Heart Craving

Heart Craving

Sandra Hill

June 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-508-9

Why get divorced when they still love each other?


 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

They share love, laughter, and a passion that burns up the night.

But can he share the secrets that threaten their marriage?

Nick and Paula DeCello are getting divorced in seven days, even though they love each other dearly. His overprotectiveness has finally become too much for her, and there's something painful locked deep inside him. Desperate, Nick takes the advice of a quirky, old fortune teller to find his wife's "heart craving." To Nick, that means sexual fantasies.

Armed with a hilarious collection of advice books, he embarks on a wild, funny seduction of Paula that proves there's nothing wrong with their relationship in the bedroom. When it comes to giving her what her heart really craves-soul-sharing communication-he'll have to take a big step outside his comfort zone.


Reviews

"Too funny for words." -All About Romance

Excerpt

Chapter One

You can’t keep a good man down... uh, out...

NICK DICELLO POUNDED on the apartment door with one fist. The other clutched the legal document he’d just received from the subpoena server he’d been dodging for weeks.

"Paula! Paula, are you in there? Answer the door!”

The only response was the wild barking of a dog.

He took a key out of his back pocket and tried, unsuccess­fully, to open the door. "Damn! She must have changed the lock.”

Nick pressed his forehead wearily against the cold wood of the doorframe, then stiffened with determination. Paula wasn’t going to hide from him this time.

A locked door. No problem. Not for a cop in Newark, New Jersey. Hell! Not for a guy who’d grown up on the streets of Newark, either.

Pulling a flat leather pouch from the inside pocket of his sport coat, he selected a small tool. Within seconds, he was inside.

He braced himself for the sound of her security alarm, but silence greeted him. The same old Paula! he thought, with disgust. He closed the door after him and checked the keypad. Yep, despite his nagging, she’d forgotten once again to turn on the alarm system.

The dog leaped forward then and almost knocked him to the floor. Backing him up against the wall, the huge German shepherd stood on its hind legs and put its lethal front paws on his chest.

"How ya doin’, Gonzo?”

The dog lapped his tongue across Nick’s face in reply.

He pushed the dog aside with an affectionate ruffle of his fur and walked around the familiar room, checking the door with its numerous locks, the windows, and the high tech, direct-link police security console—unplugged and obviously never used.

Satisfied that everything was okay, Nick dropped down into a chair, planning to wait for Paula’s return. He flicked on the remote for the TV and surfed the channels, stopping at A Woman’s Edge, with Dr. Sheila Storm.

Lord, what do women see in this broad?

Dr. Sheila was interviewing a bunch of psycho psychics who claimed they could help people improve their love lives.

"Hah!” he remarked to Gonzo, who sprawled at his feet adoringly. It was nice to have someone show a little appreciation for him. Even if it was only a dog.

Pointing to the TV, he told Gonzo, "Women believe all this relationship crap, you know, but we men know better.”

"Woof!” Gonzo agreed.

"If women would just tell men what they really want, instead of expecting us dumb schmucks to figure it out on our own, there wouldn’t be any need for scam shrinks. Or divorce,” he added bleakly.

Gonzo gave him one of those male looks that said, "Women! Go figure!”

"So, how’s your love life, boy? Better than mine, I hope.”

Before Gonzo had a chance to respond, Nick heard water running in the bathroom down the hall. The shower. Uh-oh! Paula was home, after all.

Briefly, he considered joining her for a quick one.

Nah, she’s gonna be mad enough that I’ve broken into the apartment.

On the other hand...

He couldn’t stop picturing Paula. He knew exactly how she’d look. Her shoulder-length auburn hair slicked back wetly. Soap bubbles covering the nipples of her full breasts, sliding down her flat belly, through silky curls, onto her long, long legs.

Oh, hell!

His heart slammed against his chest wall, and he swallowed hard, forcing himself to look back at the TV, where another loony bird was now advising that men should find out what women crave.

Nick tried to listen, but he was unable to stop thinking about Paula in the shower. Remembering. And a long-neglected part of his body—the one with no common sense at all— jump-started into a full-blown, mind-blistering hard-on.

It had been way too long.

He slipped off his loafers, then his socks. Just testing, he told himself. He wasn’t really stupid enough to try joining her in the shower. Mentally patting himself on the back for his great self-control, he decided, like brain-dead men throughout the ages, to test himself just a little bit more by removing his slacks and jacket and shirt.

And the intelligence cells in his brain melted.

Testosterone took charge.

"Maybe Paula wouldn’t really mind my company. Maybe she’s as horny as I am.”

Gonzo rolled his eyes. That was doggie for, "It’s your funeral, buddy.”

Rub-a-dub-dub, clueless man style...

PAULA STOOD UNDER the shower, her face raised to the warm spray. She’d been there a long time, but still the tears kept coming.

Her lawyer had called a little while ago to tell her that the divorce papers had finally been served on Nick. Their hearing would be in one week.

"So, it’s finally over,” she said aloud.

"Never!” a harsh voice said, and Paula jumped with shock.

Nick opened the shower doors and stepped inside, totally, gloriously nude. At first, relief flooded over her that it wasn’t a stranger who’d broken into her apartment. But her relief soon turned to outrage.

"Nick, get out! You know our lawyers said we shouldn’t be talking.”

"Actually, it wasn’t talking I had in mind.” He smiled at her crookedly, his black hair already wet, beads of water rolling down his neck onto his broad shoulders.

Paula recognized the gleam of passion in his pale blue eyes, and it was impossible to ignore the powerful arousal standing out from his body—what Nick used to call a "blue steeler,” a particularly virile erection.

"No, Nick. My lawyer says we should stay away from each other. Let alone... you know.” She backed up against the tile wall and Nick followed. A predator, dangerous and out of control.

"What do lawyers know?” he murmured, pressing his body up against her, rubbing his crisp chest hairs against her sensitive skin. He moaned huskily with appreciation. "You’re my wife. I’m your husb—”

"No! We haven’t been husband and wife for a year,” she cried out and pushed against his chest, to no avail. "You creep! The last time I saw you was at Casey’s Tavern a month ago. You were three sheets to the wind, and your arm was wrapped around Sheila Zeppenzipper.”

"Zapper,” he corrected, putting his hands on her waist and nuzzling her neck.

"Huh?” Paula’s mind was fast turning fuzzy as Nick’s hands cupped her bottom and lifted her, parting her legs in the process. He fitted her to his hardness and moved against her rhythmically.

"Zeppenzapper, not zipper.” He lifted her higher so her breasts came level with his mouth, her toes barely touching the floor.

"Aaarrgh!” Paula wasn’t sure if she groaned over his semantics, or the excruciating pleasure of his mouth suckling her.

"And the reason I was drinking”—he explained with deceptive calmness, deliberately teasing her by pulling away, aware that she didn’t want him to stop—"is that I saw you on the other side of the room with your friends. And you were ignoring me. And I wanted to make you jealous.”

"Jealous! You’re a fool.”

"I know.” He appeared contrite with his black hair plastered to his head and water dripping down the fine bones of his face, like a little boy, but his innocent look was belied by the expert fingers working their magic between their bodies.

"You were trying to make me... oh, my... ah... jealous?” Her knees grew weak, and she tilted her hips forward, reflexively, accommodating his intimate caresses. "After punching Jerry Sullivan... stop that”—she slapped his hand away, only to have it move to another equally erotic place—"in the nose... the week before? Just because he delivered some... some... legal papers to my... uh... apartment?” She knew she was blabbering incoherently. She couldn’t help herself.

Paula hated her weakness. After refusing to see or talk to Nick in person the past year, how could she suddenly succumb to his advances? It must be because he’d caught her off guard, she told herself. And because, with the delivery of the divorce papers today, the clock had begun counting down the final hours of their marriage. Only seven more days.

"There’s a perfectly good explanation.” He brushed her lips with his, back and forth, coaxing her to open for him.

She jerked her head aside. "Huh? What explanation?”

He chucked her under the chin, knowing the effect he was having on her, and loving it. "An explanation as to why I punched Jerry Sullivan, honey. I thought he was your date.”

"Oh, you are incredible! He’s my lawyer, for God’s sake! But even if he was my date, you had no right to hit him.”

"I know. I know.” He closed his eyes on a deep moan as he lifted her once again, wrapping her legs around his waist.

She could barely hear over the roar of blood in her ears.

Taking his erection in his own hand, he placed himself against her.

"What did you say?” she choked out.

"I... don’t... know,” he whispered on a gasp. Before he’d barely entered her body, she began to convulse around him. "That... feels... so-o-o... good.”

It was her turn to gasp.

Trembling with hard-fought restraint, Nick embedded himself in her with one long stroke and began to push her against the shower wall. The stall shook with the force of his thrusts.

Her orgasm never stopped.

Over and over he moved inside her, hard, violent plunges into her woman’s center.

The small spirals of her climax widened, becoming harsher, longer in duration.

Nick seemed to grow larger inside her body’s sheath, reaching for her very womb.

It was over in minutes.

His neck arched backward with a guttural growl of mascu­line release.

Paula felt him jerk inside her, and she shuddered once more with a violent internal convulsion.

Drawing in deep draughts of air, Nick finally pulled away and let her feet slide to the floor. The shower continued to pelt them both with its hot spray.

Leaning back against the opposite wall, fighting for breath, he said, "I love you, Paula.”

Then he grinned with typical male self-satisfaction.

He probably expected her to swoon and say, "Oh, Nick, you are so wonderful. I forgive you everything.”

Instead, she swung her arm in a wide arc and punched him in the stomach.

Love hurts, for sure...

FIFTEEN MINUTES later, Paula padded into the living room in her bare feet, having donned only jeans and a T-shirt. She was still drying her hair with a towel.

"Nick, I told you to leave,” she said testily.

He’d combed his thick black hair off his face, but it was still wet from their shower. She tried to shut off her sensual awareness of him, but memories assaulted her. How many times, over how many years, had she seen him looking just like this?

She had trouble swallowing over the lump in her throat.

He was sitting in front of the television, fully dressed in khaki, pleated slacks, open-collared Oxford shirt, and navy blazer, watching The Woman’s Edge.

Dr. Sheila? Nick?

His long fingers were idly stroking Gonzo’s fur. The traitorous beast sat at his feet, making doggie sounds of slavish ecstasy. A lot like she had a short time ago.

Oh, Lord!

"We have to talk, Paula.” He waved the divorce papers at her angrily.

"Like we just did in the shower?”

"I didn’t plan that. That’s not why I came over here.”

"Hah! The devil made you do it, then?” She threw down her towel with disgust and finger-combed her hair back off her face.

"Nah, it was some other... being,” he countered and winked, looking down between his legs.

Well, she’d stepped into that one. But she’d had enough of his foolishness.

"Listen here, you big jerk. Don’t ever, ever, break into my apartment again and assault me. Because, believe me, I’ll have you arrested. And don’t think I can’t.”

"Assault! Hey, you’re suffering a memory lapse here, babe.” His strong chin lifted with affront. "You wanted it as much as I did.”

She felt her face flame. "Yeah, well, it’s not going to happen ever again. I’ll get a restraining order if I have to. I mean it. This marriage is over.” So, why do I feel like he’ll always be mine?

"If you think a restraining order would stop me, you’ve got another thing—”

Holding up a hand to halt his bitter words, Paula tried another tack. "While you’re here, Nick, there is something I wanted to tell you.” Her voice softened. "I got my master’s degree last week. Finally.”

"Oh, Paula, that’s wonderful!”

She knew that Nick’s enthusiasm was genuine. She’d been an elementary school teacher, attending college at night the past three years to get a master’s degree in social work. He, more than anyone, knew how much time and heart she’d put into her studies.

He stood and opened his arms for her, to hug her in congratulation. She ducked and stepped away. No way could she risk the temptation of his touch. Again.

Suddenly, he seemed to think of something, and an emotion like fear transformed his handsome face. "You’re not... oh, no... don’t tell me. You’re not quitting your job, are you?”

"Yes, I am. I have a couple of interviews set up, including the Patterson Projects, as a youth activity coordinator.”

"No! That’s a DMZ, the most dangerous section of the city. You can’t!”

"Yes, I can, Nick, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And while we’re on the subject, I want you to stop having patrols go by here every night. I’m a grown woman, not a baby. I can take care of myself.”

Nick cringed as all the old arguments resonated between them. This was not the point of her telling him her news.

"Paula, honey, let’s not fight.”

"Don’t you honey me. And fighting is the only thing we do well anymore.”

"Not everything,” he reminded her gently.

"O-o-oh! It’s just like you to think a quick romp in the shower is the answer to everything. Wham-bam, and I’m the cream in your coffee again. You are so predictable.”

He flinched at her uncharacteristic crudeness. Nick hated it when she used street talk. He always wanted her to be up on this impossible nice-girls-don’t pedestal.

"Give me another chance. We can work things out.”

"Nick, don’t do this,” she cried. "You and I have talked till we’re blue in the face. It’s over. Dammit, it’s over.” Her voice cracked with the last words.

Nick’s face flushed with angry resolve. He wasn’t a man who accepted defeat easily. "Over? Never! I’ve made mistakes, but—”

"Nick, stop it. Stop it right now.”

"Paula, I love you...”

She started to cry.

". . . and I think you love me, too...”

She hiccupped.

". . . let me just hold you, sweetheart...”

She blew her nose.

". . . and maybe we can discover what your... ah, problem is... what you really want.”

She could tell by the stunned look on his face that he immediately regretted his poor choice of words.

"My problem?” she shrieked, her mood changing like quicksilver. "You think I have a problem?”

"That’s not what I meant, honey.”

"Let me tell you something, Nick—you’re right. I do have a problem. I crave things you will apparently never understand. And that’s what this divorce is all about. How can a guy who’s so smart be so dumb? I’ll see you in court in one week, you turkey. Be there!”

Seconds later, standing out in the hall with the door shut behind him, Nick shook his head. He felt like he’d been blindsided with a sucker punch.

Women!

He didn’t need a crystal ball or a psycho psychic, like the one jabbering away on The Woman’s Edge, to realize he’d screwed up again. But he didn’t exactly understand where he’d gone wrong, either.

One week. Seven lousy days.

Maybe he needed some outside help.


 

 

Chapter Two

Day One

All he needed was a little advice. Or a lot...

"CRAZY... out-of-this-world crazy... that’s what I must be.”

Nick continued to mutter as he stepped gingerly up the rickety staircase of the faded yellow structure, wondering whether the rotting planks would hold his 210 pounds. Hell, it would serve him right if he fell and cracked his thick skull. It would be just payment for the stupidest damn thing he’d ever considered doing in all his thirty-five years.

Nick looked furtively back over his shoulder at the busy highway, hoping no one would recognize him entering such an establishment. He’d never live it down. Never.

Grimacing with self-disgust, Nick knocked on the door before he lost his nerve. Tapping his foot impatiently, he studied the hand-lettered sign in the grimy window: MADAME NADINE: FORTUNE TELLING, LOVE POTIONS, MIRACLES. And in smaller letters at the bottom: HAIR WAXING AND TATTOOS, BY APPOINTMENT.

He should turn around and go home.

But the prospect of another night alone turned his blood cold. Besides, he had only seven days left until... until... oh, God!

Nick took a deep, painful breath. He felt like a vise was squeezing his heart.

This time he rapped harder, and the door was jerked open.

"C’mon in, honey. I been expectin’ you.”

Nick’s mouth dropped open incredulously, but not at the words of invitation.

The woman standing before him—only a few inches shorter than his six-foot-one—had stuffed her big-boned, overweight body into a tight purple dress covered with huge yellow sunflowers. Lots of sunflowers. So bright they made his eyes water.

A cigarette hung from her crimson lips, its long ash threatening to fall onto her mammoth bosom at any moment. Its acrid odor filled the air, and smoke streamed about in misty, eerie clouds.

"Whattaya mean, you’ve been expecting me?” Nick finally choked out.

"You been drivin’ by every day for weeks, too proud to ask for my help.” She flashed him a toothy, gloating smile. "Guess you weren’t desperate enough... till today.”

Yup, desperate, that’s me. Desperate and nuts.

Nick followed the floozy into a bright sitting room with windows on three sides and dozens of pots filled with flowers of every variety imaginable. Outside, the heads of sunflowers the size of hubcaps peeped over the windowsills. He raised an eyebrow in question, and Madame Nadine—he presumed she was Nadine—raised all six of her chins defensively. "We don’t got flowers where I come from.”

Where’s that?he wondered. Probably prison.

"Are you a Gypsy?” he asked suddenly. Weren’t Gypsies supposed to be especially good at fortune-telling and stuff? If she was a Gypsy, maybe she really did have some talent that could help him.

The blowzy babe flashed him a look of utter disbelief. "The only Gypsies I know are moths. You want a Gypsy psychic, you better call one of them 900 numbers.”

Nick barely heard her. His eyes kept coming back to the growing ash on her cigarette, amazed that it still held on.

Noticing the direction of his gaze, the fortune-teller added, "We don’t got cigarettes where I come from, either.” She put her hands on her hips belligerently. "Any objections?”

"Nah, I used to smoke myself.”

"I know.”

"Huh?”

"Sit down,” she ordered, shoving him rudely into a straight-backed chair drawn up to a round table in the center of the room. Immediately, three cats slithered up and rubbed themselves sinuously against his pant leg. He shivered. Lord, he’d hated cats ever since he was a kid in the projects, and the super’s answer to rat control was cats. Every time he saw a cat, he remembered... well, he remembered too much.

He raised his eyes mutinously to the woman who was easing her ample rear into the chair opposite him. Two more cats ambled in and jumped up onto her wide lap.

"Let me guess. You don’t have cats where you come from, either.” When she didn’t answer, he asked, "Do you charge extra for cat hair?” Damn, I’ll be covered with hair when I get home. Probably smell like cat, too.

"You’ve got a smart mouth on you, boy. Be careful, or I won’t help you.”

His eyes widened hopefully. Oh, please, God, I need help so bad. "Can you help me?”

"Do angels have wings?”

"I don’t know. Do they?”

Ignoring his sarcasm, Madame Nadine reached under the fringed tablecloth and pulled out a round glass ball, open on one side. She dusted it off on the hem of her dress and plunked it ceremoniously in the center of the table. It was the most pitiful-looking crystal ball he’d ever seen—more like an upended fish bowl, or a ceiling light globe.

"So, what’s your problem, sonny? Want a tattoo? Or a body waxing? Yeah, I bet that’s it. You’re one of them modern manscaped fellas? You want your chest hairs removed so you can be smooth as a baby’s butt all over?”

He slapped a hand to his chest defensively. "You’re not pluckin’ anything from my body. No way!”

"Fortune told?”

"Well... maybe.” Nick could feel his face flame. But he never blushed. And he’d never been shy about expressing himself before, about anything. What was wrong with him? "I was thinking more on the lines of... well... oh, hell... a love potion.”

Madame Nadine’s ash finally fell into the cleavage of her dress, and she immediately lit up another cigarette. He watched, fascinated, as she blew a waft of smoke his way, which hovered in the air, then swirled about the glass globe, finally filling it with a murky sheen. Then she turned her attention back to him, studying his face with disconcerting thoroughness.

"A love potion ain’t gonna do you diddly-squat, sweet cakes. You need big help.”

Tell me about it! "How do you know?”

Madame Nadine shrugged. "You are one screwed-up hombre. But maybe you’re not hopeless yet. Start from the beginning, and let’s see if we can unravel this mess you’ve made of your life.”

This was ridiculous. He’d been a fool even to enter this rattrap. The chick was a scam artist if he’d ever seen one, and he ought to know. He stood abruptly and threw a few bills on the table. "Thanks for your trouble, but I’ve changed my mind.”

He hightailed it for the door.

She called after him, "Don’t wait too long, sweetie. You only got seven days left.”

The fine hairs stood out on his neck as he pivoted slowly. "What did you say?”

"You only got seven days till your divorce is final, hon.” She was leaning back in her chair, blowing smoke rings with studied casualness. "If you want to save your marriage, you better not dawdle.”

"Who... are... you?” he asked, spacing his words evenly, as he plopped back down into his chair.

"Madame Nadine. The answer to your prayers. So, you better start showin’ some respect.”

He pressed a thumb and forefinger of one hand to his eyes, closing them tiredly for a second. Paula refused to see him or take his phone calls. How could he save his marriage if she wouldn’t talk to him? Despair enveloped him like a shroud. He had nowhere else to turn.

When he unshuttered his eyes, Madame Nadine patted his hand compassionately. He could swear he felt a tingling sensation where her skin brushed his.

"Tell me what happened, and let’s see what we can do,” she advised and lit another stinking cigarette.

Nick surprised himself by spilling his guts, giving her a brief capsule of his problem, finally ending, "So, even though Paula and I have been separated for a year, the divorce doesn’t become final until next Wednesday.”

"How long you been married?”

"Five years.”

"Why did you split?”

"She left me,” he admitted bleakly.

"And you just let her go? And you waited till now to try to get her back?” She looked at him as if he was the most brainless, ass-backwards blockhead in the world.

He was. It must show on his face.

"Just like a man. Dumber’n a doornail.” She made a tsking sound of disapproval. "Do you love her?”

His throat closed over, and he had trouble speaking. Finally, he answered in a raspy voice, "Yes.”

"And does she still love you?”

"Yes... no... damned if I know.” He blinked rapidly, feeling his eyes begin to water. It must be the damn cigarette smoke. "Paula said that in the end love wasn’t enough.”

Madame Nadine nodded as if she understood perfectly. He wished he did.

"And now you want her back?”

"Desperately.”

"Desperate is good.” She ground her butt into an ashtray and studied the cloudy fish bowl, waving her long fingers over it with a practiced flourish. Then she raised her two hands in a voilà fashion. "It’s simple.”

"What’s simple?” he asked, frowning. Had he missed something here? Maybe his brain was becoming numb from nicotine and cat breath.

"All you need to do is find your wife’s heart craving.”

Some memory flickered at the back of Nick’s mind. Hadn’t that psycho shrink on The Woman’s Edge said something about men needing to discover what women craved? And, holy cow, the last time he’d seen Paula, she’d said he didn’t have a clue as to her cravings.

"Heart craving? What the hell is a heart craving?”

"That’s for you to discover,” Madame Nadine said with a mysterious smile. Then she added dismissively, "That’ll be twenty dollars. Shut the door on your way out.”

Stunned, Nick watched as Madame Nadine waddled toward a beaded curtain on the other side of the room.

"But I don’t understand. What kind of craving? For food? Like chocolate? Or sex? Or kids? What?”

But Madame Nadine was gone. The only thing left was her cigarette smoke—and about two zillion cat hairs on his dark trousers.

And the words, "Heart craving, heart craving, heart craving...” echoing in Nick’s puzzled brain.

When dumb gets dumber...

THREE HOURS LATER, Nick was at the bookstore in the mall, doing another really dumb thing.

He’d decided to seek some reference materials.

When the salesclerk stepped away for a moment, he punched "craving” into the computer, and about two hundred entries came up, most of them in the "human sexuality” section. He wondered idly if that was different from the "unhuman sexuality” section.

So, the craving thing did refer to sex, after all. Well, he could handle that.

Not that he didn’t know his way around the block, and then some. And not that he and Paula had ever had sex problems. But... Hmmm, maybethere was something he’d been missing all these years. Or, rather, something she’d been missing.

Women were always examining things to death—reading how-to books, trying to make their relationships better. They watched too much Dr. Sheila, in his opinion.

But he had an open mind. Maybe something new had been invented in the sex department recently that he hadn’t heard about yet.

And, frankly, he was willing to try anything at this point. Anything. Yeah, he was cool with this stuff. He was an open-minded guy. He was willing to learn.

Aliens must have stolen his brain.

Still, Nick gave himself a mental push and headed toward the sex books.

An hour later, a dozen books lay at his feet, and Nick was bug-eyed and gape-mouthed with amazement. "Who reads all this stuff?” he muttered.

"My wife,” a skinny guy of about ninety answered with a groan. His trousers were hiked up practically to his armpits, and four inches of white socks showed at the ankles. "Lorna—that’s my honey—Lorna says she wants to spice up our lives. I think she’s tryin’ to kill me.” He grinned with lewd satisfaction.

"Get outta here!”

"It’s the truth.” The gray-haired codger pulled a paperback from the shelf and handed it to Nick. "This is Lorna’s favorite.”

Nick turned the slim volume over in his hands and read the title aloud: "How to Make Your Baby’s Motor Hum When Her Engine Needs a Tune-Up.”

"The diagrams are pretty good, I must say.” The old coot winked suggestively.

God!Against his better judgment, Nick flicked through the book till he came to the illustrations. Turning his head this way and that, he tried to figure out just where the "spark plug” was on this particular model.

"I think you have it upside down,” his newfound friend informed him.

"I don’t believe this,” Nick said when he finally figured out the drawings.

"I’m partial to the chapter on lube jobs.”

"Did you get a look at this dipstick?” Nick exclaimed, with a low whistle. "This guy must need a wheelbarrow to haul his equipment around.”

"Lorna calls me Mr. Eveready—”

Nick slanted him an incredulous look.

"—but, I must say, that fella musta invented the expression ‘hung like a horse.’”

Nick slammed the book shut with disgust and put it back on the shelf. Then he gathered up the pile of books at his feet, wanting to put as much space as possible between himself and this old-age pervert.

Just before he turned away, the guy added, with a chuckle, "And, I must say, the book has good advice on how to prime her starter.”

Yep, I’m going off the deep end.

"Was that guy bothering you?” a teenage girl at the checkout asked as he stacked the twelve books he’d chosen on the counter. "The manager says he’s harmless, but I think he’s a pre-vert. Do you want us to call security?”

Nick shook his head with amusement. "Nah, he’s okay.”

Cracking her chewing gum loudly, the girl began to call out his purchases as she rang them up on the register, out loud, in a grating, singsong voice.

"Women’s Sexual Fantasies, $4.95.”

"Miss, do you think it’s necessary—”

"Two-hour Orgasms, $10.99.”

"Can you keep your voice down?”

"Huh?” She stared at him blankly, then went on, "The All-Time, Most Spectacular Sexual Position in the World, $34.50. Criminey! $34.50? I hope it’s worth it.”

"I hope so, too,” Nick murmured.

"Women Who Ejaculate, $15.95.”

The man in line behind Nick craned his neck over his shoulder and whispered, "Where’d you get that one?”

Nick pointed, and the man, along with two others, left the line and headed back toward the section on human sexuality.

"Listen, can you just hurry this up?”

Ignoring him, the girl yelled to a clerk on the other side of the store, at least a mile away, "Hey, Hank, can you look up the price on this one? G-Spots and Love Knots.

Every single person in the store turned to look at him. Nick thought he’d like to put a knot in the big-mouth’s tongue.

That night, Nick ordered pizza and sat down in his living room, surrounded by his purchases, planning a long night of "research.” He was going to save his marriage or die trying.

The high school student who delivered his pizza an hour later scanned the room while Nick dug in his pockets for a tip. The kid snickered over the titles, boasting, "I know everything in these books.”

"Yeah! You wish!”

The teenaged Casanova picked up one paperback, exclaiming, "Hey, I read this one. AThousand Ways to Kiss Your Lover.”

"Go away,” Nick said, shoving the money in his hand. First, he got advice from Gypsy Rose Wacko, then a senior citizen, now a pimply-faced adolescent.

Walking away, the know-it-all called over his shoulder with a laugh, "You oughta try the slide kiss. The women melt every time.”

"You wouldn’t know melt if it hit you in the face.” Nick slammed the door shut. "Smart-ass,” he added to the closed door.

Then he couldn’t resist. He picked up the book in question, turned to the index, and moved his fingertip until he found "slide kiss.” He read the brief chapter. Wow!A few moments later, he added "slide kiss” to the list on his notepad.

It was midnight before Nick finished the last book. He studied the voluminous notes he’d taken and saw a common thread in many of the books. In fact, he’d written an exact quote from one of the texts: In their hearts, many women crave sexual fantasy.

Hearts. Crave. Sexual Fantasy.

Hell, that was a definition for heart craving if he’d ever heard one.

Nick leaned back in his chair, crossed his hands behind his neck, and grinned. He had the solution to his problem.

Paula didn’t stand a chance.


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