Tequila And Tingles

Turtle Pine, 2

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Never mind he’s an Olympic athlete and the most handsome man she’s ever met.

This one-night stand is her last. Beth Revlin is a divorced mother in a small town where the gossip has finally stopped. After tonight, her buttons are firmly fastened, all the way up to her neck, until her kids are out of school. Straight and narrow from here out. Or so she tells herself.

Except Mr. One-Night-Stand turns up as her daughter’s New Swim Coach.

Jason Johnson plans to stay in Turtle Pine just long enough to get his feet under him after a spate of bad luck – and then he’s gone. But Beth and her children touch his heart in ways he’d forgotten about. Now he’s facing choices he never expected. Maybe it wasn’t bad luck that brought him to town after all – maybe it was good.

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The rough-knit fabric of the blanket against Beth’s cheek wasn’t quite right. Nothing about the rounded edge of the stitching was familiar, and it was enough to bring her out of that hazy stay-awake-or-fall-back-asleep state of being. Maybe if her eyes weren’t filled with grit, she could get a look at the room to see where her best friend had brought her after plying her with tequila Beth had known better than to drink. Shots never treated her well, but Tina had handed her one, the night had been right and that fuzzy memory of tossing it back was beginning to get very clear.

She wasn’t sure what time it was, but Beth was certain it was too early for all this. This being waking up and looking at things. It was certainly too dang early for that stream of light coming from somewhere. She shifted, and the pull of muscles in her shoulders and back slowed her movements as she sat up on her elbows.
Oh crap.
She rubbed her face, blinking through the haze of morning. A headache thundered at the base of her skull. The last ten or so hours were more than a little sketchy. Pushing hair from her eyes did little to put the pieces together, but at least she could adequately see she was in a hotel room.

Oh boy.

Yesterday evening, she’d gone with Tina to Buckleberry, like they did about once every couple of months. They’d hit their favorite spot, there were fuzzy memories of a sexy guy in a fabulous dream, and now this. Sometime between polishing off shot number one and shot number…whatever…Tina must have decided to forgo her designated-driver duties in favor of a hotel room for the night. Probably a wise idea. A twisting, winding road with a belly full of alcohol wasn’t a good combination.

Beth stretched again, straightening her legs and resisting the sharp whip of a charley horse trying to happen. Dancing also must have been involved. By the pissed-off refusal to move going on in her back, it had been vigorous. Perhaps it was time to retire high heels.
And late-night dancing. Another thud went through her head. Ugh. And drinking should be at the top of that retirement list. She rubbed the side of her head and noticed then that the shower was on.

“Tina?”

No answer. Beth yawned and tossed the covers back. A brisk blast of frosty air smacked her naked skin. Um. Chills peppered her from head to toe, crinkling her pores and sending them running and screaming with a shiver. She fisted the rough sheet to her chest and tried sinking into the warmth of the bed.

She was naked. Yep, drinking was officially retired. She wasn’t about to become one of those women other people whispered about. Have her kids come home and saying, “Jessica said her mom said she can’t play with me because you’re old enough to know better. What’s that mean?” Oh, hell to the no. They were settled in Turtle Pine, and the whispers about her quick divorce last year had finally stopped. She hoped whatever happened last night was good enough to last a lifetime, because she was done.

She tossed the covers back once more to get dressed before her friend appeared out of the shower and made this morning embarrassingly worse. Somewhere around here, there should be a blue dress. Or at least, there better be, or Tina was sure to have a humiliating story to tell about where it went. Beth pinched the bridge of her nose, and despite all her moaning, the scenery didn’t change. She was still in this hotel room and naked for reasons she didn’t know.

Too old for all this.

She managed to swing her legs off the side of the bed. Better to be dressed and appearing normal before Tina emerged from the shower looking like a hundred bucks. Beth pushed off the bed and spied a black wallet on the nightstand. The dark leather halted her movement. A sweeping haze rushed through her mind and took her vision on a psychedelic field trip. Air cleaned out of her lungs and left her gasping and so dizzy that she plopped back down on the mattress.

Tina didn’t carry a man’s wallet.

And neither did Beth. She sat there for a long moment, hoping for a sensible explanation to spring to mind for the wallet’s manly presence. She got nothing. The only thing happening was the pulses of a headache getting stronger. Staring hard at the object that didn’t belong failed to manufacture any excuses about its presence. Lots of unreasonable ones she didn’t want to think about came to mind. Also, whatever explanation she could concoct for the wallet also needed to explain the pile of keys, ChapStick and some change. A pile of all very manly-looking things.

Beth pulled her legs up and…right, still naked. That pounding at the back of her skull rushed to her chest. She lifted the wallet and flipped it open to find a man’s face on a Georgia driver’s license staring back at her. Holy shit. She flung it across the room.

Her heart skittered. Maybe she’d found it on the street…with those other belongings? Or robbed him. She pushed hair from her face and then pulled it in an attempt to rip memories out of the black, dark spots of her brain. She could have picked his pockets. She squinted at his things. For eighty-three cents and some lip balm. Yeah, things weren’t looking good when you hoped you had gone on a crime spree. She tiptoed across the room and opened the wallet with her toe.
Jason Johnson was printed across the top of the license. A man with blond hair and a set of attractive blues stared at her from the picture. Oh, those eyes. They pierced right into her. Dared her not to smile as she looked at him. Tried to convince her to do things that a woman crawling off the back of a divorce with two kids shouldn’t be thinking. But darn it, those eyes were stunning. While hair pulling hadn’t worked, looking into his face tugged at a few things stashed away in her cloudy brain. Memories of making a flirty flick of her wrist.

A wink. Fisting of his shirt… God only knew where it had ended.

Holy mother of everybody…had she picked up a stranger at a bar? The shower water in the bathroom came to a sudden and deafening end. The scratch of the curtain sliding across a metal pole went over her skin. The night rushed back in humiliating waves of memories.

Jason Johnson. The Olympic gold medalist for swimming. Last night in the bar. There’d been flirting, some laughing, and, oh yes, there was that memory of her dancing. No wonder she was sore.

Beth rubbed her head as the pounding there found another wave. Fuzzy memories took root among the blinding throbbing. She clearly remembered Tina pushing her a little glass filled with tequila and asking how many other chances would she get to see an Olympian up close and personal. Beth hadn’t hesitated and downed that shot. Things were fuzzy after that, she more than likely downed several others.

Beth squeezed her eyes shut. Oh my God. She was a mom. And she was in her thirties. She was too old to be having one-night stands with athletes. She dropped her face in her hands. Too old to be having one-night stands with anybody. That was stuff for young, single and carefree twenty-year-olds. Something she’d never been at that age.

She spun in the room, finally spying her dress in a pile on the floor and her phone next to it. Time to beat a hasty retreat. She put it on, grabbed her cell and found her panties by the door. Somehow, her face heated a little more. By the door. The sun could be a foot in front of her and she probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Just on the floor. Like she’d been so eager to get them off she’d dropped them as soon as she was inside. She guessed it was better than the elevator. That had to count for something. It wasn’t much.

She grabbed them, got one foot in and then the toe of her other hung on the crotch. She dance-hopped with panic streaming her rushing veins. Sweat pebbled down her spine and she turned and crashed against the wall.

Something banged in the bathroom. If she were forced to guess, she’d say it was a tall man, lean, with hard muscles covering every last inch of him. All that beefcake partnered with eyes made for getting girls to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

“Beth?” His voice was deep.

It echoed through her head, stirring up warmth with memories of how he’d whispered to her last night. She got her panties around her rear and a foot out the door as the bathroom door handle jiggled. Then another call of her name. She never stopped, just kept going down the hall. Running, actually. The hotel door closed with a snap. The simple tan carpet was stiff under her bare toes. She stopped and looked down. A whimper choked out of her. Shoes. She looked back and didn’t even know which room she’d come out of.

She waved her hands. Forget them. She kept going, following signs for the elevator. The cold tile was a good bit grosser on her feet than she could have predicted. An at-home pedicure with a bleach foot soak was in her future. She danced on tiptoes as the elevator dropped. The first-floor button illuminated and the doors opened to a hall. A sign said there was a pool to the right, and she went in that direction.

It seemed the most fitting place for a shoeless person to be. Also, blessedly, sterilizing chlorine to soak her feet. She sat on the edge with her legs in the water and sent a message to Tina for a pickup, ASAP. And a note for some shoes. Beth leaned back on her hands and kicked her feet to make sure chlorine got between her toes and under her nails and in every last crack and crevice, whether they’d been on the floor or not. The rush of running out of Jason’s room slowed. She took a breath and a bucketful of stress left on the exhale. That devil sunrise bounced brightly off the glass wall by the pool, driving a heck of an ache all over her head.

She lowered her face. Idiot.

“Was it that bad?”

Beth started at the sound of Tina’s voice and found her friend next to her in a squat, with her elbows resting on her knees. How long had she been sitting here?

She rubbed the pain in her head. “That was fast. Or I passed out. Or maybe I fainted from stress.” Distress?

“I was drinking coffee at breakfast when you texted.” She swiveled and pointed at a doorway. “Just through there.”

“You stayed at the hotel too?”

Tina lifted a well-shaped brow. “You think I would leave my best friend in the wrong town all by herself at the mercy of a man she just met last night?”

“Bless you.”

Tina shook her head. “I emailed you my room number last night. I couldn’t get a text out from my room to save my life.”

Beth checked her phone and sure enough, found the message. “I guess this means you don’t have an extra pair of shoes.”

“I don’t. What happened to yours? I was surprised you even managed to get them off last night with the way you two were all over each other.”

Beth groaned. “Tell me there wasn’t a scene.”

“There wasn’t a scene.”

She eyed her friend, wondering how much Tina was lying, and found her headache was too strong to puzzle out the answer to her own question. She probably didn’t want to know the full of it anyway. There was a reason they went to Buckleberry for their nights out. About six thousand reasons as a matter of fact, and they were also known as the citizens of Turtle Pine, Alabama. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Lucky for you, I’m parked by the sidewalk. You won’t have to barefoot it far.”

“Yay me.”

“Being you spent the night with America’s Sexiest Swimmer, it’s a small price to pay. And don’t think for a second I’m not going to be all over you with questions the moment I get some coffee and a biscuit in you.”

Beth managed to get to her feet and found stiffness carried through her muscles and also in her joints. Goodness, had she aged ten years overnight? “Don’t get your hopes too high. There’s not much I remember.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Believe it. I remember the shots. I remember flirting with Jason Johnson and leaving with him. The rest is a blur until I woke this morning.” Man, that was a sad sack of shit to carry. Spend the night with the hottest guy she’d ever laid eyes on and she couldn’t remember all the good parts.

“That’s so disappointing. That’s really it?”

Disappointing was just the crust of it, especially since she’d decided this was her last time for a night to Buckleberry, and she’d never have another shot at that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “You know what happens when I drink tequila.”

“Dang. I didn’t think you’d had enough for that. I just wanted to give you confidence to make sure you’d have the nerve to go through with it.”

“Mission accomplished for getting the nerve up.” By the soreness in her thighs, just what exactly had her nerves gone through with? Or was that ache from dancing? Lord, she didn’t want to know… Ha. What a lie. She wanted to know exactly why. She hadn’t been achy and sore in some of these muscles in a long time. Beth got settled in the car and wished someone would invent a pill to forget the morning after. Something to leave you with happy thoughts and nothing else. People at her age didn’t exactly need to be learning life lessons from their mistakes anyway.

Tina pulled away from the hotel and adjusted the radio volume down. “By the way, your mom called. Said she couldn’t reach you. Katie’s swim lessons were moved up an hour today.”

“What?” Beth groaned and eyed the clock. That meant she’d have to be poolside in an hour and a half. They were an hour from home. “How bad do I look?”

Tina winced. “Take time to put on some makeup. Or better yet—” she flipped open a compartment in the roof of her car and dug out huge sunglasses, “—wear these until further notice.”

Beth took the oversize shades and glanced out the windshield to the dark clouds swirling on the horizon. “It’s about to rain and we’ll be indoors. I’ll look stupid with these on.”

Without saying a word, Tina flipped the visor down and Beth shrieked at her reflection. God. Her eyes. And the bags. She turned to the side and pulled her skin back to her hairline. What happened to her pores? They were craters. She crammed the glasses on her face, lucky she didn’t break her nose in the process. Was tequila otherwise known as an aging potion? First her body, now her appearance. Never again. Tequila, we are done. “Glasses it is.”

“Just yawn a lot and tell people Kent kept you up most of the night.”

“Good idea. He’s still trying to cut that tooth in, so Mom might have been up with him a lot.”

“Poor baby. It’s taking forever for this one to come through.”

“I’m starting to wonder if he doesn’t have two coming down back-to-back on the same side. Did yours do that?”

“Not that I remember, but it’s been a while. The older they get, the more of a blur the horrible parts are.”

Beth laughed. “Then hopefully these dreaded three-times-a-week swim lessons I’ve signed Katie up for will soon be a fading memory.”

Tina pulled through a drive through and passed over a big coffee and some breakfast. “I bet Katie has fun once she gets comfortable.”

“I’m not sure I’ll have the will to fight her stubbornness if she doesn’t want to go back. I figure it’s already going to be a chore to go the first time if she walks in and decides she doesn’t want to be there.”

“She loves to swim, so I bet she’ll be okay.”

“I hope so. That’s why I picked swimming instead of something she doesn’t know, like T-ball.”

“One day, you’re going to look up and she’ll have suddenly settled in.”

“Until then, she’s learned that crying makes everyone around her uncomfortable and we get to leave.”

“It’ll get better.”

Beth hoped so. If anyone would know about a kid adjusting, it would be Tina. Her dad had basically left her on her grandparents’ doorstep when she was a little girl, all on the heels of her mom dying. Confused, lost, not understanding half of what was happening to her, and there she was in a new home with a new family, new school, new everything. She’d come out well.

Even still, Tina hadn’t had an easy time of it. Beth remembered a lot of late-night talking where Tina had dreamed and hoped things would be different in the morning. For as long as Beth could remember, Tina had wished on first stars in the night, full moons and every wishbone that came out of a bird—whether it was Thanksgiving or not—that she’d wake up and have everything back to normal.

Beth didn’t want that for her daughter. It wasn’t fair for kids to be left out in the cold like that. A parent suddenly deciding he didn’t like this life anymore and wanted out? Asshole. Ugh. Like their child support getting drafted from their check was supposed to replace the times they played games together, sang in the car on trips and shared rainy-day naps. What kind of dickshit could do that to a child? A man she’d been married to, that’s who.

And what kind of a blind idiot did that make her since she’d never seen it coming? Beth sank against the seat.

Tina glanced to her. “I can hear you grinding your teeth over there.”

Beth flipped the visor up. “I would just feel a lot better about it if she had a friend. I’m afraid she’s going to start kindergarten and she won’t open up and play with anyone. She’s going to be all alone.”

A soft smile played across Tina’s face. “It won’t be like that. She’ll be surrounded by other kids and will settle right on in and find her place.”

Beth let out a long breath that left her chest heavy and achy. “I wish she had someone she could talk to while she’s going through all this, because she sure as heck isn’t sharing with me. You had a friend. I want Katie to have someone.”

“She’ll find someone, I promise. Probably in swim class. There’s ten kids in the class, and I heard Megan is putting her daughter in. She’s an only child and could be somebody for Katie. After a couple of classes, ask about setting up a playdate or something.”

“I like Megan. She was in the bank last week and we chitchatted a bit.” The woman talked a lot, but on a scale of one to ten, there were worse things to be annoyed by. Megan and her family were good people.

“See? There you go.”

“Thanks. I may need a lot more pep talks when it comes to Katie still.”

“Anytime.”

“It sounds awful, but I’m so glad Bill left while Kent was still a baby. Kent hasn’t seen or talked to him in nearly a year, and I don’t think he remembers a thing about him. It would suit me just fine if that didn’t change.”

“That’s not awful. That’s being a good mom. And if Bill ever tries to march back in their lives after deciding the family thing is his scene after all, I would talk to a lawyer to make visitation or anything a living hell. There’s got to be some sort of abandonment thing or something to keep him away.”

“I hope you’re right. Better yet, I hope I never have to cross that bridge.” The idea of one day dreaming that her kids’ dad would never be a part of their lives hadn’t existed. It was part of the white-picket-fence deal. Mom, dad, kids and a dog. Happiness farting out every corner of her life. That had been the plan. All Beth had gotten was the fence and the kids. She hadn’t even gotten the dog. Not with Bill’s allergies. And the fence was long gone. The only reason she was getting child support was because the court required it. When he still didn’t pony up the money, they took it from his paycheck. She didn’t want anything from him, but her stubbornness wasn’t going to keep her kids warm in the winter.

Tina shook. “Just thinking about him gives me the creeps. He better not find himself alone a dark alley with me, that’s all I’m saying.”

She laughed. “You and me both.”

Tina pulled in at Beth’s parent’s house. Beth’s car was still there from last night. As she got the door open, Katie was already coming out the front door with her green swimsuit on. Kent wobbled behind her, mastering the art of running.

“Mommy!”

She caught her daughter against her side. “There’s my tough girl. Did you have fun?”

She nodded. “Kent slept last night. All night.”

She gave Katie an extra squeeze. “That’s because you’re such a good big sister.”

Kent reached her side and she lifted him up on the other hip, leaving a series of kisses on his cheek that earned her a lot of giggles. And suddenly, the adrenaline-packed, hellish morning no longer existed. “There’s my handsome boy.”

She bounced Katie. “You ready for swim lessons?”

She got a shrug. Hey, it wasn’t a tantrum.

 

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