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Dirty Little Midlife Mess

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WITH MY SWEAT-SOAKED SPORTS BRA stuck to me and my hair a frizzy mess, I lie back on my yoga mat and let out a long breath. Other yogis are rolling up their mats, and I force myself to sit up and lean against my hands.
Candice smiles at me from the front of the room before walking over. “How was that?”
I blow out a breath. “Tough as ever.”
“You’re getting better. I remember the first time you came to one of my classes, you couldn’t even touch your toes.” She sits next to me, cross-legged, posture perfect, and nods at other students as they file out of the room. “All the work you’re putting in has paid off.”
I glance at the loose waist of my yoga pants and nod. “I’ve lost weight. If you’d asked me a year ago if that was possible, I would have laughed in your face.”
“It’s all that walking and yoga. And other activities you and Wes are doing.” Candice arches a brow, grinning.
“That and the fact that Wes has a criminally healthy diet. I brought chocolate home last week and he looked at it like it would jump up and bite him. He refused to eat any! I considered breaking up with him for that alone.”
Candice laughs. “You balance each other out.”
“Maybe.” With great effort, I get to my feet and start rolling up my yoga mat. Dabbing my towel over my forehead, I let out a breath. “See you tomorrow?”
“I’ve got the early shift at Four Cups, so I’ll be there when we open.” Candice smiles at me.
Gathering my things, I sling my gym bag over my shoulder and make my way out the studio door. Candice moved her studio from her previous space down the street to a room at the back of the Heart’s Cove Hotel. Walking through a lush courtyard, I make my way to the lobby and see the twins poring over a computer screen on the other side of the reception desk.
“Hi Dorothy. Margaret.”
“Simone.” Margaret smiles, a twinkle in her eye. She and Dorothy exchange a glance as they straighten up. Margaret smooths her hands down the front of her wide-leg trousers. “Come here for a moment, would you?”
I angle toward the desk and lean over it, watching as Dorothy spins the monitor toward me. A social media post greets me, and Dorothy asks me a question I answered an hour ago about responding to comments. Frowning, I glance at her. She’s usually really quick to learn new things on the computer. She hasn’t needed my help with this kind of thing for a while.
I point out what she needs to do, then stop when Margaret puts her hand on her sister’s shoulder. They both glance at the lobby doors, then at me.
I frown.
Something’s going on.
A shuffling sound behind me draws my attention, and I spy Candice coming through to the lobby. Odd. Usually she goes directly from the studio around the side of the hotel to her car. She sees me and throws me a panicked sort of smile.
Then the bell above the lobby door tinkles, and Wes walks into the room.
His presence fills the space, pressing against me like a physical touch. In his usual faded jeans and simple T-shirt, he combs his fingers through his hair and throws me a roguish grin. His dimples make an appearance, and I forgive him for the chocolate incident. I can just about bear the thought of him not eating dessert if it means he’ll look like that while he looks at me.
“Hey.” My tongue feels heavy in my mouth. I’m a grown woman, for crying out loud! The man makes me feel off-balance with nothing more than a grin.
“Hey, beautiful.” He closes the distance between us and wraps a strong arm around my waist. His lips dip to mine, and I hear something that sounds suspiciously like a longing sigh coming from Candice’s corner. Wes’s hand splays over my back while his other palm rests against the side of my neck. He kisses me right there in the lobby, tongue and all.
When I fall back, I’m flushed. Overwhelmed. “Wow.”
Wes just grins. “I want to show you something.” He slips his fingers into mine and tugs. I have no choice but to follow as he leads me out through the lobby door and across the parking lot.
Then I see it.
A gleaming black SUV with a big red bow stretched over the roof. It’s parked against the curb, proud and on display, and I stop in my tracks. Wes pauses beside me, a smile teasing at his lips.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a key fob, dangling it between two long fingers. “Happy birthday, Simone.”
“No.” I shake my head. “Absolutely not.”
He tilts his head. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“You didn’t get me a car.”
Instead of answering, Wes flips the fob and presses a button. The locks on the car click as the lights flash. He glances at me again, a smile teasing his lips.
“You got yourself a car. I’m going to get a used car I can afford.”
“Wes.” Crossing my arms, I level him with a stare. “You didn’t get me a car. It’s too much.”
“Nothing is too much.”
Oh, my heart. I catch my breath, and judging by the curling of Wes’s lips, he doesn’t miss a moment of it. Grasping my hand, he curls my fingers around the key fob. “At least sit down in the front seat, Simone.”
“I’ll get fat.”
He laughs. “What?”
“I’ve been walking everywhere and doing yoga and eating chicken and broccoli. If I get a car, I’ll get fat.” I’m not making any sense. I know I’m not making any sense. But I can’t stop talking.
“So let’s get fat together.”
That makes me throw him a flat stare. “You don’t eat chocolate, Wes.”
Damn it, his grin is too sexy to resist. “I’ll love you no matter what size you are, Simone.” He gestures to the car. “Just get in the driver’s seat and see how it feels.”
“It’ll feel amazing. That’s the problem!”
“Oh, get in the car, Simone!” Dorothy calls out from behind me.
I turn to see her, Margaret, Candice, and—unbelievably—Agnes crowding under the entrance awning of the hotel. They give me encouraging smiles and wave me forward.
“Was everyone in on this?” I ask, turning to Wes.
“I needed to make sure you’d be busy while I went to pick it up.”
“You planned this.”
“It’s your forty-fifth birthday this weekend, Simone.” Wes slides his arm around my back. “This summer has been the best summer of my life, and I owe that to you. A car is nothing.”
Letting out a long breath, I bite my lip. The best summer of his life? My heart does cartwheels, mostly because I agree. After the Fringe Festival, Four Cups was busier than ever. With the promise of a Hollywood catering contract next year, we’re looking at soaring profits and a surprisingly good investment.
But that’s not what made this summer amazing. It’s the fact that every night I’ve gone to sleep next to Wes, and every morning I’ve woken up beside him. I’ve walked through the woods most mornings with a mug of coffee in my hands to find Fiona sitting on an Adirondack chair, waiting for me. I’ve spent my days in the office Wes built, surrounded by friends and loved ones.
For the first time in my life, I’ve felt more than happy. I’ve felt at peace. Content. Totally, utterly satisfied.
“Simone…” Wes tugs my hand, dragging me around to the driver’s side. We stand next to the door as my mouth dries up, eyes widening as I look at the leather seats, the gleaming dash with high-tech electronics.
“My old car, Bertha, didn’t even have power windows,” I blurt.
A warm, deep chuckle. Wes’s fingers tilt my chin and, hidden from our audience at the hotel, Wes plants another kiss on my lips. He tastes minty, fresh, and exactly like Wes.
I close my eyes and melt into him, my heart thumping so hard I feel like I’m going to pass out. When I part my lips and feel Wes’s tongue sweep into my mouth, I let out a low moan.
He smiles, pulling back, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he looks at me. “I love you, Simone. Now get in the car.”
Heart banging, I do as he says. He closes the door when I slide in, and I find myself surrounded by that new-car smell, hands on a smooth steering wheel, butt in a leather seat that probably gets warm at the push of a button.
I have a car!
Putting the key in the ignition, I turn it and feel the car rumble to life beneath me. Laughing, I lay on the horn and watch the twins, Agnes, and Candice whoop and scream from the parking lot, their arms in the air. My smile splits my face in half, then, impossibly, widens as Wes slides into the passenger seat.
He hooks a hand around the nape of my neck and crushes his lips to mine. “Happy birthday, beautiful.”
“This is too much.”
“Nothing is too much, Simone.”
“You didn’t need to get me this.”
“I know.” He smiles. “I know you didn’t ask for this. I know you don’t want things from me. But I also know I want you to be safe and independent and able to get around on your own.”
“You’re just sick of me using your truck.”
“That too.” He grins, then kisses me again. Hard. By the time he pulls away, my head is spinning.
With a wave and another honk, I say goodbye to my friends and drive down Cove Boulevard toward my beautiful home on the coast. Wes slides his hand over my thigh and squeezes, sending a thrill rushing through my veins. When we make it home, I barely have time to close the car door before I’m being hauled over Wes’s shoulder with a squeal.
“Now it’s time for part two,” he growls.
“Part two?”
“Of your present. It involves my tongue.” He smacks my ass as we walk toward the front door. “And less clothing.”
Laughing, I let him carry me across the threshold and onto the couch. He tugs my pants off with a violent yank, then kneels in front of me and hooks my bare legs over his shoulders. “Now I want you to lie back against those cushions and enjoy yourself, yeah? No protests. Not one word about refusing the presents I give you.”
“I think I can manage that,” I reply, breathless, then let my head fall back as his mouth gets to work. His hair is silky in my fingers, his deep moans rumbling through my core, his big, broad shoulders perfectly framed by my legs.
Yes, I can accept this kind of birthday present. I might even look forward to it every year.

Candice meets red-hot movie star Blake Harding when she's thrust into the leading lady role...temporarily, at least.


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