CHAPTER FOURTEEN

March 22

Chuck was still gone when Zoe came out of the bathroom, and that was fine with her. She hoped he would be gone a while yet. With any luck she’d be asleep by the time he returned. It would be one less night of fending off awkward advances.

Her hair was wet from the shower and she had a fresh white towel wrapped around her torso. The towel was there to hide the temptation of her body from Chuck. Because he just wouldn’t be able to help himself. He simply couldn’t keep his hands off her when she was sans clothes. But with Chuck still missing in action, the towel could go. She tugged it loose and let it fall to the floor.

Someone knocked on the door.

Chuck.

“Shit.”

The idiot had probably forgotten the key card. She snatched the towel up from the floor and hurriedly wrapped it around her body again as she strode quickly to the door. She’d planned to knock herself out with some Ambien and be asleep by the time he returned. So much for that. Goddammit. She yanked the door open and an epithet froze at the tip of her tongue as she saw who was actually there.

“Emily?”

Her friend smirked. “You look pissed off.”

Zoe sighed. “Sorry. I thought you were Chuck.”

Emily laughed. “That explains the pissed-off part. Can I come in?”

“I was just about to go to bed.”

“Come on. Just for a few minutes. I’m bored.”

Zoe shrugged. “Okay. But just for a few minutes. I really want to get to sleep soon.”

Emily walked into the room and sat at the edge of the bed. Zoe closed the door and tugged the towel a notch higher over her breasts before sitting in a chair next to the bed. She crossed her legs, clasping her hands over a knee. “You didn’t happen to see Mr. Wonderful out there, did you?”

Emily made a face. “Yeah. I ran into him.”

“Something wrong? He say something obnoxious again?”

Emily shook her head. “No. Not really. Just talking to him is awkward for me. He knows I fucking hate him.”

“Yeah. I guess he does. What was he doing?”

“I think he was going to a bar across the street. At least that’s what he said. Sounded like he’s gonna be gone a while.”

Zoe smiled. She wouldn’t need the Ambien to get to sleep now. Just knowing she wouldn’t have to deal with the stress of fending off Chuck relaxed her in ways no drug could. “Well…good. Maybe he’ll get drunk and hook up with somebody there.”

Emily laughed. “Maybe you should get drunk and hook up.”

“Maybe. But I’m too tired for that tonight.”

Emily stared at Zoe without speaking for a long moment, biting her lower lip as she looked her friend up and down. Zoe frowned and fought the impulse to squirm in her chair. She remembered Emily’s whispered proposition during their stop at the rest area earlier and began to feel uncomfortable again.

Emily chuckled. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

Another chuckle. “You seem…uptight.”

“I’m not.”

Emily shrugged. “Whatever. Look. I know you said you’re tired, but I kind of want to party a little.”

“What do you mean?”

Another shrug. “I have a little coke. We could do a bump and go to my room.”

“Um…” Zoe’s face reddened. “Emily…you know I love you. We’ve been friends forever. But…I don’t know.”

Emily laughed. “What do you think I’m suggesting?”

Zoe’s blush deepened. “Well…there’s that thing you talked about earlier. No offense, but I’m not really into the idea.”

Emily cocked an eyebrow. “Oh? And how do you know until you give it a whirl?”

Zoe was starting to feel frustrated with the conversation. She just wanted Emily to stop talking about this weirdness and leave so she could go to bed. “I don’t know, okay? It’s just not my thing. I’m sorry.”

Emily stood and brushed her hands over her thighs, smoothing the hem of her clingy dress. “That’s cool. I just wanted to put the idea out there. It’s an open-ended invitation, so if you ever change your mind…”

“I won’t.”

Emily shook her head and looked Zoe over one more time. “A shame. It would be the perfect night to play around a little. What with Chuck being gone and all. I’ve got Joe naked and tied to the bed next door.”

Zoe’s blush returned. “Um…”

Emily smiled. “Too much information?”

“Yeah…you could say that.”

Emily kept smiling. “Still, think of the fun we could have. He’s blindfolded, too. You could climb on top of him and pretend you’re me. Wouldn’t that be a trip?”

Zoe thought about it.

Like Chuck, Joe was a very well-built young man. She had no doubt Emily was telling the truth about his current situation. And admittedly it was kind of a hot image…

No. Don’t even think it.

“You’re thinking about it.”

“No. I’m not.”

“Are, too.”

“Jesus, Emily.”

Emily rolled her eyes and went to the door. She stood there with her hand on the knob and looked at Zoe one more time. “You keep on thinking about it. We’ll be up for a while yet.”

Then she opened the door and was gone.

Zoe sat in the chair and stared at the closed door for some time, too stunned to move. She hadn’t expected Emily to repeat the proposition again so soon, or to be so pushy about it. It stirred discomforting doubts about the true depth of their friendship. Would a real friend put her in this kind of position? It wasn’t something that could just be ignored or forgotten. It was out there now. There was no taking it back. Emily was smart. She knew what she had done. It made Zoe feel lonely. Here was this big issue to confront, and the person she discussed hard things with was the one person she couldn’t talk to about it.

Unless…

She gave her head a hard shake. “No. Absolutely not.”

But she kept thinking about it, the images in her head growing more vivid the longer she sat there. She squirmed in the chair again, but this time it was not from discomfort. She closed her eyes. Pictured Joe tied to a bed. She drew in a sharp breath and her nipples stiffened. She uncrossed her legs and slipped a hand under the towel.

Christ, I can’t believe I’m doing this. Stop it!

But she couldn’t stop. The fantasy had gone too far and she was too aroused. An impulse made her stand up and tug the towel off. She grabbed her duffel bag from the floor and set it on the bed. She sorted through the clothes, pulled out shorts and a T-shirt, and donned them.

She left the room and stood for a moment on the balcony, searching the motel’s parking lot for any sign of Chuck. He didn’t seem to be around. She saw the bar Emily had mentioned on the other side of the street. Dimly audible music wafted from that direction. If he had really gone there, he wouldn’t be back anytime soon. Chuck wasn’t the type to quit after one drink.

Good. Drink yourself into a coma for all I fucking care.

She turned away from the parking lot and approached the door to Emily’s room. She raised a hand to knock, but hesitated a moment longer. She took a deep breath. Her heart was racing. She could hear it.

This is crazy. It’s not too late to stop. Just go back to bed.

She took another deep breath.

Then she knocked.

The door came open and Emily stood there smiling at her. “Changed your mind?”

Zoe forced a smile. “Yeah.”

Emily stepped aside and Zoe walked into the room. She felt a wild thrill of excitement when she saw Joe on the bed, just as Emily had described.

Jesus Christ. Holy shit. I can’t believe I’m doing this.

Joe stirred on the bed. “Who’s there, baby?” He sounded groggy.

“Don’t talk!” Emily snapped.

Joe opened his mouth again-then closed it, saying nothing.

Emily took Zoe by the hand and guided her over to a little table by the window. “Coke first, then fucking.”

Zoe sat and accepted the clipped straw Emily handed her. She gaped at the chopped lines of powder arranged on a tray. “I thought you said a little coke.”

Emily shrugged. “I lied. So what?”

“Whatever.” Zoe inserted the straw in a nostril and bent her head to the table, snorting up most of a line in one go. “Oh. Wow. Fuck.”

“Good, huh?”

Zoe grinned. “Hell, yeah.”

Emily stood and peeled the black dress off over her head. She went to the bed and climbed in next to Joe, curling one long, shapely leg over his groin. She flashed Zoe a naughty smile and reached over Joe to pat the other side of the bed. “Join us.”

Zoe finished the line of coke with a final snort. Feeling deliciously, wickedly debauched, she stood up and undressed.

Then she went to the bed and climbed in.

She didn’t see Chuck until the next morning.

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