Next Song I Sing

Coming Soon…

LENGTH: 70,500 words, 246 pages

They say life gets more interesting after 40. Chloe sure hopes so.

Freshly divorced at 40, Chloe has few illusions left about her ability to make any of her dreams come true. She is never going to be thin, never going to be a famous singer, and obviously never going to be sexy enough to keep a man like her handsome ex-football player husband from cheating. Thank heavens she at least has great friends.

Celebrating her return to Cali with a long weekend at the 5-star Blue Skies Hotel and Spa with them seems like just the thing she needs to jump start her “do over” post-divorce life. How much Chloe ends up liking sexy owner, 45 yr old Jasper Wade, is a surprise though. So is the way Jasper’s unrestrained kisses send lust and renewed hope singing through her.

Join 40 yr old college friends Chloe, Taylor, and Emma in this contemporary romantic comedy series as they help each other find real love and romance the next time around.

Read Chapter 1

Chloe sighed heavily when she saw a magazine with earmarked pages being pulled from the bright red overnight case tossed on the roll-away cot next to the window. She hung her head and groaned like a woman dying, eliciting a wicked laugh from the bag’s owner.

“Emma Wallace, I can’t believe you still do those silly quizzes. I will not be answering any questions about my favorite position during sex, so don’t even ask.”

Emma studied her friend Chloe and then pointed the magazine at her, punching the air with it for emphasis. “I’ll take it easy on you because your divorce is still fresh, but you need soul-searching more than any of us, Chloe. You stayed with a man who cheated on you for more years than I did. This is not just a quiz. It’s part of your journey to self-discovery.”

“Journey to self-discovery? Jeez, Emma, you’re starting to sound more and more like those greeting cards you write,” Taylor Baird said, dragging an expensive black leather overnight case on wheels into the room behind her.

Emma and Chloe smiled at the svelte blonde who looked all business in her suit. Chloe ran over to hug her, surprised to be getting all choked up over how happy she truly was to see Taylor.

“Thank God you’re here. Emma brought a quiz,” Chloe complained, saying it as if it were a dirty word.

Finally letting Taylor go, Chloe returned to her unpacking, a little embarrassed about how incredibly happy she was to be with her friends again. God, she should never have left.

“Command some authority here, Taylor, and tell Emma no quiz questions. I moved to the West Coast to get away from being emotionally tortured,” Chloe said.

Taylor laughed, her voice husky. “Remember in college when Emma got the idea that we needed to get our belly buttons pierced to be sexy?”

“Unfortunately,” Chloe said, remembering the trauma all too well.

She had screamed in pain while Emma had laughed and Taylor had winced in sympathy. But ironically, Chloe had kept the piercing over the years. Mostly because it had cost her so dearly to get it, but also because it made her feel sexy even when her husband Aaron hadn’t liked it. Wearing jewelry in her belly had been her way of rebelling against him when they fought, which ended up being often during the almost five years they had been married.

“Earth to Chloe? Where are you?” Emma called, waving a hand in front Chloe’s face.

“That piercing hurt like hell, Em,” Chloe informed her, glaring hard as she remembered the pain.

“Everything worth doing hurts a little, even exercising. And who was it that ran around in navel-revealing shirts all that year? I’ll give you a hint. It wasn’t me or Taylor showing off our piercings,” Emma reminded her, not a bit embarrassed to gloat.

“What else could I do but show it off? I figured I might as well enjoy flaunting it after going through hell to get it done,” Chloe insisted, glaring at Emma, who stuck out her tongue.

“I bet you still have your piercing,” Emma said with a knowing grin. “I don’t. Taylor doesn’t. Tell us the truth, Chloe.”

“A woman has a right to some keep some secrets, especially from nosy friends,” Chloe announced, turning away from their knowing smiles.

When both Emma and Taylor laughed, Chloe rolled her eyes because…well, she had kept her piercing. And it had felt very brave to take a healthy chunk of her savings and buy a tiny real diamond-studded ring to wear there. It made her feel a lot younger than forty. She had needed help to feel better about her thirty-six-year-old husband replacing her with a skinny woman half her age.

Taylor laughed at Chloe’s and Emma’s bickering, thinking five years living on opposite coasts hadn’t changed the dynamic between them much. Back in college though, Chloe’s programming to please people she cared about had practically guaranteed she would never outsmart a determined Emma hell-bent on a makeover. Helping people improve themselves was practically a religion to Em, and she and Chloe were usually favorite converts.

“We were twenty-one not sixteen when we got those piercings, Chloe Zanders. You could have said no about the belly button ring. You can say no to the quiz now. That was my point for bringing it up. It’s time to learn to command your own authority,” Taylor said with a laugh.

“Trust me, Baird. I’m not the pushover I was in college. I command authority when I need to nowadays, but you’re not fooling me. If I don’t play along, you and Emma will think I’m just as boring as my ex did,” Chloe said, turning away to shake out her clothes from the exercise duffle she had brought.

She glared at the plain black gym bag. It wasn’t red and perky like Emma’s or sleekly black like Taylor’s. It was black and old, not to mention well-used, but her good luggage had been too large for a simple three-night stay in a resort, so Chloe hadn’t bothered with it. Everything that worked for California fit in the one small bag she’d carried on the plane.

“You are so not boring, Chloe. Your ex was just a selfish jerk like my mine was. Own it, girlfriend—and then let it go,” Taylor said flatly, snorting in derision. “Trust me, you didn’t lose anything divorcing a man who didn’t appreciate you. One day soon, you’re going to be nothing but relieved that Aaron is out of your life. It just takes a while to feel it.”

Taylor unzipped her case and started looking through her clothes. “Now come on. We’re going shopping for sexy new dresses to kick off our weekend. For once, I’m looking forward to letting Emma try to fix me with her quizzes and questions. I haven’t had a decent date in three months. I obviously need an attitude adjustment.”

“It’s been two weeks since my last date,” Emma recounted, “but I’ve been sexually abstaining for several months. I’m balancing my chi and preparing for a better relationship. I want to be in an open and receptive state of being when I let the next man that far into my life.”

Chloe snorted. “Balancing your chi? Wallace, you crack me up.” She shook her head and sighed heavily again. “Well, don’t try to balance mine, Em. I like my chi like it is. I’m still too mad at my ex to even think about sleeping with another man right now. I just want to enjoy my freedom for a while and be grateful I can stop worrying about what some guy thinks of me.”

Taylor laughed, rich and full. “Well, speak for yourself. I don’t even remember the last time I had sex. I think I would like someone to unbalance my chi—and soon. What I need right now though is some minor lubrication, a late lunch, and some good old-fashioned girl fun.”

“Taylor, I booked us appointments in the spa like you asked,” Emma said, speaking to her very savvy business friend who had placed her order for the weekend with specific instructions that she would be picking up the tab for their fun. “Full works on all three of us tomorrow at ten, including massages. We’re going to be buffed, fluffed, and stuffed. I hope that’s what you had in mind.”

Stuffed? What do you mean stuffed?” Chloe demanded, gripping her most slimming black dress in her hands. “Just what kind of massages did you arrange for us, Emma? I told you I’m not ready for anything yet.”

Taylor fell back on the bed laughing. “Would you listen to her? The woman who used to date three guys at once has now been replaced by an uptight version afraid of getting laid. Will you tell her sexual massages are not on the spa menu at this five-star hotel? I swear I am never going to visit the East Coast if Chloe is an example of what happens to people out there.”

Emma put her chin on her chest and sighed heavily as she looked at Chloe. “I can see unwinding you is going to take some time.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m about to show you two skinny blondes how much authority big women like me command. I’m going to sit on Emma’s tiny butt until she tells me what she means by stuffed,” Chloe said firmly, shaking out the five-year-old black capris that she hoped might still tame her curves.

At an extremely healthy size fourteen, Chloe was not all that big by East Coast standards. But in southern California where tanned and toned bodies were the norm, she was twice the size of her two skinny friends.

“Stuffed as in lunch, Chloe. Lunch is included in our treatment. Relax, will you? When was the last time you had any fun?” Emma demanded, shaking her head sadly.

Chloe stopped sorting her clothes. When was the last time she had fun? Good grief, she couldn’t even remember. Sex she’d had, if you could count sleeping with her cheating ex-husband, but fun was sorely lacking. How pathetic was that?

“The last time I had fun was in college,” Chloe answered finally. “Despite Aaron’s time out here, he and his family had very different ideas about fun than I had. Honestly, I don’t know now why I married him. When it came right down to day-to-day living, we didn’t have much in common.”

“I know why you married Aaron. You were almost thirty-five and thought the world was ending because you were still not married. It was easy for you to cave-in to the sexy, semi-retired football player who spent all his time trying to get you into bed,” Taylor said wisely.

“That’s the truth, and Aaron is still very sexy,” Chloe said wistfully, sighing again. “I didn’t leave him because the sex was bad.”

“Oh—please. Stop mooning over leaving a repeat adulterer,” Emma ordered, her tone fierce. “Trust me, it’s a total waste of time.”

Chloe opened her mouth to tell Emma that Aaron wasn’t as bad as her ex, but Taylor chimed in first.

“You married Aaron for the same reason I married Lewis and in the same year. Being single at thirty-five sent you right into the arms of the first sexy man who popped the question. Lewis was good in bed too, but that didn’t make up for his lack of morals. Luckily, my opportunistic ex-husband moved on to his next victim when the business failed. I don’t even think I was a woman to him. I was just an investment plan. God—the business failing put me on the right track in a lot of ways.”

Taylor looked over at Emma, who hadn’t said anything. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed in a meditative pose, listening and looking serene. Unfortunately, Emma was always serene, Taylor thought, and it wasn’t healthy to hold the hurt in that tightly.

“I guess when it comes down to it, Emma is the only one of us who even came close to finding real love,” Taylor said wistfully

“Real love? What are you talking about? Brad got another woman pregnant before I even found out for sure that I couldn’t have children. A bad marriage doesn’t get much more pathetic than that,” Emma said lightly, not breaking her pose. “But I’ve separated myself from his energy now. He’s already working on baby number two with his new wife, who is also a twenty-something. So I know how you feel about being tossed out to the curb because of a younger woman, Chloe.”

Chloe looked at Emma and blinked. Aaron’s defection had nicked her pride because she hadn’t wanted to fail in her marriage, but it hadn’t affected her heart much. Emma hadn’t been so lucky. Though divorced the longest amount of time, Emma had loved her husband sincerely, and there had been no serious man in her life since.

Chloe bit back her first response of denial. Emma didn’t need more pain.

“Fine. I concede we all need help with our love lives, but if I’m going to have to answer those dumb quiz questions, it’s going to require more than mild lubrication. I think I’m going to start at lunch and do a follow-up drink every hour to make sure I maintain a buzz all day to get through it,” Chloe said, gracing Emma with as sincere a smile as she could manage. “It shouldn’t take much though. I haven’t been inebriated in years.”

Shaking off her mood, Emma stood to wiggle her hips and her eyebrows as she looked at Chloe. “Does alcohol still make you want to get extra friendly?”

“Yes. So if I do get tipsy, don’t let me run off with some strange man. That’s a bit more self-exploration than I’m ready for right now,” Chloe said, letting herself find the humor in it at last.

Listening to both her friends laughing at her plea, something inside Chloe eased. She hated being defensive, hated that she’d brought that attitude to these two women who had been true friends to her through thick and thin. They didn’t need her angst on top of their own. She was the fixer not the fixee in their group.

Taylor laughed at Chloe’s confession and sighed at the kindness and caring on her face as well as the return of ease to Emma’s expression. “I have missed you something fierce, Chloe Zanders. The California sunshine is going to melt all that East Coast angst away soon. By the time you get your tan back, you’ll be a new woman.”

“Wow. Aren’t you the optimist for once? Saving a business agrees with you,” Chloe teased. Then she sighed. “I’m glad to be back. It was way past time to make a change.”

Taylor sprang up from the bed, lithe and confident in her dress clothes, which she intended to shed right now for crops and the tightest T-shirt she owned. “Wear something easy to get out of, Girls, and wear your hooker heels if you have them. We’re going shopping.”

Read Chapter 2

“I just love this place,” Emma said, flipping through the racks. “Upscale consignment, and just look at all these wonderful recycled clothes. I’ve said it before, but Taylor—you really are amazing.”

“Yes, well you know I became very resourceful during the two lean years I was working to save Pink Link Sports. This place was a financial godsend for schmoozing wear when I had to go to sponsor parties. Are you still a twelve, Chloe?” Taylor asked.

“I wish. Now and again I can squeeze into a really, really large twelve bottom, but I’m always a fourteen on the top,” Chloe replied. “I moved from a D to a DD cup a few years ago so I need the boob room.”

Taylor stopped to study her. “This will be perfect then.” She handed a two-piece outfit over to Chloe. “This will let the girls peak out and say hi to people. Your breast size is an asset. You need to use it.”

“It’s a harem girl outfit,” Chloe declared in horror, laughter choking her as she looked at the jewel toned top and skirt Taylor had passed to her. “I’m not wearing this in public.”

“Come on. You’re a little soft, but you still have the waist for it,” Emma said briskly. “I watched you change clothes. You look great, just pale. Try it on.”

“I agree,” Taylor said, smiling. “Try it on.”

Chloe rolled her eyes, then tossed the outfit over her arm with the other two she’d found. “You two are as nuts as ever. I know I used to be the primo slut among us, especially when it came to clothes, but those days are long gone. I don’t flash my cleavage or anything else at the world anymore. I was only a size ten in college. There’s a big difference in flashing now.”

“Why?” Taylor asked with a grin. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in business, it’s that it’s hard to find the right customers without good advertising.”

Chloe tilted her head and looked at Taylor as Emma laughed in the background. “Says the five-foot-seven woman with the body of a skinny model. I bet you barely wear a size eight.”

“Six sometimes,” Taylor said, eyes twinkling. “What can I say? Despite working out regularly, it’s mostly genetics. I kiss my mother for it whenever I see her, which is fortunately only twice a year.”

Chloe rolled her eyes. She had never met her own birth mother, but Chloe would bet money the woman hadn’t been less than a size twenty. She was watching her hips and thighs spread with every passing year. The thought of being even bigger than she was now did not make her cheerful.

Emma laughed at their banter over weight. Her proportionate size eight body on her five-foot-four frame had never much mattered to her so long as her health was good.

“All this fixation on weight is bringing me down. How did you lose touch with your inner slut, Chloe? I only met your ex a couple of times, but he seemed like the type that would have liked the sexually liberated side of you. I remember him being tall, broad-shouldered, and very handsome,” Emma said.

“All true—and Aaron did like my slut side,” Chloe said, irony dripping from the words as flipped through the racks. “We were in bed more than out the first year we were married. He was really good in bed too. For a couple of years, I thought I had found the perfect man.”

“So what went wrong?” Emma asked, trying not to exude too much sympathy because she knew Chloe didn’t like pity. “Your husband never came with you when you visited, but I guess I always thought that was your choice.”

What went wrong? Chloe stopped flipping through the rack of beautiful clothes to ponder her answer.

“It seems like I spent the last four years trying to figure that out, Emma. For one, Aaron’s family was always critiquing me—us—no me,” she corrected. “They frequently complained about the way I dressed that first year I lived there. To get them to shut up about it, somewhere in the second year I started wearing clothes with no cleavage, flat shoes, and pants in the summer to work. And then I found out about the first woman Aaron cheated on me with. She was my age, but she looked like you two, including the blonde hair.”

Chloe looked at the sympathy in their faces but also saw a glint of steel in both gazes aimed at her. That’s what I came here for, she realized. Under their sympathy was support of the best kind. Chloe knew they would never let her wallow too long in self-pity.

“Even though it killed my pride to know Aaron had slept with someone else, I still loved the jerk, so I told myself that I wanted to work out our problems. For a while, I even went back to normal until he asked me to tone it down again for his family’s sake. So back I went to wearing my conservative clothes and dark colors. That would have been—oh, early in year four I think—just before woman number two entered the picture.”

Emma stopped to stare. “Chloe, that’s awful. Your husband wanted you like you were, but then wanted you to change just to please his family? That seems kind of dumb of him, don’t you think?”

“Well, I do now,” Chloe said emphatically. “I should never have let anyone tell me how to dress or what to like or what was funny or not funny. By the time Aaron actually left me for the last woman—a nubile twenty-three-year-old I heard—well, I didn’t even recognize myself except for the belly button ring hidden under my drab clothes.”

Taylor was shaking her head. “Well, screw that. Try on the harem-girl outfit. That’s who you really are.”

Chloe laughed. “Right—I’m a giant-sized harem girl,” she said wryly, rolling her eyes. “You know, the sad thing is that only the first woman hurt. The other two just seemed inevitable and as much my fault as Aaron’s. If I would have left after the first woman, then the other two would never have happened.”

“Why did you stay?” Emma asked softly, wondering if Chloe had loved Aaron as much as she had loved Brad. She hoped the answer was no for Chloe’s sake.

Chloe thought how falsely attentive Aaron had been when he’d been cheating, how great the sex had been when he’d felt guilty, even when the real intimacy had died. Even knowing it wasn’t enough to hold her relationship together, she had swallowed the hurt and told herself it was what adult women did to make their relationships work. It was pathetic to think about now, but at the time it had seemed a lot less trouble than starting over at her age. Now she was doing it anyway…at forty no less.

“Why did I stay after I knew there were other women? Laziness,” Chloe answered firmly. “If Aaron hadn’t moved out, I probably would still be there.”

“Oh, you’d have found the energy to leave eventually,” Taylor said, laughing when Chloe laughed. “Emma and I both know you better than that.”

“Honestly? Even though Aaron moved in with his girlfriend before the divorce was final, I didn’t really care by that point. On the plus side, my in-laws were incredibly nice through it all, and I know Aaron caught hell over leaving me for her,” Chloe remarked. “They begged me to stay on at the company. Thank God I wasn’t that desperate for work. Having savings meant I could totally leave.”

“Of course they wanted you to stay,” Taylor said. “You were working in the family business for a fraction of what you’re worth. I intend to hire you as soon as I can afford you.”

“I love you for saying that, but no thanks, Taylor. I’m on sabbatical from being a money genius. I haven’t had a real vacation in years, so I’m not even looking for work for three months. And when I do start looking, I’d like to do something very different in my next job,” Chloe said cautiously.

Singing? You’re going back to singing?” Emma asked excitedly, almost dropping her clothes. “Oh, Chloe, that would be simply awesome for you.”

Taylor paused to study Chloe as well. She wasn’t fooled by her pretended interest in vintage evening gloves. She’d seen her friend’s eyes light up at Emma’s comment.

“I did not say I wanted to sing for a living,” Chloe protested. “I haven’t sung in years—well, not really.”

“That’s a sacrilege with your talent. We’ll rectify the not-singing-thing tonight. There’s a piano lounge at the hotel with a very nice looking pianist,” Taylor teased. “I had a supplier who was staying here a couple of weeks ago. We met for drinks in the lounge. If I hadn’t been working, I might have even talked to Mr. Hunky Piano Man.”

“Ply me with enough alcohol and I’ll sing my thong song,” Chloe teased. “That gets a rise out of most men.”

“No, I want to hear you really sing and quiet the whole room like you did in college,” Taylor insisted, narrowing her eyes at the startled gaze Chloe sent her way. Oh yeah, she was interested.

“Give it up, Ms. Optimist. College was a long time ago and so was singing in front of an audience,” Chloe told her sadly.

“Not that long,” Taylor denied easily, “and you were more than just good. You were extraordinary. I never fully understood why you went into accounting instead of music.”

“I was young, just out of the orphanage then, and wanted security. If I hadn’t gotten the scholarship I would never have met you two. My left brain and stomach won the debate over what to major in,” Chloe said. “I’ve made some good investments with my degree and don’t regret my accounting work. It gave me security, which I badly needed in my life even if the work wasn’t very fulfilling otherwise.”

“Or fun,” Emma said, cringing at the idea of sitting behind a desk for days on end with no movement. “I’m with Taylor. Singing tonight will be like the old days. We’ll do back-up. It will be fun for all of us. We’ll all pretend we’re twenty again.”

“Twenty? Don’t make me laugh. I don’t intend to spend my sabbatical money on the amount of lubrication it’s going to take for me to get up the nerve to sing in public after all this time,” Chloe informed them with a laugh.

“Lubrication is on me then,” Taylor said, laughing. “I want to hear you sing, Chloe. If you can sing again, then I will believe anything is possible, including me finding a decent straight man in southern California.”

Chloe held up a one-piece black bathing suit that had more cutouts than material. “Well, if this bathing suit can cover all the important parts, then I’ll believe anything is possible.” She looked at Emma, who was smiling at her. “What are you smiling about?”

Emma shrugged. “I always believe anything is possible. And I would like to hear you sing tonight too. That bathing suit is going to make you look dangerous, Chloe. Be careful wearing it.”

“Dangerous?” Chloe repeated with a laugh, holding the suit to her body in front of a mirror. “Yeah, all my fat will squish out the holes and I’ll probably look on the verge of exploding.”

Fat?” Taylor exclaimed, choking on the laugh. “You have the body of a centerfold. God, those Easterners did a number on you. I remember when you used to brag about your curves, especially the ones falling out of your bra. Emma and I couldn’t even get an interested look from a guy until you were hooked up for the evening.”

Chloe looked at the clothes over her arm and snorted at the irony. Everything they had pushed on her to try on looked like clothes a more confident woman would wear.

What happened to her over the last decade? Had she truly become a different person?

“You two crack me up. I’ve gained at least thirty pounds since college, and I wasn’t skinny then. Was I really like that?” Chloe asked.

“Yes,” Emma and Taylor both answered firmly, exchanging a look that had them both laughing. They used to complain to each other all the time about how lucky Chloe was with her curvy body.

“I guess I don’t remember it the way you two do,” Chloe said, realizing it was true.

“Your new sexy clothes will put you back in touch with your inner slut,” Emma told her. “Wear the short belted dress to lunch. Work your way up to harem girl. The shock would be too much for the men in this hotel.”

Taylor plucked a blue halter dress off the rack. “I love this. Look at this,” she demanded, hooking the hanger over her head.

“Everything looks like that on you Taylor,” Chloe said, grinning.

Emma laughed. “I love it. It matches your eyes perfectly.”

“And thanks to the tanning bed I put in at the gym, I have no tan lines,” Taylor said gleefully. “Did you find anything, Em?”

“A few things,” Emma said, shrugging. “I brought my white strapless dress. I think I’m wearing it tonight. What do you think about this little vest to wear over it?” She held it up to her chest for Taylor to see.

“Love it,” Taylor said, noticing Chloe was smiling at them. “I think Chloe likes it too.”

“Chloe likes everything today,” she said, her grin spreading. “This is more fun than I’ve had in a long time. I hung out with Aaron’s family so much that I never really made friends where I lived. I’ve missed you both. I’m really glad I came back to California.”

“That’s because you came back to us—people who love you,” Taylor said, while Emma nodded in validation.

Chloe laughed. “That’s very sweet, Taylor, but I’m still not working for you.”

Taylor narrowed her eyes, making Chloe laugh. She didn’t care so long as the woman went back to being the feisty friend she really was under all that self-effacing garbage she was spouting.

“I was not flattering you for that reason, Zanders. In fact, I’m changing tactics totally. I’m going to wait for you to run out of money and then offer you half of what I would have today. I’ve become very shrewd,” Taylor said.

“Would you really do that to Chloe?” Emma asked, shocked.

Taylor sighed and snorted. “No—of course I wouldn’t. I’m ruthless, but not where you two are concerned. I love you like sisters.”

Relieved to know her friend wasn’t becoming as heartless as she had sounded for a moment, Emma walked over and hugged Taylor, who just laughed.

“Come on, let’s try on clothes,” Taylor ordered. “I need lunch. I’m starved.”

Read Chapter 3

Jasper’s gaze kept being drawn to the three women sitting on the patio drinking mai tais. From his table by the café window, he had a prime view of them, especially the one with her top unbuttoned for comfort who looked ready to bust out of the short dress any moment. She was a lot of woman for a city that regularly produced dozens of tanned and toned clones like her tablemates.

He shifted in his seat, surprised at his reaction to a stranger—and a hotel guest.

“I bet I know which one you’re looking at,” Max said with a grin, forking up a bite of his meatloaf.

“I’m not looking at anyone. I was checking out the pool,” Jasper denied, his gaze going immediately back to the woman’s breasts as she laughed, her voice full and rich, the movements of her body mesmerizing to him.

“There’s not a single woman in the pool with breasts like the laughing brunette’s. I’m your brother. Why are you lying to me?” Max asked. “I like the taller of the two blondes, the one with the short hair. She was in here a couple of weeks ago in a sharp business suit. I’m intending to sleep with her. Go for the brunette. She’s just your type.”

“Max, you can’t sleep with hotel guests,” Jasper said sternly. “We talked about this before you decided to recuperate here. It’s not ethical. Neither Sam nor I have ever violated that rule.”

“Jasper, I haven’t slept with a woman in four months. I bet what’s going on in your pants isn’t ethical either. You’re forty-five, not eighty-five, so stop waiting and go after those breasts. You don’t have to settle for being your ex-wife’s booty call,” Max said fiercely, staring at his brother over his food.

“It’s complicated,” Jasper told him. “When you’re older, you’ll understand.”

“I’m thirty-one, not thirteen,” Max joked. “And I aged a lot those two months in the hospital before I came here. I realize now that life and luck can change in an instant. The one with breasts looks fun, sexy, and like she’d be nice to touch. Go for it.”

“She looks like she’s enjoying the company of her friends, relaxing for the first time in ages, and smart enough to sue the hotel if I offend her,” Jasper commented, having to shift in his chair when she leaned over the table. He was having a strong reaction to her, but it wasn’t worth risking the hotel’s reputation to follow the urge.

“Those three are going to end up in the piano lounge tonight with me. If you don’t come join us, I’m going to seduce all three of them, even the one with big breasts,” Max bragged, settling back in his seat and looking at his older brother with a definite challenge in his gaze. “I will not spare your feelings just because you’re too old to go after what you want. It’s not my fault I’m a menopause baby and have the advantage of youth on my side.”

“Menopause baby? Where do you get that crap? Those women are all probably a decade older than you and way too smart for your lame pick-up lines. Plus, they haven’t been looking at anyone but each other all through lunch. They are not here on the prowl for men, much less younger men,” Jasper predicted, looking at Max’s grin in disgust. “Fine. I’ll take that bet. You won’t get even a friendly kiss out of any of them.”

“Bring cash. Twenty each since you’re so sure,” Max warned, standing and getting the attention he was used to from the rest of the dining room occupants.

The physically fit body that made him a successful hockey player also came in handy in gaining him all the female attention he wanted, and then some. Since he wasn’t limping anymore, no one could tell he’d even been hurt. He might have failed on the ice, but Max never failed with a woman he’d set his sights on seducing.

***

Chloe had laughed so much in the last hour that her face hurt. And several mai tais had put a humorous haze over pretty much everything.

“Emma, those quizzes are all going to say that I can’t get a guy because I have some sense of decorum about not groping a guy’s crotch in public. Do women in their twenties actually follow that advice?” Chloe demanded.

“Yes,” Emma said firmly. “And I think they have a lot of sex.”

“But do they ever find a genuine love-that-lasts kind of relationship?” Taylor asked, trying to sound wise.

Emma scrunched up her face. “Well, two of them found mine and Chloe’s husbands, so I think the answer is yes in some cases. Of course, this is assuming they actually love our ex-husbands and vice versa.”

Chloe snorted. “Well, I say good luck to them for trying. My ex’s new woman better stay skinny for the rest of her life.”

They laughed again and took another sip of their drinks.

“Okay—okay,” Emma said more soberly, “one more question and I’ll quit.” She paused until she knew Chloe and Taylor were paying close attention.

“You and your best friend are having lunch. She tells you there’s a hot guy checking out your breasts,” Emma said seriously. “What do you say in reply? Taylor—you go first.”

Taylor laughed, the drinks having worked their magic on her by loosening her tongue. “Well, I would dip into the sarcasm I hold back just for these special situations. I would say ‘Sure, him and every other guy’ in my best, most confident voice. Then I’d do this.”

Lifting her small breasts in her hands like an offering to the gods, Taylor pursed her lips in a smooch, and leaned over the table to her friends. They laughed so hard and so loudly that all the people in the pool starting leaving.

“Just like the old days,” Taylor said. “We’re clearing the area.”

“Okay Chloe—what would you say?” Emma said, swinging an innocent gaze in her direction.

“If the man is checking out my breasts, it’s because he’s not used to seeing so much untanned flesh in the state of California,” Chloe declared, laughing and holding the edges of her lapels open as wide as she could to peer into her dress. “Look—the girls and I haven’t seen sunlight in five years. It will take me months to tan all this.”

They all looked at Chloe’s large and very white breasts, giggling without denying her statement. It was the truth after all.

“Maybe you can start with one of those self-tanners or a bronzer. You have to work your way up to a real tan again,” Emma said with a laugh.

“Emma—that question didn’t sound like the other quiz questions,” Taylor commented, looking at her not-so-innocent friend who was giggling softly and looking guilty.

“Okay—fine. It wasn’t a real question on the quiz. There’s a good-looking guy in the dining room who has been admiring Chloe’s cleavage since we sat down to have lunch,” Emma said, laughing. “I think she should practice her subtlety theory on him.”

“Well I’m certainly in the mood to practice after three mai tais. Show him to me,” Chloe demanded on a tipsy laugh.

Emma’s eyes grew larger as she giggled and whispered. “Okay I will, but just don’t turn around. He’s headed to our table. Just smile at Taylor and pretend to be fascinating.”

Chloe’s eyes widened as she heard the deep voice at her side.

“Good day, ladies. I’m Jasper Wade, hotel manager. I hope you’re enjoying your stay. If you need anything while you’re here, please let me know,” he said gallantly, his gaze taking in all of them before coming back to Chloe and her breasts.

Chloe, full of mai tai and happy laughter, turned her head and smiled into his very nice face, sighing with ego happiness as she watched Jasper Wade’s gaze straining to stay away from her cleavage. The day was certainly turning out to be a very nice way to celebrate her return to California.

“Well, aren’t you sweet, Mr. Wade? I was just going to look for the ladies room,” she said, laughing. “Can you point me in the right direction?”

“It’s in the hallway just outside the dining area. If you like, I’d be happy to show you,” Jasper said, his heart beating rapidly as she rose slowly to her full height.

Jasper couldn’t remember the last time he had been so excited by a woman he didn’t even know. She was tall, smiling, and quite an alluring woman altogether. It was all he could do not to reach out and put his hands on her to assure himself she was real.

Chloe purposely stayed bent over the table until the last minute, and then straightened slowly, her breasts following her slow moments. “Sorry. I seem to be a bit tipsy. Too many mai tais.”

“Lovely way to enjoy a sunny afternoon by the pool,” Jasper said with a smile, placing a solicitous hand on her arm, or at least he hoped it was coming off that way.

Chloe took two steps and stumbled slightly, forcing Jasper to catch her, which momentarily squashed her ample cleavage against the front of him. “Oops—sorry.” She watched his eyes darken and had to restrain the giggle fighting to be set loose.

Behind her, Chloe could hear Emma and Taylor’s in-drawn breaths at her boldness. Turning innocently to look at them, she had to fight laughter at their obvious surprise. She didn’t need a damn quiz to tell her how to interest a man. She just needed the good-looking motivation currently with his hands on her. It was the most wickedly confident thought she’d had in years, and it brought an equally wicked smile to her face.

“I’m fine girls, but I guess I need to walk off a little of the buzz. Don’t worry. Mr. Wade seems quite dependable. I’m sure he won’t let me fall,” Chloe said, winking at their wide-eyed expressions.

Chloe turned back slowly, brushing her breast lightly across his sleeve as she put her arm through Jasper Wade’s. He inhaled sharply at the contact, but Chloe pretended not to notice or hear, though of course she had. It was all she could do to bite back a sigh of happiness. “Sorry again. Can’t believe I’m so tipsy. Thank you for helping me, Mr. Wade. You really do have a nice hotel.”

“Really?” Jasper asked, his voice breaking on the word so he cleared it. “Sorry. I mean—thank you.”

They walked off then, with Jasper walking slowly and watching every step Chloe took. Taylor and Emma watched them weaving through the dining room, with Chloe acting like she couldn’t walk straight and Jasper Wade carefully holding onto her.

When Taylor thought they were far enough away not to hear, she leaned on the table and laughed into her hands.

“Emma,” she said contritely, “you and I should have gone for shorter dresses. It seems the man-slayer we used to loathe and love is back.”

“Good,” Emma declared, not caring a whit. “That ex-husband of Chloe’s did a number on her head. I don’t like hearing her get all defensive over her body or anything else. Jasper Wade looks like a fun fling.”

“I don’t know if he’ll settle for a fling. I think he’s in love with her breasts already. That’s pretty serious for some guys,” Taylor said with a laugh. “I prefer leg men myself. They look you in the eye unless you’re naked or wearing a short skirt.”

“I like men who appreciate the whole package, but they don’t exist,” Emma declared.

“You know how it works. Breasts, butt, or legs. You pick one asset and play it up,” Taylor ordered.

“Too much work,” Emma said, laughing at her own lack of interest. It had been a long time since she had been interested enough in a man to try luring him. The last guy had left before she’d found her nerve. Now she was content just to watch Chloe and be glad her friend was getting back in touch with the woman she was meant to be.

Reviews:

“Picked it up intending to read a chapter. . .next thing I knew it was four am! I can’t put Donna McDonald down. NEXT SONG I SING is romance at it’s finest; sexy, funny and addicting! So much so, I can’t wait until the NEXT BOOK COMES OUT!!!” ~ Robyn Peterman, author of How Hard Can It Be?

“Donna’s writing can be funny or emotive, sometimes both at the same time. You can tell she deeply cares about and respects her characters—the men as well as the women—which makes it easy to root for them to work toward a believable happy ending.” ~ D.C. Thome, author of the Fast Lane Series

Connected Books: NEXT TIME AROUND SERIES