Kate had hit the perfect rhythm as she ran along Oakwood Avenue with Gretchen trotting beside her. It was a glorious autumn afternoon, warm in the sun but not humid. The soccer game was over, the boys were happily occupied at home, and she was free for a few precious minutes. She had stripped down to her sports bra and running shorts when she had broken a sweat. Now she enjoyed the breeze created by her own motion and let her thoughts roam free.
For the first time in weeks, she felt hopeful. It was amazing what an income could do for one's spirits. She was even excited about the bridge itself. To the commuters on the highway, it was just a different sound beneath their wheels. To Kate, it was a series of puzzles to solve while considering mechanical, economic and aesthetic factors. Her bridge was going to be both practical and beautiful. Assuming that she got to build it. Their proposal was going in on Monday, but Adler still had to win the bid.
The boys were handling her more limited parenting time without any noticeable ill effects. Kate thought that she probably missed them more than they missed her. The "Dog Dough" jar was filling up; evidently, both Clay and Patrick had cut some junk food out of their lunch purchases to save more money. So her absence was even improving their eating habits.
She picked up her pace and turned her mind to the relative merits of different paving materials. She was recalculating the amount of rip-rap needed to protect the bridge's piers from scouring when she had a strong feeling that she was being followed.
"Oh hell!" she exclaimed as she spotted the dark green Jaguar cruising just behind her.
She stopped dead, pulling a surprised Gretchen to a sudden halt. Randall Johnson lifted a hand in greeting and then pulled up beside her.
"Randall. Are you taking a Saturday afternoon tour of Claremont?" she asked coolly, as she tried to ignore the tiny thrills vibrating through her body at the sight of him.
Randall reached across to push the passenger door open. "Hop in."
Kate shook her head. "No, thank you. I haven't finished my run yet. And I have Gretchen with me."
"Gretchen's welcome to the back seat."
Kate could tell that he was getting annoyed. It was impossible to see his eyes behind the aviator sunglasses but she saw his left hand flex on the steering wheel. "I don't want her to scratch the leather. It was good to see you." Kate gently closed the door and started to walk away, feeling very pleased with herself for escaping so gracefully.
"Kate, you can either get in the car or I will put you in the car," came an exasperated growl from behind her. Kate stiffened and swung around to see Randall explode out of his side of the Jaguar and stalk around to open her door again. As she hesitated he started toward her.
"I'm coming," she said quickly.
Gretchen scrambled into the back seat and sat panting happily. "Traitor," Kate muttered to the dog as she slid into the front.
She glanced up. Randall was looking down at her with an appreciative leer and Kate yanked her tee shirt out from around her waist and pulled it on over her head. His smile widened as he sauntered around the car. She had to admit that he looked good in a deep red polo shirt and khaki slacks. But then, she had yet to see him looking bad.
Kate crossed her arms and stared straight ahead.
"You might want to lower your nose a little bit," Randall said. "You'll get a crick in your neck trying to look down it."
She couldn't stop the corner of her mouth from twitching but she kept her tone frosty. "Were you looking for me or did you just happen to be driving by? "
"I went by your house to invite you, Clay and Patrick to come swimming in the indoor pool at Eagle's Nest. Clay told me your usual route. I'll admit that I got distracted by the view for a few minutes."
"These old trees are beautiful, aren't they?"
Randall wouldn't let her get away with that. "What trees? I was watching that trickle of sweat running down your back and under those very snug shorts, and imagining where it went from there."
Kate made a noise that was a mixture of embarrassment, annoyance and laughter.
He swung the car into her driveway and turned off the engine. As he got out, he said, "Just bring your bathing suit. I've got plenty of towels."
Kate leapt out of the car. "I don't believe that I accepted your invitation."
"The boys will be mighty disappointed."
"You are absolutely shameless."
"Actually, The Wall Street Journal says that I'm a 'brilliant but ruthless negotiator'. No, that must have been Forbes. The Journal is never that complimentary."
"I'd call you underhanded and without any moral principles, myself."
"You're right! That's exactly what the Journal said."
Kate stalked into the house. "Clay! Patrick! Go get your bathing suits."
Clay and Patrick came bounding down the stairs. "Cool! You're letting us go!"
Kate turned around to glare at Randall. He was leaning back against the door with his arms crossed and the aviator glasses dangling from his fingertips. He shrugged.
"Only if you both can be ready in five minutes," Kate said through clenched teeth. Then, as the boys raced back up the steps, she added, "Because I might murder him first."
He chuckled and pushed himself away from the door to come over to where she was standing. He reached out and ran his fingers from her earlobe under her hair to the back of her neck. Kate stiffened, thinking that he was going to pull her toward him. Instead he lifted her hair up to cool her neck off.
"You've worked up a good sweat. If you want to shower here, I'll wait. Or you can shower at my place."
Ripples of delight were racing over Kate's scalp as Randall shifted his fingers in her hair. When he bent down and blew against her overheated neck, Kate's eyelids closed, her head fell back, and a small moan escaped her as his breath seemed to feather over every inch of her body.
Through the haze of sensation, she heard whispering in her ear. "Do you know what I want to do right now, Kate?" She didn't bother to answer. "I want to rip that tee shirt in half. Then I want to pull that bra down to your waist and slide it over your hips along with your shorts. When you're naked, I'm going to lick the sweat off your neck and between your breasts and down in your belly button. And I'll keep going lower ."
His voice was just as effective as his tongue would have been, and Kate's breath was coming in small gasps.
Footsteps sounded behind them. He released her head so suddenly that Kate almost lost her balance.
"Is there a diving board?" Patrick asked. "Is it an indoor pool?"
"Of course, it's indoors," Clay said with brotherly scorn. "It's too cold for grown-ups to swim outside."
Randall started to answer Patrick's questions, and Kate escaped up the stairs. She shut herself in her bedroom and stood with her head in her hands, shaking. Her body was coiled tight with unsatisfied arousal, and she had the appalling thought that Randall Johnson could have brought her to an orgasm right there in her living room with just his voice. She stripped off her clothes and turned the shower on cold. The shock cooled her body but did nothing to settle her mind.
She finished combing her wet hair in front of the mirror and then said to her reflection, "You are a widow. You are a mother. You are an engineer. You are not a hormonally overwrought teenager with no control over your urges."
She comforted herself with the thought that Clay and Patrick would protect her from her baser impulses. Then her eyes widened in horrified realization. "Oh God, he'll be wearing a bathing suit. And so will I."