It’s November! You know what that means…
IT’S TIME FOR ANOTHER SOPHIE SCAIFE BOOK!
There is no pre-order, which I know drives people batty, but way too many authors I know have had issues with KDP’s pre-order system. Smashwords, however, continues to be amazing. Keep up the good work.
The Boyfriend will be available on Tuesday, November 13th, from Amazon and Smashwords, with other platforms to follow. I do not have details on any foreign language or audio versions at this time.
Now, please, enjoy the part of this post that pretty much all of you skipped over the rest to get to. Here’s chapter one of The Boyfriend.
The morning I’d been dreading my entire adult life started with my husband leaping from the bed and screaming, “Jesus bloody Christ!”
I startled awake and clutched the sheet to my chest because the duvet had apparently sprinted across the room with Neil. I couldn’t see if that was the case because a giant store-bought birthday cake with rapidly melting candles in the shape of a three and a zero took up my entire field of vision.
Trying not to expose myself, I scrambled backward. “What the fuck, Mom?”
“Oh, calm down,” my mother said, blowing out the candles. “You’re gonna set the bed on fire.”
“Sophie!” Olivia, Neil’s three-year-old granddaughter, flung herself against the bed and struggled to climb up. When she failed, she settled for jumping and slapping the mattress. “Happy birthday!”
“Rebecca, get out!” Neil barked.
My mother made a tsk-ing sound. “Oh, come on, guys. I knew you were asleep. I listened at the door.”
“Gross!” I shouted over the top of Neil’s, “Leave!”
She shook her head. “Fine. I’ll take this to the kitchen. There’s coffee on.”
Olivia toddled to my side of the bed and raised her arms. “Help me, Sophie.”
“What on earth was she thinking?” Neil fumed, holding the duvet around his waist as he stalked to the walk-in closet.
I lifted Olivia up and patted the happy panda on the butt of her footie pajamas as she crawled over my legs and toward the center of the bed.
“Thank god we didn’t leave anything interesting out last night,” I called to him, retrieving his discarded t-shirt from beneath the sheets and maneuvering it on. The thought of my mom finding freshly used sex toys or bondage gear in our bedroom was…ugh. No thank you.
Neil emerged in sleep pants, which gave him more mobility to toss his arms around as he complained. “Sophie, I am sorry for shouting at your mother but— No. No, I am not sorry. It is not unreasonable to have a basic expectation of privacy in one’s own bedroom. If she and Tony are going to continue to live in the guesthouse, she has to respect the fact that I don’t want her walking through our door, let alone our bedroom door, whenever she wishes!”
I understood where he was coming from, but I’d tried to explain, more than once, how hard that particular habit would die. My family didn’t have great boundaries when it came to stuff like not just bursting into each other’s homes. “You’re right. We’ve had more than a few close calls. But she knows how much I’m hating this birthday. She just wants to make me feel better.”
“She wants to make you feel better by sending your blood sugar through the roof?” he demanded. “Has she forgotten your diagnosis?”
I couldn’t blame her if she had. Sometimes, I forgot it. “Thanks for the reminder of my mortality. Is that my birthday present?”
Neil shook his head in frustration. “I still do not understand why thirty is such a terrible age.”
“Because that’s the age—” I began, preparing to repeat the reasoning I’d stated over and over for the past six weeks.
I didn’t have to, because Neil did it for me. “—‘when everything falls apart.’ Yes. I know. And as I’ve stated many, many times, that is ridiculous.”
“Is it really that ridiculous?” I asked, gesturing to my thighs. He couldn’t see them because the sheet covered them, but I’d had a massive crying jag just days before because I’d found the rising blue threat of a varicose vein on the outside of the left one. I didn’t want to bring it up too specifically in front of Olivia because she didn’t deserve to inherit the weird body hang-ups the women of my family had been passing down for generations.
“That’s not the issue here. The issue is your mother barging in whenever she pleases. If we’re going to continue discussing…” he hesitated, glancing at Olivia. “…What we’ve been discussing, then this must be addressed.”
That thing we’d been discussing was the possibility of our boyfriend, El-Mudad, moving in with us. We rarely talked about it when Olivia was around, but plans had hesitantly been forming over the past few visits. She loved El-Mudad, and we didn’t want her to become hopeful for something that might not happen.
She gave me a look copied directly from her late mother. It was eerie how many of Emma’s mannerisms the kid possessed, despite having been less than a year old when her parents died. “This is not in front of Olivia?”
Neil’s anger reluctantly faded to a fond smile. He sat on the edge of the bed. “Don’t worry about not-in-front-of-Olivia. It’s Sophie’s birthday today. And I love that you helped wake her up with such a beautiful cake. Did you and Rebecca pick it out?”
Olivia’s preschooler mind still didn’t follow conversations well, despite how mature her phrasing could sometimes be. “You were funny, Afí.”
I tapped her on the shoulder. “Why don’t you go to the kitchen and find Rebecca, and we’ll be along in a minute, okay?”
“Okay!” She climbed down from the mattress and charged toward the door.
“No running!” Neil called after her. I had a feeling it fell on selectively deaf little ears. He got up and closed the door then leaned back on it with a long exhale. “Sophie. Really, now.”
“I know.” I dropped my head into my hands in frustration. “I’ve talked to her. I have. But she’s my mom. I can’t stand to hurt her feelings.”
“Her feelings shouldn’t be hurt over a request like, ‘please don’t barge in on my husband and I while we’re in our bedroom.’ And she of all people, considering what you—”
One hand shot out to shush him. “No. You don’t get to take me back there.”
Walking in on my mom having sex with our limo driver was not an experience I felt like reliving. Especially since he was about to become my stepfather.
“Look, I’ll talk to her again, okay? And I’ll be really firm about it, too,” I promised, rising up on my knees and shuffling toward the end of the bed. “But it’s only until June. After the wedding, they’re moving out.”
Neil came back to meet me, taking my hand to put it on his chest, over his heart. He covered my fingers with his and squeezed. “I’m sorry. I just…I so very much want this to work. I’m tired of one of us being missing.”
I leaned my head against him. “Yeah. Me, too.”
There was more keeping us from being the happy threesome that we wanted to be than just my mother’s lack of appropriate boundaries. El-Mudad had two children and joint custody with his ex-wife. We had yet to meet Amal and Rashida, not because he didn’t feel we were permanent enough to be a part of his daughters’ lives, but because we collectively had no idea how to approach explaining our relationship to them. We didn’t know if we even should.
It was difficult enough for us with Olivia. She knew El-Mudad was our good friend and that he visited us for long periods of time, but we were careful not to display any kind of romantic affection toward him when she was around. Neil had reasoned that unless we wanted to be out to everyone, we’d have to keep our relationship secret until Olivia was an adult, at which point she would be either unsurprised after having figured it out years before or scarred for life at the thought of her parental figures hooking up with a lifelong family friend.
In a perfect world, El-Mudad would be there for my birthday, to say some cornball thing that would sound meltingly romantic coming from him. We had second-best plans for that night. “Hey, at least we get Skype sex!”
“Mmm, and we have a surprise planned for you, as well.” Neil lifted my hand and kissed it.
I shivered at the thought of what that surprise might be. My Sir and Monsieur could be very inventive.
Neil opted for a quick shower while I dressed and headed to the kitchen. Mom was there at the kitchen island, plating slices of cake while Olivia clumsily added scoops of ice cream on the side. Our housekeeper, Julia, stood by giving sidelong glares and wiping up spills and crumbs. Mariposa, Olivia’s nanny, carefully tried to supervise the ice cream part of the operation.
She looked up, a spiraling black curl falling from her bun and into her tan face. She gave me an apologetic grimace, then came to my side to say quietly, “I’m so sorry. Your mother wanted—”
I waved my hand. “You’re not in trouble. What were you supposed to do, hold Olivia hostage?”
Mariposa’s shoulders visibly relaxed. I had a feeling everyone would be more at ease once my mom lived…elsewhere.
“Olivia?” I called, and she looked up, tangled blonde curls dipping into the ice cream. “You need to go with Mariposa to get ready for the day.”
“No, thank you, please,” she said breezily, depositing another chunk of ice cream on a plate and wiping it from the spoon with her finger. Then she licked her finger and the scoop.
The entire container was a vector for disease.
“Olivia,” Mariposa began, gentle and stern like Mary Poppins. “Sophie told you to do something. Do you want to get a dot this early in the morning?”
I didn’t exactly know how the dots system worked or what the consequences were if she got too many. I did know that the threat of getting one of the round stickers on her discipline chart was usually enough to motivate her. This time was no different. She held up both hands and said, “Okay, okay! I’m coming. Jeez.”
I covered my mouth and nose to try and contain my snort of laughter. As Mariposa led Olivia from the kitchen, I heard the former firmly scold the latter about her tone.
Mom shook her head fondly. “I remember when you were that age. You were a handful.”
“Julia, can you give us a minute?” I asked the housekeeper, who tossed her rag down as though I’d just ordered her away from helping bleeding accident victims on the site of a grisly crash. She left the kitchen door swinging vigorously in her wake.
Mom sighed. “Okay. Neil is pissed off at me.”
“No. We’re both pissed off at you.” I sat on one of the stools across the island from her. “We’ve already talked about this like six hundred times.”
“You’re my kid. It’s your birthday. I wanted to surprise you,” she said with a shrug, as though I were making way too big a deal about it.
“I’m not a kid, though. I’m a grown woman with a husband, and you might have been the one who got surprised. Need I remind you about the great Denim & Co. tragedy?” One of my mother’s QVC orders had accidentally been left at the main house. I’d walked it down to the guesthouse and let myself in, only to catch my mother mid-coitus with her now-fiancé. “And in my defense, I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend. You’re fully aware that you could be walking into your worst nightmare.”
“I told you, I listened at the door—”
“Not better! Actually, way, way creepier!” I pinched the bridge of my nose and squinted my eyes shut. Wow, that really helps. No wonder Neil is doing that all the time. “Look, it’s not just that. It’s the fact that you come in here without knocking—”
“You gave me a key!” she protested.
“Yes. To use when we’re not home. When we’re here, please, just give us our privacy, okay?” As I finished the sentence, Neil came into the kitchen, his hair wet, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants to deliberately annoy my mother, who hated them.
Mom shook her head. “Back home, we always left our doors unlocked and came and went as we pleased. Have you ever once rung the doorbell at your grandma’s house?”
“We don’t live in Calumet, Rebecca, and some of us grew up far differently than you did,” Neil said tersely. “I appreciate that you wanted to surprise Sophie for her birthday, but privacy is essential to me and, frankly, being woken by my mother-in-law while I’m stark naked in bed isn’t something I should be expected to be comfortable with.”
She sighed like we were asking her to make the biggest sacrifice ever. “Fine. Do you want me to go?”
“No, I just don’t want you to see my genitals!” Neil snapped back.
Mom pushed the lid back on the ice cream container. “Then don’t wear sweatpants everywhere!”
“Oh my god, both of you, just stop!” I threw my hands up in the air. “This is my fucking birthday! And it’s starting out like this? With both of you screaming at each other about genitals?”
The house phone rang, and I went angrily to the handset on the wall. “Hello?”
“…is this a bad time?” El-Mudad’s voice instantly melted away my tension, replacing it with the butterflies that never stopped fluttering when he was with me, even over the phone.
“Not at all.” My gaze flicked to Neil. I mouthed, “Be nice,” gave my mother a warning look, and left the kitchen for somewhere more private.
If such a place existed.
“Do you know how much I treasure this day, my love?” El-Mudad asked.
I smiled to myself. “Thursday?”
He laughed softly. I could imagine his face, his fond smile, the endless depths of his warm brown eyes. My heart ached, reaching out to him over the thousands of miles between us. “Your birthday. The day you were born to be with me.”
“You’re going to make me cry.” I blinked back my tears. “Are you still in Paris?”
“With the girls, yes. We’ve been shopping. Enthusiastically.” He chuckled again. “But we will still be together…well, I suppose it will be tonight, for you, won’t it?”
“And almost morning for you,” I said, worrying my bottom lip with my teeth. “Are you sure you won’t be too tired?”
“It’s the only way I’m guaranteed time alone,” he said. “Time when no one will be banging on my locked door.”
I snorted. “Yeah, we’ve got some of that going around here, too.”
“Rebecca?” he asked. I knew Neil had complained to him more than once.
“They’ll be moving after the wedding.” I took a deep breath. “And we were thinking maybe we could discuss our…arrangement more at that time?”
“Of course. And I thought I might bring the girls along. To Christmas. If that was all right with you?”
“Oh, um.” How did I respond to that? We’d planned to spend Christmas together at Langhurst Court the year before, but plans had fallen through when Olivia and Neil had both come down with a truly wretched case of the flu. “I’m sure Neil won’t mind. My family will be there, as well. Obviously, we’ll have to figure out some of the details—”
“And I wouldn’t wish to do that tonight, of course,” El-Mudad said quickly. His voice lowered to a deep, intense tone. “Tonight will be all about you. Your obedience. Your pleasure.”
My pussy went all silky and tingly, and a breathy, “Oui, Monsieur,” broke from my throat.
“I’ve been needing to hear those words for a long time.” His voice was almost a groan of relief.
“Can we just do this right now?” I wheedled, knowing I wouldn’t get what I wanted. Making me wait was part of the fun for him and Neil.
“Later, my love. Right now, I just wanted to hear your voice and remind you how thankful I am that you’re alive. And you’re mine.”
“Oui, Monsieur,” I answered automatically.
He laughed again. “Is Neil there? May I speak to him?”
“Yeah, he’s in the kitchen. I’ll go get him,” I said. Then I remembered my mom was in there and I couldn’t say goodbye properly in front of her. “I love you.”
“And I love you. Don’t let Neil forget to give you the present I sent,” he said, adding, “As if you ever would forget a present.”
He was right. I loved presents.
There was a giddy skip in my step as I sprinted to the kitchen. Since I could still hear Mom and Neil talking, I knew they hadn’t killed each other. So, that was good.
I held the swinging door open with one hand. “Neil? It’s El-Mudad. He wants to talk to you.”
Neil had just taken a sip from his coffee mug. He set it down quickly and reached for the phone. “Thank you, I’ll take it in my study.” He shot a look at my mother. “Alone and undisturbed.”
I took a plate of cake and melting ice cream from the island and went to the kitchen table so I could face the big windows that overlooked the sea. I glanced over my shoulder at my mom. “Do me a favor and don’t ever mention that you can see my husband’s junk through his sweatpants ever again.”
“I admit, that was unfair.” She made a pained face. “And gross. And creepy. Sometimes, I have a hard time remembering he’s my son-in-law because he’s so much older than I am.”
I rolled my eyes. “Okay, he’s not ‘so much older’ than you are. He’s like six years older than you.”
The age gap between my husband and me was a big issue for my mom. He’d turned fifty-four in March, and I’d just hit my…thirties.
I choked on my cake.
“Sophie!” Mom ran over just as I coughed up a mouthful of crumbs.
I waved my hands in the air the way my grandma had taught both of us to do. When I could stop hacking, I gasped, “It just went down the wrong way!”
“I’ll get you some water,” she said, bustling toward the island, her silk caftan fluttering behind her.
Neil returned to the kitchen, phone in his hand. “Damned call cut out—” His eyebrows shot up in alarm, and he dropped the handset on the floor to run over to me, despite my frantic head shaking and attempts to explain. He’d nearly dragged me from my chair for a Heimlich before my mom managed to get through to him.
“She’s fine, she’s breathing.” Mom nudged him out of the way and handed me a tall glass of water.
The drink I took helped. When I was finished hacking, I gasped, “Oh my god. I could have died. I could have choked to death and died. On my birthday.” My eyes filled with tears as I looked up at Neil and bleated, “And I’m thirty.”
“Oh, honey,” my mom said.
Neil struggled to hold back a smile. That was wise of him.
“Sophie, you’re making Rebecca and me feel very old,” he said, petting my hair back from my forehead.
“I’m sorry!” I wailed. “How unfair of me to be freaked out about my mortality on a milestone birthday that has been nothing but one disaster after another when I haven’t even been awake for a full hour yet!”
“Sophie…” Neil began. Then with a heavy sigh, he asked, “Would a present make the morning any better?”
I sniffled. “I think it would.”
“Of course it would,” Mom said with a shake of her head. She’d dealt with my materialistic self for a lot longer than Neil had.
He offered me his hand and pulled me to my feet. “Come along. Rebecca, could you excuse us a moment?”
I followed Neil out of the kitchen. “So, it’s something you can’t give me in front of my mother?”
He rolled his eyes. “No, it’s just in my study.”
Our house is huge, so it took us a few rooms and a couple of hallways to reach his study. Though the former occupants had used the space as a second formal dining room, it was too far away from the kitchen to be practical, and the built-in bookshelves, all painted white, made more sense in a library. The gauzy drapes over the tall windows brushed the wood parquet floor. His desk stood in the center of the room, with a comfortable armchair and chaise, both of which Neil insisted were for long afternoons of reading, at the far end of the room. I’d only ever seen him nap or play on his phone on those, though. Today, a signature forest green Harrods box rested on the soft gray leather.
I hopped up on my toes to kiss him on the cheek. “You had help.”
“I did,” he admitted. “I called your personal shopper in London. She said this was a little out of season but that you’d love it, anyway.”
I hurried over to the box and wiggled the lid off. Multi-colored sequins sparkled through the paper.
“Is this…” I gasped, lifting the dress from the box. “It is!”
Jenny Packham’s amazing sheer white gown spattered with a rainbow of multi-colored sequins of different sizes and shapes that drifted down the nearly transparent skirt like confetti.
“I thought you might wear it for New Year’s Eve,” Neil suggested. “Though it’s a long way off.”
I held the gown awkwardly against my chest and twirled as much as I dared without stepping on it. “Do we have plans I don’t know about?”
“Not yet. But I’d like to make some soon. Some…grown-up plans. Maybe leave Olivia behind this time?” He sounded almost guilty.
“It’s perfectly fine to leave your kid—grandkid—at home on New Year’s Eve. That’s an adult holiday. But do you think you’d be okay to…” I didn’t want to finish the sentence. I didn’t like tiptoeing around his addiction issues, but he didn’t want me to treat him like a child, either. We’d rung in the past few New Year’s quietly at home.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I’ve been sober so long that I’ve honestly forgotten.”
“Liar,” I said with a sad smile.
“All right, perhaps I haven’t quite forgotten,” he admitted. “But I’m not going to lose control of myself. And I would have you and hopefully El-Mudad as a support system.”
I had an idea so good, I dropped my birthday present. I scrambled to pick it up. “Sorry. I just had a thought. What if we spent New Year’s…in Venice.”
“Oh.” Neil blinked.
“I’ve never been there,” I reminded him. “And how long has it been since you’ve even visited it? You’ve got an apartment in Venice, and you’ve been there, like, what? Twice?”
“Once. My honeymoon with Elizabeth,” he said, clearing his throat reflexively at the mention of his ex-wife.
“Then let’s make it like a new honeymoon!” We hadn’t had one with El-Mudad, yet, but there was no reason we couldn’t, just because we weren’t all officially married. Moving in together was pretty much the same when there wasn’t any way we could make our union official. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to go back there? The three of us together?”
“New Year’s tends to be very popular there,” Neil mused. “And I know El-Mudad is fond of the city.”
“Good. That’s settled.” I sighed happily. “He said he sent you a present for me?”
“He did,” Neil confirmed with his half-smile. “But I’m not to give it to you until this evening.”
I clucked my tongue. “Is it a sex thing? It’s a sex thing, isn’t it?”
“Not strictly. But he knows how you are about presents and told me to make you wait as long as I possibly could.” Neil gestured for me to come to him, and I obliged, leaving the dress on the longue. He wrapped his arms around me and leaned down for a kiss. A small moan mewling from my throat as his tongue traced the curve of my lower lip. He grabbed my butt and boosted me up, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. I was just considering telling him to close and lock the door when I heard the slap of bare feet in the hallway. Neil heard it, too, and put me down just as Olivia burst into the room.
“Come on, Sophie! Cake!” She ran to me and grabbed my hand, pulling me toward the door.
“You’re not really going to hide in here from my mom, are you?” I asked Neil as Olivia dragged me along.
“Cake, Afi! Cake!” Olivia urged him, with a passion for sweets that only a toddler could summon. “Let’s go!”
He sighed. “All right. I’ll go. But Rebecca has to be nice to me.”
I turned and glanced down. “Maybe…go put on some real pants.”
* * * *
Because my birthday fell on a weekday—and because I so was not into the idea of an opulent celebration to remind me of my fading youth—the only plans we’d made had been for a quiet dinner at home with some of my friends.
“We can’t make it.”
I frowned at the phone on the counter and almost burned myself unwinding my hair from the curling rod. “Why not?”
“Teething.” My best friend Holli and her partner, Deja, had welcomed a gorgeous baby back in April, but that gorgeous baby always seemed to be a shrieking hellspawn of snot and fevers these days. Occasionally, I wondered if they used Piett—so named for the admiral, due to Deja’s total Star Wars nerdery as much as for gender neutrality—as an excuse to not see me. It had been weeks. Of course, just thinking that made me feel guilty. We had a full-time nanny, but we usually took care of Olivia when she was miserably ill. I’d canceled plans because of her more than once as a result.
“That sucks.” I was so glad we were past that nonsense with Olivia. “I’ll miss you guys. You know you’re always welcome to bring zir.”
“And dump zir on your nanny?” Holli said dryly.
“We’re not monsters. We’d call the agency and get another sitter.”
Holli sighed. “Thanks, but zie’s so miserable. It just wouldn’t feel fair. And it’s such a long car ride.”
I would have offered the helicopter, but I didn’t want to be too pushy. “I’ll miss you. But take care of that baby.”
“Nah, I thought I’d leave zir on the side of the road.” Holli sighed. “I really am sorry.”
“Don’t be!” I forced some cheer into my tone. “It’s not a big deal.”
“It’s your thirtieth birthday,” she protested. Just when I’d thought we’d had enough arguments over my lack of party, she launched into another. “I can’t believe we aren’t doing anything to celebrate it.”
“I am doing something. I’m having a perfectly lovely dinner with my family.” And my husband’s best friend. So…basically, we were having a regular old dinner with one of our occasional, ordinary guests.
I glanced at the clock. Yeah, five-thirty on the day of was the wrong time to decide I wanted to overhaul my plans and have some epic birthday blowout.
“Anyway,” I continued, “Aren’t you happier that you’re not missing out on an awesome rager?”
She scoffed. “Please, we haven’t had a real rager in years. Unless we count your bachelorette party. And even that was tame, by Vegas standards.”
“And Neil’s fiftieth doesn’t really count, does it? It was a little too…” I hated to say the word. “Posh?”
“Yeah, no, I’m talking the old days. I’m talking pushing furniture off the fire escape,” she said wistfully. “And I wasn’t at your husband’s fiftieth. The Dark Time, remember?”
My stomach clenched. Holli and I had been best friends since our second year of college, but a few years ago, we’d had a nearly friendship-ending fight over her wife’s involvement with the competition for one of Neil’s publications. Things had gotten considerably better, though, especially since Neil had retired, and work didn’t take up ninety percent of his life.
“Well, you didn’t really miss anything,” I lied.
“Prince Harry was there,” she responded dryly. “I could be the Duchess of Sussex right now.”
“But you’re the princess of my heart,” I consoled her.
I could hear her eye roll.
“Seriously, though, I’m sorry I’m missing your birthday. I’ll make it up to you by taking you out for dinner somewhere fancy that you pay for,” she said.
I laughed. “I love you. Kiss the baby.”
We hung up, and I gave myself a second to feel bad before I went to the kitchen, where Neil was already working on dinner. I’d requested my favorite dish that he made, a standing rib roast with a béarnaise sauce that was like something out of a fancy renaissance painting. Even though we had a housekeeper, Neil preferred to cook most of our dinners. It gave him something to do, which was necessary for a guy who’d taken early retirement but still desperately needed to have something stressful going on. He’d always been a good cook, but now that it was a serious hobby, he’d really leveled up.
He pushed some buttons on the oven as I entered. “Now it just needs to rest for two hours…” He checked his watch. “Aha! Timed it just right.”
My mouth watered at the savory aroma coming from the slightly-open oven door. “That smells so good. Are you a witch?”
“No sorcery involved.” He glanced over at me and grinned.
“Holli and Deja aren’t going to make it,” I said with a sigh, joining him at the island. “Teething.”
Neil grimaced in sympathy.
“Yeah.” I leaned over the counter. “So, it looks like tonight is going to be just—”
“You, me, Rudy, Tony, and your mum,” Neil finished, looking up to the ceiling and blowing out a long breath. “Oh, Sophie. I’m so sorry your birthday is turning out this way.”
I traced spirals on the countertop. “It’s okay. Really, I didn’t want to make this a big thing.”
“Thirty is a milestone,” he protested. “It should be a ‘big thing.’ But joyfully. You’re ready to climb into a coffin and pull the dirt on top of yourself.”
“That’s kind of dramatic.” I was getting a little sick of being told how to feel about my own damn birthday. “Besides, it’s just not that important to me to celebrate.”
“It’s important to me. It’s the day you were born. I want to celebrate it because even though I didn’t know it at the time, it was one of the most important days of my life.” He reached for my hand and stroked his thumb along my knuckles. “I know you don’t want anyone to make a fuss over you because you view things differently. But I hope you understand that this day is better than Christmas and Le Mans to me.”
I dipped my head, my cheeks flooding with heat. “You know, it’s really unfair that you can come up with such romantic stuff. I’m totally defenseless.”
He lifted my hand and gave it a kiss, then released me to turn his back to take something from a utensil drawer. I watched him in silence, thinking about the first night we’d spent in this very kitchen, sitting on the hardwood floor and eating supermarket baguette. Neil was terrific at big, romantic gestures, but his ability to turn mundane moments into something wonderful often shocked me most of all.
He faced me again, bracing his hands wide on the edge of the counter and leaning slightly forward. One of his palms pinned a long-handled wooden spoon against the brown marble. He regarded me with a glint of amusement in his eyes for a long moment, the lights above us casting shadows on his face and gilding the silver edges of his hair.
I squeezed my thighs together.
“Come over here.”
My knees trembled a little as I obeyed.
“Bend over the counter.”
I glanced around, an uncertain sound sticking my throat. What if Olivia’s piano lesson wrapped up early and Mariposa brought her to the kitchen for a snack? What if my mom just busted into the house again? What if Julia had forgotten her purse and—
“Sophie, don’t make me ask you twice.” He kept his slow-blinking eyes on me.
I faced the island and leaned down, pressing the side of my face against the cold marble. “I thought I wasn’t going to get my birthday spankings until later.”
“Which is why I will not be giving you the full thirty right now.” He and El-Mudad had apparently been planning my birthday sex for weeks. It had been the only bright spot to look forward to. Neil gave the seat of my jeans a little pat. “Pull them down.”
I reached between the counter and my body and unfastened my fly, then wriggled the pants down my legs. I hoped he hadn’t been expecting something devastatingly sexy beneath; I wouldn’t be wearing anything special until I changed after dinner.
He ran his fingers along the seam where the black cotton brief cupped my bottom. “These, too.”
I complied with a giggle. “Anything else you’d like me to do?”
“I’d like you to keep that smart mouth shut,” he said, and the spoon hit my ass with a loud slap.
I stifled my purr of pleasure and arched my back. He jerked the shoulder of my scoop-neck t-shirt down and palmed my breast, grinding against me briefly before giving me another solid smack with the spoon. He cupped me from behind, two fingers gliding effortlessly into my wet, anticipating cunt. I moaned and rocked against his hand.
“That’s the enthusiasm I want to hear tonight,” he whispered in my ear, his body trapping me against the countertop.
Then he released me, leaving me unsatisfied, on shaking legs with my pants around my knees.
I straightened and fixed my clothes. “Well, I’ll have to change my panties, now.”
He shrugged. “Or, you could skip them all together.”
“Tempting.” Except it wasn’t. The last place I wanted to do sexy, no-underwear things was at a family dinner with my mom.
“Our date tonight is at ten o’clock sharp. We need to be sure to be there on time,” he warned.
“Be there? Are we leaving the property?” I’d thought we’d be spending the night in our secluded recreation Pavillon Français, a ridiculous folly built by the previous owners and refurbished into a tiny palace of depravity by my husband. We never used the space for anything but our games of domination and submission; just stepping through the doors could instantly arouse me.
“No, but we have specific plans.” He kissed me on the nose. “Don’t bother dressing to impress tonight. We’re just going to ruin it.”
My birthday was looking way up.