Authors: Gail McFarland
Holding her hand, Dench looked down at her. “Rissa, you don’t have to do this…”
A crowd pushed close, following and urging them toward the jump site, and Rissa heard the questions, the cheers, and the shouts of encouragement. Three men climbed onto a stone wall and hooted their approval, and she tried to ignore them, even as she saw the fear on one woman’s face. A stranger’s hand touched her bare shoulder and she turned to face envy in the eyes of a deeply tanned blonde who shouted, “You go, girl!”
And at her side, Dench remained solid. “Rissa, you don’t have to do this…”
“Oh, yes I do. You know good and well that this jump is listed as one of those ‘One Thousand Things You Have to Do Before You Die’ things, and I’m doing it with you.” She stopped walking and looked up at him, determination in her eyes. “I told you, I’m okay about not having a baby now. I can do adoption, but I’m not going to let your memories of the most exciting thing you’ve ever done not include me.”
His hands went to her face and his crooked grin sealed them in a world of their own. “You know I love you like a fat kid loves cake, and there is no eternity for me without you.” He kissed her and the crowd behind them roared approval. When she turned and jerked her thumb up, the chanting got louder.
“Let’s do this.” Climbing to the cliff ledge, Rissa took a deep breath and squeezed Dench’s fingers when she looked down at the water.
Oh Lord, that’s a long way down…
“Together, on…” He almost said, ‘three,’ but shook his head. “Look who I’m about to try to count with. Go!”
Still holding his hand, she went gracefully off the ledge with him. The sound of the crowd was replaced by the hissing rip of unbordered air as they fell. She lost track of her heartbeat and knew only the pledge of his grip on her fingers.
Falling almost forty feet in the sheer whine of air, so far above the ocean, trusting him and their joined hands was everything. Falling into nothing, then timeless thrashing waters, risk was everything. Falling into nothing, with calm sky above and nervous water below with Dench Traylor was the easiest and scariest thing Rissa had ever done.
Hitting the water was like the kiss before heartbreak, hard, shattering, and sudden. Cold moving surf, sudden and incontrovertible, wrenched them apart and stole her breath. The wave that hit her shoved her deep and had her struggling for air. Surfacing, Dench found her easily and pulled her to him, kissing her hungrily. Breathless and gasping, recovering from the jump and his kiss, Rissa pushed hard and slapped water at him.
“You almost killed me!”
“Hey, it was your idea!” Treading against the waves, water glistening in shining beads on his richly sun-darkened shoulders, Dench laughed and Rissa couldn’t resist.
“I can’t believe we did that!” He looked up, pointing, sighting along the rough climb of sea-carved rock. “Baby, we just jumped off a cliff!”
Leaning, treading, he opened his arms to her and she slapped more water at him, then floated in his embrace. Cool water dripped from her braided hair and she couldn’t have cared less as her skin warmed to the water surrounding her. Clinging to him, she ran her tongue across his shoulder, then his neck. In his hands, her swollen breasts were tender, heavy and buoyant in the sea when his fingers moved along her flesh, kneading their lush fullness.
Pressing her lips to his, the sudden urge to mate overwhelmed her and her kiss was desperate for invitation and fulfillment. His lips, soft and hungry as her own, were hers for the taking and she shared his breath as her tongue sought more. Rocked by the ocean, his taste filled her mouth and her mind as she pressed against him with nothing but water between them.
Accepting her closeness, Dench held her, their legs moving against the persistent waves, sweeping the water to keep them afloat. Feeling him growing and lengthening against her, Rissa felt his hands move freely over her skin in the warm water when her hand found the band of his trunks. Breathless, she pushed at the band, freeing him. Desperate for connection, she closed on him with quickening intensity.
Still holding her and trusting the salty ocean not to drown them, Dench’s hand slid down, covering her hip, over her thigh and the bottom on her suit. When his fingers dug deep, separating the scant bottom of her bikini from her body and moving it low on her leg. Rissa’s legs opened like an automatic gate and she barely registered the quick prayer:
Lord, don’t let me lose my bottom
. She felt the bikini hook around her leg and then forgot all about it when Dench’s hand moved again. On her own, Rissa led and encouraged him, and he rewarded her efforts fully, finding her, touching her, striking and holding her rhythm.
Somewhere along the shimmering edge of madness and completion, Rissa found enough sanity to grab the tiny red scrap that floated to the water’s surface. Mindlessly clutching it, she clung to Dench and took the ride he offered.
Below the ocean’s surface, he filled her like liquid light, fast, hard, and blinding. Weightless, no thought touched her as her legs wrapped around his hips, binding them. Eyes locked, bodies pressing together, moving together, lost in each other, aware of nothing but his back, hard and sleek under her hungry fingers, and his skin against hers as he took what was already his, Rissa only knew that she wanted to do this with Dench for a long, long time.
The waves that crashed within and without deafened her and left her weak and clinging.
“What?” The word was a breathless whisper, so deep in her ear that she wasn’t certain it wasn’t a thought.
Did I say that out loud?
She swallowed hard. “Just promise me that we’ll tell our children about this,” she whispered, still clinging to him.
Dench’s hand slid along her bare hip. “You’re going to tell our children?”
“You bet your sweet butt I am.” Panting, conscious of the red scrap she still held, Rissa pushed wet hair back from her eyes and began to tread again. “The clean version.”
Bobbing closer, Dench straightened his trunks. Always a gentleman, he helped his wife stay afloat as she wrestled with her bikini bottom and pulled the top back in place. “What I want to know is how you’re going to make a clean version out of what we just did.”
Rissa planted a chaste kiss on his cheek. “I’m going to edit—selectively.” Dench’s hands went deep, finding her again beneath the water, making her scream. Quick as a fish, Rissa flipped away and began swimming for shore. “You’re a bad, bad man.”
“But I’m yours,” Dench laughed, striking out on his own.
Walking out of the surf together, they climbed the ladder back to Rick’s and stood with joined hands raised in triumph at the top. They were greeted by cheers and clapping from people lounging on the deck and a waiter with cold bottles of Red Stripe. Rissa’s still cheering admirer tendered an offer for dinner.
“Think they know what we did out there?”
“Shh! What they don’t know won’t hurt us.”
“Well, surely we weren’t the first. Or the last.”
“But we were the best.” Dench’s kiss sealed the argument and they accepted the beer but declined the dinner after meeting the cheering man. It was time to get back to real life, and they had a plane to catch.
Leaving Rick’s holding hands, Rissa looked up. “I’m glad we did that. It kind of puts things in perspective.”
Dench gave their joined hands a little extra swing. “How so?”
“For one thing, I don’t care if my hair is all puffy and frizzy, but more than that, whatever happens, it’s all good as long as we’re together.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
She stepped in front of him and stopped walking. “Then promise me something, because I don’t want to lose what we have and I don’t ever want to forget what we did today—not any of it.”
He grinned. “I’m not going to forget. I promise you that.” She stepped closer to him and he could feel the heat from her skin. “Whatever it is, I promise.”
“Let’s do it again when we’re fifty. Promise.”
“You’re crazy, you know that, right?”
“But you promise, right?”
“I promise. Whenever you step off a cliff, Rissa, I’ll be right there with you.”
“You know,” her lips pressed his, “I believe you will, and that’s good enough for me.”
Stepping off the elevator in front of MYT, Unlimited, Marissa Yarborough Traylor took a deep breath and promised herself that she would not skip through the doors and do a happy dance in the lobby of her seventeenth floor offices—that just wouldn’t be dignified. Instead, she pushed her shoulders back and lifted her head a little higher.
Her new Ann Klein suit looked good and she was ready to handle business, but she still felt like dancing. Carrying the shopping bag filled with hats, sandals, dolls, T-shirts, a bottle of rum, and bags of Blue Mountain coffee, she struggled to compose herself—there was still just a bit too much island attitude attached to her soul. Knowing that she was headed back to the grind of contract negotiation and high-stakes sports did nothing to dim her outlook.
There is nothing in this world that I can’t handle
, she promised herself.
After all, I jumped off a cliff in Jamaica.
She had to stop walking and stifle the grin that threatened to consume her when she thought of what that jump had led to in the waters beneath Rick’s Café.
We were lucky we didn’t drown each other—or get arrested.
She had to bite her lips to keep from laughing aloud.
Luck had nothing to do with it—I am just completely, totally, certifiably blessed. How did one man get to be so romantic? And how did I get lucky enough to find him?
More than a little giddy, she tried to back some of the swing out of her step before she pushed through the doors of MYT, Unlimited.
Dench told me about Yvette’s part in our getaway. No use in giving her any reason to gloat over her contribution to my happiness.
Too late, she spotted Yvette—or more correctly, Yvette spotted her. Like an information-seeking missile, Yvette’s path changed and she darted across the space between them, scooping an arm through Rissa’s. Pressing close, she held on, slowing the taller woman’s step.
“Second honeymoon.” She grinned wickedly. “So? How was it? Did you have a good time? Did you bring pictures? You look really tan. Did you hate coming back?”
Trying to hold onto her purse, briefcase, and the bag of souvenirs, Rissa stopped walking. “Can I get a minute to breathe?” She pulled her arm free, pressed a hand to her breast, and drew an exaggerated breath. “Now, to answer your questions: fabulous, yes, they’re printing, thank you, and absolutely. Anything else?”
“Did Dench have a good time?” Yvette’s slow grin was sly. “How was he?”
“Romantic, perfect, and better than anything you can imagine,” Rissa said, enjoying the smugness in her own voice.
“I am so jealous,” Yvette sighed, then perked up. “Can I have him when you get old?”
“No, for two reasons,” Rissa snapped. “First of all, I’m not ever going to get old, and second, when I finish with him, he won’t be any good for anyone else.”
“Well, if you’re going to use the man up…”
“I’m going to leave a withered husk behind. My plan is to enjoy him while he’s young and sexy. That way I won’t have to feel deprived later on in life.”
“Evil,” Yvette muttered, following Rissa back to her office.
“If you only knew…” Rissa bit her lip and sighed, earning a curious glance from her partner. “We did do one thing that was completely amazing.”
Yvette jammed her hands against the roundness of her hips. “Are you going to tell, or do I have to beg?”
“A little begging might go a long way.” Still walking, Rissa handed over gifts and a pound of coffee from her bag.
“Just evil.” Yvette smiled at the coffee, shoved the shirt and sandals under her arm and brought her palms together, entreating. “Please tell me what you did.”
Rissa grabbed her elbow and pulled her into her office. Closing the door behind them, she pressed her back against it and grinned.
“What?” Yvette’s impatience wound through the word.
“We went to Rick’s Café. We went off the cliff together.”
“Together?” Yvette’s mouth dropped and she backed up blinking. “You jumped?” Her breath returned on a small wheeze. “Was it sexy as all get out?”
Yvette’s mouth dropped again. “And did you…”
“In the water…”
“I’m so jealous. I think I hate you.” Yvette’s hand made little fluttery motions. “And in my next life, I get Dench.” She fanned herself and let her imagination go wild.
Satisfied that she didn’t have to imagine anything, Rissa carried her bag of gifts to her desk. “Did I miss anything while I was gone?”
“Do you care? I know I wouldn’t.” Yvette dropped into one of the red chairs in front of Rissa’s desk and crossed her legs. “Had a whole week of heaven with a sexy man, lying on the beach and jumping off cliffs, left the rest of us back here laboring like slaves, and now you try to buy me off with some coffee and T-shirts, and want to know if you missed anything. I wouldn’t tell you if you had.” She drummed her fingers on the chair arm and let her foot pump. “I wouldn’t even tell you if one of your clients had a new contract bid…with a substantial bonus.”
“Yeah, yeah, and his initials are Kadeem Gregg.” Rissa simpered when Yvette frowned. “We closed the deal before I left.” She stuck out her tongue and made a face.
“No wonder you had such a good time. You could afford it.”
“Please. My man has a good job. He didn’t need my little commission to make sure that I had a good time.” Unloading her bag, Rissa looked over her shoulder. Her partner really did look like she thought she’d missed out on something good.
But hey, life is hard and we can’t all be me.
“Yeah, that’s why you’re going to donate your little commission to charity, right?”
Rissa shot her partner a deadly look. “Don’t hate.”
“It’s what I do.” Yvette dropped her foot to the floor and sighed. Pulling her skirt lower on her plump thighs, she tried to look disinterested and failed miserably. “So, are you going to tell me more about your trip? You actually look rested and as your partner I feel compelled to ask…”
Rissa shook her head. “That’s pitiful.”
“You know I live vicariously through you.” Yvette sighed, blowing through pursed lips. “Off a cliff, huh?”
“You know…” The knock at her door stopped her. Pulling the door open, Rissa faced Karee’s big smile. “Doesn’t the intercom work anymore?”
“Of course it does.” Karee smiled brightly.
“So you’re at my door because…”
“Oh, I just wanted to make sure you were back, and I wondered how your trip was, how you and Dench enjoyed…everything.”
Yvette feigned innocence when Rissa glared at her. “Why is it so important to everyone to know that my husband is protective, indulgent, and loving? Maybe if you all would get out of my business, I could enjoy him.”
“Just so touchy,” Yvette muttered, plucking at the T-shirt Rissa had given her.
Taking the reprimand seriously, Karee brushed a hand over her pleated skirt and swayed on her toes. “I just wanted to let you know that Marcus Sawyer is here to see you.”
“Thank you, I’ll be right there.”
Peering at the shopping bag on Rissa’s desk, Karee made little effort to conceal her curiosity. “Did you bring back souvenirs?”
“Yes.” Rissa grabbed the bag and shoved it into Karee’s arms. “There’s something in there for everyone. You’ll find the stuff for you with your name on it.”
Looking like she had something else to say, Karee took the bag and swayed again. Rissa waited. When she said nothing more, Rissa turned to Yvette, who stood and headed for the door with her shirt, sandals, and coffee. Taking Karee’s arm, she turned her and stalked majestically down the hall, towing her along.
Best of intentions
, Rissa told herself as she walked toward the lobby.
They’re nosy because they care.
Stepping into the lobby, she found Marcus Sawyer sitting in a corner chair. Deep in thought, he sat with his legs wide and his head low, folded hands dropped between his knees. Totally occupied, he didn’t see or hear her the first time she called his name.
“Marcus?” She walked closer. “Hi…”
“Oh. Rissa.” Gripping the arms of the chair, he pushed to his feet and offered his hand. “I know I didn’t have an appointment, but if you have a minute?”
There was something about the look in his face that told her that this was a Now Or Never moment for him. “Sure,” she said. “Come on back to the office.”
He followed her, but looked hesitant when she indicated the red chairs in front of her desk. When she sat, he took a deep breath before following suit. Seated, he immediately dropped his chin to his chest and folded his hands. He tried crossing his legs, then sat with them wide, his feet flat on the floor.
When Rissa parted her lips, he looked up and lifted a hand to stop her. “I came to say I’ve got to get out. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and everything you’ve tried to do for me, but I can’t do this any more.”
“Are you asking me to trash your contract?”
Nobody does that!
It was bad enough that he’d spent most of his freshman season dancing on the fine edge of disaster, but who didn’t want a second chance?
In his place, I sure as hell would.
“Rissa, the NFL is a dream, but it’s not for everybody.” His head swung heavily from side to side. “It’s too big, too much for me, and right now I feel like it’s swallowing me. You see all the trouble I found just trying to get through the first year? Bad and wild as you used to think I was, I never did any of the stuff I’ve been into lately.
“I’m not a bad person, really, I’m not.” He sniffed hard and shook his head again when she leaned toward him. “Maybe it’s a maturity thing. Maybe I’m just not ready.” He shrugged. “So I’ve been thinking about it. I want out—for now. I want to go back to school, maybe finish up a second degree, but I can’t survive being pro right now. I mean the money is good, the women are hot, and all the attention is off the chain, but it’s all too much. It’s too big.”
“Have you talked to Dench?”
“Not yet. I wanted to talk to you first.” He grinned. “You’re tougher.”
“I always said you were smart.” She grinned back and reached for his hand. “I hate to lose you as a client, Marcus.”
He held her hand gently and lifted his shoulders. “Who knows?” He let his shoulders drop as he released her hand. “A year, maybe two years from now, as long as I keep working out, I may come back.”
“You know that’s rare…”
He nodded. “Yeah, but what’s for you is for you, and if I do, I’ll come back stronger. Oh, and I’m going to keep seeing Chris. Working with her helped me get this far.”
Standing, Marcus wiped his hands against his pant legs and smiled. “That’s all I came to say, I guess. I’m going to call Coach soon’s I leave here.”
“He’s not going to like it.”
Marcus shrugged. “Can’t be helped. Like I said, I’ve got to do what’s right for me.”
“Okay.” Rissa stood and walked him to the door. “I’ll draw up the paperwork and we’ll finalize everything next week.” She shook his hand and opened the door. “Marcus?” When he turned, the quick kiss that brushed his cheek made him suddenly shy. “No matter how all of this turns out, don’t be a stranger, okay?”
“Okay.” He kissed her cheek and nodded. “It’s all good.”
And that’s the way we want to keep it,
Turning back to her desk, she had a moment to wonder how things were with James and Sierra Clarence. It had been a while since she’d last spoken with either of them.
The last time we spoke, they asked again about Dench and me standing as the baby’s godparents.
The absence of pain surprised her.
I’m getting better at this,
she thought proudly.
Maybe Jamaica really did help…
Almost on cue, her phone buzzed. Reaching, touching the button, Rissa heard Karee’s voice. “Rissa, the Clarences are in the office to see you, if you can fit them in.” Her voice dropped and Rissa could tell that her mouth was close to the speaker. “And thank you, I can’t wait to wear it,” she whispered. “This bikini is the right size and color and everything, and the little cover-up, omigod, I can’t wait to wear it. Thank you!”
The connection broke so quickly that it left Rissa stunned. Oh well, at least she knew that Karee liked her gift.
Now I have to go face Jimmy and Sierra.
Standing, Rissa was glad that she and Yvette had made personal greetings a part of their corporate policy. Taking her time walking to the lobby gave her a minute to compose herself, but nothing could have prepared her for the sight of James and Sierra Clarence—and the baby carriage.
The Clarences looked every inch like the upwardly mobile little family they were. Sierra and James both wore their tailored True Religion jeans and classic boots with flair. She’d added a flirty little feminine blouse and a blazer to complete her outfit, and Jimmy’s trademark flat Ivy cap matched the dark denim of his jacket perfectly. He’d gained a good bit of muscle since the last time she’d seen them, and Rissa had no doubt that if he flexed, she’d be treated to a ‘gun show.’
As attractive as they were, the accessory that held Rissa’s eye was the stroller between them. Her palms were suddenly sweaty and her mouth strangely dry, and the irony was not lost on her as she crossed the room. “Hey, guys,” she said softly, not wanting to frighten the baby—or herself.
The proud young parents stood with their hands on the carriage and smiled. James spoke first. “We thought you might want to meet him in person and since we were out this way, it seemed like a good time for introductions.”
Rissa swallowed hard and felt her pulse gallop, but she managed to hold onto her smile. Bending carefully, she lifted the blanket the child’s careful mother had placed over the stroller’s hood and fell hopelessly in love. Little JJ looked up at her with bright, guileless eyes the color of melting chocolate and sealed himself in her heart when he smiled.
Cherubic, the infant had yet to form the features of his parents, but the healthy beauty of his infantile form was obvious. Touching his hand with her finger, Rissa loved the softness of his skin, and his baby powder scent. Kneeling at his side, she marveled at his flawlessness.