chapter 1

The small room was warm and dim. Relaxing.

I stripped to naked because this was Jess, and I’d been coming here for almost a year.

Since you decided to pull out of your puddle of despair after Tyler left your ass.

Jess was kind, soft and motherly. I mean, I guess she was motherly. She had, like five or ten kids. She was always talking about them in this soothing and mesmerizing voice. So color me stupefied when they came into the spa one day and they were balls of obnoxious energy.

I actually respected her more after that.

Perhaps her job, which immersed her in quietude for eight hours a day, was her respite from the tsunami of children she’d created.

I pulled the sheet-covered blanket up to my waist, and lay on my stomach, as usual. I always found it hard to be still, so as I wiggled, I could feel the soft cotton slipping a little. No matter, Jess would fix it as soon as she arrived.

I listened to whooshing sounds of oceans against a lulling circular progression of chords. My eyes slipped closed.

The closing door awakened me. I must have missed her entrance.

I sighed, almost yawning, and felt the sheet slip a little more.

“Miss?” a deep voice called from behind me.

Either Jess was sick, or there was a man in here.

“What?” I asked, and immediately grabbed the sheet which slipped even more when I leaned up to get an arm around it.

“Sorry, I’m not looking,” said the voice. “I can step outside if you—”

“—NO!” I said turning completely, to see a full-on trainer-physique with his hands over his face like a two-year-old waiting for a surprise. In the dimness, I couldn’t make out much else, but his hair stuck out all around his hands. It might have been some shade of brown.

“No, if you open the door, someone else might see the goods! Just…give me a minute, OK?”

“OK,” the voice beneath the hands said.

I rolled back over and pulled the sheet all the way over my shoulders, tucking it under my hips for good measure. Then, I made sure my breasts were under me. No need to have a stray nipple peeking out and making new friends. This was not the place for that kind of fun.

Is there a place in the universe where you have that kind of fun?

I scolded my sadistic conscience and pulled my hands down at my sides.

“OK,” I said into the headrest.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “Jessica had an emergency with her pregnancy.”

What pregnancy? I thought. I searched my memories for some mention of an unborn whippersnapper, but was coming up all school, parties and homework. Surely I would remember if she mentioned it.

Surely you could pay attention when someone is talking to you, for like, five seconds.

Shit.

I had no idea what this fucker just said.

“OK,” I said, not sure if he’d asked me a question, or told me he was about to shove bamboo into my fingernail beds. Either way, OK seemed like the safest way to go…after all, what fun is torture if you seem OK with it?

I heard the music change to a soft piano piece.

“Hey…what happened to oceans and elevator music?” I asked.

“Um,” he said, stepping to my right and leaning so close to my ear I could feel the warmth of his breath, “You said I could change the music to classical.”

“Right,” said, not wanting to be outed as One Who Is a Poor Listener.

“So when will Jess be back?” I asked, trying to sound conversational.

“I don’t know. Do you want someone else?” he asked.

Why would I? I thought, mind going to the gutter at the mere mention of want.

“No, you’re fine,” I replied, successfully not saying it in a way that could be construed as an assessment of his physical features.

I squeezed my eyes closed and threatened myself with the removal of my post-massage bottle of wine if I even dared to open them and take a gander at this guy…oh…who smells like vanilla and musk, and who…fuck, was about to put his hands on me.

“Good,” he said. “Now, according to your chart, Miss Swan, you get a full-hour Swedish massage with an emphasis on shoulders and neck. Are there any other places that need attention today?”

I figured pussy would be an inappropriate response, so I went with a high-pitched, “Nope!”

Perhaps I should explain.

I’m not a nympho. I just work a sixty hours a week, so I don’t have time to date or engage in hobbies. My last relationship ended with the dude telling me he wanted someone he could count on, not a domineering bitch who didn’t have time to suck his cock once or twice a week.

Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but I’m very efficient in my storytelling. There’s no need to go into the entire week-long anger-fest that was our melodramatic breakup.

Needless to say, the only attention my cunt was getting was the occasional shower head massage on Sundays, and a washer hump (accompanied by trashy novel, to ensure effectiveness) on laundry day.

Shit, he was talking again…

“—oil on your skin, OK?”

“Uh-huh?” I said.

“Um, OK, then,” he said.

“Uuuuuuunnnnn!” was what came out of my mouth when I finally felt his hands…the ones I’d only glimpsed covering the face, which—

Shit, why didn’t I get a look at his face?

Don’t you look! Don’t open your eyes, you cow!

I squeezed them shut and felt the hands stop on my body.

“Are you OK?” he asked.

“Uh-huh?”

“Um, are you uncertain, or…?”

“No?”

“OKaaaay.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well, you moaned and then your shoulders got really tense. I was just worried I was rubbing too hard.”

“Hard?”

Stop the monosyllaby, right the fuck now!

I laughed nervously and added, “I mean, no, of course it’s not too hard. I’m just reeeeeally stressed right now,” I said with only a hint of valley-girl vapidity.

“OK, good. I know you’ve been coming here for a while, so I didn’t think I needed to go into the whole, ‘tell me if it’s too much’ thing. I try to just talk when we need to communicate about that stuff, because most clients just want to feel the massage and not chit-chat, and I tend to be long-winded, so I just try to be efficient and not—”

“—hey,” I said.

“Yeah? Too much?” he asked again, although this time, I was positive he was referring to the word vomit he’d just covered me in.

And that shit leaves stains that you can never remove from your brain.

“What’s your name?” I asked. If I was going to kindly ask him to STFU, it would be more polite to say his name first and in a soothing manner.

Or so the sensitivity trainer told me last year.

“You can call me Ed,” he said.

“Ed? Ed? Is that short for…” there was a short list of embarrassingly outdated names that came to mind, but I was worried I’d mortify him if I said the wrong one. None of them were what I’d call “manly.”

He sighed as though speaking his name aloud was a cross he was resigned to bear.

“Edward,” he said flatly.

I snorted.

Then I coughed in a lame attempt to cover the snort.

“Are you OK?” He asked without concern.

“Yeah,” I said.

“No, what is it? Is it my name?”

“Your name is fine,” I said, but when it came out of my mouth, it sounded like I was referring to those toned forearms I’d glimpsed earlier.

“You don’t like my name,” he accused.

“My shoulders are reeeeeeally tense,” I said. “Do you think you could get back to that? I only have an hour…so…chop-chop.”

His hands stopped moving along my skin.

“Miss Swan—”

Ms.,” I corrected, unable to continue tolerating his archaic nomenclature.

Ms. Swan,” he said, “please forgive me. Obviously, this is why I don’t talk to clients,” he murmured. Then laughed wryly.

“Noted,” I said.

Neither of us spoke for the rest of the hour.

When he was finished, I heard his voice at the door, telling me to take care.

The door was shut before I could raise my head and respond with a similarly lame good bye.

>>next

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