The red dress was slutty—with its low cut in front and off the shoulder neckline. Milly Mason would never wear such a thing. The white sheath dress was more her style. It was boring, safe.
She slipped the red dress over her head. She wasn’t Milly Mason any longer. She was now Milly Jackson, the single, divorcee who’d been told to wear something that made her feel amazing every day. It was step five in her get-over-a-divorce program dictated by her therapist.
She angled herself in the mirror. Why wasn’t this step one? The knit fabric hugged her hips and it felt amazing against her skin. Then again, her nerve endings all over had begun to waken—and she didn’t even know they’d gone to sleep.
Now? She woke with tingles running up and down her legs, probably from her X-rated dreams of a certain man she was having lunch with today.
John Smith. That name did not fit with that man. Not at all.
Her phone alarm went off. Oh, shoot, she was going to be late if she didn’t get a move on. Her ex accused her of always being late. Well, screw you ex-husband who is now cheating on his own mistress.
The Hallmark channel really should hire her. She had plot twist ideas out the wazoo for them.
Deep breath, girl. Ex is not invited to our lunch date. Um, or rather her “lunch friend meet-up.”
She grabbed keys, a wrap because restaurants are usually set to man-temperatures, and locked the door behind her. Thirty minutes later, she was pulling up to Martin’s, who thankfully had valet series. Her heels weren’t exactly broken in.
As soon as she stepped inside she saw John. In the daylight, his dark hair was laced with more silver, but his skin was still as tan and his shoulders still as broad as she’d recalled now clad in yet another suit coat Today, he wore a navy blue blazer, beautifully cut, over a pair of jeans. My God, they did go together despite her earlier thoughts on the clothing pairing—or at least they did on him. Then again, she was beginning to believe anything would look good on him.
He beamed a generous smile toward her and rose from his chair as she made a beeline for the small bistro table.
“Hi.” She held out her hand, a clear signal for her desired tone of this lunch meeting. “Thanks for meeting me.”
He grasped her offering, flipped her hand over, and pressed a kiss to her skin. “Thank you for the invitation.”
She took the seat across from him, praying that flush warming her cheeks wasn’t too obvious. “So what looks good?”
He’d been studying the menu when she arrived.
“Everything, dang it.”
A little laugh formed in her throat. “Maybe you can steal some ideas.”
“Something tells me…” he glanced down. “…fried green tomatoes wouldn’t go well at my place.”
A waiter appeared, poured water into glasses. His eyes slanted down at John. Perhaps he’d been identified as a competing restaurateur. “What else can I get you? A glass of chardonnay for the lady or a whiskey for you, sir?”
“Martini?” John asked her.
“Just sparkling water for me, please.” Day drinking wasn’t on her divorce program, and the way he looked in that suit? She might get ideas.
John appeared a tad affronted by her plain choice. “A bottle of the Rudd Sauvignon Blanc. 2017, please.”
After they were left alone again, he smiled over at her. “Have to go back to work?”
She waved her hand. “Oh, no, I retired three years ago.” Oops. Way to go. Broadcast your age, why don’t you? “I retired early,” she added quickly.
“Well, if you’re worried about getting handsy with me, I can fend off your advances.” He winked at her.
“Who said I’d make the first move?” Where did that come from?
“Okay…” He raised his water glass. “Bar raised.”
Her tongue knotted six ways, and she couldn’t think of a good response before the waiter was back with a wine bottle in hand, twisting the cork out with quick efficiency. He set down two glasses, and she didn’t protest. Maybe she’d think better with… half a glass. That’s all she’d have.
John’s hand touched hers. “Do you want me to order for you? The tortellini, perhaps?”
The waiter smiled, though he appeared to be focused on getting the wine into the glasses. “The tortellini is excellent.”
John nodded once at him, and an unspoken message crossed between them.
After the man left, she sat back and twiddled with her fork. “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”
He shrugged. “Maybe. Okay, yes. But I haven’t been here with a beautiful woman.”
“You don’t have to flatter me. Really.” Though she did love the way he looked at her, not like she was some frumpy older woman but like she was a … female. Yeah, that was it.
“Oh, yes, I do. You have a compliment deficit.”
Her shoulders dropped. “Do I look that desperate?”
“No. Under appreciated. And I…” he lifted his wine glass. “… make a point to appreciate anything that brings pleasure.”
His eyes travelled from her head down her torso and back up to her eyes. She liked it. “Oooo, you should be in an Italian movie.” She took her glass and met his toast.
“I was. 1988.” He took a sip. “I played the ingenue the older woman took advantage of.”
He was funny, too. She laughed at his joke.
“You think I’m kidding.”
“No. I was on vacation with my parents in Rome. A director saw me. It was an easy three day’s work for more money than I could use for my first semester in school.” He shrugged.
“You’ve lived an interesting life.” What did she do? Teach third graders for twenty-two years, and make dinner every night for a man who took other women to Gerbert’s. She moved to twiddle with her knife because it just felt good in her fingers.
“I’ve lived,” he said. “And so will you.”
She wished. The trouble was, she hadn’t a clue what that meant. To live. All her thoughts on the matter sounded like a bumper sticker.
He eyed her. “Tell me. If you could do anything, what would it be?”
“I’d sit on a stone terrace in Greece, sipping wine with someone who didn’t even notice the scenery.” See? Total cliché.
“And what else?”
She leaned forward. “John. I so appreciate you weaving these fantasies for me.”
He cocked his head. “You know what? You need more wine.” He poured her more before she could place her hand over the glass.
“My glass should be closed.”
“Nothing should be closed. But I have a strict two drink limit on lunch. Don’t worry. What are you doing this afternoon?”
She swallowed. For some reason lying to him would be terrible but telling him the truth would be worse. She was doing phase six, and it was… sexual in nature. She thought lunch with John would loosen her up for it.
Gah, she couldn’t even think of the instructions. She’d turned eighteen shades of red when her therapist said the word—the thing she was supposed to do.
She’d blocked the afternoon for the thing—in case it took that long to work up the courage to try. Then, again, blocking out time was the easiest part of her day. She had so little to do.
“Oh, just things.” She took a sip of her wine.
A plate of tortellini arrived—just in time. They ate. They sipped wine. They chatted about his travels.
He’d been everywhere—India, Egypt, South Africa. The furthest she’d ever traveled was to Key West, where her husband told her to sit by the pool while he explored. Then, the extent of her travels was to school and visiting the Food Mart for groceries.
God, her life had been sad. Even her only son rarely came to visit—only just before Christmas since he’d wanted to spend most of his holidays with his wife’s family. Irene’s family invited her and her ex to go skiing with them over Christmas one year. Why hadn’t they?
A hand touched hers. “Hey, you okay?”
No, she wasn’t. She sniffed up the tears that threatened to rise and took another sip of wine. She’d had a glass and a half, which was more than she normally ever had. At this rate, she’d have to hail a cab to get home. Or, maybe John would drive her. He seemed perfectly fine. Men had higher tolerances, right?
They also seemed to have more exciting lives than she had.
“Let’s go get some air.” He rose and before she knew it, the bill was paid and he was leading her out of the restaurant.
But she was fine. Really. Now standing out in the sunshine, John smiling over at her with such warm concern, she felt light, uncommonly better. “John, mind driving me home? I mean, the wine…”
“Not at all. And, on the way you can tell me all about your program. You’re on phase…”
“Six now.” No way would she tell him the specifics.
“Maybe I can help?” He cocked an eyebrow.
She swallowed. “It’s a solo activity.” She was supposed to masturbate, something she hadn’t really indulged in much. It seemed so pointless.
One side of his lips lifted. “Something fun?”
“It’s supposed to be.” Somehow they were walking up to a car now—his? The valet had brought it around without her noticing.
“Hey…” she looked up at him. “… you know this place well, don’t you? Or, they know you?”
“My brother owns it. So, yeah.”
She should be mad but she wasn’t. Instead, she glanced up at the blue sky. Maybe this man was a plant by her therapist. Then, again, maybe someone higher above had intervened and put this incredibly interesting man in her path—for what?
He drove her home, holding her hand the whole way. She let him. She also let her imagination go a little wild.
Milly Jackson was the girlfriend of a restaurant tycoon whose family owned a string of internationally acclaimed venues.
They spent their winters in Naples, Florida—no, Greece.
He had a boat and while she sunned herself, John shed himself of those suits and wore nothing but swim trunks as he hoisted sails. She wasn’t sure people hoisted anymore, but in her mind, he was very, very good at hoisting.
Their summers? They went to their Lake Como house where they entertained friends from all over the world. She wore flowy maxi dresses as she poured wine into goblets and John told funny stories of his travels. He’d promise to catch her up on all she missed by taking her to those places.
Then, they’d move to their bedroom and expansive en suite upstairs that overlooked the lake and he’d…
Her eyes snapped opened. Oh, God, had she dozed off? “How did we… I’m sorry. I must have taken a little power nap.” She tried to laugh but nothing came out. If she snored…
“No problem, and you did give me your address.”
She did. The wine had worn off. A sliver of embarrassment began to grow inside her. “I am a terrible date.” She rubbed her head. Oh, shit, she used the word “date.” She gasped. “I was supposed to pay for lunch.”
“No way. You are the best date I’ve had in years.” He cracked open his door. “Come on. Let’s see what phase six is all about.”
As they stood in her living room, he glanced around. What did he see? Probably a Pottery Barn explosion.
She’d hurriedly straightened a few pillows. “Please, sit. Coffee? Tea?”
He slowly nodded his head as he sat. “I’d rather hear about phase six.” He leaned back, casually. He really did have nice eyes—they were kind.
After she’d settled her butt into the chair across the small room, she twisted her fingers in her lap. “I can’t.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I want to.” Oddly, she kind of did. He was just so understanding. “I’m embarrassed.”
“I’m supposed to…” she wagged her hand in front of her crotch. “… you know.”
A squirmy heat rose in between her legs. “Yes.”
He nodded slowly. “Start slowly.”
“Oh, I plan to—”
“I mean, right now. Close your eyes.” He tilted his head. “Think of Greece.”
A little nervous laugh erupted from her lips.
“Imagine you and I in Greece,” he clarified. “We’re on a boat. The sun is hot—too hot. So we go below deck. The anchor’s down so we will only drift and bob in place.”
She could see it. Her eyes popped back open. Gah, she’d follow his orders without even thinking about it.
His gaze on her was placid, like the waters she’d imagine their boat would be floating on. Her hands rubbed on her thighs, and her eyes drifted closed one more.
“First, I peel off your bathing suit top, palm your breasts. I love them. They’re full and I love how your nipples harden when my thumb rubs over them, slowly.”
Wow, he was good at this. She swallowed as her fingers grasped the hemline of her dress, bunching it under her hands. Her bare skin was hot, like she had been on a boat deck.
His voice floated over to her. he spoke more words about how much he loved the feel of her skin, the way her bathing suit peeled slowly down like skin off a ripe plum.
“My mouth can’t wait.” His voice was low, soothing. “You lie back on that ridiculously narrow bench bed with the thin mattress. But it’s sturdy, because when I put my lips on you, your back arches and your legs widen.”
Her knees had. Her fingers found the silk of her panties under the bunched-up dress fabric.
“I love the way you moan when I touch you there.”
Short pants made her chest rise and fall as her fingers slipped under her panty elastic.
“Let me see you,” he whispered from too far away.
Her eyes drifted open to find his eyes had narrowed in desire, and his nostrils were flaring. His hand gripped the armrest until his fingers were white, and the front of his jeans bulged.
His desire for her shone in his eyes. He wanted her. No one had wanted her in so long.
But she wasn’t going to give herself to him. Not yet. She first had to give herself to her.
She touched herself right there, and the sensation built so quickly, she felt a small release. Like maybe a half orgasm—if that was even possible. It was just a small touch, but then she hadn’t been touched there in years.
John’s smile grew slowly, and her mouth had no choice but to return the gesture. She swallowed a few times and tried to catch her breath as she pushed her dress fabric back down her thighs.
They stared at one another for a long minute. Then, he rose. “I have to get to the restaurant, as much as I’d like to close it today so we could continue.” He took a long gaze up and down her body, and then turned away.
He kissed her hand at the door—the one that completed phase six. “Next week? Lunch at Lincoln Park?”
“I’d like that.”
“Good. I have a surprise.”