During her extensive toast, Melissa takes the time to thank everyone in the room and an additional twenty people for all the blessings in her life, and lucky for us she remembers to thank Rusty just after God.
“Last, but not least …” She lifts her glass and looks with melting adoration at Carey, and the room goes quiet again.
Carey straightens and stills, so achingly vigilant, and I realize this must be the moment of Melissa’s surprise.
“Of course I would be a scatterbrained mess without my amazing assistant, Carey,” she says. “This girl has been with me since the beginning, back when all I had was my marriage, my kids, and a little furniture store in Jackson. She keeps my calendar sane! Carey, here’s to another ten years.”
The room fills with a few awwwws and congratulatory Hear, hears. Glasses clink, but somehow a hush falls in the space around me. To anyone else, this appears to be an amazing honor Melissa Tripp just bestowed on her nobody assistant, but I know the truth. And regardless of what she just told me, so does Carey. I look over at her. Her hair has come out of its bun; her face is flushed from running around nonstop for the past two hours. She even has a smudge of powdered sugar on her cheek. Her left hand is tucked beneath her right arm—a sign that she’s tired and struggling with cramping. I watch her hold on to her gracious smile as long as she can, but the moment Melissa turns away, it falters.
I turn to her, nudging her shoulder with mine when she remains as still as a statue. “That was sweet, yeah?”
She stares straight ahead. “I think that was Melly’s surprise.”
My smile falls. “Carey—”
“I’ve given her my whole life, and she just thanked me for keeping her calendar organized.”
What a punch in the gut. I don’t know what to say, so without thinking, I reach down and slide her hand into mine. Although her fingers remain rigid, I hear her breathing ease.
“You know how you can hear someone say a lie so many times that it starts to feel true?” She waits for me to nod and then continues. “I think that’s what happened with me and Melly. She calls me her light bulb switch, like I’m just a button she pushes to get ideas. Does she really think that’s how this works?”
I open my mouth to answer but don’t want to speak without something helpful to say, and right now, nothing helpful is materializing.
“To her I’ll always be the teenage girl in cutoffs who wandered into her showroom, probably because that’s how I still see myself,” she says. “Are we in some sort of sick symbiotic relationship?”
I pause, considering how honest I want to be. “It seems more parasitic to me,” I admit. Okay, so pretty honest, then.
Carey looks up at me, and I realize she’s about to freak out. Her inhales are coming in fast and shallow; her face has gone a clammy gray.
A quick glance around the room tells me the lunch is winding down. I assume we’re expected to stay to settle everything up and make sure every executive gets a cab back to the airport, but Carey isn’t going to be very good at her job right now. She’s done enough.
Very gently, I tug on her hand in mine.
I expect her to stop once we’re out on the sidewalk, maybe take a deep, fortifying breath. But she holds up the hand that’s not currently wrapped around my fingers and hails a cab.
We climb in and fall silent once she’s given the name of our hotel. Instead of sliding across the seat, she stays close, holding on to my hand.
Carey lets me pay for the cab without argument and follows me out onto the sidewalk, but once there, she turns determined again, taking long strides into the hotel and directly to the elevators.
She turns to me. “Which floor are you on?”
My insides go tight; are we just going to go back to our rooms? It’s only three o’clock in the afternoon. I want to help her figure this out, not go sit alone for the rest of the day. “Ninth. Where are you?”
Inside the elevator, she presses the button for the ninth floor, but doesn’t then hit the button for the seventh. Confusion starts to set in, and I open my mouth to respond, but she steps forward with a determination that makes my mind go blank. Instinct brings my hands to her waist.
Her hands twist in my shirt, pulling me down to her, and then her mouth is on mine, hungry and soft. She stretches higher, one hand in my hair, sliding her tongue over me, licking me like candy. It’s sweet and gentle until she bites my lip with a quiet growl.
When she pulls back, I suck in a breath like I haven’t had oxygen in a week. “Carey?”
She makes a fist in the back of my hair and stares at my mouth.
“Not to interrupt your momentum here,” I say, licking my lips. They taste like her lip gloss. “But what’s happening?”
When Carey turns her eyes up to mine, she looks a little wild. Her gaze is bright, oddly hyperfocused. She’s only a few inches shorter than I am, and I can feel the heat of her breath on my chin. My pulse is going so hard and fast it echoes in my ears.
“I was picking up where we left off last night.”
“And I like that idea. Very much.” I sweep a strand of her hair away from her cheek. “But I don’t want to do this just because you’re upset.”
“That isn’t what this is. This is me doing what I want for once.”
“Oh. So the plan … ?”
“The plan,” she says in a gentle, husky voice, “is we are going to go to your room. I’ll probably have a drink from the minibar.”
“Okay,” I say, smiling down at her. Not that she specifically needs a drink, but I don’t think it would hurt for her to unwind a little. “That sounds like a brilliant idea.”
The elevator doors open and she pulls me with her so we both stumble against a wall. I bend, sliding my mouth over hers again, and she guides one of my hands up her waist, over her ribs, stopping just beneath her breast.
“And then,” she says, and she stares up at me with wide blue-green eyes that seem just south of completely sane at the moment, “you are going to bend me over your bed and fuck me until I forget my name.”
Words fall away. My knees turn rubbery and my mouth immediately dries. I am completely in awe of Demanding Carey, and right now there are few things I want more than exactly what she’s just described.
Finally I manage a simple “I can do that.”
“I think that will help.” She lifts a shaking hand, twists her fingers in my hair again. “I’m working on being more assertive. Does that plan sound good to you, too?”
I bend, dragging my teeth along her jaw. “Yes, it does.”
She drops her hand. “If I tell you that it’s been a solid two years since I’ve had sex, does that sound pathetic?”
“It sounds pathetic to me.” She takes a step back and throws her arms out wide and yells at the ceiling. “I’m twenty-six! Good sex should be the foundation of every weekend at my age, but is it?”
She looks back at me and presses a hand to my stomach. “And you have a great body and fucking fantastic teeth.”
I laugh, delighted by this radiant, emphatic woman.
But then a shadow of doubt crosses over her expression. “Am I being too forward?”
Coming slowly back to my senses, I’m aware that her confidence is new. She may be emphatic, but she’s never been given space to be this commanding before. “Absolutely not.” I lean in, kissing her once, and staying close even when I pull away. “You’re the one who left the pool last night, not me.”
This earns me a smile. “I would have totally had sex with you, just so you know. Those stupid kids interrupted us and I freaked out realizing that Melly could have been out on her balcony, too. But right now I don’t care who sees us.”
I kiss a path from her collarbone to her jaw. “Good.”
“So we’re going to do it now.” Her voice vibrates against my lips. “And I think you’re going to blow my mind.” I straighten, and her eyes search mine. “Right, James?”
Compassion for her agitation makes me earnest: “I promise to do my best.”
“One drink,” she says. She slides her hand into mine, but doesn’t move from where she leans against the wall.
“One drink sounds perfect,” I agree. I’m not going to rush her. We could stand in this hallway talking about it for hours if she wants.
“And then you’re going to … ?” Her eyebrows rise to prompt me.
I grin and heat fills my chest when she stares hungrily at my mouth. “Rumor has it I’m going to bend you over the bed.”
“Correct.” Carey smiles, tugs my hand, and leads me down the hall.
EXCERPT FROM New Life, Old Love
Chapter Nine: Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
Imagine the scene: Melly hands me the outline for this book to look over. As with most things in our life, she’s done the initial legwork and so I know it’s solid. I do a quick scan and give her an immediate “Yep, looks good,” and she hovers for only a second before letting that sassy smile spread over her face.
“Great,” she says. “Glad to hear it.”
Two months later, I’m handed the outline again. Nothing’s changed. Same exact outline. Except this time, I actually take the time to look at it. And this time, I notice that she’s outlined for me to write, among other things, the chapter on s-e-x.
Do I take it as a compliment? Hell yeah. Nothing better than knowing your wife trusts you to handle the important stuff. But is it also intimidating? Another hell yeah. It’s one thing to talk about sex in the confines of our marriage—we’ve been together so long that there are things we know about each other’s bodies that we probably don’t even know about our own. But it’s another thing to get on the computer and try to tell millions of people how and when they should be talking about sex in a relationship.