Read 9 1/2 Days Online

Authors: Mia Zachary

Tags: #Category

9 1/2 Days (4 page)

L
ATER THAT NIGHT
, Jordan stood in the bedroom of her Federal Hill row house and stripped off her business clothes. She carefully sorted the dry-clean items from the hand-wash only before pulling on a ratty pair of sweatpants and an even older T-shirt. In the bathroom, she removed the hairpins from the chignon she wore at the office and brushed her hair until it fell loosely to her shoulders. Then she creamed the artfully applied makeup from her face.
Jordan stared at herself in the mirror, carefully studying the parts without looking at the whole. A blemish was coming out on her chin. A quick squeeze and it was gone. Tiny wrinkles were developing under her eyes. She’d have to get some retinol cream. Reaching for the tweezers, she plucked several strays from her brow. Then her eyes narrowed as she focused on her hairline. Was that one gray? The tweezers quickly yanked out the offending strand.

She spent several more minutes checking for flaws before sighing heavily and turning out the bathroom light. Downstairs in the kitchen, she opened the refrigerator and tried to decide if she wanted a lettuce or a spinach salad for dinner. Neither one was really appealing tonight. She glanced across the room to the cabinet above the coffeemaker.

No. She shouldn’t.

Maybe she could mix the red leaf lettuce and baby spinach together, then julienne some raw vegetables over the top. There were some tomatoes in the crisper and—she felt the contents of that cabinet calling to her.

No!

Okay, she’d skip the salad and just make vegetables crudité with some low-fat cottage cheese on the side. She slammed the refrigerator shut. It was no use. She was going to open that cabinet. She was going to reach inside and she was going to blow her diet all to hell. Like a thief sneaking into forbidden territory, Jordan rushed across the room and grabbed the bag of Dove milk chocolates. Holding it up to her face, she inhaled the addictive scent of cocoa butter and sugar.

Just a few. Only a few.

She walked down the hall to the living room, flopped onto the overstuffed couch and tucked her bare feet underneath her. After laying the bag beside her with the opening in easy reach of her hand, she picked up the issue of
Style and Grace
magazine on the far cushion. Idly flipping though the pages, Jordan unwrapped a chocolate.
She’s so pretty. Not an ounce of fat anywhere on her
. Another page. Another chocolate.
Look at her thighs. They don’t even meet.
Another. And another…

There was Camryn.

Her numb fingers dropped the candy she held back into the bag. Her sister looked stunning. Simply stunning. Her golden skin was bared in a flame-red slip dress with a plunging neckline. The artful lighting emphasized the high ridge of her cheekbones, the long line of her torso and the subtle definition of her athletic legs.

Jordan looked down to see the lone chocolate left in the bag. She felt sick. Guilty and sick and weak and ugly.

Think about something else, anything else. She’d have to run an extra mile tomorrow morning. Damn it! She tossed the magazine away and got up to turn on the television. One of the cable stations was showing
Black Lace,
a movie in which the main character enticed her boss with anonymous love notes.

Yes, that was the answer. Focus on the seduction. If she could learn to act sexy and alluring, it wouldn’t matter how she looked. In the fantasies, she could be anyone she wanted. In the dark, he’d never see that she wasn’t perfect.

She ran upstairs and got the
Fifty Fast Fantasies
book from her bedroom. Snuggled onto the couch once more, she ran her index finger along the table of contents until she found one she could use. A scene in the movie distracted her for a second, then she gave all of her attention to the chapter called Strangers For One Night.

Pretend your lover is a handsome stranger. Why not pick him up as if he were a one-night stand? Surprise him in an unexpected location, wearing your naughtiest undies underneath. Let your “stranger”
know that you don’t normally do things like this, but you can’t resist him. Then take him back to your place and give him a night neither of you will ever forget.

For her this to work, Jordan would have to be sensual, naughty and fun—everything the guidebook recommended. Well, at least she could fake it. When she’d found the high-school drama class, she’d found herself. As long as she put on an act, as long as she’d played a role, she’d become confident and outgoing and even somewhat popular. It hadn’t taken long to figure out that the way she wanted people to see her was just another stage personality.

Her grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary was a little over a week away. She needed David by her side. She needed him to perpetuate her lie. Otherwise, she could already hear her cousin’s snide taunts if she had to show up alone and admit that her engagement was a fraud.

She could do this. She had to do this. It would give her the chance to discover her wild side. And it would save her a week of awkward questions and embarrassment. If she could act in high school and all through college and at the office, she could do it in the bedroom.

Jordan grabbed a notepad and began making a list of things she would need to make the Strangers fantasy a reality.

4
D
ANNY FOLLOWED
the scent of fresh garlic bread to the large kitchen at the fire station. Mondays meant Italian food and Italian food meant Tony would be making dinner. Danny greeted the half-dozen firefighters already at the table and helped himself to the steaming hot lasagna.
Mike looked up from his plate in surprise. “Hey, L.T., you got off at six. What are you still doing here?”

“I can’t resist Cappelluti’s cooking.”

He moved toward the end of the table and took the empty seat next to Tony, who shot him a proud grin. “It’s my grandmother’s secret recipe.”

Mike spoke around a mouthful of pasta. “I figured you had a date tonight since you’re on day shift.”

“It got canceled.” Danny kept his attention on his food as he answered and braced himself for the gibes.

“I can’t believe it!” Barb laughed. “The Lady Target got stood up?”

“Yeah, well, Lisa took it badly when I told her things were going too fast.”

“Eighth date already?”

Danny looked at Andrea in confusion. “Huh?”

“None of the women you go out with seem to last past the eighth date.”

“That’s not true.” He scoured his memory for an example of a long-term relationship, but after a moment, he came up blank.

“Told you.”

Danny shrugged impatiently. “Lisa started dropping hints every time we passed a jewelry store, so I called it quits a couple of days ago.”

“You did the same thing with Kelly, Sheryl…” Barb ticked off on the fingers of both hands as she quoted names.

Danny wiped a smear of sauce from his mouth. “Are you keeping tabs on me or something?”

One of the paramedics walked in and grabbed the chair beside Andrea. Frank looked around at everyone. “So, what are you guys talking about?”

“L.T.’s single again,” Tony replied.

Frank nodded sagely. “Hit the eighth date with Lisa, huh?”

“Actually, it was only our seventh.” Danny pushed his plate away, feeling defensive. “But who’s counting?”

From the other end of the table, Jen smirked. “It’s not a hard pattern to figure out, L.T. You dated two of my friends, remember?”

“You also went out with my cousin, Vicki,” Frank chimed in.

“And both of them said everything was great, then you suddenly broke it off and stopped calling.”

“Now wait a minute. It’s not always me who breaks up—”

“She’s right, L.T.” Mike gestured with his fork. “About the time your girlfriends start thinking about a future, you start thinking of reasons to back away. No matter who ends it, you’re still the one with commitment issues.”

Danny glared down the table at his supposed friend. “Thanks very much for that psychoanalysis, Dr. Stonewall.”

“Men can’t commit.” Barb set down her glass and addressed the other two women at the table. “Evolution programmed them to procreate and continue the species. That’s why they’re compelled to initiate sex with any attractive female who comes along.”

Andrea and Jen murmured agreement.

Tony scoffed. “You’re way off base there. L.T.’s problem is intimacy. Since he can’t open up and express his true feelings, he shuts himself off from emotional involvement.”

Danny sputtered indignantly. “What the hell are you babbling about?”

“I saw it on a talk show one day.”

“Oh, please. You watch that stuff?” Jen tapped her index finger twice on the tabletop. “It’s all about man’s need to explore. Once a guy has established his territory, he starts looking around for new worlds to conquer.”

Danny raised his hand. “Can I say something here?”

His request was ignored as Mike talked over the other voices. “I think the real issue is lack of trust—”

Just then the alarm blared through the station house, saving Danny from further analysis of his love life.

The dispatcher’s voice sounded over the loudspeaker. Fire in progress on the two hundred block of Paca Street near Lexington Market. Everyone scrambled away from the table, running to get into their coats and boots as the drivers revved the engines on the fire trucks.

Danny felt the rush of adrenaline that always accompanied the call to duty. Part of him was tempted to grab his gear, but he’d already put in ten hours. So, instead, he chose to stay and have another piece of lasagna rather than go home to an empty apartment. As he ate, he considered the things his colleagues had said.

He loved the thrill of the chase, the excitement of the new. He loved dating and prided himself on treating women well during the time they were together. But when his girlfriends seemed to be getting too serious, he drew the line. He wasn’t about to get trapped in a bitter and disappointed marriage like his parents’.

Sirens blared on the ladder and rescue trucks as they roared out of Station 24. In the quiet that followed their departure came the thoughts Danny had been avoiding all day. The combination of guilt and lust churning him up inside could be traced to the same source.

His fascination with Jordan.

She appeared to be the single-minded, career-oriented type he usually favored. Who would have guessed that beneath her perfectly made-up, professionally groomed persona, Jordan was an explosive sensualist? He hadn’t stopped thinking about the contradictions in her personality for the past two days and two long nights.

He still couldn’t believe his brother’s prim and proper girlfriend had nearly ripped his pants off in the elevator. Did David know? It pissed Danny off that she would cheat on him with a total stranger. Was this the kind of thing Jordan did as some sort of secret thrill?

Part of him wanted to warn David, but there was no way to do it without confessing he’d brought her to orgasm while locked in the hottest kiss of his life. That memory was followed by another wave of guilt, but all he could think about was seeing Jordan again.

A
COLONY OF BUTTERFLIES
had taken up residence in Jordan’s stomach. Her heart fluttered in the same staccato rhythm as their jagged-edged wings. Tonight was the night. Wednesday night. A night for lovers to become strangers. She’d spent the past few days setting the necessary stage and gathering her courage.
She’d talked Camryn into letting her have some of the lingerie from the debut show. She’d bought a box full of condoms and a brand-new set of black cotton bedsheets. Candles were strategically placed to form a path from the front door to the bedroom. She was still trying to figure out how to light them and look sexy doing it.

Everything had to be perfect tonight and she was so afraid it wouldn’t be.

Jordan stood in front of the bedroom mirror and stared at her reflection, the corners of her mouth tightening into a frown. Her pudgy-cheeked face sat like a full moon above her double chin and nonexistent neck. Thick shoulders rolled down to full breasts, a protruding belly, wide hips and heavy legs. She saw each bowl of ice cream she’d ever eaten, every chocolate bar and slice of pound cake. In that reflection, she saw shyness and envy, loneliness and disinterest. She saw every hope, every rejection and failure.

Jordan shut her eyes. It was only a memory. She inhaled deeply, willing the tension from her neck. She had literally worked her ass off, walking several miles every day and taking aerobics classes three nights a week, until she lost the abundance of adolescent weight and slimmed down to a healthy size twelve.

When she opened her eyes, her vision cleared along with her expression and she looked again. Her face was now an elongated heart shape, emphasized by the widow’s peak at her hairline and a delicate chin. Jordan turned from side to side, critically viewing herself from different angles.

Though she was tall, her body was femininely rounded at the chest and hips. The black satin camisole cupped her full breasts while hiding the stretch marks on her waist. Matching panties covered the generous curve of her backside. Not perfect, in fact far from it. But, in the darkness, it wouldn’t matter.

She shrugged on the thin summer raincoat and tied the sash into a secure bow. Then she checked the time. David was a creature of habit, even more detail oriented than she, if that were possible. So allowing for the rush-hour traffic, she should be able to get to his condo just as he was leaving for his evening workout at the nearby gym.

A half hour later, that annoying little voice was back. It was telling her she was a nut for lurking outside the Harborview condominiums to ambush her ex-boyfriend. After counting the windows to make sure the lights were on in David’s living room, she hid behind a screen of thick hedges and crouched down to wait. And wait.

Beads of sweat trickled between her breasts, making her very aware of the satin fabric plastered against her skin. Her thighs were cramping and no amount of position shifting eased the aching stiffness. The humid autumn breeze tickled her bare bottom where the short raincoat rode up in the back.

Several people arrived and left through the front door, but David wasn’t one of them. Jordan spared another glance at her watch. He always left for the gym at precisely six thirty. What was keeping him tonight?

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