Finally Free Sneak Peek

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Chapter One

My fingers scrambled and clawed at the bedsheets, desperately searching for purchase. With the silky fabric securely bunched up in my hands, I pressed down through my feet and arched my back up off the mattress, letting my head drop back.

I squeezed my eyes shut, the dim glow of the candlelight suddenly proving to be too distracting.

A half-formed grocery list populated in my mind.

Yogurt. Eggs. Arugula. Shit, no!

I shook my head, clenched my teeth, and channeled my energy through my body.

Focus, Darla.

This shouldn’t be so hard. Especially because Kai’s tongue was legendary. Along with other things, that I knew from experience, would in fact be very hard. He’d never failed to pull multiple orgasms from me with his licking, biting, sucking, and—

Did I water the plants?


Kai’s head popped up between my legs at the same moment that I gave up, dropped down to my back, and brought a hand to cover my face momentarily.


The word grated on me, and if there had been any hope of saving the moment, it vanished in that instant. I’d been dating Kai—if you could call having more hot sex than was probably healthy, dating—for almost two months. His stamina was impressive, but not entirely unexpected for a man almost fifteen years my junior. His skills and energy in the bedroom were only matched by his intense eagerness to please. But still, that wasn’t his best feature. Kai was a sandy-blond surfer from Australia who’d been backpacking around North America. He’d landed in Aspen Valley with plans to stay on for the rest of summer and through the winter to work at the ski hill for the winter season, before moving on.

And that was his best quality.

Great in bed, with no intention of anything more than a temporary good time.

My perfect man.

“Babe?” he said again.

This time I propped myself up on my elbows. “Don’t call me that.”

His full lips, still glistening from his efforts of a moment earlier, quirked up in a wry smile. “I always call you that.”


I was being a bitch, and he didn’t deserve it. Just because I couldn’t get out of my head didn’t give me any right to blame Kai. It certainly wasn’t his fault. He was damn good at making me come. Which was why I’d kept him around longer than usual. Longer than I should have.

But now…

“You look stressed, ba—Darla.” He caught himself. “And I know just the thing for stress.” He crawled up and over me until his lean body covered mine. His hard stress relief solution pressed into my belly and for a moment, my resolve wavered. His arms caged me in and when he bent to kiss me, his long hair dangled in my face, tickling my nose.


“Kai?” I wiggled under him until I could get one hand free. I pressed it up and into his chest. “This isn’t working.”

“I get it.” He nodded and wiggled his eyebrows. “Let’s try it from behind—”

“No.” I stopped him before he could flip me over into what had been one of our favorite positions. “I mean, this isn’t working.”

His long blond lashes fluttered, and his big blue eyes opened wide in question.

“Us,” I clarified. “You should go.”

I watched as the realization of what I was saying slowly crossed his handsome young face. “Go? Like, now?”

I nodded. “Like, now.”

Part of me felt bad for ending things so abruptly, but the other part of me just wanted him to leave so I could be alone. Besides, I’d made it clear from the start of our relationship that it was only ever going to be temporary. I never made him any promises.

To his credit, Kai didn’t try to convince me otherwise. There were no rules about how long I let my love affairs go on, but in general, they didn’t last much longer than a month or two. One of two things generally happened. Either, one, I got bored. Sometimes with the sex, or more likely, of the man and his company. Or, two, things started to get serious. It had happened more times than I liked to count, where a lover got it in his head that he could change me and make me see that despite everything I’d ever told him, I really did want a relationship with him.

Spoiler alert. I did not.


And at forty-one years old, I couldn’t imagine that changing anytime soon. I liked variety, the ability to change my mind, try new things—new men—and have fun. I was a free spirit, too wild to be tied down.

Completely naked, I sat back against the headboard and watched Kai slowly gather his clothing. He really was a fantastic-looking man. And so much fun to spend time with, too. Don’t even get me started on that sexy accent. I would miss him.

Before he tugged his shirt over his head, he crossed the room to where I lounged on the bed. “It’s been real, babe. I mean—”

“It’s fine.” My smile was kind, and he matched it with a slow wink before giving me a slow, sensual, goodbye kiss.

“It’s been very real,” I said when we parted. “Take care of yourself, Kai.”

He gave me another lopsided, lazy grin, and then he was gone.

I waited until I heard the click of my front door before lying back on the mattress, putting my hands between my legs and finishing what he’d started.

* * *

About six hours into my drive, I seriously started wishing I hadn’t turned down my manager’s offer to charter me a helicopter to take me back to Aspen Valley. Of course, when Sheila made the offer, I hadn’t been utterly exhausted, running off only a few hours of sleep. I also had just finished reading an article online about pampered celebrities using their wealth and power to basically act like entitled brats, doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

I may be a mega star, but I was far from pampered. And I would never be entitled.

Never mind the fact that Aspen Valley was home to a handful of billionaires who made my own earnings look like pocket change. A few of whom were my personal friends. Still, it felt excessive to charter a helicopter for an eight-hour drive through the mountains. I was still new to Aspen Valley, and the last thing I wanted was to make a scene or draw extra attention to myself. That seemed to happen all on its own. But with any luck, I’d be able to lay low for at least a few weeks before the paparazzi figured out where I was.

A sigh slipped from my mouth before turning into a yawn.

“No, Blaze. No sleeping.”

I was definitely losing it if I was talking to myself. Still, I rolled down all the windows, and opened the sunroof, letting the crisp mountain air blast through the vehicle. It didn’t matter what time of year it was in the mountains; the evenings could still get cool, and there was always the potential for snow still lingering in the higher passes.

The fresh air was exactly what I needed to clear my head and reset me for the remainder of the drive. When I crested the final hill and the town I was calling home for the time being appeared in the valley before me, a smile crossed my face. The last few months, with the release of the new movie, the seventh in the Lethal Mission franchise, followed by a worldwide media blitz, it had been months since I’d been home. Not that I could even really call it home. But it was as close to home as I was going to get, at least for now.

Navigating my rental car through the streets of the small town already felt familiar and comfortable. Much better than any of the big cities I’d been in, including the one I grew up in. Something about a small town felt good to me. Aspen Valley was close enough to a big city to not be isolated, but far enough away to still keep the small-town feel I seemed to crave the older I got.

A sharp ringtone filled the car, cutting off the radio station I’d turned on as background noise to my thoughts. Trent Thomas’s name flashed on the car’s built-in screen, announcing my best friend’s phone call. The last time I’d seen him had been at a private screening of my latest film, where more drama had happened off-screen than on. I missed my buddy, but the need to be alone after so long on the road was strong. I fought the urge to ignore his call and let it go to voicemail. Finally, I jabbed my finger on the screen to accept the call.


“Hey! Are you back in town yet?” His voice filled the small car as if he sat right next to me.

“Nope,” I lied. “Not yet.” I shook my head and navigated the car through the final turn that led to the gated home I’d rented months ago when I’d made the rather spontaneous decision to move to Aspen Valley.


“What?” I stopped in front of the keypad on the drive. “Why would you call me a liar?” I reached over and punched in the code for the gate, wincing a little at the beep each button produced.

“Besides the fact that I just heard you punch your code into the gate?” Trent laughed.


“I spoke to Sheila a few hours ago,” he confessed. “I thought you might still be in Vancouver. Don’t tell me you drove the whole way.”

The gates slowly started to swing inward, granting me access. I pulled forward until I was clear and they could shut behind me. “Okay, I won’t tell you.”

My friend chuckled over the line. “That’s a long drive.”

“It wasn’t terrible.”

“But you’re home now?”

I drove slowly up the winding drive to the house that was far too big for just me. But, as the real estate agent said, if I wanted the privacy of a gate—which I did—a small, reasonably sized house wasn’t an option.

“I am home,” I said more to myself than Trent. “And I’d love to have drinks and catch up with you soon, but not tonight. I’m just—”

“No worries.” He cut me off. “Brittany has some sort of work thing we need to attend tonight. But soon, okay?”

“Of course. Give your beautiful wife my best, okay? I’ll see you both soon.”

We ended the call, I grabbed my small duffel bag from the back—Sheila was sending the rest of my suitcases on later—and stood on the drive in the last of the evening sunlight, staring up at the massive, sterile, empty house in front of me.

Suddenly the thought of spending my evening alone didn’t seem quite so appealing.

* * *

Usually, I didn’t mind being alone. In fact, I craved it most of the time. It was one of the reasons why whenever I inevitably ended things with a lover, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated instead of sad or wistful. But even hours after Kai left, and I’d given myself a somewhat less than satisfactory orgasm, I still wasn’t experiencing the sense of calm and relaxation I usually did when I spent time alone. I knew instinctively it wasn’t Kai I missed. Despite the fun—and amazing sex—we’d had together, it was nothing more than that.

Still, I was lonely.

It wasn’t a feeling I was used to. I’d chosen the single life, but only very seldom did that mean that I was lonely. I was the type of woman who enjoyed my own company more than I enjoyed the company of others. With very few exceptions. Jessie, Brittany, Sandy, and Abigail and I had been friends since we were thirteen years old. I actually didn’t really like the term best friends because they were so much more than that to me. They were sisters.

Life with them in it meant I was never alone, even when I chose to be on my own.

I grabbed my phone and took it, along with the pot of herbal tea I’d just brewed, with me to my back deck. It was the best part of my little house—not that I didn’t love every other part of my home, too. I did. But my deck was extra special.

My house sat on the banks of a small wooded creek that provided constant soothing background noise most of the year. Because it was south-facing, I got the heat of the day, but the large sloping roof cast enough shade that even on the warmest summer day it was never uncomfortably hot. I’d filled almost every flat surface with flowering plants, some of which even attracted hummingbirds that I could sit and watch for hours.

The overstuffed chairs were perfect for curling up in with a good book, or my notebook when the creative urge struck to write a few lines of poetry. And when the sun went down, and the mountain air got a chill, I only had to turn on my gas fire table and wrap a cozy blanket around my legs.

Which was exactly what I did before pouring myself a cup of tea and pressing the button on my phone that would signal a group video chat with my favorite friends. It was one of many things I loved about my girls. They were always available for a quick chat to talk through anything. We always had one another’s back, no matter what, and I knew seeing their faces and filling myself with their beautiful energy would be exactly what I needed to shake myself out of whatever little funk I’d fallen into.

The call rang once. Then twice.

When on the fourth ring, no one picked up, I ended it, to try again. Maybe it hadn’t gone through properly? It was the only explanation because not once in recent memory could I remember a time when no one had picked up a video call.

Before I could press the button to try the call again, a text came through our group chat. It was Brittany.

Sorry, Dar. I’m at a work thing. Super boring, but Jessie’s here to distract me.

Jessie followed up with a winking face emoji. It wasn’t surprising that they were at the same function. Jessie’s man, Shane, owned a software company where Brittany was a top executive. The fact that the two of them often ended up at work functions together definitely helped make them more bearable considering, up until recently, Jessie was a hardworking single mom and the owner of Rosie’s Diner before selling it to a hungry land developer. Although it hadn’t felt like it at the time, it turned out to be exactly what she’d needed, especially considering her new and very passionate relationship with Shane had blossomed into something very serious and satisfying.

Ironically, the ambitious land developer who’d purchased her diner along with a half dozen other fledgling businesses on the edge of town had been Trent Thomas, Brittany’s now-husband. Theirs had been a hot, fast, and intensely passionate relationship as well, surprising all of us. Brittany had always been a self-declared single-for-lifer.

Much like myself, but for very different reasons. A fact I continually reminded my friends of. Just because Brittany had changed her mind about what she wanted from life did not mean I would.

Have fun, ladies.

I typed my response, waiting for Abigail and Sandy to chime in, too. When, after ten minutes, neither of them had replied, I resigned myself to the fact that they, too, were probably cozily coupled up with their men. For the first time ever in our long-running friendship, I was the odd woman out, with everyone else in deeply satisfying, and if the stories were to be believed—which I’m sure they could be—extremely sensual relationships.

Every single one of my girlfriends’ auras were glowing bright shades of pinks and yellows. They were all in love and over-the-top happy. Which, of course, made me happy for them.

But that happiness wasn’t much help when I was bored and in need of companionship. I laughed at myself, sipped at my tea, and did something I rarely did: abandoned my sanctuary on the deck in exchange for the couch in my living room. I picked up the remote and clicked through channels randomly until an action movie, of all things, caught my eye.

Okay, it wasn’t the action movie that stopped me. If I was being honest, it was the star of the movie—his defined biceps and chiseled chest and sexy smile—that made me stop flicking channels.

Blaze Barron.

I couldn’t tell you which one of his Lethal Mission action-adventure movies I was watching—not that it mattered. They were all the same as far as I was concerned, and not at all the type of film I would have chosen under normal circumstances. But lately, things were far from normal. And ever since I’d met Blaze, at Brittany and Trent’s surprise wedding, there’d been something about him that I couldn’t seem to look away from. It was more than his ridiculously sculpted physique and his typical movie-star charisma that captured everyone in the room the moment he walked in. There was something else, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that I might be attracted to him. The thing was, I did know better. Blaze Barron was absolutely not my type. I liked my men young. The young ones never wanted anything serious. Spirituality was a plus. I liked a man who didn’t just humor my love for crystals, essential oils, and tarot card readings, but would surprise me with a guided meditation on date night. And most importantly, I wanted a man for temporary uses only.

Blaze—the little I knew about him—didn’t fit any of those requirements. He was just featured as one of Hollywood’s Hottest Over Forty, which meant he was way older than I usually dated. Judging by the movie currently playing on the screen in front of me, the only thing remotely spiritual about the man was the Buddhist temples in the background of the car chase scene. And maybe that wasn’t entirely fair considering he was playing a role, but he was an A-list celebrity, and my experience with too many like him had always been the same. Superficial and shallow.

Okay, that really wasn’t fair. Although I didn’t know Blaze well, he was a good friend of Brittany’s new husband. I had met him a few times now, and not once had I gotten the impression that he was like that. In fact, he always seemed very friendly, personable, and down-to-earth. If not more than a little flirty.

But the biggest strike against Blaze was on the last point. Right before his latest movie came out, there had been a scandal involving his model girlfriend and some NFL player. He’d stayed pretty tight-lipped about it all until he finally went on record to say that the breakup was for the best because he was at the point in his life where he was looking for something real and serious. Someone to share his life with.

Not that I was paying attention.

I wasn’t.

Not really.

Okay, I was a little bit.

After all, Blaze was a very sexy man, and I was a woman, after all. And I couldn’t deny that there was a spark between us. A strong one. A little flirting and maybe even a fun fling wasn’t off the table as far as I was concerned. I considered myself to be very sex-positive and relationship fluid—which, as Abby always pointed out, was a fancy way to say scared of commitment. But that wasn’t completely accurate. I wasn’t scared of commitment at all. I just didn’t want it. There was a difference.


Chapter Two

If I was going to make Aspen Valley home, the very first thing I needed to do was make this giant empty house feel like a home.

I’d spent the night before walking from room to room, trying in vain to find at least one space that felt comfortable. The problem was, although the house was very beautifully decorated and there had clearly been a great deal of thought put into how to style it to appeal to a demographic with more money than time to decorate it themselves, there was absolutely no part of the house that felt good to me.

At some point, just before midnight, I gave up in my search for comfort. I grabbed a beer from the generously stocked fridge, the only thing I liked so far, and flopped on the very hard—but modern—white leather couch in front of the massive television, where I surfed the channels until I finally finished the beer and went to bed.

Now, in the light of day, I’d been so sure the house would have a different feel.

I was wrong.

I made myself another coffee from the fancy, shiny machine on the counter I’d surprised myself by figuring out after only one mess-up. The coffee it produced was delicious, and I was beginning to think the best things about this rental house were the beverages. I grabbed my laptop and phone, and pulled up a tall black stool to the long white granite eating bar before dialing Trent’s phone number.

“Good morning.” He answered my call. “Are you all settled now?”

“If you could call it that.” I glanced around the sparse space. “I think I need to have a housewarming party or something. This place is too…”


“How did you know?”

Trent laughed. “The same designer who took care of that house did Brittany’s place. Before I moved in,” he added quickly. “As you know, my beautiful wife likes things very…”


“Your word, not mine.”

“Ha! I’m pretty sure you said it first.”

“You can’t prove it.” My friend chuckled. “But I understand exactly what you mean.” He shifted gears and grew more serious. “It’s not really your style.”

An understatement if I ever heard one. I grew up modestly, in a small three-bedroom house that up until recently still had the original brown shag carpeting and yellowing wallpaper from my youth. I was still drawn to a cozy kitchen with warm wooden cupboards, plants hanging from the ceilings, and overstuffed couches with too many people piled on to watch a movie. A place to relax and unwind. A place that felt like home.

“Not even close,” I said wistfully.

I wasn’t convinced I needed to go all the way back to the eighties with my decor choices. But at the very least, I was sure we could add some color and definitely some comfort.

“I’m almost certain Abby will have the number of a designer who can help you out on short notice. I’ll send her a quick text,” Trent said before I could respond. “No doubt she’ll have someone there within the hour.”

I didn’t know Abby very well yet. In fact, I really didn’t know any of Trent’s group of friends all that well yet. Besides his wedding to Brittany, there’d been two other occasions we’d all been together. One, when I arranged a private screening of my latest movie as a favor to my new friends at Dylan Scott’s Rock Creek Ranch. That night had been full of drama I hadn’t been fully privy to at the time, but it ended in all of the women ending their girls’ trip early and returning to town, upset with Sandy, one of their own who’d apparently hooked up with Dylan while they were at the ranch. Again, I was blurry on the details, but it all must have ended well because a few months later, at another private screening for the same movie—I had to call in some serious favors—Dylan made a grand gesture, declared his love for Sandy, and, as far as I knew, they were now a very happy couple.

Maybe I should have paid closer attention to the ins and outs of what was becoming my new circle of friends, but truthfully, I only had eyes for one woman. Darla Diamond. Everything about her sparkled, even her name. She was the complete opposite of every woman I’d ever dated. In fact, she wasn’t quite like anyone I’d ever met.

In a world full of people who were concerned with fitting in, looking a certain way, or dressing in a specific type of clothing, Darla just didn’t care. She always looked stunning, but in an effortless way that was in direct contrast to every other woman in Aspen Valley. She looked soft and feminine while, at the same time, she dazzled. If we were in the same room together, I was inevitably drawn to her.

A little gathering at the house would be a good chance for me to get to know all of my new friends a little better, especially Darla. The one person I was interested in getting to know better. A lot better.

“Hello?” Trent’s voice brought me back to the conversation. “Are you still there?”

I nodded. “Yup. I was thinking about something.”

“I hope you were thinking about what I just said. Seven o’clock work for you?”

“Sorry.” I admitted my distraction. “What’s happening at seven?” I shook my head and lifted the mug of coffee to my mouth.

“Your housewarming party.”

* * *

“Walk your heels out to the edge of your mat.”

The melodic voice floated through the room. I inhaled deeply, doing as instructed.

“Drop your arms slowly to your sides and exhale slowly out your mouth as you let yourself fall into Shavasana.”

My body settled into the pose easily, and my mind began to drift into the deep relaxation. My favorite part of any yoga practice.

“I hate this part.” Brittany’s voice, no more than a whispered hiss, not even directed at me, but to Sandy on her mat behind me, pierced through my Zen state. “I can’t relax.”

“Maybe if you stopped talking,” Abby said in a whisper, only barely concealing her laughter.

I squeezed my eyelids tighter, trying desperately to hold on to the moment.

The instructor, mercifully unaware of my friend’s distraction, continued her rhythmic guidance at the front of the room. “Lengthen through your neck and be with your breath.”

That was exactly what I was trying to do. Be with my breath. Although, inevitably, whenever the girls joined me for a yoga session, that didn’t happen.

“Make sure to give gratitude,” the sweet, calm voice continued. “Set your intention for the day and the week ahead.”

Oh, I had an intention all right, and it was going to be to tell my friends to shut up.

“And when you’re ready, bring your hands to your heart’s center. Namaste.”

The word was barely out of the instructor’s mouth before, next to me, Brittany sat straight up on her mat and declared, “Let’s get coffee.”

I groaned, took one last breath, exhaled slowly from my mouth, and opened my eyes. “It wouldn’t kill you to try to relax once in a while, you know?”

Britt’s signature red lips—even in a workout—curled up into a sassy smile. “I’ll have you know I did quite a bit of relaxing last night.”

“Orgasms don’t count as relaxing.” Jessie leaned over.

“I don’t know how you and Shane are doing things,” Britt said. “But an orgasm totally counts.”

Jessie laughed as she stood to roll up her mat. “I assure you, we’re doing it just fine.”

“Oh, we know.”

All eyes turned to Sandy, who usually stayed fairly quiet when the conversation shifted to sex. At least until recently.

“What about you?” Abby asked her. “Where do you stand on the matter?”

Sandy’s face turned a deep shade of red that couldn’t be attributed to the gentle yoga we’d just finished. “All I’m going to say is that when it comes to bedroom shenanigans, there isn’t a whole lot of relaxing involved.”

We all burst out laughing before I, too, stood to roll my mat. “We better get out of here before the conversation takes a bigger turn, or my staff will start talking.”

I didn’t usually draw too much attention to it, but when I was in my early twenties and a self-described yoga addict, I’d started teaching classes in the basement of a local community center. As those classes grew in popularity, I held more and more until finally, my friends insisted I start charging for my time. It took me awhile, but I finally listened to them.

It didn’t happen overnight, but it wasn’t much longer than that before Go With The Flow was born. I started with the Aspen Valley location and quickly grew into a franchise across the western part of the country, and soon to be the East Coast as well, that had earned me more money than I was usually comfortable with. Even though I didn’t teach many classes myself anymore, I attended as many as possible, including the ones I was able to drag my friends to.

“Great class today, Jada.” I smiled at the instructor, who really was one of my favorites, as I ushered my girlfriends out of the studio before they could disrupt the Zen of anyone else.

“You all really could learn how to like the Shavasana,” I said as soon as we were settled into the cafe next door with our beverages of choice.

“Hey.” Abby held up a hand in defense. “I don’t hate it. It’s Britt who can’t shut her brain off long enough to sit still.”

“What is that all about, Britt?” Jessie asked. “I mean, I know you have a lot going on, but out of all of us, I’d think that you’d be the one who’d benefit the most from a little quiet time.”

Britt shook her head and sipped her espresso. “You know what I say about quiet time…”

“Make it loud?” Sandy could hardly keep a straight face, and Britt shot her a look.

“I guess I just don’t see the point,” she said after a moment. “But I promise I’ll try harder next time.”

“If there is a next time.” I rolled my eyes but hid my grin behind my mug of steaming green tea.

“Enough about yoga.” Abby shot me an apologetic glance. “Let’s talk about Blaze’s housewarming party tonight. You all got my text about it this morning?”

I did get the text, although I hadn’t replied either way. It’s not that I had anything—or anyone—to do, since saying goodbye to Kai, but I was waiting to talk to the rest of the girls about it.

Britt and Abby started in on a story about how Trent had called Abby first thing in the morning to get hold of her designer to help Blaze out because he didn’t love the decor in his rental house, and it was all I could do to keep from rolling my eyes. It also served as a good reminder that Blaze, no matter how deep blue his eyes were, or how his smile somehow made butterflies come to life in my stomach, was still a celebrity. And it seemed I was right. He was a shallow, single-minded movie star who only cared about appearances.

“He said it wasn’t homey enough,” Abby said. “He wanted it to be more of a family home.” She held up her hands in a shrug. “His words, not mine.”

“A family home?” Sandy reached across the table to grab a scone from the plate of treats I’d ordered.

After all, what was a little workout without a treat afterward?

“Like I said, his words, not mine. I don’t know. Is that good?” Abby pointed at the treat Sandy had just taken a bite of; Sandy nodded, her mouth full. “Either way, he wanted the space to reflect his personality a little bit more.”


I hadn’t realized I’d spoken aloud until all four of them looked at me, with a mixture of bemused expressions on their faces.

“What does that mean, Darla?” Jessie asked first. “Do you not like Blaze? Because I was absolutely certain I saw—”

“What?” I should’ve just kept my mouth shut. It wasn’t something I was particularly good at in situations like these. Not that I was in them very often. “What did you see?”

“The way you were looking at him,” Britt answered.

“And the way he was looking at you.” Sandy nodded before sticking another piece of scone in her mouth.

“Oh, right,” Abby said to Sandy. “Like you saw anything at all.” She laughed. “Weren’t you off in the gardens with Dylan?”

“Or was that the time you’d snuck off to his room to do dirty things to each other instead of watching the screening of the movie?” Jessie jumped in with the friendly teasing.

To my surprise, Sandy, who had always been the most conservative one of all of us, tossed her hair back over her shoulder and winked. “Maybe I was a bit distracted,” she admitted. “But I still noticed.” She smoothly turned the focus back to me. “We all noticed, Darla. You like him.”

“I don’t.” To cover the fact that I was a terrible liar, I reached for a brownie and stuffed it into my mouth.

“Umm-hmm.” Jessie tapped her finger on the tabletop. “You’re so full of shit.”

“Okay,” I admitted with a laugh. “I think he’s sexy as hell and yes, I would have absolutely no problem inviting him into my bed.”

The girls exchanged glances.

“What?” I picked up my tea mug. “Don’t act like you’re surprised.”

“We’re not,” Brittany said slowly. “It’s just that…well, have you ever considered—”

“If you’re going to ask me if I’ve ever considered dating, save your breath.” I held up a finger. “Just because the rest of you are coupled up does not mean I’ve changed my mind about monogamy. I’m not interested.” Abby moved to open her mouth, but I stopped her with a sharp look. “I’m not, Abby. I’m one hundred percent happy the way things are.” Even as I said the words I’d said so many times before, I couldn’t help but notice I didn’t feel quite as strongly as I usually did. It was a feeling I pushed away.

“Okay,” Abby relented. “But…” She held up a hand to stop me before I could object to whatever she was going to say. “Hear me out.”

I put my mug down and sat back in my chair.

My friend grinned and leaned in. “I think it’s time for the pact.”

“The pact?” I caught myself before laughing out loud. “It doesn’t really apply to me.” I shook my head. “No. It doesn’t apply to me at all. I have never had the issues all of you had. I am perfectly in touch with my sexuality.”

That was an understatement, and everyone knew it. Just over a year earlier, Abby had come up with the idea of the silly pact when she was faced with what more or less amounted to an indecent proposal from her now-partner, Phillip. The idea was for all of us to throw caution to the wind and take a chance on something the way we used to twenty years earlier. To have a little fun—sexually or otherwise—and just go for it.

The thing was, while all of my best friends had spent the last twenty years in bad marriages, widowed, or just working too hard, I’d spent my time discovering my sexuality and exploring it with wild abandon. Going for it had never been an issue for me.

“Yes.” Jessie sat up in her chair. “The pact is a great idea. It’s your turn.”

I finished my tea in one last swallow and shook my head. “It doesn’t even make sense. If I want to sleep with Blaze Barron, I will.” I wiggled my eyebrows. Because I would very happily hook up with the sexy star. “I have absolutely no issue expressing myself that way. When I want, and with whom I want. I mean, if you want to apply the pact to me, go ahead. But I don’t think it makes much sense.”

“She’s right.” Sandy shook her head.

“There’s no rule that says we can’t change it to suit the situation,” Brittany declared.

“Yes!” Abby’s palm slapped the table. “That’s it.”

I looked between them. “I don’t follow.”

Abby pulled her chair closer to the table and looked me straight in the eyes. “For the rest of us, the pact was about stepping outside of our comfort zone and letting loose a little. Obviously, for us that all manifested sexually.”

The rest of the ladies nodded.

“But for you,” Abby continued, “stepping out of your comfort zone means not getting sexual.”

Whoa. What?

“Exactly,” Sandy agreed. “For you, the pact would be about restraint. Getting to know a man on a deeper level.”

My head spun with everything they were saying. Did my best friends in the entire world really think I couldn’t control myself to the degree that they needed to apply the whole silly pact thing? It was insane. Of course I got to know men on a deeper level. In fact, I knew all about Kai’s child—no, I didn’t. We’d never discussed our childhoods with each other. But certainly, we’d discussed our dreams and goals and—once again, no.

I took a deep, centering breath and exhaled slowly.

“You don’t even know that he wants to have sex with me,” I protested. “This entire thing hinges on that minor, yet very important, detail. You’re just assuming he’s into me.”

Brittany’s eyes widened, and Jessie grinned. “Judging by what we’ve seen, he’s very into you.”

They weren’t wrong. He may not have said anything specifically, but everything about his energy toward me was desirable. Every time we were in the same room, we gravitated toward each other. The feeling was very much mutual, and it didn’t take an expert to notice.

“So you’re saying that, for me, my challenge would be to not sleep with Blaze?”

And to get to know him on a deeper level,” Sandy said again. “That’s important.”

Confused, I shook my head and stared at her. “I don’t know what that means. Deeper.

She laughed. “Which is exactly why you should go for it.

I was more confused than ever, but my friends all looked so excited about the idea and really, I’d been just as enthusiastic about the pact when the shoe was on the other foot, so in the interest of being a good sport, I agreed. After all, how hard could it be to not have sex with Blaze Barron?

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