Dirty Deeds, p.1Lorelei James
“The closest I’ve ever been to nirvana was during an orgasm.”
Tate Cross rolled her eyes. Where did Val come up with this stuff?
Undaunted, her friend Val shifted her pregnant belly. She broke the chocolate bar in half, sucking at the apricot filling oozing over her finger. “But this”—a satisfied moan escaped—“is running a close second.”
“I wasn’t talking about nirvana the place; I was talking about Nirvana the band.” Tate pointed at her vintage “Heart-Shaped Box” T-shirt.
“Sorry. I never understood that whole grunge thing.”
Tate narrowed her eyes. “But if we were talking about sweaty, grungy cowboys in tight jeans, whinin’ ’bout lovin’ the wrong woman, drivin’ off in dusty pickups to the local bar for a shot of pain-easin’ whiskey, you’d pay attention.”
“Country music always gets me hot.”
“No wonder you’ve been pregnant four times.”
A sly, dreamy look drifted over Val’s face. “This one was conceived when Rich brought home that Stetson and we played—”
“Baby roulette? Apparently Richard’s six-gun was fully loaded that night.” With a grin, Tate gestured to Val’s stomach. “Seems that elusive slice of sexual heaven has a high price.”
“Being pregnant isn’t bad.” Val lovingly rubbed her hand over her swollen abdomen. “And a great sex life is not elusive.”
“Maybe not for you. You have the perfect man.” Tate tamped down on a rare surge of jealousy. She doubted Val’s perpetual rosy glow was entirely pregnancy related.
“So sue me.”
Tate cocked a brow. “Your lawyer husband laughs at your lawsuit jokes?”
“Of course.” Val tipped her glass of milk against Tate’s in a mock toast. “My fabulous sense of humor is the reason he married me.”
Tate choked back a giggle; milk nearly squirted out her nose. How mature. Here she was trying to have a sophisticated conversation about sex and not act like the goggle-eyed ingénue Val remembered her to be.
Val smiled. “I’ll admit our compatibility inside the bedroom played a key role. Love at first sight. It can happen.”
“Not to me.” Tate snatched the candy from Val’s plate. Swapping sexual quips was one thing, forking over the last piece of chocolate fell into an entirely different realm. Mmm. She savored the sinful flavor; it was indeed close to orgasmic. Not that she had anything to judge it by lately.
“This is the first lunch we’ve had without my kiddos since you’ve come back to South Dakota and we’re discussing my sex life? I should be spellbound by your wild sexual adventures in Mile High Stadium. Or cavorting naked on the beach in Cozumel.”
“Get real.” Tate snorted. “There’s nothing to discuss.”
A cascade of auburn ringlets brushed Val’s heart-shaped face when she shook her head. “Then I’m sorry for you.”
“Me too.” Tate traced the ruffled edge of the crocheted place mat. “I have no life at all, besides getting this house ready to sell. I haven’t done the deed for…” Mentally, she counted back and shuddered. “At my sexual peak. What a joke. I’m supposed to be worried about my partner pleasing me instead of whether I’ve got enough AA batteries.”
Silence. Tate slid Val a sideways glance. Talk about bold statements.
Without missing a beat, Val said, “No judgment, but I couldn’t live without that intimacy. Connecting with Rich on an elemental level whenever, wherever we want.” A satisfied sigh gusted forth. “Except now we’re forced to be discreet.”
Didn’t Val’s beach-ball condition belie that statement? Tactfully, Tate didn’t point it out. “I’m the epitome of discreet.”
“You and Chris Taylor weren’t very discreet, if I recall.”
“That’s the only time,” Tate grumbled. “No one believed ‘Miss Goody-Two-Shoes’ boinked the school bad boy that night at the lake anyway.”
“How did you pull it off?” Val mused. “I mean, didn’t you find it awkward to roll a cold, wet Speedo over a stiffy?”
“Hah! Didn’t it just figure my first experience with a penis outside Playgirl magazine and his dick was more like a clammy, fat worm than the ‘throbbing rod of manhood’ I’d expected.”
She drifted back to the summer of her senior year she’d spent with Aunt Beatrice. It’d been easy convincing studly Chris to change her virginal status. But the quick tryst on his Harley hadn’t included passion, and Chris had been clueless on demonstrating carnal secrets. That flagging sense of disappointment still dogged her. Would she ever discover the powerful sexual connection her friends raved about? When?
“Forget Chris and his unimpressive rod. Although it makes sense why he’s fat, bald and married to his motorcycle shop.” Val paused and offered, “I could set you up with someone, if you’re interested.”
“Who?” Tate snapped back to attention. “Is he nice?”
“Of course he’s nice.” Val sniffed.
“Then nothing doing.”
“Nothing doing. I’m done with nice. This little chat has reinforced my decision. The next affair I start will be purely that. An affair. No strings, no promises. Just sex. Lots of hot sex.”
Val daintily wiped off her milk mustache before expelling an unladylike burp. “Excuse me. Run that by me one more time?”
“You heard me. Sex. I want sex. The steamier, the nastier, the better. I’ve never been impulsive. Never dated a guy solely because he could give me mind-blowing orgasms.” Tate shoved an agitated hand through her short hair. “I want the heady out-of-control passion I’ve never experienced before I lose what little nerve I’ve got left.”
Val’s jaw nearly hit the parquet floor.
There. She’d actually shocked the unflappable Val.
“But, honey, don’t you want a man—”
“No. I don’t want the same kind of man I’ve been dating for the last ten years. I don’t care if he’s suitable as a lifelong mate. Or if he’d make a great father. Or whether my parents would approve. I want a man that can find my G-spot in two seconds flat.”
“Who-ee Tatum Cross!” Val fanned herself.
“Oh, don’t play innocent with me, after you admitted to the my-husband-has-a-Stetson-and-I-ride-him-like-a-pony scenario.”
“I get what you’re saying. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’m not naïve.” Well, not as much as she used to be. She longed for the chance to act outrageous, to unleash the sexual tigress lurking beyond her kittenish exterior. Aching to prove—if only to herself—that a purely physical relationship didn’t have to end in dreams of picket fences, cocker spaniels and minivans.
“Men do this all the time without emotional repercussions. Find me a guy who has nothing on his mind besides awesome sex and cutting loose his libido on me because that’s all I’m in the market for.”
“Not even one date?” Val asked skeptically.
“Nope. No relationships.”
“Good.” Val’s resounding smack on the antique trestle table knocked an ornate silver candlestick into the leftover chicken salad. “Then I’ve got an even better guy in mind for you. A purely sexual relationship is right up his alley.” Val’s eyes met hers, sporting a devious twinkle. “I think you’d get along with my—”
The ancient doorbell pealed.
“Hold that thought.” Tate slid from the chair and crossed to the foyer. She froze, catching sight of the deputy sheriff’s brown uniform through the heavy screen.
“Are you Tatum Beatrice Cross?”
Horrid scenarios drifted through her mind. Her heart thudded, her palms went sweaty even as her mouth went dry. “Yes.”
“Sign here.” The baby-faced deputy removed his hat, waiting while Tate scribbled her name.
She trudged back to the dining room, reading the letter.
“What is it?” Val lumbered to her feet.
“A legal notice from the City Beautification Committee. Seems since I’ve inherited Aunt Bea’s property, it’s been rezoned from residential to residential/commercial. Now I’m subject to a whole new set of regulations.” Tate glanced up, unable to hide her despair. “How can they do this? I barely have enough money to make the repairs on the inside.”
“Let me see that.” Val scrutinized the letter, then waddled across the room, picked up the phone and punched in a number.
Sunny Val’s uncharacteristic irritation jolted Tate from her dejection. “What are you doing?”
“Calling Rich. I can’t decipher this legalese, but he can.”
Two days later, Tate and Val glumly faced each other again between the masses of cardboard boxes heaped on Tate’s dining room table.
Val slid a manila envelope across the dusty surface. “Rich said if you have any questions to call him.”
“I appreciate you bringing this over in person. I know you’re busy with the kids and all—”
“Hey, you’re my best pal. It’s the least I could do.”
Tate eyed the envelope, hating the power wielded by one innocuous piece of paper. She bent the metal clips back and pulled out the official cream-colored letterhead of Thiebold and Duncan Attorneys at Law. Her hopes plummeted as she scanned the document.
“So? What does it say?”
Tate pinned Val with a shrewd look. “Rich didn’t tell you?”
“Of course he didn’t tell me,” she chided. “Attorney/client privilege and all that. Come on, spill.”
She searched the document again, praying the words had morphed into a different answer. No such luck. “Basically, it says I’m screwed. I have to comply with the rules set in place by the Beautification Committee within sixty days or I will be subject to fines. I am legally bound to meet the requirements before I can transfer ownership of the property.”
Val sighed. “I’m so sorry. I’m sure Rich—”
“Did everything he could. He filed an extension. Thankfully the sixty days won’t go into effect until after I’ve hired a contractor.”
“What are you going to do?”
“No clue. I’m struggling right now to pay the electrician.” Tate scowled at the paint cans and buckets of plaster taunting her from every corner. “As it is, most of this is just surface work.”
“If I might offer a suggestion.” Val bent to retrieve her purse, but her extended stomach stopped her progress halfway.
Tate reached down and hefted the enormously heavy bag onto the table. “What are you carrying in that thing?”
“Everything but the kitchen sink it seems,” Val muttered. “Just wait ’til you have kids, smarty.”
Tate gathered the papers, shuffling through them one last time. Hey, wait a minute. She’d dealt with enough lawyers since her aunt’s death to know they never neglected to remind clients of pending charges. “There’s no bill in here,” Tate said tersely.
It was comical, the way Val averted her monkey-eyed gaze to the cuckoo clock above the oak buffet. “Would you look at the time? I’ve got to run.”
In her advanced state of pregnancy, Val’s escape attempt was pitifully slow. Tate snatched Val’s purse from the table and held it hostage. “Nice try. But if I remember correctly, due to your lousy acting skills you were relegated to the concession stand at theater camp. Fess up. Is Rich taking on pro bono cases now?”
“No.” Val crossly brushed a curl from her eye. “But we agreed this problem wasn’t that much work for him, and we—”
“Agreed to take pity on me? I am not a charity case.”
“For heaven’s sake, I didn’t think you were. We aren’t trying to offend you; we’re trying to help. People ask Rich for free legal advice all the time. This is no different.”
“It is different because it’s me,” Tate reiterated stubbornly. “I don’t owe anybody anything. That’s why I didn’t take out a loan to update Aunt Beatrice’s house when I inherited all the problems. Or borrow money from my we-know-what’s-best-for-you parents.”
Val was quiet for several moments. Too quiet. “Fine. Since you’re short on funds, we could do a trade, like they used to do in the Old West. Services for services sort of thing.”
Tate tightened her grip on Val’s Coach purse. A trade? What could Val and Richard need? A nanny? Although she dreamed of having children someday, practicing parenting skills on the rambunctious Westfield brood scared her spitless. “Like what?”
“Stay with the kids after I have the baby. Just until Richard comes home.”
“What about Grace?” As a counselor at the Girls Club, their mutual friend, Grace Fitzgerald, was better equipped to deal with a hoard of rowdy kids.
“She’s got enough on her plate. Besides, you can handle them.”
Alone? For eight hours with four kids under the age of eight? Tate scratched a phantom spot on her elbow; the very idea made her break out in hives. “Umm…isn’t your mom coming?”
“After the baby is born.” Val gnawed at her lower lip and confessed, “Frankly, I could start labor anytime. I’m afraid if this labor goes like the last one, I’ll be racing to the hospital. It’d be a huge relief to know I’ve got someone on call.”
Tate sighed. Val’s anxiety was more pressing than her own petty worries about not being a Mary Poppins type. She extended her hand, grateful Val only had one child in diapers. “Deal.”
Val’s immediate wily grin was in direct conflict with the Madonna-like way her hands clasped over her belly.
“What are you not telling me?” Tate demanded. “The kids have rabies or something?”
“Pooh.” Val waved her hand. “You are so paranoid. This whole trading thing. Pretty good idea, right? Mutually beneficial?”
“Yeah. So?” Tate shoved her hands in her camo shorts pockets and waited for the other baby shoe to drop.
“So,” Val preened. “While Rich worked on your legal issues, I might have figured out a way to get your required beautification updates done at a reduced cost.”
Free legal advice and now this? Ka-ching. The slot machines in Deadwood had nothing on her; she’d hit the friend lottery with Val. A warm wave of hope tugged on the edges of her doubts. “Really? How?”
Val passed over a crumpled business card. “You don’t know my brother Nathan since he was in the army those summers you were here, but he lives here now and installs utilities.”
Her fuzzy warm feeling cooled a bit. “Utilities?”
“It’s a fancy way of saying he digs ditches and creates sewage systems. However, he does the occasional landscaping job. He did all the outside work on our new house.”
Tate looked up. Val gazed at her so earnestly she knew she’d made a serious error in judgment. Come to think of it, Val had brought up her brother’s name, in nearly reverent tones, many, many times. “If he’s that good, I’m sure I can’t afford him.” She discreetly passed the card back.
But Val blithely tucked the card into Tate’s pocket. “He is good with his hands. Unfortunately you couldn’t tell by the schematics he’s trying to pass off as drawings. Chicken scratches make more sense. Poor man can’t draw worth a darn.”
But she could.
An idea caught fire. How hard could it be to teach him the rudimentary points of drawing plants and trees? Or give him a tutorial on any of the landscaping computer programs? “You think he’d be up for a partial trade? Art lessons for landscaping work? Or something?”
“Knowing him, the ‘or something’ would be the most appealing.” A catlike curl lifted Val’s lips. “But I’ll warn you, don’t fall for him because Nathan isn’t into relationships.”
Val’s every phrase and innuendo clicked into place like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. T
Val’s eyes shone, her curls bounced, and she looked like a woman who’d been gifted with a get-out-of-labor-free card. “Yep.”
“Because he’s the perfect solution to your problem.”
“To my orgasm shortage?”
“That too, but first and foremost he is an awesome landscaper. Talk to him. See what you can work out. What have you got to lose?”
Nothing. Tate had never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, even when this situation with Val’s brother smacked of strange coincidence. Yet, here was her chance to unleash the wild woman lodged inside.
Dirty Deeds by Lorelei James / Romance & Love have rating 4.3 out of 5 / Based on43 votes