Grief brought them together. Will it also tear them apart?
Two and a half years after suddenly losing the love of my life, I’m coming out of the fog of early grief and taking a hard look at the rest of my life. With three young children to care for on my own while also managing their grief, I haven’t had a lot of time to ponder what’s next for me. When I think about what I really want, I keep coming back to one thing. Or I should say one person, someone who understands what I’ve been through because he’s been there, too, only his losses were far worse than mine. I find myself thinking about him all the time, but is he ready for the things I want? I have no idea, but I’m determined to find out.
Someone to Hold
Wild Widows Series, Book 2
“To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
There’s something to be said for liquid courage. There’s also something to be said for knowing my three kids are safe at home with their grandparents, and I’m off duty for the next few days. I haven’t often had that kind of freedom since I lost my husband and partner in all things and became a single parent overnight.
As the night around the campfire at Bethany Beach fades into early the next morning, I’m buzzed and fully relaxed for the first time in longer than I can remember. Later, I’ll blame the booze, but I’m not so far gone that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing when I “accidentally” end up in the wrong bed at two o’clock in the morning.
I could also blame the bathroom that connects our two bedrooms for the “mishap” in an unfamiliar weekend rental house.
The truth of the matter is I want this man, and I suspect he might feel the same way about me, but he’ll never do anything about it out of loyalty to his late wife. I understand that kind of loyalty better than most people ever could. I’m extremely loyal to Mike and the memory of the life we had together. But I’m also a strong believer that life is for the living, and we’ve both got a whole lot of living left to do.
Starting right now.
I’m one breath shy of full-on hyperventilation when I creep into Gage’s room and slide into his bed, completely naked.
My greatest fear is losing one of my closest friends in the “after,” as we refer to the period after great loss.
My second greatest fear is that I’ll never again take a risk because I’m too afraid of suffering more loss.
Neither of those things can happen. I won’t allow it.
I can tell by the change in his breathing that Gage is awake and knows someone got into bed with him.
I hold my breath while I wait to see what he’ll do about it.
He turns on the light, temporarily blinding me, which gives me half a second to plan my next move.
I prop myself on my elbows, let the covers slip to my waist and turn toward the light. “What the hell…” I feign shock at seeing him there. “Whoops.” I hiccup for effect. “What’re you doing in my bed?” To my great disappointment, he’s wearing an army-green T-shirt. I was hoping for the bare-chest version, which is quite something. I know this from having seen him swim in my pool.
“Funny,” he says, his gaze dropping to my bare breasts. “I was just about to ask you the same thing.”
“I guess I took a wrong turn out of the bathroom. Sorry.” I start to get out of bed while hoping and praying he’ll stop me.
I turn to him, brow raised, breasts bare.
“What’re you really doing in here?” His gaze drops again to my breasts, which aren’t bad—if I do say so myself—considering they’ve nursed three babies.
“I told you. Too much wine, followed by a wrong turn out of the bathroom.”
He’s torn. I can see that in the hungry way he stares at my breasts and in the fiery look in his gaze when it shifts to my face. “I never imagined you sleeping naked.”
“Can’t do it at home with three little ones crawling all over me.”
He’s not exactly kicking me out.
“I, um… I can go. Sorry to bother you.”
Best word ever.
“Was there something else?” I ask as innocently as possible, even as my heart pounds and my nipples tingle in a way they haven’t in a long time.
“What do you really want?”
I feign confusion, and wish I was filming this performance so I could submit it for awards—and as a training video for other widows trying to jumpstart their love lives. “Uh, well, eight hours of sleep would be cool. That never happens.”
“And that’s it? That’s all you want?”
I stretch out on my side, facing him, head propped on my upturned hand. “Is there something you want?”
His face tightens with tension and what might be distress. We can’t have that.
“Never mind. Don’t answer that. I’ll just see you in the morning.”
No, wait, those are the best words ever. They’re gruffly spoken, as if he’s not sure he should’ve said them. But he doesn’t take them back.
I drop down so my head is on the pillow, hands under my cheek. “I’m here.”
He releases a short laugh. “Believe me, I know.”
“It was an honest mistake.”
“Was it, though?”
“What’re you accusing me of?” I ask, full of innocence.
He rolls his dark eyes and runs a hand through wavy dark hair. “So many things.”
I love that I’m not fooling him at all, but he still doesn’t ask me to go. “You want to talk or sleep?”
“Is there a third option?” he asks, shocking me for a second.
He tips his head as if considering whether I mean that.
I do. I adore him for so many reasons, and I’ve had a wicked crush on him for almost as long as I’ve known him. It’s almost two years since he joined the Wild Widows, which was nearly a year after he’d lost his wife and daughters. Hard to believe sometimes the way time goes by after the worst kind of loss. It marches on with no consideration whatsoever for broken hearts or shattered lives.
Gage’s loss was worse than most. His wife and twin eight-year-old daughters were killed by a drunk driver. I wonder all the time what he was like before that unimaginable loss. He doesn’t smile much, and his arresting face wears the grief he carries with him. It’s hard to articulate what I mean by that, but I can see his grief whenever I look at him, and that pains me. I’m not sure when his pain became mine, too, but it’s been that way for a while.
“If I choose door number three, will it make everything different between us?” he asks.
“It could, but different isn’t necessarily bad, is it?”
“I rely on your friendship to get me through the days.”
His stark confession touches me deeply.
“So maybe we shouldn’t do anything to screw that up, huh?”
I’m not sure where the courage comes from, because my buzz has worn off, but I slide across the bed so I’m only a few inches from him. “If we both agree not to let it screw up anything, we should be fine, right?”
His hand lands on my shoulder like the hottest of brands.
I shiver under his touch even as I try to project calm coolness.
“I haven’t been with anyone since Natasha.”
“How do you know?”
He never speaks about his personal life in our group meetings, so I don’t know anything for certain. It’s more of a guess. “I just do. I know you.”
“That makes this a bigger deal than it would be otherwise.”
“I get it.” He and the other Wild Widows know I had sex with a random guy shortly after Mike died so I didn’t have to dread the first time with someone else. I regretted it almost immediately, but right now, I’m glad I did it. “We can just sleep together. Nothing has to happen.”
His hand slides down my arm to take hold of my hand, which he places on his erection. “You did that.”
I lick lips gone dry at realizing he’s big all over. “Did I?”
He nods. “What do you plan to do about it?”
“What do you want me to do?”
Shrugging, he says, “Whatever you want.”
Gulp. We expected to spend the rest of our lives with other people. No matter how well we know each other—and I know him better than people I’ve known for decades—it’s still strange to be intimate with anyone other than Mike, or for Gage to do this with someone other than Natasha.
I move so I’m on my knees.
He sits up, his back against the headboard.
I consider asking him to kill the light but decide against it as I reach up to caress his face. He’s always so serious, so buttoned down, so heartbroken. More than anything, I want to give him some relief from the constant grind of relentless grief.
Something that would’ve been no big deal back in the day is the biggest of deals as I straddle his lap and lean in to kiss him for the first time. I keep it simple, just lips touching lips, waiting to see if he’s with me.
His hands land on my hips to pull me closer as he tips his head to kiss me back.
The second his tongue brushes against mine, I’m sunk.
How many nights have I sat at Wild Widows meetings wondering what it would be like to be with him? How many times have I pondered what he was like before an unspeakable tragedy changed him forever? How many times have I wondered if it would be weird to do this with a friend I met through a group of widows?
Too many to count.
PS, it’s not weird. It’s hot.
He’s like a man unleashed with years of pent-up desire directed entirely at me.
But then it hits me. Is it for me, or is it the end of the dry spell that has him so turned on?
I try to push that thought away to fully enjoy what’s happening in the moment, but the question resonates like a bass drum through my head, demanding attention.
“What’s wrong?” he asks when he moves from my lips to my neck while cupping my breasts and teasing my nipples.
“Could I ask you something?”
“Is this about me, or would any naked woman have done the trick?”
He goes still.
I instantly regret asking the question, but I still want to know.
“Of course it’s about you. Do you think, after everything I’ve been through, that I could just do this with some random woman?”
“I did it with some random guy.”
“And there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s what you needed at the time, but please don’t think any warm body would’ve worked for me, Iris, especially the first time. That’s simply not true.”
“Oh. Okay. Please continue, then.”
He sighs and leans his forehead against mine. “I sort of thought there might be something, you know, between us…”
“I see the way you look at me sometimes, as if you want to do dirty things to me.”
I sputter with laughter. “I do not look at you that way!”
“Yes, you do.”
Shaking my head, I lean in to kiss him. “You’re seeing things.”
He squeezes my ass, and just that is all it takes to reignite the fire. “No, I’m not.”
“Would you ever have done anything about it?”
“I’m not sure.” He continues to run his hands over my back as he studies me in that intense way of his. “I would’ve been worried about messing up a friendship I rely on.”
“That could never happen, Gage. Ever.”
“Sure, it can. We all know sex changes things.”
“We won’t let that happen.”
“Do you promise?”
“That’ll be an easy promise to keep.”
“I’m glad you pretended to get into the wrong bed.”
“I didn’t pretend! I was genuinely confused.”
“Now you’re just lying to my face.”
She’s adorable when she lies, but then again, she’s adorable all the time. But she’s so much more than that. She’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had and a huge reason why I’m still functioning after losing everything that mattered to me.
Have I thought about what it might be like to get naked with her?
Yep. Quite often, in fact, but I sure as hell didn’t expect it to happen the way it did. I’m forty-one years old, long past the days when a naked woman showed up in my bed and played it off as an accident. In fact, that scenario has never happened before tonight.
The sexual part of me is waking up from years of dormancy after losing my love. It reminds me of a limb coming back to life with pins and needles. I haven’t wanted anyone else or given much thought to that part of myself until Iris turned up naked in my bed.
I want her, and not just because she’s a handy naked body.
I feel safe with her. I love her and she loves me. We take care of each other every day in big ways and small.
Kissing her feels right. Touching her soft skin, having her touch me… It’s so good, it makes me feel guilty for wanting someone other than Natasha this much. Everyone in my life has been pushing me for years now to start over with someone new. I’m not sure if Iris is going to be my someone new, but I push past the guilt, determined to make this good for her.
If I stay focused on her, I might be able to get through this without embarrassing myself by breaking down or something equally awful.
I shift us so I’m on top. I kiss her everywhere, making her come twice before it occurs to me that we might need birth control. “I don’t have condoms.”
“It’s okay,” she says, sounding breathless from the second orgasm. “I’m on the pill to keep my periods regular.”
It goes without saying that widows who’ve mostly avoided sex since our losses are clean, so I don’t bother to broach that subject.
As I have sex with a woman for the first time since I lost my wife, I keep my gaze fixed on Iris’s gorgeous face, determined to stay in the present when the past calls to me like a siren. Natasha used to say that life is for the living. That was one of her favorite sayings. I need to believe she meant it and would want me to be happy without her, even if that has seemed impossible at times.
Iris places her hands on my face and kisses me with sweet affection that’s exactly what I need. She gets it. She knows this is a big deal for me. Being with her makes it easier than it would’ve been with anyone else.
I go slow and try not to let this be over before it begins, but control is in short supply when Iris wraps her legs around my hips and moves with me like we’ve been lovers for longer than ten minutes. Her enthusiasm triggers something in me that’s been asleep for years, and I let go of all the worries, fears, sadness, grief and regret.
I give myself permission to take everything she has to give and to fully enjoy it.
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Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
~ Calvin Coolidge
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