posted on September 2, 2009 by Catherine Mann
“Ah hell, it broke.”
The second the stunned words fell out of Vic Jansen’s mouth he wanted to recall them for something more composed. But what was the mannerly way to tell the naked woman straddling his lap that their birth control had suffered a catastrophic failure?
This wasn’t supposed to happen to two over thirty adults.
“What do you mean, ‘It broke’?”
Claire’s horrified whisper steamed over his chest as they sat tangled together. The steamy gust stirred a fire down south when he should have been long past recovery after their weekend of marathon sex.
Lifting her off and to the side, Vic squinted in the darkness to see his friend of six months and lover of three days. Years of veterinary practice had prepped him for hostile horses and spitting-mad cats, but at the moment he felt damned unprepared to cope with Claire McDermott and a possible pregnancy.
Coping with memories of the daughter he’d lost proved even tougher. He shoved aside images of pigtails, Barbie dolls – funeral wreaths.
“Exactly what I said.” He swiped a wrist across his forehead, flinging aside sweat in spite of the forty degree weather of a Southern January evening. “The condom tore.”
“There’s absolutely no way it should have broken.” Panic pitching her voice higher, breathier, Claire snatched her dress from beside her feet and clutched it to her bare breasts he wanted to unveil and kiss all over again. “I know they only have a ninety-six percent reliability factor, but that four percent encompasses idiots who don’t know how to use the things.”
“Well, lady, tonight we two idiots just blew those stats right out of the water – as it were.” Vic gripped the steel rim of the bass boat, the plastic fishing chair chilling his skin. “Be still, will ya’? You’re going to tip us over.”
Claire puffed a breath of air upward, blowing away a lank lock dangling in her face, puffed again, then finally combed shaking fingers through her tousled caramel-colored hair. He couldn’t let himself think about tangling his hands through her silky strands as he held her curvy body against his or he would lose his focus.
She untangled a gelatinous lure and flicked it onto the tackle box. “Are you sure you didn’t catch the condom on a hook or something?”
“Geez, Claire.” Vic clasped her shoulders, her soft scented skin sending a fresh jolt of heat through him. “Don’t you think I would know if I had a hook in it?”
“Good point.” She dodged the cooler, leaning over the seat which displayed a flash of tempting flesh before she straightened, her lacy bra and panties in hand. “That’s the last time you get to supply birth control.”
“I feel compelled to point out that it’s one I snagged from your bedside table–” he tugged on his jeans– “since we’d used up mine.”
The slap and crash of waves against the shore filled the silence while Claire shimmied into her underwear. Vic grimaced at her extended quiet. Theirs had been an unlikely friendship of opposites – classic Claire with all her pretty lace, and him with his flannel, rough-around-the-edges ways. But a friendship he’d come to value in the past six months since he’d sold his vet practice in North Dakota and relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, away from all reminders of his daughter and ex-wife.
Yet, in spite of his vow for a rootless existence living on a sailboat, more and more often he’d found himself walking across the marina dock to Beachcombers restaurant for Claire’s home cooked meal, a glass of sweet tea – and her smile.
Claire suddenly seemed overly interested in how her dress buttoned up the front. “Those condoms in my bedside table were old. I, uh, haven’t been with anyone for a long time.”
She swayed toward him. “Really.”
Damn, she never failed to capsize his control with her unexpected moments of vulnerability peeking through her unflappable shield. Vic pulled her against his chest. She resisted half-heartedly, then relented.
He smoothed his hands over her back, down her spine while resisting the tempting curve of her bottom. “I don’t have any diseases you need to worry about, if that makes you feel better.”
“A little.” Her full lips curved into a hesitant smile against his skin. “Me neither, by the way, no surprise given my non existent sex life… up to now.” She eased free, the boat lurching in response. Once steadied, Claire slipped her feet into her pumps.
“What are the odds, given the timing of your cycle?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Are you sure? Never mind.” Stupid question.
The risk of having another kid scared the pants right back off him, but Claire deserved some kind of reassurance.
“Let’s take this a day at a time. There’s no need to get in a frenzy about something that may not even happen. We’ll discuss it when and if we need to, but I’ll be there for you.”
Claire stared back at him in the dark, waiting… for what? Finally, she shook her head. “Like you said, we’ll discuss it later.”
She snatched up her sweater and leapt from the boat onto the asphalt.
Sliding open the garage door, she revealed the marina parking lot and her restaurant/home up the hill overlooking docked crafts bobbing in the harbor.
They’d been on their way to his forty-two foot sailboat when they’d been delayed by a spontaneous make-out session against a string of garages for marina residents. And hey, since he owned the truck and bass boat inside, why wait?
Zipping his pants, he tracked her sweet-butt hauling up the planked walkway toward the two story restaurant she co-owned with her sisters. A few leftover Christmas lights illuminated her double-time progress way from him. He considered simply letting her go and giving them both some space. But even as frustrated as he was over her deep freeze, he owed Claire for challenging him back to life after years of numbed emotions. That meant he couldn’t let her walk away scared.
Snagging his shirt, he vaulted over the side of the boat. He stuffed his arms through the flannel softness that now carried Claire’s lilac scent, along with a few ripped buttonholes from her frantic hands.
“Hold on.” He dashed after her, the tails of his open shirt flapping behind him.
The need for a better end to their weekend raked aside everything else, including shoes. He thudded barefoot past the marina office onto her property, across the patchy sandy lawn.
Toes darn-near frostbitten, Vic made it to her front porch a hair’s breadth behind her. He braced a hand just beside her and rested his cheek against the back of her head, nuzzling against her tangled hair. She tensed, but she didn’t move, gasping in the steamy humid night.
His brain scrambled for the right words, a way to shift them back to what they’d shared before he’d ruined it by taking her to bed – or to his boat. “I know you needed me to say something, and I fell short of the mark.”
The tense brace of her shoulders sent alarms through him. Claire was beyond upset. She was in a blind panic. What fears of her own was she carrying around that she hadn’t shared with him anymore than he’d told her about his? And what a time to realize they hadn’t been friends in any meaningful manner after all. Just meal-sharing acquaintances who’d gotten naked together. “God almighty, lady, you’re the most exasperating and incredible woman I’ve ever met. But I’m not very good at the pretty words.”
Slowly, she turned, tilting her chin defensively. She reached, her hand hovering between them almost touching his bare chest, but settling on the open shirt instead. “I need to be alone right now. But I promise I’ll let you know if I’m…”
She didn’t need to finish. Her shuttered expression said it all. They couldn’t go back to what little they’d had. Disappointment chugged through him, more than he would have expected three short days ago. His hands slid from her face. “Okay, I’ll be waiting to hear from you then. You know where to find me.”
He stepped back from the porch, Claire, her smile. Déjà vu swept over him as she sprinted up the steps and into her antebellum restaurant/home. How many times would he watch people he cared about fade from his life?
Damned if numb wasn’t better after all.