealt with! “I think, no strike that, I know that Jim has always been a little envious of Dan, almost as if they were rivals in some way. I would feel as if I was betraying what Jim and I are trying so hard to build if I wasn’t completely honest about what happened between me and Dan. You know, to be truthful, if it hadn’t been for Jim, I honestly think that I could have loved Dan as he should be loved.” She twisted a blond curl around her finger, almost wistfully. “And if Jim should ever figure it out on his own, before I have the chance to explain anything, I know it would shatter whatever trust we’ve been able to build up.” Her eyes filled, suddenly, with frustrated tears. “I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t!”
“You mean he hasn’t said anything about the tattoo yet?” Honey sipped thoughtfully at her coffee. She knew her brother, and she had to agree with Trixie – he would not take this news well at any time.
“It’s weird. The man is fascinated with my ass, but he hasn’t said a single word about the tattoo. I don’t know what to think!” Trixie threw up her hands in exasperation. “But he’s not stupid. He’s going to connect the dots at some point! I mean, Dan’s waltzing around half the day without his damned shirt on, and I’m waltzing around half the night bare-assed. He’s gonna figure it out, Honey.” Trixie snorted in disgust at the whole situation, while Honey could do nothing but chuckle.
“Well, as painful as it might be, I think you have to tell him then,” Honey said, after a moment of thought. “He would feel betrayed if he found out otherwise. Besides, you’re not ashamed of it. Why shouldn’t you tell him? It only did you good, you know. Both you and Dan.”
“I know.” Trixie sighed again. “After all these years, I figured that I was mature enough to handle Jim’s insecurities, and mature enough to admit my own. But when I think of telling him about Dan and me, I just want to run back to Atlanta and safety. Maybe I’m not as wise as I thought I was.” She shrugged glumly. “I guess it boils down to me knowing that Jim is going to be upset by it, and I don’t want him to be upset because I’m scared that he’ll see it as a stumbling block to us being together. And I’m afraid that I won’t be enough for him to get past it. It’s sort of crude to put it this way, but, am I enough of a draw, am I woman enough, does he care about me enough, to make him want to get over what I know is going to make him nuts?”
“You’ll never know if you don’t bring up the subject, Trix. It’ll worry and bother you forever, and be sure to poison anything you and Jim might build together. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered this past little while, it’s that talking these things out is always for the best.” Honey pointed her spoon at her friend. “You told me that! Honesty. It’s the best thing. You might not always hear what you want to hear, but at least you’ll know where you stand. And believe me, anything is better than wondering all the time and letting your imagination get carried away.”
“Oh, Honey, I know you’re right. I know I have to tell him,” Trixie gave her friend a rueful smile. “But it scares the bejeesus out of me,” she admitted. “I’m so afraid of losing him so soon after finding him again.”
Trixie gnawed worriedly at her bottom lip. Was this the right time? She peered into the living room where Mart, Di, Dan and Arianne were seated on the floor around the coffee table, deeply immersed in a game of hearts, while Jim stretched on the sofa behind them, watching and kibitzing. Brian had surprised Honey upon her return to the B&B, insisting she change into “something fetching”, so he could take her out for a romantic candlelit supper.
“Beatrix Belden, stop procrastinating!” she muttered under her breath. This was not going to get any easier by putting it off. Giving herself a firm mental shake, she straightened her shoulders and moved into the doorway.
“Jim?” She was amazed that there was no tremor in her voice. “How about joining me on the deck while these guys finish their battle?” she invited, surreptitiously rubbing the damp palms of her hands on her shorts.
“Will do.” Jim gave her a warm smile, and she groaned inwardly at the thought that, after the coming conversation, she might never see that smile again.
“Remember, sound carries after dark.” Mart looked up from his hand of cards and grinned cheekily at the couple. “You wouldn’t want to annoy the neighbours, would you?”
“Thanks for the reminder,” Jim returned dryly while Trixie could only glare at her brother. Didn’t he realize that she was possibly about to ruin the best thing that had ever happened to her? Idiot!
The deck was in semi-darkness with only the small lights on either side of the patio door illuminating its expanse. Trixie felt a quick sense of relief. Some things were easier said without the full glare of spotlights.
“It’s another nice night, isn’t it, Trix?” Jim said, leaning on the railing and pulling her to him, a note of calm contentment in his voice.
How long would it all last, she wondered, unable to ignore the ripple of pleasure that shot through her as his arms slid around her. This is not going to be easy!
“I think Ari must have a direct pipeline to the weather fairy … lucky for us,” she said with a small chuckle as her mind searched for way to bring the subject up.
“I almost feel as if we’ve been given this little pocket of time in our lives, just to enjoy being alive. Does that sound too corny?” he said almost wistfully.
“No cornier than Brian and his ‘something fetching’.” Trixie couldn’t help rolling her eyes at the memory. Jim’s frame shook with laughter, and she wished she never had to leave the warm haven of his embrace. It just felt so right!
“Speaking of pockets of time,” she began, knowing she had to speak now or she would lose her nerve entirely. “I know exactly what you mean, because I’ve experienced it before.” She twisted and moved out of the circle of his arms. She took a step back and looked up into his suddenly puzzled green eyes. “And I think I need to tell you about it.”
“You look so serious, Trix.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “You know you can tell me anything.”
Oh, I certainly hope so!
“I’m not quite sure where to start.” She clenched her hands to quell their sudden trembling. “I guess I should start with the obvious.”
“That’s as good a place as any.” he encouraged, his gaze never leaving her face. Even in the shadows, she could see the warm light in his eyes as he looked at her.
God, I hope I’m not ruining everything!
“Jim, did you ever wonder about my tattoo?” The words rushed out and there was no going back.
“Wonder? How do you mean?” he asked, his brows drawing together in a slight frown. “I’ve noticed it, sure. Dan has the same one on his back. Personally, I think yours is a lot cuter than his.” He chuckled. “Did you get them together or something?” he asked.
Trixie’s knees began to buckle and she grabbed at the deck railing for support. He’d noticed the tattoo. Noticed! Her mind shrieked. He thought it was cuter than Dan’s! One day, she was going to realize that not everyone jumped to conclusions the same way she and Honey did. Maybe by the time she was sixty. Maybe.
“Yes, we did get them together,” she said, gathering her scattered thoughts. It didn’t really matter that he had never given the twin tattoos more than a passing thought. That was not the issue. It was not about the tattoos at all; it was about hiding something as important as her and Dan’s relationship from him. Dan was his friend, not some nameless man from her past. She had gone to Dan from him – it had been a watershed moment in her life. Jim had to know. And please, let him understand!
“It was right after you and I broke up.” She turned to face out over the darkened back yard, took a deep breath and began, “I came back from a story assignment, and we had that big fight. I couldn’t go back to my apartment because the place was being fumigated, and I wouldn’t go back to Sleepyside and you, so I went to Dan’s. It had been a really hard story and then with what happened between us, I just needed an understanding shoulder and a place to lay my head. Somewhere to regroup.” Now that she had begun her tale, she found that some of the tension was leaving her body. Her hands unclenched and she stole a look at Jim’s face. What did that impassive expression mean?
“I can understand that. You and Dan always were good friends,” he said quietly, nodding for her to continue. Did she sense a hint of bitterness in his tone?
“Yes, well, we were,” she agreed. “Are. Dan’s always understood me, I think.”
“Something I can’t lay claim to,” Jim observed and Trixie definitely heard the bitterness this time. With a sinking heart, she continued her story.
“For that summer and part of the fall, before I went to CNN, Dan and I had our own pocket in time, Jim. I needed someone to show me how to have fun, to let me have fun. I had to kind of spread my wings, you know? And Dan let me do that. We lived just in the moment. We never spoke about the future or if we even had what one would term a future. We just enjoyed each and every day for what it would bring to us.” She reached out to lay a hand along his forearm. The muscles were tense and clenched beneath her fingertips and she winced inwardly. She would give anything if she could get away with not hurting Jim in this fashion, but for both their sakes, she had to be completely honest. “Dan made me see that I was a woman worth loving, Jim. He respected me for who I am. He gave me a path to my self-confidence. He taught me how to let the woman I was be free. He showed me how to love.” Tears filled her blue eyes and his face blurred, but not before she noted the clenched jaw and the give-away twitch of the muscle along it. Her heart plummeted.
“You had an affair?” he asked, his voice flat. “With Dan?”
“Not an affair, Jim,” she protested. “You make it sound so ugly! We had an interlude. An adventure. An experience.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised.” Jim’s chuckle was bitter and sharp. “He’s always been there.”
“What does that mean?” Trixie blinked away her tears and felt a small surge of annoyance at his remark.
“Did you love him?” Jim stabbed her with a look that was emerald bright and icy. He was angry, coldly angry, and Trixie shivered despite the warmth of the evening.
“Yes, I did, Jim. And I always will,” she confirmed, annoyance burgeoning into anger at his tone. There was more to it, far more, but she could not seem to find the words to explain around the rising of her temper.
“Then what the hell have the past few days been all about?”
“Jim, you don’t understand.” She shook her head in exasperation. Exasperation at him and at herself. I thought we were past this type of conversation.
“I understand perfectly well, Trixie.” His tone was cold. “I understand where I fit, and I understand where Mangan fits. It’s so par for the course.” He gave a bitter bark of laughter, spun on his heel and strode quickly back into the house.
“Jim!” Trixie called to him even as she followed him through the patio doors. “Jim, just wait a minute!” She had not handled this confession thing very well at all. “Dammit, Jim, come back here and talk to me!” She stood in the kitchen, tears of frustration, anger, fear and hopelessness trailing down her cheeks as she watched him stalk down the hallway and go out the front door, banging it shut behind him with a crack that sounded throughout the house.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” She collapsed cross-legged to the floor feeling a despair that she had never felt before overwhelm her.
“What the hell is going on around here?” Dan dashed into the kitchen, eyes wide, the others close behind. Trixie raised her tearstained face.
“I told him.”
Chapter 17: C'est La Vie - Chapter 17
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 17
“Oh, he’s such an ass!” Trixie exclaimed in frustration.
“Not an ass, he’s a man, that’s all,” Mart corrected from his seat across the kitchen table.
“He wouldn’t even listen!” His sister fumed, dashing the last of her tears from her cheeks with an angry swipe of her hands. “Heard what he wanted to hear and took off. Again!”
“Seems to me that you were the one that ran the last time,” Dan observed quietly from his seat on the kitchen counter.
“Daniel!” Arianne gave him a disapproving golden glance. “Trixie does not need that at this moment.”
“No. No, he’s right, Ari. I hate to admit it, but he’s right.” Trixie sighed heavily. “But Jim’s still an ass!” She glared at her friend, daring him to disagree.
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?” Diana pleaded. “As usual, I’m totally out of the loop! All I know is that Trixie and Jim had a fight. Jim stormed out, leaving Trixie in tears on the kitchen floor, and all anyone can say is that she told him. Told him what, for heaven’s sake?” She leaned over in her chair next to Trixie’s and gave her friend a quick, fierce hug. “He’s an ass simply for making you cry, at any rate.”
“Oh, Di!” Trixie’s eyes welled with tears again at her friend’s staunch loyalty. “I told him about me and Dan, or at least I tried to. But he wouldn’t let me explain.”
“You and Dan?” Diana’s violet eyes grew wide as she looked from the woman at her side to the man sitting on the counter and back again. “What you and Dan? When you and Dan? Why you and Dan? Hell, I’m making myself dizzy!” She finally rested her gaze on Mart and her eyes narrowed slightly. “You tell me what’s going on. Explain it simply and concisely. Then, we’ll think about what to do. Nobody ruins my Bob-White reunion vacation and gets away with it, ass or no ass!”
“Sweetness, you’re such a diva when you’re angry.” Mart grinned, and Trixie gave a watery chuckle, while Dan and Arianne exchanged amused glances.
“Martin!” Diana glared at him. “Now!”
“Okay, okay!” Mart’s expression turned serious. “It started back when Trixie and Jim broke up…” As succinctly as he could, he told Diana the story, as he knew it, embellished only with a few comments or clarifications from Trixie and Dan along the way.
“And even after all these years, seventeen to be exact, he’s still got a stick up his butt about Dan?” Diana pushed her long hair off her shoulders and shook her head in disbelief. “The man is an ass!” She sighed.
“What do you mean, still got a stick up his butt?” Trixie asked curiously.
“Yeah, what did I ever do?” Dan’s face frowned in puzzlement.
“Oh, don’t tell me you never realized?” Diana looked around in amazement.
“Realized what?” Mart spread his hands in confusion.
“Remember back when the Bob-Whites had first started? Before Dan came to Sleepyside? When it was just the five of you and then me?” She leaned forward as she explained. “Jim was the BMOC.”
“The BMOC? This is what?” Arianne asked.
“Big Man On Campus.” Dan slipped from the counter to take a seat at her side. “It means he was the top dog. The guy everyone looked up to. Leader of the pack,” he explained.
“Ah, oui.” She nodded in comprehension and gave him a brilliant smile. “I understand the problem.”
“Well, I’m glad you do!” Mart exclaimed.
“It must be a girl thing,” Dan told him with an arched eyebrow, “because I’m still confused too.”
“Well, see, we thought that Jim was the best. He knew everything. He could do just about anything. He came from a place outside all our experience. And he was cute. He had that allure, you know?” She gave a swift smile of reminiscence. “Somehow, it made us all look up to him, even Brian. Jim just has that leader thing down pat, but I don’t think he realizes it. Anyway, when Dan came along, he was someone new, someone different, someone threatening the established order of things. And even the kids outside our group thought Dan was the coolest thing to come along in ages.” Diana shrugged. “It just always seemed to me that there was a bit of jealousy on Jim’s part wherever Dan was concerned. Of course, he’d never let himself give into that. In fact, he’d bend over backward to make sure that Dan was accepted by everyone in order to prove to himself that he wasn’t that petty. At least he’d think it was petty.”
“So it’s all wrapped up in that self-confidence problem he has, about never being able to measure up? He put himself in some kind of competition with Dan that only he was aware of?” Mart’s fingers drummed musingly on the table as he contemplated Diana’s words.
“I think he’s always seen Dan as a bit of a threat, but he doesn’t know why. Or he won’t admit to himself that he does, because it’s not right to feel that way towards one of your closest friends.” Diana gave one of her musical laughs. “You know, if Trixie wasn’t Mart’s sister, I would have felt the same way about her,” she admitted, her cheeks colouring slightly. “I can finally admit that up until lately, I was always a little resentful towards Trixie, so just imagine if I thought I had to compete with her for Mart’s affections!”
“You were?” Trixie’s blue eyes were round as she turned towards her friend to give her a tight hug. “I didn’t know that! I’m so sorry!”
“Trixie, it’s okay!” Diana giggled slightly. “I’ve finally realized that I have my own talents and accomplishments. That I make a far better Di than I ever would a Trixie and that some people, the important people, actually like me that way. So being Di is cool.”
“It certainly is!” Trixie agreed fervently. “I’ve always thought so. And I get what you’re saying. It’s like how I always was envious of how gorgeous you are and resented how all the guys always would fall all over themselves just so you’d smile at them. But I loved you anyway.”
“Trixie! That is it!” Arianne started suddenly. Four pairs of eyes focused on her in various stages of puzzlement.
“What’s it?” Trixie asked.
“I do not mean to be too personal, but have you told Jim that you are in love with him still?” Arianne’s eyebrows raised in query.
“Um…” Trixie blushed a fiery red. “Well, um… no. I don’t think I’ve actually admitted it to myself to be honest. I’m too scared to!”
“Trix! You don’t go telling a guy who’s nuts about you that you love another guy when you haven’t told him that you love him! Men are stupid; how do you expect him to know there’s a difference?” Mart exploded.
“He’s right, Trixie.” Dan nodded. He reached across the table and grabbed her hands as she began to respond. “Listen, I’m not saying Jim’s right to behave the way he has. But it’s classic Frayne. Again he doesn’t measure up, and measure up to what? The guy who apparently has been giving him cause to doubt himself for years. He suddenly is feeling out of control because the things he thought he was hearing from you suddenly weren’t so clear anymore.” He sighed heavily. “A man can’t change overnight just because he wants to. You blindsided him tonight and he reacted on gut instinct.”
“Trixie, you are in love with him, aren’t you?” Diana asked gently and Trixie nodded. “Then when he calms down, you help him to listen to you and understand what you’re saying. You told me the other day that when you and Jim broke up, part of the reason was that you were too young to realize that he had to have help from you to deal with his insecurities and issues. You ran when you should have stayed. Well, you’re not a kid anymore, Trixie. Now is the time you need to help him. And now is the time that you’re more than able to give him what he needs.” She grinned suddenly. “Isn’t he worth the effort?”
“I think so,” Trixie whispered. She bent her head for a long moment while the others exchanged concerned glances around the table. Then, her shoulders squared and her body gave a slight shudder as she inhaled deeply and straightened. “He’s definitely worth it, flaws and all. And I’m worth it too. You’re right, Di, I was reacting the same way I did the last time. Must be that gut instinct thing, Dan.” She gave him a quick grin.
“I only know two people who can be more determined than Jim Frayne under a full head of steam. One of them is my mother, and the other takes after her in more than looks.” Mart smiled at his sister. “My money’s on you, Trix.”
“Thanks, Mart.” Trixie wiped the last of her tears from her cheeks. “Thank you all. I’m glad you’re all in my corner.”
“We’re in both corners,” Mart told her. “We want you and Jim to be happy and to be happy together. God knows we’ve been waiting long enough for it!”
“Now, if only he’d come home.” Trixie sighed at stared at the clock above the stove. “It’s been over an hour. Just how much time does he need to cool off anyway?”
“It’s been over three hours now. Even I’m getting worried,” Mart observed finishing his third cup of coffee. He glanced worriedly at his sister, not liking the wan look on her face or the dark circles that were forming under her eyes.
“It’s not like him to be gone so long, even if he is angry. At least it didn’t use to be,” Trixie said in a dull tone.
“Okay.” Mart came to a decision and got to his feet. “Dan, why don’t you and I go out and look around the neighbourhood for him? He surely wouldn’t go far, not knowing the city.” He needed to do something, anything to remove the defeated look from Trixie’s eyes. As the minutes had ticked by, her positive determination had dwindled to be replaced with a forlorn sadness that had no business being associated with his sister.
“Good idea.” Dan nodded. “We can check the parks and the bars.”
“I’ll take my cell phone so you can call if he shows up before we find him,” Mart told Diana as he bent to give her a quick kiss. “Take care of her,” he whispered before straightening again.
“Mart, please find him,” Trixie said softly, and his heart constricted at the faint lines he suddenly noticed around her eyes. He hoped that the faith he had that Jim would finally come to his senses over this was not misplaced. He’d have to kill him if that were the case.
“I will.” He gave her a fierce hug and kissed the top of her blonde head. “I have one of New York’s finest to help me,” he assured her with a quick smile.
“And don’t forget, Madame Co-President, we’re two Bob-Whites of the Glen. You can’t ask for anyone better,” Dan reminded, bringing a faint smile to Trixie’s lips for which Mart sent him a grateful glance.
After Arianne had finished a quickly scribbled list of likely places, he grabbed his cell phone from the counter and turned it on as he and Dan headed for the front door. He paused on the front porch, checking to make certain that Jim’s Viper was still in its parking spot. It was and he smiled grimly. Frayne couldn’t have gotten far.
An hour later, he stepped out of the last bar on the list and cursed roundly, his frustration finally getting the better of him. Dan stood nearby and watched him, an admiring look on his face.
“Working on the docks was definitely a learning experience for you, wasn’t it?” he asked calmly.
“You betcha. In more ways than one.” Mart arched a sandy eyebrow. “Except the one that would do me the most good right now. How to find an errant, angry, stubborn school teacher!” He let loose with another stream of expletives.
“Yeah, I know. I feel the same way.” Dan nodded in agreement when he was finished. “Well, where to now?”
“I have no idea,” Mart sighed and looked along the street. As he watched, a door opened, and two men emerged and headed down the sidewalk, weaving slightly and talking loudly. “Hey, we didn’t check that place. It looks like a bar, but it wasn’t on the list.” He shrugged. “Can’t hurt to take a look. Let’s go.”
“It’s a strip bar, Mart. That’s probably why Ari didn’t think of it.” Dan chuckled as they approached the doorway. “You don’t think he’d be in here of all places, do you?”
“He hasn’t been any other place we’ve checked,” Mart observed. “But look at the name of it. En Plein Air. That means fresh air or outdoors, if I remember rightly. He might have liked the name of it. Sounds like his speed.” With a roll of his eyes, he pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The bar was nearly empty, dark and smoke-filled, except for the brightly lit stage upon which a lithe dark-haired woman was performing some undulating routine, clad only in a wisp of a thong, a diamond choker necklace and four-inch stiletto heels. A chair seemed scheduled to be involved somehow at some point.
“Those can’t be real.” Dan said, close to Mart’s ear. “No bounce to ‘em.”
“Too perfect,” Mart agreed. “Oh, and look over there. Why don’t we ask the learned school teacher what he thinks?” He pointed to the far corner of the bar where a lone figure sat, five empty shot glasses lined in front of him and a bottle of beer in his hand.
“What do you two want?” Jim asked sullenly as they approached. The litter of beer bottle labels in front of him signified that this was not his first beer he clutched.
“We’ve been looking for you.” Mart said quietly, but firmly. The pounding music was fainter here in the corner, so thankfully he did not have to yell to be heard. Jim glared at him, his gaze still fairly focused, so despite the evidence on the bar in front of him, he was not as drunk as he could have been. Mart had known guys like this at the docks. When they were angry, the liquor seemed to have less of an affect than when they were just out to have a good time. The anger seemed to burn off some of the effects of the alcohol.
“Well, you found me. Now what?” Jim took a long pull on his beer and stared off towards the stage, but Mart sincerely believed that he was oblivious to the performance that was taking place there.
“We’re going to take you home.” Dan told him succinctly.
“And if I don’t want to go?” Jim’s glance flickered to Dan’s set features and back to the stage.
“We’ll wait until you’re ready,” Dan responded.
“What’s it to you, anyway, Mangan?” Jim almost sneered the words. He took another pull from the beer and waited for the answer, this time keeping his eyes on Dan’s face.
“Trixie’s worried.” Dan shifted his stance so that his feet were spread a little wider and his arms hanging loosely at his side.
“The hell with Trixie!” Jim spat and banged the beer bottle on the bar forcefully. “She’s got no right to worry.”
“Jim…” Mart began, but fell silent when the redhead’s attention never shifted from the man in front of him. Suddenly he realized that this was between Jim and Dan. He could do nothing at this point, no matter how angry on Trixie’s behalf he was. Flashing back to Diana’s explanations earlier that evening, he understood that what was happening probably should have happened years ago. All he could do was watch and hope that there weren’t too many broken pieces to be picked up when it was over.
“Trixie has every right to worry, Jim, and you know it.” Dan’s dark gaze never wavered from Jim’s face. It was his cop face, Mart deduced, because it was one he had seldom, if ever, seen. He had never thought that his friend could be so darkly stern and forbidding. Maybe it went further back than that. Maybe it was his gang face.
“I know nothing of the sort,” Jim growled.
“When did you become such an ass, Frayne?” Dan demanded evenly.
“Can I get you gentlemen something?” The bartender suddenly appeared, causing a slight decrease in the tension that was taut between the two men.
“Yeah, bring us a couple of beers, would you?” Dan said, giving him a quick grin, designed to reassure. Mart wasn’t certain that it worked, but two beers quickly appeared on the bar.
“Let me get that.” Mart dug in his pocket and came up with a few crumpled bills. He tossed a twenty-dollar bill on the bar. “Keep the change,” he said in what he hoped was a friendly, conciliatory tone. The bartender looked at the bill for a moment before picking it up and giving the threesome a quick nod. He moved off to the other end of the bar where he resumed his conversation with another of the patrons, but Mart noticed his eyes never strayed far from their end of the bar.
“What’s the point, Jim?” Dan asked, handing Mart his beer and taking his own.
“Why does there have to be a point?” Jim had relaxed slightly on his barstool, but he continued to watch Dan warily. “There’s no point.”
“That doesn’t sound like the Jim Frayne I know,” Mart observed. Again, Jim refused to look at him. However, this time he did respond.
“Well, maybe that Jim Frayne is a fool.” He raised the beer bottle to his lips. “A sorry fool.”
“Do you hear yourself, Jim?” The anger was apparent in Dan’s voice this time, and Mart found he had taken a step back. Gut instinct. Too many bar fights.
“Unfortunately, I’m not drunk enough yet to block out the voices.” He placed the beer bottle on the bar again, this time with exaggerated care. “Especially the voice that says she loves you.” His eyes narrowed. “That’s the one I don’t want to hear anymore.”
“You wouldn’t even listen to her. Doesn’t she deserve at least that?” Mart couldn’t keep from jumping in.
“Don’t you?” Dan added quietly.
“Neither of you know what you’re talking about. I can’t make her happy. I can never make her as happy as she was when she was with you, Mangan!” Beneath the bitterness, Mart could hear the despair and hurt in his friend’s tone and wondered if Dan was reading the same thing.
“That was seven years ago, you fool!” Dan exclaimed in exasperation. “She left me because she could never love me as much as she loved you. Don’t you get that?”
“She chose you. You made her feel things I could never make her feel.” Jim ran his hands through his hair, the lines of his face drawn with defeat. “You win.”
“It’s not a contest, for God’s sake!” Dan’s eyes rolled and Mart could tell he was nearing the end of his patience. “This is Trixie we’re talking about. Take her off the damned pedestal! She’s a flesh and blood woman. Not a trophy or a prize.”
“Don’t you think I know she’s a flesh and blood woman? I’ve held her in my arms, I’ve kissed her, and God, I’ve made love with her. But I can never make her feel the things she felt when she was with you. I’ll only stifle her, hold her down, clip her wings.” He shook his head sadly. “I’m not what she wants, and I’m not what’s best for her.”
“If you only knew how she really felt about you!” Dan’s fists clenched at his sides. “If you had listened to her, maybe you’d understand.”
“I understand just fine, Mangan.” Jim’s anger had come back full force. “She left me because I was a selfish prick. She went to you, loved you, found herself in your arms and in your bed. I can’t live up to that time you had. I’m not you!”
“No, maybe if you were, you’d stop this idiocy.” Dan’s eyes were the personification of flint and Mart knew that anything could happen now. “Is this about Trixie’s feelings or about your jealousy that I had her before you did?” he demanded baldly. “That I was the one that took her virginity and not you? Is that what this is about?” He was coldly incredulous.
“You son of a bitch!” Jim erupted from the bar stool, his arm drawn back, fist clenched and, in the blink of an eye, shooting forward. Dan made no move to block and took the punch. He staggered back into the empty bar stools with a clatter.
Mart looked down the bar where the bartender had started forward and waved him off.
“A misunderstanding!” he yelled over the music and the man paused. When Dan made no move to return the punch, Mart fished in his pocket and pulled out another twenty to place on the bar. At that, the bartender settled back in his corner, and he returned his attention fully to the confrontation between his two friends.
“Do you feel better now?” Dan asked, fingering the already-bruising area beneath his eye and wincing. Despite everything, Mart bit back a grin. That was no school-teacher punch.
“I love her, Dan. So much that it hurts sometimes,” Jim admitted, flexing his hand as he spoke. “I’m happy that she found what she did with you, I truly am. I just know that I can’t give her the same thing.” He reached for his beer and took a long sip. “And I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t admit to being jealous of you. I wanted it to be me.” His expression was bleak as he stared unseeingly towards the stage once again.
“Jim, she doesn’t need the same thing anymore.” Dan touched his arm lightly. “She doesn’t need what I gave her anymore. She needs what you can give her now. She wants what you can give her now. Dammit, Jim, Trixie wants you. She’s in love with you. She loves you, flaws and all. Why can’t you accept that? Why do you keep screwing it up?” Dan shook his head slightly in puzzlement. “Don’t you get it, man? All those years ago, I was her second choice! You wouldn’t let her have you, so she came to me! And I let her, because frankly, I adored the ground she walked on, and I wasn’t strong enough to say no. She wanted it to be you.”
“But if it’s not right, she’ll leave. And I couldn’t take that again.” Jim’s voice was so low that they almost missed his words.
“Trust her, Jim.” Mart finally spoke. “You have to give up that control to her. She wants to be with you, and she doesn’t want to hurt you. That’s why she told you about that summer. She wanted everything out in the open, no secrets between you. Let her love you, it’s all she wants to do.”
“You make it sound so easy, both of you.” Jim turned his puzzled face to them.
“It is easy, you idiot!” Dan laughed, not unkindly. “Just stop thinking so much about it. Trixie is so up front about everything, why can’t you trust her?”
“It’s me I don’t trust!” Jim’s tone was laden with despair.
“She trusts you.” Mart stated. He wished that for all his talent with words he could find the ones that would break through this thick shell of insecurity that was making life a hell for both Jim and Trixie. “God knows why, but she thinks you’re wonderful!”
“Wonderful,” Jim repeated the word softly. “Wonderful. Not perfect, just wonderful.” He drained the last of his beer and fell silent for a long moment. “Can I live up to wonderful?” he said finally, more to himself than Mart and Dan. “I sure can’t live up to perfect. But wonderful? Maybe…” He raised his eyes to meet theirs, a sudden light of hope kindling in their depths. “Do you think I can do wonderful?”
“Judging by what she told us tonight, and what I heard the other morning, I think you’ve got that pretty well covered.” Dan told him wryly.
“Trixie’s idea of wonderful at any rate, Jim.” Mart grinned. “Not mine. And not yours. Hers.”
“I guess I was wrong about a lot of things maybe,” Jim admitted with the glimmer of a true smile. “She said she loves me?”
“Yeah, she did.” Dan turned and raised his hand to the bartender to get his attention. He pointed to the shot glasses on the bar and raised 5 fingers. “Jim, I’m always going to love Trixie, and she’s always going to love me. You have to accept that. But it’s not as a man and a woman love each other. We love each other’s spirit. We both realized a long time ago that our true mates lie elsewhere.” He looked up as the bartender deposited a tray in front of him. With a grin, he pointed to Mart. “He’s paying. He’s the successful one of the bunch.”
“Jim, do you love my sister?” Mart asked as he laid yet another twenty on the bar.
“I do,” Jim responded as he watched Dan down the five shooters in quick succession. “I always have.”
“Then stop all this crazy bullshit and tell her, will ya?” Mart reached for his beer, but was stopped by Dan’s raised hand.
“Yeah, just tell her, okay? Don’t make her cry anymore.” Dan’s eyes were slightly glassy from the alcohol he had just downed. “You know, Frayne, you are an ass.” He looked at Jim steadily, a sudden glint of glee lighting the depths of his eyes. “I’ve always wanted to do this.” He grinned and then punched him. “Damn, that felt good! Let’s drink!”
“Yeah.” Jim got to his feet and touched his rapidly swelling lip. Wincing, he smiled crookedly at Dan.
“Bartender? Another round!” Mart called as he rolled his eyes at the sight of his friends shaking hands and clapping each other on the shoulder. “I guess I’m buying,” he sighed, digging deeper into his pockets.
“Will you two please shut the hell up?” Mart hissed as they reached the front door of the B&B in the early hours of the morning. It crossed his mind that he never wanted to repeat the experience of Frayne and Mangan drunk again in his life. It was worse than babysitting Bobby had ever been!
“But Mart, buddy, it’sh gonna be a beeyufiyul morning!” Jim told him, winding up to start the song from Oklahoma! again. He swayed dangerously on the top stair until Mart grabbed at his shirt front to steady him.
“Yup. Jim lovshe Trixshi. Trixsh lovshe Jim. You love the beauteoush Diana. She adorshe you. Brian and Honey love each other again. And I think… I believe… I hope … I’m damned shure … I love that liddle French girl.” Dan counted off on his fingers, looking confused when he ran out of fingers on his left hand. He shrugged happily. “Arianne! Isn’t that a gorgeoush name? French, you know.” He arched an eyebrow over a dazed eye, and Mart could only sigh at the condition his friends were in.
“Frayne, don’t start singing again, or I’ll punch you this time!” he warned, propping him up against the railing and turning back towards the door.
“Can’t punsh me. Only Mangan. Hey! Wow! Ish my lip fat or what?” Jim chuckled gleefully as he touched his face gingerly. “Good thing he didn’t get my noshe. Trix lovshe my crooked noshe.”
“Yesh, she doesh!” Dan affirmed, endeavouring to clap his shoulder and missing, nearly losing his balance in the process.
“Wow, man! That’sh a shiner!” Jim’s eyes widened blearily as he tried to focus on Dan’s face. “D’I do that?” he asked.
“Oh, you two are too damned much!” Mart rolled his eyes and managed to finally get the door open.
“Honey! We’re home!” Dan shouted as they entered the foyer. He stood wavering threateningly for a few moments before finally shrugging and slumping to the floor, a happy grin on his face.
“I love you, Trixshi!” Jim yelled as he followed suit.
“Nice work, Mart. How’d you manage this?” Trixie demanded, coming to the top of the stairs and glaring down at the trio.
“Shweetheart! I love you!” Jim looked up and gave her a beaming smile. “I’m an idiot and an ash, but I love you!” he said, obviously very pleased with himself.
“Yesh, he doesh. I got the bruishesh to prove it!” Dan waved a finger in the air, became unbalanced and ended up stretched out on the floor of the foyer.
“Do you have any idea what I’ve had to put up with tonight?” Mart gave a long-suffering sigh as Trixie began to descend the stairs, trying valiantly not to laugh.
“Oooh, someone’s gonna be sorry tomorrow!” Di observed, appearing at the top of the stairs a moment later. Arianne was soon to follow.
“Arianne! Beeyoo…beeyouf….lovely name!” Dan grinned up at her as she stood over him in horrified amusement.
“Where’s Brian? I’m going to need some muscle to get these jackasses in their beds.” Mart was thoroughly disgusted with the whole situation.
“Shweetheart, I love you. I’m taking you off the ped… peda… pedathing! Dan shez I’m a jerk.” Jim reached up and wrapped his arms around Trixie’s legs as she stood beside him not knowing whether to laugh or cry with relief.
“No, you’re an ass. But I love you anyway,” she finally said.
“An ash! That’s right. Not a jerk…an ash!”
“Where did you find them?” Arianne asked. “You did not say when you called earlier.” She looked helplessly down at Dan who was snoring peacefully, finally having passed out now that he was totally horizontal.
“Some place called En Plein Air,” Mart told her. “It’s a strip bar.”
“A strip bar!” Brian and Honey had appeared at last. “What was he doing in a strip bar?” Honey asked curiously.
“Well, I figured since En Plein Air translates to ‘fresh air’ or ‘the outdoors’, that it appealed to the nature lover in him.” Mart shrugged.
“Mon Dieu!” Arianne began to giggle uncontrollably.
“That’sh God in French,” Jim announced proudly and received an approving pat on the head from Trixie. It was obvious that she had no clue how to handle him in this drunken state, but she was finding it very amusing.
“What’s so funny, Ari?” Di asked, slipping her arms around Mart’s waist and giving him a hug.
“En Plein Air! That’s what we call nudist camps!” The French girl explained between giggles.
Chapter 18: C'est La Vie - Chapter 18
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 18
“It’s very quiet down there. Nobody’s moving yet.” Brian closed the bedroom door with his foot and set the tray on the nearby dresser. He grinned at his wife who still lay in bed waiting for his return. “I did notice a large bottle of painkillers on the counter, though, so either someone was up earlier, or they wanted to be prepared.” He took two cups of steaming coffee over to the bed and handed her one before shucking off his bathrobe and climbing back in beside her.
“I wouldn’t want to have either Jim or Dan’s head this morning,” Honey giggled. She had pulled herself to a semi-sitting position with pillows behind her back in order to drink her coffee.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the sight of Jim hugging Trixie’s knees, proclaiming that he was an ass and being quite pleased with himself over it.” Brian chuckled. He sipped at his coffee, appreciating the softly tousled, just awakened look of the woman beside him. How stupid was I to have questioned my commitment to her for even a minute!
“Poor Trixie didn’t know whether she should laugh, cry or belt him one,” she observed amusedly. “And quite frankly, I think she should have done all three! And then kissed him ‘til he couldn’t breathe anymore.” She gave him a twinkling look from under lowered lashes, as she tasted her coffee daintily.
“I predict that he’ll be very remorseful today.” Brian let his gaze travel from her eyes downward, responding to her silent flirtation.
“And very hung over.” Honey twisted slightly to place her coffee mug on the bedside table, allowing the sheet to slip from under her arms to her waist. Her nightgown had disappeared at some point during the night, not to return, so he was treated to the tempting sight of her naked breasts, nipples puckering tantalizingly in the cool morning air. The memory of what had led up to the disappearance of that nightgown, coupled with the sight before his eyes, awakened him to the fact that if he didn’t put his own coffee aside there was definitely going to be an accident. Never taking his eyes from her, he reached behind him and placed the mug on the floor.
“Hope he doesn’t need a doctor.” He began to slowly pull the sheet away from the rest of her body, sensing that she was not going to protest. “Because I intend to be busy for the next while.” His eyes widened slightly as she raised her arms above her head and stretched her long, slender frame beneath his gaze. Dear Lord, his wife was beautiful!
“That sounds perfectly delicious to me,” she purred, causing a sudden rush of desire to spread throughout him. The sheet went flying through the air, leaving them both lying exposed on the bed, drinking in the sight of each other’s nakedness.
“You are delicious,” he proclaimed huskily and rolled to her, proceeding to taste every inch of her body that he could reach. Her small, wild moans of pleasure echoed in his ears as he explored her skin with his lips and tongue, searching for the most sensitive spots to tease.
Finally, he sat back on his knees at the bottom of the bed, between her long legs and ran his hands along their silky length. How could I have thought there was no passion left between us? Look at her face! As he studied Honey’s beautiful features rendered even more so with desire and abandon, her eyes opened, and he met her heated hazel gaze steadily. He encircled one of her slim ankles with his hand and slowly raised it to the level of his mouth. He turned his head just enough to place a soft kiss in the hollow behind her ankle bone followed by a swift caress with his tongue, then returned his gaze to hers. Her eyes narrowed slightly and a small smile curved her full lips. He continued working his way along the inside of her calf, holding her gaze intently with his own. When he reached her knee, he shifted slightly so that she could rest her leg on his shoulder while he continued his downward journey. Fire in the depths of her eyes kindled further as he nipped lightly at the soft skin of her inner thigh. A soft throaty moan escaped her lips. He smiled against her skin, never breaking the eye contact that was almost a tangible thing between them. She tastes of salt and sweetness, mingled together.
He raised up on his knees once again, his eyes locked with hers still, and reached up for his pillows. He pulled them down to the middle of the bed in a heap, then took her by her shoulders and swiveled her about. In a fluid motion that allowed them to continue holding each other’s gaze, he slid from the bed to the floor and knelt between her knees. A shiver of anticipation ran over her whole body, and he smiled in response. Watching the glowing hazel embers flame to life with desire he lowered his head to the top of her inner thigh and ran his tongue lightly along her satiny skin. His nostrils filled with her scent, and he breathed in deeply of it, feeling his own desire rise even further. How long has it been? Too damned long! He turned his head to place his lips on her golden mound of silky curls and watched as she finally broke away from his gaze and threw her head back upon the pillows, overcome with the intensity of her feelings. He ran his tongue lightly over her swollen lips and was rewarded by her deep-throated moan of pleasure. He could not have torn his gaze from her face if he had wanted to.
“Yes, Brian!” she gasped as his tongue probed deeper … circling … teasing. When did I forget how much she enjoyed this? He began to suck gently and was surprised when a moan of his own echoed hers. How much I enjoy this? He watched as her back began to arch with need and her face to flush with desire. He faltered for one slight moment as her hands slid slowly over her breasts and down the length of her torso, over her flat stomach and back up again, the sight almost unnerving him in its intense sensuality.
She was almost ready now; he could see it in the lines of her face, feel it in the tenseness of her legs as he ran his hands along her skin, taste it in her juices as he coaxed her with his lips and tongue. Her eyes fluttered open, and she met his gaze almost defiantly as her hands moved over her body again, this time coming to rest, buried in his curls. God, I love this woman!
She trembled violently, then stiffened, her eyes slowly losing their focus as she was taken on the waves of her orgasm, her fingers tightening their grip on his hair. As he watched, his mouth never ceased its ministrations, urging her towards an even greater release. A wordless cry resounded in the room, and he relaxed somewhat, replacing his mouth with his hand, gently caressing the heart of her pleasure until she finally was still.
“Brian?” she said his name softly and held out her hand. He allowed her to guide him up to lie beside her, amongst the scattered pillows, where he gathered her limp form in the curve of his arm. She was still for the longest time, a contented smile hovering about her lips as he held her close.
“Honey, I love you,” he murmured softly against the silkiness of her namesake hair. “So incredibly much,” he marveled.
“Oh, Brian!” She raised her head to look at him, two tears rolling down her cheeks. “You are my heart of hearts,” she said tremulously.
“I am so glad we found our way back to each other.” He could feel tears welling in his own eyes as he looked at the face of the only woman he would ever love.
“Diana, have you a moment?” Arianne looked around her bedroom door, into the hallway, and the look of consternation on her face stopped Diana in her tracks.
“Sure, sweetie, what’s wrong?” she slipped inside the room and the younger woman closed the door behind her. “You look a little … bothered by something.” She grabbed Arianne’s hand and drew her to sit beside her on the edge of the bed.
“Bothered … that is one way to describe it,” Ari smiled slightly. She sighed deeply and elegantly shrugged her shoulders as only she could. “Merde! I sweared I would not do this. And look at me!” She spread her hands and looked at Diana, eyes filling with tears.
“Arianne!” She gathered the younger girl into her arms, quelling the smile that Ari’s perturbed massacre of the English language had inspired, and held her as the tears fell. She was going to have to murder Dan, it appeared. Ari’s tears could only have been brought on by one thing – the realization that tomorrow was the last full day of the Bob-Whites’ visit. And things had been going so well!
“Oh, Diana, I feel so stupide. How could I have let myself get so carried off?” Arianne straightened up and wiped at her eyes.
“Carried away,” Diana corrected absently, wondering how her friend could cry as she had and not end up with swollen eyes, red nose and blotchy cheeks. Diana Lynch, now is not the time to be shallow for God’s sake! She gave herself a mental pinch to focus on the important things.
“I thought I could handle this, you know,” Arianne said sadly. “I did not plan to fall in love with him.”
“Nobody plans it.” The image of Mart, flashing her one of his cheeky grins, came instantly to mind. “It just happens.”
“I become so sad and angry when I think of him leaving so soon,” the younger woman sighed. “I think I should not have ever let myself get involved with him. But then I realize how wonderful it has been, and I would not change a thing,” she smiled through her tears. “I do not want him to go, Diana. Je l’aime. I love him.”
“You truly do? You’re sure?” Diana enfolded the girl’s cold hands within her own, fixing her with a steady, violet gaze. Why she felt she had to ask, she didn’t know. She could see the answer written all over Ari’s face.
“Oh, oui. Definitivement. Definitely!” Her eyes shone earnestly as she nodded her head. “And there are times when I think that he might love me also. Am I just making fantasies in my head? He has not said a word about it.”
“Has he not said a word about it, or just not said the word?” Diana asked shrewdly. “You know, Ari, you were the one that pointed out that little distinction to Trixie last night.” She grinned. “Besides, he looks pretty besotted to me.” She remembered the morning she had caught Dan putting the rosebud on Ari’s breakfast tray, and how openly affectionate he had been towards her in public. Not Dan’s usual procedure where women were concerned, that was certain. “And he sounded pretty besotted last night on the front porch. Didn’t you hear him?”
“Besotted? Be… oh, you mean … but he was so drunk!” Arianne’s cheeks flushed an attractive pink, and Diana marveled that this young woman who was normally so self-possessed and wise about such things could suddenly be thrown in such a whirl of uncertainty.
“Did you ever think that it was because he was drunk that he felt he could announce how he felt to the whole neighbourhood?” She flipped her long hair over her shoulders, enjoying the way the hope began to flood Arianne’s face. “Trust me. Dan isn’t usually that flamboyant.”
“Tu pense qu’il m’aime?” English was completely forgotten in her astonishment. “Vraiement?”
“Yes, really,” Diana confirmed with a delighted laugh. “I truly do think he loves you.” In the bliss of her rediscovered love for Mart, she wanted all her friends to be as happy as she was. Now, if only Jim and Trixie can get it together, everything will be perfectly perfect!
Dan prayed for the little men to stop their hammering on the inside of his skull, but to no avail. There was one particularly ambitious fellow, working overtime in the area behind his left eye who was really asking for trouble. He envisioned himself pulling out his police-issue revolver and blowing the little jerk’s head to smithereens, but that only proved to make the son of a bitch work all that much harder.
“Oh, kill me now and get it over with!” he groaned, rolling over onto his back and clapping his hands to his forehead.
“If I had a gun, I would. And then turn it on myself.” Jim’s voice rasped sourly. “People do this to themselves willingly?” He moaned with heartfelt feeling, a sound that echoed painfully through Dan’s brain.
“I’m afraid to open my eyes,” Dan said in a softer tone. “Where the hell are we, Frayne?” The last thing he remembered was stretching out on the cool tile floor of the foyer with Arianne standing over him … he thought.
“Chickenshit. I opened mine.” Jim snorted, but the groan that followed indicated that it hadn’t been the best idea he’d ever had.
“More fool you!” Dan retorted. Taking a deep breath, he encouraged himself to open his eyes, if only just a slit. It took some convincing, but finally his right eyelid rose a fraction of an inch. “Argh … bright light!” He swiftly closed it again.
How many drinks had he consumed last night, he wondered as he waited for the frantic pounding in his head to subside to the previous level of pain. Three beers that he remembered. And many shooters. Way too many shooters. In way too short a time. What the hell had he been thinking?
“Try again. It’s not quite so bad the second time,” Jim advised. “Of course, I’m up to four tries, and it still hurts like the devil,” he added wryly.
“This is all your fault, Frayne,” he accused. “You owe me.” Steeling himself against the onslaught of light, he opened his right eye a crack. Surprisingly, he could keep it open! The little men weren’t happy about it, but he was damned if he’d let them run the show!
“Oh, stuff it, Mangan,” Jim said in weary amusement.
Dan turned his head slightly towards the voice, ignoring the tiny construction crew’s protests, and opened his eye a little further. For some reason, the left eye wasn’t cooperating. Then he remembered. Jim had decked him. He finally spotted the other man, slouched along a love seat that was far too short for his long body. Ah, so they were in the living room. He blinked his good eye a few times endeavoring to clear his vision, and Jim slowly came into focus. Oh yeah, I punched him back.
“Good Lord, I hope I didn’t knock out any teeth!” he exclaimed and then winced at the sound of his own voice.
“No, but I’ll never get the cover of Field and Stream now,” Jim told him with a small grin. A very small grin, due to the swollen and split upper lip that Dan had dealt him.
“Aren’t we a freakin’ pair?” Dan met the other man’s baleful green gaze, and suddenly they both began to chuckle. Moments later, the chuckles turned to outright laughter, punctuated by moans and groans, which brought on more laughter. Finally, they managed to control themselves before they did any permanent damage to their sorely hungover heads.
“Dan, I need to say something,” Jim’s tone was serious as he struggled to sit himself upright on the loveseat.
“Say away.” Dan gave him a small smile of encouragement. He was not quite ready to get himself upright, however.
“About last night…” Jim flushed and cleared his throat. “About everything … you know … Damn! I’m such an ass!” he exclaimed in frustration at his inability to articulate his feelings.
“We did determine that,” Dan agreed, giving him another quick smile. “Just say it, man. After last night, I don’t think anything is sacred.”
“You’re probably right,” Jim grinned sheepishly. “What I’m trying so badly to say is, that I get it. What you and Mart said. All of it. I still have to figure out how to deal with it, though. I don’t even know if I can figure out how to deal with it.” He spread his large hands in a helpless gesture. “But isn’t understanding half the battle?”
“So they tell me,” Dan pushed himself to a sitting position, despite the increased throbbing behind his eyes. “Look, James W., stop thinking so much about the past. Think of the future – a future with one of the greatest gals on earth. Believe in Trix, and believe in yourself. You won’t go wrong, I promise,” he said earnestly. “You two are meant to be together.” He raised an eyebrow at the other man’s still skeptical expression. “Jim, I trust you not to screw it up, and you know I don’t trust easily.” He got to his feet with only a slight groan and went to stand in front of Jim, his expression serious.
“I believe in you, my friend.”
“Thank you,” Jim replied hoarsely, getting to his own feet. He clapped Dan on the shoulder. “My friend.”
“The dead walk!” Mart exclaimed as the two rumpled and disreputable figures moved slowly and deliberately into the kitchen.
“Gleeps, you two look awful!” Trixie turned from the counter where she had been transforming a bowl of eggs and mushrooms into an omelette and grinned at the two miscreants. Her red-rimmed and slightly swollen eyes still showed signs of the previous night’s upset.
“There is ice in the freezer.” Arianne waved a slim hand towards the appliance. “It will help with the swelling.”
“And here’s the pain-killers.” Diana held out the large bottle and shook it, an evil glint in her violet eyes. Both men clapped their hands to their ears.
“Aw, jeez, Di, give us a break, will ya!” Dan protested, dropping into a convenient kitchen chair.
“Hard-hearted!” Jim scowled at her as he moved towards the refrigerator and took out the two bags of ice that someone had thoughtfully prepared. “You are very hard-hearted, Miss Lynch.” He tossed one of the bags to Dan and placed the other against his lip.
“You didn’t have to listen to yourself sing last night,” Diana informed him pertly. “Jim, don’t ever drink and sing again, okay?”
“Especially not old show tunes!” Mart rolled his eyes expressively.
“Thank God I missed that!” Dan winced as he placed the bag of ice against his eye. “Or at least, I don’t remember it,” he amended with a grin.
“I’m surprised you remember anything with the shape you were in.” Trixie poured her omelette mixture into the large electric frying pan and eyed Jim balefully. “You don’t deserve it, but would you like some breakfast anyway?” A small smile diminished the sting of her words, but he knew he wasn’t out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot!
“Yes, please,” he replied meekly. “Thank you.”
“No thanks, Trix. I’ll just sell my soul for a cup of coffee.” He smiled gratefully as she quickly poured him a mug and set it in front of him.
“I’ll take his breakfast,” Mart grinned. “I only had two beers last night,” he said angelically.
“We’re glad one of you had the wits to stay sober,” Diana told him, bending to kiss his cheek as she passed by him on her way to her own seat. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her down to his lap.
“My wits, as per usual, were extremely sharp,” he informed her.
“Trixie?” Jim moved closer to her and spoke quietly, hoping to remain unobserved by the others at the table. She glanced up at him and raised an eyebrow. “Trix, we need to talk,” he said, quietly and firmly. “Alone.”
“After breakfast,” she said in the same quiet tone and turned her attention back to her cooking, but not before he caught a glimmer of something positive in her eyes. He nodded and took a seat at the table. Now he just had to come up with the right thing to say to her. If he abstained from the teasing conversation that followed, it was credited to his hangover and not the consternation in his mind.
“Trixie, I’m so sorry,” he said, following her into the living room a short while later. “There’s no credible excuse for the way I behaved last night.” He watched as she curled up on one end of the sofa Dan had slept on and decided that the best place for him was at the opposite end. For now.
“I’d settle for a credible reason,” she said. “Excuses are just that, excuses.” She gave him a tight little smile that came close to breaking his heart. It was at that moment that he understood how much his reaction to her admission had hurt her.
“I wish I could take it back,” he said softly, toying with the remnants of the crease in his rumpled slacks. “I wish I could unsay all the hurtful things I said. I wish I had been smart enough to listen and not jump to conclusions.” He chuckled wryly. “And to think I always used to give you heck for doing the same thing way back when.”
“Jim, don’t deny your feelings; don’t invalidate them. That’s not fair to you!” Trixie said earnestly. “I fully expected you to be upset about Dan and me. In fact, I think I’d have been a little miffed if you hadn’t been. We women are like that sometimes,” she explained as he raised a puzzled eyebrow. “What hurt was that you didn’t trust me enough to listen to my explanation. You left, all angry and hurt, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to make it better. You didn’t let me help.” She bit her lower lip in the way that he found so endearing, and somehow it gave him the courage to continue.
“Sweetheart, I couldn’t think straight. I kept seeing you and Dan together, and the picture wouldn’t get out of my mind! I think what truly upset me was that he had been able to make you feel all those things I had been thinking you were feeling with me. Or at least that you would be feeling with me once I had made everything perfect.” As he began to explain, he found the words tumbled from him like the spring runoff of a mountain stream.
“All of a sudden, I was that twenty-something kid again, determined that everything had to be just right for you. ‘Perfectly perfect’ as my sister says. If things weren’t perfect, then you’d leave, you see. Just like my dad left, just like my mom left. I couldn’t see anything but creating the perfect life for the perfect woman. And you were my perfect woman.”
“Jim, I was never perfect,” Trixie said softly.
“I thought you were.” He grinned a little sheepishly. “You women don’t have a corner on romanticism, you know.”
“At any rate,” he continued after a moment, “I know I can never be the man that Dan is. I used to wish I had what he had going for him – that mystique thing that seems to make anything female instantly intrigued. But honestly, I don’t think I want that anymore. He and Mart said some things to me last night, and again this morning, that have made me realize that maybe being Jim Frayne is better in some ways than being Dan Mangan.” He chuckled self-consciously.
“I think it’s time I got to know Jim – the way you know him. I think I might like him.” He felt his cheeks heat, embarrassed by the admission.
“Oh, I know you will,” her voice was steady with quiet assurance.
“I’m just so damned insecure about myself, you know?” He raised his eyes to meet her clear blue gaze. “I just can’t get my head around someone like you wanting to have anything to do with me.”
“I’m nothing special, Jim,” she told him seriously. “I’m just a woman who looks at you and sees what she hopes so badly can be her future. Dan is my past. He showed me how it could be. He gave me the confidence in myself to know I could have what I wanted if I really wanted it, and that I deserved to have it. In retrospect, I guess he even made me understand exactly what it was I wanted. And that something was you.”
“Trix, I thought you were telling me that you wanted him.” He took a deep breath. “That what had been happening between us had just been a pleasant vacation romance. I thought that you were telling me that you loved him,” his voice cracked with anguish on the last words. Unable to look at her anymore, not trusting himself to hold back the hot tears that threatened, he looked off into the distance, willing himself to remain composed.
“Oh, Jim!” Suddenly, she was in his arms, her own arms wrapped tightly around his neck, her own tears falling unashamedly. “I love you! You!”
“Trix, are you sure?” He could not quite believe it, even now. Even holding her in his embrace, hearing her repeat the words over and over again.
“Yes, dammit, I’m sure!” she exclaimed, raising herself from his chest to glare laughingly at him.
His heart soared.
“Trust me.” She held her hands to either side of his unshaven face, forcing him to look at her as she repeated it again. “Trust me.” She kissed his bruised and abused lips lightly. “Please.”
Dan placed his hands flat against the tiled wall of the shower and leaned forward, allowing the steaming streams of water to run over his head and down his back. God, he hated hangovers! Still, it was worth it if Jim could get things straight with Trixie. The hangover and the black eye. He chuckled under the spray. Only he and Jim could take things to that extreme and still remain friends.
Thinking of Jim and their friendship, he wondered exactly when he had decided to take him up on his offer of recommending him for that position on the Sleepyside police force. He foggily remembered telling Jim after the seventh – or was it eighth – shooter that he’d decided to return to Sleepyside, if the town would have him. He also recalled Mart rolling his eyes as another round of shooters was ordered to celebrate. To be honest, he couldn’t remember much after that.
“Hello! What’s this?” He sniffed appreciatively and opened his eyes to see a steaming mug of coffee being held under his nose, away from the stream of the shower. The hand that held it was tanned and slender, one he knew intimately. He smiled.
“I thought you might appreciate a second cup,” Arianne’s velvety voice came from the other side of the shower curtain.
“You know my own mind better than I do,” he said, taking the cup and sipping at the hot liquid.
“Sometimes,” she replied. The curtain hooks scraped along the rod, and a moment later, she was behind him in the shower, gasping slightly at the heat of the water.
“Ari!” He began to turn, a pleased grin on his face, but she stopped him.
“Stay, Daniel. Let me take care of you.” He felt her hand run lightly along his back, followed by the coolness of shower gel. The spicy scent that he had come to associate with her over the past days tickled his nose. He took another sip of his coffee, then reached out of the shower to deposit it on the adjacent counter top. With a contented sigh, he gave himself up to her ministrations.
Her hands glided over his skin, working the fragrant soap to a lather, starting with his shoulders and working their way down to the small of his back. She pressed her body along his back then, reaching to cover first one arm, then the other. He could feel the tension from the previous night’s abuse drain from his frame as her skin met his. Never mind hair of the dog, this is what I call a hangover cure!
“Pass me the shampoo, mon amour,” she whispered, close to his ear. He reached down to take the bottle from the corner of the tub, enjoying the perfect way their bodies seemed to fit together.
She took the bottle from him, reached around his neck with her other hand and squeezed a generous portion of the blue gel into it. His headache began to fade into distant memory as her hands worked the shampoo into his longish hair, fingers sensuously massaging his scalp with just the right amount of pressure. He could feel his desire rising as her body moved slightly, slick against his back. Her nipples were hard against his skin, and he bit his lip to keep from moaning out loud.
“Rinse, cheri,” she commanded softly a few moments later – or was it hours? Time seemed to have suspended in the steamy confines of the shower. He obediently ducked his head under the water and sighed as her body moved away from his. Moments later, her soapy hands returned, this time to his muscled legs. Back, front, along the outside… along the inside. This time, he could not hold the groan behind his lips as she gently cupped his balls. Did she linger for just a few seconds longer, teasing just a tiny bit? His senses whirled, his hangover long gone from his thoughts.
“Ari…” His voice was strangled with want as it issued from his throat.
“Shhh.” Her mouth moved next to his ear, sending tiny sparks of electricity throughout him. “Say nothing.”
Her arms slipped around him now, lathering his chest, his stomach and lower, straying tantalizingly close to the one place that ached for her touch more than any other. Her tongue flickered out and ran along the edge of his ear, and again, he groaned. She was all around him; her body moving like silk along the length of his back, buttocks and legs, her arms around his torso, hands lightly caressing the width of his chest, fingers teasing his nipples, her mouth along his neck now, teeth nipping gently at his skin. She was driving him mad!
“Rinse again,” she urged, her voice low with restrained desire.
She released him from her clasp and pushed gently at him so that he would turn and face her as the water sluiced over him, rinsing away the fragrant lather. Her eyes were molten gold as she captured his gaze and gave him a slow smile. She raised her hands to lay against his chest as he drank in her sculpted features. She’s just so damned beautiful!
“Daniel, je t’aime,” she whispered and placed a soft kiss in the hollow of his throat. “Je t’aime.” She moved her mouth lower and kissed the top of his breastbone. “Je t’aime.” Lower again. “Je t’aime.” And again. “Je t’aime.” Lower still. “Je t’aime.” A pleasant shudder ran through him as her tongue softly probed his belly button. She was kneeling now. “Je t’aime.” She raised her eyes to his face, and he watched intently as that same tongue ran around the tip of his penis. His eyes widened at the erotic gesture. “Je t’aime,” she moaned softly as she wrapped her lips around him.
Nothing existed for him but the soft heat of her mouth, tongue and lips as she took him from precipice to precipice of delight. Her teeth scraped ever so lightly over the ridges of his hardness and he grabbed for the shower curtain to keep his balance. To steady him, she raised her hands to his buttocks and held him, her nails digging in just enough to incite further flames of craving deep within him. Dan raised his head, letting the water stream into his face as she took more of him with each rhythmic stroke. He slowly became aware of small sounds issuing from deep within her and realized with a small start that she was as deep in the throes of passion as he was. He glanced down again, the blissful look on her face giving him a rush of desire such as he had never before experienced. His grip on the shower curtain tightened further as he closed his eyes and gave himself fully to the sensations he could no longer control. Oh, Lord, it was good!
“Oh shit, Arianne!” he groaned, feeling his body spasm. He made a grab for her shoulder with his free hand and felt her quiver violently beneath it. He shuddered to a violent climax, and his knees began to buckle. His hand clenched the shower curtain even tighter as Arianne’s own soft moan echoed his. R-r-r-i-i-i-p-p-p! He sank to the bottom of the bathtub, breathing heavily and gathered her into his arms, pushing aside the fallen curtain. He cupped her chin in his large hand and kissed her gently, tasting himself on her lips.
“Arianne,” he smiled against her mouth. "Je t’aime. Je t’adore.”
The water continued to flow over both of them, unnoticed.
“Thank you very much.” Mart slipped a ten-dollar bill into the hand of the smiling UPS deliveryman.
“Thank you, sir!” The man responded with a wide grin, before turning around and descending the front steps with a bounce to his step. Mart sighed wryly as he shut the door. Lucky for you, buddy, that’s the last bill I had in my pocket after last night!
“Hey you two! Get a room!” He passed by the living room door and grinned at the two entwined on the sofa. Trixie looked up from planting kisses all over Jim’s face and stuck her tongue out at him. The object of her affections began to make what Mart was certain was a rude gesture before thinking better of it and making shooing motions with his hand instead.
“Go ‘way, Mart. We’re busy!” Trixie ordered, her blue eyes twinkling merrily.
“Is that what we’re calling it today?” he asked teasingly. A huge surge of light-heartedness welled up within him at the sight of the two happy faces turned towards him.
“Mart, what is that?” Jim looked pointedly at the large, oblong box under the blond man’s arm.
“This, my friend is the stuff that dreams are made of,” he quipped, giving the box a pleased pat. There was a muffled, musical jangle in reply.
“No, Mart.” Jim gave him a wide grin despite his wounded lip and wrapped his arms firmly around the woman who lay on top of him. “This is the stuff dreams are made of.”
Chapter 19: C'est La Vie - Chapter 19
Chapter by Evaine
C'est La Vie - Chapter 19
“What the heck is he doing out there?” Trixie stood at the bedroom window, looking down to the back yard, a perplexed frown creasing her brow.
“What is who doing where?” Jim asked sleepily, rolling over and squinting in her direction. “What time is it anyway?”
“It’s just past nine.” She moved away from the window, returning to the bed where she settled herself in the curve of his body, legs crossed Indian-style.
“Who … is Mart. Where … is on the deck. What … is him fiddling about with a guitar. That is what was in the box yesterday.” She gave him a saucy grin. “It’s all very mysterious.”
“He’s kept up with that?” Jim marvelled. “Is there no end to his artistic talents?” He chuckled. “I remember that old, battered guitar he used to bring along on all our camping trips and cookouts. We threatened to break it in half often enough, but to be honest, he was rather good, wasn’t he?” He raised a hand to brush a stray curl away from the corner of her mouth.
“He was,” she agreed, turning her head slightly to brush his palm with her lips. “We had a lot of fun back then, didn’t we, Jim?” Her tone was wistful. “I miss the Bob-Whites.”
“We’ll always be the Bob-Whites, sweetheart,” he told her gently. “It’s up here.” He lightly tapped her temple. “And in here.” He touched the hollow between her breasts with a fingertip.
“Oh, I don’t want this time to end!” she wailed suddenly, throwing herself forward and burying her face in her pillow.
Startled, he gathered her to him, holding her close as small sobs shook her frame. He murmured small sounds of comfort, his hand stroking her curls rhythmically until at last, she quieted. With a final, inelegant sniff, she straightened her body and twisted slightly so that she could
“Where did that come from?” he asked. He ran his thumbs under her eyes, wiping away the tears.
“I guess I just realised that today was our last day here, and I’m going to miss all of us being together.” She wrinkled her nose and snuggled a little closer to him. “And I realised that you and I really haven’t talked about anything concrete in regards to the future. Only that there’s going to be one.” She kissed him lightly, taking care not to exert too much pressure on his split lip. “Which makes me very happy.”
“But?” He smiled, hearing the unspoken word.
“But what next? What do we do about us, Jim?” She turned her serious blue gaze upon him. “Isn’t there a song that goes, ‘Where do we go from here’?”
“I guess we have talked about everything but that, haven’t we?” he acknowledged ruefully. He wound a thick blond curl around his index finger, a thoughtful look stealing over his features. I don’t want this to end either!
“Shouldn’t we?” she asked, a little uncertainly.
He studied the face she turned to him, marvelling at the faint dusting of freckles that still ran across her snub nose. The fullness of her lips. The way her clear skin almost glowed in the morning light. The open trust in her cornflower-hued eyes. I can’t let this get away from me again!
“Trixie, I’m going back to Atlanta with you,” he announced firmly.
“What?” She blinked her eyes in surprise.
“There’s still a while before Ten Acres officially opens for the school year again. My staff can handle things until then. It’s about time I let them fly with their own wings, don’t you think?” Now that the decision had been made and spoken aloud, he felt a lightness flow through him. When was the last time he had taken an impulsive decision such as this and not immediately felt sick to his stomach? Had he ever taken such a decision? Now is the perfect time to start.
“Are you sure, Jim?” she whispered hopefully. “Really sure?”
She laid a hand along his cheek and he smiled. He loved it when she touched him so lovingly.
“I’m sure, sweetheart.” His voice was steady, even though his heart was thumping wildly in his chest. Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Trust in both of us. This is right!
“I want to spend all the time I possibly can with you,” he told her. “We need to get to know each other all over again, Trixie. We need to figure out how we’re going to make us work. I know we will work, but we need the time to figure out how,” he explained.
“I want to be with you, sweetheart. Day and night. I want to wake up in the morning and see your face smiling at me, and I want to go to sleep at night holding you in my arms. I want to share everything with you. I want to experience the adventure and excitement that is you.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “Hell, Trix, I just don’t want to let you go.”
“Oh, and I don’t want you to!” she exclaimed, throwing herself against him with such exuberance that he ended up flat on his back with her completely on top of him. Not a bad position to be in, he mused.
“Jim, you’re really going to come on an adventure with me? Without me having to ask you or beg you or convince you or argue with you?” She punctuated her words with feather-light kisses along his jawline.
“Do you think I’ll be sorry?” he asked, an amused smile tickling the corner of his mouth. She drew back, suddenly serious once again, and he was struck by the lightning changes in her mood. Mercurial, that’s what she is. Exciting, mercurial, surprising, amazing, unpredictable – I’ll always have to be on my toes. It was a pleasing shock to realise that the thought gave him no cause for dismay as it often had before. He wouldn’t have her any other way.
“No, James Frayne…” She studied his face intently. “This time I don’t think you will.”
“I love you, Trix.” His green eyes blazed emerald with the intensity of his emotions.
“I love you.” She melted against him. “I always have and I always will.”
“Ari, ma belle, I’m going back to Sleepyside,” Dan announced, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Yes, I know that.” Arianne stood at the dresser, brushing her long, copper hair. At his words, she had paused for a quick second, but it had been long enough for him to notice. “You said last night that you were going to visit your uncle and see about that job that Jim was talking about.” Her tone was light, but he could see the shadows in her eyes, thanks to her reflection in the mirror.
“Sleepyside isn’t that far from Montreal in the whole scheme of things,” he observed quietly. “I mean, it’s not the West Coast or anything.”
“No, I believe it is about a six hour drive?”
She finished brushing, gathered her hair in one hand and, with a quick twist, pinned it up on her head with a black hair clip. The back of her neck looked so vulnerable, he had to clamp down on the desire to go and kiss it.
He had things to say.
“This job would be the best thing for me,” he continued. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it over the past few days. I’d feel as if I’d come home. It’s funny how New York City never quite seemed like home to me, even though I spent most of my early life there.” He ran his hands through his unruly hair, suddenly nervous.
“The people you care about are there,” she told him, turning from the mirror and facing him. She leaned back against the dresser, crossing her long, slim legs at the ankle and fixed him with her golden gaze. “It is … how do you put it … where you have ties?”
“Ties.” He chuckled softly. “It seems almost as if I’ve avoided ties all my life. And it doesn’t change anything. The people that you care about will always have a hold of your heart, no matter what you do. Ari, I’m going back to Sleepyside, but…” he paused, searching for just the right words and coming up empty. He sighed in exasperation at his lack. “Aw, hell, Ari! I want you to come with me.”
There, he’d said it, and the ceiling hadn’t fallen in on his head.
“Truly, Daniel? Are you sure?” She stood at the dresser, looking so uncertain and anxious that he scrambled to his feet and took her in his arms.
“Ari, I don’t know where the hell this is going to lead, but all I know is that I don’t want to leave here tomorrow without you.” His voice was low, yet his tone was intense. “I love you, Arianne. I can’t think of anything but you! I can’t even imagine getting on my bike and taking off down that street without your arms around my waist. I want to take you back to Sleepyside and show you everything. I want you to meet my uncle. I want you to see the clubhouse and Maypenny’s cabin, have a coffee at Mike’s diner, I want to show you where I spent the best years of my life. I want to share everything with you, Ari. I love you, and I don’t want to let you go!”
“Then do not!” she whispered fiercely, “As long as you hold me, I will not let you go. I love you, Daniel. Je t’aime!”
She looked up at him, and he felt as if he would drown in the molten gold of her eyes. Elation coursed through him as he read what was in their depths, and he claimed her so-inviting lips with a demand that he barely contained.
“Ari, you’re sure about this?” he asked a long while later, not quite ready to totally believe in his good fortune.
She twisted about in his grasp and opened the top drawer of the dresser. “I have my passport right here.” She pulled the small blue book from the drawer and waved it at him over her shoulder. “And I … what is the term you use … travel light. When you ‘take off’ tomorrow on your bike, I will have my arms so tight around your waist that you will not be able to breathe!” She slammed the drawer shut and turned back to him, her smile blinding in its intensity.
“But what about the B and B? What about your aunt? What about…”
She lay a finger across his lips, stilling his questions. “Daniel, have you not seen me organise these past two weeks?” she asked, her mouth curving in an indulgent smile. “Trust me. I have my passport, I have clean panties, and I have a cell phone. I am ready for anything.”
She raised a cocky eyebrow, and he laughed in delight.
“I knew you were the woman for me!” He grinned and lowered his head kiss her once again.
Diana stood in the doorway of the kitchen, watching her two best friends prepare a typical lunchtime feast. The decision had been made to spend this final day of vacation lounging around the pool and enjoying each other’s company before everyone went their separate ways the following day. Diana would miss them all, but not for long. She had come to a decision during the night as she watched Mart sleep beside her. She knew what she wanted from her life, and for once, was going to put that above all else. All it had taken were three fairly quick phone calls that morning, and her life was her own again. She was amazed at the ease with which she had accomplished it. A gurgling laugh escaped her as she entered the room.
“You look like the cat that’s swallowed the canary,” Trixie observed, looking up from the fruit she was slicing.
“What have you been up to, Ms. Lynch?” Honey grinned as she tightened the ties of the wrap-around skirt she wore over her pale green bathing suit.
“I’ve been getting my house in order, so to speak.” Diana scooped up a piece of melon and popped it in her mouth.
“That sounds ominous.” Honey raised a fine eyebrow as she held out the bread knife and a loaf of crusty bread for the actress to take.
“Only if you’re one of my management staff,” Diana replied archly. She settled herself at the kitchen table, motioning for Trixie to hand her the wooden breadboard. There was a sense of peaceful anticipation about her as she perched on the edge of her chair clad in her favorite lilac bikini and matching terrycloth cover-up.
“What have you done, Di?” Trixie demanded, her attention drawn away from the oranges she was slicing.
“Do we have any of Brian’s scrumptious potato salad left?” Diana seemingly ignored her friend’s curiosity and watched Honey begin rooting through the refrigerator.
“Yep. And some of Ari’s devilled eggs as well.” Honey’s head was inside the refrigerator and her voice was muffled. “Should we make some celery stalk and peanut butter sticks?”
“Will you two stop sounding like Mart?” Trixie exclaimed with an impatient laugh. “Di, stop side-tracking and tell us what you’ve done.” The sharp knife she had been using to slice the fruit began to tap impatiently on the edge of the counter. “Spill it, woman!”
“Okay,” Diana laughed. She leaned forward and placed her elbows on the table, cupping her chin with the heel of her hand. “I decided to take my life in my own hands and make the decisions that were going to make me happy.” She blinked her violet eyes twice for emphasis. “I told my assistant to pack up the house in L.A. and put it on the market. I told my manager to get in touch with my lawyer and get me out of every outstanding contract I had, and I called my mother to tell her to get my room ready, because I was coming home.”
“You’re giving it all up? Diana, why?” Honey was wide-eyed with surprise while Trixie’s mouth hung open in stunned silence.
“Because I realised that I haven’t been truly happy in a very long while.” Diana’s expression turned thoughtful. “You know, I love acting. I don’t think I can ever really give it up. But I don’t like the life I’ve been leading. That ‘Hollywood Life’.” She waved her free hand about airily to emphasize her words. “I have a suspicion that if I continue on with it, I’m going to end up on the front page of the Enquirer as I’m checking into The Betty Ford Clinic.” She rolled her eyes expressively. “It’s time for a change. A big change.” She grabbed the knife and began to slice the loaf of bread with firm and decisive strokes.
“But what are you going to do?” Trixie found her voice again.
“I’m going home,” Diana told her. The smile that followed her words was the smile of the beautiful, young teenager they remembered from years before. “I’m going to relax – really relax. I intend to spend time with my family and get to know them again. Daddy has this piece of land on the other side of Glen Road from the family estate that I’m going to convince him to sell to me. And then I’m going to build myself a lovely little home and decorate it all by myself. That way I can be certain that there’s the most perfect study, just right for someone to write in.”
“Ah, I knew Mart had to fit in there somehow,” Mart’s sister grinned.
“If he wants to,” Diana said softly. “And I believe he does.”
“The famous Diana Lynch, star of the silver screen, is going to become a homebody? Di, won’t you go mad after a while?” Honey asked in concern. “Aren’t you expecting a little too much of the quiet life? I mean, it has its appeal, but sometimes it’s just a little too quiet.”
“Oh, Honey, don’t worry. I have a few ideas percolating in the back of my mind for when I start jonesing to act again,” she said, the slang rolling off her tongue easily. “There’s always something doing on or off Broadway, or small, independent films being produced by folks I know. I’ve even toyed with the idea of starting up a community playhouse. So, you see … if I find that the quiet life is ultimately too quiet, there are viable options.” She scooped up the bread slices and deposited them in a napkin-lined basket and dusted the crumbs from her hands in a gesture of finality. “It’s taken a long while, but I’m finally going to do what I want.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” Trixie said firmly. She studied her platter of orange and kiwi slices for a long moment before adding small bunches of grapes to the mix. “Now, what about you, Mrs. Belden?” She fixed her best friend with a level blue gaze. “Seems to me that my big brother has been doing something right for you to be glowing like this,” she teased.
“Yes, indeed, Mrs. Belden. What about you?” Diana leaned forward once again, violet eyes twinkling. “Don’t think that contented smile has gone unnoticed around here the past couple of days. Things are looking up for Doc and his Missus, if you want my candied opinion.” She winked at her friends.
“You two!” Honey blushed prettily.
“C’mon, Honey, spill!” Trixie grinned. “Am I going to have to smack my brother around or not?”
“Oh, Trix, you’re not!” Honey protested with a small giggle. “Things are … well … they’re perfectly perfect!” She hugged herself and sighed happily. “There’s something to be said for being able to curl up next to your husband at night and know that, as far as he’s concerned, you are the perfect woman for him.” Her hazel eyes gleamed. “God, I love that man!”
“How’d I know you were going to say that?” Trixie laughed. She returned to placing the fruit just so on the platter. “You know, I think things are perfectly perfect all around.” A softness drew over her features. “Jim and I talked a lot yesterday. Got a lot of things straightened out, I think. The important thing is that he believes that I love him. The real him, not the him he thinks he needs to be for me.”
“If anyone can help him believe in his real self, it’s you, Trixie,” Diana said seriously. “He simply adores you, you know. You can see it in every move he makes.”
“And I adore him.” Trixie’s eyes shone. “This time, I know we can make it work!”
“Oh, Trixie!” Honey squealed in delight and rushed to give her a tight hug. “I’m so happy, I feel sixteen again! It’s all happening just as I imagined it so long ago!”
“Me too, Honey, me too,” Trixie admitted softly, hugging her back.
“Girls, I think this calls for a celebratory toast!” Diana got to her feet and pulled open the refrigerator door. “Here we go.” She pulled out a green bottle with a grin of triumph. “Champagne!” She studied the label for a moment. “Okay, it’s sparkling white wine, I’ll admit. But we can pretend.” She shrugged wryly and gave them both a wink.
“Oh, mes amies!” Arianne stood in the kitchen doorway, leaning against the doorjamb, her face lit with a dreamy smile. “I must share with you.”
“Look, it’s another smitten woman!” Trixie’s tone was gently teasing. “What is it about this town?”
“Oh, yes!” Arianne exclaimed. “I do not know this word ‘smitten’, but Diana was right. Il m’aime! He loves me!” She sighed rapturously, giving ull vent to her Gallic emotions, much to the fond amusement of the three older women. “Daniel loves me!”
“Of course he does!” Trixie agreed, and Diana nodded vehemently.
“Now this really is perfectly perfect!” Honey crowed.
Mart sat at the far corner of the deck, watching the bustling activity with interest, as he strummed absently on his guitar. The girls, and he suspected he’d always think of them collectively as ‘the girls’, no matter what their ages, were busy setting up what appeared to be a typically lush BWG feast. Years ago, they had been awkward, uncertain teenagers on the brink of womanhood, hesitantly trying out their newly-discovered feminine ways on the gawky, confused, curious, and admittedly frightened youths around them.
Yes, he thought wryly, he’d certainly been all that. Now, looking at the three of them attired for a day at the poolside in swimsuits and wraps, he acknowledged, for not the first time, that they had all grown into lovely and loving women.
Even harum-scarum Trixie, his almost-twin. He caught the glance his sister exchanged with Jim, a glance so filled with love and confidence that he had to smile. It had been a long time coming, but, remembering letters he’d received a long ago summer from an excited thirteen-year-old sister, it was just meant to be.
He wondered how long Trixie would be staying in Atlanta.
His eyes were drawn to the tall, slender form of his sister-in-law. The change in Honey over these past two weeks was obvious. She had regained the confidence in her step and the assurance in her gaze. And Brian couldn’t keep his eyes from her. It was so obvious that he adored his wife. Mart’s fingers did a little dance along the strings of his guitar as his brother strode up the steps of the deck to give Honey a kiss, while overtly snatching a handful of Fritos from the bowl she held. Which was the intended action, and which the excuse was clear from his reluctance to release her. Mart suspected that Brian would not be spending too many late nights in his doctor’s office once they returned to Sleepyside.
Dan was returning to Sleepyside as well, it seemed, and taking Arianne with him. Mart was happy for his friend. They were perfect for each other, Mart decided. Anyone that could shake Mangan’s aplomb the way the young redhead had was definitely someone special. Watching Ari laugh along with Trixie as they juggled glasses and silverware, it seemed as if she’d always been there. She fit in with the group so seamlessly and had since that first day. Indeed, he didn’t know what he would have done without her these past few days. It had been fun watching her and Dan falling head over heels in love with each other. He wondered if he could somehow work it into his next book without Dan clobbering him. Ari was a natural for a heroine.
Diana’s throaty chuckle drew his attention from his musings as it always seemed to do.
Everything about this woman entranced him. Good thing too, considering what he was about to do this afternoon. He remembered the day he’d told Brian how he felt about Diana. It really was that simple. He loved her. He had known it from the moment she’d tearfully collapsed in his arms, the first time he’d shown up at her door here in Montreal.
As a callow teenager, he had often dreamed of the beautiful Diana Lynch returning his affections, but his youthful imaginings came nowhere near the amazing reality of being loved by this woman, his Sweetness.
“Mart, is there some reason you’ve decided that this guitar is a necessary accoutrement all of a sudden?” Trixie grinned at him as she set down the last of the heaping platters on the patio table and came to stand in front of him. Her eyes twinkled in that dangerously curious way he remembered. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you said when it was delivered yesterday.”
“Accoutrement? Sister dear, I’m amazed at the richness of your vocabulary these days. Have you been taking courses?” He decided that the best defence was a good offence.
“Okay, okay.” Trixie laughed. “Have your little mystery. I won’t spoil your
party.” She gave him a wink. “Just remember, I’m on to you. You’re up to something. I know it!”
“I promise it’ll all come clear soon.” He set aside the guitar and got to his feet. “In the meantime, it looks as though lunch has been served. You know I can’t focus on anything before I eat.” He gave her a cocky grin.
“Sure, Mart. Sure.” She shook her blonde curls in resigned amusement. “Some things never change.” She linked arms with him, and they headed towards the table.
Lunch was a rollicking affair. It seemed to Mart that there was an unspoken agreement by all not to mention this day being their last day of vacation. The weather, as it had done for most of the past two weeks, was cooperating, and the day was warm with just a slight breeze. Perfect for a poolside celebration, he thought in satisfaction as he polished off a second roast beef sandwich.
In the midst of the feast, the doorbell rang, and Arianne excused herself to answer it. Moments later, she returned, an older couple in tow, a small, embarrassed smile on her face.
“Please let me introduce my aunt and uncle, Lise and Andre,” she presented them. “Ma Tante, Mon Oncle, these are my friends.” She introduced each of the Bob-Whites in turn, stopping when she came to Diana. “Tante Lise is a big fan of yours, Diana. She wished to meet you before we all went our separate ways.”
“Oh, aren’t you sweet!” Diana moved to give the woman a friendly hug. “You must join us for lunch. Now, are you Isabelle’s sister? You must be; you look so much like her.” She drew her into friendly conversation, much to the woman’s obvious delight.
“Nice to meet you, Andre. Can I get you something to drink?” Jim got to his feet to welcome the man at Arianne’s side.
“Just how many relatives do you have, Ari?” Mart chuckled as the older couple was integrated into the group on the deck.
“Papa is one of seven children, and Maman is one of five. And there are numerous cousins as well,” Arianne giggled. “And Oncle Andre is ready whenever you are. Just give him the … what do you call it? The ‘igh sign?” She arched an eyebrow conspiratorially.
“The high sign,” he confirmed with a nod and a grin. Arianne would get along just fine in Sleepyside, he decided.
As the day drew into mid-afternoon, the feast went the way of all Bob-White feasts, leaving happy, satiated people in its wake. None of Brian’s potato salad remained, nor was there a single Arianne Chevalier devilled egg left on the platter. Sandwiches had long since been consumed, and all that was left of the bowls of chips, Fritos and cheesies were crumbs. The fruit platters were empty, and a lone wisp of a lettuce leaf lay limply at the bottom of the large, wooden salad bowl. Needless to say, the apple pie and the chocolate cake had disappeared very quickly.
“Let us do it.” Brian waved his wife back into her patio chair when she moved to begin the clean-up. “You girls put it together, the least we fellows can do is tidy up,” he grinned.
“Thank you, ladies. It hit the spot,” Jim agreed, beginning to gather up plates and utensils. Mart and Dan followed suit.
In no time at all, the four men had the deck cleared of the detritus of their lunch, amidst much laughing and boyish high spirits. When the last dish had been returned to the kitchen, the final napkin tossed into the garbage pail, and the men had returned to their chairs, a satisfied calm drew over the group. Even the voluble Tante Lise leaned back in her lounge chair, her store of English seemingly exhausted for the moment.
Mart picked up his guitar again and began to pick out soft notes and chords, his blue gaze resting on Diana as she reminisced with Brian and Jim about days long ago. A strand of her dark hair had come loose from her hair clip and she tucked it absently behind her ear. Mart caught his breath. She was so beautiful, inside and out. And she loved him!
“Mart, are you actually going to do something with that guitar?” Dan demanded, his dark eyes twinkling. Mart raised a sandy eyebrow and gave his friend one of his patented cocky grins. It was time.
He slung the guitar strap over his shoulder and got to his feet. All eyes were on him as he moved to stand in front of the woman who held his heart in the palm of her hand. Her violet eyes were huge with puzzlement as she looked up at him, and he smiled reassuringly at her. He picked out a few notes on the guitar strings, then bent to steal a swift, light kiss from her slightly parted lips.
“Sweetness, this is for you,” he said simply and began to sing.
“A million ways to show that I love you
I'm gonna try every one
A million ways to show I think of you
I've just begun
Took a long time to realize
Love was staring me straight in the eyes
Now I know, now I know
And I'm never gonna let you go”
His pleasant tenor voice gathered strength with each line of the song, and any initial reticence he might have had about singing in front of all these people disappeared at the light that appeared in the depths of Diana’s eyes.
“A million ways to say that I need you
It took me so much time
A million ways to say I'll never leave you
It would be a crime
But the way that I feel inside
Such a shame to let my feelings hide
Can't conceal how I feel
Now I know that love is real
Oh, baby, baby what you done to me
Once I was blind but now I see
I know deep in my heart
It's never too late for love to start
Oh, I love you so
Never gonna let you go”
Tears had begun to roll down Diana’s cheeks and disappear into the corners of her brilliant smile. Mart winked at her and chanced a quick look to his left, where he noted that Jim had pulled Trixie close to him and was leaning his cheek along the top of her head. His sister had tears in her eyes and a tender curve to her lips. It was obvious that they, too, had found something in the song he was giving to Diana.
”And in the morning sun, I will kiss you
You'd better hold on tight
Until the day is done, I will miss you
Then we'll spend the night
Makin' love by the light of the moon
Hold on baby, it's comin' soon
Now I know, now I know
And I'm never gonna let you go”
A swift glance to his right, and he saw that Brian had wrapped Honey in his arms, holding her as if he would, indeed, never let her go. Honey’s smile was beaming as she laid her head back against her husband’s chest. His eyes moved back to his Diana’s lovely face once again.
”Oh, baby, baby what you done to me
Once I was blind, but now I see
I know deep in my heart
It's never too late for love to start
Oh, I love you so
Never gonna let you go”
Any doubts he may have had about the corniness factor of what he was doing, were laid to rest by the approving smile on his closest friend’s face as Dan reached up from his seat on the floor of the deck to grab Arianne’s hands in his.
No, Dan, it’s never too late.
He swung into the final chorus, his attention now fully riveted on the woman in front of him. Happy tears filled his own eyes, and he blinked them quickly away, not wanting to miss a second of the emotions playing across her face.
”Oh, baby, baby what you done to me
The love shining in your eyes has set me free
I know deep in my heart
It's never too late for love to start
Oh, I give my heart
Never never shall we part
Oh, I love you so
Never gonna let you go
Never let you go
Oh, I love you so”
As his voice trailed off over the final, soft chords of the guitar, he sank down to one knee in front of her. The applause of his family and friends surrounding him, he laid his guitar off to the side and smiled up at the woman he unabashedly adored.
“Sweetness? Will you marry me?”
She was suddenly in his arms, taking his face in her hands and planting kisses wherever she could. “Of course I will!” Tears streamed from her violet eyes as she laughed happily.
Chaos reigned as they scrambled to their feet. Exclamations of joy echoed throughout the backyard as hugs, handshakes, back slaps and kisses were exchanged all around.
Arianne stood in front of him, a long while later, finally able to get his attention. “Would this be considered as a ‘igh sign?” She grinned. Mart grabbed her and hugged her exuberantly.
“It would indeed.” He looked over her head to exchange a quick glance with Oncle Andre who nodded, a benevolent smile on his weathered face. Mart took a deep breath and bellowed for quiet, a mischievous light in the depths of his blue eyes.
“I knew there was more,” Trixie muttered loudly in an aside to Honey, and they both choked back giggles at the quick look of mock affront that Mart turned their way.
“Diana, sweetness.” He drew her to him, holding her close at his side and planting a soft kiss on her temple. “I think we’ve wasted enough time in this life. How about we do this today? Everyone’s here, there are no reporters or anything to bother us, and the sun is just about to gift us with a most beautiful sunset.” He gazed into the depths of her velvety eyes. “Are you game?” He grinned encouragingly. “Carpe Diem?”
“Oh, Mart, if only we could! It would be perfect!” She smiled brilliantly up at him. “A poolside wedding … here … with everyone. If only we could,” she sighed. “It would be so romantic!”
“You wouldn’t regret not having the big church event with dresses and bridesmaids and flowers and the whole nine yards?” he asked, wanting to be certain.
“I did that in The Morning After,” she laughed. “Twice. The important thing is being with you.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him thoroughly, much to the delight of the observers. “Besides, I’m wearing my favorite bikini,” she added breathlessly when she could speak again.
“Far be it from me to put a damper on things,” Jim said reasonably, “but just how do you plan on getting married here? And now?”
“Ari?” Mart grinned at the organizational wizard.
“Oncle Andre is a juge.” Arianne grinned as she pulled the older man to the fore, Tante Lise smiling at his side. “A judge. A justice of the peace, I believe you call them in America. I called him when Mart first mentioned this idea to me, and he has arranged everything.”
“Is there anything she can’t do?” Brian marvelled in a quiet aside to Dan standing next to him.
“Nope.” Dan gave him a cheeky grin.
“Alors! I am ready to perform the ceremony any time you are,” Oncle Andre announced proudly.
“Then let’s get this show on the road!” Diana exclaimed. “Mart, my darling Mart, you are the most wonderful man to have thought of this! It’s a dream come true!” She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly.
As the sun set, casting a warm orange glow over the backyard of the bed and breakfast, Mart Belden and Diana Lynch stood in front of a beaming Oncle Andre and pledged their love to each other, with their closest friends gathered about them. No fancy Hollywood wedding, no newspapers, no reporters, no Entertainment Tonight, no fuss. As Mart and Diana lost themselves in their first kiss as a married couple, there was not a single person who doubted that this was the way it should be. Not even the star-struck Tante Lise who was busy wiping the tears from her plump cheeks at the romance of it all.
Harvey was one unhappy little dog. It had been days since anyone had paid him any kind of significant attention. Oh, sure, the blond male still slipped him a tidbit or two under the table at meal times, but instead of the satisfying scratch beneath the chin he had become used to, there was nothing more than a perfunctory pat on the head. Most unsatisfying!
And the tall redheaded female who used to pick him up for a quick cuddle every time he entered the room seemed to have found someone else to cuddle up to. What did that human male have that he didn’t? None of his mistress’ pack members took even a minute to spoil him anymore.
Even his beloved mistress herself seemed to have no special time for him these past days.
A soft, sorrowful whine escaped him as he stared soulfully at the closed bedroom door. His beautiful, dark-haired mistress had been carried behind it a short while earlier by the blond male he’d once thought his friend, then it had been shut firmly in his whiskered, canine face. He wasn’t a brainless Afghan hound; he could take a hint. He knew when he wasn’t wanted.
Stifling another pitiful whine, he sat on his haunches and considered things. He had to admit that he had seldom seen his mistress as happy as she had been since the arrival of the blond male. And he supposed that it was a good thing that he wasn’t the only one able to comfort her when her eyes started watering as they so often had while she was working. And the blond male did know something about the canine race. He was usually very good about scratching the sensitive spot beneath his chin and behind his ears. And he hadn’t forgotten about the covert tidbits, despite all that was going on. Harvey sighed, a sigh that ran through his whole body. The male was making his mistress happy again. That was the important thing. Giving the canine equivalent of a shrug, he rose to his feet and sauntered off down the hallway.
He passed the open doorway of the red-haired female and peered inside curiously. Maybe he could get some affection in here? He sniffed the air curiously, catching the unique, spicy scent of the female. Where was she? He sniffed again and caught the trace of the male, the one that smelled like leather, machine oil and open roads. He padded into the room and looked around, searching for the owners of the familiar scents.
It was odd, he cocked his head curiously as he raised his nose to snuffle again, it was odd how those two disparate scents seemed to mingle so well together. His sharp ears caught a noise from the hallway and he trotted to the door.
He looked down the hall, but saw no movement – still, there was the noise. His ears perked and he followed the sound. He stopped in front of yet another closed door and realised what it was that he was hearing. The sound of water. He sniffed at the crack beneath the door. Spice entwined with leather. He should have known! Those two humans had more affinity for water than a pair of Labrador Retrievers!
With an involuntary shake of his little body, he continued on his way, looking for someone…anyone!
The strains of soft piano music drew him towards the living room. Where there was music, there must be company, he decided. Tail wagging in anticipation, he padded to the front of the house, certain he was to be rewarded this time. He paused at the doorway to the living room and peered inside.
The room was lit softly with candles, a perfect accent to the romantic song that issued from the stereo. In the middle of the room, a couple moved slightly to the beat of the music, unaware of anything but themselves. Harvey looked closer and sniffed slightly. It was the tall, serious, human male who had often taken time to play catch with Harvey in the backyard before the past few days, and his mate, the quiet female with the sunshiney scent, and the soft words she would whisper as she petted him. Harvey remembered those peaceful interludes wistfully. It seemed like years ago, but it had only been days! Still, the tension and uncertainty he had once sensed pushing the two humans apart had been replaced by a lively magnetism that was interlaced with a comfortable acceptance of each other that could only be positive for the whole of his Mistress’ pack. However, it appeared that they had no time for the smallest member of the pack tonight. Indeed, the male had tilted the female’s face up and was beginning to kiss her lovingly.
They would never notice him now!
Harvey headed for the kitchen, tail at half-mast, his ears flopping dejectedly. Maybe there were a few crumbs left under the table that he hadn’t scooped up earlier that night. Or maybe he could find that steak bone the blond male had slipped to him almost a week ago? Where had he stashed
“You poor, woebegone, little fellow!” A deep, friendly voice welcomed him as he walked listlessly into the brightly lit room. Suddenly, he found himself scooped up by a large pair of hands, and the scent of the outdoors, fir trees and freshness surrounded him, teasing his sensitive nose. He looked up into the green eyes of the redheaded male and yipped happily.
Someone had noticed him!
“Poor little thing!” It was the blonde female, the one who gave off the scent of crackling energy mingled with ripening apples. She looked around the male’s shoulder and planted an affectionate kiss on his head. Joy! She ruffled his ears playfully. “Bring him out on the deck with us, Jim,” she said to the man who held him. “He looks like he needs some company.”
Moments later, Harvey was happily ensconced on the lap of the female while she cuddled up to the male as they sat contentedly on the porch swing. The male slowly pushed the swing back and forth, his arm draped across the female’s shoulders. This was the life!
“So which star is that, Jim?” the female asked, pointing up into the dark night sky.
“I’m not sure, sweetheart,” the male replied. “I don’t think I know the name of that one.” He reached a hand up to twine his fingers in her blonde curls.
It was funny how both canines and humans enjoyed being touched, Harvey mused, moving his body slightly so that his front paws lay across the male’s denim-clad thigh.
“Jim, it’s almost sinful to be this happy, isn’t it?” The female sighed contentedly.
“I’m sure that, at some point, we’ll be back to arguing about something completely ridiculous,” the male chuckled. “But at least we won’t be afraid to make up afterwards. I think my trip to Atlanta is going to be very interesting.” He kissed her forehead.
“I’ll make sure of it,” the female giggled.
Harvey closed his eyes and gave a contented sigh. He could sense the love that surrounded him, and it made him happy. The whole pack was happy now, himself included. He gave a blissful little rumble from deep within as the female’s fingers stroked his back rhythmically.
“Jim, are you sure about coming to Atlanta with me?” The female shifted slightly so she could face her male, and Harvey was pleased at the care she took not to disturb him overly much. At least this couple was aware of a canine’s importance in the scheme of things. The others would remember soon enough, he decided, his earlier unhappiness long forgotten.
“I’m sure, Trix.” Harvey could sense the warmth and the smile in his deep voice. “Why?”
“Because life just doesn’t get to be so perfectly perfect unless it’s a dream or a romance novel,” she explained. “Is this really a dream or a novel?” The amusement in her tone was coloured by a small amount of apprehension, and Harvey perked up a single ear in concern. A moment later, he relaxed again, as he understood that they were doing that kissing thing that humans did so often. At least the humans of his pack. One just had to understand them.
“No romance novel or dream, Trix,” the male said a long while later. “C’est la vie.”