ANNA JAMES BENNETT
I sigh as I toss the thick legal envelope across the island in Meredith’s gourmet kitchen. The proof of my marriage’s dissolution barely comes to a stop before plummeting over the edge. “It’s final, as of today.”
My best friend, Meredith, squeals. “Yes. This calls for a celebratory drink.”
The word celebratory implies happiness or joy. That isn’t the case for me. My husband of twelve months left me for a nineteen-year-old. A kid. His former student.
He swears nothing happened while she was his pupil.
He claims it’s true love.
Drake’s relationship with Caitlyn is fleeting. She’s an immature teen who wants to play house. The paint won’t dry on the walls of their new apartment before she’s ready to bail.
“I’ve been saving this one for a special occasion.” Ahh. A bottle of Wittmann Westhofener Morstein Riesling. Always rich in body and texture. My favorite.
Gulp. Gulp. The bottle gurgles as Meredith pours far more than three ounces. My glass is three-quarters full when she presses two fingers against the base and glides it across the sleek Carrara marble toward me. I instantly salivate when the essence of honey, peach, mango, and flowers invades my nostrils.
Meredith lifts her glass, cueing me to the toast she’s about to make. “Here’s to the end of an error––your misconception that Drake Langston was a knight in shining armor rather than what he really is—a turd in tinfoil.”
“I know that’s the truth.” I tap my glass against hers before taking the first sip of dry, fruity goodness. Damn, that’s good stuff.
“Capone made sure you got everything you wanted?”
Alec Capone is the most successful divorce attorney in Georgia. He should be with a name like that. “I got more than I wanted, including custody of Little Bastard, since Drake relinquished ownership of him. Caitlyn’s allergic.” I’m epically pissed off about him dumping his cat on me.
“Are you keeping the lil’ guy?”
“I haven’t decided.” Kermit, aka Little Bastard, has no love for me. Doesn’t matter that I’ve been the one who has fed him his every bite, changed his litter box every time, taken him to the vet for every visit, even the time he was deathly ill from eating part of my foam flip-flop.
“You won’t have a problem if you decide to rehome him. He’s beautiful. Plenty of cat lovers would take him just because he’s a Bengal.”
Kermit was Drake’s trophy cat. Pretty to look at and that’s about it. Much like Caitlyn.
I have no emotional connection to Little Bastard. I’ve tried to bond, but he’s resistant. That’s why I’m so surprised by the way I feel when I think of giving him away. He’s resistant to loving me. Just like Drake.
“I got my name back.” That’s what I wanted most. Bennett. My daddy’s name.
The wrinkle in Meredith’s brow serves as a warning. It’s always a prelude to something serious. “I understand those papers feel like a painful ending, but that’s because they’re disguising what today is. A new beginning. Grayson and I think it’s important for you to treat this as a fresh start.”
Meredith disappears into the dining room and returns with a gift bag covered in curly ribbon and filled with tissue paper.
“Your divorce gift. Read the card first.”
I open the envelope and read the message aloud. “Congratulations on your divorce. We hated him.”
“No secret there.” I already knew Meredith and Grayson despised Drake.
I rip into the bag, tossing aqua and lime tissue paper in every direction. I’m worse than a child when it comes to tearing into gifts.
I take out each item and place it on the countertop. Sunscreen. Ray-Bans. The ridiculously expensive bikini I lusted for at that expensive boutique in Buckhead. And condoms.
“Sur . . . prise. Grayson and I are taking you to Jamaica with us next month.”
Umm . . . not just no. “Forget it. Not happening.”
“Oh, it’s happening. We’ve already booked two suites and your airline ticket. First class.”
She’s out of her mind. I’m not going to that place. “Cancel one. Unless you and Grayson plan to use separate suites.”
“Can’t cancel. It’s Wicked Week at the resort so both rooms had to be paid for in full. Nonrefundable.”
This is her way of guilting me into doing what she wants. She thinks I’ll say yes if her money won’t be returned. “You’re so wrong for doing this to me.”
“You need a getaway, and we knew you’d never agree otherwise. Don’t be mad.”
I’m not mad. I’m pissed. I’ve already made plans for the next three months. “I’m taking a second job while school’s out for summer. There’s no way an employer will give me vacation time four weeks after hiring me.”
“Maybe not, unless your bosses are Meredith and Grayson Faulkner. Come to work for us, and we’ll guarantee you the time off. There won’t be a reason in the world you can’t go.”
Right. No reason in the world unless you consider the fact this all-expenses-paid vacation is for a getaway at a hedonism resort. A freaking no-holds-barred sex retreat.
I’m neither a hedonist nor a swinger.
Meredith Faulkner has been my best friend since ninth grade. We’ve been through thick and thin. There’s nothing she and I haven’t shared, apart from one huge exception.
Meredith and Grayson practice hedonism. They chase pleasure in any form it presents. They’re also part of a local community known to many as the lifestyle. They’re swingers. Wife Swappers.
Whatever floats their boat is fine by me. I don’t judge. But hedonism and swinging ain’t my thang. I’m not into casual sex. I prefer intimacy with a man I love, and always within the boundaries of a committed relationship.
Call me old-fashioned but I need more than a physical connection. A quick fuck with a person I’ve just met isn’t my cup of tea. Neither is having sex with someone else while my husband watches. Or the other way around.
“Don’t be worried about the money. Indulge is all-inclusive. You won’t be out a dime.”
I am cash-strapped, but Meredith knows my resistance is unrelated to my financial status. “I don’t practice hedonism, and I’m not a swinger. I have no business going to Indulge.”
“It’s Jamaica, mon! There are plenty of activities that have nothing to do with hedonism or swinging.” She picks up the top of the bikini she just gifted me and holds it up over my shirt. “Think of how great you’ll look on the beach in this.”
I’m not denying I need an escape from this hell I call reality, but I don’t want it to be at Indulge, even if all expenses are paid. “Seeing you and Grayson with other people will be a problem for me.”
“Then we’ll ensure you don’t.”
“What kind of things would there be for me to do?”
“Let me grab my laptop, and I’ll show you.”
The website for Indulge makes it appear to be a classy establishment. But looks can be deceiving. “This isn’t what I was expecting.”
“Hedonism resorts are like anything else. There are different levels. Go to a hundred dollar a night establishment and you’ll get what you pay for. Indulge is five stars all the way so it’s only the best accommodations and amenities for its guests.”
Meredith navigates to the page of offered activities. The list is huge. “You’ve always wanted to try snorkeling and scuba diving.”
“True.” I wanted an island honeymoon where Drake and I could do those things together. He took me to the mountains instead, the last place I wanted to go, because it was cheaper.
“I know you don’t think so, but this is your kind of vacation, Anna James. The pools are luxurious. The beaches are white with the bluest water you’ve ever seen. You’re provided with all the alcohol and food you can hold. Calories don’t count there.”
“Well, that changes everything.”
“The service is magnificent. You can lie on the beach, in this new bikini, and have drinks brought to you by a handsome cabana boy. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?”
I imagine the serenity of being on a Jamaican beach. I envision the sun warming my skin. It lightly glistens with sweat, but I’m not hot because the breeze cools me when it blows against my sun-kissed skin. The rush of the waves rolling in and out is steady. It’s my favorite sound in the world. A perfect recipe for relaxation.
My lovely imagery is interrupted by a notion—some old naked coot standing beside me where I’m sunbathing on a lounger. I look over to see who’s blocking the sun, and his spunk spitter is staring me down. “I don’t want some dude’s frank ’n beans in my face.”
Meredith bursts into laughter. “Despite what you think, the men don’t go around shaking their balls like maracas.”
“I won’t be hounded?” That would piss me off. And completely ruin my good time.
“You’re a beautiful woman. I don’t think it’s possible for you to not be propositioned.”
I’ve spent my life being compared to a life-size version of Barbie. Long blonde hair, blue eyes, but petite. At five four, I don’t have those mile-long, lean legs like the doll.
I’ve never had a problem with men finding me attractive. Except my own husband. I must have aged out for him since he likes ’em young.
“There’s a policy in place and everyone adheres to it. All you have to say is ‘I appreciate your interest, but no thank you.’ They won’t bother you after that. Harassment isn’t allowed. Anyone who doesn’t abide by the rules is asked to leave.”
“But what about the one refusing to take no for an answer?” It never fails. There will be one in the bunch.
“There’s always someone at Indulge who will say yes. They don’t waste their time on uninterested people.” Well, that makes sense.
I hear the garage door lifting. “Sounds like G’s home.”
Meredith beams. Three years of marriage and she still lights up like a candle for him. Yet she’ll have sex with another man. Their marriage is an enigma I don’t think I’ll ever understand.
“Grayson’s comfortable with me going to the resort with y’all?”
“It was his idea. He wants to do something nice for you. Let him.”
G’s a good friend. Loyal. Protective. So much so I thought he was going to kill Drake when he found out what he’d done to me. I adore him for that; it was nice to know I had someone in my corner.
Grayson enters from the garage and is nearly tackled by their golden retriever, desperate for his daily dose of petting from his master. “Hey, Howie. Were you a good boy today?”
“No, he damn sure wasn’t,” Meredith calls outs. “He snuck into the laundry room and stole my favorite panties from the laundry basket. He chewed a big-ass hole in the crotch.”
Grayson chuckles loudly before giving Howie one last scratch behind his ears.
“It’s not funny. It’s the third pair this week.”
My best friend’s husband comes to her and kisses the side of her face. It’s so loving. Normal. Someone looking in from the outside couldn’t possibly imagine the things they do behind closed doors. “Howie knows I like you in crotchless panties.”
Meredith gasps and slaps his arm. “Stop. Don’t say things like that in front of Anna James.”
Grayson grins in my direction. He’s so handsome. Dark hair graying at the temples. Bright blue eyes. I wouldn’t dare share him with another woman if I were Meredith. “My dear wife would totally say something like that in front of you.”
He’s almost right. “No. She would say much worse.”
Meredith winks at me. “I absolutely would but only because I can. I’m her best friend.”
Grayson gestures to the gift bag on the counter. “Is AJ still calling you a friend after opening our gift?”
I pick up the card. “I loved this. And the bikini.”
Grayson smirks. “What about our offer?”
I don’t know what to say. To decline feels like a shitty, ungrateful thing. To accept feels wrong. Wicked.
“Don’t think about what kind of resort it is or what goes on there. It’s the change of scenery and escape from life that you need. Think of it as a palate cleansing.”
All valid points.
A palate cleansing. I like that idea. A lot. “Okay. I’m in.”
Meredith squeals and darts to where I’m sitting. She throws her arms around me and squeezes tightly. “You’re going to have the time of your life. This is going to be a getaway you’ll never forget. I guarantee it.”
I’m certain it will be an experience I’ll never forget. Even when I try.
Now, to find someone to keep Little Bastard.