| Big Guns Out of Uniform
Featuring the novella, Let's Talk About Sex, by Liz Carlyle
Pocket Star Books, November 2003
|Excerpt from the novella Let's Talk About Sex (in Big Guns Out of Uniform)|
From the seclusion of her upstairs bedroom, Delia watched Nick work on her car for the rest of the afternoon. Oh, she didn’t watch him, exactly. Not like some puppy with its nose pressed to the window. But the window drew her, and Nick Woodruff disrupted her thoughts for the rest of the day. His butt sticking out of the front end of her Volvo was particularly unhelpful.
In between watching her next door neighbor’s hindquarters, however, Delia found time to call Readi-Steam Carpet Cleaners, schedule a crew of professional window washers, and start dumping out closets like a fiend. Her divorce had been final for three months, Neville had been remarried for two, and it was time—dear God, was it time—for Delia move on. If a blatant offer of casual sex from a near stranger could tempt her past the point of all logic, then she really needed to get a life. Not that she’d been holding up things on Neville’s account.
Yep ,that was then, Delia reminded herself. And Nick Woodruff—whether I want him or not—is now.
Thus encouraged, by late afternoon, she’d managed to haul six huge boxes of Neville’s junk down to the garage and dump it near his thirty-thousand dollar speed boat, just one step away from Monday’s curb pickup. And that damned boat was headed to the curb next, Delia decided, if he didn’t get his ass up here to haul it out of her garage. Feeling empowered, she marched back into the kitchen, dialed his office, and left him a voice mail to just that effect.
That done, Delia dusted off her hands with a certain amount of pride, and decided to reward herself with a hot bubble bath. But on her way back upstairs, the window caught her eyes again—and this time, they almost popped out of her head.
Nick Woodruff had taken off his shirt.
Gosh. Oh, God. Delia slapped one hand across her eyes and forced herself into the bathroom. Ten minutes later, she was up to her chin in English lavender, but still wallowing in Nick. Most specifically, she was wallowing in the memories of his kiss, and pretending her interest was . . . well, analytical.
With her toes, Delia snared her drifting sponge, then blew a clump of bubbles off it. Clinically, she mused, one had to marvel at Nick Woodruff’s composure; at his absolute certainty that he was sexually desirable. Yet despite the accusation she’d thrown in his face, there hadn’t been one ounce of genuine arrogance in him. Just a matter-of-fact acceptance of his sexuality. And of his interest in her. What gave him such confidence, she wondered? Did women just never say no to the man?
That was ridiculous! She had said no to him. And right now, with night falling fast and her body being teased warm bubbles, Delia was beginning to think that had been a really dumb thing to do. Almost worse was the fact that, when she had said no, the man had simply smiled and shrugged. His self-confidence had been intact, his neighborly demeanor unchanged. He just seemed, heaven help her, like a real nice guy.
But they all did, didn’t they? She, of all people, should know how unwise it was to go with your gut in such a situation. Oh, Nick Woodruff was no sexual deviant—Delia trusted her professional instincts that far—but he might well be the world’s worst heartbreaker. And there was no educating a gal about that little problem, save the school of hard knocks, and Delia had already flunked out once.
Suddenly, something was nagging at her brain. School? Flunking? Records? Filing? Still musing, Delia pulled the plug and stood up. Then it hit her.
The owner’s manual. Oh, no! She had promised Nick she would find it! Swiftly, Delia dried her hair, dressed, and dashed downstairs. It was a simple task to find the owner’s manual in the study. Neville had made it its own little manila folder, carefully typed out a label, and tucked it neatly behind V in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet.
Eager to tell Nick, Delia grabbed the phonebook, then flicked a quick glance out the window.
Dark. It was just getting dark. And Nick had big plans for the evening. I’m going to swim laps, he’d said. And after that, I’m getting in my hot tub. Naked.
Oh, dear heaven. It was almost show time.
Delia couldn’t help herself. She bolted back upstairs, cut all the lights, and pressed her nose to the window again. Not like a puppy. Nope, more like a bitch in heat. But no lights shone in Nick’s big backyard. Delia couldn’t see a thing. Still clutching the phonebook and her owner’s manual, Delia threw herself on the bed, dug around for the remote, and watched a round of CNN.
How long could you stay in a hot tub anyway? About fifteen minutes? Delia thought she’d seen that posted at a hotel spa someplace. And how long to dress? Eat dinner? Hard to say. So Delia watched another round of CNN—which was strange, considering that all she really needed to do was dial up his number and say, Hey, Nick, I found that owner’s manual. How big an interruption was that?
To kill the time, Delia went back downstairs and uncorked a bottle of cheap chablis—real cheap, on her budget. But she took a little test sip, and found it tolerable, so she plucked one of Neville’s antique Baccarat goblets out of the breakfront and went back upstairs with the bottle. Delia crawled in bed and grabbed the remote. Surfing through the channels, she caught a rerun of Leave It to Beaver—the one where Beaver fakes a school excuse from his mother, her all-time favorite. Oddly enough, it was even funnier when washed down with chablis.
But soon Beaver was over, and impatience got the best of her. At nine sharp, Delia rolled over, grabbed the phone, and punched out the number she’d already memorized. He answered in a rough, drowsy voice. “Woodruff.”
“Nick?” she said at once. “I found it. The owner’s manual, I mean. Can I drop it by tomorrow?”
There was a long pause, then a sleepy chuckle. “Mmm, Dr. Delia,” he rasped. “My radio fantasy voice. Say something else, sugar.”
Delia was taken aback. “Like . . . what?”
Springs squeaked, as if Nick were shifting his weight on a bed or sofa. “Darlin,’ who cares?” he whispered. “Read me your grocery list. I know it’ll sound good.”
“Well, I . . . I mostly eat take-out.”
He laughed again, wide awake this time. “Honey, do you always take life this seriously?”
He was teasing her, Delia realized. “Did—did you enjoy your swim?” she managed, feeling like a doofus.
“Naw, that part’s a work-out,” he said. “For my bad back, remember? But I had a nice soak afterward.”
“Right,” she said, cradling the phone to her cheek. “I remember your mentioning it.”
“Do you, now?” he whispered. “I don’t suppose you would say ‘Sorry I missed it,’ and make my night, would you?”
Delia fell back into the pillows and exhaled. Damn it, she had missed it. “I’ll bet it was real nice,” she answered.
“Real nice,” he echoed a little wistfully. “Hey, Dr. Delia, whatcha wearing?”
Delia sat straight up, almost knocking Neville’s five-hundred dollar wineglass off the night table. “What am I wearing? What the hell kind of question is that?”
Nick laughed again, the sound flowing over her like warm whiskey. “Come on, sugar, it’s a simple one,” he said. “See, it’s kind of cold over here, and I’m a little lonely. So just whisper real soft, and it’ll be our little secret. Did you take a shower and put on your jammies? Or what?”
“A bath,” Delia said, before she could reason herself out of it. “A bubble bath. With English lavender.”
“Oh, God,” he whispered. “Oh, Dr. Delia, don’t tease. English lavender always gets me hot. ”
Delia emptied her wineglass in one gulp. “And I put on a tee-shirt, not jammies.” She paused, staring at the dregs. “Why, what are you doing?”
He chuckled again. “Making myself go blind, sugar. Now, was that just a tee-shirt?”
Delia giggled. “Well, no.”
“And what, then?”
Delia was flustered, so she grabbed what was left of the chablis. “Well,” she whispered, pouring. “You know.”
“No, I don’t have a clue, Doc,” he said. “Come on, now. ‘Sometimes phone sex with someone you trust can be a healthy turn-on.’ That’s what you told Fred from Framingham, remember? And sweetheart, you must trust me. You left your precious Volvo over here, right?”
“See, now, there’s the really scary part.” Delia’s voice was very small. “I do trust you.”
Nick made a strange, rough sound in the back of his throat. “So answer the question, darlin’,” he softly demanded. “Whatcha got on under that tee-shirt? Black leather motorcycle pants? A chastity belt? Knickerbockers? What?”
“God, I don’t believe I’m doing this,” said Delia, cradling her forehead in one palm. “Panties.”
“Bikini or thong?”
“Oh, God.” Delia felt her face growing warm. “Why?”
“’Cause I’m visualizing, Doc,” he whispered, his voice dark and hot. “Sensual visualization. See, last week, I thought I was starting to lose interest in sex.”
“Yeah, right.” Delia snorted.
“Oh, no, sugar, I’m serious as a heart attack,” he insisted. “Then, remember last Friday? When you told Menopausal Marge from Montreal how to use sensual visualization to—you know, to get herself fired up? Well, you were right, Doc. That shit works. I’m imagining you in your panties right now, and I’m hard enough to hammer nails.”
“Nick.” Delia giggled. “You are not menopausal.”
“But it’s still working real good for me. So, come on, Delia. Help me out. Describe every inch of your tight, sweet body, baby, and I swear, I’ll never tell a soul. But first, let’s get back to those panties.”
As if to hide from herself, Delia wriggled under the covers. “Okay,” she finally whispered. “They’re hip huggers. Pink ones.”
“Pink,” groaned Nick. “God, Delia, are they the same color pink as your cheeks when you blush? The cheeks on your face now, I’m talking, because honey, I gotta confess, that’s about the prettiest shade of pink I've ever laid eyes on. So far.”
“Is . . . Is it really?”
“Delia, darlin’, I get hot just thinking about it.”
She was very quiet for a moment. “Nick, you’re weird.”
“Nope,” he insisted. “I’m a normal, healthy male with normal, healthy appetites, burning with a whole morning’s worth of thwarted lust from watchin’ you in that weird skirt and those ugly shoes. Besides, remember what you told Tricia from Tallahas—”
“God, please do not mention my job again,” interjected Delia.
“Because I . . . I don’t find talking about my job very . . . well, you know.” Suddenly, Delia of the million-word vocabulary couldn’t find the right one.
“Erotic?” His voice slid over her skin like silk. “Is that it, babe?”
“But if I talk about other things,” he whispered, “you might feel otherwise?"
“Yes. Maybe. Oh, Nick, I don’t know!”
“I can work with a maybe,” he said reassuringly. “Shoot, just breath heavily into the phone, darlin’. Given your voice, that’ll probably do the trick.”
Nick laughed his wicked laugh again. “Oh, Delia, you just don’t know what you do to me.”
Despite the darkness under her bed covers, Delia squeezed shut her eyes. “Then tell me,” she whispered.
That caught him off guard. “Umm—tell you?”
“Go ahead, big boy,” she whispered, giggling. “Tell me everything.”
“Yeah, okay,” he said, then hesitated. “But listen, sugar, something just occurred to me. Are you on a hard line?”
“Mmm, hard,” she whispered, mimicking his voice. “I like that.”
Nick laughed a little nervously. “Now, be serious a minute, darlin’, he cautioned. “’Cause frequencies float, and we don’t want to give old Bud Basham a coronary here.”
“Oh,” breathed Delia. “Okay.”
“Good. Now, is that a remote phone you’re using?”
“No, it’s under the covers with me. Cord and all.”
“Lucky phone,” he rasped. “Delia, know what I’d do if I was under there with you?”
Nick breathed heavily for a moment, and it didn’t seem feigned. “Oh, I don’t know, baby,” he whispered. “It’d be so hard to choose.”
“Okay.” The springs squeaked again. “Okay, first, I think I’d slide my hands up your thighs, then just keep going, right under your tee-shirt. What color did you say that was?”
“Black,” she whispered wickedly. “It’s vintage ACDC, from the original Back In Black tour.”
“Oh, baby, you rock,” he choked, but she could tell he was about to laugh out loud. “I just knew you had a dark side. Okay, so, what I would do is, I would ease my hands along that pretty, pale flesh of yours, right up over your ribs, touching every one of ’em, just enough to make your skin shiver.”
“Mmm.” It really did sound good.
“Mmm is right, darlin,” Nick whispered. “Now what are those pink panties made of?”
“Just plain old cotton,” she said, vaguely aware she’d had too much to drink.
“Well, in my fantasy, they’re silk,” he rasped. “Because, in my humble opinion, it’d be a sin for a woman like you to wear any other kind. So, anyway, I’d slide ’em right down to your ankles. Maybe just rip ’em right off, then and buy you new ones later.”
“O-Okay,” said Delia. “No one ever bought me underwear before.”
“Then you have not lived the life you deserve, sugar.”
“Holy shit!” screamed Delia, leaping from beneath the covers.
“What?” he barked. “What the hell is that?” The pounding on Delia’s kitchen door was so loud, Nick could hear it through the telephone. “What’s goin’ on, Delia? Delia—?”
Someone punched the bell. Six times. “Open the goddamned door, Delia!” bellowed Dr. Neville Sydney. “Open it right now. Don’t you dare touch my bloody speed boat, you hear me?”
“Delia?” said Nick. “Delia? Baby, put the phone back to your ear. Put the phone back. Talk to me, sugar. Talk now—or I’m coming over there.”
“Holy shit, Nick, it’s Neville!” hissed Delia into the phone. “And for this, I really ought to kill him.”
“Jesus Christ,” said Nick. “Delia, do not answer that door. I’m coming over there. And I mean now.”
Delia’s back floodlights were already on by the time Nick slid into his jeans, shoved his service pistol into his waistband, and started across the yard. He could see a big, black Lincoln Navigator idling outside her garage, its chrome trailer hitch glistening yellow beneath the lights. He could already hear the argument, too. Because Delia, of course, had not listened to him and kept her damned door shut. Instead, she was leaning half out of it, going nose-to-nose with Mr. Rhinoplasty himself.
Delia’s ex-husband was waving wildly in the direction of the garage. “You vindictive bitch!” he heard Neville shout. “You’ve changed the remote codes! You can’t hold my boat captive! How dare you?”
“Neville, have you always been such a twit?” snapped Delia. “The damned Liftmaster is broken. Didn’t you hear it grinding?”
“Well, howdy, howdy folks,” said Nick sidling up to Neville.
He wasn’t sure who was more taken aback, Delia or her ex-husband. She looked at him, shut her mouth, then opened it again. “Nick, Neville,” she said, waving between them. “Neville, Nick. As in Woodruff. The riffraff who lives behind your pine trees. Remember?”
Neville didn’t even have the decency to look embarrassed. “Fine. Whatever. Delia, I want my boat.”
“And didn’t I tell you, not six hours ago, to come get it?” snapped Delia, still in her vintage tee-shirt. “Believe me, Neville, I have lots more stimulating things to do with my evenings than stand here talking to you.”
“Oh, I see,” he said, his voice smooth and smarmy. “This is all about Alicia, isn’t it?”
Nick could see Delia had got hold of a big, fancy wineglass, and she was brandishing it now. “Oh! Oh!” she screeched, balling up her empty fist. “News flash, Neville! Everything is not about Alicia, okay? Some of this is about you dumping me with this overblown excuse of a house, and then not moving your shit out of it.”
Neville crossed his arms petulantly. “Well, now I’ve come for the boat.”
“Get the boat, Neville. Take the boat! You think I want it? You think I want any of that high-end crap in the garage, Neville? I mean, what kind of self-absorbed, asinine misogynist uses engraved silver golf tees? Or a titanium racing bike? Can you tell me that, Neville? I mean, let’s face it, you are so not Lance Armstrong.”
Neville smirked. “Jealousy does not become you, Delia.”
“Oh, screw you, Neville! Do you have any clue how glad I am to be rid of you?”
Neville seemed to find this impossible to fathom. “My God, Delia, have you been drinking?” He drew back in horror. “And—heaven forfend!—is that the antique Baccarat you’re waving?”
“Nope,” said Delia, crowning him with the wineglass. “Not now.” The bowl of the wineglass bounced off Neville’s head and hit the concrete driveway, shattering into a spray of diamonds. Delia waived the stem triumphantly.
Nick couldn’t remember what a misogynist was, didn’t give a shit what a Baccarat was, and was pretty certain real men didn’t use the word forfend. But he damn sure knew when to step into a fray. “Ok, folks,” he said, calmly elbowing his way between them. “This is the point in our evening’s festivities when I introduce Mr. Badge and Mr. Beretta,” he said, withdrawing both.
Delia and Neville turned to stare at him.
Nick smiled his best Southern-boy smile. “Now, this just got official,” he said sweetly. “Y’all shut the hell up before Bud Basham calls the police and this gets written up someplace official, okay? ’Cause, trust me, it won’t look good on your résumés.”
Neville really didn't have a clue. “Look, Woodstock, don’t piss her off any further,” he said high-handedly. “I’ve had a long day, I don’t need the theatrics, and she obviously is not the nice, mild-mannered college professor she seems.”
“I’d guessed that already, Dr. Snidely.” Nick’s drawl was even slower than usual. “In fact, I’d guess old Delia here can get pretty danged hot under the right circumstances. And she has a bad temper, too.”
“It’s Sydney,” snapped Neville. “Dr. Neville Sydney.”
“No shit?” said Nick, drawing back an inch. “What a coincidence. I’m Woodruff. As in Nick why-don’t-you-take-your-friggin’-boat-and-get-the-hell-outa-here Woodruff.”
“Hilarious,” said Neville, turning back to his ex-wife. “Look, Delia, do you think you and Sheriff Taylor here could just put the goddamned garage door up? I’m on call.”