Book 2 in the Playground series
Bevvie Bigkorr has always been a contradiction. Her outgoing demeanor masks insecurities about her worth and her body. Her brazen desire contrasts with her complete lack of experience. Her best friend, Marcy, found the man of her dreams in J.L., but Bevvie fears she’ll never have what they do. On top of everything else, her seemingly perfect family is cracking at the seams.
Everything changes when Bevvie meets J.L.’s cousin, Brett Hills, the heroic, handsome doctor returning from abroad. The chemistry blooming between them is as hot as the sinister fires threatening their lives. Bevvie must face both mental and physical blazes if she’s going to learn to trust and work with Brett to uncover the criminal before arson turns to murder… or love and commitment might not be the only things that don’t survive.
They say you never know who you truly are until you face yourself naked, you’re on trial, or you have to run through fire. Of course I never thought they meant literally. I should have known that no matter what evil I had to face…
Wait. I should back up.
“He’d be really lucky if he got to meet you.”
With those simple words my whole life changed. Marcy’s new boyfriend, Jean-Luc a.k.a. J.L., thought his cousin would be lucky to meet me?
That was over the summer. J.L introduced me by mail to Brett Hills, who was in Africa working with Doctors Without Borders. I felt an instant connection, or …something, but it was safe; he was half a world away.
Now Brett was coming home for Christmas and staying in Indiana for good. Jean-Luc and I were meeting Brett at the airport.
Which explains why I had two dresses, three pairs of pants and half-dozen tops on the bed and almost nothing on me.
I hoped kissing wasn’t the only thing I was brave enough to do under the mistletoe this year.
A mental picture of all the possibilities excited me and freaked me out at the same time.
I grabbed a shirt that showed off my breasts (the one benefit of being larger is I’m larger in a few key areas), and shimmied into my wool pants—the top and pants were all black—as usual.
I ran downstairs.
I looked out the living room windows, staring out at the bleak, gray sky, and the tiny colored Christmas lights across the street in my neighbor’s yard. A thin layer of frost covered the lawn.
Emotions barreled through me, high-force winds trying to throw me off balance. Goya, my six-month-old black lab, sensed my mood. She stared out the living room windows too. I bent down and she licked my hand.
I put my palms against the cold panes of the glass. My palms warmed the window enough I thought steam would rise. I went from excitement to lust in a blink. I never thought something that started out so cold might get so hot.
They say that visualization boosts performance. If that’s true I’ll never have anything to worry about.
Goya nuzzled my leg. I guess she thought I needed support. I bent down and rubbed her head. “Black Bean, I can handle it.”
It started to snow. Maybe his flight would be delayed for a few minutes and I could get my mind together so I’d be cool and collected when I met him.
I had one prayer. Please don’t let him be as hot as Jean-Luc. I don’t think I could stand that.
I glanced at myself in the mirror. I was glad I’d taken extra time with my hair and make-up. I’d lost almost forty pounds since August. Marcy was a big help, calling me every day, helping me with my eating plan, exercise plan, and mental plan. But I still wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be.
Honk, honk. Beep, beep.
Okay, okay, I can do this.
I ran out into the snow.
I got in the car. “Hi, Jean-Luc.”
“You okay there, Bevvie?” Jean-Luc asked after I buckled myself in. “Is it warm enough in here for you? You’re looking a little pale.”
“Oh, I’m all right. I’m just nervous.”
“Don’t be. Brett is a great guy. He’s very chill.”
“He’ll love you. Who wouldn’t?”
“Thanks.” My cheeks flushed with the compliment. It was probably one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me. Of course it could be because he feels he has to be nice to me; he’s my best friend’s boyfriend.
Marcy was working during Christmas break at the country club where she had worked over the summer so she didn’t come with us to the airport. That’s good. I didn’t need an audience if this didn’t go well.
The snow fell harder.
“Do you think the landing will be delayed?” I asked. I sounded very young, much younger than my almost nineteen years.
“Yeah, probably. It was on time when I called to check a few minutes ago, though.”
We parked and trudged into the airport. Jean-Luc found a place for us to sit near baggage claim.
He turned to me. “Marcy tells me your birthday is coming up.”
I nodded. “Thursday, a week and a half from now.”
“Your birthday is on Christmas Eve? No shit.”
I smiled. “No shit.”
“And your parents didn’t name you Chris, or Christina, or Noel, or something?”
“Nope.” I wasn’t about to tell him the story of how I got the name Beverly. No way. Not ever. I never told anybody that. Some secrets are secrets for a reason.
I had a strange feeling it would be a season of secrets.
We heard crackling over the loud speaker that meant an announcement was coming. “The following flights are delayed…” Then the voice was muffled. “Flight number, mpphr-grarble, mhaurmble-hua-rumble-mm-y.” When the woman’s message repeated, it was clear Brett’s flight was one of the ones delayed.
Thank God. I’m not the kind of person to get nervous usually, but Brett’s letters and occasional email had been so great I had dared to hope. More than hope. Let myself dream, want, fantasize, almost obsess. But if the barbed wire feeling in my stomach is any indication I could use a moment for a deep breath to steady myself. I’ve never dated. Not after that day.
J.L and I faced forward and stared at the baggage carousels for a while.
Be brave. Don’t let him hurt me.
“What?” Jean-Luc asked.
“I heard you.”
“I didn’t say anything,” I said.
“Yes. You did.”
My skin prickled as warm fire rushed to my cheeks.
J.L. twisted in his seat until he faced me. He took my hands in his. “Bevvie…”
I closed my eyes. My God, did I say that out loud?
“Bevvie, look at me.”
I looked at him.
“Have you talked to Marcy about this?”
“Have you talked to Evan about this?”
I shook my head. “No. Why?”
A slow smile spread and the left corner of his mouth perked way up and then down a little and then up like he was trying to control it.
“Um, Evan is sort of an expert in making people feel comfortable about all things emotional and sexual.”
“Evan? Like Evan and Heather, Evan? From my neighborhood? Cute Evan? Marcy’s and your friend Evan? The Evan who works with autistic kids Evan? That Evan?”
The left side of his mouth popped up even further.
“Uh-huh. That Evan.”
“No fucking way.” The emotional I could understand, but sexual?
J.L. broke out into full-out belly laughter. It wasn’t loud, but his whole body shook.
“I mean Evan’s so…so…wholesome.”
J.L. put his hands across his stomach. Like he was going to bust a gut. He tried really hard to make a straight face. Succeeded for like a millisecond. Went back to smiling. Tried again. Huge smile.
“Jean-Luc….” I warned.
“I’m sorry, Bevvie. I’m not laughing at you.”
We stared at each other for a minute. J.L. was still smiling.
“You’re kidding me,” I said.
He smiled bigger.
“Nope. Totally serious. You should talk to Evan.”
I turned around to face front. “Like that’s gonna happen.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw that he stopped smiling. “I’m serious, Bevvie.”
I shook my head.
“I am not going to talk to Evan about this.”
J.L. squeezed my hand. “You know you can always talk to me if you need to.”
Yeah, right. “I know,” I said.
He squeezed my hand again and let go.
“It’s all right to be a little scared,” J.L. said.
I wish I were just a little scared. That would be nice.
I let out a large sigh. “Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
We sat in silence.
Sex. It wasn’t enough to not talk about it. I had to not think about it. I was going to drive myself nuts. J.L. watched me worrying the tips of my fingernails down to the nubs, and he tried to distract me with interesting stories about Atlanta. He and Marcy had moved down there at the end of summer so Marcy could go to college, and they were only back for her mid-winter break.
The baggage area flooded with people, suddenly alive with sound. J.L. and I stood up, and we both looked around.
Brett and I had never traded pictures. Truthfully, I had intentionally avoided it, and thankfully, he never asked. I spotted him. I recognized him immediately, even through the crowd and only seeing a little of his profile. He looked a lot like Jean-Luc.
I tapped J.L. on the shoulder and pointed.
“Hey,” J.L. said. “Good eye. That’s him.”
We walked over.
“Yo, bro,” J.L. said and enveloped him in a big hug. Brett didn’t hug him back; he just stared at me. J.L. turned slightly, kept an arm over Brett’s shoulder, still half hugging him, holding him tight to his body. “Brett, this is Bevvie, Bevvie this is Brett.”
Side-by-side, it was easy to see the differences. J.L. was taller. They both had dirty-blond hair, but Brett’s was darker with a few strands that had a little more red to them. Brett was tan and his nose had an Owen Wilson-esqe bump in the middle, like he’d broken it and it was reset, but not well.
He was very hot, but not sear-your-retinas-off like J.L. Thank God.
J.L. was grinning like an idiot, and he kept bouncing Brett into his side in the half hug.
“Cuz,” Brett said softly. “Let go of me.”
J.L. let him go.
Brett walked up to me.
“Hi,” I said sheepishly.
“Hey,” he said.
I looked down, and he reached over and gently took my chin and tilted it up to him. BAM! My entire body snapped with tiny crackling fires as the tension barged through me. My eyes opened wide. If I thought I wanted sex before, I was dying for it now.
“Is it all right if I hug you?” he asked softly.
I nodded into his hand.
He opened his arms and moved in toward me, but then stepped back.
“I’ve been on a plane for thirteen hours. I’m kind of sweaty and nasty.”
“It’s okay,” I whispered.
Then I was in his arms.
I expected a quick hello hug. But he hugged me and didn’t let go. My body warmed as if an electric blanket had been wrapped around me, but wasn’t a blanket, it was him. His firm, calm, warm embrace.
“Finally,” he said, exhaling near my ear.
I felt his hands gently rubbing my mid back over my thick coat.
“Bevvie,” he whispered.
One hand tunneled under my hair and found my neck.
“Bevvie,” he whispered again. “You smell so good.” He took a deep, deep breath. “You feel so, so good.”
Brett ran his nose against the outside of my ear. My legs got weak. I always thought that was an expression, but all the strength keeping me up loosened. I wobbled and sagged into Brett, and he steadied me.
“You all right?”
I wanted to rub my lips against his jaw. I wanted to bite him. Claw my nails down his back. I wasn’t afraid of sex. I was afraid of me. I was afraid of unleashing the unholy mega hell of desire in me, and letting it escape. If I didn’t tamp this down it could trample a city.
“Bevvie,” Brett said again.
My lips were close to his neck, my gut burned with need, and my heart seized up in panic. Oh God, Brett.
“We should go,” Jean-Luc said.
I had forgotten he was there.
I didn’t know how to steady myself. I wanted to ask Brett how his flight was, how his days in Africa since his last letter were, but my brain swam like fish scattering when you threw a stone into dark waters. Brett still held me. When he let go, I followed Jean-Luc and Brett, zombie-like, out to the car. Brett insisted I ride shotgun, even though I tried to give the front passenger seat to him.
“Are you pretty beat?” Jean-Luc asked Brett, twisting to look over his shoulder.
Brett looked at me. “Beat but also wired.”
“I’ll take you to your place,” Jean-Luc said.
Jean-Luc and Brett talked, but I was too busy wondering if they had noticed my reaction to Brett, to follow the conversation. Before I knew it, we were parked in front of an apartment complex and they were getting out to unload Brett’s things from the trunk. Brett leaned in the car window, and, even though he wasn’t that close, I felt his body heat, not just on my face, but everywhere.
“I’m probably going to sleep for twenty-four hours straight,” Brett said. “Then I’ll call you.”
He kissed his own thumb, and then gently, for barely a second, placed it to my lower lip. A zing of startling electricity buzzed through me.
Brett smiled a huge smile. It was devastating. He winked.
Then he and Jean-Luc disappeared into the building. Jean-Luc came back a few minutes later and hopped back into the driver’s seat.
We looked at each other.
Jean-Luc smiled at me.
“I guess that went well,” Jean-Luc said.
I put my face in my hands. “I didn’t have a heart attack.”
“Bevvie, you’ll be fine.”
“Oh my God, I would kill for some ice cream right now. I can’t even have ice cream.”
“You don’t need ice cream, Bevvie. You’re fine. Just breathe. I thought I was going to grow old waiting for the two of you to finish that hug.”
“Maybe I will talk to Evan,” I said.
Jean-Luc looked at me. “I highly recommend it.”
“I Gotta Feeling”
When I saw her standing next to J.L. my neurons scrambled like someone had just tried to make an omelet out of my gray matter—using a lightning bolt as a spatula.
Our eyes met, and I felt like someone slapped defibrillator paddles on me, and shocked me a double dose. All I was missing was someone to yell, ‘Clear!’
I’d never felt anything like it, and hadn’t expected it. I stopped short without realizing it. I consciously had to tell my feet to get moving again. Of course, the command from brain to feet took only a millisecond, then all of me honed in on her like a heat-seeking missile locked on its target.
My cousin got in the way of my goal by practically tackling me with a huge hug. I looked over his shoulder at Bevvie.
God, she was beautiful.
She had to be at least five ten. From this angle I couldn’t tell if some of her height might have been from her boot heel. She had these amazing blue eyes. They were deeper blue than the average eye color, a rich azure that reminded me of how the sky gets over the savannah when the sun drops low. It wasn’t just their color that held me. It was the wealth of human traits I saw reflected in those pools, and the rapid changes of emotion that rippled across them. Intelligence. Happiness. Hope. Lust. Doubt. Fear.
My gaze dropped to her lips. They were very pink, and parted slightly.
I had asked J.L. what she looked like once, but his answer was evasive. He had steered the conversation to her personality instead, which had made me wonder.
J.L. still had his arm draped around my shoulder.
“Cuz,” I said. “Let go of me.”
What I wanted to say was, ‘Get off me, so I can get to my girl.’
J.L. finally let go, and I walked over to her. I could feel her feel me. At least, I thought I could, but then she looked down.
I went to hug her, almost had her in my arms, when I first smelled her. She smelled so good; it made me realize I must smell bad. I stepped back.
She let me hug her anyway.
Then I had her in my arms. I’ve had my share of women before, but none of them ever felt like home. I wanted to touch her everywhere.
I buried my nose in her hair. She smelled like a…bakery. Her hair smelled like fruit, and her skin, God, her skin. Without realizing it, I was rubbing my nose against the top of her ear, trying to figure out what it smelled like, but she was so soft, God, soft everywhere, I got distracted. I think she said something, but I didn’t hear. I was taking in that amazing smell. I couldn’t place it. She smelled like something rich and forbidden and unnamed topped with chocolate and butter maybe. Inwardly I groaned. I think I might have whispered her name. She seemed to wobble a little.
J.L. said it was time to go.
I wanted to punch him.