Flash Drive

Chapter One

The House in Ocean Ridge Plantation

Laurel

Where the hell was it? Laurel, a petite blonde with wild green eyes began tossing things out of her purse, scattering them all over the high-glossed table. It was a big purse, too big really—and deep—one of those popular hobo shoulder bags. Standing on tiptoes in her size-six Andres Machado pumps, she strained to see the bottom. She tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear so she could see into the dark void. She moved things around, but clearly, her flash drive wasn’t there. Panic caused her chest to seize. Afraid her heart had stopped, she put her hand over it and froze until she felt it kick-start.

Not to be deterred, not even by a heart attack, she turned back to her purse and dug deeper. She began tossing everything out. Where was it? Please don’t tell me I’ve lost it—if I’ve lost the files containing my fantasy life, I’ll die.

Half an hour later, when it hadn’t turned up in any of the sane, as well as insane places it might be, she had to let the thought encroach and settle . . . I’ve lost it. Oh. My. God . . .

The little snack-sized baggie with her 4GB flash drive was missing. Missing! The fact that she needed it to back up her computer files before leaving the house was the only reason she even knew it was missing. Missing! Someone could be reading her stories right now. Dread sapped the life force out of her.

She was late for her appointment. She was torn about what to do. Her mind raced. When had she last backed up? When had she written something she’d saved?

Today was Friday. It had to have been on Wednesday that she’d had that little black and red modern miracle of technology in her hand; she’d inserted it into her laptop, and saved the erotic ramblings of one seriously sex-obsessed woman—namely herself. Into the baggie her libidinous, salacious, priapic thoughts had gone. Then the Ziploc had been tucked into a side pocket of her vintage Gucci Diamante shoulder bag.

She ran around the house dumping sweetgrass baskets, pulling out drawers, opening and closing closet doors, until it became nauseatingly clear that she was not going to find that highly pornographic storage marvel before she had to leave, which really should have been fifteen minutes ago.

She threw all her stuff back into her purse, vowing to dump it all out and start the search all over again when she got back. It had to be there. It just had to be. She couldn’t comprehend how awful it would be if it weren’t. She forced herself not to go there—no, not right now. People were waiting for her.

But thinking of whose hands that not-so-innocent little thing could have fallen into, made her cringe. It held her secrets, all her dirty little secrets. Every single wicked scenario that played out in her mind eventually made it onto that thumb drive.

Laurel was having a really bad morning. And if she didn’t find that flash drive, she was going to have a really bad life.

Chapter Two

Village of Sunset Beach

Garrett

Garrett Grayson normally hated grocery shopping, preferring to eat out or order in when snacking on cheese and crackers no longer satisfied. But he was at Sunset Beach now, at his beach house, and it was almost a pleasure to do the domestic duty at the local Food Lion. Everyone was friendly, and if he forgot his MVP card, they always offered to use theirs or to look his up by his phone number. None of the cashiers in the grocery stores in his hometown of Laurel, Maryland would have taken the time.

He piled the reusable canvas bags on the front passenger floorboard of his blue Corvette convertible, grouping the ones with the cans and cartons of juice together so they’d brace up the milk. He stacked the bags of chips and bread on the passenger seat, tucked the cereal and pasta boxes behind the console, and jammed the deodorant and toothbrush into his shirt pocket. It was inconvenient having a two-seater at times, but well worth it for the long trip down 95, especially in late August, when the weather began behaving again and he could drive with the top down.

Mid-August heralded the beginning of the season for the homeowners on the island. With the kids back in school the beaches weren’t crowded, favorite restaurants didn’t have a crush of people waiting to get in, and the fall festivals were lining up. Until the end of November, and often well into December, it was a glorious time to be at the beach. And he didn’t mind grocery shopping—not one single bit.

He pushed the empty cart over to the “buggy” return and shoved it over the bar embedded in the asphalt so that it wouldn’t roll out and dent someone’s car. He frowned when his eye fell on something red glinting in the sun near the toe of his Bacco Bucci sandal. At first he thought it was a Swiss Army knife, but on closer inspection saw it was a deep burgundy, not the crimson red of the Swiss flag. A barrette maybe? He pulled at the denim creasing his thighs to allow for a deep squat. It looked like a flash drive, half in and half out of a snack-sized baggie. He picked up the plastic bag and turned it over. Lexar™ was printed in white type on a black case with the identifying marks: 4GB, Made in China, followed by a long model number and the standard four international communication symbols. The ruby red insertion plug that had drawn his eye was the housing for the USB connection that swung up from the black case. It was a typical flash drive—its bold red accents made it stylish, solid, and intriguing.

Garrett stood and took it out of the baggie and examined it closer. It was small in his large hand, but not all that special—he figured it cost about thirty dollars. It had a ring on one end that could be used to attach it to something. It wasn’t scratched, so it didn’t appear as if it had ever swung from a set of keys.

He tossed it up and down as he looked around the parking lot. People were coming and going, oblivious to his find. He called out to the only person he saw, a man rearranging things in his trunk. He looked up and listened as Garrett explained what he’d found on the ground, then shook his head “no.” It wasn’t his.

Garrett tucked the baggie and the flash drive into his front pocket. He knew from past experience never to get into a ‘vette with anything in his back pocket. He’d learned that the hard way when his comb had gouged the leather seat on his ’85. This was an ’09 and it was pristine.

He thought he should probably go inside and take the baggie and its surrendered prize to the lost and found. Whoever lost it might backtrack and come looking for it. But what were the odds it was a local person? He decided he might have better luck returning it to its owner than a clerk who would probably just throw it into a drawer and forget about it. He’d take it back to the beach house, plug it in, and see if there was anything on it that would identify the owner. He loved a good mystery and solving puzzles was one of his passions.

He was so intrigued by the challenge that he was distracted and almost drove right past the entrance ramp leading to the new bridge. He smiled and shook his head. That made three times since he’d been here that he’d done that. Old habits were hard to shake, he mused, as he downshifted to make the turn in time. He sped up to crest the summit. The old swing bridge had been quaint, but a detriment for low-slung sports cars as his. Still, he missed its picturesque presence and the hold-the-world-at-bay sentiment it represented.

He took his foot off the gas at the top of the 65-foot span so he could enjoy the view on the way down, and ran his fingers through his thick wind-tousled hair. It was a new vantage point for him and he enjoyed seeing the island spread out before him. He couldn’t see his house on the east side of the island because of the rows of houses blocking it, but he could see the ocean stretching out like an aquamarine kaleidoscope shimmering in the sun.

The sense of peace this place brought him was worth every dime he’d invested. And then some.

Chapter Three

Laurel

This was the worst day of her life! She couldn’t believe she’d lost it—her flash drive—the key to her “secret” life. The one that no one, absolutely no one, was supposed to ever know about—thoughts so prurient, so sinful . . . so shocking.

No one could learn her secret shame. If anyone knew how wicked her thoughts were, how dishonorably she desired to be treated in her fantasies, well, she’d just curl up and die.

Why the heck hadn’t she been more careful, at least put one of those address stickers on the bag? Lord knew she had a zillion of them as she’d contributed to every charity that had ever sent her personalized stickers. If she’d only used one, at least her name and address would be handy if anyone wanted to return the stupid thing!

She was sick to her stomach. The flash drive was all she could think about. All day it had been foremost in her mind. She had written down every single place she could remember being since the last time she had absolutely, positively known she’d had it in her possession. Called every one of those places, explaining who she was, what she’d lost, and where she could be contacted if anyone turned it in. She’d left word with her doctor’s office, two grocery stores, the bank, and the Mexican restaurant.

That was fun; explaining what she’d lost, in broken high school Spanish. She was sure they thought she’d lost a watch. She finally drove to Las Palmeras and showed the manager a picture of her flash drive, one she’d downloaded from the Internet. He shook his head, nothing like that had been turned in.

Upset as she was, she still had things she had to do, and she couldn’t keep leaving her home computer and laptop without backing up the data. She consoled herself by thinking how lucky she was that at least she hadn’t lost any of her work. Not a lick. It was all on her laptop and home computer and everything had previously been saved to a disc.

The tragedy that she was dealing with was that she’d lost control of her life. Some total stranger had her life in his hands. He, or she, had access to everything she’d written in the past five years, everything she thought significant or noteworthy. But that wasn’t the worse part.

She was fairly certain that her daytime thoughts were fairly normal for someone in her late twenties. It was still uncomfortable, knowing her private musings were out there and could be flying around the country if the person who found her flash drive had a mind to pass them on, but it wasn’t her daytime thoughts that made this an end-of-the-world catastrophe. It was her nighttime thoughts—her “stories. Bedtime stories to be more explicit, because damned near all of them were about sweet, young heroines in bed with fabulously hunky heroes doing incredibly wicked things to their lovely bodies.

Chapter Four

Garrett

Garrett climbed the steps to his beach house carrying all six bags—he-men never made two trips, no matter that their fingers were still bloodless hours later. The beach house he’d named Stock Exchange, was a present to himself after he’d earned his first million on the market, and now, many millions later, he came here whenever he had the chance. He had in fact, structured his life so that he could work from the beach as much as possible.

Sometimes during the fall, but always after the holidays, during the semester that was in the dead of winter, he was a college professor teaching online classes for the University of Maryland—correcting papers, grading tests, doling out assignments, and offering career advice to students attempting a master’s degree in the field of business management. But that was his philanthropic endeavor, it wasn’t his moneymaker. It was the job that soothed his conscience and appeased his mother.

His “real” job, the one that paid the bills for his beach house, the Corvettes, the hi-tech toys, and his outlandish Nordstrom account, was day trading. With a laptop and a mouse he could win or lose thousands in seconds, hundreds of thousands actually. He thought of it as winning and losing, not earning and spending. To him it was gambling, pure and simple. Sure, he changed the odds by learning all he could before “rolling the dice,” but he was always cognizant of the fact that he was gambling—majorly. He didn’t dabble, this was big league stuff. It didn’t pay to do it otherwise. And he was damn good at it. Hell, he and the I.R.S. were 60/40 partners now and he often wondered whether it would be worth his while to expatriate and move to Ireland where his grandfather still lived, augmenting his county pension by carving wizards on walking sticks.

After putting the groceries away, he booted up the laptop and used the remote to turn the TV to CNBC for the international business report. In his email there were already ten newsletters queued up to read and he doubted he’d been gone an hour. Because of his job—both of them—he was practically always reading. There was so much to know, especially these days with all the companies merging, changing, going under, starting up, going public, embezzling, lying, falsifying reports, and then reorganizing, that he had come to rely on a myriad of newsletters from financial institutions all over the world. He let the financial pundits and publishers do some of the legwork, and a fair share of the tedious research, while he charted and checked their success rates and read consumer reviews about their products. Ultimately, that was how businesses were made or razed—by customer satisfaction.

He charted how his predictions panned out, short term and long term, on spread sheets. He’d been doing this so long now that he had an amazing statistical analysis model that he updated and maintained. He knew who to listen to, who to hedge with—literally—who to trust with his money, and who to stay away from. Corporate idiots were often his silent gambling partners, and lately there were many who could be counted on to screw up phenomenally. He paid attention to the new whiz kids trying to bring their wares to market because more often than not, he could make hundreds of thousands on their mistakes before they figured things out. The way the market worked was complicated and quirky for newcomers and he scrupulously monitored the trends of America’s youth. They had more expendable income than most and if they liked something, they could make a company an overnight success with their social media skills. Yes, it was a lot of work, but what else was he going to do? He didn’t want to teach full time, it was too time consuming and too much damned work.

He muted the TV, read the Money Matrix report, pondered for a moment, heeded the advice, and went into his account and sold some stock from his mini-account. Then he moved money from his maxi account and bought more gold. That was his favorite thing to do—buy gold. He felt sure that was the best investment there could be in these uncertain times. But he waited for the right deal before diverting money, because once he bought it, he didn’t plan on ever selling it—it had to always be considered part of his set-in-stone investment capital. He had huge reserves and was ready whenever the market fell, had an “adjustment,” or announced a failure. He was able to capitalize on doom and get his money into the market fast when volatile times came. He’d done very well with the housing crisis, in essence betting against the country, but he hadn’t been as aggressive as he should have been. Who would have thought it would go down so far, and then stay down?

He was good with money because he was well read, diligent, and not at all timid. The rush of a gambler was in his blood, but so was the voice of the professor—the one who made $45,000 a year graduating students who would owe ten times that amount by the time he walked the processional with his colleagues and stood by to watch them receive their degrees. Yet he was a man who knew what it was like to eat beans out of a can, and to hide in his dorm room because he didn’t have the money for condoms, much less enough to go Dutch on a date. It had been touch and go those last two years of college and quite honestly, if it hadn’t been for the donuts, he’d have never made it.

His dad had died during his junior year leaving his mother a paltry insurance policy and a pension account that the state had severely compromised. He blamed his father for not seeing to his mother’s future, but acknowledged that seeing to her welfare had been the driving principle that had fired his own ambition. And it had all started with a dozen donuts.

He chuckled as he clicked and made the last transaction, anticipating the close of the market in ten minutes. Those clods, if they could only see me now. He shook his head as he made the final click and began the signing off process that would lock his business bank account and keep it secure.

It had been worth it, getting up at 4:30 every morning to high tail it over to the Dunkin’ Donuts store to buy six boxes of donuts every morning. He’d turned a cash outlay of $18 and the loss of three hours sleep into $71 every single morning—except Sundays. At a buck a donut, it was a good deal for everyone. It was breakfast—fast, handy, and satisfying for the crusty-eyed jocks who were habitually hung-over, the geeks who stumbled down the stairs after studying all night, and the perpetual dieters who said, “No, I shouldn’t,” before finally taking one in each hand. The preppies with their doe-eyed and well-tumbled dates were his best customers though, as they often bought a whole box. All-night sex tended to burn the calories in a big way. And of course those little “swimmers” had to be replenished in time for the next nightly bout. His take would have been an even $72, as he always sold out, but he indulged his own sweet tooth, and so ended up with $71. Those dweebs would be amazed to learn that he had parlayed all that donut money into millions.

Chapter Five

Laurel

She could not sleep. She tossed and twisted in the sheets. The angst of not knowing where her flash drive had ended up was keeping her from having a moment’s peace. Not a single second of it. She kept visualizing people finding her flash drive, plugging it into their own computers, and then finding out all her dirty secrets. She saw the lecher who drooled over her pornographic prose with his zipper undone, the teenager whose eyes bugged at the scintillating scenes she’d set, the outraged zealot who would want her hauled in front of a tribunal and then burned at the stake. In her nightmares, they each, in turn, sent her stories on—the lecher to the most base websites, the teenager to everyone he knew, the zealot to every righteous supporter, building community outrage. With the cacophony of click, click, click becoming louder and louder, she jolted and cried out in her sleep. Each recipient, in turn, forwarded her files until her most private thoughts circled the world and hordes of people came for her. Crashing through her door, hauling her from her house to strip her, jeer at her, and then finally to flagellate her in the streets. She woke drenched and shaking over and over again until finally, she didn’t even try to get back to sleep.

She walked around the house seeing absolutely nothing as she reasoned with herself. It’s not so bad; at least in this country what I’ve done isn’t illegal. She bumped into a doorjamb because she didn’t want the starkness of bright light right now. She knew she already had the deer in the headlights look, she could feel her face taut with it. We have freedom of speech, freedom to say or write what we want; I can’t be arrested for this.

Then another voice intruded, her skeptical, sarcastic, negative, downer self: Yeah, but in some countries, what you wrote could get you killed. They would behead you in Iran. Drag your entrails through the streets of Bahrain.

She put her hands to her head and fisted her hair. What had she done? She’d ruined her life, that’s what she had done! Think, think, think! Where could that damned thing be?

She’d already gutted her purse, literally ripped the lining out and turned it inside out. Gone over every inch of her car, methodically searched her house, her garage, gone back through the calendar and written down every single place she’d been. There wasn’t a minute not accounted for. And she had called or gone to every place she’d been—over and over again. Now the clerks only shook their head when they saw her approach.

She sat down and stared at the spot of light shining on the wooden floor coming from the glow of the nightlight on the icemaker. Then a thought occurred to her. How would they know? How would they know it was hers? Oh . . . was that better, or worse? Some of her best writing was on that drive and now she wouldn’t even get credit for it. Couldn’t claim it. Well, she could . . . God, what was worse? Everyone in the world knowing she wrote the stories, or having her stories read, talked about, maybe even published and no one knowing they were hers? Is this how Anonymous got started? God, could she make up her mind—was she proud of them or ashamed of them? Then it occurred to her that her Quicken files were on that flash drive. They would know!

Every single transaction she had with her bank, every check, every debit card charge, every deposit—it was all there. It would lead to her. She couldn’t hide. It told the story of her life. Where she shopped, who her doctors were, how much she paid for her car, her mortgage, her insurance payments. Oh God, this was worse than she thought. Her identity could be stolen! She ran for her checkbook. Just how bad was this? What could they know exactly, and would it lead to her? And was that a good or a bad thing? The way she was feeling right now, she’d happily pay a five-thousand dollar reward if someone would just put the damned thing in her hand instead of plugging it into their USB port.

Chapter Six

Garrett

Garrett took his peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the table and dumped a handful of barbequed Fritos between the two halves. Then he twisted the cap off his Michelob Light Lime Cactus and took a hearty swig. Sitting down, he shrugged his shoulders as if readying for battle and picked up the flash drive.

In it went, into the port on his keyboard. He absentmindedly chomped on a few Fritos as he waited for the icon to appear on his desktop. His steely gray eyes focused on the monitor waiting for the first glimpse, and he wondered what the drive had been named. It jumped on screen and sat in the bottom corner as unobtrusive as butter on toast. It was titled “Backups.” Boy, that was original. No help there.

Checking to make sure his virus protection was on, he double clicked and watched as files filled the screen. His eyes flared wide as he read some of the names on the files: The Master’s Serf, Debauched Housewives, Take My Wife & Let Me Watch, Dr. BDSM, The Village Blacksmith and the Widowed Lady, Mary’s Wedding Night, Surrogate Husband, The Doctor and His Nurse, Forced to Marry My Dead Husband’s Brother, The Rake and the Young Innocent, The Dr. and the Corporate Raider, One Climax Too Many, The Professor & His Submissive, Quicken98.

Unless he missed his guess, the owner of this flash drive was female with kinky sex on her mind. He reached for his beer while deciding what to click on first. He knew he should click on the Quicken file, as it was the one most likely to have the kind of information he needed to track this wild woman down. But the business day was over, he was relaxing, and he was primed for a good story. He was tempted to read about the professor and his submissive, but that was a little too close to home, so he chose Surrogate Husband and double-clicked to open the file.

Surrogate Husband

or

The Officer’s Submissive Wife

He trusted him with his life, now he would trust him with his wife.

Chapter I

It was all Caliente could do to keep from screaming out her frustration to the night. Alone again, in the oversized bed, and needing his touch so badly her skin was tight, and tingly—itching with a lustful fever that she could not endure. She had a need she could not slake no matter how many times she touched herself. She needed Clint, and she needed him like a feline in heat needed a tom.

But it wasn’t going to happen. Clint was still overseas on some damned mission. Six months had come and gone, and she’d been prepared for them, accepting them to some degree. As the last day of the fifth month had been crossed off the calendar, she’d felt her body shift in anticipation, psyching itself up for his return. She remembered the day she began to allow herself to draw the thaw of the long winter into her bones and to let her body melt to the supple readiness that was her true nature. Clint had emailed that all was going according to plan and that soon he would be able to shave off the godforsaken beard he’d had to grow as part of his camouflage for the hills of Afghanistan. A sniper by profession, but now elevated to the rank of Captain, he was in charge of the special ops team that had captured, and was now holding, a key communications tower for the Army. Her body had sung as she’d zipped through the commissary laying in supplies for his return. He’s coming home, he’s coming home! was the mantra that repeated in her head as she stocked up on rib-eyes, Cocoa Puffs and all his favorite snacks.

When just a week later he had emailed with the news that a lucky shot had hit a propane tank and blew up their shack along with their communication lines and that they were moving on to capture the next tower to repair the lines, she had known that the homecoming she’d been anticipating would not be right around the corner. Two days later he had been officially notified that his tour had been extended another two months. A week after that, he emailed that his best friend, Rand, had been hit and was being sent stateside. No one knew how serious it was, but any gunshot wound was serious when there were no hospitals, surgeons, or antibiotics to fight infection. He said he’d given Rand a letter for her as his gurney had been lifted into the med-evac helicopter. He told her to read it carefully, that it was what he wanted. He didn’t say anything else. The following day, he wrote that his team was on the move once more and that he didn’t know when he’d be able to contact her again. He said he loved her and that he wanted her happiness more than anything in the world.

She had cried herself to sleep that night, and then, frustrated beyond belief, reached into his nightstand for their toys, selecting the one that would guarantee enough satisfaction to at least allow her to sleep. It hadn’t.

Mondays were the worst days, especially here on post where the activities of Ft. Bragg dominated everyone’s life. Everyone was back at work, the kids were back in school, and the neighborhood was quiet. There were no parties for her to attend, no socials for her to bake for, no ladies groups to dress up to go to. Nothing to do but cut more coupons, pay a few more bills, and maybe wash Clint’s vintage Camaro for the umpteenth time since he’d left.

Clint had asked her not to look for a job when they had married a year ago, hoping to have her all to himself for a few years before she became a bored housewife or busy mother. But the Army had other plans, and instead of spending her days doing his laundry, ironing his dress shirts, cleaning their house on base, and preparing his dinners, she was writing him letters she hoped would find him, and pining for him with every cell in her body.

She didn’t know how she was going to make it another two and a half months. She was desperate for his touch, for the feel of his skin on hers, for the fullness of her body as his cock slammed into her.

The doorbell rang and she dropped her dust rag onto the coffee table to answer it. No one on post worried about calling out through the door; if you made it through the gate, you were no threat to the military, and that included their wives and children. She’d never lived in a more secured place.

She opened the door wide to a smiling officer—a very handsome, tall, smiling officer, in full dress as if he’d just come from a military ceremony. There was a funeral at least once a week and any soldier on base not working at the time, was usually obligated to attend. But the grin on this man’s face didn’t gel with that thought, he was way too happy to have come from burying a friend.

“Callie! I’m Rand Preston, Clint’s buddy. He asked me to stop by and see you.”

She looked at him closer. She had seen grainy Internet pictures, but they didn’t do him justice. No siree, they did not. He was at least six-foot three, likely an inch or two taller. He had sandy brown hair that while thick, was flattened and indented on the sides from the dark green cap with the corded and embellished insignia of the Army that was now tucked ceremoniously under his arm. He had the standard military haircut, short and close-cropped. The men either preferred that, or all of it off—at least when they were stateside. His eyes were a deep brown covered with gold flecks sparkling in the sun. She appraised his long, sooty lashes, well-defined eyebrows, and clean-shaven jaw that was squared off with just the hint of a cleft in the center. Then her eyes fell to his expressive lips, lips that were now quirked up at the corners. God his lips, a little chapped from the Afghan desert, they were full and sensuous and very inviting.

I’ve been too long without a man, she thought, I shouldn’t be taking this man’s inventory like this! This was Clint’s best friend for g-d-sake! Mentally shaking herself, she remembered her manners and pulled the door wider, “Rand, please come in. I thought Clint said you’d been shot.”

“I was, in the bicep, but I was really fine by the time they got me stateside. They actually shouldn’t have bothered bringing me in. By the time Frankfurt was finished with me, I was ready to be returned. As far as I’m concerned, I’m ready to go back, but my doctor says otherwise. He says to give the muscles and tendons another month to mend.”

He strode into the room and typical to his training, took in everything at once. “Nice place. Clint’s lucky; you have a flair for decorating. One would never suspect this is post housing. At least from the inside,” he added with a grin. Every house on this street looked identical from the outside—all were two-stories, with wrap-around white porches and terra cotta-styled tiled roofs. The only things that distinguished one from another were the cars in the driveway and the plants on the porch.

“Thank you. I kill time looking through magazines and copying the pros.”

“Well it looks great, the colors are very relaxing. Beats the drab olive and tan I’m so used to seeing everywhere.”

“Would you like something to drink?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I would. Clint says he always keeps some special Dewar’s on hand, could I have some over ice?”

“Certainly. Anything, anything at all, for one of Clint’s comrades,” she said with an engaging smile.

He watched her ass as she walked across the room and through the doorway that lead to the kitchen. Clint hadn’t lied. She was stunning. Tall and willowy, dressed in black slacks and a gray button-up cashmere sweater, she looked elegant. And the way she wore her hair, loose and long, curling over her shoulders was sexy as hell. But it was her eyes that really grabbed him. A beautiful jade green shot through with silver and black flecks. When she returned, he admired her breasts, high and full, outlined by one of those “put-me-on-the-shelf-and-show-me-off” bras if he wasn’t mistaken. A scant half-inch lower and he’d be able to delineate her nipples. Sadly, it was not.

She handed him his drink and he watched as she went over to a carved oriental cabinet and lifted a carafe from the center circle of six wine glasses. She poured a deep burgundy liquid into one of the glasses, stopping when it was barely half full. It appeared the lady was a connoisseur of red wine. He smiled and held his glass high in a toast, “To this bloody war being bloody well over!”

“Amen to that,” she breathed and took a seat on the side of an armchair. He placed his hat on an end table and moved to the sofa. Thoughtfully, he took a coaster from a small wooden rack, placed his drink on it, and pulling at the crease just above the knees to keep his dress pants from grabbing at his muscular thighs, he sat gingerly as if the sofa belonged to a child.

“Are you in pain?” she asked with concern.

“No ma’am, just came from a damn medal ceremony where I had to stand for two hours in these new shoes.”

She looked down; the black dress shoes were spit shined and clearly brand new. At over six feet tall he had to have big feet. These shoes were probably too small. “Did you get a medal,” she asked with a teasing smile.

He grinned back at her, “Of course. That’s one thing the new army knows how to do, pin medals on the injured in a very timely fashion. I was just released from Walter Reed two days ago.”

“So where are you staying?”

“I’m billeted on post, in the officer’s quarters. Not too bad, especially when you consider where I’ve been sleeping for the past few months—The Flintstones’ Hilton—caves on the sides of mountains.”

“Well you must stay and have dinner with me.”

“You will get no argument from me. I’m already sick of mess hall chow.”

“So Chicken Parmesan would work for you?”

“A bowl of Life cereal would work for me, so don’t put yourself out.”

“I love to cook, so it won’t be any trouble. I miss cooking for a man,” she said wistfully.

“Uh, that reminds me . . . I have something from Clint for you.” He dug into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “He wrote it in a hurry while we were waiting for the chopper and all he could find to write on was the graph paper from the medic’s field kit EKG, but here it is. Before you read it, you should know that I know what it says. He told me what he was going to write before he wrote it.” His eyes met hers and held.

She thought he was trying to tell her something, but from his sheepish grin, the only message that conveyed was that everything was all right. She took the folded, creased, and sweat-stained paper from him as if it was a treasured piece of Sanskrit and then she took her time unfolding it.

“I can wait outside while you read it if you’d like.”

“No, that won’t be necessary. I’ll take it to the bedroom. You just relax, and enjoy your drink. Help yourself to more scotch, it’s on the counter in the kitchen.”

She took the paper, and reading it as she walked, she made her way down the hallway to the bedroom.

My Darling Caliente,

 

How do I say all I want to say to you? I miss you so much and love you so completely. I wish more than anything that we could be together right now. I dream of you nightly, kiss you everywhere, and fuck you tirelessly in both my daydreams and my night dreams. I miss us, I miss our lovemaking, and I miss seeing the pleasure in your eyes as you come for me. Callie, you are what I am living for.

 

By now you know it could be several more months before I can come home to you and feel your wonderful quivers of delight while you lie under me. During our short marriage I have learned how your body responds to every touch, every lick, every caress, every kiss. And I have learned that you cannot go without sex indefinitely. Since you’ve never been very proficient at self-pleasuring (and believe me, if I wasn’t an expert before, I surely am now), I have a proposition for you. I want you to allow Rand to be my proxy. I know this is a strange request but please hear me out. I want you to allow him to be your substitute husband while I’m away. He is the only man I would ever trust to take my place in your bed, the only man I know worthy enough to fill your body. The only man capable of doing to you the things you need done to you, while being both tender and loving, and reverently respectful of you and your body.

 

As men in the field do, we’ve talked about our sex lives and our women extensively. Rand is currently single, having broken ties with his girlfriend before shipping out, but I know how much he cared for her. And after comparing notes, he and I agree that we are both aggressively bent and like to do some of the same things to our women. He has assured me that he will do everything in his power to please you. So . . . please take my best friend to our bed and allow him to ease your lusts. Let him be your surrogate husband. I know by now that you must be strung so high that you’re crawling out of your skin. Please know that there will never be any recriminations from this. I sanction this with my whole heart. I give you to him gladly in hopes that you two, my most favorite people in the world, can make some sense of this madness we call war, and satisfy each other’s needs. Of course, when I come home, I will expect you to prefer me to him. So, sate yourself for a while, but when you hear that I am on my way back to you, send him away. Now . . .go play.

 

Your loving husband,

 

Clint

After carefully refolding the letter and tucking it into her underwear drawer, she walked back down the hallway. Not seeing Rand in the living room, she walked into the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter, his feet crossed at the ankles, his back to the cabinets, looking down at the drink in his hand.

“I didn’t realize you guys were quite that close,” she said.

She had been crying, he could see the tracks of tears on her cheeks and her eyeliner was smudged from wiping her eyes.

“Well, not physically. We both like women—exclusively.”

“So . . . my husband wants you to fuck me.”

“He didn’t say that. At least not to me. Not in that exact way anyway.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Then what did he say, exactly?” There was a tinge of anger in her voice.

“He said you might be hurting, that you might need someone. That maybe I could help.”

“Do other officers do this? Give their wives to their men? Is this a common thing in the new military?”

“I don’t know. I don’t talk to other men about these issues. Clint is the only one I can talk to about practically anything. As to officers giving their wives to their men, Clint and I are the same rank; we are equals in that regard. I am not his man, nor is he mine. We are friends—friends who help each other out, no matter the prob. . .task.”

“So, I’m a task, some chore to tackle, something to scratch off the to-do list?”

“I was going to say no matter the problem, but looking at you, I can see no problem whatsoever.” His eyes roved over her body, drinking her in from head to toe. She could see the appreciation as his eyes skimmed her, focusing and holding an intense heated gaze as his eyes lingered on her sweater-clad breasts and then lower, to the crotch of her slacks. “No, no problem, at least none that I can see—other than your attitude. You don’t seem very accepting of this arrangement.”

“Well why should I be? Why should I even consider you as my husband’s replacement?”

“From the many discussions he and I have had—and forgive me for being blunt—but we are of the same mind when it comes to women: we both would rather feast on a woman’s cunt than have a toe-curling blowjob; we are both very well endowed; not at all adverse to using toys; wholly into buggery, which I’m told is a favorite with you; and we both fancy ourselves to be Doms, if only in the loosest sense of the word—hence we like submissive women, which by the way, you are not turning out to be. I might add, that we both know how to treat women—diligently, with patience, respect, and finesse. And also with a firm hand when necessary,” he added with a wink. “In short, we both adore women. And we have both had years of experience giving women pleasure. There. That’s my sexual resume. I’m applying for the position of surrogate husband.”

“This is absurd!” She searched the counter tops and then mumbled, “Did you see my wine glass?”

“I believe you left it in the living room.”

She spun on her heel and left the kitchen. He followed. Then watched as she snatched up her glass and plopped down onto the sofa. Glaring up at him and sipping her wine, she snapped, “I don’t even know you.”

“I don’t know you either, but I’m willing to get to know you . . . and eager to learn all your secrets,” he said, lowering his voice while raising an eyebrow and a corner of his mouth at the same time. It was sexy as all get out.

She tilted her head and frowned at him, “Of course you are.”

“Hey, I’m a discriminating guy.”

“That’s another thing—”

“Your husband already asked me all the safe sex questions. I’ve been cleared.”

“Even thinking about this is lunacy!” She gulped down a hefty portion of wine. “No, I won’t. I can’t possibly. I love my husband.” She took another sip of wine, draining the glass. He walked over, got the carafe and refilled it.

“Love has nothing to do with what he’s proposing.”

She took another sip while she watched him move around the room as if he owned it, as graceful as a Ninja, which she supposed, he kind of was—the six-foot- five kind. Nothing about this man was short, puny, or undeveloped.  God no.

Her eyes followed his movements as he fingered things, picking them up and putting them down, and she felt his touch vibrate through her with each thing he touched. How was that possible? She watched him brush his fingertips over a small stone sculpture of a naked lady reclining on a chaise being hefted by her slaves, and she shivered from his touch. He ran a finger over her smooth breasts and her own nipples stiffened. She had stroked that same piece countless times, it was marble and cold, but the sight of him idly stroking it was heating her blood, boiling it really.

She drained her glass and reached out to put it on the coffee table. She missed and bobbled it. He spun and caught it before it hit the floor. Their eyes met, inches apart, it was the closest they had been to each other and she could smell him. He smelled of spice, scotch, musk, and man. Hungry man. He placed the glass on the table and stood, never taking his eyes from hers.

“I love my husband! And I miss him terribly! I want him here with me, not you!”

Then, to her total humiliation, she started sobbing, heart wrenching sobs that came from her chest, bubbling up and causing her to gasp for breath, making her convulse and shake. He gathered her into his arms, lifting her against his chest and then he turned to sit on the sofa. He held her snug against him as she cried into his shirt. He held her for a long time; eventually lifting her higher onto his lap so he could wrap both arms around her as she alternately sobbed, cried softly, and hiccupped into his shoulder.

It was killing him to see her in so much pain. When he could no longer stand it, he gently turned her, laid her with her head on the bolster of the sofa, and began to kiss her collarbone and nibble on her neck. Her smooth skin smelled of jasmine and it drove him wild. He had to taste more of her. As he kissed up her neck to her ear, lingering and listening to her soft mewling whimpers, he began to unbutton her sweater. It had a long row of tiny pearl buttons so she had to be aware of what he was doing, but she didn’t stop him. He took his time, giving her every opportunity to stay his hand, to deny him the next button as his lips continued the leisurely foray up and down the side of her neck.

When her sweater was completely unbuttoned, he spread the plackets wide and caressed her soft abdomen. Then he flicked the single button on her slacks and eased her zipper down. Her eyes opened wide and she whispered, “No.”

“Yes.”

“I miss my husband.”

Taking a handkerchief from his pant’s pocket he folded it over three times and tied it over her eyes. “I am your husband,” he whispered in her ear as he blindfolded her. “Pretend I’m Clint. For tonight let me be your husband. Let me love you as he would if he were here. Call me Clint, forget his friend was ever even here.” His voice was soft and seductive, his tongue laving the whirls of her ear, masterful, practiced, and reminiscent of the man she loved.

His fingers traced the tears on her face, wiping them dry, then his palm cupped her cheek and she moved her face into the caress. She was his. For now.

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