Beach Lane

By: Sherryl Woods


She was still ranting when he picked up the phone. “No need to alert the police,” he said calmly. “I’m right here.”

She breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Well, thank God,” she said, then immediately started berating him. “Why haven’t you picked up all the other times I’ve called, or at least called me back?”

“Most women would already know the answer to that question.”

“Is this one of those he’s-not-into-you things?” she asked, “Because if it is, that is so not the point. I was worried about you.”

“No, it’s one of those I-don’t-want-to-talk-to-anybody things. And I’m sorry if I worried you. Maybe I should have checked in before going into seclusion.”

“Yes, you should have,” she said fiercely. Then her voice softened. “What’s going on, Mack? Talk to me.”

He chuckled despite himself. “Did you not hear what I just said?”

“That you don’t want to talk to anybody, blah-blah-blah. I’m not anybody, Mack. I’m your friend, just like Will and Jake. I’ll bet you’ve talked to them.”

There was a note of hurt in her voice that twisted him up inside. “You are nothing like Will and Jake,” he said.

“I see,” she said stiffly. “Okay, then. I’m very sorry I bothered you.”

She hung up before he could tell her she’d misunderstood. He muttered a curse and called her back. It took ten rings before she finally answered. “Now I don’t want to talk,” she said heatedly. “You know what that’s like.” She hung up again.

Mack redialed. “Will you just listen to me for ten seconds?” he said. “Then you can slam the phone down in my ear if you want to.”

“It will be my pleasure,” she retorted. “Okay, talk.”

“I just meant that the relationship you and I have is different from the one I have with Will and Mack.”

“Friends are friends.”

“Come on, Susie. You know that’s not entirely true. I’m not saying men can’t be friends with women, but the dynamics are not the same.”

“You’re talking about sex,” she said bluntly. “Since we’ve never had sex, then it’s exactly the same.”

“No,” he insisted, a little startled by the fact that she’d even mentioned sex. It wasn’t a topic they discussed. Since she’d brought it up, though, he couldn’t seem to stop himself from saying, “We always have the potential for sex.”

Silence greeted the comment.

“Is that so?” she said at last, amusement now threading through her voice. At least she no longer sounded insulted or furious. If anything, she sounded intrigued. “Just how great do you think that potential is?”

“That’s always depended on you,” he said before he could stop himself. Going down this road now with his professional life in turmoil was a very bad idea. While starting to think about or even to act on the idea of sleeping with Susie would be a fascinating distraction, that wasn’t the way he intended to get through this rough patch. It would be too unfair to her.

Mack realized just how big a mistake he’d made when she sucked in a deep breath and murmured, “Oh, really? It’s up to me? I had no idea I had that kind of power over you. I’ll have to think about exploring some new possibilities.”

“Susie, you don’t want to sleep with me,” he said, as if the idea were ludicrous.

“Maybe I do,” she said, sounding dead serious.

Mack almost swallowed his tongue. “Susie, you don’t even want to date me, much less get seriously involved with me. How many times have you told me that?”

“Possibly a few too many,” she said candidly.

“Meaning?”

“You’re not dense, Mack. It means I might have changed my mind.”

“It’s the might have part that worries me. Men wind up in jail over maybes and might haves.”

“We could get together and talk about it,” she suggested.

“Oh, no,” he said at once. “You’re obviously having some kind of mental lapse tonight about the kind of man I am. In fact, you’re starting to sound downright reckless, which isn’t you at all. I don’t want to take advantage of that.”

She sighed heavily. “I was afraid you’d say that. Are you ever going to try to seduce me, Mack? It’s giving me some kind of complex that you’ll apparently hook up with every other female on earth except me.”

“I do not hook up at all,” Mack said indignantly. “At least not recently.”

“What’s recently?”

The pitiful truth was that he’d lost interest in all other women the minute he and Susie had started hanging out together on a regular basis. She was in his head all the time. In his heart, too. It had taken him a while, but he knew it now. Talk about lousy timing!

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Look, I’m going to let you go. We’ll talk about this next time I see you.”

“Which will be on Thanksgiving at Uncle Mick’s, right?”

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