“YOU KNOW WHAT you need?”
“To get plastered and pick up the first sexy stud who crosses your path. It’s the best cure for those pesky just-got-stood-up-at-the-altar blues.”
Abby Archer arrowed a glance at her best friend, Tess Baxter. They were seated side by side on wooden playground swings behind the church rectory. Abby was still wearing her eight-thousand-dollar ecru Vera Wang wedding gown and matching ballet style slippers, while Tess was dressed in a peach-colored spaghetti strap maid-of-honor dress and opened-toed sandals.
It was only then that Abby realized Tess’s toenails were painted electric-neon-green. She couldn’t help smiling at her quirky gal pal’s choice of polish.
Tess wagged a bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold in one hand, a baggie of sliced limes in the other. “I’ve got the hooch, now let’s go find us some stallions.”
“Thanks for trying to cheer me up, but honestly I don’t need to get drunk or have a one-night stand in order to salve my ego. Jilting me is the best thing Ken could have done for either one of us.”
“Will you just stop it?” Tess twisted the top off the tequila and tossed it over her shoulder. The lid landed with a quiet plop onto ground still soft with the rare treat of an early-morning May rain in Phoenix.
“Making lemonade from lemons. You got ditched on your wedding day. You’re entitled to be p.o’d.”
“Seriously, I’m cool with it. In fact…”
“In fact what?”
Abby lowered her voice, fidgeted with the powder-blue chantilly lace on the hanky she was supposed to have tucked into her pocket for something blue and admitted, “I feel relieved.”
Tess made a derisive noise. “Be that as it may, Ken humiliated you. If I’d gotten stood up, I’d hunt the guy down with a pickax and dispatch his manly parts. Chop, chop.”
“My best friend the drama queen,” Abby said affectionately.
“Hey,” Tess snapped her fingers. “Do you want me to emasculate him for you? I volunteer to be your personal hit woman.”
“I appreciate the loyalty, but I think I’ll let Ken keep his manly parts. He might need them for his future with Racy Racine.”
“I still can’t believe he ran off with an exotic dancer.” Tess took a swig of the tequila, grimaced and bit down on a lime wedge. She extended the bottle to Abby and arched an eyebrow invitingly.
Abby shook her head and waved away the tequila. The swing’s rusted metal chains creaked. “I just never expected Ken to do something so out of character. I mean the reason I was marrying him was because he was stable and predictable and reliable.”
“And because your dad approved of him.”
“You know what? I think we oughta cash in your honeymoon tickets and go on a trip. You already have two weeks off and I’m in between jobs. Let’s do something completely wild and crazy. Like drive to New Orleans and get our tongues pierced.”
“Come on, I heard it enhances the sexual response,” response,” Tess cajoled.
Abby rolled her eyes. “You think everything enhances the sexual response.”
“Well, if it doesn’t it should.”
“Sex is overrated.”
Tess grinned impishly. “You’re just saying that because you’ve never had great sex.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is.”
Tess sighed and ran a hand through her short, spiky red hair. “Jeez Abby, don’t you ever just allow yourself to get carried away by the moment?”
“You know how I feel about letting my emotions spill out of control. It’s undignified and destructive.”
“Come on, tell the truth. Somewhere deep down inside, when you were sleeping with Mr. Boring Buttoned-Down, didn’t you fantasize about an explosive, passionate man who would sweep you off your feet, spirit you away to some mountain top and savagely ravage you?”
“Just answer the question.”
“Sometimes,” Abby mumbled.
All the time, she thought to herself, and that was why she fought so hard to keep her sexual desires under wraps. She knew from experience the havoc unbridled passion wrought. Dark obsession scared the pants off her.
Tess’s eyes lit up. “Do tell! Is he somebody famous? Or is your dream lover someone you know?”
“I don’t really want to discuss this,” Abby said, but a mental picture of Durango Creed immediately jumped into her head.
In her mind’s eye he looked exactly as he had at eighteen when he had ridden out of her life forever. Black jeans, black leather jacket, black White Snake T-shirt, straddling his Ducati and begging her to run away with him. His ruggedly handsome face had glistened in the moonlight. His shoulder-length ebony hair was windblown, his black eyes deep and penetrating.
And his wicked, wicked smile had promised nothing but trouble.
He’d been the dead opposite of a knight in shining armor on a white charger.
In her daydreams, she longed for him to fulfill the promise inherent in his smile, but in reality, she’d sent him away without crossing that dangerous line. She had not acted on her impulses.
It was the smartest thing she’d ever done.
Or at least that was what she kept telling herself.
“This is the first time you’ve even hinted that you have secret sex dreams,” Tess said. “You’ve been holding out. Fill me in, woman.”
“It’s silly. Illogical. And I should know better.” Abby toed the dirt, staining her pristine white slipper with rich red Arizona soil. She knew she was ruining the shoes, but at this point, who cared?
“Abby, everyone has sex fantasies. It’s normal. Honestly, I was beginning to think you were some kind of freak. It heartens me to hear you have a dream lover.”
“Normal? For ten years? Even when you have a fiancé? It doesn’t seem normal to me. I shouldn’t have been fantasizing about anyone but Ken.”
“If you had been fantasizing about Ken, you would be sitting here bawling your eyes out, brokenhearted over getting dumped.”
“Maybe if I had been fantasizing about my nice safe Ken, instead of some dangerous, long-ago hell-raiser, I wouldn’t have gotten dumped.”
“Omigod.” Tess clapped her hands with sudden glee. “Your midnight man is Durango Creed!”
“No, he’s not,” Abby lied quickly, and immediately had to raise her hanky to her nose to stay a sneeze.
“If your fantasy lover isn’t Durango, then how come you’re sneezing?”
“Because I have allergies.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it. Whenever you deny your passion, you start sneezing.”
“No, I do not,” Abby refuted her claim and promptly sneezed again.
“See what I mean? If you don’t stop lying about your desires, you’re gonna go into anaphylactic shock. Besides, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, half the women in Phoenix had a jones for Durango.”
“Precisely why I didn’t…I don’t have a thing for him.” Abby sneezed a third time.
“Me thinks thou doth sneeze too much.”
“Okay, all right. I did have a crush on him,” Abby grumbled.
“Now was that so hard to confess?”
Yes. But at least she didn’t sneeze again.
“Well, it really doesn’t matter. I’m sure Durango Creed hates my guts. I was such a bitch to him.”
“Oh please, you’ve never been a bitch to anyone.”
“I refused to trust in him. I told him I couldn’t have a future with a common criminal.” Even now the memory of the harsh words she’d been forced to say made her cringe with regret.
“You did it to protect yourself. What else could you do? And I’m sure he’s gotten over you rejecting him by now. What was he thinking anyway? Giving you an ultimatum, expecting you to choose between him and your life in Silverton Heights?”
“He was hurt and confused. It was a real blow when his father remarried a woman half his age only four months after Durango’s mother died. And then for his dad to take his new wife’s side against his own son…” Abby let her sentence trail off.
“And it probably didn’t help matters any when your dad had Durango thrown in the slammer for a week for vandalizing his stepmother’s warehouse.”
Abby shook her head. It had been a rough time in her life.
Yeah, and it was even rougher for Durango.
“Can we just drop this conversation, please?” she asked.
“Aw, just when I finally got your number? No wonder you’re glad Ken ran off with Racy Racine. You’re still in love with Durango.”
“I was never in love with him,” Abby denied, but her heart skipped a beat at her denunciation. “It was all teenage angst and hormones.”
“Okay, then you’re hot for him because he’s the one you let get away.”
“I’m not hot for him, dammit. It’s just a stupid fantasy.”
“Ooh, watch out,” Tess teased. “Or you’ll start sneezing again. Sure you don’t want a shot of tequila?”
“Liquor is not the answer.”
“Then what is?”
Abby doubled her arms across her chest. “I don’t know.”
She shot Tess a sideways glance. “Well?”
“You gotta get it out of your system.”
“Get what out of my system?”
Abby snorted. “Please.”
“I’m serious. When he left town, you were left wondering what it would have been like if you two had hooked up. And you’re probably still feeling guilty for hurting him the way you did, even
though we both know you had no real choice.”
“I couldn’t have gone with him, Tess. I was only seventeen and my father was livid.”
“I agree completely, but you’ve apparently spent the last ten years spinning this mental fantasy about him that no guy would be able to live up to, especially someone as dull as Ken. Ideally, the best way to exorcise the Durango demon would be to find the delectable Mr. Creed and screw his brains out.”
“He’s probably happily married with a backyard full of cute kids who possess those same mesmerizing dark eyes.”
“No he’s not.”
Abby frowned and her pulse quickened. “How do you know that?”
“I saw an article on him in Arizona magazine a couple of months back. He’s doing some kind of Outward Bound charity work for disaffected youths, and the reporter made a point of saying he was a very eligible bachelor.”
Abby covered her ears with her hands. She didn’t want to hear any more. “Let’s not talk about him.”
“Okay, forget Durango. Then go find a surrogate and screw his brains out instead. Any wild, black-sheep bad boy should do the trick.”
Abby’s heart hitched.
Tess’s wacky solution actually made some sense. She was concerned about these incessant midnight fantasies she couldn’t seem to shake. Obsessive fantasies that bothered her far more than she cared to admit.
She didn’t want to feel this way. She wanted to free her mind of Durango so that the next time she found a stable, calm, sensible man she could give herself to him heart, mind and soul, the way she hadn’t been able to give herself to Ken.
“I’m just not gutsy enough for a rowdy fling. You know me, Tess. I have to do a thorough consumer investigation before I change toothpastes. Can you actually see me hopping into bed with the first good-looking guy who nods my way?”
“Uh-oh,” Tess warned. “Speaking of bed hopping, here comes Cassandra.”
Abby sighed and watched her mother, who was wearing a skintight miniskirt and three-inch heels, take mincing steps across the playground toward them, a glass of champagne clutched in one hand, a skinny dark brown clove cigarette in the other.
“Well, at least she’s minus the boy toy,” Tess observed.
“Thank God for small favors.”
“You know what?” Tess said, springing up off the swing as Abby’s mother drew closer. “I think I’m going to call your travel agent about cashing in your honeymoon tickets to Aruba. We could take off tonight on an exciting adventure. Vegas, New Orleans, Miami. Let’s cut loose. Whaddaya say?”
“I’d say you’re just running off so you won’t have to talk to Cassandra,” Abby accused.
“Well, there is that.” Tess grinned. “Want me to leave the tequila? You might need it.”
“She’d probably just drink the entire thing.”
“Good point.” Tess tucked the bottle under her arm. “The tequila stays with me.”
Tess and Cassandra gave each other fake smiles as they passed. For some reason her best friend and her mother rubbed each other the wrong way. Abby had never said anything to either one of them, but she’d always figured their animosity toward each other stemmed from the fact that they were two peas in a pod, both of them flamboyant, impulsive and audacious.
“Hi, sweetie.” Her mother, smelling of her signature honeysuckle cologne and the clove cigarette, plunked down on the swing Tess had just vacated.
She reached over and gently touched Abby’s shoulder. “You can call me Mom today, if you want.”
Abby shook her head. After her mother had left her father, she’d insisted Abby call her Cassandra so the guys she dated wouldn’t know she was old enough to have an eight-year-old daughter. As Abby grew older, Cassandra raided her closet for hip clothes and flirted with Abby’s boyfriends.
All except for Durango. Abby had never introduced him to her mother.
“How you holdin’ up?” Cassandra polished off her champagne and then set the flute on top of the adjoining slide.
“I’m doing okay.”
“Your father seems to be having a rough time of it. He’s apologizing to the guests like he’s the one who did something wrong.”
“Ken was his campaign manager and now he’s going to have to fire him. That’s causing him grief. Plus, Daddy feels responsible because he was the one who got us together and he really likes Ken.”
“Yeah well, birds of a feather,” her mother muttered.
“Please, don’t even go there.”
“You’re right. No need to get petty, but I’m betting your father lost the sticker price of a showroom BMW on this failed shindig. And I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and pretend he’s more worried about you than how this is going to reflect on him with the voting public.”
Abby poked her tongue against the inside of her cheek. She’d had years of practice mediating truces and cease-fires between her parents. That skill had actually been excellent training for her job as a public relations specialist for a large nonprofit organization and she’d learned her lessons well. She refused to rise to Cassandra’s dangling bait.
“Nobody cares that I got stood up. Daddy’s running for governor, not me. And you needn’t worry about the cost of the wedding.” As if her mother would. “Daddy took out wedding insurance.”
“But of course he did.” Her mother gave a dry laugh and took a drag of her cigarette. “Wayne is nothing if not sensible.”
She said “sensible” as if it was a dirty word.
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