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Chapter Seven

1 can't believe you lucked into this place so fast," Daphne said, rinding a spot on the windowsill for the plant she'd brought as a housewarming gift.

"God, I'm envious," Emma's friend Beth said, from the futon couch that was the only piece of furniture in the living area. "You're single, thin, and living in a posh apartment in Belltown."

"Don't give me that. I remember how loud and long you moaned about being single. You couldn't wait to get married and pregnant and move to the burbs."

Beth put her hands on her eighth-month belly and made a face. "That was before I knew what was in store for me, or that Ty was only pretending to know how to use a washing machine. Do you know, he leaves his dirty clothes all over the house. You'd think a grown man would know better than to take off clothes at random and drop them on the floor. I'm pregnant, for God's sake! Does he think it's easy for me to bend down and pick them up? It's frickin' impossible!"

"You'd better take her out to lunch," Daphne said in a stage whisper. "Blood sugar. Dangerously low."

"Just you wait," Beth said. "Derek will be just as bad. Oh, they pretend to cook for themselves and to keep their bathroom clean before you're legally bound to them, but the moment they've got you locked up in their pumpkin shell, there they keep you very well!" She angrily plucked at the fringe on the pillow.

"What happened to the glow of pregnancy?" Emma asked.

"Fuck the glow! It's a fucking lie!" Beth started to cry.

Emma and Daphne exchanged wide-eyed glances; then both went to sit on either side of Beth and comfort her.

"It's nothing like I thought it would be," Beth said, wiping at her running nose with the back of her hand and snuffling. "Everything on TV makes it look so lovely and beautiful and like it's going to be the best thing in the world. They don't tell you what's going to happen to your body. They don't tell you that you can hardly breathe, or sleep at night, or that you have to pee every ten minutes. They don't tell you that you can't stay awake for more than a few hours, or that your emotions get all wonky so that you start crying for no flippin' reason. They don't tell you that you'll be frickin' scared to death about everything that could go wrong, and that your husband will just say, 'You worry too much. Women drop babies in rice paddies in China all the time and just keep on working, no problem. You'll be fine.' I'm not a fucking farmer in a rice paddy! I'll bet they're just as pissed off at their husbands, anyway! Who leaves a woman to give birth in a rice paddy?"

Beth snuffled. "I haven't even chosen a theme yet for the baby's room. What type of mother am I?"

Emma wrapped her arms around her and gave her a hug. "Maybe a normal one."

Beth sniffled. "You think so?"

Daphne's cell phone rang, playing a snippet of The Rolling Stones's "You Can't Always Get What You Want." "Hi, sweetie! Yeah, I'm about done here" Her voice faded out as she went into the other room to finish her conversation.

"Are things really so bad?" Emma asked Beth.

Beth shrugged. "I don't know. I can't tell anymore. It's like I have the worst case of PMS ever, times ten. It messes up my perspective, but I swear, Ty doesn't understand anything about what I'm going through."

"Ty adores you."

"I think he's afraid of me." Beth smiled through her tears. "For good reason, maybe. The happy woman he married has turned into a lunatic." Her smile faded. "And the tender, affectionate man I married has turned into someone who plays deaf if I try to talk during a 'big moment' in a ball game on TV."

"Oh."

"Yeah. I make him pay for that, though," Beth said darkly.

Daphne emerged from the other room. "I gotta run. I'm meeting Derek at his house and then we're going furniture shopping. Woo hoo! He knows I hate his black leather sofa, and I love how he's making compromises for me."

"It's sounding pretty serious," Emma said. "How much have you guys been talking about the future?"

Daphne's grin wavered only the faintest bit. "Oh, it's too soon to get into that."

Emma and Beth exchanged a quick, silent look, but Daphne caught it. "What?! I'm not going to rush him! I don't want to scare him off. This is a big step as it is, moving in together."

"Just as long as you're both on the same page about what you want for the future," Emma said.

Beth added, "You've talked about whether he'd like to be married eventually and have kids, haven't you?"

"It's too soon!" Daphne insisted. "Asking me to live with him is a huge step, and I don't think he would have taken it if he didn't see a future for us."

Emma put up her hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, you know him a lot better than either of us do. I'll be here if you need me, but I know you're confident you won't."

"Thanks for the thought." Daphne came over to give Emma a hug. "I'm going to miss living with you. You'll come over to our place for dinner sometime, won't you?"

"Sure. And you can come down here and we'll go shopping and have lunch."

"Okay."

Daphne said her good-byes to Beth and then left.

"I hope that works out as well as she hopes," Beth said.

"Daphne and Derek?" At Beth's nod Emma shrugged. "I guess I hope so, too."

"You don't like Derek?"

"I don't know. There's nothing wrong with him, really, except that he strikes me as kind of dim. No imagination. But maybe Daphne doesn't mind that."

"Who can tell what type of partner is right for someone else? We can't even judge that for ourselves. Speaking of which! What's the full story on this apartment and the guy who owns it, huh?"

Emma felt her cheeks redden. "Why should my getting this apartment have anything to do with romance?"

Beth raised a brow. "No way you can afford this place on your own. Belltown is muy trendy, and trendy means bucks. So come on, spill! Or better yet, let's go have lunch and then you can spill over the food. I'm starving! But let me go to the bathroom first."

There was no shortage of restaurants in Belltown, and the apartment was within walking distance of both tourist-choked Pike Place Market and the main shopping district in the center of the city, home to upscale malls, department stores, and boutiques. They decided on a bistro a block and a half from the apartment and settled into a booth by the window, where the spring sunlight could warm their skin.

Two baskets full of bread, a bowl of lobster bisque, and another bathroom trip later, Beth put down her spoon and sighed. "Ohhh, that's better."

"You're not going to have room for your entree."

"Ha-watch me. But now, tell me what's up with the apartment."

Emma played with the remains of her salad, driving a candied pecan through an oil slick of balsamic vinaigrette. For the past twenty minutes she'd been debating how much to tell Beth, trying to guess her reaction if she heard the whole truth.

"Like I said, the apartment belongs to a rich man whose house I was cleaning. It's been empty for a few months; he hasn't had time to find a tenant and he thinks he wants to sell the place soon, so he's letting me stay there for a very reasonable price."

Beth gnawed a crust of bread. "Mm-hm. And is he single?"

"Well, yeah," Emma conceded.

"How old?"

Emma shifted in her seat. "Thirty-six."

"Good-looking?"

"Maybe."

"Uh-huh.Isee."

Emma met her eyes, trying to keep hers innocent. "You see what?"

"Has he made a pass at you?"

"Maybe." A smile pulled at the corner of her mouth. "And it's not like I haven't wanted to lay my hands on his fine ass."

"Emma!"

"What?!"

"Naughty girl." Beth grinned. "You want him, don't you?"

Emma shrugged.

"He must want you, too. Why else would he let you have the apartment? I bet he's going to make excuses to stop by and 'see how you're doing.' He'll bring instructions to the microwave or pretend there's a leak in the bathroom faucet."

"He hardly needs to make excuses. I offered to make him dinner whenever he wants."

"Emma!"

"There's nothing wrong with making him dinner."

"Of course there's not. I'm just surprised. I've never known you to make a move on a guy."

"They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." Emma grinned.

Beth snorted. "I think there's another organ that takes priority. But you're a fabulous cook, and men love food. Have you ever thought about going into catering?"

"No," she said, glad to change the topic. "Being a personal chef crossed my mind, but I'm not going to pursue it for fear of getting sidetracked from architecture." A faint thought flitted through her mind, a distant sense that the pieces of her puzzle had not been put together correctly. She'd offered to cook for Russ the first time she met him

"Makes sense, I guess," Beth said. "But back to your love slave: I never knew you were attracted to older guys."

The thought Emma had been trying to capture dissipated as she switched her attention to Beth's comment. "He doesn't seem older, except that he doesn't walk around with a baseball cap on sideways, doesn't wear a gold chain around his neck, and I can't imagine him sitting around with his buddies drinking beer and talking about how 'hot' some girl is."

"Since when do guys grow out of that?"

Emma shrugged. "He just doesn't seem that way. He drives a hybrid, for God's sake. Granted, a Lexus high-performance hybrid, but still a hybrid."

"That means nothing. Hybrids are status symbols now: they say, "I'm smart enough to care about the environment, and rich enough to act on it." And a Lexus performance car screams, 'I have money. Fuck me!' Granted, it screams it in a more gentlemanly manner than a Porsche, but it's the same thing."

"So what if he is looking for sex? It's not like I don't want that myself."

"But you don't want to be his young little sex trophy, either, stashed away in his apartment to come pork whenever he feels like it."

Emma scowled. "Why not? Why not for once just have fun with sex, instead of trying to tie it up into a big complicated relationship? I don't have time for a relationship. I don't feel like nurturing some guys ego and having him suck up all my free time. I have better things to do!"

Beth gaped at her.

The waitress set their lunches in front of them. "Is there anything else I can bring you?"

Emma flashed her a smile. "No, thanks."

The aroma of chicken cacciatore stirred Beth back to the present. "I always thought it was true love and Prince Charming you were waiting for. I never thought you cared about sex for the sake of sex."

Emma dug into her grilled salmon. "Yeah, well. Just because I didn't have any for a long time doesn't mean I didn't want it."

"But do you really not care about not having a relationship along with it?"

"I just" she started, but then couldn't find words to explain what she had not yet completely reconciled within herself. "I just know that I'm horny and that I want to devote my energies to my career right now. Can I have sex on a regular basis with the same man and not get emotionally involved? I don't know. I've never tried."

"Can you even enjoy it that way?"

"I'm willing to give it a shot."

"I had a few relationships like that, where by the end I didn't care about the guy," Beth said. "Whenever we had sex, while I was lying under him and he was grunting away on me, tears would roll down my cheeks. The worst part of it was that the jerk never even noticed."

"Jeez, Beth. If you were crying during sex, why did you keep doing it?"

She shrugged. "The relationships usually ended a couple weeks later. It became a pretty good warning sign that things had gone sour."

"I should think so."

"The weird thing was, I didn't know that I felt nothing for the guy anymore until I started crying. It's like my body knew, even if my brain didn't."

Emma shivered. "I hope that doesn't happen to me."

"If it does, don't ignore it. No orgasm is worth feeling like crap."

Emma tried to shake Beth's words off. "I wonder if men ever feel that way?"

"I can't imagine that they do. An orgasm is an orgasm is an orgasm to them. What's not, to like? I mean, they pay hookers for sex, and that's got to be about as 'I don't care about her' as you can get."

"I guess you're right," Emma said weakly.

"Isn't there a famous quote that goes something like, 'Men don't pay women for sex. They pay them to go away after.'"

Emma was getting queasy. She wanted Russ to like her; to respect her, even. To enjoy spending time with her. "I read somewhere that when a man comes, he gets the same burst of oxytocin that a woman gets when someone hugs her."

"What's oxytocin?" Beth asked.

"You know, it's that hormone that makes people bond to each other. Mothers to babies, women to men. You'll supposedly get big bursts of it when you breast-feed."

"God, I hope so. At the moment I feel like this baby is the alien that took over my body."

"Anyway, women get bursts of oxytocin when they're touched. Men only get a healthy dose of it when they come. It makes them feel love. Supposedly." Emma shrugged.

"Which would explain why they declare their devotion after they've had their little 'moment.' And here I always thought it was gratitude for sex that prompted that 'I love you.'"

Emma laughed. "Nope. Chemicals."

Beth sighed. "I always knew that I'd better put out on a regular basis if I didn't want Ty to stray."

"I hope there's more to his fidelity than that," Emma said. "I hope there's more to any guy's fidelity. We can't all be the same to them."

Beth speared a mushroom with her fork. "Just a hole to put it in. That's all we are."

"You don't really believe that, do you?"

"I don't know. Sometimes I feel like all I am to Ty is that woman who does his laundry and cooks his dinner, and who's convenient when he wants to get off. He doesn't even seem interested in the baby." Beth sniffled.

"But you know he loves you."

"Does he? Maybe it's the path of least resistance for him to stay with me. He hates confrontation. He'd rather endure misery in silence than fight."

"But I think that's true of most guys," Emma protested. "Have you talked to him? Let him know how you're feeling?"

Beth snorted. "Oh, yeah, that will go over well. The last thing a guy wants to hear from any woman is, 'We need to talk.' No, I think your plan to seduce your cute landlord is better than I first thought: sex without attachment, where you can take what you need and leave the rest of the relationship mess behind. Everything will be on your own terms."

"That's what I'm hoping," Emma said, but found herself plagued by a niggling sense of doubt.


Chapter Six | The Erotic Secrets Of A French Maid | Chapter Eight