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She can’t help but hope he’s interested in more than one night, but when she finds out her gorgeous one night stand is actually billionaire media mogul Nate Wilder, her hopes die a fast death. There’s no way her Christmas wish will come true. Or is there?
The four of us tripped onto the train in turkey-induced stupors. We managed to snag the seats at the end of the aisle that faced each other, letting us keep our little huddle intact.
I dropped into one of the vinyl-covered seats with a sigh. That last slice of chocolate cream pie pretty much sucked my will to move. Heading out into the chilly November evening to catch a train home stretched me to my limits.
“Oh my God, I’ve never been so happy to be on New Jersey transit in my life.” Paige sank into the seat next to mine.
“Holy crap,” said Jade as she fell into the spot across from me, “me, too. My parents had Thanksgiving catered for forty and we only had twenty-five people. I’ve never seen that much food in my life.”
Katelyn slid into the seat next to Jade. “I just wish all the food kept my family from talking so much. Apparently interrogating me is right up there with the parade and football when it comes to favorite Thanksgiving Day activities.”
“You, too?” Paige asked. “I swear my parents and aunts and uncles planned an ambush before Emma and I got there.”
I nodded. I’d spent most holidays with Paige and her family since my parents were killed in a car crash when I was in tenth grade. I guess they considered me part of the family now because nobody hesitated to ask me about jobs and possible matrimonial prospects. Since I had zero romantic interests at the moment, and I’d rather eat Paige’s mom’s green bean and okra casserole than explain what I did for a living to Paige’s geriatric aunts, keeping my mouth stuffed seemed like the best defense.
“I don’t get it,” Jade said. “I feel like we lived our whole lives for this moment. We graduated from college. We’re out there in the real world. Isn’t this supposed to be the most exciting time in our lives? Why would we be in any hurry to find husbands and settle down?”
I didn’t know if we were totally out in the real world yet, considering we still lived rent free in the apartment Jade’s parents bought when the four of us decided to go to colleges in Manhattan. But I got her point.
“Let’s see, I spent last Saturday night pulling an all-nighter to catch up on studying and the Saturday before that cleaning up puke at the hospital. What could be more glamorous and exciting than that?” Paige shifted and put her long legs up, tucking her feet into the seat next to Katelyn.
“At least you have the chance to mingle with lots of hot doctors,” Jade said.
Paige rolled her eyes. “First of all, if my class is anything to go by, hot is definitely not a prerequisite to get into medical school. And even if there are a few hot, single doctors, most of them aren’t interested in lowly volunteer med students covered in vomit.”
“Ugh, please stop talking about vomit.” Katelyn rubbed her stomach. “I think medical school sounds exciting compared to how I spend my days. I thought being a social worker meant I’d spend all day helping kids. Instead I spend most of the time doing paperwork, trying to deal with a bunch of bureaucratic bullshit, and making latte runs for my boss.”
Jade sighed and slumped further into her seat. “At least you guys have jobs in your fields. My art degree isn’t exactly opening doors for me all over the city. Juggling temp work and job hunting sucks.”
I twisted one of my curls around a finger. I didn’t know that I would call my current employment my dream job, but I got to write every day and get paid for it. And to be honest, I kind of liked working from home and being able to stay connected to my friends despite all the odd hours they kept.
Jade popped up straight in her seat, her silky, black hair swinging with her movement. “We need to do something to shake things up. If our lives aren’t as exciting as we’d like, we need to do something about it.”
My stomach churned and it had nothing to do with the turkey, stuffing, or two slices of pie. Jade’s tone told me she already had an idea to shake things up. And for some reason her schemes always felt like getting on a roller coaster without a seatbelt. I wrapped my arms around my middle and braced myself.
“What do you have in mind?” Paige asked.
Jade’s gaze hit each of us and then she grinned. “I’m thinking we should make a bet.”
“A bet?” Katelyn glanced my way and her single look said it all. Jade’s wild hairs tended to scare the crap out of her, too.
“Yup,” Jade said. “I say we make a bet to see who can have the wildest adventure.”
Paige leaned forward. Shit, I recognized that look on her face. She was already on board.
“What kind of adventure?” Paige asked.
“It can be anything we want. But it has to push each of us out of our comfort zone.” Jade’s eyes rested on me briefly when she made that last comment. “And we have to do it sometime in the next six weeks. Whoever has the adventure of a lifetime by New Year’s Day wins.”
“But who’s going to decide which adventure is the wildest?” Paige asked.
Nobody spoke for a moment and I closed my eyes. Maybe we’d all lapse into Thanksgiving comas and forget this idea.
My eyes popped open. Since when did Katelyn encourage Jade’s crazy schemes? One look showed me she was serious. A determined glint lit her brown eyes.
Huh. What the heck was that all about?
I peered over at Paige to find a similar look on her face. That wasn’t so surprising. She’d been known to come up with a few crazy ideas herself over the years.
“Good idea. On New Year’s Day we all vote anonymously on who had the best adventure. The only rule is we can’t vote for ourselves,” Paige said.
Jade nodded, a mischievous grin lighting her delicate features. “Perfect.”
“What does the winner get?” Katelyn asked.
“You mean besides bragging rights?” Paige ran a finger over her lower lip. “How about cash? If we all throw two hundred and fifty dollars in the pot, that’ll be a thousand for the winner.”
Katelyn bit her lip. I knew money was tight for her. Even with Jade’s parents covering our housing expenses, living in the city didn’t come cheap. And social workers weren’t exactly paid the big bucks.
“How about a favor from each of us?” I blurted out before I thought better of it.
Well, shit. What was wrong with me? I had no desire to be part of this bet.
Jade rubbed her hands together. “This is getting interesting. What kind of favors?”
I looked around at my friends, all three of them eyeballing me eagerly. Great. I held back a groan and pulled in a deep breath. Looked like I was in this. I might as well just keep going. “How about if we leave it open-ended? We’ll each owe the person who wins a favor of their choosing. It’ll be up to the winner to decide what they want.”
“I love it,” Paige said.
“Me, too.” Jade nodded.
“Count me in,” Katelyn said.
All eyes swung back to me.
I sighed. “Fine. I guess I could use a little more adventure in my life. I’m in.”
“Fabulous! It’s a bet.” Jade sank back in her seat. “Finally things are going to get good around here.”
I leaned my head against the cold windowpane, concentrating on the vibrations of the glass on my cheek. I could pretend to go along with the bet, and let my friends have a little excitement if they needed it.
But then the thought of the favors they might extract if I didn’t at least try to win floated through my head.
What had I gotten myself into?
“Come with us, Emma.”
I shook my head as two of my three roommates headed for the apartment door. I couldn’t help my grin. If they wanted adventure, they’d get it in those outfits—hair out to there, short skirts, high heels. They were taking no prisoners.
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’m good here.” I gestured to the table laden with Chinese takeout cartons and then to my comfy pink flannel pajamas. I had zero desire to go out clubbing. Standing next to my gorgeous friends, I’d be next to invisible. “Besides, I promised Paige I’d keep her company.”
Paige strode into the room in yoga pants and an oversized Columbia University sweatshirt. She threw herself onto the sofa across from my chair, snatching up a carton of Kung Pao chicken and a pair of chopsticks as she went. “Don’t use me as an excuse. I’ve gotten about four hours sleep in the last two days. I’m scarfing down some food and then I plan on being unconscious for the next eight hours at least.”
Dang. Foiled. I stuck my tongue out at her and she blinked slowly and then stared back at me, all wide-eyed innocence. I narrowed my eyes. Innocent, my ass.
“We’ll wait if you want to get changed,” Katelyn said, sweet as always.
“Seriously guys, I’m very happy to stay in tonight. Don’t worry about me. I’ll catch you next time.”
Paige scrunched her face, lips pursed, as she dove into her Chinese food while our roommates tromped out the door.
“I saw that look. What was that for?” I asked.
She finished chewing before answering. “If I had a dollar for every time you said you’d go out with us next time, I’d be a billionaire by now.”
“That’s not true. I go out.”
“Sure. You go out to dinner, to the movies, shopping. But a night out where you might actually meet someone or have a little fun? You always find some excuse not to go.”
I shrugged, but cringed inside. I hated these conversations. I’d been best friends with Paige, Katelyn and Jade since forever. They loved me and wanted me to hang out when they went dancing or to a party. But they couldn’t see that I didn’t enjoy it the way they did. While they drank and flirted and danced with hot men, I spent most of the time on the fringes of things, holding up a wall or saving seats at a bar table.
“Bars and clubs aren’t my scene.”
Ugh. How many times had those words left my mouth? I was tired of hearing myself. But, seriously, how could I ever compete with my stunning roommates?
Even though I left the words unsaid, Paige knew me too well. She pointed a chopstick at me. “I don’t get you. Any guy would be thrilled to have you beside him. I don’t understand why you think someone would choose any of us over you.”
She pointed her chopstick at the door where our friends had disappeared a few minutes ago. “The only difference between you and them is they believe what they see in the mirror. You look and see something different from what’s there.”
Of course she believed that. She was biased. But this wasn’t an argument I could win, so I shrugged and distracted myself by peeking in the cartons of food, finally settling on some shrimp and broccoli. That couldn’t be too unhealthy, could it? After the caramel latte with whipped cream I drank after lunch, I couldn’t afford the extra calories. And neither could my ass.
I grabbed a fork and dug in. I waited, but Paige didn’t start her usual ragging on me for not using chopsticks. I kept meaning to learn to use them. I preferred my meals in my mouth rather than on my shirt.
Then a thought occurred to me. I wasn’t daring enough to use chopsticks. How on earth would I work up the nerve to try to win our bet?
“So, any ideas for our bet?” Apparently Paige could add mind reader to her extensive resume. Her eyes danced with amusement. “I figure Brandi Silver, the author of some of the hottest sexploits ever to grace the pages of a magazine or the Internet, should offer some stiff competition when it comes to outrageous ideas.”
“Brandi Silver I’m not,” I said with a snort.
“Well, there’s got to be a little Brandi inside you. You do manage to come up with all those sexy stories.”
I sighed. “I wish. Complete and total fiction. You know I only invented Brandi when my need to buy textbooks overtook my common sense.”
I’d been struggling to make ends meet with my writing while I put myself through college when a thought came to me—sex sells.
What? I didn’t say it was an original thought.
Anyway, I dipped into my deepest, darkest fantasies—not to mention the sex lives of all my friends and my friends’ friends—to start a blog detailing the sexual adventures and opinions of my alter ego, Brandi Silver. No one was more surprised than me when it got picked up and syndicated by several magazines and newspapers. It had allowed me to put my Creative Writing degree to work in ways I never expected. Not to mention, I started making a decent living long before I held my diploma in my hands. I’d done some freelance writing under my real name since graduation, but Brandi still provided the bulk of my income.
“Come on. You’ve admitted some of Brandi’s deeds came straight from your own fantasies.”
Okay, I might have admitted that to my friends while under the influence of one too many margaritas. Tequila worked like truth serum on me.
“Not like I’d ever live any of them out.” The thought of getting naked in a room with lighting above pitch black set my teeth on edge. My alter ego had no such qualms.
“Oh my God!”
I jumped about a foot out of my chair as Paige slammed her takeout carton on the table. She flew off the couch and into the bedroom she and I shared. Doors opened and papers rustled before she ran back into the living room.
“What the heck, Paige?”
She dropped a bulging manila file folder in my lap before sitting cross-legged on the couch again. I looked down and started flipping through. It took about a second and a half to figure out what it was.
I glanced at her, wrinkling my nose. “My articles?”
“Somewhere in there is your idea.” Paige waved a hand toward the file holding clippings of a bunch of my Brandi Silver articles, blog posts and columns.
I flipped through a few pages, noting some titles as I went—“Nice Girls Do Go Down,” “10 Tips to Make Safe Sex Sexy,” “All Tied Up.”
I read a few lines of that last article. One of my favorites. One of Brandi’s many bold exploits. One not taken from stories my friends told or stories my friends’ friends told. That one came from somewhere deep inside me.
It was actually one of Brandi’s tamer tales. In it, a boyfriend of hers used several scarves to tie her wrists and ankles to the bedposts. The sex that took place once he tied her down was fairly vanilla compared to some of her other experiences.
The story ended with Brandi talking about the vulnerability and trust involved in giving herself over to someone else’s total control. Reading bits of the story again, my cheeks got hot. Along with several other parts of my anatomy.
I almost hadn’t submitted this one. Even now, I got itchy under my skin thinking about other people reading it.
In the end I sent it to my editor. Having someone else read my words might leave me squirming with embarrassment. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit the idea of strangers reading those words didn’t give me a little thrill.
And writing about it was as close as I’d get to actually experiencing anything like that. Letting someone strip me naked and leaving every inch of me bare for their inspection while I had no control…not going to happen.
Amy Lamont writes contemporary and New Adult romance about quirky heroines and hunky heroes. Over the years she’s had some jobs she loved (working as a program coordinator for a non-profit animal rescue), some jobs she liked (freelance writing), and some jobs she hated (her experience as a waitress has turned her into the excellent tipper she is today). But nothing gives her greater joy than writing romances that pack an emotional punch and come with a guaranteed happily ever after.
Amy lives in New York with her husband, twin daughters, and two rescue mutts. She loves chatting with readers. To get in touch, visit her at www.amylamont.com.