D is for Desire [Witchy Women 2]
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by Jianne Carlo
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance
Description: Appointed Barbados' acting Attorney General, Dee Bloom, failed witchy healer, wants one last fling. Alex Mayfield, West Palm playboy fits the bill perfectly. Doesn't he? An orphan, Alex is engaged to a Mayflower debutante, but he's obsessed with Dee. Sparks erupt when they meet in Trinidad on Carnival Monday. Belly-button tequila shots, Dee's scanty costume, mud baths, dancing in the streets, explodes into a week of sexual ecstasy. Stunned by his reactions to Dee, Alex retreats. Three months elapse. A pregnant Dee makes network news when she's kidnapped by a drug-lord. Show and tell time. Dee agrees to marry Alex. It's the end of her career, the end of her witchy healing, until her best friend's diagnosed with cancer. At six months pregnant, Dee awakens in a pool of blood. Can she learn to control her powers? Cure her best friend? Will her baby survive? Will Alex ever trust her again? [Erotic Suspensful Fantasty Romance: Contains graphic sexual content and adult language.]
eBook Publisher: Siren-BookStrand, Inc./Siren Classic, 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: September 2009
13 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [571 KB]
Reading time: 347-486 min.
"5 CUPS, CTRR Award Winner, February 2009: This story is full of twists and turns with excitement in every page. The description of Carnival is so erotic because of the author's description of the events that transpire. I was so into the party that I felt as if I were standing in the street doing the winning dance. Jianne Carlo has created a world with wonderful characters and several story styles, with suspense, time-travel, etc. that will keep all readers interested."--Delane, Coffee Time Romance and More
"5 PIXIES: D is for Desire is a fantastic, sweeping tale in both the present and in the past. I did not read the first book in the series, but was not lost for a minute. This story can stand alone, but it won't be there for long! My eBook reader is panting for the first installment, Tee and Jake's story. Ms. Carlo is excellent at juggling a complicated story with so many details. This reviewer is in awe of her abilities and CANNOT explain in this small space how very much I enjoyed this book! I have a tendency to get bogged down in "world building" and will skip paragraphs at a time in order to get to the meat of the story. Not in this story...I did not skip one word! You are in for an amazing adventure, especially designed for when you open up D is for Desire."--Becky, Dark Angel Reviews
Speedo Thongs & Pastelles
"You want me to wear a red Speedo thong? In public?"
Alex Mayfield dangled a fire-engine-red spandex strip from his forefinger. The shiny material fluttered, waving like a vulgar flag, in the tropical gusts fanning the patio.
"Under this?" A rope bearing two rectangular burlap flaps hung from a crooked thumb. "Not in this lifetime, sweetheart."
The blasted man both fascinated and irritated, and Desdemona Bloom couldn't decide between jumping his bones there and then or calling the whole thing off. Stick to the plan. He's the last item on your to do list, Dee reminded herself.
She squared her shoulders and straightened. Even standing on the top step leading to the driveway, Alex topped her by two inches, and he stood on level ground.
"And which lifetime would you wear it in? No, scrap that. We're in Trinidad, and this is Carnival. You agreed to play Mas." She read the puzzlement in his Mediterranean eyes, in the three lines etched on his forehead. "Mas is short for Masquerade. It's how Trinidadians refer to Carnival. At any rate, you agreed, and that means wearing the frigging costume, whatever it is."
"I am not going to wear this gaudy scrap of red fluff. Anywhere. And that's final." Arms propped on lean denim-clad hips, Alex tipped his head back, and his hooded eyes traced the V of her halter top.
"Pish." She snorted. "Don't give me that. A man like you loves to show off his body. I can picture you flexing your muscles in the mirror, practicing poses. Let's face the facts." She held up a finger. "One, we didn't exactly hit if off at Jake and Tee's wedding. Two, you're Jake's best friend, I'm Tee's. Three, we're both staying under their roof for ten days' vacation. We're supposed to enjoy ourselves. So we need to find a way to co-exist." Her eyes narrowed. "Are we on the same page?"
"Since we're enumerating points, here's one for you. What the hell does that have to do with this?" Alex waved the thong before dropping it onto the porch railing. "And what is a 'pish'?"
Dee counted to thirteen. "I'm in the public eye. Pish is my accepted substitute for frigging idiot."
One brazil-nut eyebrow arched in a sardonic gesture honed to perfection.
"And to think I looked forward to the pleasure of your company during my vacation here. Funny, how the thousands of miles separating us mitigated the memories of your sarcastic tongue. You know, you're a helluva lot nicer when you communicate via email or IM. And for the record, I was under the impression we had a good time at the wedding."
She bit her lip as recollections of their IM camaraderie flooded her mind. Heat suffused her cheeks at the memory of their passionate necking on the beach in the short interval between Jake and Tee's marriage ceremony and the picture taking, three months ago. Wishing she understood why he'd blown hot and cold that night, first pursuing and then ignoring her, Dee curled her fingers into fists. The sting of nails biting into flesh arrested her mounting exasperation.
Ingrained politeness came to Dee's rescue.
"I didn't mean to snap. I'm not at my best at one in the morning. The band we're joining has over eight hundred members, and they'll all be wearing the same costumes. Do you think I'd normally go out in public dressed like this?" She hooked a finger at the triangular scraps of ruby fabric, which served as a halter-top. "It's Carnival time. Believe me. No one will even notice you."
His sensual mouth thinned, becoming paradoxically more alluring. Yet, his eyes never left her breasts, and he didn't even look up.
Dee changed tactics. "It'll give you a chance to show off the six-pack you've worked so hard to acquire at that exclusive gym I'm sure you're a member of." She attempted a cheery conspiratorial grin but settled for a flash of teeth.
"Don't belong to a gym, and I like your costume. It'd be impossible not to."
And the world revolves around your handsome self. Her bare foot tapped a simmering drum-roll on the terrazzo. She folded her arms under her chest, her skin prickling with snappish testiness.
"It's an eight-pack, actually."
"My breasts acknowledge your correction." She snorted and unfolded her arms "Do you even know what my face looks like? You, you.... "Dee's eclectic command of the English language failed. Her jaw clenched.
"Sweetheart, you're the one not dressed. If you don't want the attention, you should cover up."
Glowering at him, she stalked forward, and snatched the swimsuit from the railing.
"It's Carnival time. Everyone dresses in nothing, both men and women. It's no big deal. Men will give me the once-over, but they'll also speak to my face. What color are my eyes?" She shaded her eyes with a hand and turned her face to the side. "Blue? Brown? Any frigging clue?"
"Can't even guess, can you? That's my point. You're either deliberately being rude and obnoxious, or you have the control and manners of an adolescent boy with his first hard on."
"Not true," Alex muttered. "Either one. And that costume's intended as deliberate provocation, not that I'm reacting to it."
"That bulge in your crotch proves otherwise," she said, sticking a fingernail into his straining bicep. His arm jerked backward, and Alex fingered the indentation on his ridged muscle. "Go, change."
"Ouch." He scowled at her. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you're a walking SWAT team. You've a helluva body, and you know it. Looking is still legal, far as I know, and sweetheart, I'd have to be dead to stop."
"Depends on who you're looking at." Dee made her little girl voice, normally a handicap, into an annoying chirp. "An Attorney General doesn't need much of an excuse to throw someone in jail."
"Are you threatening me?"
His azure eyes seared irritation. Obviously, accustomed to women fawning over his every word, he didn't anticipate her annoyed reaction. Frig, she hadn't anticipated it either. Dee snapped, "If that's the only way you'll put on the goddamned costume, then, yes, I'm threatening you."
Loud laughter broke out behind him. Clutching the fabric to his chest, Alex swiveled.
Jake Mathews's amused onyx eyes twinkled at them.
"You're supposed to be on my side," Alex accused.
"I am." Jake flashed an audacious grin. "Don't puff yourself up, buddy. You're here on ten days R and R. Go with the flow."
"Jake, are they ready?" The shouted question came from the open kitchen window.
"No, babe," Jake answered, cupping his hands over his mouth. "I'll hustle things along."
Distant steel band music resonated around the moonlit porch. The wind picked up in the still morning taking a circuitous route along the porch. A sheet of music on the grand piano rustled, hustling a few dry leaves into the air, and finally, in the dead silence permeating the porch, sending a lone, glacial finger across the back of Dee's neck. A rare charge of trepidation seeped into her pores.
The clatter of cutlery dragged her attention from the two men. Through the double set of French doors framing the wraparound porch, she caught a glimpse of Tee dropping spoons into a glass jar.
Jake's amused rumble drew Dee's gaze.
"Come on you two. Stop bickering. And buddy, if I have to wear this damned Viking costume, so do you." Jake gestured at bare, tanned knees poking out from under knee-length burlap flaps. "Everyone wears costumes for Carnival."
"Who's gonna make me? I draw the line here, Jake." Alex's straight, gray-flecked hair swirled at the accompanying adamant shake of his head. "I won't do it."
"Do you want to tell Tee that?" Jake asked. "You know how excited she is that you're here. Ever since you agreed to play Mas, she's focused on making all these arrangements." He frowned. "It's taken her mind off the miscarriage, Alex, for which I'm eternally grateful to you."
"Oh heck, twist my arm why don't you?" Alex muttered. "How can I say no to that? Okay, okay, I'll change, but I'm wearing shorts over this thing." He threw a mutinous glare at the offending slip of crimson cloth.
The interplay between the two men, each so different in personality, intrigued her. Like Tee and herself, the two men were childhood friends and grew up together in, of all places, an orphanage run by retired priests.
Alex straightened, and he clamped an empathetic hand on Jake's shoulder. No words passed between them as they stared at each other. Jake dipped his chin, as if acknowledging some silent message of support.
That small gesture, Alex's long, elegant fingers on his friend's shoulder, clutched seconds of constriction in Dee's throat. It sluiced away any lingering irritation with him.
Dee tapped Jake's arm as Alex slammed the powder room door. "How's Tee doing? I know the past couple of months have been hard on the two of you. I've never seen her so depressed."
"Losing the baby hit both of us hard, but more so Tee. Hell, it's been a nightmare, coming home to find her crying every day." He tugged an earlobe. "Alex's visit seems to have snapped her out of her depression, though. She's been like the old Tee, humming while she's working, and she's started riding again." He squeezed her shoulder. "Try to get along with Alex. You two are a perfect example of what Tee calls Tobago love, masking your attraction to each other with veiled hostility. If nothing else just keep the peace."
"I know you won't believe it, but I am trying to be civil to him." She emphasized the last few words. "I think he relishes irritating me. He's polite enough to everyone else, why not me? The man speaks to my breasts, and he doesn't even try to hide it."
"Cut it, Dee." His square jaw angled. "Name me one man who isn't obsessed with your breasts."
"You aren't," she countered. "And Alex wasn't during the wedding when we first met."
She fell silent.
"Dee, I warned Alex off."
Jake's words made no sense.
"I don't understand."
"At the wedding. Tee sent me to get you for the photos."
She squeezed her eyelids shut.
He'd seen Alex and her lip-locked on the beach.
Humiliation and some sort of primitive Amazonian rage pricked her pores; her fingernails dug U's into her palms "Explain."
"I saw you two on the beach. I told Alex to back off. He didn't take it well."
Black spots danced in a frenzied jumble in front of her eyes. "You had no right. I'm not a child, Jake Mathews."
"You're Tee's best friend. A one-night stand was in no one's best interest. And don't forget, I know the truth about you nine witches."
She ground her teeth together so hard, it hurt her jaw. No wonder Alex had ignored her after the dinner. A whole litany of questions flooded her mind. Why had Jake assumed it would be a one-night stand?
"In retrospect, I was wrong to interfere. And I owe you one. FYI, Alex instigated this trip, not Tee. And every phone call since the wedding, he's asked about you."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
"I dunno," he said, averting his gaze.
The information digested like food well past its expiry date. "What are you trying to tell me?"
"Proceed with caution?" He made direct eye contact on that one. "We've a complex of tangled relationships here, you, Tee, me, Alex. A real opportunity to screw things up. And my wife's in a fragile place, Dee, I don't want her hurt. She's matchmaking, you seem to be co-operating, and Alex is acting out of character. All we need is a spark in this tinderbox."
"You don't like to talk about relationship stuff."
"Think about that."
"Point taken. However, it's Carnival Monday morning, and I'm not getting maudlin, Jake Mathews. On to more frivolous matters. What does the Mayfield Magics stand for?" At his raised eyebrows, she said, "It's on Alex's t-shirt."
"He coaches a peewee soccer team, and that's their name. He's fascinated by the whole witch thing, hence the Magic part." His lips curled at the corners. "Maybe his new obsession with your breasts is the result of a spell?"
She snorted, relieved to see his mood lightening. "You know very well I can't bewitch anyone. Neither can your wife."
"Yes, but Alex doesn't know that." His sable eyes danced. "Run with it. Make him think you've cast a spell over him. Alex loves his playboy image, but, he's a conservative at heart, and you're a card carrying liberal. It'll drive him insane." Jake rubbed his palms together. "Do it for me. Make him squirm. It's about time he realizes not all women are putty in his hands."
Wrong, Dee thought, wishing for the hundredth time she had this attraction to Alex under control. If only he was more like Jake. She hadn't liked Jake at first, thought him a harsh, unfeeling man, until she found him pounding a fist against a tree tears running down his face. That was the last time she'd seen him, two days after his wife's miscarriage.
Months later, the experience had gentled his stoic features, and the mention of his wife's name sprouted weeds of tenderness in his coal eyes. Divining the real Jake meant pealing back one layer to discover several more. He held himself apart, allowing few into his heart. This boyish tilt to his character, where he encouraged her to trick his friend, set her to unraveling yet another layer.
"Jake. Dee," Tee's shout came from behind him.
"We're wanted." Jake yanked his head backward. "Everyone always seems to gravitate to the kitchen."
"Darling, put on some music, please." Tee's cheerful chant halted their forward movement. "Dee, I need you."
"You go," Jake ordered. "Any requests?"
"How about some Soca? Kevin Little? Or the Baha Men? Or your perennial favorite, David Rudder?"
Dee wound her way down a shadowed corridor past a dimly lit bar. The fluorescent lighting in the kitchen made her blink when she entered the cavernous chamber. The room, painted in a combination of lime and canary, reflected the cheerful, vibrant personality of its occupant.
Tee glanced over her shoulder and swept Dee a wide smile.
The tension and worry built during her conversation with Jake dissipated a notch. Enduring friendship forged at the tender age of four meant each woman could read the other with one glance. And, being a witchy healer, seeing the pain of others was Dee's forte. She could tell Tee was on the mend, mentally and physically.
"We need to get everything set up. Put the food in the micro, and then help me with these glasses," Tee commanded. "What's going on with you and Alex? I came out onto the patio a few minutes earlier and left when I overheard your comment about your breasts acknowledging his correction."
She sighed and slid four tumblers from the shelf onto the speckled counter. "It seems overnight Alex developed an obsession with them. Jake wants me to make Alex think I've put him under a spell. What do you think?"
"He won't fall for it." Tee squinted at the beige platter she held in one hand. A long, ringlet glinting amber in the track lighting fell forward over one shoulder, and she flipped it back. "Alex is fascinated with my special abilities, as he refers to them. When we were in Scotland last year, he plagued me with questions. You know how uncertain my conjuring powers can be. When I tried to conjure up a storm and got dandelion clocks instead, I swear he cross-questioned me about it for hours. And he's relentless. I'll give you any odds he'll bring it up this trip." She turned to face Dee, one hand braced on her hip. "If you're still planning to seduce him, this breast fixation should make it easy-peasy. Well, are you?"
"Don't give me your goody-two-shoes disapproving look. Yes, I am. Once the Prime Minister announces my appointment as Barbados's Acting Attorney General, the press will put me under a microscope. If my performance is exemplary, I stand a chance of being appointed permanently. That means no private life for the next five years. If I'm going to indulge in an affair, Alex fits the bill to a T, and the timing couldn't be more perfect."
Dee snatched a yellow and white checkered dishcloth and picked up a dish.
"Give me that and take this instead." Tee handed her a leaf-embossed platter mounded with various shaped pastries and pointed to the microwave.
Obligingly, Dee swept it into the appliance and closed the door. "Three minutes?"
"Yes, but not yet. Wait 'till the others get here. Go on about your Alex seduction. I'm positive a list is coming next." Tee draped the dishtowel on the stove's ivory enamel handle.
"Lists organize the mind." She shot back and held up a finger. "One, he lives in Boca Raton, Florida, so we're not likely to run into each other again. Two, he's a hunk and with his experience, likely to be a good lover. Three, he's commitment phobic, and I am definitely not interested in anything remotely permanent. Four, I fantasize about him, and that's a first for me. And, last but not least, no one else is available."
"It's so cold, so unfeeling." Her friend waved a sun-kissed hand. "The shot glasses are in the far cupboard on the middle shelf."
"It's what I want, sex without the emotional involvement. You and I know after the rape, that part of me never functioned properly. I was sixteen then." Dee rose on her bare toes to reach the glasses. "I'll be thirty soon. I'm a healer who can't heal herself. It's plain cowardice, I know. It's been so much easier to focus on my career and bury that side of me."
"Why change now?" Tee took the drink measures from her.
"One, if I put it off any longer, I won't do it. I know me. Two, because all my goals are within reach. As AG, I can change life for women and children in Barbados. Maybe even throughout the Caribbean." Dee darted a peek at Tee's face and waited for her reaction to the coming declaration. "Three, once I take office, I'm giving up the healer thing."
"What?" Tee stopped mid-stride, and her tawny eyes burned with accusation. "That does it."
She thunked the glasses on the granite counter. The cracking sound echoed around the room.
Arms akimbo, she raced into speech. "I've watched you bury your humanity bit by bit over the last five years. When you graduated from the Inns of Court, you were filled with passion, viewed law as a noble career. Now look at you. You're made of ice. You put people into compartments. This one for the guilty murderer, another for the JD you can't reform. These days I wonder which compartment I'm slotted into--childhood friend who knows too much? The healing part of you is the only part left that cares, and I'm dammed if I'm going to let you bury it without fighting you every inch of the way."
"You don't have any say in this. I have two weaknesses, my sexual reactions, and being a witchy healer. If I want to prosecute Butch Reniere, I can't afford either of them. Whether you like it or not, I will bury both. First, I'll conquer this frigging attraction to Alex Mayfield, and then I'll hold a funeral service for the healer. If you're my friend, you'll support me in this." Precariously close to sweeping the shot glasses across the room, Dee gripped the counter's rounded edge until her fingertips stung. "I've supported you, Tee, even when I thought Jake was the worst decision you could make. Don't force me to make a choice I'll regret."
"Can't you see what you're doing? Being a healer is an integral part of you. It's who you are. Look what happened when I tried to deny my conjuring powers. It was only when I accepted them that I became whole, happy."
"I am perfectly content with my planned lot in life." The words came out hollow, forced.
"Content? What the hell is that? If you died tomorrow, do you think you'd measure your life by the bills you passed in Parliament?" She shook her head so hard that for a minute, honeyed ringlets hid her face. "Not a bloody chance. Damn you, Dee. On your deathbed, you'll regret all the things you haven't done. Like taking up your mother on that tea she's always inviting you to. Going golfing with your father on a Sunday morning the way you used to. Tell me the last time you did anything like that." Her voice softened. "I can see it in your face. It's been years. Answer me something else. What happens if I have another miscarriage? What will you do? Refuse to help heal me and deny me the chance of having a child?" A tear streamed down Tee's almond cheek, and she swiped at it with her knuckles. "Could you? Without hating yourself?"
The often-repeated argument ventured into new ground with her last question. Dee knew she'd give her life for her friend and anyone else she loved. Even though her decision stood firm, irreconcilable emotions threatened to topple it at any moment.
Inured by her experiences with the dregs of humanity since beginning her stint as a prosecutor, she struggled daily for balance, teetering on the edge of a razor's blade. The naked pain of victims and relatives when murderers and rapists went free sliced away ideals and hope. Every not guilty verdict devoured another part of her soul and left her bitter and malcontent with the insidiously corrupt legal system, and, ultimately, herself.
"And your obsession with Butch. Is that healthy? Playing his game and letting him think you're succumbing to his seduction, to his bribes?" Tee's moisture-laden eyes threatened a downpour. "I know you don't want to hear this, but maybe being Attorney General isn't right for you. Maybe you should re-evaluate your career, your direction. You haven't been happy for a very long time, Dee, and that can't be right."
"I've wanted to be the AG since I was sixteen. It's what I've planned for, lived for. What else would I do?" Like flesh eating larvae consuming hale skin, the words bit at her core, devoured every inch of exposed soul, and created an aching void. Since learning of her acting appointment, she had begun to question whether she was right for the position, and that notion kept her tossing and turning in the bleak hours after midnight.
She was AG material. She was.
The goal had kept her going after the rape. She had to be right for the position. Doubt and a fetid river of self-pity threatened to obliterate her control. Dee gritted her teeth.
"You've helped so many people, and unlike me, everyone accepts your talent. Everyone you've healed loves you."
"They're grateful to me. Don't confuse that with love." Dee insisted, as she dragged one hand through her short curls. "And what about the times it's gone wrong? I can't control it, and I hate that. You conveniently forget what happened with Alain. What happens if I kill someone? No, don't shake your head, it's a definite possibility the way things are going. How will I live with myself if that happens?"
"What does Douglas say about this?" Tee's stance sparked belligerence, hands fisted on her hips, pelvis thrust forward.
"Our mentor and guardian warlock warns me certain things in life are fated." She tapped a bare foot, and the miniature bells on her toe ring jingled. "Except for the witch part of me, I've forged my own fate. Hard work and determination, that's my path after Carnival's over. I will never practice healing again unless it's a dire emergency for someone I love. I am going to be the best frigging Attorney General in the history of the Caribbean."
No birds chirped, no cicadas sang, no frogs croaked. Her words plummeted into the harsh quiet of the night and seconds grabbed at them, making the statement seem callous, austere. A minute crept by, and still, the two women stared at each other, one willing the other to take the words back, one refusing. Steel band music sounded in the distance, echoing through the narrow valley, rumbling up the mountain, softening the stillness of the pre-dawn hour, and breaking their face-off.
"What about a husband, a companion, and a family?" Tee's brows knitted, and her stubborn jaw tipped down.
"That's your dream. I've never wanted it. Frig, I don't even like children until they're older." At Tee's pained grimace, Dee added, "I'll love yours, I promise."
"It won't work, you know. You can't cut it out of your life. Healing is part of you, and burying yourself in your career," Tee said, shaking her head. Stark sorrow radiated from her golden eyes. "You'll regret it. And this Alex thing, I just don't know. I have this really, really, bad feeling it could back fire on you."
"How? The only way it can is if either one of us falls in love." She snorted. "Pish. It'll snow in Trinidad first, and since, the island's ten degrees north of the Equator, we both know how impossible that is."
"I hate 'Pish'." Tee grimaced. "You sound like a prudish Victorian spinster. I know you don't want to slip up and swear in public, but pick something else. Please."
"I'll tell you a secret. Pish really irritates men. Especially stuffy, self-conscious Barbadian MPs." She sniggered.
"I'm becoming worried about your deteriorating view of the male sex."
"It's the job. All I see daily are vicious, violent criminals who prey on women." She peeked out the window. Trying to change the subject and lighten the grim atmosphere, Dee continued, "Shouldn't the rest of the gang be here already?"
"Michael's driving." Tee rolled her eyes. "They'll be at least half an hour late, he always is."
"So true." She heard a door slam. The sound flashed an image of Alex's tight butt as he stalked to the powder room. "Did you know Alex coaches a peewee soccer team? It seems so out of character. I can't see him getting dirty."
"Get the salt, will you?" Tee's forefinger directed Dee to the left. "Alex loves children, and he's really good with them. You sound as if you want him to be superficial and shallow. Are you afraid you might fall for him? If I hadn't met Jake first, I'd have made a beeline for him. Underneath all that Rolex, Trump-Country-Club bluster, he's a sweetie, a sensitive hunk."
"Come on, he's superficial and shallow. Unfortunately, he's what I want, for this affair, anyway. I don't buy him liking kids. I'm more inclined to think he does it for the access to bored, hot soccer moms." She tossed a fish-shaped blue saltshaker between her palms. "Yes, that makes sense. I can't see him with runny nosed toddlers."
The strains of "Who Let the Dogs Out," thundered out of the overhead speakers in the kitchen. Tee turned the intercom's volume switch on the wall, and the sound lowered.
"I hear a car." Dee rested her palms on the black-speckled green countertop and tiptoed to look out the open kitchen window. "Yep, I can see Michael's SUV. Jake buzzed him in."
"Turn on the micro will you?"
Dee obeyed, and the appliance hummed. "Just so you know, I'm going to make Alex work for it. I haven't forgotten the remark he made at your wedding. I'm not falling into his arms that easily."
"Really?" Tee lifted a golden eyebrow, and full, rosy lips turned up at the corners. "Who're you trying to convince? Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
Voices and throaty laughter preceded the entry of couples into the kitchen. Loud greetings of old friends resonated through the cavernous room. Four women in crimson halter-tops entered, followed by a parade of men wearing t-shirts, burlap flaps, and sneakers. Three couples paired off leaving a long-legged, sensual beauty standing to one side, Rosie, Dee's nemesis.
"It's twelve-thirty. We should get a move on." This came from the last man who trailed into the kitchen.
"Hi, Michael." Dee kissed their grizzly-cheeked friend. "We have time. The truck isn't even here yet. We're getting a ride to the zoo. No one has to worry about drinking and driving."
"We have any food? I'm starving." Michael wrapped his arms around her and squeezed. "I could always eat you for an appetizer, Dee darlin'.
The microwave dinged. "Decision time, Mike. Me or the food?"
He plopped Dee down on the tiled floor. She opened the micro and placed the large platter onto the stovetop's center griddle. The aroma of beef and onions wafted on steamy wisps curling above the hot dish.
"Help yourself, everyone." She waved blue-painted fingernails in the direction of the food.
Michael, a stocky, solid goateed male with dark Irish looks and impossibly emerald eyes, strode over. He swept Tee off the diagonal-patterned surface, and sat her on the counter. "How are you feeling, darlin'?"
"Fine, I'm much better."
"Don't overdo things, darlin'."
"I'm quite capable of looking out for my wife." Jake edged between Michael and Tee and hovered, palms clamped on hipbones.
"Calm down, man." Michael spoke around a mouthful of pastried beef. He used a triangular-shaped pie as a laser pointer and aimed it at Jake. "We're all concerned about your wife. You may be her husband, but we've known her since she was a little girl."
"You just love to wind Jake up," Dee said, planting her bare feet in front of them. "It's J'ouvert morning, the beginning of Carnival. We'll get enough testosterone on the road. We don't need it exploding in here. Got that?" She pierced each pair of eyes with a warning glare.
Michael tapped two fingers to his temple. "Aye, aye, ma'am. Nothing like a short woman with a Napoleon complex. Bet you'd ride a man hard, Desdemona."
"Beg your pardon?" Dee pinched his forearm.
"Dee, I meant Dee. Uncle, uncle." Michael examined his blotchy flesh. "There's a mean streak in you, woman." His gaze shifted to the left. "Hi, Alex. Good to see you again."
Dee stilled and slowly turned her head. "You made it back."
"Yeah. Happy now? I'm wearing the blasted costume."
Alex managed to look Dee in the eyes.
His were cobalt and brilliant.
She forgot about the others, and her body tautened like a bowstring before release. Heat braised her cheeks as Alex continued to stare into her eyes. Her hollow stomach quivered. Delicious shocks sparked low in her pelvis, and moisture drenched the skinny slash of material between Dee's thighs. Her face flamed, and she squished her legs together.
"Hello. Anyone at home?"
Dee blinked when Tee waved a hand in front of her face. "Sorry. What?"
"Time for the shots. Will you do the honors?" She handed Dee a red and white striped Dr. Seuss top hat.
"We could use another hat," Dee said softly. "I know you bought this one for the baby."
"No." Tee bit her lower lip. "I need to come to terms with the miscarriage."
"Okay, Cupcake. Don't take on everything all at once."
"I won't. Promise." Tee grinned at her. "Alex, there's food on the stove if you're hungry."
Alex touched Dee's arm as she walked by.
She hesitated and glanced at him. "What?"
"I'm starving." His eyes dropped to the cleavage spilling over her ruby halter-top. "Ravenous in fact."
Desire pooled hot and wet, searing her belly and impairing her reactions.
She grabbed two banana-leaf-wrapped rectangles and shoved them into his hand. "Eat a couple of these. They'll sate your appetite."
Alex fumbled with the hot, damp, food and retorted sotto voce. "Won't make a dent in my hunger. Not one iota."
He winked again. The crooked, rueful smile catching his mouth flamed all sorts of hot, fluttery reactions low in her stomach. And other places. Desire dangled a heady invitation in his fervent gaze, crackling and snapping like brown sugar caramelizing too fast.
"What is this?" Alex turned the rope-tied parcels over in his hand. "It doesn't look like food."
Rosie, their voluptuous, mahogany-haired Venezuelan friend, lodged her curvaceous form in front of Alex. She trailed an ivory finger down his bare arm and reached across his chest, making sure her turgid nipples scraped his t-shirt. Plucking one rectangle out of his grasp, she untied the thin string holding it together. "These are pastelles, honey. They're similar to a Mexican tamale, but, like all things Venezuelan, much spicier."
Dee gritted her teeth at Rosie's blatant carnality. A wave of jealousy threatened to sweep her into an emotional abyss.
"I remember you from Jake and Tee's wedding. You're the one who danced the flamenco," Alex said, eyeing her, blue eyes bedeviled.
"I always make sure I'm remembered, honey." As she spoke, Rosie un-wrapped the package and revealed a cornmeal pie. The ceiling fan above circled, mingling aromas of cornmeal, beef, and Scotch Bonnet peppers around the kitchen. Rosie pinched off a corner and brushed it over Alex's lips. "Here. Taste an exotic Venezuelan treat. I guarantee you won't be disappointed."
Dee couldn't tear her eyes away, and, at that moment, Alex caught her watching them. He opened his mouth and covered Rosie's finger to the knuckle. Sucking the food off one inch at a time, he held Dee's gaze.
"Oh, hon'. We're in for one hot Carnival." Rosie stuck her wet finger in her mouth and slurped.
"Wipe that snarl off your face, Dee." Tee whispered out of the corner of her mouth. Aloud, she continued, "We're ready." She curled Dee's fingers around the felt hat "Take the hat around."
Dee stifled the temptation to throw a jug of icy water over Alex and Rosie. Her spine morphed into a steel rod, unbending. Curving her neck left to right, she blew out a breath, and then sidled forward.
She gave Jake first choice. He took a slip of paper from the hat, but didn't open it. She raised both eyebrows. The room went silent, and all eyes went to them.
"Aren't you going to see who you picked?" Michael, sitting on the kitchen countertop, legs dangling, asked the question.
"Nope." Jake smirked.
"What are we picking?" Alex queried. He lounged against the cabinets hips braced on the rounded edge.
"Women for shots. We do Tequila shots off a woman's belly," Jake explained.
Dee stood before Michael. His hand disappeared into the red and black hat.
"Who'd you get?
Michael drummed all ten fingers on the counter, picked up the note, opened it, and said, "Tada." He waved both hands in the air, the white slip of paper trapped between two fingers. "I got the luscious, drum roll please, Rosie." He grinned and crooked a finger at the woman who sat opposite. "Come home to papa, darlin'."
"We need to wait until everyone's finished." The Venezuelan beauty tossed her long tresses. "It's tradition."
Rosie leaned over, grabbed the rum bottle, and poured two ounces into a glass. "Here, handsome, you can pass this along." She batted her eyelashes at Alex. "How long are you here for, honey?"
Dee's spirits picked up when Alex let out an audible, exasperated sigh and grouched, "Ten days."
She edged forward.
Dee held out the hat. "Your turn."
His hand brushed her breast when he straightened.
An electric current hit her, and she lowered her eyes to hide her reaction. Her nipples hardened into burning points.
Alex dipped his hand into the hat.
From her vantage point, Dee noticed the burlap flap covering Alex's groin quivered imperceptibly over a conspicuous bulge. Her eyes widened and flew up to meet his.
Alex's jaw worked and a bead of sweat dotted his temple.
Her eyelids drooped in a futile attempt at subtlety.
The flap lifted higher, and the bulge widened. The cycling shorts he wore over the Speedo barely disguised his burgeoning erection. Her self-confidence bolstered, Dee's lips turned up at the corners, and she flashed him a knowing glance.
That adorable crooked, rueful smile chased his lips.
She considered changing into old-lady panties. No thong would contain her creamy reaction if he kept smiling so sexily.
"Well, man, who do you have?" Michael nudged an elbow into Alex's side.
He opened the folded paper, and then flattened it out on the countertop drawing the edge of his palm over it. "Tee."
"You may be my best friend, Alex Mayfield, but if your tongue or lips so much as come near my wife's belly, I'll beat you to a pulp." Jake's cheerful voice shocked them all into silence. He held out his still folded note. "I think it might be healthier for you if we trade."
"Crap, you always spoil my fun. How about I get one shot, and then we trade?" Alex sighed at the stern expression on Jake's face. "Here."
He rolled the rectangular note into a ball and tossed it.
Jake grinned when he caught it. "Thanks buddy." He reached across a wooden butcher's block and slapped his note into Alex's open palm. "All yours."
Alex unfolded the note and stared at the paper.
Dee hadn't moved.
He braced his elbows on the counter, the white slip dangling from two fingers. His gaze went to her bare toes, and then roamed a languid path up her body before those brilliant blues connected with her gray orbs.
She knew before his voice intoned. "Dee."
Paralysis ruled her limbs. Not so her internal reactions. The heat burning inside her rivaled an uncontained California wildfire.
Tee shoved Dee in the small of her back.
She stumbled forward.
Recovering, Dee took the hat around to each male, which resulted in various pairings.
Michael lined up shot glasses, a Tequila bottle, and the Mexican-patterned saltshaker. Everyone gravitated to the longest counter opposite a small dining table. Voices grew louder, and the room hummed with fluid activity, ice clinking, knives slicing limes, the tap running. The mound of food leveled off to sparse packets, and the kitchen smelled of rum, citrus, and beef.
Michael turned up the intercom, and the din grew as people sang along to calypso melodies. All rituals repeated since Dee turned eighteen. This year the group had agreed to switch locations because of the proximity of Jake and Tee's home to their ultimate destination, The Savannah, Trinidad's version of Central Park.
Jake's second Carnival and Dee decided that, so far, he'd handled it well. She frowned, remembering his penchant for possessiveness. Not accustomed to the casual, affectionate attitude of Trinidadians, he bristled when any male touched Tee. Jealous spats spoiled many a Carnival celebration.
She walked across the room to the bookcase and tiptoed, straining to return the hat to its original top-shelf position.
Alex uncoiled his languorous pose and pounced in one fluid motion.
He laid his palm on her bare shoulder, and said, "Here, let me do that."
Hot air tunneled across her earlobe, and his nose brushed her temple. Tingling nerves sent out an amber alert when his thumb drew a soft circle on electrified skin. He leaned in further, and his pelvis brushed her butt.
Subconscious reflexes took over. Dee pressed backwards, and the delicious hardness of Alex's erection splintered her composure. Desire proved the marauder of rational thought. Moisture pooled between her thighs.
I'm a goner, she thought. * * * *