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TWO MONTHS LATER


He's so quiet," Emma said, looking down at baby Wade sleeping on her chest. "He's like a turtle on a log."

"You should hear him when he's hungry," Beth said, sitting back in her lounge chair and picking up her glass of lemonade. It was almost the summer solstice, and for once, the weather had lived up to the calendar and given them a balmy day. "It's just like a boy to yell when he's hungry, yell when he's tired, yell when he poops. I'll bet girls are quieter."

"Do you think you'll be trying for a girl?" Emma asked.

"Oh, I don't know: people say boys are easier. Can you imagine dealing with a daughter during puberty? I can barely handle Daphne."

Emma choked on her lemonade. "She seems much happier now!"

"Since she got Kevin as her doormat."

"Maybe she really likes him."

Beth snorted. "No, he'd make an adoring husband, so therefore she won't marry him. Although she probably should."

Beth's husband, Ty, opened the screen slider from the kitchen and came out with a tray of hot dogs. "Ladies, prepared to be astounded. The chef is about to fire up the grill."

Emma grinned.

"No fireballs this time," Beth said. "You nearly burned down the neighborhood last time."

Ty bent over the back of her chair and kissed the top of her head. "Have faith. Your man is mastering fire for you! He is cooking meat!"

"Or a reasonable facsimile thereof." Beth smiled as Ty strolled to the far end of the patio.

"Things are good between you?" Emma asked softly.

Beth met her eyes. "Yeah, things are good. He's a pain in the ass half the time, but he's a good man." Her eyes went to baby Wade. "Better than I expected." She flashed Emma a grin. "I remember what a mess J was during my pregnancy, and he put up with me. That all feels like a lifetime ago, in some ways."

"It does to me, too. Big changes do that, I guess."

"So how's the train station going?" Beth asked. "When are they actually going to start construction?"

Emma laughed. "Five years? Never? Who knows!"

Beyond all her expectations, her design had been chosen for the new station. She was too inexperienced to be in charge of the project and was treated more as a half-forgotten consultant than as the architect, but the fact remained that it was her design concept that was going to be the inspiration for the new King Street Station. Someday.

At the far end of the patio, a whoosh went up and the tin hot dog tray clattered to the cement.

"Ty?" Beth cried.

A string of curse words flowed upon the summer air, ending with, "Goddamn piece of crap."

Emma saw Ty scooping hot dogs off the patio, wiping some of them off on his shorts.

"Pretend you didn't see that," Beth said. "The grill will burn off any germs, and he'll be hurt if you don't eat one."

Emma smiled weakly.

They sat listening to Ty work, and watched the baby sleep.

"So have you slept with him yet? I mean again. I mean-"

"I know what you mean," Emma said, laughing. Russ, for strange reasons of honor that did not entirely make sense to her, had insisted that they date like "a normal couple" for three months before they had sex again. Emma's protest that normal couples didn't usually wait three months was met with a set jaw.

"I never heard of a guy saying that sex had come too soon, and he wanted to backtrack to the wooing stage."

"He's unique, all right. But I don't plan on waiting another whole month for sex. I'm going to break his will tomorrow."

"How?"

Emma grinned. "Ever hear of a French maid?"

Russ strapped on his bicycle helmet with its fronds of kale wedged into the openings.

"You're not really wearing that, are you?" Greg asked.

"The helmet?"

Greg gave him a look. "You're buck naked, and you feel the need to put on a hat?"

"Safety first."

"I can't believe you talked me into this," Greg said.

"All you're doing is standing there-you're not riding."

"Tina would never forgive me displaying my manly goods to the eyes of other women. And quite frankly, I've seen more of your manly goods than I need to for a lifetime."

"I'm painted green from head to toe, and I have kale tied over my crotch."

"I've still seen too much." Greg pulled a digital camera out of his pocket. "Gotta show Tina, when she gets back from her trip."

"Like hell you will!"

"She's always liked you. This way I can show her that she got the better package with me."

"Oh, for God's sake."

"Lift your kale and smile!" Greg snapped a picture, then examined the result on the small screen. "You look like a piece of broccoli." He held the camera out for Russ to see.

Russ saw himself scowling out of the small screen, looking like a mental ward escapee. "Jesus."

They moved toward the other riders gathering in preparation for the annual Fremont Solstice Parade, Russ walking his bike.

"What are you supposed to be, again?" Greg asked.

"The Green Man. An ancient mythological figure, usually associated with death, rebirth, and fertility."

"You're having a midlife crisis, aren't you?"

"I'm only thirty-seven. I'm not old enough for that."

"Then why the hell come out here with these freaks?"

A young man on an ape-hanger bicycle, wearing nothing but a black vest and helmet, gave Greg a dirty look.

"Present company excepted," Greg said.

Russ smiled. "Because I can."

Greg threw up his hands. "Fine! But you didn't have to drag me along."

"Sure I did. I needed someone to take my clothes. My cell phone's in the side pocket, by the way." He nodded at the carry-on bag Greg held.

"Why couldn't Emma have done this?"

"She's waiting at the end of the parade route, with a bathrobe. Hey, is my butt still green? Does it need a touch-up?"

Greg pulled back as if from roadkill. "I'm not touching you."

Russ laughed.

The crowd of riders, nearly three hundred strong, began to form into a column, waiting for the whistle that would mark the start of the parade.

Russ threw his leg over his bike. "Wish me luck!"

"You don't need luck," said a dark-haired, masked young woman, riding up and stopping between Russ and Greg. Her body was painted black and white, to look as if she was wearing a French maid's outfit. There were white ruffles around her painted neckline, cuffs, and midthigh hem, and a white apron painted over her lower belly. A small white cap sat atop her head. "You have me!"

"Emma?" Russ choked out.

The whistle blew. The column of riders let out a cheer and began to move, Emma along with them. White apron ties painted over her toned, black-painted buttocks rippled with movement as she pedaled.

"You lucky bastard," Greg said.

Russ grinned and joined the throng, quickly catching up to Emma. And together they cruised down the street, nothing but the wind between their naked skin and the hard road below-and nothing but possibilities ahead.



Chapter Eighteen | The Erotic Secrets Of A French Maid |