19,450
07.03.2019

I STRUGGLED TO GET THE brush through Paige's hair. It was knotted and crusty and smelled suspiciously like raspberries. The kids and I were in the kitchen with Dody while she made her morning cauldron of gloppy oatmeal.

"Ouch," Paige complained.

When the phone rang she jumped away. "My turn! I'll get it." She picked up the receiver. "Hello? Aunt Dody's house." After a minute, she giggled. "No, silly. Princesses don't answer the phone. I'm Paige." She paused again, one hand on her hip, the other holding the phone to her ear. I was struck with a vision of my future teenage daughter.

Paige nodded. "Yes, she's brushing my hair, but she's not being nice about it at all. Just because I dipped it in yogurt."

"Is that what that is?" I said. No wonder it was such a mess.

Paige giggled again. "No, it tasted the same. OK, I will." Then she handed the phone to me. "Des wants to talk to you."

There went that annoying and persistent buzz of anticipation again. That must be what the Highlander feels whenever another immortal shows up.

"Hello?" I tried to sound skinny.

"Sadie? Hi, it's Des."

"Hi."

Dody stopped stirring to blatantly eavesdrop.

"Hey, sorry to bother you, but I'm in a bit of a bind. I wondered if you could help me out."

Dear God, please, please, make him need help taking off his pants.

"What do you need?"

"I'm waiting on a package that's supposed to arrive by ten, but I just got called in early to work. Is there any chance you could come down here and sign for it?"

That sounded easy. And platonic. "Sure. I can do that."

I heard a sigh of relief from his side. "Really? Fantastic! Thank you."

"No problem. Should I come right now?"

"If you could. Sorry to mess up your morning."

"Oh, I think my social obligations can wait. I'll be there in five minutes."

Realistically I needed twenty to sufficiently beautify, but what would be the point of that? We were ships passing in the night anyway.

Dody clapped her hands together as I hung up the phone. "Oh, my!"

I held up my hand to silence her. "Dody, he just needs somebody there to sign for a package. Don't make a big deal out of it. It's just a neighborly favor."

She crossed her arms. "Alberta Schmidt lives right next door to the Pullmans'. Why didn't he ask her to do it? She's closer."

"Probably because we owe him, like, ten favors already. And because she smells like bad cheese."

"She is a little gassy," Dody admitted. "Ukrainian, you know."

I had no idea what that meant, but didn't have time to get into it. I had five minutes to splash water on my face and find an outfit that displayed casual sophistication while hinting at dormant sensuality. Even a ship in the night wants to look good.

Fifteen minutes later, Des greeted me at his front door.

"Thanks so much for doing this," he said. "I really have to run. Just lock the door when you leave. There's coffee, if you want some." He pointed over at the counter with one hand and scooped up his keys with the other. "If the package isn't here by ten and you have to leave, don't worry about it."

"No, I'm good. Dody's got the kids."

We stood at the front door like a little old married couple, with him heading off to work while I stayed home to clean the house and drink vodka from a coffee cup. I half expected him to kiss my cheek. But he only smiled and left, waving from the driver's seat of his sporty convertible and zipping away to his glamorous job saving lives.

I shut the door and leaned back against it.

Wait a second.

I was alone in Dr. Desmond McKnight's house. Well, shit. I had free rein to snoop to my heart's content. He'd never know.

Oh, where to start? The bedroom? The bathroom? The family room?

I stepped into the living room and felt a queasy rush to my stomach. I paused and turned toward the bedroom, feeling another roll of unease. I waited. Technically going through his stuff was a) unethical; b) unwise; c) inevitable; or d) all of the above. This situation required a second opinion.

I pulled the phone from my pocket and called Penny.

"Hey," she answered.

"Hey, guess where I am?" A quiver of adrenaline squeaked in my voice.

"Um, the secretary of state's office?"

I stomped a foot. "No! Why would I call you from the secretary of state's office?"

"I don't know. Why do you always call me from Dody's pantry?"

"Because it's the only place no one ever looks for me." It was also because I loved gazing at the pristine splendor of the newly labeled shelves and alphabetized canned goods. "Anyway, I'm at Des's. He asked me to wait here for a package because he had to go to work."

"Interesting." I waited, knowing Penny's mind would travel the same yellow-brick road as mine. "So, what have you learned, Dorothy?"

"That's why I'm calling. I've had an attack of conscience. Do I look around or mind my own business?"

"Oh, please! You have to look around!"

"But what if I find something awful? Like kiddie porn or a Josh Groban poster."

"Shut up. I love Josh Groban."

I rolled my eyes, even though she couldn't see me. "Focus, Penny. What should I do?"

"At least look in the bedroom to see how messy he is."

That seemed like an acceptable option. The master bedroom was on the first floor, so it wasn't as if I was really snooping. Not if I didn't go upstairs. I peeked in from the doorway, feeling nervous, as if I had Des whispering into my ear instead of Penny.

The bedroom was nondescript, full of the Pullmans' very traditional furniture. The bed itself was half-made, with a champagne-colored spread pulled up but not tucked in at the top. I could see the slight indentation on one pillow where Des's head must have been. I felt an insatiable urge to run my fingers over the spot or maybe slip my hand between the sheets to feel his warmth. I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat.

"Penny, I don't think I should go in his room."

"What's the matter, Colonel Sanders? Chicken?"

"No. It just seems wrong somehow."

"Why? Because it's calculating and invasive?"

"I love that you realize that and yet still encourage me to do it. You are a terrible sister."

She laughed into the phone. "Why do you call me with your own bad ideas and then judge me for supporting you?"

"Sorry. I guess this just bothers me because it's what I used to do to Richard, you know? Go through all his pockets looking for receipts and condom wrappers."

"Yeah, but what difference does it make what you find at that house? Unless you come across some kinky gizmo in the goodie drawer."

"Ick! I am so not looking in Joanna Pullman's goodie drawer. I don't care about their junk. I'm interested in his junk. Wait, that came out wrong."

"Uh, like Freudian wrong." Penny laughed. "Anyway, I still don't see what difference it makes what you find. Unless…are you starting to like this guy?" My sister's voice lifted.

"No," I said, sounding as defiant as Jordan when I tell him it's bedtime.

Penny laughed again. "It's OK to like him, you big coward. Maybe he's one of the good ones. Like Jeff. There are a few of them out there. And you deserve somebody awesome, especially after what The Dick put you through."

"But what if this guy is as much a jerk as Richard was?"

"If he is, then tell him to go fuck himself because you can find somebody better. You really can, Sadie. I'm not making this up to make you feel better. Dick was a cheating shmuck, but you're still acting like the divorce was your failure. It wasn't. And if you like this guy, hell, even if you don't, you should go for it."

"But that's no good. Eventually he'll get assigned someplace else, and I'll be back to Glenville in September. We'd be breaking up as soon as we got started."

"So you're not even going to try? Honestly! Is there a mirror in that house?"

"What?"

"A mirror. Find a mirror and stand in front of it."

God, my sister was pushy. I stepped inside the master bedroom and planted myself near the mirror over the bureau.

"OK, Miss Bossy-Pants. Now what?"

"Now say, 'I am fabulous.'"

I laughed in spite of myself. "You sound like Fontaine. Now he's fabulous."

"Stop trying to change the subject, Sadie. I'm doing an intervention here."

Big sigh. I looked into the mirror at my frazzled self. There was a nice, rosy glow to my cheeks. And I had a little tan going on. And come to think of it, my hair was sort of pretty.

"I am fabulous," I murmured into the phone.

"Louder, and less sarcastic."

"I am fabulous."

"Good," Penny said. "Now say this. I deserve a really great guy because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, darn it, people like me."

I burst out laughing. "Isn't that what Al Franken used to say when he was a comedian instead of a politician?"

"Isn't that the same thing? Anyway, say it."

I shook my head, still laughing. "Look, I get where you're going with this, Penn, and I appreciate it. I really do. I hear you, and I'll think about it. OK?"

"Promise?"

"Yes! Geez, I only called so you'd absolve me of guilt for going through his stuff. What a pain you are."

"I'm your sister. That's my job. And speaking of job, I'm really sorry, but I have to get back to work. Call me later and tell me what you find, deal?"

"Deal."

I slipped the phone back in my pocket and stared at myself for another moment. I wasn't half bad looking. OK, if I was totally honest, I was pretty OK looking. I'd held up. One nice byproduct of Richard's cheating had been my nearly psychotic drive to stay in shape, thinking I could cardio-boot-camp my way into a secure marriage. I couldn't, of course. But I sure as hell could've kicked the redhead's ass in a street fight. Well, not a street fight because I was too ladylike for that. But I bet I could run faster than her.

In the mirror, the reflection of Des's half-made bed caught my eye. That enticing pillow dent was calling. I kind of wanted to smell it. But that would be weird, right?

Bitchy the cat sashayed past me from whereabouts unknown to jump onto the bed. She lay down right in the center, glaring at me. Then just to prove how her derision of me knew no boundaries, she pointed one hind leg at the ceiling and proceeded to lick herself.

I glared at her, hoping to make her bashful, but she was one bold ho. Giving up, I turned to leave the room, and the doorbell rang, startling me. I'd forgotten all about the package.

I ran to the door and yanked it open, accidentally smacking it against the table in the foyer. A chubby, unshaven delivery man in a mustard-colored shirt about three sizes too small greeted me. He was holding a big envelope and a clipboard.

"Hello," he said, squinting at the clipboard and running a thick, stubby finger down the list. "I have a package for…a Mr. Delmondo McNaught?"

"Desmond McKnight?" I asked.

He pushed his glasses against the bridge of his nose. "Close enough." He handed me the board and a sticky pen.

How to sign this? Should I put Des's name or mine? I decided to go with his, partly because I had yet to outgrow that schoolgirl thrill of doodling a cute boy's name. And also because if I inadvertently authorized a delivery for some nefarious mobster named Delmondo McNaught, I didn't want anyone to trace it back to me.

"Thank you, Mrs. McKnight," the delivery man said. He turned and waddled back to his truck.

Mrs. McKnight? My, my, didn't that have a lovely ring to it?

I stepped back, and the door bumped against the table again. I pondered that for a minute, finally deciding to be outrageously presumptuous and move the table to the other wall. Maybe Des wouldn't even notice. Most men didn't pay attention to things like that. Then I set the envelope down on the relocated table. My work here was done. Still, I wasn't quite ready to leave. I liked being inside his space, even though it clamored loudly of the Pullmans' presence.

I wandered through the living room, sitting on the suede L-shaped sofa, reveling in the cush factor. I imagined, for one secret moment, reclining on the sofa with Des next to me.

Bitchy came out from the bedroom, thoroughly washed. I sensed what was going on in her little feline mind. She wanted me out of there. She was going to take kitten chow pellets and spell out a message on the floor for Des. It would say, "Weird neighbor lady stayed all morning. I hate her."

Cats are so vindictive.

"Come on, baby. Let Mommy get your jammies on, please?" I was tired. I wanted to get my kids through with their baths and into bed. Paige was in her nightgown but Jordan was wiggling in front of me while I tried to dry him off. Somehow I always ended up the wettest during their bath time.

Murmured voices floated up from downstairs. Kyle was coming by to pick up Fontaine for some interior-designer event. Dody had a date with a man from her scuba-diving class since Harry was away visiting his grandson, and Jasper had a date with Beth, who had finally returned from her lengthy business trip. It would be a full house for a while, but soon they'd all go on their way, and then I could get the kids to bed and have a little peace and quiet.

The hardest things to tolerate at Dody's place (besides the awful decor, lousy mattresses, and obnoxious dogs) were the complete lack of privacy and the constant noise. Either Dody and her friends were practicing tai chi on the deck or Fontaine was in my face pestering me about something. Or Jasper was clanging pots around in the kitchen. It was always something.

The times I'd taken the kids to visit Richard in Glenville, I stayed at my own house and reveled in the silence. I didn't even mind that none of my neighbors were ever available to get together during those weekends because I craved the solitude. So tonight, I wanted to relax in lovely aloneness.

"Mommy, can we go downstairs and say good night to Aunt Dody?" Paige asked.

I hesitated. The bedtime process with my kids was often long and arduous, with lots of good-night kisses and books to read and pleasant dreams to be wished upon. But Paige turned her big, sweet eyes on me, and I gave in.

"Sure, but let's make it quick."

She and Jordan scampered down the stairs and I followed.

"Hi, Des!" I heard Paige exclaim. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to say thanks to your mum. Did you get the yogurt out of your hair?"

Had I been a half step farther behind I could've turned around and snuck back to my room to change clothes, or at least brush my hair. But destiny, as usual, had other plans. When I heard Des's voice, my wet foot slipped on the step and I tumbled ass over teacup and landed with a thud at the bottom of the staircase.

Birds chirped in little circles around my head, and strong arms helped me upright. I must have been hallucinating.

The fog cleared, and everyone's face came into focus, with Des's the closest to mine.

"Are you OK?" he asked.

"I'm OK. I just slipped."

"I hope you won the contest," said Fontaine.

"What contest?" I was still a bit off balance.

"The wet T-shirt contest."

I looked down. My white tank top, completely soaked with bath water, was virtually transparent. Adding insult to my injury, I was wearing the bra Penny bought me as a joke. The one decorated with little red ladybugs in an attempt to help me overcome my irrational fear of little red ladybugs.

Chuckles rippled around the room.

I plucked the fabric away from my skin, triggering a questionable suction sound.

It's not as if it was the first time I'd made a fool of myself. Not likely the last, either.

"Are you sure you're OK? Can you stand up?" Des's hands were still on my arm, and I let him help me to my feet.

Mustering as much dignity as the occasion allowed, I said, "I just need to change my shirt."

I came back downstairs in the most opaque T-shirt I could find. Everyone had moved outside to have drinks on the deck. Des was leaning against the rail, a beer in his hand. Fontaine and Kyle were next to him. The gorgeous blonde next to Jasper must be Beth. And the stout, flush-faced man next to Dody must be her date.

"I'm back," I announced, mostly to warn them to stop talking about me.

"Here she is," Dody said, clapping her hands. "Bud, this is my niece, Sadie. Sadie, this is my friend, Bud Light."

He flicked a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. "Bud Wright," he corrected.

I shook Mr. Wright's meaty hand. "Nice to meet you, Bud."

He looked me over. "You the divorcee?"

I had little choice but to say, "Yes."

He nodded. "Sounds like you did the right thing." Discussing the failure of my marriage with this complete stranger fell low on my list of desires. I certainly wasn't going to pursue the topic in front of Kyle or Beth. And certainly not in front of Des! I tossed a pleading glance in Fontaine's direction. Help me, please!

He picked up on my SOS. "Um, hey, Sade," he said, turning his back, "do these jeans give me a Ken-doll butt?"

Not quite the rescue I was looking for, but good enough.

Jasper stepped in front of him, tugging his girlfriend by the wrist. "Sadie, this is Beth."

Thank goodness! A useful distraction. "Beth! It's great to finally meet you. Jasper has told me so many wonderful things." I hugged her with too much enthusiasm, my voice going dolphin squeaky. Guilt over my less-than-thrilled response to Jasper's talk of marriage was foremost in my mind, with my tumble down the steps pushing hard from second place.

"It's great to meet you too. Your children are adorable."

"Thank you. That's sweet of you to say. And that reminds me, kids, time for bed!" I looked around and saw them scurry from the living room into the kitchen and try to hide behind Dody's row of aprons hanging from the wall.

"Sadie, dear, I'll tuck them in for you. You don't mind waiting a few more minutes, do you, Bud?" Dody asked.

He held up his nearly empty glass. "Not if somebody will freshen this drink. But don't take too long, Do. I'm so hungry I could eat the ass end of a baby."

Dody's Mr. Wright had a colorful way about him.

"Come along, kids," Dody said, herding them from the kitchen to the stairs. She caught my eye and tipped her head in Des's direction. Subtle as a brick to the skull, that old lady was.

"I'll freshen that," Fontaine said to Bud, taking the glass from his hand. "How about you, Des? Need another beer?"

"Sure."

Paige darted away from Dody and ran to Des, flinging her arms around his waist, coming perilously close to boy parts I didn't want her near until she was at least thirty-five.

"Good night, Des."

He ruffled her hair. "Night, Paige. See you soon."

Jordan approached as well, handing Des two action figures. "Here. You can play with these if you want to."

Des looked them over and offered my son a solemn fist bump. "Thanks, man. I'll be careful with them."

Jordan nodded.

My heart went ping. And then pong. Jordan did not trust easily. And he never shared his action figures, not even with me. As glad as I was to see it, I wasn't completely comfortable with it either. What if Des started to mean something to Jordan? I could protect myself from getting hurt, but my son's feelings were another thing entirely.

I needed to be clear to everyone present I was not interested in this man. I must show them all how impervious I was to Des's charm. Because I was, you know, impervious. In fact, I hardly noticed how the blue of his shirt made his eyes turn a mystical shade of grayish green or that his nose was a little sunburned. I hadn't noticed his haircut either. But if I had, I might have thought that shorter hair made his ears seem a bit too big. Yes, it's true. He wasn't so perfect. Those were some damn big ears. But then he caught me staring and smiled, from ear to damn big ear, making me feel as vulnerable and exposed as I had been wearing the wet tank top.

Why was he even here, really? Just to say thank you because I signed for some silly little package? He could have called on the phone for that. If I didn't know better, I would think he was flirting. And I didn't want him to.

So what if Dody, Fontaine, and Penny all thought I should dive into his bed. It didn't cost them anything, tossing me into the treacherous sea of love with the albatross of loneliness strung around my neck. It wouldn't be their heart getting broken when he turned out to be just another jerky guy. Or secretly engaged to some nuclear-physicist brainiac who put herself through brainiac-physicist university by modeling lingerie in Paris.

Fontaine came back to the deck, passing out drinks. He handed me something pink that looked harmless enough, but I knew better. He wanted me tipsy, just to see what might happen next. I was a notorious lightweight when it came to liquor. I could handle gallons of wine, but two shots of vodka and I was down for the count.

Everyone took seats around the deck. Kyle and Fontaine sat with Bud on one side, Jasper and Beth sat on the other. Des settled on the wicker couch and smiled at me. He patted the spot next to him. Like Fontaine's drink, sitting next to Des was sure to be intoxicating.

I was powerless to resist. He was obviously using Jedi mind control. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi! I took a gulp of Fontaine's love potion and sat down.

"Thanks for handling my package this morning," Des said without guile.

"What!" Fontaine burst out. "Sadie handled your package? Why the hell am I just hearing about this now?"

"Shut up, Fontaine," I mumbled under the laughter.

Des blushed, realizing what he'd said. "Sorry. That's not what I meant."

We both took a drink.

"Hey, just out of curiosity," Des asked a second later, "why did you move that table in the entryway?"

"You noticed that, huh?"

"Did you think I wouldn't?"

Richard wouldn't have noticed if I moved a couch. "It was in the wrong place. The entryway is much more welcoming with the table where I put it. But you can put it back if you want to."

"I don't really care," he shrugged. "I just wondered why you moved it."

The sun sank lower, casting a magical gold coating over everything. A fresh breeze over the water cooled the hot deck, and the sound of waves was hypnotic. Fontaine's cocktails were taking effect, and a lovely, jovial mood enveloped us. Dody came back from putting the kids to bed, and she and Bud went on their way, leaving me with Des, Fontaine, Kyle, Jasper, and Beth.

"We could just get pizza and chill out here," Jasper said to Beth. "Unless you want to go to that movie."

She shook her head. "It's too nice a night to be inside. Let's stay here."

There went my evening of peace and solitude. Des's arm brushed against me, and suddenly a night alone didn't sound that fun anymore anyway.

"What do you think, Kyle? You want to stick around here too?" Fontaine asked.

Kyle looked at his drink. "Will you make some more of these little devils?"

"Sure."

"Then I'm staying."

And so it was. We ordered pizza and kept the drinks flowing. Beth turned out to be warm and funny and a perfect complement to Jasper's snappy commentary. I also began to suspect that Kyle had a crush on Fontaine. But then again, I'd once thought Kyle was hitting on me, so maybe I just couldn't read him very well. Nonetheless, Kyle's sense of humor made me laugh until I snorted, a sound which I had never planned to share with Des.

Someone decided we should take turns telling the worst jokes we knew, and whoever laughed had to take a drink. Trying not to laugh can make even the most moronic joke funny, so when Des asked, "What did the Englishman say to the Scotsman?" and then answered, "Would it have kilt you to put on some pants?" every one of us had to drink.

"We should play I Never," Jasper suggested once the joke game got old.

"What's that?" Des asked.

"You've never heard of I Never? Where did you go to college?" Jasper demanded, amazed at this failure of our educational system.

Des shrugged. "Just…Massachusetts."

"Massachusetts? As in Harvard?" Fontaine asked.

Des scratched the back of his head, "Yeah."

Of course he went to Harvard. Where else would a sexy, shmexy, accent-talking doctor go? I heard the question in my head and wondered if it was Fontaine's drink talking. Anyway, what difference did it make if Des went to Harvard? It didn't matter if he went to college on the frickin' moon. I wasn't interested.

"Where'd you go to medical school?" Fontaine prodded. He just couldn't let it go.

"Still Harvard. I managed to not get kicked out. So how do you play this game?" Des rubbed his hands together.

I found myself smiling at him. He looked like a kid, all giddy about some silly game. This was a Harvard man, huh? Des was ever a surprise to me. I mean, in spite of the Ivy League college and his heartthrob good looks and the cool job, he seemed like one of us. He didn't constantly brag as Richard always had. In fact, Des never bragged at all. And he could have if he'd wanted to. He had the goods. He had it all going on.

An idea began to take hold in the base of my slightly tipsy mind. Maybe Des was one of the good ones Penny had told me about?

"It's pretty simple," Jasper explained, interrupting my thoughts. "You say 'I never'…and then you add something. Whoever has done whatever you said has to take a drink."

"It's a drinking game?" Des asked. He sounded optimistic.

"Didn't you have drinking games at Harvard?"

"Oh, we had lots of drinking games."

"Yes," said Fontaine, "but they drank from snifters while wearing their ascots."

Des shook his head. "Hardly. Let's play."

"Let me check on my kids first. I can't have them overhearing this!"

Paige and Jordan were snug in their beds and loudly snoring, although I did have to remove a tiara from Paige's head and turn Jordan around 180 degrees. He liked to sleep with his feet on the pillow.

I arrived back at the deck just as I heard the end of Jasper's joke. "Rectum? Damn near killed him!"

I can only imagine how that one started.

Our game began tamely enough, with Kyle saying, "I've never Googled my own name."

He, Jasper, and Fontaine drank.

"Is there another Fontaine Baker out there?" Beth asked.

"Nope. I'm the one and only," Fontaine answered smugly.

"Yes, you are," Kyle added.

"Why would you Google your own name?" She was still perplexed, or maybe the beverages were making her thickheaded.

"For fun," Kyle said. "I found four other Kyle Tanners just in Michigan."

"But none like you." Fontaine patted his leg, and I started to wonder if there was monkey business going on with their design business.

"I've never given anyone stitches," Jasper said.

"That's not fair," Des complained, but he took his drink anyway.

Beth was next. "I've never stolen anything."

Everyone but Beth took a drink.

"You've never stolen anything? Not even a piece of candy?" Kyle asked.

Beth shook her head. "I don't think so. The guilt would kill me."

Jasper leaned over. "Oh, but you've stolen my heart."

Everyone made retching sounds while Beth blushed and kissed Jasper's cheek.

Then Fontaine said, "I've never ridden a unicycle."

No one had.

We went around the table a few times, saying things such as, "I've never painted myself blue…peed in the shower…gone to the movies alone…worn shoes from two different pairs."

Then it was my turn again. "I've never driven on the opposite side of the road."

Not a great one, but I was distracted by Des's big knees coming out of his shorts. Even his knees were cute, and nobody had cute knees. How did he manage that?

He went next. "I've never…kissed a girl."

Everyone drank except Fontaine.

"Oh, you have too, you cheater," I shouted at him. "Remember Delores DeForrest?"

Des laughed the hardest, leaning forward toward Fontaine. "You knew a girl named Delores DeForrest?"

"Yes," Fontaine giggled. "And she's a florist. Delores DeForrest the florist. Can you imagine?"

The drinks made us decidedly stupid. With each round our laughter grew louder and more obnoxious.

Fontaine said, "I've never been to Scotland."

Des slapped his own leg. "Damn it, why are you picking on me?"

"Because picking on Sadie is too easy," Fontaine answered.

"Thanks," I said. "Just for that, I never manscaped my chest hair."

"Touche," Fontaine responded, picking up his drink. Then he added, "I've never had sex with a Highland sheep."

"Hah! Neither have I!" Des exclaimed, but he got confused and took a drink anyway. Then he tripped himself up by saying, "I've never lived in another country. Oh, shit. That's me."

I would have felt sorry for him except he was such a good sport about everyone making him drink. Plus he was getting completely hammered.

Beth smiled sweetly and said, "I've never worn a kilt."

Des sighed with exaggeration, picking up his glass once more. "What's this game called again? Get the new guy drunk?"

"Have you worn a kilt?" I asked, not quite able to picture it. Sexy and Scottish as he was, I couldn't see him pulling off the whole Braveheart look, even with the cute knees.

"Not often. I wore one in my cousin's wedding. Apparently…" He paused a second, pointing his finger at no one in particular as laughter overtook him. "Apparently you have to be more careful…how you sit…in a kilt."

"Show off a little Loch Ness monster there, aye, Des?" Jasper asked.

Des nodded fast. "Nearly."

We howled with laughter.

Then Fontaine, being his diabolically provocative self, said, "I've never had a sexual fantasy about anyone on this deck!"

A collective snicker went round the table. Jasper and Beth smiled at each other and toasted, clinking their glasses together.

Then suddenly everyone was looking at me!

What the hell?

Curse you, Fontaine! He knew I had tawdry visions of Des tucked away in my mind, but I wasn't about to own up to it. If I didn't drink, would he call me out? Fontaine was a bully that way.

I made a face at him, but he just waggled his eyebrows and nudged the glass closer to my hand. I sat motionless, still as a statue, resisting the urge to cross my arms. I was not confessing to this one.

Then to the left of me, Des let out a little snort. He picked up his glass, drained the whole of it, and thumped it back down on the table with defiance.

The others doubled over with raucous laughter while my mind whirled out of control.

Was he fantasizing about me? He couldn't be. Oh Lord, this was embarrassing! I bit my lip. Seconds passed, until finally I peeked over at Des. He was grinning at me like a kid holding the last ice-cream cone available to mankind. He was daring me, that arrogant bastard. What were we, twelve?

Oh, what the hell.

With pinky raised, I took a genteel sip from my glass, daintily dabbed at the corners of my mouth, and then threw the glass over my shoulder and right off the deck.

By this time, they could hear us laughing in Wisconsin.

❮❯