It occurred to Lily, as she stood on her cabin deck gazing out on Burntside Lake, that she should have known she'd made a mistake the time she'd brought Brock here. He'd looked out at the sparkling water and majestic pines, the perfect blue sky dotted with perfect fluffy white clouds, ignored the eagle with the eight-foot wingspan soaring overhead, swatted the mosquito on his arm, and said, irritably, "I hope that doesn't stain linen. As if there'd be a decent dry cleaner in this godforsaken wilderness anyway." He'd gone inside muttering and hadn't come out again until it was time to leave two days later.
One damned mosquito.
She should have gone with her gut feeling then.
It would have saved her a helluva lot of trouble. Not to mention a divorce.
But, hey, she was here now and he wasn't and that was good. More than good. Now if she could only figure out how to turn on the water, she could wash her hands after hours on the road from Chicago and life would be great.
The phone rang, the world intruded on her mini therapy session, and she walked back inside.
"Welcome home, Juju."
Lily leaned against the kitchen counter and smiled at the greeting from long ago. "How did you know I was here? I just walked in the door."
"Myrtle Carlson saw you pull into your driveway and called her sister Olga who called my aunt Bernie who called me. And I would have phoned sooner but my aunt had to tell me about her tomato plants and the last Eastern Star meeting that almost ended in fisticuffs when Addie Montgomery and Blanche Kovar both wanted to be president. When are you coming over?"
"After I figure out how to turn on the water."
"Hurry, because Serena's on her way now. Call Bianchich's. They'll send someone over."
"Serena's home too?"
"Reluctantly. You know how she hates this town. But her mom broke her hip and needed someone to run the store for a few months. We'll fill you in when you get here. Dumped the Brock, I hear. About time."
"What happened to 'I'm sorry your marriage didn't work out. You must be distraught.' "
"I met the Brock, hon. I repeat, about time."
Lily sighed. "How did everyone know but me?"
"You're way too sweet, Juju. That's always been your problem. You believe what people say. But hey, Serena and I will show you the true path. She's in purdah here till fall and I'm at the lake all summer as usual. Now call Bianchich's about your water. If you're lucky our local hero will make the house call himself. Darling Billy still works in the hardware store every off season."
"I wouldn't recognize him if I saw him. He's years younger."
"He's also, I think the term is, good enough to eat. And if you came to your cabin more often, you'd know it."
Lily laughed. "Your libido is cranked up notches higher than mine. And I'm only just divorced. Don't talk to me about men right now."
"You know what they say about falling off that horse . . ."
"Give me a break. Unlike you, I've actually gone more than a week without sex."
"Bite your tongue. I'm on day six. Now, call the hardware store. We'll see you in an hour."
The phone went dead. Ceci had never been good about waiting for anything--which accounted for her very active sex life.
Lily didn't hear the truck pull up; she was unpacking in the bedroom. And if there had been a knock on the door, she'd missed that too. What she didn't miss were the very broad shoulders on the tall man with spiky black hair who was filling the doorway into her utility room when she went in search of more hangers.
She actually squealed when she saw him, which was embarrassing enough in itself, but when he turned around, he had such a look of amazement she realized he wasn't used to frightening people. And a second after that, she also realized Ceci was right. If this was darling Billy, he did look good enough to eat.
"Sorry. I didn't know anyone was at home. The work order just said the water was out." Lily Kallio's tanned legs went clear to the ceiling as they always had . . . well, almost; they stopped at-- Billy jerked his glance away. "This shouldn't take long," he muttered, turning away, overcome by a schoolboy nervousness. Jesus, he felt as if he were fourteen all over again--he used to watch her sitting on the lifeguard tower at Shagawa Beach, tanned and beautiful in her pure white suit with the tiny Red Cross symbol about three inches from her crotch, wondering if she'd give him mouth to mouth if he pretended to drown, wondering if anyone would notice if he jacked off behind the dressing rooms. He never did either, although she was his nighttime fantasy for all of ninth grade until she graduated from high school and left town.
My god, the man was enormous. So much bigger than Brock, Lily thought, as though it mattered. And much more handsome, some perverse inner voice insisted on pointing out. Capable of home repairs too. Have you thought of that? And his very large hands . . .
It took her a moment to come to her senses, to stop looking, and a second more to tamp down the curious heated flutter warming her senses, and a second after that to say in a cool, polite voice, "Thanks for coming," and escape into her bedroom.
The word come struck the NHL's best winger and MVP three years running with a particular intensity. His body's involuntary reflex brought him to a momentary standstill and thirteen years flashed by in a time-warp moment. Swearing softly, he shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind of boyish fantasies. And then he said, "Fuck and double fuck," in an explosive breath and surveyed the array of copper pipes, looking for the turn-off valve.
Lily didn't come out of the bedroom until she heard the kitchen door slam and the sound of the truck driving away, even though she told herself she was acting like a child, even though she told herself it was perfectly all right if some guy turned her on like a damned spigot with one glance at his handsome face and perfect body.
Watching from the kitchen window as the Ace Hardware truck disappeared down the sandy drive, Lily was still shocked at her physical reaction to the man. She wasn't impulsive by nature--she'd earned her Ph.D. in five years because she wasn't; she was focused and deliberate. Her TV spots on the six and ten o'clock news had risen to first place in the Chicago TV ratings because she was absolutely single-minded in her goals. Even her decision to divorce had required a spreadsheet analysis . . . although in all honesty she was really fast on the computer; she couldn't kid herself any due deliberation had come into that decision once she'd seen Brock's e-mail correspondence with his lover. But with the exception of her rather precipitous divorce, she was really the least likely person to get carried away.
But darling Billy's muscles were practically bulging through his T-shirt, weren't they, and his sheer size sent a little shiver up her spine, not to mention his very, very large hands that made her speculate quite unintentionally on the old saw about the correlation between . . . ohmygod.
Maybe it had been too long since she'd had sex.Chapter 2
"It's been way too long since you've had sex," Ceci said an hour later, after all the down-and-dirty details of Brock's affair with his coanchor, Lily's divorce, and her upcoming year-long sabbatical in Ely had been thoroughly dissected. After they had commiserated with Lily and agreed that Brock was a shit.
Serena rolled her eyes. "Two whole months. I'd die. Don't you miss a man doing things for you?"
Ceci smiled. "Or share in the doing--there's a concept." Ceci's notion of good sex was a mutual give-and-take as long as the man could keep up with her; her ownership of the phrase female assertiveness was legend.
"I don't like to get sweaty," Serena said with the sublime insensitivity that somehow didn't seem to matter to the men who pursued her. Ceci and Serena could hardly be more different in their approach to human sexual affairs.
Lily gazed at her friends over the rim of her glass. "Until I saw the repairman from Ace Hardware, I hadn't been inclined to get sweaty of late either. Or maybe that kind of sweaty, ever." Her nostrils flared faintly. "I don't know if it's him or me, whether abstinence is affecting my thinking or he's just unbelievably hot."
"Billy's hot," Ceci said, kissing her fingertips.
"Darling Billy," Lily murmured, her earlier description of him having elicited a "Bingo" from Ceci. "He has the absolutely widest shoulders and--"
"Sweetest ass. Don't tell me you didn't notice."
"Maybe in passing," Lily said with a studied nonchalance, although the label on the back of his jeans, along with everything else underneath the label, was crystal clear in her brain.
The women were sitting on Ceci's porch six cabins down from Lily's, drinking Aunt Bernie's frozen margaritas--in good supply in Ceci's freezer along with Bernie's spaghetti sauce made from her famous homegrown tomatoes. The afternoon was sunny and warm, the breeze off the lake sufficient to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and except for Lily's lack of sex--now that she'd had the good sense to get rid of Brock--all was right with the world.
Well, sort of.
Serena had already expressed her disgust with having to actually appear at the store each day. As a trust-fund baby, she had no aptitude for work. She didn't take after her mother, who thrived on her mission to offer artisans' wares to the world, nor had she one iota of her banker father's work ethic. Luckily, the store manager, Emily Riggs, was more than competent.
Ceci had walked out on her latest boyfriend a week ago because the sex was getting boring--a not uncommon complaint for her. "Oliver actually said, 'Was it good for you?' " Ceci had said with disgust. "If they have to ask, it usually isn't and it wasn't." Directing one of her brook-no-interference glances at Lily, she now said, "You need some sex, and I need some damned variety."
"I'm only going to sleep with men under twenty-five this summer," Serena declared, a completely-out-of-character defiance in her tone.
Ceci's brows flickered. "Because Homer went back to his wife. So, fuck him. No offense, darling, but why do you waste your time on rich old men anyway?"
Serena's brows dipped toward her perfect nose as she considered her answer. "They're comfortable . . . and of course--rich. Don't look at me like that. I like men to buy nice things for me. I'm sorry." Her gaze brightened. "Did I show you what Homer brought me from Paris?" She held out her slender hand.
"Nice. You could light the football field with that diamond. It works out, then," Ceci said, kindly. "Good jewelry in place of hot sex."
Serena surveyed her friend with a lazy glance. "I like sex, just not constantly like you."
"And for sure, no head-banging sex." Ceci's brows rose. "I don't know if you're going to like that young stuff."
"Maybe I'll just read this summer," Serena pronounced.
"And maybe I'll become a nun."
"And maybe I'll see if Billy Bianchich is really as big as he looks," Lily said.
"Way to go." Ceci held up her thumb. "It must be the two margaritas."
"Three. And he's really fine. Did I mention how much bigger he is than Brock?"
"Not more than ten times." Ceci offered Lily a benevolent smile. "You know what they say about hockey players . . ."
Serena looked thoughtful. "I'm not sure we have hockey players in Miami."
"You do. The Florida Panthers. They're an expansion team that's doing quite well, or at least they were until their--"
"So what about hockey players?" Serena interrupted, uninterested in sports.
"Lily knows," Ceci said, looking entertained. "She's blushing."
"Am not. It's hot in the sun."
Serena looked from one to the other. "Obviously, this has something to do with sex."
Ceci shrugged. "Hockey players have groin muscles so conditioned by the sport, they can last all night. That's all."
"All night?" Serena looked stunned.
"Only Venezuelan chocolate rivals an all-nighter for first place on my top ten list," Ceci noted. "Depending on my current obsession, of course. And speaking of obsessions"--she surveyed her friends--"I suggest we go to happy hour at the Birch Lake Saloon and check out the merchandise."
"Do you think he'll be there?" Between the liquor and all the allusions to groin muscles, Lily was getting pretty focused.
"If he isn't, I'll find him for you. This is a small town and you haven't had sex for two months." Ceci grinned. "Consider it my mission from God."
"Homer can go to bloody hell," Serena said, suddenly gripped by a missionary spirit of her own. "So can his wife and children and dog, along with his yacht and villa in Tuscany and his apartment in Manhattan where he tries to hide his family pictures before I come."
"Apparently without success," Ceci observed dryly. "Hey, I think we're on a roll here--what better time to take a fresh look at the path to nirvana? Fuck all our old boyfriends, figuratively speaking, of course"--she glanced at Lily--"and fuck no-good ex-husbands--"
"And their stupid and/or sly coanchors who 'accidentally' send their e-mail love notes to me." Lily lifted her glass. "I'll drink to that."
Ceci made the universal Italian gesture of contempt. "Fuck. Them. All."
Serena raised her glass, her short platinum curls a halo of sunlight. "Today," she began, a note of drama in her voice, "on Burntside Lake, at"--she glanced at her Bulgari diamond-studded watch--"six-thirty central daylight time--" She giggled. "I think I'm getting drunk."
Ceci tapped her wristwatch. "Five-thirty and you are."
"Sshh . . ." Serena waved her glass, dripping margaritas on the porch. "I'm not finished. Today we pledge ourselves to personal fulfillment, good friendship"--she smiled affectionately at both women--"strong groin muscles, men under twenty-five, and"--she took a small breath--"the ultimate Zen-perfect, lovely orgasm."
"Or a Catholic-perfect, lovely orgasm. Those I know--starting with Jimmy Lorenzo in Sister Theresa's cloakroom." Ceci stretched like a lazy cat. "I still think of him with fondness . . ."
"Right now, I'll settle for any kind of orgasm." Lily emptied her glass. "And it's not the liquor talking." She stood up with a grin. "It's the liquor screaming. Who's driving?"
Excerpted from Blonde Heat by Susan Johnson. Copyright © 2002 by Susan Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.