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Authors: Ann Christopher

Just about sex (page 2)

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“And didn’t you sign up to cochair the auction to benefit the West-End Clinic? Poor kids and all that? I want you right out front on that thing. Smiling, helping. Et cetera, et cetera. See if you can’t borrow a baby or something and get your picture taken kissing it.”

“Oh, my goodness, I’m trapped here with Machiavelli,” came the running commentary from the sofa.

Simone dropped her head and threw her hand over her mouth so Pat wouldn’t see her laugh, not that Pat paid attention to anything else while spouting advice.

“I think they’ll realize they want a young, hip, sexy woman in their papers every day,” Pat said. “Not some shriveled old grandma. This gig is yours to lose, Simone. Got me?”

“Oh, I got you.” Simone shoved all thoughts of Alex Greene and his nameless threats far away. She would not sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop. There was no other shoe. There couldn’t be.


“Alex? Alex? What are you doing?”

Startled, Alex looked up from the blue glow of his computer screen to see his older sister Laurel standing in his dark living room, staring at him as if his face had gone striped. Shaking her head and muttering, she put down her briefcase and moved around the room switching on lamps. Her long, flowery purple dress—how did she walk around like that without stepping on the end of it and falling on her face?—flapped behind her like a flag waving in the breeze. When she finished with the lights, she turned to the windows and closed the curtains.

Alex massaged the back of his stiff neck, rubbed his tired eyes and stretched. It dawned on him that it was dark, inside and outside the house. What time was it? He checked his watch: eight-thirty. Eight-thirty? Already? He’d meant to order a pizza hours ago, but he’d forgotten all about that once he hit the Internet. And now Laurel.

“Who let you in?”

Leaning against the open French door between the living room and his office, she put her hands on her hips. “After I rang the doorbell ninety-seven times and you didn’t answer, I let myself in.”

“Maybe it’s broken. I’ll check it.”

“It’s not broken. I heard it. You were in one of your little zones again.”

“Oh.” He watched warily as she planted herself on the sofa and adjusted the pillows behind her back. She wasn’t planning to stay, was she? Couldn’t she see he was busy?

He turned back to the screen and scrolled down. “What are you doing here?”

She scratched her head, adjusting some purple scarf-type thing she had wrapped around her short Afro. “Good to see you, too, Alex. Wasn’t that you I talked to half an hour ago on the phone? Wasn’t that you who told me you’d take a look at my laptop for me? Hello?Hello?”

Alex grunted and clicked on another page. “How’s my nephew?”

“Keith’s good. He’s supposed to be doing his homework right now, but I’ll bet he’s IM’ing his little friends.”

“Need any money?”

She frowned down at her skirts as she smoothed them. “No, I donotneed any money. I wish you’d stop asking. I don’t need any more handouts from my little brother.”

Alex gritted his teeth. What a proud pain in the posterior she was. Why wouldn’t she just let him help her? He’d foolishly thought he’d wear her down one day, to the point where she’d graciously and quietly accept a check from him every month. No dice. “It’s what I’m here for. What’s the point of working hard and making a lot of money if I can’t spread it around?”

“It’s not your job! You’re not his father.”

“Well, if Joe was around I wouldn’t have to, but he’s not. And you can’t do everything by yourself on your salary at the clinic.”

“No, thanks,” she said flatly.

Alex scowled and drummed his fingers on the desk, running through his options. He’d drop it for now, but maybe he should send a couple months’ rent directly to her landlord. Or he could buy her one of those gift cards for groceries. Or—

“What are you working on, Alex?”

—he could make a car payment for her. They went to the same bank, so—

“Alex! What are you working on?”

Alex snapped out of his thoughts, forcing himself to pay attention to his sister. “Nothing. A little research.”

“On what?”

“Dr. Simone.”

Actually,researchwasn’t the right word. He didresearchat the office when a client had a question or he was working on a patent application. What he’d done tonight went far beyondresearch.He’d put together a dossier about the good doctor. Right there, on his laser printer, sat a two-inch-thick stack of data about that woman—every tidbit of information the Internet could provide. Every column or article she’d written. Every interview she’d ever given. Plus he’d studied and memorized every page on her Web site.

He now knew she was thirty-four, same as him. He knew about her nomadic childhood in the U.S. and Europe. Her single mother, a B-movie actress who’d had one marginally successful movie about a hundred years ago, then made a career out of living a jet-set lifestyle, had raised her. How she’d paid for it he had no idea, but he’d get to the bottom of it eventually. He’d also learned about Simone’s extensive credentials, practice, work habits and hobbies—scuba diving and alpine skiing. Before the night ended, he planned to know more. Much more.

“Dr. Simone?Why do you want to know abouther?”

Lost in thought, he scrubbed his hand over his goatee. Funny how the Internet could tell him everything about some things, and nothing about others. It didn’t, for example, say how tiny Simone was. No more than a hundred and ten pounds. Barely up to his shoulder—a little over five feet, if that. Or how velvety her light brown skin looked—and probably felt. Or how silky-shiny her wispy black Halle Berry hair looked. Or how her eyes spat fire when she got good and mad, like she’d been today. Or how unusual her big eyes were. Not green. Not blue. Not gray. Some color he didn’t know the name for between all three. Or how she blinked and looked away when she wanted to hide something, which he knew she did. Or how she smelled. Fresh. Powdery. Flowery. Delicious.


Alex jumped and snapped his attention back to his sister. “What is it?”

“Focus a little, will you? Why are you researching Dr. Simone?”

His jaw tightened and he felt his temples throb. “Because she’s a quack. Just like Dr. Tom, Dr. Dick, Dr. Harry, and all those other fake doctors. They go around spouting touchy-feely feel-good nonsense and everyone looks at them like they cured cancer or something.”

Laurel leaned her elbow on the sofa’s arm and rested her head in her palm. “Interesting. I suppose only engineers turned patent lawyers like you keep the true faith.”

“Right.” He clicked the mouse again and the printer hummed and spat out another article. “Well, no. Doctors do, too. People who rely on science. Numbers. Facts. Not opinions and theories.”

“I see.” He thought he heard a touch of humor in her voice, almost like she was making fun of him, but who could tell? “Well, you’d better brace yourself because—”

“And look atthis.” He picked up the remote and unfroze the DVD he’d been watching on his wall-mounted flat screen TV. Immediately Meg Ryan started whimpering and groaning, oohing and ahhing her way to a fake orgasm in the middle of some NewYork deli. Likethatwould ever happen. As soon as the scene came on, he’d known this was what Simone meant when she taunted him earlier. Flabbergasted, he’d watched the scene five or six times already. “Can you believe this nonsense?”

“You’rewatching a romantic comedy?” Laurel twisted around to face him. “Have you been replaced by a pod person?”

Annoyance surged again and, snorting, he typed in new search terms. “Have you ever seen this crap?When Harry Met Sally?About women faking it?”

“Every woman in America has seen this movie a hundred times,” she said in that condescending, men-don’t-have-a-clue voice she reserved for Alex and her son. “And the whole movie isn’t about women faking it. Just this one little part.”

“Puh-lease. Like a man wouldn’t be able to tell if a woman was faking it.”

Laurel threw back her head and laughed, to his further irritation. “Every woman in America has faked it a hundred times.”

Alex’s typing slowed and stopped as her words sank in. The disbelieving knot in his belly that’d been there since he left Simone’s office tightened. Could it be true? Were women such good actresses? Hadhebeen fooled? And if so, how many times? By who? Were women around the city laughing at him right now? He shuddered.

Fumbling for the remote, he clicked the TV off. “That mmovie’s bull.”

Laurel turned to stare at him with wide, alarmed eyes. “I haven’t heard you stutter in years, Alex! What’s wrong?”

He grimaced. Great. Now she felt sorry for him. Worse, he felt like the same nerdy little stutterer he’d been all those years ago. Frustrated. Awkward. A misfit. He’d felt this way ever since he’d read that stupid article. No. Ever since he’d laid eyes on cool, aloof, tiny Simone, he’d felt like he was some big bull stumbling through the china department at Macy’s.

With a few well-chosen words she’d even made him question the unquestionable—whether he was good in bed.He,who’d studied every book he could find about how to please a woman. He, whose personal creed ought to have beendo it right or don’t bother doing it at all.

“Nothing’s wrong,” he told his sister.

Laurel looked between him and the TV, and he saw first the wheels turning in her mind and then understanding dawn across her face. “Wait a minute! You’re not worried about this silly movie are you? You think women have been faking it? Oh, good grief!”

He leaned back against his chair and rubbed his tired eyes. No point to denying it. “I’ve been thinking I might call a couple exes. Just to, you know…check.”

Seconds passed while Laurel stared as if she’d caught him masturbating in public. “What are you going to do?” she cried. “Audit every woman you ever had sex with?”

Anaudit.Great idea. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’d better make a list after I finish with this.”

Laurel, the biggest drama queen he knew, threw her head back and smacked her palms to her temples. “Oh, for crying out loud.” Since she was apparently speaking to the crown molding on the ceiling, he ignored her. “This is not some episode ofSeinfeld,Alex!”

He grunted, took the stack of articles off the printer and leafed through them.

Apparently too flabbergasted to speak, Laurel kept quiet for a few precious seconds. He’d almost forgotten she was still there when her voice broke the silence. “Well, you’d better brace yourself.”

“What for?”

“Remember that charity auction for the clinic I asked you to cochair? The one where we’re auctioning off dates with the most eligible singles in Cincinnati?”

Alex jerked his head up and stared, aghast, at her. “Forget it! Do I look like I have time to cochair some auction? Why would you even want me for something like that?”

“Be-caaaaauuse,” she said, sounding irritated now. “We need your organizational skills and eye for detail, plus your connections. And youpromised.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean it,” he muttered, turning back to his articles and stacking them neatly. He reached for the stapler. “Why don’t I talk to one of my partners, see if someone else can’t—”

“Don’t you want to know who the cochair is?”

Her sweet-as-sugar tone and smug grin made him suspicious. “Who?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Dr. Simone.”

Stunned, thrilled, he immediately began to analyze possibilities and weigh options. How could he get this lucky? It just didn’t happen. Maybe he should go buy a lotto ticket. This was too easy: all he had to do was work for a few weeks with a stupid committee, go to a bunch of stupid meetings and help plan a stupid charity auction. In return he got the chance to study Dr. Simone up close and personal. And he would get to see, firsthand, her reaction to his little project.

Laurel must have sensed his excitement. Her grin widened into a self-satisfied smirk he would have hated any other time. But this time he just smiled back.

“Count me in.”


Simone bustled around the sunny conference room, waiting for the other committee members to arrive. She’d come early, of course, to oversee the servers setting up the buffet on the side table: tuna, chicken, egg and pasta salads along with various fragrant breads, cookies and cupcakes. Never let it be said she didn’t know how to run a meeting. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows she saw the Ohio River, sparkling in the April sunshine. Her spirits soared. Why on earth had she been so worried the other day about Alex Greene? Ugly threats seemed very far away on a day as beautiful as this one.

Smiling, she took her place at the head of the table, pulled copies of the agenda out of her briefcase and booted up her laptop. She’d run a quick, efficient meeting and have everyone back at work by one o’clock. The only fly in her ointment was that no one had sent her a roster yet. Hard to run a committee when she didn’t know who was on it. Well, she’d know soon enough.

“Simone! How are you?”

Mary Delafield, an accountant with whom she’d worked on other committees, hurried in through the French doors, her long blond hair swinging behind her. Simone jumped to her feet and, after Mary put her briefcase on the table, they air-kissed. Mary’s smile faded, giving way to a look of exaggerated concern.

“How are you?” she asked breathlessly, as if she couldn’t understand how Simone managed to stand upright. “You must be so upset.”

Simone drew back. “Why would I be upset?”

Mary’s eyes widened and she flushed scarlet. Her flapping mouth left Simone with the distinct impression that while Mary was only too happy to gossip a little, she did not want to be the actual bearer of bad news. “Haven’t you seen it?”

“Seen what?”