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Authors: Lass Small

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No, there was his strong, hard, square hand holding hers firmly. There was his hard, broad shoulder brushing her cheek. There was the heat of him that rivaled the sun’s and there was the fact that he was alive, there, and with her.

He looked around, not appearing to notice the women whose eyes lingered on him. He looked at her. She was with him. She was stalking along with a man named Chas Cougar.

Then into her consciousness a thwarted thought wormed its nasty way. Chas Cougar was a law-abiding man who hated cheats. Although she was with him, it was under false pretenses.

She’d lied. She’d cheated in opening a wedge into the Cougar clan, and she’d allowed herself to be labeled a cousin.

With all the feeble protests that she might not be kin, she hadn’t denied it. There was that basic lie about her grandmother’s name being Winsome. She’d allowed the false name to stay there...a lie.

“What’s wrong?” His low voice was right by her temple.

She looked up into those green eyes in something like despair.

“Are you all right?” His voice was sharper, and he stopped to bend down, bringing his head closer so that he could look into her face. His other hand went to her shoulder and he frowned. “What’s the matter?”

Her lips parted and she replied softly, “I guess I’m just a little tired.”

“Good.”

Good? He bought her a hamburger, led her back to their suite, muted the phone and took her to bed. This time in the bedroom. In one bed.

He moved away her shy, shielding hands and made delicious, possessive, silent, serious love to her, with his hard hands and his hard body. Then he curled her close in his arms and they slept.

* * *

Before she ever opened her eyes, she knew he was gone. Her lashes lifted and she confirmed that. He’d left her? She rose and looked in the closet. His clothes were still there. He would come back.

The relief that washed through her alarmed her almost as much as the panicked thought of his being gone. She could not allow herself to become emotionally entangled with a law-abiding man who despised cheats.

Now was the time to get her clothes organized for her vanishing act. She was convinced she would have to leave in that way. How could she stand in front of Chas— or lie next to him— and say goodbye? She put her hands in her hair and pulled.

This affair was dumb. It was an entrapment. She didn’t want to leave, not yet, but would she ever want to leave him?

In her future affairs she was going to have to be more selective. Did that mean she would now choose second best? Surely not. She’d selected Chas because he was the best.

Her emotional involvement was probably because she’d been a virgin. There was a saying that women always felt sentimental about their first man. That was probably what was wrong with her. She was being sentimental about Chas.

She sorted out the clothes she would need for the night’s cocktails and dinner, the next day and the wedding. And what she’d need when she left.

Amy dressed in a pullover cotton beach cover-up. She took her laundry, the extra clothes and shoes that had gradually found their way from her car to the shared closet. She picked up her card and sneaked out of the room to go to her car.

She even went around to the beachside elevator, in case Chas should be coming back up to their suite.

Having stored her burdens in her car, she wandered over the walkways and discovered a hidden stairway in which she could sit alone, unobserved, to figure out how she was going to handle leaving Chas.

She had barely settled on the step— there in the warmth of the sun— when she heard voices. She shifted, assuming they could come down the steps, but the voices stayed where they were, around the corner of the stairs. The voices were female and they continued their conversation.

The voices belonged to Connie and Sally.

Connie asked, “Why did you decide to marry Tad? Is he so different from all the others?”

“I’ll tell
you
because of all we’ve been through together,” Sally replied in an almost cynical way. “Last fall, I ran into a nice guy at a party. He was neat. I thought, ‘Wow. All right!’ and began to come on to him. And he said, ‘So you do remember?’

“But I didn’t. I found out I’d spent a
weekend
with him! An entire weekend, mostly in bed, and I couldn’t even recall his
name!

“He was offended, but I was appalled! There I’d slept with this guy for a whole weekend, and I didn’t even remember his name.

“I figured it was time to quit. I’m fond of Tad. He loves me. I’ll be careful of him, and I’ll come to love him. You ought to consider settling down yourself, Connie. The fast track can last too long.”

Connie’s voice was faint. “I couldn’t find a Tad. No one wants to actually marry me. They’re all like Matt. I now have such a reputation that sleeping with me is like a goal along the way for men making their names as lovers.”

“Burnout.” Sally’s voice was positive. “Take some time off until it’s interesting again. I believe casual sex is like a drug. Used all the time it gets routine and hasn’t the kick it should. Even druggies have to dry out before they then have another go at it.”

Sally then advised Connie, “Take it easy for a while and let Matt sweat. It’ll stimulate him, too.

“Ah, Connie, I’m glad you came down here. It seems appropriate for you to be here with me right now. You were there that first time, too.”

Connie’s voice was grim. “I’m not going to sleep with Matt.”

“You don’t want to?”

“I love him.”

“So?”

“He doesn’t love me.” Connie’s voice broke.

Sally’s voice protested, “But he can’t wait to get you into bed!”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Connie replied. “We’ve had a running affair for years. He’s between women, and I’m handy.”

Sally’s voice asked soberly, “Is it really that way?”

“Yes.”

“You’re hurting!” Sally’s voice was gentle.

“Badly.”

“But you came to me, knowing he’d be here. Connie. You didn’t hav— I can’t even say it. You
had
to be here for me. You’re the sister I never had.”

“Yes.” Connie’s unstable voice agreed to that.

“Are you all right?”

The tone was bitter as Connie replied, “Fine.”

“You know Tad wouldn’t mind if you came along with us?”

Connie laughed in a hiccup. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“That’s better. I’ve another fitting for that infuriating gown! Want to come along?”

Connie’s voice replied, “I think I’ll walk a while.”

“Then I’ll see you later.”

Amy thought they would never leave! She held perfectly still in the silence to be sure they had gone. Hearing nothing, she started to rise from her concealed nook.

Then she heard the muffled sobs. Amy hesitated. How could she leave Connie there so alone and unhappy?

Amy remembered all the times she’d cried alone. She had especially poignant understanding when Chas said how the Cougars rallied around a distressed member.

She was a Cougar! However temporarily. She would just go and be with Connie like a sober cousin Bart.

As Amy went silently up the stairs, she hesitated with the realization that she was intruding. Connie didn’t hear her. She was sitting, curled in a ball on the top step. Her face buried in her hands. Her blond hair was a lovely tumble.

Amy stood helplessly, then sat down next to Connie and said, “Need a friend’s— a cousin’s Kleenex?”

Connie jerked her head up, her tear-red eyes wide and startled, then she leaned against Amy and simply bawled.

Amy gave Connie the Kleenex as she put her arms around her. A good cry can clear thinking. But she waited, and Connie didn’t stop. She was shuddering in spasms.

Amy asked softly, “What could be this bad? Whatever it is, you can survive it. Come now. You can’t allow yourself to be this upset. How can I help you? Are you ill?”

Connie nodded vigorously and made a harsh sound as she shivered.

Lumps or bleeding? Amy asked in dread, “Have you seen a doctor?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Don’t anticipate trouble. Do you want me to go with you?”

Connie moved away from Amy and looked at her with a ravaged face. “Oh, Amy, thank you! At nine-thirty. I couldn’t go to my own doctor. I’d die.”

“Where shall I meet you?”

A deep, masculine voice, so recently become familiar, asked as he squatted down on the wooden walkway behind the two women, “What’s going on?”

It was Chas. It was as if the marines had landed. “Connie? Trouble? Tell me.”

“I can’t.” With some effort Connie brought herself under stern control. She straightened and calmed herself.

Chas gave Connie a clean handkerchief. He took Amy’s elbow as he rose, encouraging her to stand up. He said to Amy, “We’ll see you at our suite, okay? It won’t be long.” He kissed Amy’s cheek and patted her bottom discreetly. She had been dismissed.

Amy looked down at Connie, who had also risen and would have moved down the steps, but Chas had her arm in his other hand, and she wasn’t going anywhere. “Is this okay?” she asked Connie.

“Yes.” Connie even almost smiled. “Chas is relentlessly helpful.”

“Do you want him to interfere?” Amy felt all powerful.

Connie shrugged. “He will, anyway. We might as well let him.”

Amy gave Chas a cool glance, and he winked at her.

How like a man not to realize he’d been snubbed. She turned away as she flipped her body around and strode off down the walkway.

She didn’t immediately go back to their suite, but walked independently around for a while before she admitted that whatever was Connie’s problem, Chas would handle it. He was a man who could solve things, ease them, cope.

Connie was lucky she had Chas to turn to. It was just that he appeared to be a dominant male Cougar, and everything was under his control and his way. It rankled...her.

But Connie really needed him. Under those circumstances, Amy could allow Chas to take over and solve whatever it was.

Even if she wasn’t being deliberately disobedient to Chas— who had told her to go and wait for him— she couldn’t immediately go back to the suite. There was an unsettling mishmash for her to digest.

Amy headed out to the beach and walked. She waved in reply to greetings from her ersatz cousins, and she called Chas’s evasive, “Later,” to invitations to join groups either sitting in the sun or playing beach ball. She needed to be alone.

She walked on beyond the last of their hotel’s residents, so she could mull over what she’d inadvertently heard between Sally and Connie. Sexual burnout? Job burnout was common, drug burnout, but sexual burnout?

It probably wasn’t the sex. It was the machinations of finding someone acceptable, going through the preliminaries and then finding ways to separate.

Amy could understand that. It was horrendous! She had been a mess of nerves and hesitations before she finally got Chas into bed. Just the sweat of doing all that could get old fast. Sleeping with him, making love to him had been marvelous...delicious.

But now she was facing the necessity of saying goodbye to him and leaving. And
he
was saying, “We’ll see.” It could be difficult to shake him off.

She’d ask Sally how to say goodbye. Sally would know. She’d had so many affairs, she’d not even remembered one man. A whole weekend! And Sally had forgotten.

Amy knew she’d always remember Chas. If she was more experienced, she might consider a serious relationship with him. Even marriage.

But why shouldn’t she sow some wild oats? That was an interesting saying. Sowing wild oats meant illegitimate children. And for men, it was wild oats, but for women it was one-parent children.

She wouldn’t do that to a child. Obviously she was going to have to learn more about birth control, being discreet and how to tactfully say goodbye without hurting feelings or letting the man feel he’d been discarded instead of simply, casually tasted.

How did men handle this tactfully? She had read tales of those men who were harsh and cruel, but surely all men weren’t hurtful. She needed more information.

Anything men could do, she could do, but she would do it better. She wasn’t the ordinary woman. She was no different than any man.

Six

A
s Amy walked back to the Trade Winds, she turned her thoughts to Connie. She was how old? Thirty? She and Sally were about the same age. How many men had they slept with?

At night when they couldn’t sleep, did they count their conquests, like sheep over a fence?

Maybe not, if Sally hadn’t even remembered at least one man. Had she forgotten others?

That seemed strange. It had even shocked Sally. Amy swore, right then, that she would be selective. She would pick and choose her bedmates wisely.

She wouldn’t just hop into bed, she would be discriminating to the extent that each experience would be separate in her mind, and she
would
remember.

What about Connie? She was very seriously scared. What was wrong? What if she had something horrendous? Something unsolvable.

Chas could handle the brunt of that for Connie and help her to bear it. He could handle anything. With the acceptance that Chas was in control, Amy finally went back to the suite, as directed, to wait for Chas.

She opened the suite door, and he was there. He smiled at her as if he understood perfectly why she’d absented herself for a token period in a show of defiance.

She narrowed her eyes at him because she had amused him. “Connie?” she inquired, raising her eyebrows politely, but she really wanted to know.

“Better,” he replied. “You were very sweet to her. I was searching for you when Sally said Connie might need me. She didn’t. You were there.” He came to Amy and, without touching her, he leaned and very gently kissed her mouth.

Chas hadn’t said he’d been looking for her, he used the word “searching,” which was a different, more doggedly intense manner of finding. Search was more thorough. Perhaps even a little relentless?

It was a strange choice of words. Search. Search and find.

The use of the word gave her an odd feeling in her feminine core. It became a little panicky, like a woman in a forest with a man following her scent. Chas looked the part of a hunting man.

When he ended the kiss and lifted his head, his green eyes smiled into her serious blue ones. He said, “I found the gift to remind you of me. I was looking for a slave collar, but there aren’t any of those readily available. So I found this.”

He opened a small velvet box and took out a platinum chain with a single, luminous pearl.

He told her, “The pearl is from the sea. And it was here by the sea that we came together.”

She was speechless. Like “search” he said “we came together” instead of met...as if there would be no parting.

She wondered if he chose the words deliberately, or if she was just sensitive to the fact that he didn’t conduct himself like an object but appeared as if he thought he was in command.

He opened the clasp, put the chain around her throat and closed the clasp again. There was the tiniest sound, but why did it sound like a period on a document?

“There’s a safety,” Chas told her. “You’ll have to turn it so you can unclasp it, or you can take it off over your head. I got the chain a little long.” He centered the clasp of the chain at the center of her nape, then he judiciously observed as the pearl settled between her breasts. “I guessed right.” He was pleased. Any man who looked at her chest would see his pearl.

She looked down at the pearl as she told him, “I can’t keep it. It’s too expensive.”

“I got it at a thrift store,” he stated with the most open, candid look. “It was quite reasonable.”

She considered him uncertainly.

“It’s one you may keep,” he assured her.

But she knew pearls. She lifted it, knowing that her skin’s oil had already affected the color of it.

It was gorgeous. The chain was a lovely, intricately linked work of art. And
he’d
said he hated liars.

What about men who discounted costly gifts? Like a pearl drop on an unusually contrived, platinum chain?

“It’s beautiful,” she told him. Then she kissed him.

Chas hugged her tightly. He was so pleased with himself. Amy decided she would wear it for the next two, too-brief days. No harm in that.

But she would leave it behind when she vanished. To keep such a gift would change their interlude into paid sex, and she could be termed a whore.

Still holding her to him, his face moving around her head in a slow, extraordinarily charming manner, he asked, “What are you wearing tonight?”

“The blue dress.”

He lifted his head to frown at her. “When I came back, I looked at that dress. I believe you could pull it through a ring. Is it decent enough for tonight? I don’t want to have to fight off all the men over fourteen years old who are there and see you in that dress.” He gave her a mock-irritated scowl.

She smiled because he expected her to, but she thought, so he had looked to see if her clothes were still there? Just as she had looked for his.

How insecure they both were. What would he have done if her clothes had been gone? And she vividly recalled his word “search.”

His voice a husky whisper, he coaxed, “Let me bathe you.”

In some shock, she protested, “We’d never get to the cocktail party.”

He grinned and lied, “I have iron control.”

“You told me you weren’t an iron man. That’s why you didn’t leave me alone when you found out you were my first. It was only after that you said I shouldn’t be fooling around.”

“With— any— one— else.” He spaced the words as he added to her sentence.

“I have heard men say that to women. They tumble women as they choose, but they tell the women to behave. Why is that?” It suddenly occurred to her that she might learn from Chas.

Very kindly, he instructed, “Men never ‘tumble’ women. We are all victims of voracious female appetites.”

“That’s why you moved in here?” She lifted her eyebrows in subtle disbelief.

He nodded emphatically and instructed, “I realized you were a novice, and I simplified the whole operation for you.”

“How kind.”

He nodded in serious acceptance of her droll appreciation, moving his hand out in an open gesture. He casually elaborated, “I thought it was important for you to succeed on your first try.”

She tilted her head back so that she could look at him directly. “How did you know I was a novice? The only thing that panicked you was how old I was. Is there a way for men to know when women are virgins?”

He explained logically, “Outside the obvious one, you didn’t lean your breast against me and bare your teeth up at me.”

She scoffed as she replied, “You make women sound shockingly predatory! Teeth?”

“It’s a jungle out there.” Then he sighed in long suffering.

“You could have said ‘smiled’ up at you.”

“Teeth. That’s all a man sees. Teeth turned his way. It’s frightening. I have astonishing nightmares.” He made his voice earnest. “I wake up in a sweat after some of those dreams.” He gave her a sad, quite sly look.

“Of teeth?” she guessed drolly.

“Partly.” He nodded slowly, but those crinkles around his eyes deepened.

Suddenly, she guessed, “You’re a fraud.” And she knew he was fooling her.

“Now Amy Aaaabbott, how can you say that?”

Her eyes flew open, and she had trouble not jerking in surprise. Why had he said those extra
A
‘s right then? Was he implying
she
was a fraud?

He had to know, or he would never have said her false name at that particular time! He was playing a game with her?

How could he possibly know she wasn’t exactly who and what she said she was? He couldn’t. Not
possibly!
It was her own guilty conscience.

She took over their conversation, changing the subject to one that would surely distract his thoughts of fraud. “I shall bathe you.” That ought to catch his attention. “This is my suite, my weekend. I am in control. Speaking of control, Chas, why did Connie say you always took control, and we would just have to let you?”

“We’re cousins. Connie’s a year older than I, and she’s never forgiven me for growing taller. She is a very domineering woman.” Quietly serious, he told Amy, “She’s also something of a tart. I’d never admit that to an outsider, but the entire family knows of her indiscretions.

“I...we have other cousins you’d find better company. Some are here. Sharan, Kim, Ann. There are a lot of very nice women in our family.”

“You came to Connie to help her,” she reminded him.

He nodded. “Family obligation.” Then he looked levelly at Amy.

“You don’t like her?”

“I...I’m her cousin. We grew up knowing each other. We have many memories in common. She’s family. I help where and how I can.”

Amy asked, “Are you going with her tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

Chas replied gently, “We’ll know tomorrow.”

“Can I help?”

“You already did. You were very sweet.” He put his hand along her jaw and tilted her face to his. “I saw you in that nook and watched as you decided to help. You could have left because she didn’t know you were there.

“I would bet my soul that your hesitation was because you weren’t sure about intruding. But Connie was really hurting, and you went to her. I like you, Amy.”

She put her hands up to slide her fingers into his thick black hair. “Have you ever slept with her?”

He shook his head. “She’s a cousin.”

Amy shrugged. “So is Matt.”

“That’s different.”

“How?”

“It just is.” Then to dismiss the whole subject, Chas said, “So you want to bathe me? How do I dare trust my tender, naked body to a declared user of strange men? Do you really want to get me clean or are you just using that as an excuse to get your hands on me? Are you a lecher?”

“I’ll be gentle.”

He laughed, so amused with her. He hugged her tightly to him. “I hope I can last a decent amount of time. Is this plain or with soap bubbles?”

She was generous about it. “Which would you prefer?”

“Showers with strong walls.”

She put her head back to laugh as he picked her up and carried her around the suite just for the pleasure of holding her and carrying her. He was so strong.

He teased her, tilting her as if to dump her on her head, making her clutch and squeal. He carried her, pretending to falter, turning her in circles, taking her to the bed...and making love to her.

They showered together. He was careful with her body. Serious. Diligent. She stretched and turned as she allowed it, and he warned her, “Be careful.”

He mostly bathed himself in quick scrubbings, not nearly so carefully done, and she leaned back to watch him with a tender smile. He took her from the tub, dried her with concentration, then dried her hair, but she had to help with the brushing. He tended to curry hair.

He was ridiculously, enormously relieved she wore underwear beneath the flimsy blue dress! She was a little indignant, “You expected me to go out in public with just this dress? And
nothing
else?”

He completely ignored all her indignation to ask, “Sometime will you wear it that way just for me?”

“Chas, for Pete’s sake! I would feel like a...tart!” She had sought for his word of censure.

“With me, it’s all right for you to be one. Not with anyone else.”

She made an impatient sound and pulled the dress on over her head. She shook her dried hair in a swirl, and Peter’s perfect cut fell automatically into place.

Chas watched her. “I love your hair. It’s sable. I shall buy you a coat that exact color.”

“No.”

“Yes.” He observed her judiciously. “Will you let it grow long for me? I would like to see it down your back.”

“I leave on Sunday.”

“We’ll see.”

She turned and gave him an impatient look, but he only smiled at her. Then he pulled his shirt on over his wide shoulders and came to her with his cuff links.

She took his cuff and began to work the links into their holes, and his fingers moved to touch her chest. Primly, she tightened her mouth as she said, “Behave.”

“Why do women always say that to their men?” He was cocky. He was so confident, so teasingly sure.

“Because they’re always out of hand.”

He laughed, holding up his hands. “I’m not out of hands. See? I still have some left.”

How would she be able to leave him in a mature way with a plain goodbye? Why couldn’t he be adult about this? Casual.

With his attitude, he’d probably get mad when she left. He’d be furious!

He was so sure she wasn’t going to leave him. He acted as if he intended to keep her around as long as he wanted her.

This talk about a fur, and her growing her hair long. That took time, and a fur wouldn’t be appropriate until next winter. It was only March. He was thinking long-term.

She finished the cuff links and said, “There.”

“You do that well.”

“How many women have done that for you?”

“My mother, my cherished sister. A cousin. No unrelated women.”

His green eyes appeared honest. He was a vibrant, potent thirty-year-old. Was it possible he could be that age and never have lived with any woman? “Have you ever lived with a woman?”

“Just here, with you.”

“Ah.” That explained it. He hadn’t yet and he thought she might be a good candidate for the trial? No way.

“Ah. What’s that mean?”

“I just wondered.”

He narrowed his eyes a trifle. “What sort of wondering did the fact that I haven’t lived with a woman satisfy?”

“Just that.”

He frowned at the slippery-minded woman. “You make me uneasy. I’m not familiar with female thinking. What are you thinking?”

She smiled at him and tilted her head as she touched his cheek. “I like green eyes.”

“Evasive. What are you thinking?”

“We’ll see.” Those, too, were words he had used.

“You’re becoming enigmatic, and I’m becoming very nervous about you, Amy. What’s going on in that busy little brain of yours? Don’t you do anything without telling me. Do you hear me?”

“I need to put on my makeup. Will that be all right?”

“Don’t be sassy. Sassy girls get what’s coming.” He crowded her with his body.

She tilted up her nose in the sassiest way she could, being new at that, too. She replied, “You don’t scare me. Not for another hour, anyway!”

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