Four Good Read Online Stephanie Brother

Categories Genre: Alpha Male, Erotic, Romance Tags Authors:
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Total pages in book: 1
Estimated words: 57972 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 290(@200wpm)___ 232(@250wpm)___ 193(@300wpm)
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Read Online Books/Novels:

Four Good

Author/Writer of Book/Novel:

Stephanie Brother

Language:
English
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My night with three strangers is amazing, until the next morning when their best friend shows up — and he turns out to be my ex.

As a bartender in a tourist town, I get hit on a lot. I’ve heard all the lines, and it’s very rare that I take the bait. But I’m about to celebrate my 40th birthday, so when three gorgeous, sweet-talking brothers invite me back to their place for a foursome, I go with the awesome, mind-blowing flow. You only live once, after all!
I have a great night with the out-of-towners, and I’m still enjoying their company over breakfast when their friend arrives to share their vacation rental.
What are the odds that their best buddy just happens to be my ex-husband?
Jay and I got married young, and I thought we were done for good. But the familiar pull of attraction is so strong, even after fifteen years, that I start to wonder if we’ve both changed enough to make things work this time.
But what about his three friends? The Hayes brothers, Brendan, Corbin, and Jonathan, want more than just a one-night stand, and I have feelings for them too.
I spend a whirlwind week getting to know the Hayes brothers, and getting reacquainted with Jay. The more time I spend with each of them, the harder it is to even think about choosing.
In a perfect world, I’d be with all of the men, but the world is far from perfect. And there are things that even my ex doesn’t know about my past, and those secrets threaten to ruin everything.
Books by Author:

Stephanie Brother



1

Even better up close

“Ready for another, Sheila?”

My neighbor, who’s a regular here at Rusty’s where I tend bar, shakes her head. “You know I never have more than two.”

I nod absently as I clear away her empty glass. “You’re right. I’m just asking out of habit, I guess.”

Sheila frowns, emphasizing the feathery lines around her lips. “You do seem a little distracted tonight, Christine.”

Her words take a moment to register because, out of the corner of my eye, I notice two other customers taking the empty seats in my section of the bar. “What? Oh, I guess I am. Sorry.”

“Is everything okay?” she asks.

I shrug one shoulder. “Sure.”

Sheila scans the area and then lowers her voice to ask, “How’s the new manager?”

“She’s good. She’s fine. Barrett’s still in a few times a week too. More often now that he’s starting to plan the expansion.”

“I remember when this place was nothing but a hole in the wall,” she says. “Hard to believe it now.”

“I know, right? I’ll be right back, Sheila.” I slide down to take care of the newly arrived couple, who both ask for their usuals. After serving them and pouring refills for another pair of customers, I return to my neighbor.

“I guess I’ll be heading out,” she says. “Trixie might start eating the sofa if I’m late.”

“You don’t want that vet bill again,” I say with a laugh.

“No, I do not. Want me to take Roscoe out when I walk Trixie?” she asks.

“Thanks. No, he’s fine. He’s always sleeping when I get home.” Roscoe is a lovable mutt I got at a shelter. He’s part basset hound, and I strongly suspect the rest of his genetic material came from a sloth. He enjoys a morning walk with me, but actively resists any additional physical exertion.

Sheila slides off her stool. “You sure you’re okay?” Though she’s only about ten years older than me, she tends to mother me, maybe because her own children have grown and moved away.

“It’s probably just my birthday that’s on my mind.”

“Age is only a number,” she says. “Forgive the cliché, but it’s true.”

“But forty is a big number,” I say.

“Aging is better than the alternative.” She gives me a grin before she turns to go.

I’m not sad about turning forty, or even particularly concerned about getting older, but it’s a milestone number, and I guess it has me taking stock of my life, thinking about how my reality measures up to what I imagined for myself when I was younger.

I think we all create pictures in our minds about how our lives will look, and mine is nothing like what I had envisioned. Not to say that it’s bad — just different.

It’s still early on a Saturday, so I check my supplies. Things will get much busier before the night is over. Sheila’s seat is quickly filled, and Becca and Scott, who are waiting tables tonight, come up to the counter regularly with drink orders.

I’m chatting to customers and mixing a dirty screw, one of our longtime signature drinks that survived the bar’s recent upscale changes, when Tom comes over. My fellow bartender, a heavily tattooed man in his late 40s, doesn’t speak much and typically stays on his side of our workspace, so I can assume he has something important to say.

“What’s up? Running low on something?” I ask.

He shakes his head before tilting it meaningfully toward the far end of the counter. “You know those guys?”

Tourist season hasn’t started yet, so the bar is mostly full of locals, though there are almost always a few unfamiliar faces in the crowd. “You’re going to have to be more specific,” I say.

“Those three just to the right of the corner, brown hair.”

When I spot the men he’s talking about, all three of them looking right at us, I can’t believe I didn’t notice them immediately. With their strong, classically attractive features, they could have walked out of the pages of an outdoors magazine.

They’re watching me with curiosity, one of them letting his gaze roam my body, another one smiling openly. They all look younger than me, especially the one who’s smiling. As I stare back at them, I notice that their eyes are all very similar and they have the same nose; they must be brothers.

“Who are they?” I ask Tom, who shrugs. I’ve never seen them before. I would have remembered. They look like the Hemsworth brothers, only more rugged and even more handsome.

“What do they want?”

“When I asked them what they wanted to drink, they asked me to send you down,” he says.

“Did they ask for me by name?”

Tom shakes his head.

From the looks they’re giving me, it’s pretty clear what their intentions are.

Though these particular men are tempting, I don’t engage in flirting with customers and I don’t entertain their pickup lines. Island locals know this, but I get hit on by summer tourists fairly regularly. Sometimes it’s flattering, but mostly it’s annoying.

“Tell them I’m busy taking care of my customers.” Tom nods and returns to his end of the bar.

As I pour from a slow tap, I discreetly glance at the three strangers. One of them is in blue flannel and the other two are wearing long-sleeve button-down shirts, the kind men sometimes wear for fishing or hiking. They have friendly faces. The one on the left is leaning forward to say something to the one on the right. I wonder which one asked for me and which two are the wingmen?

I don’t have a very high libido. It’s rare that I crave sex, and it’s been six months since I was with someone, when I was dating a guy from Whitman. I’m also not a fan of casual hookups. These men are very appealing, though. The one in the middle catches me looking, so I glance down at the glass in my hand, which was about to overflow.

There’s a tap on my back. “How are things going, Christine? Need anything?” My manager, Valerie, is at my side, and I didn’t even see her approach.

“Um … I could use another bottle of Johnnie Walker Black. It’s been popular tonight,” I tell her.

“Good crowd building tonight. Need anything else?”

“I’m good for now. Thank you.” So far, Valerie’s been great. Very supportive and hands-on. I figured the Stone brothers would make good hiring decisions. It was only about four months ago that they bought the bar from its original owner, Rusty, and I’ve been pleased with all of the changes they’ve made in such a short time. We now serve better brands of spirits and local craft beers, the interior and exterior have been modernized, and we’ve been getting more business as a result.

“Great. Just send a message or flag me down if you need anything,” Valerie says.

She heads toward Tom’s end of the bar, and looking past her, I notice that the seats where the three men had been are now vacant, two of them about to be taken by other customers. I guess the men spotted someone else to hit on, and the pang of disappointment I feel takes me by surprise.

They were really attractive.

But it turns out they look even better up close.

2

Longtime acquaintances

When I turn back toward my side of the bar, the three men are sitting at the counter just a couple of feet away from me.

While they were good looking from across the room, up close they are positively magnetic. There’s something about them — their eyes, their smiles? — that makes me want to get closer to them. Conveniently, it’s my job to talk to them.

“Weren’t you three just sitting down at that end of the bar?” I ask, with a tilt of my head toward Tom’s area.

“We were,” the clean-shaven one, who’s sitting on the left, says, arching his brow. “We moved down here because you look like you can mix a better drink.”

I’m so taken by surprise that I actually laugh. Customers have made a lot of comments about my appearance over the years, but this guy’s approach is original. “That’s why you moved down here?” I challenge.

“It’s not the only reason.” This remark comes from the one on the right, who has a short, well-groomed beard and mustache. There are a few strands of gray mixed in with his brown facial hair, but he still looks younger than me. His smooth, deep voice triggers a warm feeling low in my belly.

“Are you all brothers?” I ask bluntly. The stunning blue eyes they all share probably make my question unnecessary.

The clean-shaven one nods. “I’m Brendan Hayes. These are my brothers, Corbin and Jonathan.”

Corbin’s the one with a bit of gray in his beard. Jonathan looks to be the youngest, with a thick head of hair the color of strong black coffee, and a dark, scruffy beard. His grin adds to the sensations fluttering somewhere south of the snap on my jeans. I should not be getting tingles from someone young enough to be my … much younger brother.

“And you are?” Corbin prompts.

“Christine.”

“Christine …?” He draws my name out, inviting me to share my full name.

“You don’t really need to know my last name,” I say, swiping my towel across the counter in front of them.

“We do if we’re going to become longtime acquaintances,” Brendan says.

“Longtime acquaintances? I’ve never seen you in here before. Are you new to the island?”

“We’re visiting,” Jonathan says. “First time here, actually.”

I nod slowly, feeling both unsettled and intrigued by these men. “Welcome to Four Points, then. Are you enjoying your visit?”

“We like what we see here,” Corbin says. “A lot.” His eyes dip down to my chest and linger before returning to my face, making his meaning crystal clear. I’m wearing a black, Rusty’s-branded polo shirt with only two buttons undone, so it’s not like he’s getting a view of anything exciting. My skin heats nevertheless.

“What can I get you to drink?” I ask, vaguely aware that my other customers are in need of refills.

Brendan grins at me, the crinkles at the sides of his eyes giving me the impression he smiles easily and frequently. “What’s your specialty?”

I’m not sure I can handle the looks these three will give me if I tell them my signature drink is a dirty screw. Instead, I ask, “Are you beer drinkers?” When they nod, I say, “We have a great selection of craft brews. Would you like to see the list?”

“Surprise us,” Brendan says.

I would usually pour someone a glass of our most popular local brand. Instead, I give each of the brothers a long look, partly to work out what they might like, and partly to enjoy their handsome faces. Each of them looks back at me in turn, and I’m shocked by how my body responds to their seductive expressions.

I can’t remember the last time a man affected me this way. The men who own Rusty’s, the Stone brothers, are objectively very good looking, but they never made my insides flutter. Hell, I didn’t even have this kind of response to the male strip-show performers I saw when I was in Vegas a few years ago.

These three — the Hayes brothers — are sitting here fully clothed, grinning at me with their impossibly beautiful eyes, and I’m ready to throw my panties at them!

I turn my back and duck down to survey the bottles in the cooler. My options are visible through the glass, but I open the doors so that the cold air can temper the heat building inside me.

When I stand again, I’m holding two bottles in one hand, one in the other, my palms circled around the necks in a way that puts me in mind of holding certain male body parts. When I meet the men’s eyes, I suspect they’re thinking the same thing, though they’ve had devilish looks on their faces since I first saw them.

I pop the caps off the bottles and pour the beers, one at a time, into glasses, tilting each glass for the first part of the pour to develop the right amount of head on each one. I give the malty pale ale to Jonathan, the spicy tripel to Corbin, and a dark, roasty porter to Brendan.

“Interesting choices,” Corbin says.

“If you don’t like these, let me know. I’ll get you something else.”

“Should we toast?” Brendan asks. He and his brothers all look to me.

“I don’t drink while I’m working.” And it’s a good thing, too. After a few cocktails, I might lose my good sense and throw myself at these men.

“Whatever you have then,” Brendan says.

I sip from a large water bottle while I work, so I grab that and hold it out. Their eyes lock on mine as they raise their glasses.

“To us,” Brendan says.

“Us?” I ask, lifting a brow in question.

“To us and the start of our longtime acquaintance,” he says.

I shrug, and to keep from getting lost in their gorgeous blue eyes, I tilt my head back and take a drink, the ice water having little effect on my rampaging hormones.

3

Breaking the rules

All of the men seem pleased with the brews I selected. They make positive comments and pass their glasses around, each of them tasting all three.

I shamelessly watch them as they drink, the way their throats move, the way they capture the foam from their lips. Brendan curves his upper lip into his mouth, but Corbin uses his tongue to collect the frothy white stuff, and I can’t look away, even though I know I should.

I also take the opportunity to check for wedding rings, though I’m not sure why, since I don’t plan to get involved with them. No rings, no telltale tan lines.

“Delicious,” Jonathan says, wiping his lip with a finger and then briefly putting that finger in his mouth to remove the foam. His youthful appearance is the thing that finally brings me to my senses.

“Glad you like them,” I tell the men before I move away to help other customers. While I deliver refills and mix drinks for the servers, I feel the Hayes brothers’ eyes on me. When I glance in their direction, they’re watching me, their expressions speculative and admiring.

In my younger days, I might have blushed at all of the attention, but now I’m mostly just curious — about them as people, and about what quality it is of theirs that’s making my body respond so strongly.

When I get caught up with my duties, including organizing supplies that Valerie brings along with the bottle of Scotch I requested, I drift back over to the three men. Corbin and Brendan’s glasses are less than half full; Jonathan’s is nearly empty. “Refill?” I ask.

“Yes, please.”

I bring out a fresh glass as he drains the last of his.

“Are you always this busy?” Corbin asks as I pour the amber liquid.

“Depends on the season,” I say. “We’ll be busier in the summer. Tonight is more crowded than I’d expect for March, though.” Corbin nods, and I ask, “What brings you to Four Points?”

“A working vacation,” Brendan says.

“What type of work?”

“Adventure tours. We take people on custom tours, and we’re checking out the island as a potential destination.”

“Interesting.” This explains their golden complexions and outdoorsy clothing. “How long have you been tour guides?” I might ask anyone the question to be conversational, but I’m hoping their answer will give me a better idea of their ages.

“About five years,” Brendan says after taking a drink of his dark beer. “We were each in different lines of work, and after taking a vacation together, we decided to start our own venture.”

“Following your dreams. I love to hear that.” The customer on the stool next to Corbin gestures with his empty glass, and I pour a refill while I continue to talk to the brothers. “How’s it been, working together? I have a sister I love dearly, but I don’t think she and I could run a business together.”

“We work together very well,” Corbin says. “In fact, if you’d like to come to our place when you’re done here, we can show you how well.”

The proposition. I’d been anticipating it ever since Tom told me the men were asking for me, but I wasn’t expecting what they seem to be offering.

“Work together?” Their meaning is clear, but I want them to spell it out, even though it’s probably going to torture me to hear what they have in mind.

Corbin beckons me closer, and lowers his voice to say, “We’re very good at working together to give a woman pleasure. Multiple …” He clears his throat before continuing. “Peaks of pleasure.”

I don’t know why he didn’t just say orgasms. He’s not exactly being subtle.

I receive a lot of invitations for one night stands, mostly from out-of-towners, but also occasionally from locals whose alcohol consumption makes them forget that they’re surely going to get shot down. I always say no, and I’ll say no tonight, even though the Hayes brothers are very appealing and are apparently offering me something I’ve never experienced before.

Despite my resolve about turning them down, my brain decides to imagine how they might go about achieving what they’re promising. My pussy throbs, no doubt trying to get me to make an exception to my no-hookups policy.

The four brothers who own this bar are in a poly relationship with my friend Caz, who used to be a waitress here. Hell, I even have a regular customer, Lacy Wright, who lives with four men in a similar situation. I’d never given too much thought to their relationships except to wonder if multiple men would be worth the trouble. Even knowing about these types of arrangements, I never expected an opportunity for a polyamorous sexual adventure to just fall into my lap.

“I don’t get involved with customers.” Even though I’ve said this many times before, tonight I have to force the words out.

“Is that a policy here at … Rusty’s?” To finish his sentence, Jonathan looks at the logo on my shirt, which happens to be directly over my left breast.

I straighten my spine, reach for my cloth and swipe at the clean counter for a distraction. “No, it’s a rule of my own.”

“You know what’s really fun?” Corbin gestures for me to come closer again, and I lean in, even though doing so puts me close enough to smell the warm, spicy scent of his skin. His blue eyes go dark as they look from my eyes down to my lips and back.

I’m not breathing as I wait for him to finish. His mouth is only a few inches from mine and I wonder how he would taste. What the texture of his kiss would be like. What he and his brothers would do to me to deliver the pleasure he described.

Finally, his voice low and smooth, he says, “What’s really fun is breaking the rules.”

4

Much-needed relief

A blur of movement over Corbin’s shoulder catches my attention. It’s Valerie, hustling through the bar at her usual brisk pace. Grateful for the distraction, I straighten again and put some distance between myself and Corbin’s mesmerizing lips.

“How old are you?” I look at each of them before fixing my gaze on Jonathan.

“We’re in our thirties,” Corbin says.

“I’m thirty-three,” Jonathan says.

“You’re the youngest,” I say, more a statement than a question.

He grins, his eyes sparkling. “I’m old enough to have plenty of valuable experience.”

“I’m nearly seven years older than you,” I say.

Brendan tilts his head, looking at me thoughtfully. “Age is irrelevant.”

He’s right, I suppose. Maybe after thirty, age doesn’t matter, except that my body shows the wear of four decades, while these men appear to be in their physical prime. Also, despite the fact that I’m older than they are, they no doubt have much more sexual experience than I do. While I’ve typically found men easy to please, I’ve never had to handle three at a time.

“So what do you say?” Jonathan asks, interrupting my thoughts.

Gripping my cleaning cloth in both hands, I pull until it’s taut. “I’m going to say … no.”

“Are you working tomorrow?” Brendon asks after a long pause. When I nod, he says, “How about we give you time to think about it? We’ll come back tomorrow night and see you again.”

I shake my head once, but then shrug. This is a public place, and they’re not putting any kind of pressure on me, or being creepy or insistent. If they want to come back, that’s fine, though I presume they’re going to find another woman to take home tonight. They can return tomorrow, but I still won’t be saying yes.

“In the meantime, do you have any recommendations for what we should see and do on the island?” Brendan asks.

“Sure,” I say. “Are there certain types of activities you’re looking for?”

“Anything you recommend.”

Other customers are flagging me down, and Becca is waiting at the counter. “I’ll be back,” I tell Brendan.

Drink orders have been piling up. Scott appears with requests, and Becca returns. In between providing what they need, I serve several customers seated at the bar. When I glance at the Hayes brothers, they’re still watching me, not scanning the bar for a new prospect, as I would have expected.

At least ten minutes pass until I return to them. They’re engaged in conversation with one another but break it off as I approach. “Ready for refills?” I ask. Corbin and Brendan’s glasses are empty and Jonathan’s nearly finished with his second one.

“I think we’re good. We’ll be going soon,” Brendan says.

“You asked about island highlights,” I say. “There are the island’s namesake scenic points.”

Brendan nods, seemingly familiar with those already.

“The beaches by the southeast point are the best around,” I continue. “It’s not the time of year for swimming, of course, but you’ll probably want to check them out anyway.” I give them tips on the best boating and fishing guide companies, with the warning that some of the companies only operate seasonally. I don’t use these services personally, but bartending in Rusty’s for the past ten years — listening to and participating in countless conversations about the island — has supplied me with a lot of tourism information.

We talk for several minutes, until new customers arrive, taking recently vacated seats just to the left of Brendan. “I need to go,” I tell the men.

Corbin hands me a credit card to cover their drinks; I ring up their tab and return a receipt to him. “It was nice to meet you all. I hope you have a fun time on the island,” I tell them.

“We’ll be back tomorrow night to get the fun started,” Corbin says with a wink. He and his brothers all say goodnight to me, their smiling eyes triggering a pang of regret about my decision.

I watch them walk to the door, because the view is too good to miss. Before they leave, they turn and catch me watching again. All of them grin; Jonathan gives a small wave, and then they’re gone.

Roscoe is snoring when I get home just after midnight. I usually work the opening shift at Rusty’s, so I get to leave around twelve, depending on the crowd, while Tom works the closing shift. I appreciate not having to stay there until two-thirty in the morning, because I value my sleep too much these days.

I gently nudge my snoozing pooch and then lead him to the back door. There’s a little patch of grass between the paved slab of the back porch and the low wall at the end of my property. After renting for most of my life, I bought my little patio home seven years ago and was excited to finally be able to get a dog. Roscoe is a good companion.

My cat, Bea, short for Beatrice, is awake but doesn’t move from her spot on the back of the couch, even after I top off her bowl of food.

I tell her goodnight and she blinks in response as I head into my bedroom, Roscoe a few steps behind me. Bea likes her space, but certain as the sunrise, she’ll be at the foot of my bed when I wake up in the morning.

Roscoe turns a couple of circles and then settles into the dog bed next to my dresser. He has another bed in the living room, and one out on the patio, too. I know my dog’s priorities and have furnished my home accordingly.

“G’night, buddy.” I give a few rubs to the sweet spot behind his ear before I go into the bathroom.

Naked in the shower, sliding a soapy washcloth over my slick skin, I can’t help but think about how this night could have turned out differently. Corbin’s mouth could have been here, at my collarbone, and Brendan’s hands here, at my waist.

I can’t bring myself to put Jonathan in the picture, even though I know a forty-year-old man would have no problem at all fantasizing about a woman half his age.

I sigh as the cloth rubs over my nipples.

The Hayes brothers were so good looking.

Being with them in my imagination, I don’t have to worry about any real life obstacles, like my ability to please them, or their ability to please me. Despite their promise of multiple orgasms, I’m skeptical. My body isn’t quick to respond, and maybe all of us would have ended up frustrated.

But maybe I just haven’t been with the right man — or men — in too long.

I used to be much more sexual. My ex-husband and I couldn’t get enough of each other. Even when our relationship started to sour, the sex kept Jay and me together for longer than it should have. But that was a long time ago … almost eighteen years now.

I had a fair amount of sex after the divorce, too. I was still so young — partying and looking for someone new — until I eventually realized that the partying wasn’t that fun, and maybe I didn’t even want or need anyone anymore.

My appetite for sex faded, too, possibly due to hormonal shifts, but more likely a reaction to so many unsatisfying experiences. I rarely even have the urge to self-satisfy these days, and when I do, the result often isn’t worth the work required to get there.

I’m lit up tonight, though. My skin is sensitive, as if it’s been freshly exfoliated, and the needy, fluttery feeling in my belly has only intensified. Images of blue eyes, flirtatious smiles, and big hands with brown hair tufted at the wrists circulate in my memory as my fingers, sudsy with shower gel, slide down between my legs.

My body quivers when I touch my clit, but I let out a deep breath and turn the water dial toward a colder setting. I’ve never come in the shower — not by myself, anyway — and it won’t happen tonight, either, so there’s no point tormenting myself.

I finish washing up, towel off, put on my pajamas, and take my hair down out of the clip I used to keep it out of the shower spray. With my mind recently on aging, it occurs to me that I’ll probably never know when I go gray. I’ve been maintaining bleached blonde hair since I was seventeen years old, and in the past few years, I’ve also experimented with fun colors.

Currently, the top two-thirds of my long hair is pale blonde and the bottom third is colored with pink that starts pale and turns vibrant near the roots. There are also random pink strands that extend up into the blonde. The color makes me smile almost every time I see it. Life is too short not to do what makes you happy.

My pussy gives an achy little throb, reminding me that I didn’t adhere to this motto when I was invited to spend the night with the Hayes brothers. But sex is more complicated than hair color.

Should it be, though?

It’s not as if they were asking me to marry them or even date them. It was going to be sex, pure and simple.

Maybe I should have made a different decision.

I switch off the light and climb into bed with my phone. As is my usual pre-sleep routine, I make moves on the word game I play against my sister and a couple of randomly-matched opponents. When that’s done, I open my Kindle app and start into a new chapter of the book I’ve been reading, but quickly realize I can’t focus.

My brain would rather occupy itself with memories from the bar tonight, and fantasies related to those memories, so I lay my phone on the nightstand and close my eyes. I start out lying on my back. Restless after a few minutes, I roll onto my stomach, sliding my hands under the pillow and enjoying the feel of the cool cotton on my arms.

Shifting to get comfortable, my pussy presses into the mattress. I angle my hips purposefully and repeat the motion. It should be a man beneath me, instead of a bed. Images of Brendan and Corbin instantly appear. One of them is under me, one of them approaching behind me, and — I lift my chest to run my hand across my nipples — Jonathan is touching my breasts.

With the three brothers surrounding me in my imagination, I rub my pussy against the bed again and again, as sensation builds and swells. My thumb and forefinger pinch my nipple, twisting and pulling. My breathing accelerates to short huffs of hot air, and then I’m coming, crying out softly as the feelings that have been building for hours finally find release.

It’s not mind blowing. It’s not sex-with-a-good-man quality, but it provides much-needed relief. I savor each pulsation as it fades, then turn over and eventually fall asleep.

5

Exploring caves

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t put extra care into my appearance before going to Rusty’s the next evening. I work a few waves into the ends of my hair, apply a thicker stroke of eyeliner than usual, and put on an extra coat of mascara, taking care to remove any clumps from my lashes.

I have a few options for work shirts, and I choose a white t-shirt with the bar’s logo centered large on the front. The shirt is cut for a woman and hugs my curves more than any of the others.

Excitement shimmering through me, I turn up the volume on my car’s speakers on the drive in. As an upbeat song changes to a more somber tune, I’m reminded that there’s a good chance the Hayes brothers may not even come into the bar again tonight.

Having too much class to pick up another woman right in front of me, they may have gone to a different bar and found someone else. Why wouldn’t they, really?

Maybe I’ll never see them again, but my reaction to them is probably a signal that I should pay more attention to the sexual side of myself. Maybe, as I approach forty, my hormones have shifted again and my libido is perking up. Everything about my body was definitely feeling perky when I was near the Hayes brothers yesterday.

“How are you doing today?” I ask Becca. She’s the server who usually opens with me. She’s cutting fruit for drink garnishes while I stock glasses.

“Fine. How are you?”

“Fine.” I’m actually flustered, and nearly dropped a martini glass a moment ago, but I’m trying to ignore my nerves. I’m really going to feel like an idiot if they don’t show up tonight.

“You had some fine-looking customers last night at the bar,” Becca says. “I was hoping those three guys would move to one of my tables.”

I consider pretending not to know who she’s talking about, but decide there’s no point playing dumb. “They were very good looking,” I agree.

“Looked like they were flirting with you.” Becca looks up, waiting for my reaction.

“They were,” I say, after a pause.

She resumes slicing lemons. “I’d have hit that, and hit it hard,” she says with a laugh. “Any one of them.”

Becca’s a good fifteen years younger than me. Is it strange that we’re lusting after the same men? “Hmmm,” is all I say, before I head to the other end of the bar, out of conversation range.

Our usual early customers come in, ordering their usual drinks, making their usual conversation. Apparently, not much of interest is going on around Four Points these days. I try to involve myself in the discussions happening at the counter, but I’m easily distracted, looking toward the door every time I see motion in that direction.

The first two hours of my shift drag, and by the time Tom arrives for work, I’m feeling deflated, even though it’s still earlier than when the Hayes brothers arrived the previous night. “I’m going to take a break. Are you good to cover?” I ask Tom after he gets settled in.

He responds with a single slow nod, and I return to the other side of the bar to retrieve my water bottle. As I’m turning to go to the break area, I hear my name spoken in a deep voice.

The Hayes brothers are approaching the bar.

The amount of pleasure that flows through me at the sight of them takes me by surprise, even though I’ve been waiting for them to arrive ever since I got here.

The grins I receive from them light me up from the inside.

All three men look freshly showered. Jonathan’s hair, which is combed back, still looks slightly damp. It’s exciting to see them, but I also feel a sense of familiarity about them, which is comforting.

“Christine, how are you tonight?” Corbin asks as he slides onto a stool.

“Hi! I was actually about to go on break. Would you want to …” My newly inspired imagination finishes the incomplete sentence in my head. Wrap your arms around me? Kiss me? Throw me up against the wall and fuck me?

“Want to join us at a table?” Brendan asks.

“Sure.”

I come around the counter and follow them to a table in the corner. It’s Sunday, and the bar’s not nearly as crowded as the night before.

“Oh, did you want something to drink?” I ask, the thought occurring to me just as Brendan holds out a chair for me.

“No rush,” Corbin says. “Have a seat.”

I sit, and Brendan pushes in my chair as I do so. You don’t often see such fancy manners in this former dive bar.

“How’s your day been?” Brendan asks, taking the chair next to me. He lets his leg rest against mine, sending sparks up the side of my body.

“Good,” I say. “I did chores around the house. Nothing exciting.” I actually buzzed around my house all day, cleaning things that were long overdue for attention, needing to burn off restless energy. I’m pretty sure Roscoe got tired just watching me. “How did you spend your day?”

“We went fishing,” Corbin says.

I nod, not at all surprised. When it’s not beach season, fishing is the number one reason people come to the island.

“Any luck?” I ask.

“Not yet,” he says, his blue eyes drilling into mine. “That’s going to be up to you.”

I silently tap the pads of my fingers on the tabletop and bounce my leg against Brendan’s as I hold Corbin’s gaze. Am I really going to go through with this?

“We’d have been here sooner, but our fishing guide kept talking long after we returned to the dock,” Jonathan says.

“He was a nice guy,” Brendan adds.

“I assumed you were with whoever you found to take back to your place last night,” I say, looking at all three of them in turn.

Jonathan narrows his eyes in confusion, while Corbin shakes his head.

“Why would we have done that?” Brendan asks.

“Why wouldn’t you?” I ask with a smile. “You’re on vacation. You were looking to give someone … ‘multiple peaks of pleasure.’”

“You have that wrong,” Corbin says. “We’re looking to give you pleasure. You. Not some other woman.”

I lean back, pressing my shoulder blades into the hard wooden chair. “But you don’t even know me. I know my worth, but I also know I’m not the hottest thing around.”

“First of all, you’re very wrong about that,” Jonathan says. “You are a smoke bomb.”

“You’re very beautiful,” Corbin says, “and we could see right away that you’ve got a certain kind of confidence about yourself.”

Brendan leans in, his arm now pressing against mine, the scent of him prompting me to take in greedy gulps of air. “When we’re together, we look for women who strongly appeal to all three of us. Our tastes don’t always overlap, but they line up perfectly with you.” His hand brushes briefly against my thigh before he leans back.

“So you don’t always … work together?” I ask. It’s something I’d been wondering.

“We prefer to, but no, not always,” Brendan says.

“I’m curious,” I say. “Why do you prefer to be together with a woman? Most men I’ve known would be too possessive for that type of thing. Or too competitive.”

“We can be very competitive, but not when it comes to women,” Jonathan says. His hair is mostly dry now, and starting to become unruly. I wonder if it’s as soft as it looks.

“We might each have different reasons,” Brendan says. “I like seeing my brothers enjoy themselves, and I like sharing intense experiences with them. Same as when we’re scaling cliffs or exploring caves.”

“Exploring caves? Is that a euphemism?” I ask.

Brendan and Jonathan laugh out loud, the blended sound echoing a rumble in my core.

Corbin is smiling, though his tone is serious. “As I said yesterday, we work together very well. It’s just a fact. We’ve always been close, and sometimes we communicate without words. When we’re out on our adventures, we need to trust each other completely. The first time we shared a woman, something just clicked.”

Shared a woman. My pussy pulses as my brain spins new fantasy material. What exactly would it be like to be shared? I think there’s only one way to find out.

6

Second chances

“What are you thinking?” Brendan asks, drawing a little pattern on the denim over my thigh with the tip of his finger. He doesn’t linger there, but instead pulls back after a moment.

I couldn’t possibly answer his question fully. I’m having so many thoughts. So many. “I don’t really know you,” I blurt out. It’s a concern that’s been swirling in the back of my mind, nearly hidden behind all of my lustful thoughts.

The three of them are extremely likable and seem like decent men, but my no-hookups policy is based, in part, on safety. Though I have the skills to bounce men out of the bar when I need to, and feel I can defend myself in most situations, I’m not foolish enough to think I’d stand a chance against three men if they wanted to do me harm.

“I thought you might be worried about that, and you’re smart to be cautious,” Brendan says. “You don’t know us — yet — but we’d like to change that.”

Across the table, Jonathan takes out his wallet and extracts a business card, offering it to me.

“Limitless Adventures,” I read. “Custom Vacations for Active Travelers.” The card includes a website, Instagram handle, email and phone number, along with Jonathan’s name and a picture that’s attractive but doesn’t begin to do him justice.

“Where do you live?” I ask the men.

“We’re from Vermont, and we have a home there, but we travel most of the year,” Jonathan says.

I nod, as Brendan says. “I have an idea. Is that your manager?” He gestures to Valerie, who’s adjusting a sign on the wall near the door.

“Yeah,” I say, hesitantly. If he’s going to tell me they want to invite Valerie to their place too, I’m going to be very disappointed.

“If you decide to go home with us tonight, we’ll introduce ourselves to your manager first. She can take pictures of our IDs, so she’ll know exactly who we are and who you’re going to be with, should anything happen to you — which of course, it won’t.”

Even though I’d been excited to see them tonight, I hadn’t fully made up my mind about going home with them. I’m impressed by their consideration, though. I believe them when they tell me they didn’t spend last night with someone else, and I’m grateful that they’re concerned about making me feel safe.

“Would you like something to drink?” It’s Becca, standing next to Jonathan. Her eyes dart around to each of the men before landing on me. She raises a brow and purses her lips into a smile, silently communicating both her curiosity and approval.

“We’re good for now, Becca,” I tell her. “I’m going back on in just a minute.”

“Sounds good. Let me know if you need anything.”

Becca leaves, but not before flashing a toothy grin meant only for my eyes.

The men turn their attention back to me. “So what do you say?” Corbin asks. “Want to have some fun tonight?”

“I don’t get off until midnight.”

“You’re going to get off multiple times after that,” he says with a playful smile.

The Hayes brothers spend the rest of the evening at the table, passing time while I work my shift. I bring drinks and pretzels out to them, and when they need refills, they come up to the bar. After two beers each for Brendan and Corbin, and three for Jonathan, they switch over to soft drinks, something else I take as the opposite of a red flag.

Instead of talking to Valerie, I have them show their IDs to Tom. Even though fraternizing with customers isn’t against the rules, I don’t exactly want to advertise my intentions to my new boss. I haven’t known her long enough to know how she’ll react. Meanwhile, Tom is the most tight-lipped person I know, and he has a brotherly, protective side.

With virtually no expression, he tells me to “have a good night” when I leave at eleven. The night isn’t busy, so Tom suggested I leave early, a sure sign that his conversation with the Hayes brothers went well.

Before I leave, I phone my neighbor, Sheila. She’s a night owl, so I know the late call will be okay.

“Can you do a favor for me, Sheila?” I ask, after the pleasantries are out of the way.

“Sure thing. What’s up?”

“Can you look in on Roscoe and Beatrice tonight? Top off Beatrice’s food and check their water?”

Sheila’s tone goes serious. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine. I just … won’t be home for a while. In fact, if you don’t see my car outside in the morning, can you take Roscoe out to do his business?”

“Might not be home tonight, huh?” Her tone changes yet again, to one that sounds like it’s hoping to hear juicy details.

“Might be spending the night with someone. Don’t worry. Tom checked them out, even took their ID.” I’m not going to mention that there are three someones. If I decide to share that detail, I’ll wait and do it in person.

“Atta girl!” Sheila says. “Both for being safe, and for getting some!”

“Sheila!”

“You’re long overdue, my dear,” my neighbor says.

“Since when are you keeping track of if and when I’m having sex?”

“Long enough to know you’ve been in a dry spell!” She’s still cackling when I say goodbye and end the call.

Atta girl? I shake my head as I walk out to the parking lot where the Hayes brothers are waiting. If my fifty-something neighbor thinks I should be having more sex, maybe I have been overthinking things.

Life doesn’t often give second chances, and I’m glad I decided to take this one.

7

Set the pace

Limitless Adventures must do a very good business, because the Hayes brothers are staying in the nicest beach rental I’ve ever seen. The furnishings are beautiful and look brand new; the floor is shiny, unscuffed hardwood accented with attractive area rugs; and the enormous kitchen has gourmet appliances and features like an additional faucet directly over the stove, and a sink so wide I could bathe Roscoe in it.

“Want something to drink?” Corbin asks, shortly after we arrive.

“A glass of water would be nice.” I take a seat at the kitchen bar, noticing three mugs neatly lined up next to the single-cup coffee maker.

“Would you like something stronger?” he asks.

“No, thanks. But you go ahead.” Despite my chosen profession, I’m a light drinker, and I’d like to keep my head clear tonight. My nerves are surprisingly calm.

“And how about something to eat?” he asks. “You must be hungry after working.”

Corbin hands me a tall glass. A few crystal-clear ice cubes float in the water. When I put my hand around the base to take it from him, he lets his hand linger, the warmth of his skin a delicious contrast to the cold glass.

“I’m not hungry for food,” I say.

He watches me as I take a drink. After I swallow, he leans across the counter, closing the distance between us, bringing his lips next to mine. He hovers there for a moment, giving me time to breathe in the clean male scent of him.

His fingers brush lightly across my chin before he cups it gently and tilts my mouth upward. I’m the one who moves the final inch to bring our mouths together, unable to wait another minute before kissing him.

He easily measures up to and surpasses what I’d been imagining about him. His taste, which makes me quietly groan, is better than my favorite dark chocolate truffles, and instantly fills me with need. The rhythm of his kiss is perfect — slow at first, like an introduction, and then a gradual increase of pressure as he slides his hand around my head to pull me closer.

While Corbin’s fingers thread into my hair, another hand glides across my back. At first, it’s an unwelcome interruption, but then I remember where I am and who else is here. Corbin breaks our kiss, and I turn to find Jonathan standing next to me.

Any reservations I had about the youngest Hayes brother have been muted by the passion of Corbin’s kiss. I’m more than ready when Jonathan bends and brings his lips to mine.

He tastes good, too. Different from his brother, with the sweet taste of cola at the forefront. His style is also different. More playful, teasing my lips with his tongue as his hands begin to roam my body.

I stand and move away from the stool so that we can get closer to each other. His arms wrap around me as he angles his head to deepen our kiss. When I respond, matching his intensity, he bends and scoops me up, his hands cupping my ass, his mouth never breaking our connection.

The idea that he’s too young for me seems ridiculous as he strides across the room, carrying me as though I’m weightless. There’s nothing boyish about the way he lays me down on the couch and leans over me, his gorgeous body filling my view, compelling me to touch everything I can reach.

His body is so firm. Lean and hard, warm and inviting. My hands glide over the dark flannel that covers him, feeling their way toward those broad, sexy muscles at the sides of his chest, then wrapping around his arms to explore the thickness of his biceps.

When I start to fiddle with a button on his shirt, he takes my hands in his, squeezing gently before bringing my hands to his mouth and kissing them. He kisses my lips once more before he straightens, and then Brendan is there, standing over me.

As my eyes travel upward, I don’t miss the fact that a bulge is straining against Brendan’s jeans, angled upward to the right. I ache to touch it, but chastened by Jonathan taking my hands off of his buttons, I resist, happy to let them set the pace.

Brendan takes his younger brother’s place, leaning over me, pressing his body against mine as he kisses me. His taste is different from the others as well, and I’m grateful I don’t have to pick a favorite among them, because it would be impossible.

“We’re so glad you decided to come over,” he says after briefly sampling my lips. He’s grinning down at me, the look in his eyes causing heat to pool at my center.

“Me too,” I say.

“If we go too fast, or if anything starts to happen that you’re not comfortable with, just say something.” He steals another quick kiss before adding, “Tonight is all about you and your pleasure.”

8

Feel-good vibes

Brendan’s words don’t seem real. In all of my nearly forty years, has anyone ever said such a thing to me?

He doesn’t waste time following his words with action. As his mouth returns to mine, his hand skims down my body, detouring briefly under my shirt to skim over my bare skin, before finding the button on my jeans and easily plucking it open. His tongue slides into my mouth as he undoes my zipper and slips his hand inside, his fingers gliding over my panties to cup my mound.

“You’re wet.”

My panties have been damp since the men first arrived at the bar tonight. I’m surprised they didn’t melt away entirely as soon as I started kissing them.

He strums his thumb over me as he increases the intensity of our kiss, our mouths growing hungrier. When he moves under the cotton of my underwear to touch the curls above my pussy, I moan into his mouth.

Have I been desperate for someone’s touch, or is it this man in particular — these men — who are turning me wanton?

“It’s time to start making you come,” Brendan says, letting some of his weight press into me as his fingers softly stroke my pussy.

“I should warn you,” I say, noticing that my voice has gone rough, “that it’s not easy for me to orgasm. It usually takes a while and sometimes —” I break off, distracted by the sensation that rises as Brendan presses into my clit — “sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.”

I hope they don’t regret inviting me here. They’re so focused on satisfying me, and I’ll bet they’ve been with plenty of women who come easily. I don’t want them to be frustrated, but I’m not going to fake anything either.

I’m expecting Brendan to push his fingers inside me, because that’s what men always do when their hands are in a woman’s pants. It’s exciting in a way, but I never feel much while they’re doing it. Brendan slides his fingers down into my slick folds, but then he returns to my clit, lightly passing over it, circling, teasing, pressing.

He moves slowly at first, but when he’s in a spot that feels particularly good and makes me moan, he lingers, slowly, ever so slowly increasing his pace, his thick fingers rubbing, rubbing, rubbing —

What the fuck?

“Oh my god!” What the fuck!?

He’s only been touching me for maybe one minute, and — “Oh my god!” I’m coming apart on his hand, my pussy pulsing, sensations flooding my body from what feels like all directions.

I wrap a hand around his shoulder and find something to hold onto as I’m overtaken by a brief but intense climax. He stills his fingers but keeps his palm cupped over my pussy, and I arch my hips, pressing into his hand as I come.

When my weight sinks back onto the couch, he gives me a kiss. “What was that you were saying a moment ago? Something about having trouble reaching orgasm?”

His eyes are merry as he grins down at me, and when I laugh — a giddy sound fueled by all the feel-good vibes running through my body — he joins me, bending into my neck, his breath warm against my skin.

His is a warm laugh, not a teasing one. There’s something about it that makes me feel like we’re friends rather than just strangers sharing a one-night hookup.

“That’s never happened to me before,” I say eventually. “Not like that. Not so quick.” I really am amazed at the response he drew out of me. I was surprised when I came in bed last night at the mere thought of these three men, and now here it is happening again, as if it’s easy for me. I feel like a different woman.

He kisses me again, a quick one, his nose brushing against mine. “You’re beautiful when you come.”

Brendan’s erection is pressing into my thigh and the satisfied feeling brought on by the orgasm is quickly starting to fade. As he lays kisses along my neck, I say, “I want you inside me.”

“We’ll have plenty of time for that later,” he says. “First, you need more orgasms, to make up for what you’ve been missing.”

“I won’t object to that,” I say with another laugh as he stands and tugs off my jeans.

“You must have been with the wrong people.” He slides my panties off next. “Have you ever had really good sex?”

My thoughts go to my long-ago ex, Jay. He and I definitely had good sex, and I’ve been thinking no one would ever measure up. I have a good feeling that’s about to change tonight. “It’s been a long time,” I say.

“That’s a shame,” Brendan says. He brings me forward on the couch so that my hips are at the edge, my legs spread, feet resting on the floor. He’s about to kneel between my legs when Corbin approaches.

“Don’t think you’re going to have her all to yourself, Bren.” Corbin nudges his brother aside and goes down on his knees in front of me. He leans in to kiss me, picking up where we left off in the kitchen.

I decide then that my favorite Hayes brother is whichever one I’m with at the moment.

Corbin moves at a faster pace then Brendan, his hands sliding up my thighs as we kiss, spreading my legs wider. He tugs my t-shirt off as he moves down my body, and spends some time biting at my nipples through my bra before he continues to his destination.

“I’ve been looking forward to tasting you ever since we first saw you yesterday,” he says.

9

Can I show you?

I might comment on his cockiness if I wasn’t already holding my breath, waiting for the moment he makes contact. He kisses each of my inner thighs, making me wetter than I already was, before he finally licks a path up my center.

“Fuckin’ delicious,” he says, grinning up at me. I don’t recall hearing him swear at the bar, but his dirty mouth is doing things for me. As is his tongue, of course.

He runs that talented tongue through my folds and swirls it over my clit before getting his fingers involved, pushing first one, then two, inside me. He continues to lick me as he pushes in and out of my wet pussy. He flicks over my clit as his fingers curl against a spot inside me and I cry out, intense pleasure radiating throughout my body.

Corbin’s fingers stroke over and over, hitting the same spot again and again, triggering more sensations than I can handle at one time. I cry out and my hips buck, but he holds me steady and applies more pressure with his tongue. I cry out again, and then I’m coming — again — even as I can’t believe it’s happening.

“So good! So good,” I say, unable to form a full sentence.

Corbin keeps licking, and I keep coming for what seems like an impossibly long time. I come down from one peak only to swiftly climb another. It’s not something I believed would ever be possible for me. Finally, I push his head back, my pussy too sensitive to stand any more.

“What was that?” Breathless, I sound like I’ve just run a marathon.

“Your G spot. Guess no one’s ever found it before?” His face is shiny and his grin is proud as he swipes at his chin with the back of his hand. “Glad I could be the one.”

“You’re the first. Guess you can plant your flag in there. First man on the G spot.”

He laughs, his head tipping back, the sound a sexy rumble. “I’ll be planting a stiff pole in there real soon.”

Now it’s my turn to laugh at his cheesy wordplay, but I can’t keep my eyes from seeking out his “pole,” still restrained in his jeans. I know better than to reach for it, because Jonathan, who I’m vaguely aware has been watching from a nearby chair, is coming toward me.

“My turn,” he says.

“I might need a break first,” I say.

“Would you like some water?” Jonathan asks.

“No, I just — I’m a little overwhelmed at the moment. Parts of me … need to rest for a few minutes.”

“No problem,” he says, sitting down on the couch and bringing me onto his lap. I lean back against his chest, surprised at how comfortable it feels being there. The masculine scent of him that surrounds me is nearly enough to make me forget that I need a break.

When he takes my hand in his, I notice the size difference. I don’t have tiny hands, but mine looks very small compared to his. Using his thumb, he begins to massage the fleshy area right above my thumb. It’s not mindless stroking, he very purposefully rubs the area as if he’s looking to relieve tightness.

Even though I’d have sworn my recent orgasms had left me boneless, what Jonathan’s doing feels amazing. He turns my hand over and presses his thumb into my palm and massages the base of each finger.

“That feels so good,” I murmur, sinking more heavily against him.

“Your hands must get tired at your job,” he says. I make another sound of pleasure as he switches to my other hand and begins to give it the same treatment. “How long have you been bartending?”

“Ever since I moved to the island,” I say, melting further into him. “Over ten years ago.”

“That’s a long time. Do you like it?”

“Bartending? Yeah, I do. There’s a nice sense of community here, and I like seeing the familiar faces that come into the bar every week.”

As we talk, he moves on from my hands, sliding out from under me and down the couch, pulling my legs onto his lap. He runs his magical thumbs under my calf muscles, finding more tightness there and soothing it.

When he starts to massage my feet, I squirm at first, feeling ticklish, but then moan as he presses his thumbs into the pads of my feet.

“You weren’t lying when you said you know how to please a woman,” I tell him. “If you give me some chocolate, you’ll have met all my needs in life.”

“That can be arranged,” Jonathan says with a laugh.

“I feel like I’ve won some kind of lottery, being invited to spend the night with the three of you.”

“Every woman should be treated this way,” he says. “But don’t get the idea that we’re selfless. We get a lot of pleasure out of it, too.”

“What pleases you?” I ask. “Specifically?” There’s no way I want to do all of the taking tonight, and so far, I have a lot of catching up to do.

One side of Jonathan’s mouth curls into the sexiest grin I’ve ever seen. “Can I show you?”

10

A new kind of heaven

He leans over and lifts me from the waist, standing with me in his arms, and then bringing us both down to the floor, me on his lap, straddling him.

“Are you feeling rested?” he asks.

“Ready for anything.” I reach for his shirt buttons again, and this time he lets me undo them, his eyes growing darker as he watches my progress. Underneath, there’s a frustrating white t-shirt, which I pull over his head as soon as I have his arms clear of the flannel shirt.

“That’s better,” I say, sliding my hands over his smooth pecs and down to his tight abs.

“It’s only fair that you be bare chested, too,” he says, reaching around to find the clasp of my bra.

“I’m nearly naked,” I say. “You still have your pants on, and your brothers are fully clothed.”

Jonathan deftly unhooks my last remaining article of clothing and tosses it to Corbin, who’s sitting in a nearby chair, watching us.

“Fuck, you’re beautiful, Christine,” says Brendan, who’s standing at the edge of the room, a glass of water in his hand.

“So beautiful,” Jonathan echoes, bending his head to pull one of my breasts into his mouth. He sucks at it tenderly, before doing the same to the other one.

When he lifts his head, I move to open his jeans. “You were going to show me what you like?”

“It’s not down there,” he says, smiling.

“It’s not? I find that hard to believe.” Regardless, I proceed to unzip his pants.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says, as I explore the bulge that’s concealed beneath his briefs. “I like that — a lot — but it’s not what I wanted to show you.”

“Are you sure?” I tease, as I slide the band of his briefs lower. When the head of his cock is revealed, my pussy pulses in response. He’s thick, and as I slide my hand lower into his pants, I find that he’s also long.

I run my hand over the length of him, which is still mostly covered by fabric. A bead of precum glistens on his tip and I can’t resist collecting it with my finger. He watches me bring it to my mouth and he groans when I lick it off.

“What were you going to show me?” I ask, grinning at the way his eyes are still riveted to my lips.

My question breaks his focus and he leans in to kiss me. It’s quick, but full of desire. When he pulls away, he leans backward, propping himself up on his elbows. “Slide up here.” He reaches for my hip and urges me toward his chest.

I don’t move and must look confused, because he says, “I want you to sit on my face.”

“What?”

“You asked what I like, and I’m telling you.”

I’ve never done that before. “Won’t I crush you or suffocate you?”

He pulls gently at my leg. “Trust me, you won’t.”

With a combination of curiosity and hesitation, I do as he urges, moving up his body, closer to his head, keeping all of my weight on my knees and lower legs. I’m spread open right above him, and even though his brother just had his face in my pussy, this somehow feels so much more intimate.

Wrapping his arms around my legs, Jonathan pulls me forward and down, bringing my center closer to his mouth. “When it feels right, I want you to fuck my face,” he tells me.

My eyes go wide. I’m much too old to be scandalized by what he’s saying, but I have to admit that I am. Fuck his face?

Before I can think too much about it, his tongue is laying long, hot strokes over my folds. I close my eyes, both to focus on the sensations, and because I feel so exposed, naked in the center of this room as Brendan and Corbin watch their brother feast on me.

When Jonathan’s tongue strokes over my clit, my hips tilt involuntarily. Seizing on that motion, his hands grip my thighs more tightly and urge me to repeat the motion. He tugs me closer still, and my knees slide outward, causing some of my weight to rest on Jonathan.

When I lean forward to support myself on my hand, Brendan moves in. “You won’t hurt him. Just relax and enjoy it,” he says. He kneels on the floor next to me, strokes his hand over my cheek and pulls me into a kiss.

Kissing a man, while another man goes down on me, is a new kind of heaven.

Brendan toys with my nipples while his tongue explores my mouth. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s using his lips to nibble at my clit, and before I even realize I’m doing it, my hips are finding a rhythm and I’m rubbing myself on Jonathan’s mouth.

Again, he pulls me down even closer, and it seems like he wouldn’t be comfortable, but there are so many good feelings flooding my body that I finally do what he asked me to. I grind down onto Jonathan and fuck his face.

I build a steady rhythm, rubbing my clit against him as he buries his tongue inside me and licks at a wild pace. It’s only moments later that I’m overtaken by everything that’s been building. Pleasure pulsates from deep within my core out to the ends of my fingertips, and I come apart.

I grab onto Brendan’s shoulder and ride the waves, Jonathan’s tongue never stopping as I writhe over him. He holds me tight to him as my orgasm crests, and he keeps holding me through each beautiful aftershock.

When he finally loosens his grip, I lift off of him to find a satisfied smile on his face. I imagine my expression must look similar.

“That was fucking amazing,” he says.

“Yeah?” It was definitely amazing from my perspective, but it’s hard for me to imagine how he got so much enjoyment out of being smothered between my thighs.

“Absolutely,” he says, “and now I need to fuck you.”

11

Ready for more?

Much as I’ve been enjoying everything we’ve been doing — and enjoying is a huge understatement — I’ve been ready to fuck them since we got here. Still reeling from such an intense climax, I reply with a quick nod.

In one smooth motion, Jonathan rolls me over onto my back. He quickly removes his pants and underwear, and his cock springs free, looking even larger than it had a few minutes ago.

Corbin appears with a string of condoms — so many that a shiver of anticipation runs through me. He rips off a package and hands it to Jonathan, who opens it and rolls the latex onto his stiff rod.

Wasting no time, he lines himself up with my opening and sinks inside, groaning as he does. “Fuck, you feel so good, Christine.”

“So do you,” I say, sounding a bit like the breath’s been knocked out of me. He’s big, and the sweet feeling of pressure is bliss.

After a few slow strokes, he says, “Sorry, I just couldn’t wait to be inside you. Do you want to go somewhere more comfortable?”

I could be lying on a pile of rocks right now and probably wouldn’t be aware of it, there’s so much pleasure coursing through my body. “Anywhere’s fine.”

He pushes in again and stays buried inside me as he slides his arms around me and lifts. I wrap my legs around his waist and my arms around his shoulders, and it’s like this that he carries me past his brothers, around a corner, and down a hall into a large bedroom.

The room is dark, with only a small amount of light coming in from the hall. Like the rest of the house, it’s impeccably neat and appears to be well furnished. Jonathan lays me on the bed, kissing me once as he props himself up on his hands.

The comforter is cool beneath me, but the heat of my body quickly warms it. Jonathan gets back to fucking me, his thick cock pulling deliciously at my inner walls each time he retreats.

The dark form of his body is beautiful above me, the ridges of the muscles on his torso defined in the dim light. I take the opportunity to touch him, my hands gliding over his chest and shoulders, down to his tight abs, feeling them flex as he thrusts into me.

Reaching between us, his thumb finds my clit and rubs, and as if it’s as easy as breathing, he brings me off again. My pussy clamps onto his cock with each pulse of pleasure, squeezing him tight, and then he stiffens and starts to come inside me.

I wrap a hand around his waist and dig my fingers into his back, feeling the thin sheen of sweat on his skin, wanting to keep us close as his body convulses over me.

When he finishes, he collapses onto me, not quite putting all of his weight on me, but enough to feel indescribably good in the way that only a man’s body can. My ex, Jay, used to lie on me like this after sex, and I loved it.

Maybe it’s because Jonathan is younger than me, that he’s reminding me of my ex. Of course, Jay was only in his twenties when we were together, but Jonathan seems very youthful for thirty-three. Youthful, but undeniably a grown man, every bit as skillful as he claimed.

“Are you ready for more?” Jonathan asks.

I’m surprised by his question, because it sounds like he’s saying he’s ready to go again, but then I realize he’s talking about his brothers. As Jonathan lifts off of me, I see the other dim figures in the room. Brendan and Corbin are both there, and presumably, have been watching.

Corbin comes forward, taking Jonathan’s place. He’s naked now, and I wish the lights were on, because from what I can see, his body is every bit as gorgeous as his face. His chest is lightly dusted with hair, and as soon as he’s close enough, I reach out to touch it.

His skin is warm and firm as my hands explore the broad expanse of him. Gradually, I slide a hand downward, following a trail of hair that leads me to the base of his cock. He’s thick, like his younger brother, and already hard as a rock.

“I want you inside me,” I tell him as I gently pull, sliding my hand over the head of his cock and back, before exploring the ridge with my thumb.

“Want me to fuck you?” he asks. My pussy throbs in response.

“So hard,” I say. “Fuck me hard.”

After Corbin sets a speed record for unwrapping and putting on a condom, he pulls my hips to the edge of the bed and rests my legs against his chest. His thumb finds my clit as he lines his cock up at my entrance, rubbing through my wet folds with the head before slowly pressing inside.

He goes in deep with his first stroke, our bodies pressing together as he fills me. His eyes find mine, and then he starts to move, increasing his pace until he’s pistoning in and out of me, his cock pounding into my pussy in a way that makes me feel owned.

I can’t speak, but the whimpering sounds I’m making urge him on. I reach my hand around to grab his ass, his muscles tightening as he drives into me over and over.

He’s hitting something inside me just right, and another orgasm builds and explodes. “Uhn, I’m coming!” I manage, and my words spur him to go harder and faster, until I’m a helpless puddle of blissful goo, impaled on his thick cock, exactly where I want and need to be right now.

It must be the angle of our connection, or the build up of so many orgasms tonight, but this one hits hard, overwhelming me in the best possible way, almost bringing tears to my eyes, and feeling like redemption after so many years of lackluster sex.

I’ve been missing out on pleasure in life — that’s abundantly clear all of a sudden — but the thought flares and then fades quickly as I try to process all that I’m feeling.

Corbin moves my right leg to his right shoulder, bringing both of my legs together. The shift must change something for him, because he slows his rhythm, pumps in deep a few more times, and then he’s coming, his cock jerking, then pulsing inside me.

I have a great view of his handsome face, and I watch him lose control.

12

A friend of ours

One of my reservations about spending the night with three men was whether I’d be able to handle them all. By the time Corbin’s done with me, my fear is realized.

I’m a limp noodle, fucked thoroughly, and deeply exhausted in that way that feels wonderful down to the bones. I don’t want to disappoint Brendan, though.

“How’re you doing?” he says, coming to lie next to me on the bed.

“I’ll be honest. I’m a bit tired.”

He chuckles softly as his fingers trail lightly over my collarbone.

“If I had known I’d be spending the night with three men, I’d have started training for it.”

A laugh escapes from him before he leans in and kisses me, our heads side-by-side on the mattress. “You should get some rest,” he says.

I shake my head and pull him close again, kissing him more deeply. As we kiss, I roll toward him and lift a knee over him to straddle his hips.

“Christine, we don’t have to —”

“I want to,” I say, interrupting before bringing my lips back to his. At the same time, I find his cock and lift my hips to take him inside, but he pulls back.

“Wait. Let me sheathe up. I don’t want you to have any worries.”

I can’t believe I nearly forgot about using a condom, though in my exhausted state, I should hardly be surprised. I’m not on birth control, and I talked with the men about protection before I came over. I’m grateful that all three of them have been so conscientious and safe.

It would be quite something to get pregnant at forty. A spot in my chest goes heavy at the thought, but I ignore it and focus on watching Brendan slide the rubber down his impressive length.

In the few seconds it takes him to cover himself, my lust quickly recharges. He has a really nice cock — long and thick with a well-defined head that I know is going to feel magical inside me.

As soon as he’s done, I sink down on him, and confirm my expectations. All three brothers are built to please, and I’m the lucky woman who’s with them tonight.

I ride him for several long strokes, savoring the feeling of our bodies coming together, until Brendan grips my hip, stilling me. “Let me do the work,” he says, his voice husky.

“There’s no way this can be called work,” I say, getting in one more grind before he slides out and rolls out from under me.

“Lie on your stomach,” he says. As I shift positions, he pushes a pillow beneath my hips before aligning his body above me, his chest against my back. He doesn’t put too much pressure on me, but just enough to feel good.

He enters me, and the new angle feels wonderful. Seemingly respectful of my fatigue, and of the pounding his brother just gave me, Brendan fucks me nice and slow, gliding in and out as his legs mingle with mine and one of his hands caresses my back, my shoulders, and my hip.

I rest my head on my folded arm and enjoy every moment. It’s a perfect way to end a perfect night.

When Brendan’s breathing grows heavier, I squeeze my inner muscles, tightening around his cock in rhythm with his thrusts. He groans and grips my hip in his palm. Moments later his body stiffens over mine and he comes in several long, deep strokes.

I wake up some time later. The room is still dark; it’s not morning yet.

Jonathan is beside me, eyes closed, his breathing slow and regular. We’re on top of the comforter but there’s another blanket covering us that wasn’t there when I apparently fell asleep.

When I shift and stretch, my leg bumps someone behind me. Brendan’s there, and responds to my movement. “Hey,” he whispers, running his hand over my arm.

“Hey,” I whisper back. Even though I’m not yet fully awake, a smile spreads across my face as memories of our night together come to the surface.

Brendan’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but looks groggy, like he may have been sleeping too.

“I need to get up,” I tell him quietly.

He turns and gets off the bed, offering me his hand as I slide over slowly, not wanting to disturb Jonathan.

I’m naked, of course, and uncomfortable about it, though not as much as I would have expected. “What time is it?”

He lifts his watch from the bedside table. “Almost five-thirty.”

“Oh, wow. I didn’t mean to fall asleep and spend the night.”

Brendan frowns as he follows me into the hall. “What were you going to do? Run off in the middle of the night?”

I shrug before looking left and right, trying to remember where the bathroom was.

“Is there somewhere you need to be this morning?” he asks, guiding me to the right with his hand resting lightly on the small of my back.

“No, but I should be going soon anyway.” Just before going into the bathroom, I turn abruptly. “Oh, wait, I need my clothes.”

He turns with me, leading me back to the main room, though I do remember where that is. “Are you always an early riser?” he asks.

I let out a small laugh. “No, not with my job. My dog usually wakes me by eight, though.”

Brendan locates my clothes first. Someone actually folded them and put them on the arm of a chair. “Why don’t you stay and get more sleep? Then we can all have breakfast together before you go.” His words are accompanied by a squeeze of my hand, making his invitation feel heartfelt rather than perfunctory.

“Okay, I guess so.”

“A friend of ours is arriving on the island today, but he shouldn’t be here until late this morning,” Brendan says.

“Okay. I’ll be gone by then.”

13

The new man

The next time I wake up, bright sunlight is streaming in through the windows, and I’m alone in the bed.

The aroma of coffee in the air and the sight of the rumbled bedding make me smile.

What a night.

It exceeded my expectations in every way, and I’m so glad I decided to take a chance on a new experience. Today is the last day of my thirties, and I can’t imagine waking up feeling any better than I do right now. The Hayes brothers have given me an amazing birthday gift without even knowing it.

I take my time getting up, stretching my legs and taking inventory of how my body feels. I’m a bit sore in a certain spot, but my limbs feel looser and more relaxed than they have in years.

Well fucked. I’d almost forgotten how good of a feeling it can be.

“Hey, you’re up.” It’s Corbin, looking and smelling like he just showered. He’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt that fits so well, it seems like it was made for him.

Leaning over the bed to kiss me, he says, “Thanks for spending the night with us.”

I feel like I should be thanking them, but I simply say, “My pleasure.”

“Can you come back again tonight?” He follows his question with a longer kiss that makes me wish I never had to leave.

Something nags at the back of my brain, and when he pulls away, I remember what it is. “Brendan said you had a friend coming today. Will he be staying with you?”

Another kiss as he crawls onto the bed. “He will, but this is a big place. We can have our fun behind closed doors.”

“What’s going on?” Brendan comes in, also smelling clean and looking freshly shaven.

“I was just inviting Christine to come over again tonight,” Corbin says.

“Excellent.” Brendan looks at me expectantly.

“I’m working tonight. It would be late,” I say.

“That’s fine. We’ll take you anytime we can have you,” Brendan says.

“It’s a date.” Corbin seals it with another kiss.

A giddy little bubble of excitement rises inside me as I climb out of bed. I never expected to have more than one night with them, but I’d be a fool to pass up the opportunity. My time with them has been wonderful in every way, and they’ve been nothing but caring and respectful. I may as well enjoy them — and all the sex — while they’re in town.

“Jonathan’s making breakfast,” Brendan says. “Would you like an omelet?”

“Sure, that sounds great, but can I get a shower first?” I find the clothes I brought in earlier and hug the stack to my chest.

“Of course,” Brendan says. “I put clean towels out for you.” He walks with me toward the bathroom. “What would you like in your omelet?”

“Anything’s fine except onions,” I say, as I head in. “Whatever you’re having.”

My quick shower prompts a highlight reel of images from the night before. They touched me here, and here, and here. They bit me here. And oh, I’m still a little swollen here.

Oddly, it feels like I just had a full body massage. Everything feels loose, limber, and alive.

To save time, I skip washing my hair. I’m standing in front of the mirror, finger-combing the long strands and debating about whether I should put it up in a clip, when there’s a knock on the door.

“I wanted to let you know that our friend got here early,” Brendan says. “He’s in the kitchen with us. I didn’t want you to walk out undressed or anything.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks.”

He gives me a warm smile as he steps back, and I close the door again. I’d rather not be meeting a stranger under these circumstances, but it was very decent of Brendan to let me know he was here so I wasn’t surprised when I walked out.

I wonder if their friend travels with them regularly. If he does, he’s probably used to them bringing women back to their place, and I suppose he’d know they like to share women.

As I walk up the hallway toward the kitchen, I feel a bit like a kid who’s been caught doing something wrong, which is ridiculous. I suppose it’s just strange meeting someone, when the first thing they’ll know about me is that I’ve slept with their friends.

I put a smile on my face as I turn the corner, but it disappears instantly. I come to an immediate stop just inside the room, as I stare, wide-eyed, at the new man seated at the table.

He’s involved in conversation with Corbin and doesn’t see me enter, so I have time to study him. His hairline is higher, and his hair, while still thick, is a dustier brown, with a good amount of gray mixed in. His face is leaner with more angles, but his eyes and mouth are unmistakable.

I turn my head to look behind me, trying to remember what I know about the layout of the house, desperately wondering if there’s a way I can leave without passing through the kitchen. When I look back, still in disbelief, wanting to make sure I’m not hallucinating, I discover it’s too late to sneak out.

His gaze is fixed on me, his expression as confused as mine surely is. “Christine?”

I continue to stare at the man I haven’t seen in eighteen years, the man I truly never thought I’d see again.

The Hayes brothers are all on alert now, looking back and forth between the two of us. Jonathan’s at the counter, a plate holding an omelet and fried potatoes in his hand. “You know each other?”

It’s Jay who tells them. “She’s my ex-wife.”

14

Shook

The silence that follows seems endless.

My body is frozen in place. Those nice relaxed feelings generated by all the sex are absolutely no match for the shock of seeing Jay, and seeing him here, in the house where I just slept with his friends.

“Christine, what are you doing here?”

Jay’s question comes at the same time I say, “How do you know each other?”

We both go quiet again, waiting for the other to answer.

“We met Christine here on the island,” Corbin says to Jay.

“Jay’s our good friend. We met him several years ago when he did photography for our business,” Brendan explains to me. Brendan starts to take a step toward me, coffee mug in hand, but after a glance at Jay, decides to stay where he is.

“Well, this is awkward,” Jonathan says, after another lapse in the conversation.

I’d laugh at his understatement, but I can’t manage it. In fact, I can’t manage any of this right now. I need coffee to deal with this situation, but I’m not going to stay in this kitchen to drink it.

“I need to go take care of my dog,” I tell them.

Brendan follows me to the door, the air heavy between us. I get the feeling he wants to ask me to stay, but to his credit, he doesn’t. When I turn to look at him after sliding on my shoes, all he says is, “Are you okay?”

I give a small nod. “I’m okay.”

“You’re shook. I’m shook too.” He squeezes my hand in his. “We can talk later.”

I nod, mostly to end the conversation.

“We’ll see you later,” he calls, as I go out the door.

I don’t think that’s a good idea at all, but, eager to leave, I don’t say anything in response.

So many thoughts, all coming at the same time. While at other moments, my mind goes blank.

I arrive home to Roscoe’s wagging tail and Bea’s pleasant indifference. If I was alone, I would be talking to myself, but since I have furry companions, I talk to them.

“What are the odds of this happening, Roscoe? A million to one? Can you do the math?” He stops to give me a curious look before continuing his search to find just the right patch of grass in our little yard.

Jay and I lived in an entirely different state when we were together, over eight hours away from Four Points. We grew up in a small town in Georgia, high school sweethearts who married much too young.

Brendan said Jay did photography for their business. When we were together, he worked in a grocery store and liked to take pictures as a hobby. I thought his dreams about becoming a photographer were just that — dreams — but I guess he made it happen. Somewhere, tucked deep in a box, I have pictures he took of me, and of us.

I can’t stop thinking about the looks on all of the men’s faces. “You should have seen them,” I tell Bea, as I fill a fresh water bowl for her. “I wonder which one of us had the most shocked expression.”

Jay was the jealous type when we were together. That was one of our issues. Of course, he has no business being jealous now, but what an unfortunate way for us to meet again.

I slept with his friends. And not just one, but three of them.

“I can’t imagine what kinds of conversations they’re having over there today, Bea.” My feline friend walks through my legs, pausing to rub her head against me, and I take it as a gesture of sympathetic support.

I’m not surprised when the Hayes brothers come through Rusty’s doors that night as soon as we open. Their eyes search mine as they approach the counter.

“How are you?” Corbin asks. It’s not a casual greeting. All three of them wait for my answer.

“I’m fine. How are you?” In all honesty, I’m still shaken up, of course, but in the hours that have passed since this morning’s surprise, I’ve started to see the situation more clearly.

Despite the amazing night we shared, the Hayes brothers are essentially strangers to me. After today, odds are strong that I’ll never see them again. And even though I have a history with Jay, I haven’t laid eyes on him in almost two decades, so I shouldn’t be seeing him again either.

There’s no reason for me to feel awkward about things, and whatever issues the men have between them — if any — they can work out themselves.

“We’re good,” Corbin says, “but we’ve been worried about you.”

“Obviously, that wasn’t how we pictured the morning going,” Brendan says.

I shake my head and grin. “No, I don’t think anyone would have imagined that.”

Jonathan settles into one of the barstools. “It never occurred to us that you could be Jay’s Christine.”

Jay’s Christine? Apparently Jay has mentioned me to them by name.

“He told us you lived in Georgia,” Corbin says.

“We’re sorry you were put in that situation,” Brendan adds.

“It’s not your fault. There’s no way you could have known,” I say.

“We know. But still …” Brendan says.

“Well, you’re sweet, but you don’t need to worry about me.” I start checking my supply levels on the wall shelving as I talk, turning my head back to them to say, “I’m fine. Jay and I have been divorced for a long time.”

There’s a beat of silence before Jonathan says, “Are you serving yet? I could really go for another one of those pale ales.”

All three men are on stools now, looking settled in.

“Oh, you’re staying?”

Jonathan frowns and Brendan and Corbin look confused.

“Sure,” Brendan says. “We’re planning to spend the evening here, until you get off. Like last night.”

Now I’m the one who looks confused. I turn to fully face them and search their eyes for a few seconds. “You don’t think I’m still going home with you, do you?”

Corbin leans forward, his big hands resting on the bar, making me remember how it felt to have those hands on my body. “That was the plan, yes.”

15

A fourth person

“I thought you said Jay was a good friend.” I glance at Brendan and then do a quick scan of my surroundings. Becca’s across the room, wiping down tables, and Valerie’s somewhere in the back. A few customers have come in, but they’re out of earshot. “Do you mean to tell me that your good friend won’t mind if you sleep with his ex-wife?”

“If we had known ahead of time who you were, we wouldn’t have gotten involved with you,” Brendan says, “but since that ship has sailed, we see no reason to change course. It’s not as if we can undo what’s been done.”

I had been looking forward to spending another night with them, and I’m irritated at the coincidence of Jay showing up, but what he’s saying doesn’t make any sense.

“We can’t undo things, but I’m not going to make the situation worse.” Even though no one’s around, I lean in and lower my voice. “I’m not coming over to have sex with you while my ex is sleeping in the same house!”

The option of inviting them to my house occurs to me, but it wouldn’t be much better. Jay would be on my mind, no matter where I was with them. I only ever planned to spend one night with these three men, anyway, and it was a wonderful night. Anything more would be much too awkward now.

Corbin draws in a deep breath and looks to both of his brothers before saying, “What if we take sex off the table? What if we get together as friends?”

“Friends? What exactly do you mean?” A few seats down, a regular customer has come in, so I excuse myself to serve him, leaving my question hanging.

When I return to the Hayes brothers, Corbin says, “We’re taking a boat out tomorrow. We’d love it if you would spend the day with us out on the water.”

I’m starting to think that Corbin’s grin could convince me to do just about anything. Add to that the fact that I love being out on a boat. I’m not much of an outdoorsy person, but there’s something both soothing and exciting about the ocean air and being surrounded by a great expanse of water.

“We’re planning to go over to Seacoast Island,” Jonathan says. “We can have a picnic lunch there and explore the place. Have you been?”

“I have not,” I say. I’ve heard it’s beautiful, and it’s a place I’ve wanted to go. Though the men don’t know tomorrow’s my birthday, what they’re proposing sounds like a lovely way to spend the day.

I don’t have to work tomorrow, either, but I’ll still be coming to Rusty’s at night because my friend Caz and the men who own the bar are throwing a party for me.

“So come. What do you say?” Brendan’s eyes are fixed on me, a corner of his mouth turned up in a similarly irresistible way to his brother’s.

“Will Jay be coming?” I ask, stepping back a pace to try to break the pull these men have on me.

“This is a working vacation for him too, so I don’t think so,” Corbin says.

“Is he still a photographer?”

“Yeah, he managed to get an assignment in the area so that he could join us on this trip. We travel together a few times of year like that, when we can get things to line up.”

“So you only see him a few times a year?”

Jonathan raises his hand to interrupt. “Whether or not you decide to go with us tomorrow, I could still use a beer tonight.”

The rest of us laugh as Jonathan grins back at us.

“I guess I’m not doing my job.” I reach for a glass as I look toward Brendan and Corbin. “How about you two?”

“I’ll have my usual,” Corbin says.

“Me too,” Brendan says. “I’ve been craving that porter all day.” As I pour, he says, “To answer your question, we see Jay for a few weeks total every year, give or take. With our travel schedules, it can be difficult to get together with friends.”

“A few weeks? That’s more time than I usually spend with my family in a year.”

Brendan gives a shrug. “Like I said, we’re close.”

A few things occur to me at once. Maybe Jay doesn’t care that I’ve slept with his friends; otherwise, if they’re as close as Brendan says they are, why would they be in here, still trying to make plans to be with me?

My other thought is more disturbing. Since the four of them take vacations together, maybe they’ve shared women before. That idea bothers me a lot, though I’m not even sure why.

It’d be ridiculous to think that Jay hasn’t slept with other women in all of the years we’ve been apart, so why should I care if he’s shared women with Brendan, Corbin, and Jonathan?

“You’ve gone off somewhere.” Corbin’s looking at me thoughtfully. “What’s bothering you?”

After a brief hesitation, I decide I may as well just come out with it. “Do you … do you and he … share women on your vacations?”

Understanding dawns on his face. “Ah … I can see why that would be a concern, but no, we haven’t. He’s never been interested in joining us for those kinds of activities.”

I nod. “But he knows you do that? Share women?”

“He knows,” Brendan says, and his words are weighted with the additional confirmation that Jay knows I had sex with all three of his friends last night.

I want to ask how things went down after I left this morning, what they discussed, and what Jay’s reaction was, but that would be me bringing a lot of baggage into the situation. Really old, irrelevant baggage that would be much better left buried in the back of the closet.

“You know what? I’ll go with you tomorrow,” I say, deciding on the spot that my ex-husband turning up shouldn’t keep me from having fun with these three men. I’m not sure I’ll be in the right frame of mind to do anything physical with them again, though I won’t be surprised if my body tries to convince me that I should.

But, sex aside, I enjoy their company, and despite living on an island, I don’t have opportunities to go boating as often as you’d think, especially since Four Points is connected to the mainland by bridges.

“Great,” Corbin says enthusiastically.

“It’ll be a good time,” Jonathan says. “How early do you want to leave?”

Brendan speaks before I answer. “How about we pick you up at nine?”

“I can meet you at the marina,” I say.

“We’ll be leaving from Whitman,” Brendan says. Whitman is a coastal town about twenty minutes away, and their harbor is much bigger than Four Points. Maybe since it’s off-season, fewer boats are available here.

“That’s fine. I’ll meet you there.” I prefer to meet men rather than let them pick me up. Also, there’s a really good coffee shop in Whitman, and I can go early and get a birthday treat to start my day.

We firm up the plans for tomorrow, and continue to talk as the men drink their beer. It’s a slow night at the bar, even for a Monday. Tom is off, but I can easily handle all of the business as well as have time to socialize.

Prompted by my questions, the Hayes brothers tell me more about their business and about some of their favorite adventures. They’ve been to places I’ve never even heard of, and done things I’d never in a million years consider, like skydiving, cliff diving, and deep-sea diving. I guess I’m not much for any sort of diving, though I’ll bet these three look damn good doing all of it.

But they also talk about places I’ve dreamed of going, if my lifestyle and financial means were different. White sand beaches in the Bahamas, rainforests in Costa Rica, and the Grand Canyon in the American West.

“That’s quite a life you’re living,” I say, before pivoting to get a bottle of whiskey off the shelf behind me.

When I turn back toward the men, there’s a fourth person there. Jay is standing just a few feet behind Brendan and Jonathan, looking unsure about whether he should come closer.

Noticing that I’m staring at a spot beyond them, the Hayes brothers turn to look at what’s caught my attention.

Brendan lifts his chin to his friend before turning back to me. “We’ll leave you two alone.”

Corbin drains the last of his beer as Brendan pushes a few bills across the counter to cover their tab.

“We’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Jonathan says, giving me a long look as he slides off the stool.

“See you tomorrow,” I tell all of them in a quiet voice, not wanting to advertise our plans to Jay, who’s still hovering a couple of feet away.

The men exchange greetings as the Hayes brothers exit, and then I’m alone — in a not-very-crowded bar — with my ex-husband.

16

A good husband

“How are you?” Jay says, tentatively approaching the bar.

“I’m fine. You?” I glance at him in between clearing away the empty beer glasses and wiping the countertop.

“Fine.”

“Do you want to sit?” I tip my head, gesturing down at the stools that were just vacated by the Hayes brothers.

Jay gives a small nod before settling onto one of the seats.

“Want something to drink?” I ask.

He briefly glances at the bottles behind me before replying. “Sure. Scotch and soda, please.”

I grab a bottle of the better quality stuff from the back row, because it seems like the nice thing to do.

“You didn’t have to run off this morning,” he says as I fill the small glass from the soda nozzle.

“It was a shock.”

“Yes, yes it was,” he says. As soon as I place his drink on a coaster, Jay lifts it and takes a big gulp.

I watch his throat move as he swallows, and then my eye drifts down to the open neck of his tan button-down shirt. There’s a bright white t-shirt beneath it, providing a strong contrast to the suntanned color of his skin. A few dark hairs curl out from the collar of the shirt. He didn’t have much in the way of chest hair when we were together.

“I’m sorry that you found me with your friends.”

“Not your fault,” he says quickly. “You didn’t know.”

“We didn’t get to talking about last names,” I say, instantly regretting how it sounds.

He’d been looking down at his glass, but lifts his head abruptly. “You still go by Murphy?”

“Yeah,” I say quietly.

“I looked for you online a while back, but couldn’t find you. I assumed you’d gotten remarried.”

“No, never have. You?”

He shakes his head and takes another drink before saying, “I never had much faith in my ability to be a good husband.”

I don’t have a response for that. Jay and I didn’t part on good terms. There were a lot of tears and even more yelling during our short marriage, especially at the end. After all this time, the memories almost seem like they belong to someone else, but I can’t exactly sing his praises.

He was a good boyfriend. He invited me to prom our junior year and asked me to be his girlfriend shortly after. I was still a virgin, and he was sweetly patient. My mother and our church had raised me to wait until marriage before having sex. Jay and I made it halfway through our senior year before we gave in to the temptation, which was enormous by that point.

Once we crossed that threshold, we never looked back. Immediately after graduation, we moved in together, and shortly after that, I got pregnant.

Or, at least, I thought I did.

My period was late, so I did a home pregnancy test, which was positive. We had no immediate plans to start a family, and we weren’t even sure when or how it happened — some sort of birth control failure — so it was a huge surprise.

But despite our lack of planning and our complete unpreparedness for parenthood, we were excited. We weren’t sure how we’d manage it — I was a waitress and Jay was a bagger at Piggly Wiggly — but we knew we’d figure it out somehow.

We’d always talked about getting married someday, and the pregnancy suddenly made it seem important. Between the pregnancy test and my first appointment with an obstetrician, Jay brought home roses, made dinner for me, and asked me to marry him.

Two weeks later, after my doctor visit, I had to come home and tell him I was no longer pregnant. I thought the home test must have been faulty, but the doctor said I could have very briefly been pregnant and miscarried without any symptoms, since it was such early days.

Jay and I still went ahead and got married, and perhaps we were a little relieved about not having a baby so early in our lives, but things between us were never quite the same.

Movement catches my eye from the other end of the bar. Becca’s waving at me.

“I’ll be back,” I tell Jay.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Becca says when I reach her. “I got the drinks that I could, but someone ordered a Mai Tai. Can we make that?”

“What, do they think they’re on an island vacation?” I joke.

“Should I tell her she’s on the wrong island?” Becca says, laughing.

“No, I think I have some small cans of pineapple juice. We get a few orders for Mai Tais during the summer.”

While I gather nearby ingredients, Becca says, “I saw that those three guys were in again.”

I nod. “Mm-hmm.”

“They’re so good looking.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“You’ve got another tasty treat over there now, too,” she says. “We’re getting some summer-quality men in here lately.”

I follow her gaze, but it still takes me a moment to realize she’s talking about Jay. My view of him is so wrapped up in memories and emotion that I don’t really see him objectively.

He looks a bit more relaxed than when he came in. His drink is nearly gone; I’m sure that’s helping.

I garnish the Mai Tai with a cherry and a sprig of mint and slide it over to Becca. “That tasty treat,” I say, just to see her jaw drop, “is my ex-husband.”

17

Forty isn’t looking too bad

After I take care of everyone else seated at the bar and fill a tray of drinks for Becca, I return to Jay, and gesture at his empty glass. “Want another?”

“Yes, please.” He gives a small smile, the first I’ve seen from him today. Lines crinkle attractively at the corners of his eyes.

I mix a fresh Scotch and soda and set it in front of him. “Your friends said you’re here on assignment?”

He tilts his head side to side. “Eh, not an assignment, but I am taking pictures to sell to magazines and stock sites.”

“Pictures of … ?”

“General scenic shots.” He takes a swig of his drink. “You live here on the island?”

“I do.”

“What brought you here?”

I shrug. “I visited, and it just felt like home.” He nods, as though he understands. “What about you? Where do you live?”

“I have a house in Boston, but I’m always traveling.” He runs a hand through his hair, a gesture that is instantly familiar.

“How long are you going to be in town?” I ask.

“A week, but I’ll be taking some side trips up and down the coast.”

As we talk, I study him. From the cut of his hair, the quality of his clothes, and the healthy look about him, I’d peg him as a person with some wealth. It just shows on people.

As he relaxes into his second drink and into our conversation, there’s a growing ease about his movements. A self-assuredness that was never there before. And why is it that when men age, they look smarter, more handsome, and more interesting?

Apparently, he’s been studying me, too. “You look great, Christine. I really like your hair.”

“Thanks.”

“I’d say you haven’t changed a bit, but you have, and it looks good on you,” he says. His eyes are appraising me, and I have to busy myself with things behind the counter to keep from blushing.

“I’ll bet your mom would hate your hair,” he adds with a smile. “She never let you do what you wanted with it.”

“It looked different when I last saw her, but you’re right. She hated it.”

“Is she still in Georgia?”

I nod. “How about your family?”

“My parents are. My sister moved to Florida. She has three kids.” His expression goes flat, and then he clears his throat. “Is it safe to assume … if you never got remarried … you don’t have kids?”

I shake my head. “No. You?”

“No, no kids.”

Valerie comes by then, just as the silence is hanging heavy between Jay and me. “Need anything, Christine?”

“No, I’m good. It’s a slow night, as you can see.”

“Would you have a moment, then? I wanted to talk to you about some new glassware Barrett and I are considering.”

“Sure. Sure thing.” Valerie heads toward the other end of the bar, expecting me to follow. When I glance toward Jay, he’s getting his wallet out.

“I’m going to head out.” He lays a couple of bills on the counter, and when I give him a questioning look, says, “I don’t need change.”

“Okay.”

“It’s good to see you, Christine.”

“You too,” I say, and I think I mean it.

The next morning, my alarm wakes me before Roscoe has a chance. I resist the urge to tap snooze, and instead sit up and stretch my arms overhead before bending forward to rub Bea’s soft, furry chin. She turns on her side and performs a full body stretch, ears to toes, in one fluid movement.

“Show off,” I say, giving her one last scratch before I get up.

I have much more energy than usual as I go through my morning routine, and I can’t deny that I’m looking forward to seeing the Hayes brothers again. I’m showered, dressed, and have fed and walked Roscoe with plenty of time to spare.

I text my neighbor Sheila and ask if she can look in on Roscoe around lunchtime. He’d be fine until I get home, but it’d be nice for him to have a midday visit to the backyard.

I do one last check in the mirror before I leave, and give a smile to my reflection. Forty isn’t looking too bad on me. My hair looks good right now, though I know it’ll be a wild mess out on the water. I’m prepared with a hairband in my bag, along with a sweater, a jacket, sunscreen, and a hat.

The usual weekday traffic, including a couple of school buses, slows me down on my way into Whitman, but I still arrive with plenty of time to detour to the coffee shop. Fifteen minutes later, I’m parked at the marina, enjoying a rich cafè mocha and a croissant, hopelessly trying not to get crumbs all over myself.

It’s a beautiful day for boating. The sky is unusually clear for this time of the morning, and sunlight is glinting off the waves. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of activity on the docks. Commercial boats will have gone out long ago, and since it’s a weekday, there aren’t as many leisure or hobby fishing trips departing.

The next vehicle to enter the lot is a large white SUV. I think I catch sight of Corbin through the tinted window, but I can’t tell for sure until the doors open and the men get out.

Brendan, Corbin, Jonathan … and Jay.

18

Big birthday

I watch the men for a few moments before I get out of my car, bringing my drink with me. I brush the pastry crumbs from my shirt with my free hand, and retrieve my bag from the back seat.

This is the first time I’m seeing the Hayes men in full sunlight, and they look better than ever, even when I wouldn’t have thought improvement was possible. The natural highlights in Brendan and Corbin’s hair shine in the sun, while Jonathan’s dark hair is getting tousled in the breeze coming off the water.

The three of them are the picture of good health and good living, and self-assuredness informs their every movement as they unload a cooler from the back of their vehicle. I can’t help but remember how confident they were about their ability to please me, and how well they delivered on every promise.

It’s hard for me to believe that three men this attractive, interesting, and … skillful … are all single. But I suppose that’s their choice, since both their business and their penchant for sharing women don’t lend themselves to married life.

Then, there’s Jay. He looks good too. More vibrant and sure-footed than during our awkward encounters yesterday. He feels so familiar, but also so much like a stranger.

He’s the one who sees me first as I approach them. “Christine, good morning.”

“Good morning.” I raise an eyebrow in question and look toward Corbin, who’d told me Jay wouldn’t be coming today.

Reading my look, Jay steps into my line of vision. “Is it okay if I come along? I remembered that today is a special day, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to spend it with you.”

“It’s fine,” I say. I still think of Jay every year on his birthday. I’d often wished that my brain would stop marking the date.

“Happy birthday!” Jonathan says, taking me by surprise with a hug from behind. My body stiffens at first, and then immediately switches gears and melts into him, remembering how good it feels to be close to him.

As I thank him and he releases me, Brendan and Corbin step in, one at a time, to deliver birthday greetings. Corbin brings his mouth toward mine, but mindful of Jay watching, I turn, leaving him with my cheek. Even his chaste, close-mouthed kiss to the side of my face is enough to give my ovaries a little tug.

“You should have told us,” Brendan says, reading my discomfort and settling on a warm, lingering hug.

“I probably would have at some point, but I guess Jay took care of that for me,” I say lightly when we separate.

Since the other three men have just hugged me, Jay is considering it. I can see the indecision cross his face. Pre-empting any potential contact from him, I bend over and pick up my bag, which I’d dropped when Jonathan surprised me.

What would it even feel like to have his arms around me again?

“I didn’t tell them that it’s a big birthday,” Jay says, a hint of teasing in his tone.

“Wait a minute,” Brendan says. “Jay, you said that you and Christine graduated together, right?” When Jay nods, Brendan says, “So you’re the same age.”

“He’s older,” I say quickly.

“By four months,” Jay says, laughing.

“We’ll make today a big celebration, then, birthday girl!” Jonathan says. He leans in to take the bag I’m holding, and for my ears only, says, “Damn, forty looks good on you.”

I can’t help but smile back at his devilish grin as he swings my bag easily over his shoulder and we walk toward the docks.

I’m not sure what I was envisioning when the Hayes brothers invited me to spend the day on the water with them, but it surely wasn’t the yacht I’m standing on.

We’ve been aboard for at least ten minutes and I’m still on a tour, checking out all of the rooms and amenities. Though some individual areas are compact, overall the vessel is definitely larger than my patio home.

“You said we were going on a boat,” I say to the brothers.

“This is a boat,” Corbin says.

“Who’s going to drive it?” I’ve been expecting to come across a captain and a crew during my explorations, but the five of us appear to be the only ones here.

“All of them have captain’s licenses,” Jay says, tilting his head toward his friends. “They know what they’re doing.”

If the Hayes men tell me they can do something, I believe them. Piloting a yacht is probably easier than eliciting all my magical orgasms the other night, and they seemed to do that effortlessly.

Corbin offers me a drink from the yacht’s sizable bar, but I still have my coffee. He encourages me to get comfortable, while the three of them do whatever it is they need to do to prepare for our voyage.

“Have you sailed with them before?” I ask Jay.

He nods. “Several times. They have their own boat up in Vermont.”

“I’ve never been on one this big.”

Soon, the motor is running and we’re moving away from the dock. As the boat turns, Jay slides over onto my side of the semicircular bench for a better view of the receding harbor.

There are still several inches between us, but I’m very aware of his proximity.

“How long have you known them?” I ask.

“Oh, let me see … I guess it’s been about five years. They were just starting their business and contacted me to take photos for their website and other marketing stuff. I drove up to meet them, spent the weekend with them, and we’ve been buddies ever since.”

“They seem like great guys,” I say.

After a pause, he says, “They are.” He doesn’t sound disingenuous or resentful, but there’s something complicated in his tone.

19

One night wasn’t enough

It takes about an hour to get to Seacoast Island. During the ride, I learn more about Jay’s career. It turns out he’s quite in demand as a photographer, and has also won several competitions. He doesn’t brag about himself; the Hayes brothers supply most of the details during our conversations.

When all four men are together, Jay almost seems like he could be their brother. They clearly know each other well, and are completely at ease with one another, despite my presence potentially being a complication.

Our plan is to explore the island, which is uninhabited and therefore a popular site for beachcombing and wildlife sighting, and then return to the yacht for lunch. During the summer season, ferries bring vacationers to the island, but today, aside from our boat, there are only a few other small watercraft moored at the dock.

I take off my shoes to walk along the nearly-deserted beach. It’s much too cold to get my feet wet, but the dry sand is warm from the sun, and there’s something so relaxing about being in my bare feet on a beach, no matter how many times I’ve done it.

The men keep pace with me, slowing and stopping whenever I bend down to inspect a pretty shell or some other interesting debris from the ocean. We go quite a long way before turning around. After we reach our starting point and continue on to the other section of beach, Jonathan spots an elevated wooden walkway that zigzags inland, and suggests we see what we can find on the other side of the dunes.

Jay takes out his camera and starts snapping pictures as he, Jonathan, and Brendan lead the way. When my legs get tired and I slow my pace, Corbin hangs back with me.

“Want to sit for a while?” he asks as we approach a bench.

I smile over at him, noticing how the sun creates a golden halo around his head. “No, that’s okay. I just want to take my time.”

“I can understand why you’d be tired,” he teases. “You lost quite a bit of sleep the night before last.”

Something flutters in my belly at the memory, and I smile. “I’m probably just tired because I’m old.”

“Mmm,” he says, shaking his head, “no one who had the endurance you did that night can call themselves old.”

“It was quite a night.”

“Are you okay with Jay being along today?” Corbin asks, changing his tone abruptly. “I know that wasn’t part of the plan.”

“It’s fine,” I say.

“I would have called you before bringing him here. I can’t believe none of us thought to get your number.

“It’s okay. Really.”

We’re on an incline, and my heart is starting to pound in my chest. I turn back toward the beach and stop, using the view as an excuse to rest for a minute. “This island is really beautiful,” I say, taking in a deep breath of the salty air.

“You’re beautiful,” Corbin says as he steps closer and begins to caress my back.

His proximity is doing nothing to help slow my racing heart. Even though I probably shouldn’t, I lean into his touch and let my eyes close.

“The sun makes your skin glow, and it’s torturing me how good you look today,” he says. After a long pause, he adds, “I really want to kiss you right now.”

The words “we shouldn’t” come to mind, but I can’t bring myself to vocalize them. Instead, I turn my head toward him and meet his eyes. He bends to duck under the wide rim of my sun hat, and brings his lips to mine, softly at first, before he opens and takes my mouth with more hunger.

“What if Jay sees?” I say, pulling back a fraction.

He turns to look up the path. “He’s out of sight. It’s not a problem.” His arm brings my body against his as his mouth returns for more. His tongue brushes softly against my lip, and when I meet it with my tongue, he slides his over mine, reminding me of other ways our bodies came together that night.

We carry on this way for a minute or two, pausing only for Corbin to say, “One night with you wasn’t enough, Christine.”

When I find myself grasping a fistful of his t-shirt, I realize we need to stop. As I pull away, something red catches my eye up the path. It’s Jay. He’s taken off his jacket, exposing a red shirt beneath. He’s staring right at us with an expression I can’t read from this distance, but could probably guess if I had to.

20

I remember it differently

When we’re all back on the boat together, Jay is quieter than he was before, but he doesn’t act angry or bothered.

Corbin and Jonathan bring a big spread out to the long table that’s on the deck, and it’s there that we have lunch, sheltered from the midday sun by the hard canopy overhead, but otherwise out in the fresh, open air, with a beautiful view of sand, sea, and sky all around us.

The men have apparently gotten the lunch items from an upscale grocery store in Whitman. There are an assortment of sandwiches on fresh, crusty baguettes, pasta salad, vegetables and dip, and a big bunch of grapes.

When we’ve finished our sandwiches, Jonathan excuses himself and then reappears with a plate filled with chocolate cupcakes topped with colorful sprinkles.

“Happy birthday!” the men chorus, as Jonathan sets them in front of me.

“Thank you,” I say, so touched at their thoughtfulness.

“Oh, we also got these for you.” Corbin turns and fishes something out of a bag behind him. It’s a long, narrow box tied with a ribbon. When I take it from him, I see a familiar logo.

“Truffles! Thank you so much.”

“We remembered what you said about liking chocolate,” Jonathan says, his eyes going dark, reminding me that I was on the couch with him, mostly naked, when I mentioned it. My pussy pulses at the memory, and I feel a tinge of sadness at the same time.

“They’re from all of us,” Brendan says, patting Jay on the back. “And I’m so glad Jay told us it was your birthday.”

“Thank you,” I say again, bringing myself back to the present moment. “This is such a treat. Here, everybody, have one.” I hold the plate out to the men, who each take one, then I dig into one myself, peeling back one side of the paper liner and taking a big, chocolatey bite.

Partway through his cupcake, Jay says, “Christine and I were together on another milestone birthday, her twenty-first.”

Brendan lifts his brows in interest. “Yeah?”

“There weren’t any bars in our little town, so I took her to Marietta for her first legal drink. After her second cocktail, all she wanted to do was dance. She kept dragging me out to the dance floor. I think she would’ve danced on the bar if she’d had a third drink.”

The Hayes brothers laugh at Jay’s story as I finish the bite I’m chewing.

“I remember it differently,” I say, purposely keeping my tone light. “You only danced with me once, and refused when I asked you again. When I went onto the floor to dance without you, you got jealous and insisted we leave.”

“Yeah?” Jay looks truly hurt by my recollection. I didn’t speak up to make him feel bad, but I also couldn’t sit by and listen to his lighthearted version of the night. My twenty-first birthday is not a good memory for me, and in fact, it was the last birthday I spent with him … until today.

“Not that it’s a great excuse,” he says, “but I was young and stupid. I’d do things differently now, Christine. I’d dance with you all night long.”

Everything’s gone quiet around us. No one’s laughing, smiling, or even eating their cupcakes.

“Well, I’d probably be too tired to dance all night now that I’m forty,” I say, finally, needing to fill the silence and lighten the mood. As if I hit a button, action around me begins again. The Hayes brothers continue eating and drinking, Jay looks away, out toward the horizon, and I let out a deep breath.

“Who wants another?” Jonathan asks, lifting the cupcake platter. “There are a few more in the galley if we eat all of these.”

I lift my palm in a quick gesture of refusal. “No, thank you. One is plenty for now.” In truth, I’ve lost my appetite — not that I’m particularly upset, but my mind is no longer on food.

After Jonathan finishes a second cupcake, I stand and start to clear away plates and silverware, but Corbin stops me. “Sit, we’ve got this,” he says, taking what’s in my hand.

Jay, who’d been sitting diagonally across from me, stands too, and the ocean breeze catches hold of his thin t-shirt, blowing it tight against his body, like a second skin. There’s a lot of definition there that he never had when I knew him. He obviously takes good care of himself these days. And works out.

“I guess we should head back,” Brendan says once the table is cleared. “Corbin, do you want to help me?”

Jay follows the two of them, leaving me with Jonathan. “Want to sit out on the deck for the ride back?” he asks. “It’s much warmer now.”

He leads me around the side of the boat to the front, where there’s a large open area for lounging in the sun. Using cushions he finds under the seat of a built-in bench, he sets up a cozy area for us to sit side-by-side and watch our progress back to the mainland.

I peel off my shirt to reveal the tank top underneath, and pull my hair up in a bun to get it off of my neck.

“Are you wearing sunscreen?” Jonathan asks.

“I put some on earlier.”

“You probably need more. Do you have some with you?” When I fish the tube out of my bag, he holds out his hand. “Want me to get it?”

“You wouldn’t just be using it as an excuse to touch me, would you?” I tease.

21

Lose my footing

“Safety first,” he says, in a mock official tone. “I wouldn’t want your skin to get sunburned.”

“Of course,” I say, mimicking his tone as I hand over the lotion.

I have no idea where Jay is, or whether or not he’ll be able to see us, but it’s my birthday, I just enjoyed a delicious cupcake, and now I’m going to enjoy having this handsome man’s hands on my body.

I’m a pretty strong person, but apparently not when it comes to resisting the Hayes brothers. It’s not my fault Jay decided to come along today.

Jonathan coats my arms first, his big hands smoothing up and down the sides of each arm, and up and around my shoulders. It’s possibly the slowest application of sunscreen in history, the heat of his hands melting the cream into my skin as he lingers in every area.

When he gets to the back of my neck, it turns into a full-on massage, his thumbs pressing along each side of my spine and smoothing down over the muscles there.

“You feel tense,” he says, his mouth close to my ear.

“Really?”

“I know a good way to relieve tension.” His hands slide back down my arms, his knuckles grazing the sides of my breasts.

“I know you do,” I say, twisting to the side to squirm out of his grip. God help me, I know. “We can’t do that, especially not here.”

With a wicked grin on his face, he reaches for my feet. “I was talking about a foot massage,” he says, as he tickles me.

I squirm again, and attempt to tickle him back, but after further attacks and counterattacks, I end up tucked under his arm in an embrace.

“I hope you’re having a good day,” he says, leaning back against the cushions, and bringing me along to rest against his chest.

“I definitely can’t complain.” I stretch my legs out and tip my head back, savoring the warmth on my face.

“Is it strange … having your ex here with you?”

“Strange is a good word,” I say after a moment. “I truly never thought I’d see him again.”

We’re both quiet for several minutes. Anticipating others joining us at some point, I gradually shift back to my own cushion, but we stay in close contact, with the sides of our bodies pressed together.

“Are there good spots for surfing around here?” Jonathan asks out of the blue.

The sun had been lulling me into a sleepy mood. I open one eye and look over at him. “Yeah, surfing is pretty popular in the summer months.”

“Do you surf?” he asks, sounding hopeful.

“Me? No, I mostly just hear about it from customers at the bar.”

“How about paddleboarding?”

“That looks like fun, but no, I’ve never tried it. I don’t think I’d have the balance for it.”

“It can be tricky,” he says. “Let’s see … parasailing?”

“No,” I say, laughing.

“You live on an island, surrounded by water, and you haven’t done any of those things?” Jonathan slides his hands down my thigh and gives my knee an affectionate shake. “You’re missing out on a lot of fun activities.”

“I enjoy island life quite well without all that daredevil stuff,” I say.

“What do you like to do?”

When I glance at him, he’s smiling down at me, his blue eyes more vivid than I’ve ever seen as they reflect the water and the sky.

“Well, I love walking on the beach, like we did today. No matter how old I get, I’ll never get tired of that. And I swim when the water’s warmer.” Jonathan nods as I think more about my answer. “There’s a nature center on the island that I really enjoy visiting. Its trails run along the Intracoastal Waterway. Sometimes I have lunch there at a picnic table, listening to birds and watching the occasional boat go by.”

He nods again, probably thinking my answers sound incredibly boring and lame compared to the adventures he’s used to having.

The glass of sweet tea I had at lunch prompts me to stand and excuse myself. “I need to go to the restroom. I’ll be back,” I tell Jonathan.

I find the cabin’s side entrance and then try to remember where I saw a bathroom earlier. I think there were a couple of them actually, so I’m bound to run into one if I wander around.

I’m heading down a narrow hall when Jay approaches from the other direction. We both slow our pace, eyeing each other warily. Just as I’m about to pass him, the boat rocks to one side, and I lose my footing.

Jay’s arms wrap around me before I fall, and with another sway of the boat, I’m pressed into his firm chest. My breath catches, but I can feel my heart beating in my throat as he tightens his hold on me.

The scent of his skin instantly pulls memories from deep inside me, stripping decades away. I’ve been in his arms so many times. In fact, he was the first man to ever hold me this way, all those years ago.

There’s a different quality to his embrace now, though. It’s supportive and steady. It feels like he’d never let me fall.

The boat stabilizes, but Jay doesn’t let go. In fact, he seems frozen in place, nothing moving but his pounding heart.

I finally dare to look up at him. His eyes lock on mine, and the moment stretches to infinity.

“Christine, I wanted —”

I cut him off, not sure I want to hear what he’s going to say. “I’m looking for the bathroom,” I say.

He immediately releases me without a word and steps aside, pressing himself against the wall to give me clearance.

Once inside the bathroom, I turn and press my forehead against the closed door. What is happening to me? Am I feeling something for Jay? Is he feeling something for me?

Maybe these kinds of confused feelings are common when exes encounter each other, or maybe it’s the presence of the Hayes brothers that have my emotions swirling around.

After several long, deep breaths, I decide these aren’t questions I need to dwell on. It’s not like he’s back in my life for good. He’s in town on vacation, and his presence has a one-week expiration date.

Besides, it’s my birthday, a day to have fun and celebrate, not ponder deep emotions.

It’s not long before we’re disembarking in Whitman. As Brendan helps me step onto the dock, I say, “Thank you for the outing. It was such a great way to spend the day.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. Though I wish I’d hired a captain so I could have spent more time with you.”

“Maybe next time,” I say. I’m joking, though I certainly wouldn’t turn down another invitation to go on a cruise with him.

“Do you have to work tonight? We’d love to take you out to dinner to continue the celebration.” He’s looking down at me with a grin similar to his brother’s, that kind of look that makes me want to say yes to whatever they’re asking.

“I’m not working, but I am going in to Rusty’s. They’re throwing a party for me there.”

“What’s this?” Corbin says, leaning in to join the conversation as we walk along the wooden planks that lead back to shore.

“Rusty’s is throwing a birthday party for Christine,” Brendan says.

“Actually, it’s my friend Caz throwing the party. She used to work at Rusty’s,” I explain.

“Is this a private party?” Corbin asks.

I bump his arm with my shoulder. “If you’re wondering if you can come, the answer is yes. The bar will be open as usual.”

“Sweet,” Corbin says. “What time does the party start?”

“Do I hear talk of a party?” It’s Jonathan now, poking his head between mine and Corbin’s. He and Jay had been walking behind us.

Brendan fills him in on the discussion, and I let them know what time things will be getting started. Jay stays a few paces behind during the entire walk back to the parking lot, and when we say goodbye, he glances away quickly when I meet his eyes.

22

Complicated

At home, there’s a note on my kitchen counter telling me that I can find Roscoe at Sheila’s house.

“Why’d you bring him over? Was he howling?” I ask after my neighbor lets me in. My dog is curled up on one side of her couch, next to Trixie, Sheila’s feisty little dachshund.

“No, but I thought he might like company,” Sheila says.

“Okay, well, thank you. I appreciate you looking after him,” I say.

“So, where were you today? Looks like you got some sun.”

I narrow my eyes at her. “Did you bring my dog over to hold him hostage in exchange for juicy details?”

She plops down on the other end of her couch, reaching for her remote and turning down the volume on her TV. “Ooh, are there juicy details? In that case, yes. You’re not getting your dog back until I get some information.”

I laugh, shaking my head at her.

“First, you don’t come home all night. Then you’re gone all day.” When I sit on the chair that’s nearest her, she squints at my face. “Looks like you may be having a little flare-up.”

I press my fingers onto my cheeks, feeling heat on my skin, and frown.

“So who’s the guy that’s been keeping you busy?” she asks, leaning back, arms folded over her chest. She’s obviously going to be more persistent than Roscoe with his favorite jerky treat, so I decide I may as well give her enough details to satisfy her. I could use a nap before the party tonight, so the sooner I tell her what she wants to know, the sooner I can wake up my dog and go home.

I take a deep breath, wondering where to start. Finally, I say, “It’s probably good you’re sitting down, because there’s more than one guy keeping me busy.”

“Christine! That’s my girl!” She slaps her knee in a fit of excitement before settling back again to scrutinize me as I explain.

“Three guys came into the bar the other night. The last night you were in, actually, is when they came in. Out-of-towners, really, really good looking.”

“I’m liking the sound of this,” she says.

I briefly fill her in on a few of the details I know about the Hayes brothers, and then confess that I went home with them the second night they came in.

“I like that they gave you time,” she says. “And I assume you had a good night with them, if you saw them again today?”

I almost have to laugh at the silly grin on her face. I’m both surprised and relieved that she’s not asking for intimate details.

“I did … but then things got complicated.”

“Let me guess,” she says. “Three more guys came in, and you’ve been invited to a sevensome … sevensome? Septsome? Sex with seven people – what would that be called?”

“Sheila!”

“Hey, you slept with three guys. I hear it’s a slippery slope.”

“Oh my gosh, Sheila!” My eyes are watering with laughter. “What kind of stuff have you been watching or reading?”

My neighbor smiles mysteriously and tilts her head into a little shrug. “Anyway, what happened?” she asks.

“Well, I wish it had been three more guys, but instead, my ex showed up.”

“Your ex-husband? John? James? What was his name?”

“Jay,” I say. “And it turns out that Brendan, Corbin, and Jonathan are his closest buddies.”

Her eyes widen in disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I wish I was.”

“So what happened? Does he know you’re sleeping with his friends?”

I nod as I correct her. “Slept. He knows I slept with them, but he didn’t really say anything about it or react in any particular way. I told his friends that I’m not going to sleep with them again, though.” A heavy feeling settles into my stomach as I say that last part.

“Why the heck not?” Sheila says. “If his friends don’t care, you shouldn’t care.”

“I don’t know … the situation is just too weird.”

Sheila slides over to the dogs’ side of the couch and gently lays a hand on Roscoe’s head. “It’s only weird if you make it weird. If you’re having fun with those men, why should you stop on your ex’s account?”

When I’m silent in response, she asks, “Are they coming to your party?”

“Yes. They wanted to take me to dinner, so I invited them to the party instead.”

“Good. I’ll look forward to checking them out. I mean, meeting them.”

“I’ll bet you will,” I say with a laugh.

Roscoe’s awake now, and wagging his tail even as he’s still curled into a sleeping position.

“C’mon boy, let’s go home now.” As he jumps off the couch, I thank Sheila and tell her I’ll see her later.

Back at my house, I lay down on the bed for a quick rest, and the next thing I know, it’s dark outside. The day must have been more tiring than I realized. I still don’t feel fully rested.

My fatigue reminds me of Sheila’s remark about a flare-up. I check the mirror and, sure enough, there’s a red rash on my cheeks. It’s not too bad — I’ll be able to cover it with makeup — but I’ll have to be careful so it doesn’t get worse.

Even though I work nights, I don’t normally drink coffee after mid-afternoon, but today I decide I need a cup.

I take a few sips before I shower, and finish the rest while I do my hair and makeup.

Maybe it’s only because I’m still tired, but a vague sense of unease hangs over me as I get ready. My mind keeps going back to Jay, his earnest-sounding declaration about how he’d do things differently now that he’s older, and that intense encounter we had in the hallway.

For a minute there, it felt like he was going to kiss me … and I’m afraid I would have kissed him back.

There’s still a pull between us, but is it just nostalgia? Curiosity? Habits from long ago?

And then there are the Hayes brothers. Sheila thinks I should continue to have fun with them, but is it really so simple? There’s the complication with Jay, plus I’ve never been a big fan of meaningless hookups, and though I definitely don’t regret my night with them, what if my heart gets involved if I spend more time with them?

A one-night stand with my ex’s best friends is one thing; a relationship would be something else entirely. Though, that’s just silly, because as much as I like them, our lifestyles are completely incompatible.

With that thought, I have to laugh at myself. The men are going to be in town for one week, and here I am spinning fantastic scenarios and worrying about things that are never going to happen.

As a longtime independent woman, I can have sex without reading anything into it. In fact, I prefer it that way. And the more I think about it, the more I know I’ll be kicking myself for weeks to come if I don’t enjoy Brendan, Corbin, and Jonathan while I have the opportunity.

23

Can’t say I’m surprised

I come really close to ruining my carefully-applied makeup when I walk through the door at Rusty’s.

It’s Tuesday, which is never a busy night, especially outside of tourist season, so I’m not expecting to see many people when I arrive, but the place is packed. Like, midsummer, Saturday-night packed.

Over all of the heads, I notice a “Happy Birthday” banner on the back wall, and when people near the door see me, they shout out birthday greetings, which ripple through the crowd.

It’s overwhelming.

“Christine! How are you?” Caz appears and pulls me into a big hug. “You look amazing! I hope I look half as good as you when I’m forty.”

I’m wearing my favorite jeans, along with a clingy black shirt that has a bit of sparkly detail around the neckline. It’s nothing fancy, but I feel good. The coffee helped, and now I’m fueled by a burst of adrenaline from the surprise of encountering so many people here.

“Thank you, and that’s nice of you to say. I was not expecting this kind of crowd.” I pull back and look around us.

“Everyone loves you! C’mon in. What would you like to drink? Tonight, you get to be a customer — except you’re not allowed to pay for anything, of course.”

Caz is looking pretty great herself. She always does, ever since she made up with her stepbrothers, and by made up, I mean, realized she was in love with them, and decided to share her life with them.

Two of them, Barrett and Bronson, are behind the bar right now, helping Tom keep up with drink orders. As we head toward them, Lacy Wright squeezes between two clusters of people to reach us.

“Happy birthday, Christine!” she says, giving me a quick hug.

“Lacy! I never expected that you’d be here.” A while back, Lacy used to be a very regular customer, but I don’t see her very often now that she’s settled down.

She responds with a surprised expression and a frown. “Are you kidding? You know I’m not one to miss a party.”

“Silly me,” I say. “I thought a two-month-old might slow you down. I should have known better.”

Lacy laughs. “Oh, I’ll probably only stay for an hour. I like to be in bed by ten so I can get a few hours of sleep before Ollie wakes me up.”

“How is that sweet little boy doing?” I ask.

“He’s wonderful,” she says, a look of pure joy taking over her features. I’m so happy that she got what she wanted out of life.

“Ash and Derek are home with him tonight,” Lacy says. “They said to wish you a happy birthday.” She rises up on her toes and looks around the room. “Nathan and Landon are here somewhere. They were talking to one of their golf buddies when I ran over to see you.”

“Lacy, do you remember Caz?” I ask. “Caz, I think you worked here when Lacy used to come in.”

The two women exchange greetings before Caz says, “I was just about to get Christine a drink.”

“You gotta have a dirty screw,” Lacy says, taking my hand and tugging me toward the bar. “Everyone should have one on their birthday.” She waggles an eyebrow at me in a wildly exaggerated way. “Are you seeing anyone these days, by the way?”

If I were alone with Lacy, or with Caz, I might confide in them about my recent activities, but sharing that information here, with crowds all around us, doesn’t appeal to me. “No, I’m not seeing anyone,” I say.

“Hmmm, well, maybe we can find someone for you here tonight,” Lacy says with another lift of her brow and a devilish smile.

“Happy birthday, Birthday Girl!” Barrett’s deep voice cuts through the noise around us. “What can I get you to drink?”

After offering their own happy wishes, two regulars who’d been seated at the counter give up their seats so that I can sit. It feels completely strange to be on this side of the bar.

“She’d like a dirty screw,” Caz says, grinning at Barrett before turning to give me a wink.

Barrett, who owns the bar and is my boss, ignores any hint of innuendo. “Coming right up!”

“I’d better go find Nathan and Landon,” Lacy says. “They’ll be wondering where I went. I’ll keep my eye out for hot guys for you, Christine,” she says before she gives a little wave and disappears into the crowd.

Caz takes the seat next to me, and we chat while we watch Barrett multitask behind the bar. He’s surprisingly adept for someone without a bartending background. I thank him when he delivers my drink and immediately take a long sip.

As my eyes wander around the area, taking in all of the familiar faces, I catch sight of Sheila at the other end of the bar. She’s sitting in a stool, but turned away from the counter, deep in conversation with Brendan, Corbin, and Jonathan, who are standing next to her.

The three men look good, and something flutters in my stomach at the sight of them. Jonathan must sense my eyes on him because he glances around, finds me, and gives me a big, warm grin before respectfully returning his attention to my neighbor.

Assuming Sheila knows who they are, I’m surprised she found them without an introduction, but they really do stand out in a crowd, especially when the overwhelming majority of people here are locals that Sheila already knows.

Just as I’m wondering if I should go down and make sure Sheila isn’t saying anything embarrassing or giving the men the third degree, Becca steps between Caz and me, putting her arm around my shoulder.

“Happy birthday to the best bartender in Four Points!”

“Thank you! How are you doing?” I ask, leaning into the side hug.

“I’m good. Thank goodness Lincoln and Lennox are out here helping Scott and me serve drinks. Your birthday’s brought in more customers than a dollar draft beer night.”

“Sorry about that. I’d have never expected such a turnout,” I say, taking another taste of my dirty screw.

“Don’t apologize!” Becca says with a big grin. “My tips are going to be great tonight.”

Becca signals for Barrett and gives him a drink order before turning back to me. “I don’t know if you’ve seen them yet, but those three hot guys are here again tonight. They’re turning into regulars.”

“I saw them,” I say, my eyes darting in their direction.

“Your ex is here, too,” Becca says, “but you probably knew that, didn’t you?”

I nod absently before taking another swallow of my drink. I really didn’t know if Jay would be here or not, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

24

If the invitation still stands

After Becca leaves, Caz excuses herself to go check in with Valerie and see if the servers need any help. I decide that since this is my party, I should probably circulate, so I pick up my drink and head into the crowd.

I start off in Sheila’s direction, but my progress is slow, as everyone I encounter offers birthday greetings and stops to talk for a while. There are people here who only come into Rusty’s about once a month, so I catch up with what’s been going on in their lives, answer their questions about mine, and talk about island news.

When I finally make it to the end of the bar, Sheila’s in conversation with the man sitting next to her, and the Hayes brothers are gone.

“I wondered where you were,” she says, when I say hello.

“I’ve just been enjoying my party,” I say.

“Looks like you’re ready for another drink.” Sheila waves at Tom, who comes over as soon as he finishes pouring a beer.

“Oh, hey, happy birthday, Christine,” he says. His face almost cracks a smile, which I know is Tom’s usual expression for displaying friendliness. “Need a refill?” he asks, nodding at my empty glass. “What was it?”

“A dirty screw,” I say.

“Yeah, Christine needs another dirty screw!” Sheila says, much too loudly.

“Oh my god, I’m really starting to regret ever creating that drink,” I mutter as I shoot her an angry look.

“Christine, I had a talk with those three men, and of course, it’s your body, your choice, but if you don’t spend another night with them, you need to re-examine your priorities in life!”

“My priorities in life? Tom, how many drinks has Sheila had?”

“Two,” he says, as Sheila says, “I’m not drunk, Christine. I just don’t want you to miss out on something and have regrets.”

“Okay, okay. I take it you liked them.”

“If they weren’t already involved with you, I’d have asked them if they were into older women,” she says. I’m not completely sure she’s joking.

Tom sets my drink on the counter, and I take a sip, my throat dry from non-stop talking since I arrived.

“I’ll let Roscoe out when I get home,” Sheila says, “and if I don’t see your car in the morning, I’ll take care of him.”

I start to tell her that won’t be necessary, but the truth is that I haven’t made my mind up about tonight. I know I told the men that I wouldn’t sleep with them again, but I have to agree with Sheila about there being a strong potential for regret. “Thanks,” I say instead.

“That’s my girl,” Sheila says, grinning. Then she waves me away. “Go enjoy your party. You’ve seen enough of me today.”

Laughing, I give my neighbor an affectionate pat on the shoulder before I do as I’m told.

Brendan appears as soon as I step away from Sheila. “Hey, how are you?” he says, his eyes smiling down at me. “You look stunning.” He wraps an arm around me and ducks his head close to mine. “How is it that you look better and better every time I see you?”

“I was wondering the same thing about you and your brothers when I spotted you earlier.”

“We have a table. Can you come sit with us for a while?”

“Sure.”

He leads me past dancing couples and across the room. The dance floor is typically covered over by tables this time of year, because it’s mostly used by vacationers during the summer, but tonight it’s open and busy.

When he pulls me close to navigate through a tight area, his hand on my waist erases any lingering doubts. My body wants him — and his brothers — and my mind is running out of reasons to resist them.

“There sure are a lot of people here to celebrate you tonight,” he says.

“People support each other on the island. That’s one of the things I like about living here,” I say. “But yeah, I was surprised about the size of the turnout myself.”

When we reach the table, Corbin and Jonathan stand to greet me, and Corbin pulls out a chair. “You look beautiful tonight, Christine,” he says.

“Thank you. Thanks for coming to my party,” I tell all of them.

“Of course. Thanks for inviting us,” Jonathan says. “Are you having a good time?”

“It’s been fun seeing everyone, and this drink has me feeling pretty good.” When I lift my glass, they raise theirs to meet it.

“Cheers to forty!” Corbin says. The other two men cheer, their eyes locked on mine, and we all take a drink.

“Where’s Jay?” I ask. “Someone told me he’s here.”

The three of them exchange glances before Corbin says, “He’s outside, getting some air.”

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah, he’s fine. Just lost in his thoughts tonight.”

I know the feeling. If today hadn’t been so busy, I’d be lost in my thoughts too, but I haven’t had much time to pause and reflect on things. I consider going out to check on him, but since I just arrived at the table, I decide I’ll do it in a few minutes.

“Thanks again for taking me out on the water today,” I tell the brothers. “It was such a great way to spend the day.”

“Anytime,” Brendan says.

“In fact,” Jonathan adds, “tomorrow, we’re planning to visit the nature center you told me about. Want to spend the day with us again?”

Absentmindedly, I trail my finger around the rim of my glass. “I’m not sure about tomorrow, but I would like to spend the night with you, if the invitation still stands.”

Jonathan’s grin widens. “I know this party is in your honor, but how soon can you leave?” he jokes. His eyes tell me that he’s already thinking about things we’ll do together later.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Brendan says. “Would you be more comfortable if we come to your place, or we can go to a hotel?”

That’s a good question. My desire for these men caused me to temporarily forget about the fact that they’re sharing a house with my ex, and even though they don’t seem bothered by it, I don’t want to rub our fun in Jay’s face, or god forbid, have him overhear us.

I should really talk with Jay before I proceed with these plans. Not to get his permission, of course, but to make sure my involvement with the Hayes brothers isn’t going to damage their friendship.

“We can go to my place,” I say, “though it’s pretty small.”

Corbin slides his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll look into hotels. It’s no problem.”

“I am going to need to stay here at the party awhile,” I say. “And right now, I think I’d better go talk to Jay.”

25

I want to kiss you, too

I avoid getting into conversations as I weave through the tables, giving people little waves and nods as I make my way toward the front door. I glance to my right, where Becca is serving drinks to a table of elderly regulars, and suddenly hands are on my arms and I’m pressed against a hard body.

I’ve run, quite literally, into Jay.

“Hey, I heard you were outside. You okay?”

His face is serious. “I’m okay. I just … I wasn’t sure if you’d want me here.”

“Of course, you’re welcome here. I was just coming to talk to you, actually.”

We’re not pressed together anymore, but his hands are still on my arms, holding me close. “I was coming to see you too,” he says. “Would you like to dance?”

I’m silent for a moment, his question taking me by surprise. A slow song has just started playing, and I decide the dance floor will be as good a place to talk as any. “Okay,” I say, giving him a small nod.

He releases me and moves a hand to the small of my back as he guides me through the room. Once we’re among the other dancing couples, I rest my hands lightly on the sides of his shoulders. His hands on my waist feel tentative, like he’s not sure he has permission for them to be there. So many years ago, I’d have wrapped my arms around his neck and laid my head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat as we swayed together.

Jay’s wearing a gray button-down shirt that appealingly highlights the gray in his hair. The scent of his skin stirs memories that I try not to let take shape. Instead, I shoo them away like the intruding thoughts that appear when you try to meditate.

“I hope you’re having a good fortieth birthday,” he says, his mouth close to my ear.

“I am.” My voice is soft, catching in my throat at first.

“I’m sorry for ruining your twenty-first.”

Reflexively, I say, “You didn’t ruin it.”

“I did.” His tone is firm, decided. “I ruined a lot of things, and I took you for granted.”

“We were young,” I say, after a beat.

“That was no excuse.”

I’m quiet after that. We were young; we both made mistakes, but I also don’t disagree with him.

“How did you spend your fortieth birthday?” I say eventually.

He thinks for a second before answering. “I was in Florida, alone, working.”

“No girlfriend?”

He shakes his head once. “No, I haven’t had one for a while. I dated a lot in my late 20s and into my 30s, but it got old. I’ve mostly given it up.”

“I can identify with that,” I say.

“I saw you and Corbin today.” He says, his hand gripping my waist a little tighter. “And Jon.” A small laugh accompanies his words, and I can’t quite read his tone. I do smell Scotch on his breath.

“Does it bother you to see me kiss your friends?”

“It bothers me, but not in the way you probably think,” he says.

I pull my head back to see him better. “What does that mean?”

“It bothers me because I want to kiss you, too.”

I hold his gaze for what feels like an endless stretch of time, so many competing thoughts swirling in my mind. I can’t say that I don’t feel a pull toward him, but rather than there being a straight line tugging us together, there’s a tangled mess of knots.

I might typically be more diplomatic, but this is Jay, and my tongue has been loosened by the drinks I’ve had tonight. “Are you just saying this because you’re feeling jealous?” I accuse.

He pauses long enough that I’m about to turn away in irritation, when he says, “I’m not jealous in a possessive way. I can’t be jealous of my friends, but I also can’t sit by quietly when all my old feelings have come rushing back.” When I start to pull away, he says, “Did you ever think, maybe it’s fate that’s brought us back together?”

My laugh is small and bitter. “If it were fate, I don’t think things would be so complicated.”

How would I feel, truly, if Jay had shown up here on Four Points on his own, and if I’d never met the Hayes brothers? I can’t deny that there’s still a strong attraction between us, and he seems like he’s grown and matured. We both have. Would I explore the possibility?

He steps closer and pulls me against him. “In my experience, good things don’t always come easy.”

Maybe it’s the alcohol, or curiosity, or wanting him to realize that there aren’t real feelings there, but when he leans down to kiss me, I let him.

His lips are hesitant at first, as if he’s uncertain that this is even happening. That’s how I feel, anyway. The taste of him floods me with memories, and this time, they’re all good ones. How safe and desired I used to feel in his arms. How he’d cheer me up during bad times, and how he made good times ever better.

His arms wrap around me and pull me closer as his mouth angles to find a deeper connection. A spark ignites low in my belly, and I kiss him back, sliding my tongue against his lip, in disbelief at how right it feels.

He strokes a thumb over my cheek as if tracing his own memories, as he holds my body tight to his.

Then the song changes, and I pull away, suddenly reminded of where I am, and how we're surrounded on all sides by residents of this small island, who love to keep track of everyone else’s business. Me kissing my ex-husband is not something I want to hear them talking about for weeks, but it’s probably too late to worry about that.

But I also pulled back because if I’d continued to kiss him, my legs would have gone weak.

Jay takes my hand, stroking it with his thumb. “Let’s find out if it was fate, Christine.”

26

Couldn’t wait

The crowd parts briefly, and I catch sight of the Hayes brothers. They’re talking to Lincoln, who’s holding a drink tray. None of them are looking this way.

If alcohol led me to kiss Jay, it’s also giving me the strength to be direct.

“I was coming to tell you that I’m going to spend the night with your friends,” I say softly, not exactly sure what my intentions are anymore. “I like them a lot, and I’m not going to choose between you.”

A fast song is playing now, and people are dancing around us, but we’re standing still. Jay doesn’t say anything for a long moment; he just holds my hand, looking at me. “I won’t ask you to choose,” he says, finally. “Be with me, too.”

“I thought you never shared women with them.”

“I never have,” he says, “but I will, if that’s what I need to do to be with you.”

He doesn’t look at my stunned expression for long. Instead, he steps in, pulls me into his arms, and kisses me again, hunger burning brightly right from the moment our mouths meet.

I haven’t gotten used to the new firmness of his body, and as I’m taking it in, I realize there’s a growing hardness pressing into my hip. Jay was always a good lover, even when he wasn’t a good husband.

Has he gotten even better over the years? What would it be like to be with him again?

“Come back to our place tonight,” Jay says, his lips brushing against my ear. He gives the lobe a little tug with his lips — he remembers what I like — and crazy desire streams through every part of me.

“Your friends …” I say. “I don’t know what they …”

“I’ll talk to them,” Jay says, understanding, even though I’m unable to articulate my thoughts.

The rest of my birthday party passes in a blur. I still don’t leave right away, and instead end up dancing with Jay again, and with all three of the Hayes brothers, and enjoying it so much that I don’t care that heaps of gossip will be spread about me tomorrow.

Brendan lets me know right away that they’re fine with including Jay in our plans, though, ever respectful and considerate, he says it would be okay if I’d prefer to be alone with Jay. I assure him that’s not what I want.

When the hour is late, and the crowd has thinned considerably, I say goodbye to Caz and the Stone brothers, Becca, Tom, and Scott, and everyone else who’s still there. The men and I try not to make it obvious that we’re leaving together, but Becca gives me a knowing look as I go.

I follow them back to their beach house, my body a buzzing bundle of hormones. The alcohol has worn off, but my head is fuzzy with lust, and I want to keep it that way, so I don’t think too much about what I’m about to do and whether or not it’s a good idea.

If it feels good, do it. Maybe that will be my new motto as a forty-year-old.

We’re barely inside the door when Jay pulls me into a kiss, his arms bringing me tight against him, his erection swelling back to life under his jeans. He lifts me easily — this is new — and carries me over to the couch, never stopping kissing me.

He lies on top of me, keeping himself from being too heavy with one hand to the side of me. His mouth is hungry, and his hands, too, as they roam my body, sliding under the hem of my shirt to stroke across the bare skin of my stomach, unzipping my jeans, and dipping into the wetness between my legs.

I’m hollowed out, aching with a need to be filled. Jay doesn’t make me wait long.

“I need to be inside you, Christine.”

I nod quickly. “I want that, too.”

As he undoes his pants with a fumbling hand, Corbin offers him a condom packet. Jay doesn’t bother to take off his clothes or mine — he just pushes his pants down on his hips as I do the same with mine, sheathes himself, and sinks inside my heat like someone who’s been away from home for much too long.

“Oh, fuck, Christine. Oh god.”

He goes still inside me on his first stroke, and I’m afraid he’s about to come immediately. He was never a speedy lover when he was younger, but maybe things have changed. I’m worrying for nothing, though. After he sinks in deep, he stays there for several seconds, but then he begins to fuck me, his cock sliding in and out as his free hand strokes my face, my hair, my body.

His eyes move over me, too, surveying every area he’s touching, from the top of my head, down to the spot where our bodies are joined together.

“You’re so beautiful,” he murmurs. “You always have been, and you’re even more beautiful now.”

He thumbs over my clit, and my breath comes in short huffs. He fucks me harder and deeper, and hits something inside me, both physically and emotionally.

I’m in a place I never imagined I’d be, connected again to this man who played a big part in influencing the woman I am today, for better or worse. My first real love. My only real love.

Is he right — is it fate?

Jay was always the one who believed in things like that, not me.

I’m too in my head to surrender to physical sensations, but Jay is trying hard to make me come, holding off his own release as he presses on my clit and rocks into me with a deep, steady rhythm.

He pushes my shirt up and pulls at my bra to expose one of my breasts. Suddenly, I’m seventeen, in his car, letting him take my shirt off for the first time, giggling at the reverent awe in his expression.

He bends now to take my breast in his mouth, sucking hard on my nipple in the way I always liked. My pussy clenches around him. He sucks harder, then flicks his tongue over my hardened flesh, and I cry out his name.

He releases my nipple only long enough to say, “Come for me, Christine,” before returning to it, tongue moving at rapid speed, triggering vibrations throughout my body.

I grasp for something to hold on to, and cling to a fistful of the shirt on his back as I start to come apart. My hips buck up, and my pussy throbs around his cock as waves of ecstasy vibrate through me.

“Oh, god, fuck, Christine,” Jay mutters nonsensically as he brings his forehead to mine, looking briefly into my eyes before he squeezes his shut and is overtaken by his own climax. His cock jerks, then pulses deep inside me as he comes, long and hard.

He stays in me, letting his weight rest on me in that way I love, stroking my hair, nuzzling my cheek. A noise from someone else in the room seems to startle him, and he lifts up, holding the condom in place as he pulls out of me.

He doesn’t meet my eyes again as he stands, somewhat awkwardly, hanging on to his pants to keep them from falling down. “Sorry, I couldn’t wait,” he says in a low voice directed at the Hayes brothers.

Then he leaves the room.

27

Simultaneously

I’m left wondering if Jay will come back, and his friends must be wondering too, because for a minute or two, no one really moves.

I’m still enjoying my post-orgasm glow, but feelings and memories are swirling inside me like a waterspout over the ocean, tangling and twisting, and making me dizzy even though I’m still lying down.

“You all right?” Jonathan asks, coming to kneel beside the couch.

“I’m okay,” I say, my voice breathy. “I’m good.” He smooths hair from my cheek and smiles down at me with eyes full of care.

“Are you still okay with this?” Brendan asks, coming to sit on the other end of the couch. “I’m sure having a history with someone can … bring complications.”

“I’m okay,” I say, unsure if Jay is okay, and wondering what that means for the night’s plans.

“This is only good if everyone is having fun,” Brendan says. “How are you feeling, though? Are you tired after the party?”

It has been a really long day, and if I were paying attention, I’d probably decide that I’m exhausted, but my focus is elsewhere. “I still have some energy left,” I tell Brendan with a grin.

Jay walks back in then, looking uncertain, but not seeming upset. His pants are zipped up again, and I realize he probably left to deal with the condom. “I guess I rushed into things,” he says with a brief smile as he sits on the edge of a nearby chair.

“That was pretty fucking hot,” Jonathan says, giving my arm a squeeze.

“How does this normally work?” Jay asks, not really looking at any of us.

“Are you still good with this?” Brendan asks him. When he nods, Brendan says, “Just jump in whenever you feel like it. It’s really all about Christine’s pleasure.”

My pussy tingles in response, remembering all of the pleasure the three men provided the other night.

When I glance over, I find Jay looking at me, and when our eyes meet, he gives a slow smile. Everything’s okay. It’s time to relax and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I sit up and slide my jeans and underwear the rest of the way off. Jonathan helps to pull them from my legs. I peel my shirt over my head, and before I’m finished, Brendan is next to me, unclasping my bra.

Jonathan takes one of my breasts in his mouth as Brendan takes the other, and I’m in heaven. Their tongues swirl and suck and tease, and it’s not long before I’m squirming on the couch.

I would get lost to the sensations, but I’m constantly aware that my ex-husband is here, watching. Every time I look at him, he’s looking back at me, and at the heads of two of his friends, bent over my naked body.

At first, his expression is unreadable, but soon his eyes grow heavy-lidded, and he repositions himself in the chair, his hand adjusting his jeans, where his cock is growing stiff again.

When Brendan drags his teeth over my pebbled nipple and I moan, he starts undoing his belt and zipper. When his pants are off and a condom is on, he pulls me onto his lap. Straddling him, my back to the room, I lift up and sink down onto his hard cock, making it disappear inside me. Every inch of it feels so good.

As I start to ride him, I grind down, rubbing my clit against him, loving the feeling of his fullness inside me. His hands spread my ass cheeks and pull me closer to him with every move, and it’s not even a minute before I’m coming on his cock. It’s not as deep as the orgasm with Jay, but it’s good, even as it leaves me wanting more and more.

Beside us, Jonathan has taken off his clothes. His cock is rock hard, standing at attention, and I reach for it, but it’s awkward from my position.

“Hang on,” Brendan says, bringing me to a halt, as I was still riding him. “Let’s try this.” He lifts me off of him and guides me to turn around so that my back is to his chest. Knees on either side of him, I lift up again and impale myself on him.

The sensations aren’t the same from this angle, but I feel sexy as hell, rising and falling on his cock while fully exposed to Corbin, Jonathan, and Jay, who are all laser focused on my every movement.

When Jonathan takes his cock in hand, I realize what this new position has to offer. I gesture to the youngest Hayes brother to stand in front of me, and from there, I have the perfect opportunity to take him in my mouth, while Brendan, hands on my hips, keeps me moving on his lap, fucking me like I’m a sex toy.

The men were so focused on me the other night that I didn’t have the opportunity to suck on them, and it was something I regretted. Now, finally, I get to wrap my lips around Jonathan’s thickness and challenge myself to take as much of him as I can.

He’s salty and smooth and an incredibly big mouthful.

I swear I hear Corbin or Jay groan before Jonathan does — I’m not sure which. But soon Jonathan’s doing plenty of his own moaning as he fists his hand in my hair and brings my head down on him, all the while Brendan keeps me rising and falling on his cock.

If you had asked me ahead of time, I wouldn’t have been sure I’d have the coordination for this, but now, in the middle of things, it’s clear there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. I feel owned by these men, but also cared for, and respected. I know they’d never push me past my limits, and that gives me the freedom to enjoy things I never imagined I would.

When Brendan’s pace changes and he gives a small grunt, it’s as though it’s a signal to Jonathan. Both men tense inside me almost simultaneously, and then they’re coming, first Jonathan, then his older brother.

I take all that Jonathan gives me, swallowing his cum as it jets into my throat, and, maybe irrationally, I wish that Brendan wasn’t wearing a condom, and that his cum was going deep inside me, too.

In all these years since my divorce, I’ve never felt a longing for that with any other man.

28

All. Night. Long.

When Brendan and Jonathan have finished in me, I rise off of Brendan, only to immediately be picked up by Corbin and carried off to the bedroom, the same one as the other night.

He lays me on the neatly-made bed and, once he’s taken off all of his clothes and put on a condom, rolls me onto my side and lies behind me, playing big spoon to my little one. “Let me do all the work,” he says, nuzzling my cheek with his nose and using his leg to part mine.

“I could use a little rest,” I say with a smile, feeling his hard cock prod my backside.

He curls himself against my body to line up with my dripping pussy, before he slowly sinks inside me. I sigh as he fills me, angling my hips to take him deeper.

“You’re so hot and wet, and you fit me like a glove,” Corbin says. “I could fuck you all night long.” He matches each word with a thrust. All. Night. Long.

“I’d be totally okay with that.” I reach for him, my hand finding the firm, lean muscle at the top of his thigh. He brings his arm over mine and gently strokes my mound with his fingers. Tangled together like that, he fucks me, not all night, but for a good, long time.

It’s both relaxing and stimulating, in a way I’ve never experienced, like being in the middle of an amazing sex dream, but knowing you don’t need to worry about waking up and spoiling the ending.

I close my eyes and focus on all of the blissful sensations building in my body. The room is dark, the bedding is cool, and everything feels absolutely perfect. When Corbin increases the pace of his thrusts, I open my eyes and find Jay in the room with us, standing just inside the doorway, watching.

I gesture for him to come closer, and he does so slowly, his eyes on me the entire time. When he reaches the edge of the bed, I smile at him and stretch my fingers toward him. There’s space in front of me, so he sits, softly brushing his hand over my body, from my shoulder to my breast and back.

Avoiding Corbin’s arm, Jay slides his palm down the side of my leg and back. Corbin moves then, drawing his hand away, making room for Jay.

My ex leans down to kiss me briefly before he traces a finger over the peak of my nipple, down across my belly, and to the place where my legs meet. Barely inches from where his friend’s cock is sliding in and out of me, Jay strokes my clit, circling around it, teasing it, pressing it, making me whimper in need.

He stretches out long in front of me, and now he can kiss me as he continues to play with the most sensitive spot on my body. His mouth is demanding, and he can’t seem to get enough. I kiss him back, but I’m starting to lose control, so overcome with stimulation both inside and out.

Jay taps his fingers against my clit in a steady rhythm, and then he presses and rubs, and I cry out, moaning against my ex-husband’s mouth as his friend continues to pound into my pussy from behind.

I grab onto Jay, burrowing my head into his chest and gripping his arm as my body is wracked by possibly the strongest orgasm I’ve ever had. Corbin takes hold of my hip, keeping me steady as he pounds into me like a piston, making me feel so much that tears come to my eyes.

Just as I’m cresting a peak, Corbin jerks inside me. “Oh fuck, I’m coming,” he grits out. His cock swells and starts to release, and again, I have that crazy thought that I wish there was no condom between us. I want every drop of his hot seed to shoot deep inside me.

Oh fuck, I must be drunk on sex and lust.

Not more than ten seconds after Corbin pulls his spent cock out of me, Jay pulls me close. “I need you again, Tina.”

Tina. I almost forgot how Jay used to call me that. He started in high school, but stopped long before we divorced.

As I nod, he quickly stands, takes off his pants, and sheathes his cock with a condom he’d pulled from his pocket. When he lies beside me again, I drape my leg over his, opening myself to him.

“I thought old men were supposed to lose their stamina,” I say, my voice still breathless from the orgasm.

“Who are you calling old?” Jay says, fisting his cock, showing me just how long and hard it is before burying it in me once again.

He proceeds to demonstrate just how much endurance he has, going for longer than last time, rocking, rocking, rocking me, until the bed is wobbling beneath us. Corbin has gotten up, so it’s just Jay and me now.

“I’ve missed you, Tina,” he whispers, like it’s a secret he’s sharing in the dark. Like we’re young lovers, kept apart by our families, finally coming together after a break.

My head feels tangled and fuzzy, clouded by sex, muddled with memory.

“I’ve missed you, too,” I say.

29

Memories and old feelings

When the sun wakes me, I’m wrapped in Jay’s arms. I know it’s him without having to look.

His chest rises and falls evenly against my back. His hand loosely cups one of my breasts.

In my earliest thoughts of the day, I’m content and secure lying next to him. As my thinking becomes more clear, doubts and worries flood in.

I slip quietly out of the bed and down the hall to the bathroom. There’s no sign of the others, and no sounds coming from the rest of the house. It’s much earlier than I would normally get up, and I could use more rest, but I know my mind won’t let me fall back asleep now. There’s too much it’s trying to process.

There are clean towels set out on the counter, so I go ahead and shower. I have a few personal care items and a change of clothes in my big purse, which I stuck in there knowing there was a good possibility I might spend the night, and I’m glad I thought ahead, because the rash on my cheeks has gotten darker.

Back when I first started having this problem, I wasn’t able to cover it well, but since then, I’ve found an excellent brand of liquid makeup that erases all traces of redness. I brush my teeth, comb my damp hair, and when I go out into the house, I find that all four men are awake now.

“Good morning,” Corbin says, leading the greetings we all exchange. “Did you sleep well?”

My eyes flicker to Jay, who’s yawning. “I did,” I say. “There’s nothing like good sex for a good night’s sleep.”

“Agreed,” Brendan says heartily. “Are you hungry?”

“Food sounds great. Are you making omelets again?” I ask, looking to Jonathan. Though I ran out without eating last time, the glimpse I caught of his breakfast looked delicious.

“No, I never cook when Jay’s along,” he says, with a hint of a laughter in his tone. “We’ve appointed Jay the chef on all our vacations.”

“Jay?” I whip my head toward my ex in disbelief. “What are they talking about?”

When we were together, bologna sandwiches and boiled hot dogs were the extent of Jay’s cooking repertoire, and sometimes those didn’t even turn out that great.

My ex shrugs. “I’ve learned some things since you knew me. Necessity, and all that.”

“His food is really good. You’ll see,” Jonathan says.

“Let me get a shower first,” Jay says. “I’ll be right back.”

Brightness shining from the living room draws me in and over to the wall of full-length windows that face the ocean. In my haste to leave on my last visit, I never properly experienced this view during daylight hours.

The blue horizon stretches out in both directions, sparkling water and a nearly cloudless sky, as far as the eye can see. There’s a big expanse of sandy beach separated from the house by grassy dunes. There’s also a long deck that appears to run the length of the house, tastefully decorated with comfortable-looking furniture.

It’s a beautiful day, and I’m struck with a desire to spend it on this deck, reclining on the couch, shaded under the umbrella, a glass of sweet tea by my side, and a book in my hand. But I know the men have more active plans for the day.

“Was everything good last night?” Brendan asks, coming up beside me.

“You mean, with Jay and me?” I ask, reading into his tone. When he nods, I say, “It was good. It was also quite a surprise.”

He quirks a brow. “Really? Not to me.”

“No? Why is that?”

He shrugs. “I didn’t see Jay passing up the chance to be with you again.”

His comment prompts a lot of questions in my mind, but he’s not the person to answer them.

“Are you still up for the nature center today?” Brendan asks after I’m quiet for a moment. “I was reading about their hiking trails online. Definitely looks like a place we should check out.”

Just past Brendan, through the glass, the comfy couch is calling my name, but I can rest after the men leave town in a few days. Today, I should be a good citizen of Four Points and show them the sights.

A little wave of sadness hits me at the thought of them leaving town. A girl could get used to all the great sex. Maybe, if they’re impressed by the island, they’ll bring clients here and I’ll get to see them again.

“Sure,” I say. “I think you’ll really like it there.”

Brendan’s phone buzzes, and he excuses himself. Corbin’s gone upstairs, and when Jay finishes his shower, Jonathan joins him in the kitchen, so I take the opportunity to text Sheila, letting her know I’ll be home sometime in the afternoon. She’s not a big fan of texting, so I’m spared from all of the questions she’s probably dying to ask. Instead, she simply confirms that she’ll take care of both Roscoe and Bea.

The Hayes brothers were not lying about Jay’s cooking skills. In less time that it would have taken me to open a box of mix and crack a couple of eggs, he prepares the fluffiest blueberry pancakes, which Jonathan tells me were made from scratch. There are also perfectly-cooked sausage links and a fruit salad.

“No offense,” I tell Jay between bites, “but I still can’t believe you made this.”

“People grow and change,” he says, laughing.

As we eat, the five of us talk about plans for the day, the island, and other light topics. It’s odd how easy and natural it all seems. I’d have never thought things could be like this after sleeping with my ex and his friends — no jealousy, no anger, no hurt feelings.

I guess as long as it’s just sex, with no other expectations, then there shouldn’t be any problems. If I can keep my emotions separate, everything should be fine.

There are a lot of memories and old feelings that keep trying to crowd in, though. I still haven’t had much of an opportunity to process everything. Can I sleep with Jay after all these years and then just say goodbye to him, like it never happened? I mean, of course I can, because that’s what’s going to happen in a few days, but is it going to hurt?

Being able to be friendly with each other and have good sex doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be together. The idea that any of this means anything is ridiculous, so why am I even worrying about it? There must be something hardwired into women’s bodies that causes us to crave a relationship with sexual partners, even when child-bearing is off the table. It’s an especially strange instinct since I’m well past the peak of my reproductive years.

“We’ll have to be back before four today,” Brendan is saying. “We have a video call with a client who’s planning a trip for the fall.”

“That’s perfect,” I say, pushing aside my concerns. “I need to get home later today.”

“Do you have to work tonight?” Brendan asks.

I shake my head. “No, I’m off for the next two days.”

“Excellent,” Brendan says.

“Will you stay here again tonight?” Corbin asks in a hopeful tone.

It doesn’t require much thought. Why would I pass up so much pleasure over the possibility of a few sad feelings when they leave?

30

It’s been a long time

After a long and satisfying detour back into the bedroom, we finally make it to the nature center around midday. I show the men around the visitor center and down to the dock that stretches out onto the waterway, but when they prepare to set out on a hike, I tell them I’m going to stay behind.

Sex isn’t usually so tiring, but then again, I’ve never had so many men in one day. I’m probably still recovering from yesterday, too.

“I’ll stay with you,” Jonathan says, just as Brendan says, “We don’t have to go.”

“No, I insist. It’s a beautiful trail, and there’s no reason for any of you to miss it on my account. I’m just going to relax under the pavilion.”

After a little more back and forth, I finally convince them to set off without me, and I get some time to recharge. I find a spot where I can sit and also lean back against a beam for support, and it’s in this position, lazily watching boats pass by, that I almost drift off a few times.

It seems like no time at all before the men return and it’s time to leave. They tell me about their hike as we walk back to the parking lot. I’d driven separately so that I could go directly to my house.

“Could I come with you?” Jay asks.

I hesitate for a moment, wondering if I should keep more of a barrier between my ex and my personal life, but in the end, I can’t see any harm in letting him see my home.

We say goodbye to the Hayes brothers, with plans to see them back at the beach house in a couple of hours.

It’s strange having Jay in the passenger seat of my car. When we were together, he always did the driving.

“I can see why you moved here,” he says, when we’re back on the main road. “It’s a beautiful place.”

“It’s a great place to live. Very peaceful, at least for eight or nine months of the year. Not so much in the summer, but the extra tips at Rusty’s make up for the crowds.”

“It’s so different from where I live,” Jay says, “but I get to escape Boston a lot for my work.”

“If you like escaping, why do you live there?” I ask.

“I used to like it,” he says, turning his head to check out the island’s eye-catching miniature golf course as I drive by. “It was exciting when I was younger. I guess I’m over it now.” He points back at the golf course. “That place looks like fun. Remember when we used to play putt putt?”

There was an old, run-down course one town over from where we grew up, and it was a frequent spot for our early dates. “Of course,” I say. “I wonder if you’d be able to beat me now that you’re older?”

“Ha! Very funny. I think you mean you wonder if you’d be able to beat me now,” he says, laughing. “I used to win all the time.”

“Your memory must be going bad with old age,” I say, glancing over at him, instantly struck by how good-looking he is. Sometimes, I’m too wrapped up in memories to really see him clearly, and other times, his attractiveness takes me by surprise, like it did just now. He looks especially good when he’s laughing.

“Maybe we can go there this week and see who’s really better at mini golf,” he says.

“Much as I would love to beat you again, I don’t think they’re open this week. Their schedule is usually hit-or-miss in the off-season, and I haven’t seen any signs of life there lately.”

“That’s too bad,” Jay says. “I guess you get to live with your delusions a little longer.”

We’re still laughing and joking when I pull into my driveway. Instead of going to my door, I lead us directly to Sheila’s. “I need to pick up my dog from my neighbor,” I tell Jay right before I knock, triggering Trixie’s squeaky bark.

When Sheila answers the door, I see the surprise in her eyes when she spots Jay, but she covers it quickly.

“Hi, Sheila, this is my ex-husband, Jay,” I say before turning to Jay. “Jay, this is my friend, Sheila. I’m not sure if the two of you met last night at the party?”

“No, we didn’t,” Jay says, holding out his hand to shake hers.

“Hello, Jay. Christine’s told me about you.”

He cringes, but keeps smiling. “It’s been a long time,” he says quickly, with good humor in his voice. “I’ve been trying to show Christine how much I’ve changed.”

My neighbor smiles back, but arches a brow with suspicion. I watch her assess him, and I can tell she’s impressed by his physical appearance, if nothing else. I haven’t talked about Jay much, but what I have told her wasn’t that flattering. Jealousy, immaturity, fights.

“C’mon in,” she says, stepping back and opening the door wide. Little Trixie is bouncing back and forth just inside the entry, seemingly ready to attack, until Sheila tells her to lie down.

“Oh, no, I don’t want to bother you. I’m just coming by to spend some time with Roscoe and Bea before I’m away again tonight. Any chance he could stay with you again?” I ask, giving her a sheepish grin.

“No problem,” Sheila says, looking unfazed. “You know how much Trixie loves him.” Sheila calls Roscoe to the door, raising her voice, undoubtedly to wake him from a nap. “Just bring him by when you’re leaving. I’ll be here,” Sheila says, as Roscoe ambles out to meet me.

As usual, my dog wags his tail when he sees me, but when he spots Jay, he starts whipping it back and forth so vigorously that I’m afraid someone’s going to get hurt.

Jay crouches down, offers his hand for sniffing, then rubs Roscoe behind the ears, just the way Roscoe likes it.

“Looks like someone has a new friend,” Sheila observes, before telling me she’ll see me later and closing her door.

I introduce Jay to Roscoe, and Roscoe rolls over onto his back, offering up his belly to Jay. I let them spend a couple of minutes getting to know each other before we walk over to my house. “Do you have any pets?” I ask Jay. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen my dog fall in instant love with someone like he seems to have done just now. He’s not an unfriendly dog, but he’s usually not very interested in new people.

“No. I’d love to have a dog, but I travel too much. Plus, I don’t have a yard.”

As if on cue, Roscoe detours off the sidewalk, and we wait while he relieves himself on the lawn before going into my house.

31

Can’t get enough

“I’ll give you a tour,” I say, “but you can see almost everything from here.” Down the short hallway, I show him the guest bedroom, guest bath, and my bedroom, only sticking my head in the doorway, not taking him inside.

I lead him back into the living room, gesture toward the kitchen, and show him the backyard through the sliding door. “It’s nothing fancy,” I say, “especially compared to the beach house you’re staying in, but it’s cozy, and it’s mine.”

“It’s great,” Jay says, sounding like he means it. “I like your furniture and how you’ve decorated.”

“I don’t feel like I put much thought into the decor; I mostly just pick up things I like when I see them.”

“Well, you have a good eye,” he says.

With the official tour over, Jay explores the living room on his own, looking at objects on the shelves, inspecting my books and the pictures on the wall. Roscoe follows him, shamelessly begging for more belly rubs.

“I have a cat, too, but she’s probably hiding.”

Jay bends down and indulges Roscoe. “Did you ever wonder … what it would have been like?”

I know immediately what he’s asking, without him having to spell it out. What would it have been like if we’d had the baby.

“I do.” I say, knowing he wonders too, or he wouldn’t be asking.

We’re both quiet with our own thoughts as he rubs Roscoe’s belly. Would we still have been together if we were parents? Would we have made things work? Our child would have been a full-grown adult this year, twenty-one years old. How is that even possible?

Maybe we would have had more children, too. Sometimes I wonder what kind of mother I’d have been.

“Want something to drink?” I ask, breaking the silence.

Jay looks up, his expression somber. “Sure. Water would be great.”

He follows me into the kitchen, still quiet as he watches me take down a glass and fill it with ice and water from the dispenser on the refrigerator door. When I offer it to him, he takes both it and my arm, setting the glass on the counter beside us before pulling me close.

When his arms wrap around me, I lean into his chest, letting my head rest against his shoulder like I used to. He caresses my back with long strokes that soothe my wistful thoughts.

I miss being held by someone. I love my independence, and at this point, I probably wouldn’t be able to blend my life with someone else’s, but sometimes you just need to be in someone’s arms and forget about life’s sorrows for a few minutes.

I suppose I get a similar sense of comfort being with Roscoe and Bea, but having Jay hold me feels reassuring on a different level.

“We would’ve made things work,” he says, and it takes me a moment to place his words in context.

Is he saying that if we’d had the baby, our marriage would have worked out? Would we have fought less, or kept things like money worries and his jealousy from driving a wedge between us? Would we both have tried harder if there was a child impacted by our relationship?

It’s really just a huge, irrelevant what-if. That’s not how life worked out.

Jay lifts my chin and searches my eyes. In his, I see both his regret and his determination to right past wrongs. His hand rubbing my back presses me closer to him as he lowers his lips to mine in a kiss that’s tender and full of comfort.

I kiss him back, part of me wishing we could rewind time and do things differently, the other part of me knowing things would have still turned out the same.

He angles his head, deepening the kiss at the same time that his hand strays lower, skimming below my hips, his fingers trailing lightly across my ass, setting off a chain reaction of sensations in nearby areas in my body.

I raise up on my toes to reach him better and discover a hard bulge in his pants.

“What are you doing?” I ask, when he wraps his hands under my thighs and lifts me onto the counter. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Roscoe, resigned, turn and head back into the living room.

“I can’t get enough of you,” Jay says. His lips slide down to my neck where he lays a line of kisses against my tender skin.

I spread my legs so he can move in closer. “It’s like we’re teenagers again.”

He shakes his head. “No, it’s much better than that.”

And he’s right. Sex was good then, but there were worries, insecurities, and an underdeveloped awareness of my own feelings — not to mention a lack of knowledge about my body and what pleases it. Now, there’s really nothing to worry about except making each other feel good, and we both know exactly how to do that.

Jay’s hands slide up my legs, his thumbs pressing into my inner thighs, making me wet before he’s even touched my pussy. He unzips my pants and does a quick, little lift-pull maneuver, leaving me naked below the waist like a signature magic trick.

He buries his face between my legs and licks, and oh my god — suddenly, I need him so badly.

I slide my hands under the collar of his shirt and press my fingers into the firm muscles on his back as he flicks his tongue over my clit at a frantic pace.

Hanging tight to his shoulders for balance, I rock against him, once, twice, three times, and then I come, crying out, the sound too loud in my small kitchen.

He pushes two fingers inside me, and my pussy throbs against them as I grind into his hand, riding the waves that wash over me.

When I’m past the peak, barely catching my breath, Jay tosses me over his shoulder, my ass in the air, and strides into my bedroom, where he lays me on the bed.

32

What are we doing?

“Turn over,” he says, as he removes his clothing nearly as quickly as he did mine. I move onto all fours, and he tugs me toward the edge of the bed, where’s he in a perfect position to —

“Oh, hell yeah!” I cry, as he pushes deep inside my pussy in one smooth stroke. He takes me like he’s desperate for me, and it’s so fucking hot.

His cock pistons in and out of me, his body slamming against mine, his hand gripping my hip to keep me in place. The man definitely has some stamina.

He goes at me for a nice, long time, tapping a spot deep inside me, getting me off again before he stiffens.

“Oh, fuck!” he cries. He pulls out of me and pushes my shirt up, scrunching the fabric toward my head. I’m confused by his actions until I feel a jet of hot cum land on my back. Then another.

I turn to see his face, twisted in that familiar look of blissful agony. He continues to release on me, until he finishes with a final shudder.

“I’m sorry, Christine. I can’t believe I forgot to use a condom.”

“It’s okay. I forgot too.” I have a box in my nightstand and I never gave them a thought.

“Hang on, I’ll get a towel,” Jay says before disappearing and returning moments later. “I grabbed a hand towel. Is that okay?”

When I nod and tell him it’s fine, he very gently and carefully cleans me up, such a contrast to his pleasingly rough actions earlier.

“Still can’t believe I did that,” Jay mutters. “I got out in time, though.”

I turn over and sit on the bed when he’s finished. The abrupt ending has me feeling empty and off kilter.

It’s odd how a crazy part of me has been wishing that the Hayes brothers would come inside me, and now Jay nearly did. It’s different with him, though. Complicated. Much more real.

“What are we doing, Jay?”

He’d been folding up the towel, but stops to look at me. “What do you mean?”

“What are we doing?” I repeat, waving my hand to gesture at the bed and at us.

“Well,” he says, leaning down, the weight of his arm indenting the mattress, “you’re making me feel amazing, and I hope I’m doing the same for you.”

“You are, but is this really a good idea?” I ask.

He straightens. “I don’t know. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“I don’t know.” I shrug a shoulder and look down at the blanket. “It just seems … complicated.”

“Because my friends are involved?”

“No, though I still can’t figure out how you’re okay sharing me with them. You’d have never done that when we were younger.” I draw my knees up and wrap my arms around my legs.

Jay sits on the edge of the bed, turning to face me. “You’re right, I wouldn’t have, but I’ve done a lot of growing up. If being with them makes you happy, I’m not going to try to stop you. And I have to confess … I thought I’d just tolerate it — just make myself be okay with it so I could be with you — but I actually like watching you with them. I like seeing you enjoy them, and I like watching them get you off.”

It’s bizarre to think this is the same man who got mad at me just for going out on a dance floor without him. “Wow, you really are Jay 2.0,” I say.

He cracks a grin. “Nah, more like 5 or 6.0, at least. I’ve been through several upgrades.” When I laugh, he adds, “You shouldn’t be surprised, though. You’ve changed a lot, too.”

“I have?”

“I guess we don’t notice our own changes,” he says, “but you’re much more confident now. More direct, and even stronger than you used to be.” He leans over and slides his hand up the side of my bare leg, all the way up to my hip. “You’re tougher, but you still have nice, soft curves.”

“We’d better stop,” I say, scooting to the edge of the bed, “or we’ll be here all night.”

“I can think of worse things,” he says, but he pulls back to make room for me. When I look up to grin at him, I find him focused intently at my face. “Did you get a sunburn?” he asks.

I touch my face reflexively, knowing what he’s seeing as soon as my hand raises to my cheek. “No,” I say, hesitating.

“Your cheeks are really red,” he says, still looking there before scanning other parts of my body.

“It’s just a flare-up.” A frustrated sigh escapes before I can stop it.

“Flare-up?” We’re sitting side-by-side now; he’s leaning back to get a better look at me.

“I have lupus,” I say.

33

Flare-up

“Lupus?”

I nod and get up, about to go in search of my pants, but he grabs my arm. “Wait, you can’t just tell me that and walk off. Lupus … what does that mean for you? I’ve heard of it, but I don’t think I know what it is.”

The concern on his face tugs at something in my chest. I’ve been living with lupus for a long time now; though it’s not as scary anymore, back when I got the diagnosis, I had briefly wished that Jay — or some better version of him — was with me. My family was supportive from afar, but it wasn’t the same as having someone by my side.

“It’s an autoimmune disease,” I say, “meaning my body attacks itself.”

“And it affects your skin?” he asks, his eyes squinting as they search my face.

“A rash on my cheeks is usually the first sign that it’s flaring up, but it’s not really about my skin. There’s joint pain and other things I have to watch out for.”

“Is there a cure? Or medicine you can take?”

“There’s no cure,” I say, “but there is medicine I take when it flares up.”

“How long have you had this?”

“About ten years.”

“Christine.” He pulls me into his chest again, wrapping me in a firm embrace, and I let myself lean on him, while trying not to think about how good it would feel to always have someone here to lean on.

I’ve been through several lupus flare-ups, and while a temporary round of meds has always gotten it under control, I do live with a fear of things getting worse. The disease can lead to some serious and chronic problems, but I’m not going to burden Jay with that information.

“It’s okay, really,” I say, separating myself from him after a few minutes.

“When did you last have a flare-up?” he asks.

“It’s been a while,” I say. “Maybe a year or so.”

Jay follows right behind me when I go into the living room. “Do you need to go to the doctor?”

“Sometimes there’s just a mild rash that clears up on its own. I probably spent too much time in the sun.” I separate my pants and underwear, which were in a tangled pile on the kitchen floor.

“Why didn’t you say something? We could have stayed in today.”

I turn and put a hand on his cheek, touched by his concern, but also tired of talking about it. “Jay, relax.” He lets out a frustrated breath, but doesn’t say anything else. “Do you mind if I get a quick shower?”

“No problem. I’ll just play with Roscoe while you’re in there.”

I laugh out loud at his assumption about my dog’s activity level. Roscoe will be asleep by now and unlikely to rouse, but to my surprise, when I get out of the shower, Roscoe’s on his back in the living room, enjoying more of Jay’s belly rubs, and his favorite toy is lying on the floor next to him.

“I caught a glimpse of your cat,” Jay says, looking up and smiling. “She was under the couch but ran into the bedroom.”

“It takes her a while to warm up to people,” I say. “I just need to feed them and I’ll be ready to go.”

“Can I help?” Jay asks. There’s a different element to the tone of his voice. He’s asking because he thinks I need help, like there’s something wrong with me.

Silently, I curse the visible signs of my disease, and wish I’d never had to tell him about it. “I got it,” I say.

After Roscoe’s been fed and food left out for Bea, we take Roscoe back to Sheila’s, and get in my car to leave.

We’re about a mile down the road when Jay asks, “Is it okay if we tell the others about your lupus?”

“Why?”

“Well, if you need to avoid the sun, I’d like everyone to know that,” he says.

“I don’t want to affect how you spend your vacation.”

Jay frowns at me. “I want to spend time with you. I don’t care what I’m doing. The others probably feel the same way.”

I focus on the road, avoiding his gaze. The Hayes brothers are action travel guides. I highly doubt they’ll want to sit under an umbrella with me for the rest of their time here, but I probably do need to take it easy. Sometimes my lupus just gives me a rash, and other times, that rash leads to more uncomfortable symptoms.

“We can tell them,” I say.

When we get to the beach house, a delivery person is there with bags of food that smell delicious. It turns out to be barbecue from one of the best places on the island, complete with all the fixin’s, as they say.

“We thought we’d give you the night off from cooking,” Corbin tells Jay as he and Jonathan unpack all of the containers and line them up on the counter.

“I couldn’t have made all this,” Jay says. “Not without an army to help.”

“It may take an army to eat it all,” I say, looking at the Hayes brothers. “Did you tell them to send everything they had in their kitchen?”

“I think we’ll put a pretty big dent in this,” Jay says. “I’m starving.”

“Yeah, I guess I’m pretty hungry, too,” I say, opening a box to find it filled with golden hushpuppies.

“Hmm, you’re both extra hungry?” Jonathan says, eyeing us with suspicion. “Would there be any particular reason for that? Maybe something you did while you were at Christine’s house that really worked up your appetites?”

Jay glances at me, and when I grin, he says, “Maaaaaybe,” making it obvious what we were up to with that one word.

“How did the call with your client go?” I ask the brothers.

“It was fine,” Brendan says, getting a stack of plates out of the cupboard, “except that the guy is trying to pack way too many things into his trip. We’re trying to get him to narrow down his wish list so we can plan the itinerary.”

“Where is he going?” I ask.

“Machu Picchu is at the top of his list, and most likely Iguazú Falls in Argentina,” Corbin says. “He also wants to go cave diving in Mexico, too, and that will probably work out because he has a month, but he has a big list of side trips that are not all going to fit.”

“A whole month?” I say, incredulous. “What does it cost for someone to hire the three of you for a full month?”

“A lot,” Jonathan says, chuckling. “We have some clients that have more money than they know what to do with.”

Brendan hands a plate to me and gestures for me to start the impromptu buffet line.

“How clever of you to start a business that involves being paid to go on vacation,” I say.

“Well, it’s not like we don’t work hard on our trips,” Corbin says, “but yeah, we thought it was a pretty good business model.”

After filling my plate with shredded pork, a piece of smoked chicken, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, and three hushpuppies, I take a seat at the big dining table, followed closely by the four men.

Along with seafood, this fare is the island’s specialty, and I don’t often indulge because it’s so rich. I think I’ve burned enough calories over the past couple of days to warrant a big meal, though. Surely, my body needs to refuel.

We’re all quiet for a few minutes as we dig in. Once he’s eaten about half of his dinner, Jay says, “Christine shared something with me today. I wanted to let you all know that she has a health issue.”

My stomach goes heavy at his words, threatening to ruin my meal, but I tell myself there’s no reason for me to feel any type of way about this.

Three pairs of eyes quickly focus on me. I take a sip of my sweet tea as a distraction.

Jay’s looking at me too. I give him the smallest of nods once I’ve put my drink down. He was always good with signals.

“Christine has lupus,” he says.

There are several long seconds of silence before Corbin says, “I’m sorry to hear that, Christine.”

“How long have you had it?” Brendan asks.

“About ten years. Most of the time it’s not an issue.”

“Our aunt has lupus,” Corbin says.

“Really?” I know it’s not rare, but I haven’t met too many people with the disease. Then again, I don’t talk about it much, either.

Brendan nods, and I don’t look him or his brothers directly in the eye because I’m afraid of seeing sympathy or pity there. “Mine isn’t too bad, and I don’t want to be treated like I’m fragile,” I say, with a pointed look at Jay.

“Is your lupus sensitive to sun exposure?” Brendan asks.

“Sometimes.”

“I wish we’d known,” Jonathan says. “We didn’t need to go out on the boat.”

“I had plenty of sunscreen on,” I say, scooping up a forkful of cheesy noodles, “and I don’t want to affect how you spend your time here. You’re on vacation, and I loved being on the boat.”

“We can have all kinds of fun indoors,” Corbin says with an expression that tells me exactly what kind of fun he’s talking about.

“Will you tell us if you’re not feeling good?” Jonathan asks.

“I will.”

34

Indoor fun

We do have plenty of indoor fun that night, but first, after the giant dinner, and after the sun has long since set, Jay, Jonathan and I take a walk down to the water’s edge while Brendan and Corbin clean up in the kitchen.

Standing a few feet from the surf, gazing into the darkness, there’s a chill in the air, and when Jonathan sees me shiver, he wraps his arms around me. I glance over at Jay to see if he’s bothered, but he gives me a brief smile when he notices me looking at him.

“We’ll have to come back when it’s warm enough to swim,” Jonathan says, rubbing his hands over my arms to warm me.

“The island’s a different place in the summer,” I say, “but if you rent a house like this again, you’d probably have most of this big stretch of beach to yourself.”

“Mmm … sex on the beach could be fun,” Jonathan says.

“I don’t know if you’ll have that much privacy,” I say, laughing. “Also, in the summer, there are a lot of ghost crabs running around the sand at night.”

“Ouch!” Jonathan and Jay both flinch.

“Crab pincers and nudity don’t seem like a good combination,” Jay says.

The three of us are still laughing as we make our way back to the house.

The night brings more of the amazing experiences that I’ve come to expect from these four men. The highlight, among nearly nonstop highlights, is a sixty-nine encounter with Jonathan — his cock in my mouth and his mouth doing wonderful things to my clit — that turns into a one hundred and sixty-nine when Jay lies behind me and reaches around to play with my nipples.

The two of them together make me come no fewer than three times. I’m not even quite sure what the count is, because all of the sensations start overlapping into what feels like the world’s longest climax.

As I’m coming down from a peak, Jay slips into me from behind, his cock filling me in one long, steady thrust. I cry out in pleasure, my mouth still full of Jonathan’s cock, and Jonathan starts to come, hot spurts shooting down my throat.

It’s an unforgettable night of indoor fun.

The next morning, while scrolling on his phone, Brendon asks if I’ve ever been to the maritime museum that’s about an hour north of Four Points.

“No, I haven’t.”

“Want to go check it out? It looks interesting,” he says.

Maybe I’m stereotyping, but I would have assumed that men who thrive on thrilling adventure travel wouldn’t also be interested in museums. I strongly suspect he’s looking for indoor activities for my benefit, and I wish he wouldn’t, but it’s also a sweet gesture.

“Sure,” I say, realizing that I’d probably go anywhere with these men — anywhere except on their dangerous adventure travels.

The museum turns out to be nice, with exhibits on the history of commercial fishing, whaling, and even pirates, but it’s not nearly as exciting as our indoor activities from the night before.

On our drive back to the beach house, we pass the miniature golf course on Four Points that Jay and I talked about the day before. “Wait, there are cars outside,” I say.

Brendan, who’s driving, looks at me in the rearview mirror. “What?”

“Four Points Mini Golf.”

“It’s open?” Jay asks.

We’re far enough up the road now that I can no longer see it, but I’m sure I saw several cars in their lot. “It might be,” I say. “Anyone up for a game of mini golf?”

“Christine and I used to play when we were young,” Jay explains. “She mistakenly remembers being the one who usually won.”

“Ah, longtime rivals,” Jonathan says. “I think we need to go settle things, then.”

“It’s pretty sunny out today,” Brendan says, though he moves into the left lane to make a turn.

“I have sunscreen in my bag, and my big, floppy sun hat is in the back,” I say.

Brendan circles back, and as soon as the place comes into sight, I confirm that there are people on the course playing.

“I haven’t played putt-putt since I was a kid,” Corbin says.

“It’s been years for me too,” Jay says.

“Do any of you play golf?” I ask, unclasping my seatbelt as Brendan parks.

“We don’t,” Jonathan says.

“We thought we’d take it up in retirement,” Corbin says with a laugh.

“I do, and I have an excellent short game,” Jay says.

“What does that mean?” I ask.

“It means I’m going to beat you,” Jay says, reaching over the seat to grab my hat.

Once we’re outside, Brendan and Jay supervise the application of my sunscreen. I slather it on my face, even though the hat will keep me covered, and Brendan joins in, smoothing it over my arms and my neck, while Jay holds the tube and distributes more when needed.

“I never realized sunscreen application was a three-person job,” I joke.

“The more, the merrier,” Brendan says, sliding his slippery hand along the round collar of my shirt, and dipping his fingers down into my cleavage as he covers me with SPF.

After Corbin pays for all of us at the counter, we choose balls and clubs, and head to the first hole, which features an enormous anchor embedded in the course directly between the tee and the hole.

“Who wants to go first?” Jonathan asks.

“Wait, I think we need a wager first,” Jay says.

“What kind of wager?” I ask.

“If I win — when I win … you have to give me a blowjob,” Jay says.

I’m pretty sure that was already in the plans for tonight, but I guess the bet will make it more fun.

“That’s a really basic request,” Corbin says.

“What would you have wagered?” Jay asks.

“Oh, I don’t know … maybe a striptease. Maybe anal. That’s something we haven’t tried yet.”

At the mention of anal, all of them look my way, and I can only imagine the expression on my face. I’ve never done that, and have shut it down the couple of times it was mentioned by guys I’ve dated over the years. But with these men, I’m surprised to realize it’s something I might consider.

“Those are good ideas,” Jay says. “Maybe I should change my bet.”

“Too late!” I say, laughing. “A basic, boring blowjob it is, but it doesn’t matter, because you’re not going to win.”

“For the record, anytime you give me a blowjob, I will not be bored,” Jay says before making a practice putt with his club, swinging at the air. “On the off chance that you win, what would you like?”

“A full body massage,” I say, not having to think much about it.

“No sexual favors?” Jonathan asks.

“I have a feeling I don’t need to win a bet to get those,” I say.

35

Too close to home

There are eighteen nautical-themed holes at the miniature golf course, and we laugh our way through all of them, mixing in a fair amount of trash talk, and a lot of good-natured teasing.

Despite not being golfers, all of the Hayes brothers are good at the game, and our scores are all close when we reach the last hole, which, unlike the other creatively-decorated holes, only has a skee-ball type target with nested circles, the smallest one awarding a hole-in-one, and a score as high as four if your ball lands in the largest, outer circle.

I’m ahead of Jay by one point, and we’re the last two to take our shots.

“I’m already looking forward to that blowjob,” he says as I put my ball down on the tee spot.

“I don’t know who’ll be giving it to you, because it won’t be me,” I say. “Now, shhhh! Don’t distract me.”

I take a deep breath, exhale, and send my ball toward the center target. It doesn’t make the smallest hole, but it lands in the second best shot. “Two points! You need to get a hole-in-one just to tie,” I tell Jay.

“No problem.” He takes a good, long time lining up for the shot, while I send a few prayers into the universe that his ball will miss the target entirely and end up in the water feature behind it.

“There it goes,” Jonathan says, and then all of us yell as Jay’s shot scores a three.

“I win! I win!” I can’t stop myself from doing a happy dance that involves waving my club around in front of my ex-husband’s face. “That massage is going to feel so good.”

Grinning, he pulls me into a big hug. “You’ve probably been coming here every night they’re open to practice,” he teases.

“You figured me out,” I say. “All along, I’ve known you’d come back into my life and challenge me to a game of mini golf.”

“Exactly.” He bends and gives me a kiss like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and I guess after the past couple of days, it is.

As we walk back to the car, I say, “I was going to drive over to my house to check on things, but since we’re out, would you mind stopping by there? It’s not too far out of the way.”

“Of course,” Brendan says. “Just tell me where to go.”

A few minutes later, we’re on Sheila’s doorstep, her eyes going wide when she sees all four men standing behind me. She invites us in for something to drink, and since none of us are in a hurry, we take her up on the offer.

Roscoe makes a beeline straight for Jay, but quickly moves on to sniff the Hayes brothers, too. All four men meet the approval of both Roscoe and Trixie, and the two dogs dance around as if they’ve not had visitors in years.

“How are you doing?” Sheila asks as I follow her into her kitchen to help with the drinks.

“Really good,” I say.

“I’ll bet. How are things going with your ex? I have to say, that took me by surprise.”

“Me too.”

She lines up a row of glasses on the counter. “Are you getting back together?”

“No,” I say, quickly shaking my head. “He’s just in town for a couple more days.”

“Oh, okay.” Sheila was heading toward the refrigerator but she turns and looks at me. “Are you okay with that?”

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s been nice seeing him again. We’re both such different people than we used to be. Everything between us feels like ancient history now.”

“Okay.” Sheila sounds thoughtful, or maybe doubtful. I’m not sure which.

When she’s poured lemonade into two of the six glasses, she says, “Want to take these out? I’ll get the rest.”

Back in the living room, both dogs are still excited, trying to get as much attention from the four men as they can.

“I love your dog,” Jonathan says, rubbing Roscoe’s ears. “He’s a cool dude.”

I let out a laugh. “He usually sleeps all day. You all seem to bring out a different side in him.”

“We talk about getting a dog sometimes,” Corbin says. “We all wish we could have one, but it just doesn’t make sense with our travel schedule.”

I nod and hand a glass to both Brendan and Corbin.

“Why don’t you bring Roscoe over to the house?” Brendan asks.

“The beach house? Are you allowed to have dogs stay there?” I ask.

“I don’t remember anything in the rules against it,” he says. “He doesn’t look like he’s the destructive type, is he?”

“All he needs is a soft place to sleep and he’s happy,” I say, “though now he also seems to need all of you.”

As soon as I speak, something tightens in my chest. The words hit much too close to home.

36

Real life awaits

After taking care of Bea, packing items for Roscoe and myself, and saying goodbye to Sheila with many thanks for looking after things for me, we leave for the beach house, with Roscoe squeezed onto the backseat between Jonathan and me.

These past couple of days with the men have felt like a fantasy life, entirely separate and apart from my real life, but having Roscoe with me somehow makes everything seem real, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

“I’m back on dinner duty this evening,” Jay tells me when we arrive. “Will it be okay if I give you your massage later tonight?”

“Any time is perfect for me,” I say in a singsong voice intended to remind him about my golf victory.

“I’ll help you cook,” Jonathan tells Jay.

“Does Roscoe like the beach?” Corbin asks. “We could take a walk while they cook dinner.”

“He loves it. Let me grab an extra sweater, and I’ll be ready to go.”

“Do you have something warm enough?” he asks. “You can wear my jacket.”

Before I answer, Corbin grabs a coat from a hook by the entryway and drapes it over my shoulders. The material is infused with his spicy scent, and having it wrapped around me makes me feel warm deep inside. Its large size reminds me of how it feels to have his body over mine, and I’m tempted to suggest we skip the walk and head to the bedroom, but that wouldn’t be fair to Roscoe.

“I’ll come too,” Brendan says.

The sun has just set, leaving the sky painted with shades of red, orange, and purple. “It’s beautiful,” I say, in awe, as we start walking along the sand.

“You say that like you’re not used to it,” Corbin says, “but you live here in this beautiful place.”

“I’m normally inside at Rusty’s when the sun sets,” I say. “Also, you need to be on the beach for this kind of view. I should make a point of coming on my days off, though. Roscoe would like that.”

The men are going to think I’ve been lying about how lazy he usually is. Right now, he’s practically running circles around us as he follows invisible trails of scent up and down the beach.

“Views like this feed the soul,” Brendan says, his eyes fixed on the horizon.

“I’ll bet you see a lot of beautiful views on your trips.”

He slides his arm around my waist, under his brother’s jacket, and pulls me close. “None of them have been as beautiful as what we’ve seen here.” His eyes are all over me now, instead of the sky. His hand brushes hair back from my cheek before he brings his lips to mine.

There hasn’t been much kissing outside of sex, and my heart glows at his flattering words and tender touch, even as my mind tells me not to like any of this too much.

As I tilt my head, inviting Brendan to deepen the kiss, a hand squeezes my shoulder and another warm body presses against me from the side. Corbin’s there, caressing my back as his brother kisses me.

After a moment, Brendan pulls his head back and turns me toward Corbin, who smiles as he rubs his warm nose against my cold one. He presses his lips to mine, gently at first, and then with more need.

We stand in a cozy huddle like that for several minutes, the brothers passing me back and forth between them, one kissing my neck while the other tastes my lips, one squeezing my ass while the other strokes a hand up my back.

My legs are starting to get weak, and I’m about to suggest we go back to the house, when Roscoe growls and then lets out a long howl. The men and I break apart, looking for the source of Roscoe’s alarm, but we quickly realize he’s howling at us.

“My dog is jealous,” I tell Brendan and Corbin, who both immediately kneel to give Roscoe the attention he’s looking for. “It’s too bad your life doesn’t suit having a pet,” I say, once we start walking along the beach again, the men close on each side of me.

“Someday,” Brendan says.

“Have any of you ever been married?” I ask, realizing I’d assumed they hadn’t, but I never asked.

Both of them shake their heads. “We haven’t.”

“Because of your work?”

“Not as much our work,” Brendan says, “as how we enjoy women. As you know, we like to share, and that doesn’t work well with marriage.”

I nod silently, not liking the feeling I get when I think of them with other women.

“How about you?” Corbin says. “Why didn’t you ever remarry?”

“I used to think I would, but the right person never came along. Then, the older I got, the more I valued my independence.”

Several yards ahead of us, Roscoe is pushing his snout into the sand at the water’s edge. Then he pulls back, shakes his head, and starts digging, kicking up big clumps of wet sand.

“Oh no, he’s going to be a mess,” I groan, “and he’s going to track sand all over your rental.”

Corbin is chuckling as he watches Roscoe. “There’s a hose outside. It’ll be fine. And there are house cleaners coming who will take care of any messes after we leave on Sunday.”

Roscoe trots over, gleefully chomping at whatever it was he found.

Sunday. I only have two more days with the men, and I’m scheduled to work the next two nights. I’m not ready for my little fantasy time with them to end, but real life awaits.

37

A four-man massage

Winning a massage turns out to be serendipitous, because my body starts to ache, probably from the cold, damp air on the beach.

I don’t mention the pain, not wanting the men to fuss over me like they did about sunscreen. Instead, I pop a pain reliever after dinner and happily climb onto the cozy spot that Jay’s prepared for me on the bed.

I’m not wearing anything, because I’m counting on the massage leading to other activities.

“Are you warm enough?” Jay asks, once I’m lying flat on my front.

“I will be, once your hands are on me.”

“Would you like a blanket? My hands can’t be everywhere at once,” he says.

“We can help with that,” Corbin says from the doorway.

“You beat all of our scores, after all,” Jonathan says. “Maybe we should all help with the massage.”

See what I mean about this feeling like a fantasy life? Four men’s hands on me? It’s a dream I never knew I had, and my pussy tingles just at the thought of it.

Jay squirts lotion in his palm and passes the bottle to Corbin, who’s next to him. I hear sounds of the lotion being passed around, as Jay rubs his hands together, warming the cream.

I close my eyes, preparing to be pampered, and the men must silently communicate with each other, because four sets of hands make contact with me at the same time.

As Jay slides his slippery hands down one side of my back, someone else’s hands smooth up my back in a coordinated motion. Strong hands grip my calves while palms slide simultaneously up each of my legs.

If a nearby spa offered a four-man massage service like this, I’d save enough money to indulge in it regularly, no matter what it cost.

“I can die happy now,” I say, groaning in pleasure.

Jay laughs. “Not yet. We’re just getting started.”

The four of them work on every inch of my backside before prompting me to turn over. Their treatment turns from blissful to tortuous as Corbin and Brendan spread my legs and slide their slick hands slowly up my inner thighs, coming close, but not quite all the way to where I want them to touch me.

Jonathan entwines his fingers with mine and massages my hand with his thumb as he bends to run his tongue over my nipple. Jay mirrors these actions on my other side, and it’s not long at all before I’m writhing on the bed, begging them to do more than massage me.

Finally, after what feels like a wonderful, unbearable eternity, Jay slides my bottom to the edge of the bed, kneels between my legs, and eats my pussy until I’m screaming his name, orgasms coming as if they’ve never been anything but effortless.

After he gets me off multiple times, Jay stands and buries his cock inside me. Corbin brings pillows to elevate my hips, and my ex fucks me so thoroughly that I nearly forget my name. Slow and steady, then hard and fast — it’s all so good that I can hardly bear it.

I’m limp on the mattress after Jay comes. Jonathan lies down next to me, stroking my hair away from my sweaty face.

“Are you next?” I ask with a heavy-lidded smile.

He slides his arm under my head and tucks me against his chest, brushing his lips on my forehead. The last thing I remember is hearing him say, “Get some rest.”

38

Memento

My shoulder hurts when I wake up the next morning, reminding me that I’m in my forties now. All of the aches and pains I’ve always heard older island residents complaining about are now descending on me.

You’d think I’d be feeling wonderful after the amazing massage and the sex that followed, but I must have slept in an odd position. I don’t know who was in the bed with me — maybe Jonathan? — but I’m alone now and the room is bright with sunlight.

When I sit up and stretch, Jay appears in the doorway. “You’re finally up,” he says, smiling. He’s showered, shaved, and dressed, and has the wide-awake appearance of someone who’s been out of bed for quite a while.

“What time is it?” I ask.

“It’s after ten. We decided not to wake you for breakfast, because you looked to be in a deep sleep.”

Jay watches as I stretch my arm in various positions, hoping to loosen the tightness in my shoulder. “Do you want something to eat? Scrambled eggs?”

He remembers how I like my eggs. “Not yet. Thanks,” I say. “I still feel groggy. I should have woken up sooner.”

“Let me know when you’re hungry,” he says, turning to go.

After a hot shower and another pain reliever, I find all four men in the open area that includes the living room and dining room. Brendan and Jonathan are working on laptops; Corbin and Jay are looking at their phones. All of them look up when I enter the room.

“Have a nice sleep?” Jonathan asks.

“Too much sleep,” I say, “You could have woken me up.”

“You must have needed the rest,” Jay says. One of his hands is resting on Roscoe, who’s curled up next to him on the couch.

“We’ve been keeping you busy,” Brendan adds, his voice telling me that he’s not talking about the sightseeing.

“Speaking of that,” I say, “I’d like to stay in today —”

“Okay,” Jay says, nodding.

“But I’d like all of you to go out,” I finish.

The men start to object, just as I assumed they would.

“It says there’s a brewery tour in Hayden County,” Corbin says, pointing at his phone.

“You’ve been searching for indoor activities, haven’t you?” I say. The men all look at me, guilty as charged. “That’s very sweet of you. I appreciate your concern about my health, but I know you didn’t come here to stay indoors all day.”

“We don’t mind —” Brendan says.

“I mind,” I say, cutting him off. “I don’t want to be the reason you spend your vacation indoors. Jay, don’t you need to be out taking pictures? It looks like a beautiful day for it. And don’t the rest of you need to be climbing mountains or rappelling down a waterfall or something?”

Jonathan is laughing as he says, “I don’t think there are any waterfalls nearby, and the mountains are pretty far away, but point taken.”

“What if we want to spend time with you?” Jay asks.

“We can be together tonight. For now, go out and have some fun.”

It takes more persuading, but I finally get the four men to leave. The big beach house feels empty as soon as they’re gone, and I almost regret sending them away, but I know it was the right thing to do.

So that I will be able to spend the evening with them, I text Valerie, apologizing for the short notice, but asking her for the next two nights off. They’re the busiest nights of the week, so I feel bad asking, but I almost never miss work and I have a ton of vacation days saved. After checking with Barrett, who agrees to cover for me, Valerie gives the okay.

In the kitchen, I forage for something small to eat, after turning down Jay’s offer to make breakfast for me before he left. I settle on toast and an apple, and share the fruit with Roscoe while we sit out on the back deck.

The day passes quickly. I sleep a little, read a little, and take Roscoe for a short walk on the beach.

When the men return, they smell of fresh air and sunshine, and are full of stories about their day. We eat an early dinner, prepared by Jay, take Roscoe for another walk after sunset, and then the bedtime fun begins.

Over breakfast the next morning, I tell the men to go enjoy their activities without me again, but they won’t hear of it. I don’t push, because it’s their last day here, and I’d really rather spend it with them anyway.

“I saw signs for a farmer’s market,” Jay says. “I could go pick up some fresh items for our meals today. Maybe they have seafood there.”

“Let’s all go,” I say. “The market’s really nice.”

“It’s awfully sunny today,” he says, looking toward the tall windows.

“I’m not a vampire,” I say. “We don’t have to be there long anyway.”

The farmer’s market is held in a park that overlooks one of the island’s namesake points, and the view is beautiful. Jay is grateful that he brought his camera along, and wanders off several times to take pictures.

Roscoe is with us, and he happily trots along beside us on his leash, enjoying all of the new smells and occasionally stopping to meet other dogs.

We end up selecting fish for lunch, clams to make clam chowder for dinner, and a few different vegetables, along with a tray of brownies from a local bakery. Before we leave, Jay positions us with the ocean behind us and takes several pictures before joining us and taking a couple of group selfies.

“Will you send me one of those?” I say, working to keep the emotion out of my voice. The picture will be a perfect memento of a perfect week.

39

A million times harder

Jonathan and I both help Jay cook lunch. We mostly handle the prep, while Jay cooks the fish to perfection and makes a sauce of lemon, wine, and garlic that looks simple but tastes incredible.

“I could eat this every day,” I say, mopping up the last bit of sauce from my plate with a piece of asparagus.

The greater likelihood is that I won’t eat this ever again, not prepared by Jay. And after tonight, I won’t hear the men’s laughter, or feel their arms around me anymore. Probably never again.

They’ve talked about visiting again sometime, and maybe they will, but they all have busy lives. If they visit, I’ll enjoy seeing them, but It’s not something I’m going to sit around waiting for.

When I stand to take my plate into the kitchen, my legs are stiff. My shoulder pain is back, too, making me think it wasn’t an odd sleeping position that caused it.

The face rash, the fatigue, and now body aches. I’ve been ignoring these warning signs so that I could have fun with the men, but it’s all starting to catch up with me. Even though I’ll miss them, it’s probably a good thing that they’re leaving tomorrow. I can’t live life at the same pace they do.

Roscoe and I are probably both going to sleep for days after they go.

Corbin comes up behind me at the kitchen sink, wrapping an arm around my middle as he puts his plate on the stack. “Are you up for another massage after your food settles?” he asks. “We should probably get an early start since it will be our last night together for a couple of weeks.”

I’m starting to melt back against him when his words sink in, and I straighten. “A couple of weeks?”

“Yeah, we think we can make it back here later in the month.”

“What for?” I say.

Corbin takes a step back. “To see you, of course. To be with you.”

Brendan, who’s standing right behind his brother, reaches out to me. “Come in here. Let’s talk.” He leads me into the living room, where he sits next to me on the couch. Jonathan sits on my other side, while Jay takes a chair and Corbin stands nearby.

“Corbin got ahead of himself,” Brendan says. “We were planning to talk to you tonight.”

I look between the men, noticing their earnest expressions. Jonathan smiles at me when I meet his eyes.

Roscoe had been asleep under the dining room table, but he must realize we’re done eating, because he wanders in and nudges Brendan’s leg with his nose, wanting attention.

“We have two trips planned with clients over the next couple of weeks, but after that, we’re hoping to come back,” Brendan says, giving Roscoe a quick rub behind his ears before he takes my hand. “Speaking for my brothers and myself, we’ve never met a woman like you.

“Sometimes our tastes don’t align, but we’re all in total agreement about how much we like you, and how much we want to be with you. We think there’s something really special here, and we want to explore it.”

“What do you mean, be with me?”

“We’d like to explore something long-term with you,” Jonathan says. “Something permanent. We could move here. Maybe get a house like this one, and we could all move in together.”

Jay comes over then, kneeling on the floor in front of me, where Roscoe promptly licks his cheek. I’d giggle if I weren’t in such a state of shock.

My ex-husband takes my free hand and says, “As for me, Christine, I’m still in love with you, and being with you this week has made me realize that I always have been. The reason I’ve never married anyone else is because I’ve never met anyone who compared to you. We belong together, and I’m so glad we found each other again.”

I’m not completely surprised by Jay’s declaration. He was always a bit of a romantic, and I suspected he was getting caught up in his feelings this week. I almost did, too.

What Brendan and Jonathan are saying doesn’t make any sense, though. They travel the world hooking up with women on different continents, from what I know of them. They’re not the type to settle down, and certainly not with me, who has so little in common with them.

“I don’t know what to say.” I don’t even know what to think.

“Say that you want to be with us too,” Corbin says.

Jay squeezes my hand. “Say that we’ll all be together.”

It would be nice to be able to say yes to this fantasy life, but fantasies aren’t real. Even though Jay didn’t use much pressure when he squeezed it, my hand hurts, reminding me that my lupus is what’s real. I’m not going to let these men pretend they want to spend the rest of their lives indoors with me, avoiding sun exposure and taking it easy.

“You’ve taken me by surprise,” I say, stating what is probably very obvious. “I’ve loved meeting you, reconnecting with you —” I look at Jay here, “and spending this week with all of you, but things between us were never meant to be long-term.

“Jay, you’ve always been a dreamer, and I love that about you, but if the two of us couldn’t make things work, how could you think the five of us could have a relationship together?”

I look around at all of the men as I continue. “We’ve been enjoying a lot of really great sex this week, but once life settled into a more normal pattern, you’d see that we don’t have that much in common.”

Silence stretches out, before Brendan says, “I disagree.”

The looks on their faces are making my chest hurt, but they must realize they wouldn’t be happy living at the pace that my body needs, and I couldn’t live life at their speed even if I wanted to — which I don’t.

“Your lives are completely different from mine. You’re traveling around the world, having adventures. I don’t want that, and I don’t want to be the reason you slow down.”

My mind fast forwards to how things would play out. We’d be happy for a while, but they’d get restless. They’d travel, because that’s what they do, so I wouldn’t see them much, and when I did, they’d be looking forward to their next adventure, and maybe even becoming resentful that I was here waiting for them.

The way I’ve been with them this week — all the sex, the activities — it’s not sustainable for me.

“Christine, you’re not looking at this the right way,” Jay says.

I slide my hands out from his and Brendan’s, and lean to the side, preparing to stand, needing not to be surrounded by all of these beautiful men who are making me say hard things.

“Things wouldn’t work out,” I say. “You know I’m right. You might not realize it now, but you will.”

They all look surprised, just like I was when Brendan brought this up, but there’s so much hurt in their expressions that I can’t bear it.

“I think I should leave,” I say. There’s no way I can have sex with them again. Not tonight, anyway. Maybe sometime in the future when things don’t feel as raw. If I ever see them again.

“Don’t go,” Jonathan says, following me into the bedroom.

“I need to go. Please don’t make it harder.”

I gather my things while Jonathan watches. Corbin and Jay are in the doorway, but they move out of my way before I pass by.

Roscoe is following us all around, and he must read the tension in the room because I notice his tail isn’t wagging like it always has been when he’s with these men.

“I’m sorry to leave so abruptly, but I think it’s best,” I say. No wonder the men thought I’d want to move in with them; my belongings seem to be spread all over the place. Finally, I get everything gathered, and hook Roscoe’s leash onto his collar.

My arms are already full, and when I bend to pick up the bag of dog food I brought over, Jay rushes forward to carry it. “Let me help you.” His voice sounds tortured, and I clench my teeth to keep from crying.

Corbin takes my big bag from my arms, and all of the men follow me to my car. They think they’re making things easier by helping to carry my stuff, but they’re actually making my exit a million times harder.

“If you ever happen to be on the island again, bringing clients on a trip or taking pictures, please come and see me,” I say, before getting into my car, “but don’t come here because of me.”

If they were to visit in a couple of weeks, it would hurt like hell when they left, and it would only drag out the inevitable.

Jay pulls me into a tight hug and holds me for a long time. I don’t know how I keep tears from falling. Each of the Hayes brothers takes a turn after that. More exquisite torture.

I was lucky to enjoy such a wonderful week with them. Now it’s time to go back to reality.

40

Just stupid enough

I take care of chores when I get home, but when I realize that’s only going to keep me busy for so long, I text Valerie, telling her I’ll be able to come in to work after all. I don’t really want to be alone with my thoughts tonight.

My body still aches, but if I keep up with the pain medicine, it’s barely noticeable.

Instead of curling up on the couch or in his bed like he typically would, Roscoe follows me around the house for a while, giving me curious looks that feel like accusations. I’ve ruined his fun, too.

I always eat before my shift at Rusty’s, but the sandwich I make feels like cardboard in my mouth. I knew when I was putting it together that I wouldn’t be able to eat it, and I was right. After shoving it in the refrigerator, with the hopes that food will be more appealing tomorrow, I get dressed for work.

“Hey, I thought you were at home nursing the world’s longest hangover,” Becca says, when she finds me behind the bar. “That was some party, huh?”

My birthday party feels like it took place in another lifetime or a different dimension, but I may as well be hungover, as lousy as I feel.

When I give her the smallest of grins, she says, “I thought you weren’t coming in today.”

I stab the ice scoop into the bin, breaking apart cubes that are clumped together. “My plans changed.”

Becca takes a couple of rocks glasses from the shelf to hold drink garnishes. “I was just kidding about the hangover. I actually thought you were still in bed with your ex and those other three men you left with.”

I hope my grimace isn’t obvious when I say, “Those plans changed, too.”

Her tone turns serious. “Is everything okay?”

“Things are shit, but I don’t want to talk about it.”

Becca winces. “Everyone saw you kissing your ex, and a good number of people saw you leave with all four of them. I was off Wednesday and Thursday, but I’m afraid you were still a big topic of conversation in here last night.”

That’s just great, because that’s exactly how I want to spend my night: hearing about the men I’m trying to forget. But I knew this would happen. I knew when Jay kissed me on the dance floor that people would talk about it, and I didn’t care. It was worth it.

“I could start a new rumor,” Becca says, eyes twinkling. “How about something about Tom? I could get everyone spreading that around instead.”

I think she’s joking — I hope so, anyway — and her misguided thoughtfulness almost makes me smile.

“Let’s see … what would be outrageous, but not so crazy that people wouldn’t believe it?” She taps her cheek with her finger, thinking. “Cross dressing? A past career in the porn industry?”

“Becca!” I’m actually smiling now, because picturing burly, hairy Tom in women’s clothing is quite a fun stretch of the imagination. “I appreciate your creativity, but that won’t be necessary. People will move on from my story soon enough.”

“You’re right,” Becca says as she starts to cut into a lemon. “And as for your ex and the other guys — fuck ‘em. Men are best experienced as one-night stands. Any longer than that and they start to smell like old trash.”

I don’t agree with her, but she puts me in better spirits for a while — until we open for business, and I catch myself watching the door every time a new customer comes in.

I don’t know why I’d be expecting the men to show up. As far as they know, I called off work tonight. Besides that, I definitely didn’t leave in a way that invited them to chase after me.

Despite the bar being crowded and very busy, the night passes slowly. I receive a few speculative looks from a couple of the locals, but no one says anything, at least not to my face. I wouldn’t be surprised if Becca warned everyone to keep their mouths shut.

I wake up on Sunday, but getting up is another story.

Every part of my body aches as if someone had come in and hit me with a baseball bat while I was asleep.

In a stroke of luck, the bottle of pain tablets is on my nightstand. I swallow two of them dry, not sure I can even manage to go get water, and when the medicine kicks in, I fall back asleep.

Roscoe is whimpering beside my bed when I wake up again. I move my arms and legs experimentally. The pain is still there, but it’s more of a distant ache than a screaming alarm.

Standing up slowly, my body feels like it’s not my own. It’s not just the pain; it’s like there’s a thick liquid all around me making it difficult for me to move. I let Roscoe out into the backyard, and have to sit in a chair while I wait for him. I’m too tired to stand at the door.

I make it back into bed, and text Sheila to ask if she can take care of Roscoe. I’ll have to call my rheumatologist tomorrow, or maybe I can try her answering service today in the hopes that I can get an appointment tomorrow.

I know what’s wrong with me. I’m not that stupid — just stupid enough to have ignored all of my body’s warnings.

41

Serious consequences

I’m not able to see my doctor until Tuesday, but she orders a prescription for me on Monday that I can take in advance of the appointment.

Sheila is my angel, taking care of Roscoe and Bea, picking up my medicine, and making food for me.

By Monday evening, I’m functional, if you apply a very, very low standard to the word.

Bea is my angel, too, lying with me whenever I’m in bed, staying nearby when I’m sitting on the couch, and politely ignoring me when my frustration vents itself in tears.

I spend a lot of pointless time being angry at my body and wondering what I did to deserve a condition for which there is no cure.

If it weren’t for lupus, I might be spending the day making plans for when I’d see Jay, Brendan, Corbin, and Jonathan again. I might be online ordering outdoor gear or hiking equipment, and booking a flight to join them on one of their adventures. I might be able to go out and enjoy a sunny day without feeling like a fucking truck ran me over.

My body and my mood both feel like they’re in a death spiral, and when it gets to be too much, I go to bed.

When I have trouble falling asleep, memories of the men’s disappointed faces torment me. I never meant to hurt them, and I hope that I didn’t, or at least, not too badly.

Should I have somehow picked up on the fact that they were getting serious? Maybe I was too distracted by my temperamental body to notice.

Sheila offers to take me to my doctor appointment, and I gratefully accept, afraid of a wave of fatigue hitting me, even though some of my energy has returned. The rheumatologist orders multiple tests, and sends me home with a new prescription and a warning that these debilitating symptoms — which are already bad enough — could lead to more serious consequences, like irreversible damage to my internal organs. Quite a price to pay for a week of carelessness.

I must be looking pretty shellshocked on the ride home, because Sheila is full of assurances. “It’ll be okay, Christine. The new medicine will have you feeling better soon,” she says.

I stare out at the passing scenery without really seeing it. “The doctor says I may need to stay on it indefinitely. It depends on how the tests come back.”

“If you do, you do,” Sheila says, matter-of-factly. “Maybe it’ll have you feeling better than ever, and you won’t need to worry so much about flare-ups.”

“I’ll always need to be careful. The doctor made that very clear.” I knew lupus could be dangerous, but since my symptoms have always been mild, I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have.

“There are plenty of people with lupus who are living full lives. You’ll be okay once you get past this episode.”

“Maybe you’re right,” I say, wondering who’s to say what a full life is. I always thought my life was happy and fulfilling, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Back at home, Sheila offers to make lunch for me, but I tell her I can manage. She says she’ll pick up Roscoe later when she takes Trixie for a walk, and then she says goodbye.

I’m about to open a can of soup when I get a text from Caz. She was in touch yesterday, too, and I filled her in on my medical condition.

Caz: How are you today?

Me: Getting better. I saw the doctor today. Got meds.

Caz: That’s good. Are you feeling up for company?

Me: Sure. I’m actually dressed today and my hair is combed.

Caz: Becca would like to see you too. Have you had lunch yet?

Me: I was just about to make it.

Caz: We’ll bring something over. See you soon.

My friends arrive less than an hour later, looking vibrant and full of life.

“We brought soup, salad, and those chocolate muffins you like from Maddy Lewis’ bakery,” Caz says, setting two bags and a bakery box on my counter.

“Oh my gosh, you’re kidding. It’s been way too long since I’ve had one of these,” I say, opening the box and immediately breathing in the chocolatey goodness.

“Don’t feel like you need to wait for dessert,” Becca says, laughing. “Have one now. We won’t judge.”

“I know you won’t, and that’s why you’re both great friends,” I say, pulling out one of the muffins and breaking off a piece to sample.

“What’s new at Rusty’s?” I ask as we fill plates and move to the dining table.

“Not much,” Becca says. “It’s only been two days since you were there.”

“Has it really only been two days? It feels like two weeks,” I say, pulling out a chair.

Caz gives me a sympathetic grin. “There will be something new at Rusty’s very soon. Barrett’s been talking to contractors about the expansion.”

“I like the sound of that,” Becca says. “Construction work means construction workers. Can you ask Barrett to hire the hottest ones?”

“Sure, I’ll do that,” Caz says, nodding her head at Becca and then rolling her eyes at me.

“I should be able to come back tomorrow. Maybe the day after,” I say.

“Don’t rush back to work,” Caz says. “Barrett’s happy to cover for you. And I’ve started writing stories — Lincoln thinks they’re actually good enough to publish — so if I can send Barrett and Lennox in to Rusty’s, that’ll give me more quiet time to write. Bronson and Lincoln are in Charlotte this week.”

Hearing Caz talk about her men makes me sad. I pull off another big chunk of the muffin and shove it in my mouth.

As we eat, I answer my friends’ questions about lupus and fill them in on what the doctor said. I’m relieved when they don’t ask me about my time with Jay and the Hayes brothers.

That all changes when there’s a knock on my door.

42

Their decision

“Do you want me to get it?” Becca asks.

“That’s okay. I’ll get it.”

Through the peephole, I see an unfamiliar woman wearing a bright red shirt. When I open the door, I find out that it’s not her clothing that’s red, it’s a huge bouquet of roses.

“Christine Murphy?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“These are for you.” She hands me the vase, which is anchored in a short white box, and disappears before I can give her a tip.

My family knows I’ve been sick, but I don’t think they’d send flowers over a lupus flare-up. Also, this doesn’t look like a Get Well Soon type of arrangement.

I set the flowers on the closest table and search for the card. My fingers are clumsy as I rush to open it.

The message is short but still delivers a big impact:

We miss you.

– J, B, C, J

I rub my thumb over the little white rectangle, feeling like it’s some kind of connection between the five of us, even though they may not have written the message personally.

The flowers themselves are stunning. Two dozen perfect roses the color of passion … and love.

When I turn back, Caz and Becca are both staring at me, utensils down, no longer caring that they were in the middle of eating lunch.

When I slide back into my seat and pick up my glass to take a drink, Becca says, “Christine.” She would make a good school teacher. I instantly sit up straighter, even as I continue to try to avoid her glare.

“Are you going to pretend we don’t see those?” Caz says, grinning.

“I thought you said things were over with those guys,” Becca says.

I risk a quick glance in her direction. “What makes you think it’s from them?”

“Christine.” She puts so much meaning into my name, saying without saying Get real and You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Things are over,” I say, tipping my soup bowl to spoon up the last of it.

“Nothing about those flowers says things are over,” Becca says. “What’s going on?”

I take another drink of water, slump back against my chair, and tell them the story from the beginning — how I met the Hayes brothers and expected to have a one night stand with them, the shocking reunion with Jay, and the even more stunning development of Jay being open to sharing me with his friends.

I allude to all the great sex, mentioning that it was by far the best of my life, but I also mention the way lupus began to intrude on my fun.

“I was all set to say goodbye to them — sad that they were leaving, but knowing my body needed rest — when they told me they wanted to move here and share some kind of life with me,” I say, mindlessly crumbling a muffin on the plate while I talk.

“That sounds great,” Caz says, then, seeing my expression, adds, “Does it not?”

“You see what the week did to me,” I say. “It wiped me out completely. I can’t keep up with them. I can’t live how they want to live.”

“It was a whirlwind week,” Caz says. “You’d just met the Hayes men, and there was the stress of seeing Jay again, not knowing how things would go with him, and there was the excitement of your birthday party. It’s not as if any of that would be part of your typical day-to-day life with them.”

I lift a shoulder in a tired shrug.

“Jay travels constantly for work, and the other men run an adventure business. All of them thrive on an active lifestyle.”

“So you broke things off because you couldn’t do any of those things with them,” Becca says gently. “Were they asking you to travel with them?”

“No,” I say, after a pause. “They mentioned buying a house here. Maybe they would make the island their home base, I guess.”

“Maybe they’re ready to slow things down,” Caz says.

“That’s the thing. I don’t want them to slow down for me. I don’t want to be the reason they change their lives.”

Becca looks over at the flowers before returning her focus to me. “Shouldn’t that be their decision?”

I crumble my muffin into smaller pieces, realizing that I’ve made it inedible.

“It was noble of you to think about their needs over yours, but you don’t really know what’s in their hearts,” Caz says. “They told you what they wanted. It looks like they’re trying to show you, too.” She turns and looks pointedly at the roses.

“What about Jay?” I say. “He and I tried to make things work before, and that was a disaster.”

“How old were you?” Caz asks.

“Twenty-one, twenty-two.”

“I’m barely five years older than that, and I’m already a different person than I was back then,” she says. “Don’t you think you’ve changed a lot?”

I nod slowly. “Jay has, too.”

“Christine, if you liked being with them, I think you should take a chance. Things could work out better than you’d ever expect,” Caz says. She’s speaking from her own experience, but she’s still in the early days of her relationship, so of course, she thinks everything is puppies and rainbows.

When I notice Becca nodding in agreement, I turn to her. “Why are you supporting this? You never want to be with a man longer than one night.”

She shrugs as her cheeks redden. “I’m a romantic at heart. Blame the books I read.”

“Someday you’ll find your Prince Charming,” Caz teases.

“How about my Christian Grey?” Becca says, waggling an eyebrow.

43

Why I’m crying

My friends leave me with a lot to think about, but I didn’t talk to them about the thing that’s bothering me most.

When I told the men I didn’t want to be with them, I didn’t even know at that point how bad my lupus could get. I was essentially helpless these past couple of days. If it weren’t for Sheila, I’m not sure how I would have coped.

When you’re young, you take someone for better or worse, not knowing what life will bring. Now that I know what life has brought me, why would I ask someone to take me at my worst?

Regardless of my conflicted feelings, I need to acknowledge the flowers, so I send a group text:

Me: Thank you for the roses. They’re beautiful.

“I miss you too” echoes in my head, but I won’t let myself type it.

Jay: Glad you like them. How are you?

That’s a more complicated question than it normally would be. After a moment of thought, I tell him that I’m fine, reasoning that it’s not a lie because I’m feeling much better than I had been.

Me: Where are you working this week?

Jay: I’m still in Boston, but on my way to the airport, headed to New York for a couple of days.

Me: Have a good trip.

Jay: Let’s talk again soon, Tina.

About three hours later, my phone chimes again.

Corbin: Just saw your text. We were rafting today.

Rafting? I’m watching TV on my couch, wearing fuzzy pajamas, with Roscoe gently snoring beside me.

Me: Where are you?

Corbin: On the Chattooga River in Georgia. We’re back at our rooms now though.

Jonathan: Hi! Glad you like the flowers.

Brendan: Hi, Christine. Are you doing okay?

Me: I’m okay. I just wanted to thank you all for the beautiful flowers. They’re really stunning.

Jay rejoins the conversation, presumably now from New York: Not nearly as gorgeous as you, he types.

I don’t know how to respond. I want to tell them they shouldn’t have sent flowers, but I don’t want to be rude. I want to tell them we probably shouldn’t communicate — because it hurts — but I like knowing where they are and how they’re doing. I’d like to ask a lot of questions about their respective trips, but I’m just not sure it’s a good idea.

Corbin: Tell Roscoe we said hi.

Me: He’s asleep.

Jay: I’ll bet he misses us.

He’s not the only one, I think.

The next day, chocolates are delivered. A beautifully wrapped box of the fanciest truffles I’ve ever seen, each one an individual work of art. They taste as good as they look, too.

After that, it’s a box for Roscoe and Bea, with a big chew toy for him and a selection of treats for her. You’d think that Roscoe knew who sent it, because the toy becomes his favorite, and he’s so cute running around with it that I have to send a video to them to show them how much he likes it.

The following day, brownies are brought over by courier from the bakery on Four Points.

I’m still working on the truffles, I text the group.

Jonathan: A person can never have too much chocolate.

Me: Why are you sending me things?

Brendan: Just to say we’re thinking of you. How are you?

Me: You don’t need to send gifts.

Corbin: We’re sending things because we want to.

I go back to work that evening for a shortened shift. My energy levels are mostly back to normal. Some joint pain persists, but it’s dulled enough with pain relievers to be nearly unnoticeable.

My test results weren’t as bad as feared. I’ll be on the new medication for a while, but depending on how my next test goes, I may be able to taper off of it. The doctor is hopeful.

At Rusty’s, Tom seems glad to see me return, and the customers are all now talking about my medical issues instead of who I kissed on the dance floor. Nothing like a health scare to redirect the gossip.

On Saturday, more flowers are delivered. This time it’s a big arrangement all in pink, from pale roses and candy-pink lilies, to nearly-magenta gerbera daisies, along with other flowers that I don’t know the names of.

The card reads:

These reminded us of your sexy hair.

– J, B, C, J

I’m already determined that I’m going to firmly tell them to stop, when another box arrives on the same day. It’s large and flat, and I’m surprised when I find a picture frame inside.

Then I’m punched in the gut.

The frame holds a collage of images, all of which include me, and most of which I wasn’t even aware Jay had captured. There’s a picture of me on the beach with Brendan, Corbin, and Roscoe; there’s another of Jonathan and me on the deck of the yacht, and there’s a selfie Jay took with himself in the foreground in a chair at the beach house, and me reclining on the couch in the background.

The largest image is the one Jay took at the farmer’s market with all five of us together — six, counting Roscoe, who comes over now, sniffing my face, trying to figure out why I’m crying.

I look so happy in all of the pictures. We all do.

As if the photos weren’t bad enough, Jay also included a handwritten letter.

44

Empty

Dear Tina,

I’m not sure you realize how much our time together meant to me.

I’ve felt empty ever since you left, and Brendan, Corbin, and Jon all feel the same way.

You asked how I was able to share you with them, and it’s because the four of you are my favorite people in the world. Seeing all of you happy together makes me happy. I want us to be together forever.

Yes, I’m a dreamer, but I don’t see anything wrong with having dreams, because I know they can come true.

We’re not asking you to change your life, Tina. We want to change ours, because we want you to be the biggest part of it.

Love always,

Jay

Big, fat tears are falling on the paper. I can barely read the last sentence because of them.

It’s a really beautiful note, but it hurts so much, because Jay and the Hayes men don’t know what they’d be getting into.

I let the tears flow for a couple of minutes, and then, after blowing my nose twice, I pick up my phone and call Jay without taking the time to second guess it.

He answers immediately. “Did you get the pictures?”

“Hi, Jay. I did. They’re really wonderful. Thank you.”

“And my note?” he asks.

“We need to talk.”

There’s silence on his end of the call. I’ve said the words no one ever likes to hear.

“Jay, the day after I came home, I got really sick. My lupus affected me in a way it never has before, and I could barely function.”

“Tina, why didn’t you call us?”

“My neighbor took care of me, so I was okay, but I was so exhausted I could barely move, and my body ached like it never has before.”

“How are you now?” he asks.

“I’m better. I’m essentially back to normal, and I’m on new meds.”

“You should have called, Tina. We could have extended our stay or come right back. We could have taken care of you.” He sounds anguished, and I feel bad for even telling him about it, but I’ve got to get through this.

“No, that’s not my point, Jay. My point is that you should stop sending me things, because I can’t be with you. In order to stay healthy, I need to live life at a completely different speed than you. If I try to keep up with you, I’d essentially be an invalid, and I don’t want that for you, or me, or any of us. I don’t want your sympathy and I don’t want you to feel like you have to take care of me.”

“It’s not about keeping up with us —”

“I don’t want to argue about it, Jay, and I don’t really want to talk about it anymore either. I just needed you to know everything that was going on, so you’ll know why I can’t be with you.” My voice breaks at the end, immediately followed by such a red-hot flare of anger at my lupus that my jaw hurts from clenching it.

He’s quiet for a long moment before finally saying, “Is it okay if I share this conversation with the others?”

“That’s fine.” I was actually hoping that he would, because I don’t want to have to talk about it again.

I feel hollowed out that night at work. Empty.

It’s impossible to believe that it was only two weeks ago that I first met the Hayes brothers. And a day and a half later that I was reunited with Jay.

In these past two weeks, I’ve experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows, and now I’m just … empty.

I thought I was happy enough before, but now it feels like there’s so much missing in my life.

All around me, customers are talking. Music is playing. Life is going on like usual, but it’s not the same. And it’s not enough.

The next day, no deliveries arrive.

And I should be glad, because that’s what I wanted.

There are no texts either. I thought the Hayes brothers might reach out after Jay talked to them, but maybe I should be grateful they haven’t. It would either lead to another difficult conversation, or I’d feel their pity through the phone.

I go through the motions of my day, eating, drinking, taking Roscoe for a walk — thankful that I have the energy to do these things, but not able to muster much more in the way of positive emotions.

At work, Sheila’s one of my first customers, and I’m pretty proud of my acting abilities because we’ve been talking off and on for about twenty minutes and she hasn’t asked me if anything is wrong. I must be doing a good job of hiding my sorrow.

Tom’s on duty, too, even though it’s a Sunday night and not very busy. Valerie hasn’t had me working alone since I was sick, afraid I’d get too worn out handling a rush. I’ll have to reassure her that I’m back to normal.

My new, empty normal.

I’m mixing a dirty screw and talking to Sheila about a new bench she bought for her back patio when, out of habit, my eyes drift to the front door as I see it open. I blink a few times, certain that my signals are getting mixed and that I’m only seeing what I want to see.

Four ruggedly handsome men file in, their faces almost as familiar as my own, but infinitely more exciting than a glance in a mirror. They don’t look my way, but instead head straight to Tom’s side of the bar where they sit down at the counter.

“Christine. Christine!” It’s Sheila who’s calling me. “You’re spilling juice all over the counter.”

Sure enough, I am. I set down the glass and the juice, but I can’t be bothered to clean anything up right now. I can’t do anything but stare.

45

Limitless

Tom goes over to his new customers and leans in to hear what they have to say.

I watch Tom nod, turn, and walk toward me. My focus alternates between the burly bartender and the four men who are now looking back at me.

“Those guys asked me to send you down,” Tom says with a faint hint of a smirk. “They say you look like you can mix a better drink than me.”

The four men are smiling at me now. There’s a hint of uncertainty in Jay’s expression, but the Hayes brothers are all looking at me with the easy self-assurance that attracted me to them the first night we met.

“Can you cover for me?” I ask Tom.

He nods, but I wasn’t waiting for his answer before moving past him.

“What are you doing here?” I ask the four of them.

“We’re in town on business,” Brendan says, without a hint of sincerity.

“And Jay’s here on a photo assignment,” Jonathan says. “You said if we were ever on the island, we should look you up.”

“What an incredible coincidence,” I say, torn between being irritated that they’ve shown up, and so very happy to see their faces. “Tell me why you’re really here.”

“We’re here because we miss you,” Corbin says.

“We’re here because we needed to see you,” Jonathan says.

“We’re here because we don’t want to live without you,” Jay says.

Brendan reaches for my hand. “We’re here — instead of calling or texting — because we wanted you to be able to see our faces, so that you can know how sincere we are when we tell you that we want to be with you.”

He squeezes my fingers gently and strokes his thumb over the back of my hand as he continues. “We’re not asking you to change your life to fit in with ours. We want to change our lives because, after meeting you, we’ve realized our lives aren’t nearly as good without you in them.”

Tears well up then, because that’s exactly how I feel about them.

“Although we haven’t known you long, we like everything about you,” Corbin says. “We want to have the opportunity to get to know you even better.”

“We know you have health challenges, but everybody is dealing with some kind of issue,” Jonathan says. “Friends, family, partners — we all take care of each other.”

“I don’t want you to feel like you need to take care of me,” I say, pulling back, though Brendan doesn’t let go of my hand.

“That’s not why we’re here,” Jay says, his tone firm. “We’re here because we need you.”

“But if you change your life to fit with mine, you’ll come to resent me. You won’t be happy.”

“You don’t know that,” Corbin says.

Brendan pulls me just a little closer and makes me look at him. “Everyone takes a chance when they start a new relationship, but as for our lifestyle, we’d already been talking about making changes before we met you.

“Our business plans include hiring guides so that we can take on more of a sales and planning role, rather than traveling constantly. We’ll still travel, but probably not all three of us together, and not as frequently,” he says.

“We love Four Points, too,” Jonathan says, “though honestly, we’d want to live wherever you are.”

“What do you say, Christine?” Jay asks, taking my other hand. “Will you give me another chance, and will you give us all a chance to be together?”

I look back at my ex-husband, so familiar and so new, and then at each of his three best friends, so beautiful and caring, and for the first time, I think that fate might really be real, because it truly feels like we were all meant to be together.

If I’m being honest with myself, I’d have to admit that I’m falling in love with the Hayes brothers, and that the place Jay has always had in my heart is expanding once again.

“I will. I say yes,” I tell them, nodding, smiling, letting the tears fall.

As Brendan and Jay lean in to kiss me, Jonathan and Corbin come around the bar. Jonathan scoops me up in his arms, spins me once, and kisses me before Corbin takes me from him, kissing me passionately as he carries me to the corner of the counter where Brendan and Jay meet us.

The four of them gather around me, hugging me and kissing me, and they don’t stop until the sound of people cheering becomes so loud that we can’t ignore it.

Everyone in the bar is watching us. Some people are whistling, a few are clapping, and everyone seems to be sharing in our joy.

Surrounded by these four wonderful men, with the promise of exploring a life with them, the happiness I feel starts to multiply, until it feels absolutely limitless.

Epilogue

FOUR MONTHS LATER

“Christine, this pasta salad is delicious,” Sheila says, scooping another helping onto her plate. “Can I get the recipe?”

“Sure, I’ll ask Jay.”

“Jay made it?” Becca sounds skeptical.

“I haven’t told you what a good cook he is?” I ask, cutting a piece of grilled chicken. “Jay made all of this last night and this morning before he and Corbin left to go fishing.”

“Wow,” Becca says, looking at our summer lunch with new eyes.

“And to think you tried to send the man away.” Sheila shakes her head, teasing me.

“I know. What was I thinking?” I say, laughing.

“Can I give Rosie a piece of chicken?” Caz asks. Roscoe’s new best friend — aside from Trixie, who’s also here visiting — is pawing at Caz’s leg.

“No, please don’t feed her at the table. I don’t want to encourage her begging.”

We adopted Rosie, a beagle mix, a couple of weeks ago and we’re still working on breaking a few of her bad habits. She also chews on things she shouldn’t, which may be why her previous owners had surrendered her to the shelter.

Even though Roscoe loves — and love is an understatement — the four men he now lives with, he seemed to miss seeing Trixie as often as he used to, so we found a friend for him. Rosie has a lot more energy than Roscoe, but she doesn’t bother him when he’s napping, so they get along fine.

It’s been almost two months since Roscoe and I moved in with Jay and the Hayes brothers. The men were able to buy the exact house they’d had as a beach rental. I can’t imagine what they must have paid, because I’m sure the property was in high demand for summer bookings.

I was thrilled with their choice, since the house already held a lot of happy memories, but I didn’t move in with them right away. They actually took me out on several traditional dates first, if you can call a date with four men traditional. We had dinners out, saw movies, and played a lot of miniature golf.

I knew I wanted to be with them, but I wanted us all to get to know each other better — and in the case of Jay and I, to learn more about how we’d each changed and grown.

My patio home is for sale now, and the only downside to moving in with the men is that I miss living next door to Sheila, which is why I invited her, Caz, and Becca to have lunch with me today.

We’re on the back deck under the oversized canopy Brendan had installed to shield me from the sun. Bea is sitting on the window ledge watching us. She wasn’t thrilled about our move at first, but once she saw how many windows the house had, she was a happy kitty again. Like always, she’s still at the foot of my bed when I wake up, even though I’m in different beds on different nights.

When it’s time for sleeping, I take turns in each of the men’s beds. We’ve talked about having an oversized bed custom made for all of us, but we’ll see. It’s hard to actually cuddle with more than one or two of them at a time, so I like the current arrangement.

“How did your doctor appointment go this week?” Sheila asks.

“Really well,” I say, passing the basket of muffins to Becca. “My tests were all in a good range. I don’t have to see her again for six months.”

“That’s great to hear,” Sheila says, nodding her approval.

“It’s funny, I was worried about having lupus and living with the men, but I think they’ve actually improved my health. Jonathan got me started doing yoga and meditation on the beach with him, and Jay cooks a lot of healthy food for us. I definitely eat better than I used to.”

“It sounds like you’re living at a spa,” Caz says.

I laugh and hope that the women don’t see me blush, because all I can think about are those four-man massages I receive on a regular basis.

“I’ll bet it’s all the sex,” Becca says bluntly. “That’s why you’re so damn healthy now. All the great sex.”

She’s not wrong.

A couple of hours after my friends leave, Brendan and Jonathan get home. They’ve been away all week, hiking in Yellowstone. As planned, they’ve hired employees who’ve been taking over a lot of their guide duties, but they still travel a couple of times a month, especially when longtime clients request them.

The three Hayes brothers very rarely all travel together now, and when they do, they make sure Jay’s in town with me. When I noticed this, I told them it wasn’t necessary — I don’t need a babysitter — but it is nice having at least one man home to snuggle with every night.

As for Jay, he keeps busy with his business, but he’s been doing a lot of photography in the local area, along with some day trips. Sometimes, I go with him, being sure to bring my hat and sunscreen.

When Jonathan sees me, he scoops me up his arms and kisses me as if he’s been away for a month instead of a week. Still kissing me, he carries me into the living room and sits in a big chair, me in his lap.

“How was your trip?” I ask when he gives my lips a break.

“Good, but I missed you. How have things been here?”

“Really good, and even better now.” As I’m grinning at him, Brendan comes over, leans down, and kisses me.

“How was your week?” he asks.

“It was good, and you both know that since you texted me every day,” I tease.

“That’s not the same as being here with you in person,” Jonathan says, his hands massaging my upper back in a way that makes me melt.

“It’s always nice being reunited with you after a trip, though,” I say, remembering the extra indoor fun we had last time they got back from one of their adventures.

Jay and Corbin arrive home then, smiling broadly when they see me and the other men.

“Oh, good, you’re still here, Christine.” Jay glances at his watch. “Don’t you need to get ready for work, though?”

Jonathan loosens his hold on me, preparing to let me get up.

“I’m not going in to work tonight.”

Brendan sounds worried. “Why not? Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m feeling fine,” I say, sliding off of Jonathan’s lap. “I wanted to stay home for a special cleaning project tonight.”

“Cleaning project?” Corbin says, looking confused, just like the rest of them. We haven’t been in this house very long, and a cleaning service comes once a week, so I can understand why they’re puzzled.

“Yes. Come with me, I’ll show you. Oh, and bring a trash bag.”

After a quick detour into the kitchen where Jonathan grabs a bag, I lead the men into the bedroom. “You all know I went to the rheumatologist this week,” I say.

“Yes,” Jay says, drawing the word out in a concerned tone.

“Well, I also managed to get in to see the perinatologist.” I open the nightstand drawer and pull out a box. “And after a consultation with him, we are cleared to throw all of these away.” I wave the pack of condoms in front of them before offering it to Jonathan to put in the trash.

Now my men are looking a bit stunned, and much more excited.

“It may not be easy, and it may not happen at all, but we’re cleared to try to have a baby!” I tell them.

“It’s okay with the lupus?” Jay asks.

“Actually, the doctor was more concerned about my age than the lupus, and if I get pregnant, I’ll need to continue to work with the high-risk specialist, but he said I was healthy and there was no reason not to give it a try. He did warn that it could be difficult to get pregnant, though.”

“We are willing to try as much as and often as needed,” Corbin says.

“We’ll set up a schedule and work at it around the clock,” Jonathan adds.

“I knew you’d be willing to give it your all,” I say, laughing.

Jay is the first to pull me into an embrace. “This is wonderful news, Christine. You’ll be such a good mother.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I say. “I want to be realistic about this. Pregnancy over forty might not happen.”

“I have a good feeling about it,” Jay says. “It was meant to be.”

As I knew they would, my men suggest we get started on the baby-making right away.

“This is exciting,” Brendan says, walking me backward until the backs of my legs hit the bed.

“What is? The idea of having a baby, or having sex without a condom?”

He grins as he tips me back and lies over me on the mattress. “All of it.” His lips briefly taste mine before he pulls back. “Everything with you is so much better than I even thought it would be. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.”

It’s been a while now since we started using the L word. I was actually the first one to say it to all of them, but they responded enthusiastically, as if they’d been holding back on declaring their deeper feelings. Since then, they tell me they love me often, and even more importantly, they show me through all of their actions.

Brendan slides his hand along the side of my body, over my hip and my thigh and then up my center, cupping my breast through my clothing. “I missed you so much while I was away,” he says. “It was a good thing I had my own tent, because at night I’d dream about you, and then I’d wake up desperate. I had to find relief before I could get on with the day.”

The heavy weight of his erection presses into my leg as my pussy throbs at the thought of Brendan in a tent, deep in the woods, pumping his hard cock in his fist. “Next time, send pictures.”

He grins. “Maybe I will, but for now, I’ll just have to show you.”

He unfastens his pants, revealing the fact that he’s rock hard and ready to go. I slide my hand over the velvety length of him, and circle my thumb around the rim of his cock’s head. “Show me what you were desperate for,” I whisper.

Conveniently, I’m wearing a little dress. It’s not my usual style, but it has its advantages. Brendan pushes up the bottom, finding that I’m not wearing panties. “Oh, Christine,” he groans.

In one smooth motion, he feeds his cock into my ready pussy, and both of us moan at the same time. Hot, bare, hard against soft, no barriers to our pleasure. The condoms never bothered me, but this is something else entirely.

“Oh, Christine.” His words are a sigh now, filled with awe and wonder.

He begins to move in me, slowly like it’s a brand new experience, which in a way, it is. Gradually, he picks up the pace as he reaches between us to find my clit. “I may not last long this time,” he says.

“That’s okay.”

Ever the caring partner, Brendan stills inside me to delay his own release, while he works to move me toward mine. His thumb circles my clit as he bends down to bite at my nipple through the fabric. He nudges my dress and bra aside, baring my breast so that he can suck on me as he starts to press on my clit.

Knowing I’m close, he begins to move in me again, bringing the weight of his body down on me, creating a beautiful friction as he pumps into me, harder, deeper, faster.

“Oh god, I’m coming.” Just as I say it, I feel him start too. The two of us move together, the waves of my orgasm milking his cock as he releases inside me. He fills me and I take it all, grateful and hopeful.

Jonathan takes me next, some of his brother’s seed dripping out of me as he lines up his cock at my entrance.

“I’ve always fantasized about taking you bare,” he says.

“I’ve been looking forward to it, too.”

This gorgeous man, who I’m lucky enough to call mine, starts to press inside me, his face showing everything he’s feeling as his cock sinks into my pussy. “Oh my god, you are so tight and wet.”

“And you’re so hard and thick.”

“Oh god, Christine.” His eyes are squeezed shut as he savors what he’s feeling.

“Don’t worry about waiting for me, Jon. Just fuck me hard.”

And he does. He moves onto his knees and pulls my legs up onto his shoulders, anchoring me to him as he starts to pound into me, the bed shaking beneath us as he gives it to me just like I want it.

Corbin comes to lie beside me, kissing me and twisting one of my nipples between his fingers as his younger brother fucks me. When I start to whimper in pleasure, it triggers Jonathan. He goes still, then his cock jerks and swells, and he comes, shooting jets of cum deep into my womb, repeating my name like a chant as he releases again and again.

When he’s finished, Corbin, who’s already naked and ready, rolls onto me. “Ready for me to put a baby inside you?”

I nod. “Are you ready?”

“Hell yeah!” he says, grinning.

Jay was the first one to bring up the idea of having a baby, but the Hayes brothers were immediately on board, as long as it wouldn’t affect my health. They all said they’d be open to adoption if I’m not able to have a baby, but if sperm volume provides any advantage, we are off to a great start.

Corbin slides an arm around my hips, pulling me closer and creating a nice angle as his cock pushes inside. Like the others, he moans as soon as he feels the new sensations of bare contact. “I’m never leaving,” he says. “I’m going to stay here inside you forever.”

“I don’t think the others would like that,” I say, smiling.

“Hmm, that’s too bad,” Corbin says, dipping in and out of me, trying different angles, his cock dragging deliciously against my inner walls each time he pulls out.

He curls over me, his mouth finding my nipples, alternating between them, sucking, licking, biting, making it hard for me to catch my breath as pleasure builds inside me.

“Come for me, beautiful,” he says. “I want to feel your pussy throb on my cock.” He grinds down onto me with each thrust, using his body to press against my clit as he fucks me.

“Come for me, love,” he says, and then I do, fireworks exploding behind my eyelids as wave after wave of ecstasy washes over me. “Fuck yeah, just like that,” Corbin says, his voice low and sexy, his hands holding me tightly to him as I come apart.

When I’m nearly at the end, aftershocks starting to recede, he goes still inside me and then his cock pulses with his own release.

He grunts as he comes, light sweat on his forehead as his handsome face contorts in rapture. His body collapses onto mine when he finishes, and he lies there for a moment, before lifting his head to say, “Swim, little guys, swim,” making me burst out in laughter.

Finally, it’s Jay’s turn. Lying beside me, takes me in his arms and kisses me. “Have enough energy left for me?” he asks, his eyes smiling.

“Always, and especially today,” I say. “Want to put a baby in me?”

“What if you get pregnant with quadruplets?”

My eyes go wide at the thought. “Actually, the doctor did warn me that twins are more common in older women.”

Now it’s Jay’s turn to look concerned, but his expression quickly shifts. “That would be fine, actually. Plenty of hands here to take care of the babies.”

My ex-husband, now my forever love, nudges my legs apart and joins our bodies together, my pussy stretching around his thick cock as he pushes inside.

“I’m grateful every day that I found you again, Tina.”

I nod as tears prickle at my eyes. “Me too.”

At first, it’s pure emotion that makes me feel like I could cry, but soon it’s all sensation, as Jay drives inside me, deep and steady, finding a spot that has me calling out his name. I come quickly, and as I’m recovering, another body presses against my back.

“Once wasn’t enough,” Brendan says. His finger is slick as it circles my back entry in preparation. I stiffen momentarily, and then remind myself how good this has felt the last couple of times we’ve tried it.

After several minutes of stretching me and making sure I’m good and slippery, Brendan starts to press inside my rear channel as Jay continues to fuck my pussy. I tell myself to breathe, and use that breath to relax every part of me. Eventually, Brendan’s cock slips in fully, and then the two men take me in a coordinated rhythm, one retreating as the other pushes in.

Slowing their pace after a couple of minutes, they change it up, both of them pressing into me at the same time, making me feel full and utterly complete.

My only regret is that I can’t somehow take all four men at the same time; but who knows, maybe we’ll figure that out somehow, the more we experiment and play.

“I’m going to come inside you, Tina,” Jay says. It’s always sexy to hear it, but I know his body so well that the words are unnecessary.

Brendan takes the cue, though, and both men start to come as though synchronized. Between them, I take everything they have to give, full beyond my wildest dreams, surrounded by their love.

Five months later

Trying to get pregnant at forty is a completely different experience than accidentally getting pregnant at eighteen. I learn more than I ever wanted to know about menstrual cycles and fertility, and after having no success for several months, I started charting my temperature each morning, sticking a thermometer into my vagina before I get out of bed, trying to find the perfect time for optimum luck.

Since we have sex every day — multiple times a day — you wouldn’t think it would be this difficult.

Today, after taking my temperature, I get up and unwrap a stick from one of the many boxes under the bathroom sink. I have a good feeling this morning, but I’ve had the same feeling before, only to have my period come a few hours later.

At first, peeing on a stick felt strange, but now it’s as familiar as washing my face or getting dressed. Today, I set the activated test on the counter and say a little prayer. I used to sit and stare at the test sticks, waiting for the results, but now I know better.

Instead, I get in the shower, and take my time, enjoying the fragrant scent of the soap and humming a happy tune as I wash up. I almost forget about the test for a couple of minutes, but as soon as I open the curtain, I reach for it.

Then I wipe the towel over my eyes and look again.

Maybe a small part of me had started to give up hope. The doctor had warned me that it might not happen, but here it is, two bold, pink lines as evidence that there is still hope — that, after all these years, I’m going to have a second chance to be a mom.

I cry for a good, long minute — tears of joy, shock, worry, and gratitude. Then, I dry my eyes and go out to find my men and share the big news.

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