Just This Once by Evelyn Jeannie Hall
Lacey Farrell flicked her bamboo blinds to the side to squint out into paradise. No, literally, this was paradise. With a capital P. When people thought of that term, this image sprang to mind. Sparkling turquoise water. White sand beaches. Emerald green palm trees swaying softly in the breeze. Overwater bungalows on stilts. Warmth, sunshine, and wide cloudless skies for as far as the eye could see. It was almost otherworldly being here in the Maldives, a tiny island chain off the coast of India.
But since this was where her older sister Katrina wanted to have her wedding, here Lacey was. Not that Katrina was much older than her. She, Katrina, and her other sister Elizabeth were identical triplets, so the gaps in their ages amounted to mere minutes. Ten, in the case of Katrina, since she’d been born first. Fifteen for Elizabeth, since she’d been born last. So, yes, that made Lacey the notorious middle child.
She’d lived up to the rep when they were kids, going out of her way to capture as much of their single mother’s attention as possible. Lacey had always been the loudest triplet. The one with no discernible brain to mouth filter. It’d been her way of standing out from the pack, which could be particularly difficult when your sisters looked exactly the same as you did. But today—and this subsequent week of her spring break—wouldn’t be about her. This time would be all about Katrina and her beloved groom.
Lacey watched as said groom and his best man appeared on the raised plank path that connected each of their individual bungalows and caught a snatch of their conversation. Fortunately, the water meant their words reached her even though they kept their voices low. Lacey considered herself a professional grade eavesdropper. She didn’t even feel guilty about it. Not usually, anyway.
“You ready for all this?” Zane Morrison, the best man, asked, stroking his goatee as his dark shaven head shined in the sunlight.
“Getting married? Of course,” Benji Torres, the husband-to-be, sounded one hundred and fifty percent confident.
“I just mean the formalization of everything. The legal ramifications. Any decent lawyer would probably advise you to sign a prenup.”
Benji brought them to an abrupt halt, his tone incredulous. “A prenup? Are you loco? This is Kat. Why would I ever need a prenup?”
“There’s a pretty significant disparagement between your two income levels. That’s all I’m saying.”
Zane was mentioning prenuptial agreements? What the hell? Based on Benji’s reaction, he agreed with her.
“I would give Kat anything and everything,” his normal smooth baritone staccato-like and choppy. “I thought you understood that.”
Only then did Zane backpedal. “Naw, man. I do. I was just…” He made a spinning motion with his hands. “You know, playing devil’s advocate.”
“Picked a shitty time to do it.”
“I know,” Zane dropped his head forward, his tone sincere. “I… shouldn’t have brought it up.”
For a long moment, the two men stood there regarding one another. Finally, Benji slapped his hand on Zane’s back. “I realize you’re trying to look out for me, and I know your own marriage didn’t turn out like you wanted it to. But not every woman is Aliyah.”
Lacey had never heard the name Aliyah before, and she’d had no idea that Zane had ever had a wife.
“Thank Christ,” Zane muttered. Then, he seemed to shake off whatever bug he’d had up his butt. “I know you’re right. I know Kat is awesome. And I’m sorry for ever saying anything.”
“You gonna be all right this week?”
“Yeah.” He rubbed the top of his bare scalp. Then, he lifted his chin and changed the subject. “So, still gonna dance at your reception?”
“Sure. Dancing’s fun. Why wouldn’t we?”
Privately, Lacey had laughed over this little development. Neither Katrina nor her groom had ever been the most graceful of humans on a dancefloor, despite Benji’s athletic propensity to study mixed martial arts. They were more likely to look like a couple of frolicking seals than the winners of Dancing with the Stars. And attempting to step lively on sand? This really could turn into a slapstick comedy scene. Of course, if the two fell over each other, they’d probably just start making out right there amongst the seaweed.
Wait… Did the crystal-clear waters of the Maldives even have seaweed?
Zane went palms up to his buddy in surrender. “Didn’t say you shouldn’t. Just don’t expect me to join in.”
“You have to, man. Kat wants everyone to dance, and the bride gets what the bride wants.” The best man grunted something Lacey couldn’t quite hear. Apparently, the groom couldn’t hear him either. “Say again?”
“I said, I. Don’t. Dance,” the best man spoke up, enunciating every syllable.
“Bro, this won’t be some high-pressure environment. This wedding will consist of nine people. That’s it. And most of the time we’ll all be out there cutting up and acting silly. Don’t worry if you don’t have the moves.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t have the moves, asshole,” Zane’s tone was jocular, but Lacey couldn’t forget how tense he’d been just moments before. An edge of something Lacey couldn’t quite identify remained in his voice. Hesitancy, maybe? Aggravation? “Besides, I could out-dance you even if I was blindfolded and missing a leg.”
“Fuck off,” Benji told him good-naturedly.
The two men began to banter back and forth, and Lacey relaxed. Typically, it took a lot to piss off Benji, and up till now, everything she’d seen out of Zane had shown him to be even more laidback. Which proved to be a good thing since Zane looked intimidating as all hell.
Appearances were misleading in his case, though. Despite his six-foot three height, heavily muscled body, and imposing, two hundred plus pound frame, the guy was a big teddy bear. He also happened to be a demon in the sack. A delightfully gifted demon, in both size and technique.
Lacey knew that from personal experience.
She let her mind drift to the night she’d discovered this interesting fact. Well, okay, one night and one afternoon. Their initial go-around had occurred the evening of the triplets’ first Thanksgiving in New York. Benji had invited the three of them over, and as Benji’s colleague and best bud, Zane had been in attendance, as well.
And since her weakness had always been tall, dark, and handsome—yes, archetypal as hell, but truthful nonetheless—when he’d flirted with her, she’d covertly flirted right back. Well, mostly covertly. At least until Benji’s father had crashed the proceedings with his pregnant date, causing waves of tension to suck the glee out of a fun shindig.
Still, once their party broke up to go their own separate ways, instead of going back home with Elizabeth, she’d hopped into Zane’s black Range Rover. He’d whisked her off to his Central Park West condo where they’d pulled an all-nighter, and not the studying kind.
The vast breadth of his shoulders had made quite an impression. So had the memory of her wrapping both hands around one of his biceps, only to discover he was so fucking built her fingers didn’t connect. His abs reminded her of a xylophone. Or the clichéd washboard. But his eight-pack was totally for real. She’d never slept with a man who could’ve legitimately rivaled both Marvel and DC superheroes in his level of overall fitness. She’d also never been with a man who’d been that well…
It’d actually caused her some trepidation at first.
Of course, he’d proven himself to be more than capable of knowing how to fit inside her without causing even the teeniest sliver of discomfort. They’d smooched like adult film stars once he’d pulled into his parking garage, then barely made it through his apartment door before stripping off naked. He’d dragged her to his bed with all this passion but had then slowed down to be careful during their first joining. It’d been quite lovely, actually.
Less than a month later, they’d hooked up again. Though that time had been more about need and desperation on her part. She’d required an escape, and Zane had willingly provided her one.
So she now had two episodes worth of erotic imagery, and she’d been using it as daydream fodder ever since.
It also came in handy when she spent special one-on-one time with her vibrator.
Granted, it’d been difficult to be in the same room with him and not openly goggle at his male beauty, particularly since so many tawdry memories accompanied seeing him again. He smelled incredible, too, like sandalwood mixed with freshly laundered cotton, and whenever he was within her proximity, the scent took her right back to those wild times. So, she’d actively avoided him.
Cue the constant awkwardness she’d been subject to any time they’d been around one another since.
She let the blinds slide back into place as he and Benji approached so there would be no chance of her being seen. This had been the main drawback to her short-lived affair with Zane. Due to one, Zane being Benji’s best friend, and two, he, Benji, and Katrina being equal partners at their co-owned financial firm, it’d meant that Lacey crossed paths with him repeatedly. Every time she did, she felt embarrassed. Like “floor, please swallow me up” embarrassed.
She never should’ve gone there, especially not that second time when she’d felt so vulnerable and upset. Most irritating of all was that she’d known better but had dived into the friend of a friend pool anyway. Twice. Now, he’d be the BFF of her brother-in-law.
Not that he hadn’t been cool about it thus far. Zane hadn’t made any inappropriate jokes or acted weird anytime they’d shared the same space. Nope. Not once. In fact, any time they did have to interact, he treated her with polite cordiality. Which was great except for the inner doubts it brought to the surface of Lacey’s psyche. Did their time together not have the impact on him that it’d had on her?
She wished she could take it all back.
For multiple reasons, she hadn’t broadcasted her poor decision-making skills. The only person aware she hadn’t come home Thanksgiving night was Elizabeth, and fortunately for Lacey, her youngest sister had been a bastion of discretion. To Lacey’s knowledge, neither Katrina or her hubby-to-be knew anything about her and Zane’s sex fests. And considering Benji’s new penchant for overprotectiveness where all three Farrells were concerned, she thought it best to keep it that way.
Once the two men had vanished from view, she gazed outside at the rest of the resort again.
Back home in New York, the temperatures had plunged to a frigid twenty-eight degrees as the city rode out a late season snowstorm. While here, the mercury hovered between eighty and eighty-five degrees morning, noon, and night. Their quaint conclave of thatched roofs consisted of eight individual units surrounding a common building where there were hot tubs, a spa, a gym, and a restaurant with a full-service staff available.
Luxury at its finest.
As she changed out of her nightgown in preparation for what was certain to be a busy day, she visualized this next week to be everything she and her loved ones hoped it would.
Now came the simple matter of making sure it actually happened.