Cover

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Acknowledgements

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

More About Donna McDonald

Excerpt from “Dating Dr. Notorious”

Contemporary Books

Paranormal/SciFi/Fantasy Books

Dating A Cougar

Book One of the NEVER TOO LATE Series

 

by

Donna McDonald

 

* * * * *

 

Copyright 2011 by Donna McDonald

 

Cover by LFD Designs for Authors

Edited by Toby Minton and Karen Lawson

 

 

 

Edition License Notice

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should delete it from your device and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is coincidental.

This book contains content that may not be suitable for young readers 17 and under.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank RA Bettez for taking the time to read this book several times and provide feedback. Your effort at helping me with the content was second only to propping me up emotionally when I really, really, really needed moral support to keep writing.

I would like to thank my fiancée, Bruce McDonald, for being my real-life Marine inspiration. You taught me there are two things to say to our soldiers after their service, and I now say them to you with utmost gratitude. “Thank you for your service to our country” and “Welcome Home”. You are every hero to me. Semper fi.

I would also like to thank in advance every reader thirty-five or younger who reads this story with an open mind about what it means to be older and in love. I wrote this book for you so down the road when you are living where I am, you will have least have heard this from one other perfectly average woman. Love and sex are great at any age.

Prologue

All Alexa wanted in the whole world was a hot bath and an early night’s sleep. Days like today where she ended up arguing with her entire staff made her seriously question why at fifty she still wanted to be the creative force behind her lingerie business. Tonight she should be soothing her frazzled nerves with jazz music and bubbles. Instead, she was heading to a cocktail party still dressed in her work clothes, even though last minute socializing was definitely not her idea of fun anymore.

But then who was she kidding? Nothing was fun these days.

Lately her moods shifted from contented to maudlin in the blink of an eye, much worse than usual. It would have been nice to blame those feelings on half-century birthday blues, but that didn’t account for the five or so restless years preceding this one. She hadn’t been able to wine, dine, or pleasure this sort of mood away in forever. Being angry with herself for agreeing to something she didn’t want to do only made it worse.

Alexa frowned as she pulled into the parking lot of Seth Carter’s condo, her mind finally slowing down enough to think about checking her appearance. She parked in the first space she saw open and flipped down a mirrored visor that had seen a lot of use.

Pulling a lip gloss from her purse, she quickly and expertly dashed it across the generous lines of her mouth. Her mascara and eye shadow still looked okay at least. No need to add more, she decided. And thankfully, the mineral powder she’d used to seal her foundation seemed to still be keeping down the shine on her face.

She pondered her reflection for a few moments, trying to be objective, but at the same time wondering why she didn’t care more. “Leave your hair alone and stop whining,” she said to the woman in the mirror. Seconds later laughter over her self-chastisement filled the car.

Brushing her hair would only make it flatter, so Alexa expertly finger combed it instead. Eventually, she had achieved what she considered to be an attractively disheveled look, falling somewhere between slutty-just-out-of-bed and alluring-come-mess-me-up-further. At least the lush locks she invested heavily in maintaining would partially save her this evening from looking like Jenna’s frump mom in her jeans and a shirt that had seen too much action that day. So what if a coffee stain decorated one breast?

“Oh Jenna Ranger, you sweet talking chip off the old block. Why did I let you talk me into this? I knew better.”

Her fingers sorted out layers and pushed their way up higher, pausing to massage her scalp while she tried to calm down enough to produce a genuine smile. Maybe she dreaded this evening because she knew the crowd inside was populated with Seth’s business acquaintances. None were friends of Jenna’s, but in the end it hadn’t mattered who the attendees were. She’d had to cave because her twenty-seven-year-old daughter rarely asked for anything from her these days. Mother guilt was still her daughter’s weapon of choice.

‘Stop by and meet Seth’s cousin Casey,’ Jenna had encouraged. ‘Please Mama. Two minutes—that’s all.’

And now here Alexa was—sitting in her car and trying to think of a good enough reason not to keep her word to her only child. She thought of her best friends and what they would say if they saw her slumped in the seat and feeling sorry for herself. One might be nicer about the advice, but they both would say she needed to go in. Sighing, she opened the car door, and swung her long legs out.

“I guess I should be grateful that I stopped at one.”

It wouldn’t kill her to make the effort to meet Seth’s cousin who was practically his only remaining family. Glad that Jenna was proud of her, she knew her daughter wanted Seth’s cousin to meet her. She was doing the right thing as a person and as a mother. Tomorrow when she complained about this evening, Sydney would pat her shoulder and tell her how proud he was of her. Then her assistant would ask what everyone was wearing and they would joke about the fashion tastes of people half her age.

Unfortunately, her motherhood righteousness didn’t even last the whole trip down the sidewalk. Alexa rolled her eyes at the loud throbbing music as she neared the front door. Great, she thought, feeling the vibrations in her teeth. What next?

She was tempted—very tempted—to turn right around and call Jenna as she was pulling away from the parking lot.

Before the idea of avoiding the torture could take stronger root, Alexa made herself push the doorbell. The person standing nearest to it opened it immediately for her.

Alexa smiled in thanks and moved inside slowly, scanning for Jenna or Seth. Not seeing either, and not remembering where anything was from her one previous visit to the condo, she moved through the mash of bodies in the living area toward what appeared to be the kitchen. Summoning her most professional smile, she pressed forward, vowing to teach herself how to say no to Jenna in the future.

***

Casey Carter’s first thought when he saw Alexa Ranger heading toward the kitchen and him was how much she looked like Jenna at first glance. His gaze lingered to study her as she wound her way through the people leaning against the sides of the hallway. All the males she passed, either discreetly or not so discreetly, followed her progress down the hall. Women stopped talking and frowned, especially when they noticed the men were being distracted by the attractive older woman.

Trained by the military to be a keen observer, he didn’t need any of those skills to appreciate the show. It was basic biology. Casey smiled at both the wariness of the females and the predatory glint in the gazes of the males. Jenna’s mother had to be at least a decade older, possibly two in some cases, than most of the people Seth had invited tonight. Given Jenna’s age, she was probably at least a decade older than him as well.

Not that Alexa Ranger’s greater age made him immune to the qualities appreciated by every other pair of male eyes following her trek down the hall. Casey looked away long enough to grin at the half-loaded dishwasher still waiting for him to finish his task.

Eventually though, his gaze went right back to her. It was just too damn impressive watching the aging ex-model moving her tall, curvy body through the crowd. As she got closer, he could see that Alexa was even better looking in person than online or in the papers. It was obvious that Jenna had come from a beautiful master mold.

Once in the kitchen, he saw Alexa sigh with what seemed to be genuine relief to be clear of the people crush.

“Hi. I don’t suppose you’ve seen Jenna Ranger or Seth Carter, have you?”

Casey smiled. “They’re around somewhere, but it’s probably safer and less trouble in this crowd to let them come looking. I’m your bartender this evening. Can I get you a drink while you wait to be found?”

“Got a bottled water?” Alexa asked, smiling back at the charming man. He looked a bit older than the average male she’d seen and wasn’t dressed as well as most she’d passed in the hall. Looking beyond him, she saw a wooden cane leaning against the counter and wondered about its owner.

“We’ve got filtered on the rocks or carbonated with just a hint of lime.”

Casey smiled at her snicker. She seemed much more appealing and down to earth than he’d imagined she would be from Jenna’s descriptions of her.

“Filtered. Straight up. No rocks. I need the hard stuff. It’s been one of those days.”

Casey nodded and filled a glass with cold filtered water from the refrigerator door. Behind him, he heard her laugh openly at the unglamorous source of her drink. When he turned back, she smiled widely as he handed the full glass across the counter to her. He watched her take a couple sips before she spoke to him again.

“Thanks. I needed that.”

Alexa sipped the water slowly, a little nervous about the interest in his gaze. Had she been flirting with him? Maybe. It had been so long now, she wasn’t sure.

“I’m Alexa Ranger by the way—Jenna’s mother.”

“I figured that out already. She looks a lot like you. I’m Seth’s cousin, Casey.”

He put one hand on the counter to brace his weight and support his bad leg as he reached the other hand over it for Alexa to shake. He smiled when Alexa set down her water glass and leaned her long body partially over the wide counter as well to make it easier for him to reach her.

“Casey? Well, hello. You’re actually the reason I stopped by tonight. It’s nice to meet you, fin—finally. . .” His grip was warm—and hard, but it was his gaze never wavering from hers that scrambled her brain. Alexa heard herself stumbling over the words. Her palm tingled from contact with his. If it hadn’t been so surprising, she might have laughed.

Casey slid his palm across Alexa Ranger’s, nerve ends lighting up at the electrical current that shot through him. He almost laughed when Alexa’s startled gaze locked itself to his, but he was just happy to know she had felt the instant connection too.

How long had it been for him? Close to two years, he thought. Yes—that had to be right, he decided, doing the math. It had been two years since he’d felt anything for a woman, much less a genuine attraction strong enough to make his blood rush.

He squeezed her palm and stroked the underside of her hand with his fingers, doing so mostly on reflex. When Alexa’s pupils dilated, he felt a tremble in the slender fingers wrapped around his palm in return. He was keenly aware of her reaction, but could think of nothing sensible to say about it since they were virtually strangers.

Yet while his brain warned him to keep silent about the zing between them, the rest of his body had other ideas. His instant liking of Alexa was a surprise, but what was happening to the lower half of him under the counter hadn’t happened in a long time either. If it continued, he was going to have to adjust himself as soon as he dropped her hand. Not that he would mind. He wasn’t the kind of man who embarrassed easily, but Alexa might be a little shocked at the reaction she’d caused.

Intrigued by the woman who had so far made no move to pull away, Casey tightened his hold on her hand just a little and watched her eyes darken to the color of storm clouds. Her breathing grew a little erratic, but she never once looked away. An image of kissing her flashed through his mind with perfect clarity. The sigh he’d been holding in came out like a breathless groan of anticipation.

Casey never would have dreamed that someone he’d just met, someone as beautiful as Alexa, would instantly respond to that kind of mating signal from him. His heart started hammering in his chest when she drew in a sharp breath and blushed. His erection hardened even further, confirming the intense attraction, and confirming it was this woman who was causing it. When she lowered her gaze to their still joined hands, it took every ounce of his self-control not run his thumb over her knuckles just to see what she would say or do.

He watched as she caught her bottom lip in her teeth, sucking it in thoughtfully, and felt himself swallowing hard when she released it at last. The thought of doing it for her warmed him all over. Casey heard her clear her throat, and watched her open her mouth to speak, not surprised that she would want to end the moment. But when she met his gaze again, she said—well—nothing. Her stunned look and total silence made him want to laugh at them both.

By now, thirty seconds had passed with nothing more than a tight handgrip between them. Alexa still wasn’t tugging her hand away. And he wasn’t moving to end the contact either. Instead, he held tightly enough to keep her body stretched across the counter. But he did think she looked a little afraid that maybe he was going to yank her over it the rest of the way. He felt himself grinning because that actually seemed a pretty natural next step to him. He opened his mouth, intending to bite the bullet and just tell Alexa what was happening to him, to ask what was happening to her.

One of them needed to say something, or at least acknowledge the situation. Right?

“Oh, good. You found each other. Thank God. This crowd is unbelievable.”

Jenna’s loud declaration broke whatever it was between them as she entered the kitchen. Casey watched Jenna’s gaze go immediately to his and Alexa’s clasped hands, followed by a pleased smile. He let go of Alexa at last, shocked further by his reluctance to do so. He heard the echo of Jenna’s words in his head as he considered how close he had been to making a serious pass at her mother. Yeah, we found each other all right, he thought.

He watched Alexa take a large step back from the counter. Her face was a fascinating shade of embarrassed pink. He suspected the tiniest bit of honesty from him would probably cause it to darken several more shades. Her blush made his heart speed up again. Damn. What was he supposed to do about it?

When Jenna put a hand to her mother’s face and looked concerned, Casey grinned at Alexa who refused to look at him.

“Mama, are you okay? Your face is so flushed.”

“I’m fine, Jenna,” Alexa protested, pulling Jenna’s hand from her forehead.

Alexa looked at a grinning Casey, and then turned her attention to Jenna and shook her head. “I’m fine. Just a rough day. I need to make it an early night.”

“Okay. Let’s find Seth, and then you can go,” Jenna said, looping her arm through her mother’s. “Thanks for coming by to meet Casey.”

“Oh yes. Of course. Casey. It was nice to meet you—Casey,” Alexa said, pronouncing his name very carefully, focusing on the refrigerator instead of the grinning man. But that seemed too cowardly, so she brought her gaze to his and nodded.

His grin wasn’t helping the situation, but he couldn’t seem to stop it. Alexa had forced her gaze to meet his even though awareness of their attraction colored her face still. You had to admire a woman with that kind of nerve.

“It was good to meet you too, Alexa. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again.”

Alexa nodded absently, which told Casey that she was already trying to rationalize away what passed between them. Maybe she was trying to believe that her story to Jenna was true. It was too bad she regretted that little sizzle between them though. He wasn’t going to forget it so quickly, or at least some parts of him wouldn’t.

“Bye Alexa,” he said as casually as he could, watching the women walking away together.

Bye for now at least, Casey decided, shaking his head over his physical epiphany. It was good to finally know for sure that the trauma of the last two years hadn’t made him impotent. But he’d still like to know how the incredibly beautiful Alexa Ranger had simply touched his hand and turned him to stone. Seth’s condo was currently packed with lots of beautiful women who hadn’t caused a single twitch, much less a full out reaction.

Picking up the glass of water Alexa had left behind, Casey put his lips where her lips had touched the glass, right over the lipstick marks which he licked with his tongue. He drained the water left in it and lectured his body about this intimacy being all it was ever going to get of Jenna’s mother.

His body’s response to the command was to ignore that decision completely.

Laughing at the irony of his intense arousal to an inappropriate woman, Casey sighed and adjusted himself beneath the counter.

Chapter 1

“Why so glum, gorgeous?”

Sydney unwrapped his sandwich with great anticipation, frowning when he saw Alexa was just frowning at hers.

“Trust me. I made sure you got double avocado. It’s just the way you like it. What’s wrong?”

Something was up. Normally, Alexa would have been three bites ahead of him by now.

“Do you think fifty is old, Sydney?”

Alexa Ranger watched her thirty-five-year-old assistant and good friend take a giant bite of his club sandwich and swing his gaze to hers in shock at the same time. Then she watched him pound his chest to keep from choking as he attempted to swallow the bite around a coughing fit.

At six two with a trim waist and shoulders like a football player, the brown-haired, brown-eyed Sydney could easily be the most handsome man Alexa had ever known. He designed and wore his own line of clothes, and often looked like a male model. In her line of business, Alexa had always been proud to have someone as attractive as Sydney standing next to her, but it was his steadfast friendship that she valued most.

When he didn’t answer right away with one of his usual smart-ass quips, Alexa concluded he was genuinely surprised by her question. Surprise was okay, but if he looked at her with pity, she would have to throw her sandwich at him.

“When it comes to age, it’s all about the quality of the preservation,” Sydney said at last, joking to give himself time to think.

In the ten years he had known and worked for Alexa Ranger, he had never known her to be truly insecure about anything, especially her age. Maybe—just maybe—a person could say that Alexa had let herself go a little bit in the last couple of years.

A lack of male companionship had taken a negative toll on her in his opinion. Alexa hadn’t shown any personal interest in anyone specific in some time.

The same could be said about how little she seemed to care these last few years about making a fashion statement too. Most days the woman wore jeans and a shirt, which in Sydney’s mind was barely better than a uniform.

But—insecure? What could cause such a foreign emotion in a woman the tabloids even feared to cross? Alexa had never been the type of person to worry about much. She was brash, boastful, demanding, and many, many other things, but the woman was not insecure.

Pulling himself from his contemplation, Sydney noticed Alexa was still intently waiting for his reply. He made himself focus on the possibility of being fifty. Naturally, his stunning life partner came immediately to mind.

“Do I think fifty is old?” Sydney asked, repeating her question. “Well, Paul is fifty-two. I certainly don’t consider him old. The man just gets sexier with each passing year.”

Despite being starved, he took a smaller bite of his sandwich this time just in case Alexa shocked him again.

“Yes. But it’s different for men,” Alexa said with a wave of her hand. She hated the dark cloud of female worry over her head. “Men get better with age, and Paul is proof. Women—well, women just get old, Sydney. Even women like me.”

“Okay, this is too weird,” Sydney said, putting down his sandwich. “That was definitely self-pity I heard in your voice. What is wrong with you today, Alexa? Years of good maintenance are paying off big-time for you, honey. You look great. You look my age, not yours.”

Alexa shrugged her shoulders. She enjoyed her looks. In fact, she built her business on her looks. The problem was that looking younger at fifty didn’t make her feel as good as it had in her thirties or forties. Now, regardless of how she looked on the outside, inside she still felt fifty. Why did no one understand that?

“Oh, just forget I said anything. I don’t mean to whine—you know I hate whining.”

Sighing over her depressing thoughts, Alexa took another bite of her sandwich.

Sydney hurriedly finished his last bite and leaned back in the chair.

“When was the last time you had a date?” he asked, inspiration striking. “I mean a real date where you dressed up and went out somewhere nice.”

“Don’t remember,” Alexa admitted around a bite. “It’s been a while I guess. Nine months, maybe? It’s harder at my age to find someone interesting.”

Which was mostly true, if you didn’t count the attraction she’d felt shaking hands with Casey Carter last month. The retired Marine was appealing, but definitely too young, and definitely too related to her daughter’s boyfriend. Her life was talk show worthy enough as it was. She certainly didn’t need to add to it.

“I can’t believe turning fifty is making me this crazy. Most women have their mid-life crisis at thirty or forty.” Alexa sighed and picked up her water. “I may have to ask Regina for professional help again.”

Sydney laughed. “Needing sex is not a crisis, honey. It’s a highly solvable problem.”

“Who says I need sex?” Alexa demanded, rolling her eyes at the statement.

“Sweetheart—we all do.”

Alexa laughed. Okay, so maybe it had been nine months ago with a friend, and who knew how long ago with a man she genuinely desired. Maybe she even secretly worried on some level about never wanting sex again, because not dating had been a huge relief instead of a sacrifice. Determined not to sink into an even deeper funk dwelling on her voluntary celibacy, she took a big bite of her awesome sandwich and chewed.

Sydney looked at Alexa’s expression and smirked. “Quit holding out and talk to me. Do you have a booty call man you haven’t told me about?”

“No,” Alexa said sadly. “Not anymore. I gave him up too. He started talking about setting up a regular time for us every week. I stopped seeing him about nine months ago.”

“Bad call. Abstaining does not suit you, Alexa. You are a vibrant woman. You need sex.” Sydney snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it. I could hook you up with one of my straight friends. I have several who think you’re hot.”

“Good lord, you’re offering me a pity date?” Alexa laughed, shocked under her amusement. “Am I that bad off?”

Sydney nodded with enthusiasm. “I think the answer is definitely yes. Your insecurity is showing, honey, which is so not like you. I think you need someone in your life who will make you feel young.”

“Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t even let Regina and Lauren fix me up with dates. I prefer to just meet a guy and follow a little feeling that says he’s worth getting to know.”

“Well, I hear you there. Certainly sounds like the best motivation, but when was the last time you had a feeling about a guy?”

Sydney grinned at her guilty look and raised his eyebrows.

“Last month actually,” Alexa confided. She wasn’t worried about revealing the truth to someone who would never betray her. Sydney valued his life too much.

“Details please. I require proof.” He made a come-on signal with his fingers.

Alexa laughed and shook her head. “Fine. It happened with Seth’s older cousin, but Jenna would simply kill me if I put any moves on him.”

“So? Don’t tell her. Swear the man to secrecy.” Sydney gave the order, laughing at Alexa’s suddenly pink cheeks. That set him to wondering what kind of man could cause that level of reaction. It was utterly fascinating.

“I can’t. It’s totally out of the question.”

The idea of asking the former Marine to indulge in a secret love affair with her struck Alexa as more funny than possible. What would Casey Carter want with an older woman like her when he could have a younger, more attractive one?

And if she did get that far with him, what would she do with Casey when they weren’t in bed? There might be different problems dating younger men, but years of experience had taught her that all dating had the same depressing outcome. Plus there would be hell to pay if Jenna found out.

“Ask whatever you want, so long as it also involves asking the man out.”

“Right— no problem.” Alexa shook her head, her long hair sweeping her face. “You want me to date Seth’s macho cousin, and convince the upright, former military man never to mention it to Seth or Jenna? That’s a bold play, even with my dating history.”

Sydney stood and gathered their lunch trash.

“Since when is Alexa Ranger afraid of being bold?”

Alexa shook back her reddish-brown mane of brunette hair, her eyes crinkling in amusement as she belly laughed over the challenge. If only she could find a straight man who understood her as well as Sydney. He knew just which buttons to press.

“What would I do without you, Sydney? You’re absolutely right.” She nodded and smiled widely, not wanting to argue further.

“Of course I’m right. Now go be bold,” Sydney said sternly. “And make notes so you remember the details. You know how forgetful people are at your age.”

Alexa swore at him, but blew him a kiss as he headed back to his desk.

Even if Casey Carter wasn’t a good possibility, now that Sydney had all but dared her to date someone younger, the idea was churning inside her. However, a decision so important needed more than the sanction of a gay friend. Fortunately, she was meeting her two favorite dating experts for dinner that evening.

***

The food at Lucinda’s was always good. If it hadn’t been, Alexa would have rousted the manager for a heart-to-heart. Not just because she was part owner, but also because she truly loved meeting there for dinner. Part of what she liked was that the management trained the staff well on deflecting unwanted attention from its more famous customers. Anyone with a press badge or camera had to check their electronics at the door. Both she and Regina felt safe there, and Alexa wanted to keep it that way.

“So when was the last time you felt a genuine interest in getting to know a man,” Alexa asked the two women seated at her table.

They had demolished three plates of appetizers in less than twenty minutes with no complaining about calories. It was a point of honor between them never to feel guilty about food. Regina—aka Dr. Regina Logan—was polishing off the last of the veggie pizza.

“I love pizza. It’s such happy food. And all those carbs make for a good snooze after. Did you ask a question, Alexa? Sorry, I was in the middle of a pizza orgasm.”

Alexa laughed when Lauren McCarthy—one of The McCarthys of Falls Church, Virginia—rolled her eyes at Regina’s response. Lauren had the sexual sensibilities of a twenty-year-old and the sexual urges of a forty-year-old. It was not a happy combination in a woman who worried daily about what people thought of her. Stranger still, Lauren risked her prized reputation weekly by hanging out with Regina and Alexa, definitely two of the most sexually notorious women in Falls Church.

While she waited for her friends to think about the question, Alexa thought about the differences between the women she trusted with her deepest secrets. Regina and her work as a sex therapist drew the interest of the press regularly. Fortunately, Alexa’s notoriety had dwindled when she’d stopped dating so much.

Only Lauren avoided the press, rarely even making the society pages. They teasingly called her ‘Saint McCarthy’ because the woman never did anything even remotely scandalous. The worst thing Alexa had ever known Lauren to do was buy a vibrator after her divorce. But what single woman didn’t own at least one of those?

Alexa looked at Regina, smiling as she watched the most outrageous woman she knew lick cheese off her fingers.

“Come on you two. I need your opinion. When was the last time you felt a genuine interest in getting to know a man?”

Regina frowned as she wiped her hands on a napkin. “Wow. I just realized I’m stalling because I don’t have an easy answer to your question. That’s so depressing. I guess it’s been almost a year for me.”

“Like you want to get to simply know him, or you want to—you know—get to know him in the biblical sense?”

Alexa shook her head at Lauren’s question. The woman squirmed whenever any of them talked about sex. Only Lauren could make forty-two look as innocent as twenty. Even her daughter Jenna seemed more knowledgeable about such things.

“Biblical sense,” Alexa finally answered, grinning as Lauren averted her gaze.

“I guess I’d have to say about two years ago and for yet another womanizing man. The one before him was six years ago when I first got divorced. I developed an urge to date my lawyer.”

Regina arched an eyebrow. “Your lawyer? Honey, that was gratitude, not a sexual urge. Haven’t you ever wanted a man so much you just went for it?”

Lauren shook her head. “Absolutely not. Technology is a much better solution and more satisfying.”

“No sweetie, it’s not,” Alexa said gently, but with great conviction. “There’s nothing like falling into a satisfied sleep after you’ve had a man inside you two or three times. There’s no substitute for that kind of man-to-woman connection.”

Regina smiled at the thought of her gorgeous friend getting lucky. God knew one of them should. “True. And I agree. So—have you been connecting to someone lately, Alexa?”

Alexa laughed and sighed. “No. I’m just a little attracted to someone, that’s all. It’s been a while for me too. It’s complicated because the man is a lot younger.”

“Younger can be good. How much younger?” Regina asked, inspecting the appetizer plates for any lingering bites.

“I don’t know,” Alexa said frowning. “Why does that matter?”

“Less than eight years makes you a Puma. Over eight years makes you a Cougar,” Regina said wisely, grinning as Lauren nodded excitedly in agreement. She hadn’t missed the gleam in Alexa’s eyes either. She dialed her grin back a notch and tried for her best ‘lecturing doctor’ tone, even though Alexa rarely fell for that these days.

“That kind of hookup is happening a lot these days, and many older women are benefitting greatly. Biologically, it can make a lot of sense. Sometimes I wish I had an eye for younger men. They’re braver and I could have a lot more dates. Unfortunately, I get irritated with their conversation long before the mating urge can take hold.”

“So who’s the younger guy you like?” Lauren asked, truly interested in the answer.

“I’m curious about that too,” Regina said.

Alexa stared back silently, blinking as she tried to decide whether to tell them or not. Her reluctance to share his identity only made it worse for her. And her silence had both of them giggling.

“Hmmm . . . this is interesting, Lauren. Alexa doesn’t want us to know. Let’s ask more questions. So is the boy-toy of legal age in the state of Virginia?”

“He’s around thirty-eight I think,” Alexa said. Hadn’t Jenna said something like that? She wished now she’d paid more attention to his back story.

“You’re definitely a Cougar then, but honestly—thirty-eight is not that young.” Regina laughed, rolling her eyes. “When you said young, I was picturing a twenty-something who checked himself out in the mirror every two seconds.”

Lauren laughed at Regina’s description because it fit her own mental image. “I was thinking the same thing. Honestly, anyone over thirty-five is fair game, Alexa. Though I’m a bit like Regina, I like men closer to my own age. Younger men seem to be too anxious and needy.”

“Amen, sister.”

Regina held up a hand, high-fiving with Lauren, making her giggle.

Alexa repeated what she heard, or thought she heard, wanting to make sure she understood their advice. “So neither of you would pursue this interest if you were me, simply because of his age?”

Regina and Lauren looked at each other. Surprisingly, it was Lauren who piped up with “depends on the amount of attraction.” The answer pleased her, so Regina smiled widely and nodded in agreement.

Alexa closed her eyes and crossed her arms. “How am I supposed to measure attraction from an encounter that only lasted about five minutes? This is not helping.”

Regina removed the white linen napkin from her lap and folded it into a neat triangle before placing it on the now empty plate in front of her.

“Do not try to fool the sex therapist, Alexa,” she said ominously, grinning when she made Lauren giggle again. “You’ve dated slightly younger men before. What’s the real problem with this guy?”

Alexa bit her lip and then sighed. “The only younger man I ever dated was only two years younger than me, Regina. The term ‘younger’ barely applies in that case. But you’re right, the real problem is the man I met is Seth Carter’s cousin. It’s not like Casey is Seth’s exact age, but he’s probably not forty either. He looked very young.”

Conversation paused while Regina and Lauren absorbed the news.

“Jenna would probably kill you. Sorry—I shouldn’t have said that.” Lauren winced at how dramatic the announcement sounded, even though all of them knew it was the truth.

“Yes, exactly. Jenna would kill me,” Alexa agreed, nodding her head. “I’m not sure any man is worth risking my life. We all know my daughter is my worst critic when it comes to dating.”

Regina squinted hard as she considered the frown on Alexa’s face and the disappointment reflected in her gaze. Moments ago there had been a damn twinkle. It wasn’t fair.

“I agree it’s a tough twist, but I wouldn’t let Jenna’s comfort be the deciding factor. Who knows? Jenna and Seth might not work out anyway. If you don’t take this chance, then everybody loses. Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish, Alexa. This may be one of those times.”

Alexa nodded. But nothing they said made her want to call Casey up and ask him out. The idea of a fifty-year-old woman dating a thirty-eight-year-old man just smacked of desperation to her. If the press found out, she would make the headlines again—Aging Model Dates Young Marine. She wasn’t ready to deal with the public or private fallout if that happened. Over the past few years, she had come to like being less notorious. As far as she was concerned, she had officially passed the title down to Regina.

“Forget I mentioned Casey Carter. The tingle he caused had ‘bad idea’ all over it the moment it happened. Let’s change the subject. Do you think fifty is old?”

“You’re kidding, right?” Lauren exclaimed, shocked at Alexa’s sad tone.

Alexa sighed. Talking to Regina and Lauren was turning out to be worse than talking to Sydney. No one seemed to understand her concerns.

Regina swore and got up from her seat to gather her things. “I wish I could stay longer and talk some sense into you, but I have to go catch a plane. So let me be quick with my two cents on the subject. No, fifty is not old, and you make it look better than thirty anyway. Lauren and I are using you as our role model. And you know damn well that at forty-seven, fifty’s just around a corner for me. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself. Go have sex and shake this mood, Alexa. You need the oxytocin high from intercourse to fight the hormonally depressive funk you’re in right now.”

Alexa blew out a frustrated breath. “Hormonally depressive funk? Is that a precise medical opinion, Dr. Logan?” Regina just gave her a look that asked if she needed a little more proof, or a lot more proof. She knew Regina would happily give either.

“Don’t make me change my flight,” Regina ordered.

“Okay. Fine. I’ll take care of it,” Alexa said sarcastically. “You’re probably right, anyway. Sydney said the same thing.”

Regina snorted as she pulled on her coat. “No, I’m probably right about the weather changing, and that the plane ride will be bumpy to Boston. I am always right about sex.”

As they split the bill and debated the tip, Alexa thought about how best to follow Regina’s advice. Instantly, Casey Carter’s image popped into her mind and her heartbeat picked up. No, she told herself, consigning her longing to the realm of fantasy instead of reality.

Instead, Alexa made herself think about the ever-available Todd Lansing who was a ‘friend with benefits’ as Jenna would say. A couple years ago her comfortable relationship with Todd had been enough because it kept her from bed-hopping while she casually dated other men. Now, the thought of using Todd for gratuitous sex held no appeal at all.

“You’re so beautiful, Alexa. Maybe you should sign up with one of the dating services online.” Lauren smiled to soften her suggestion.

Regina laughed wickedly and Alexa looked shocked.

“Well, why not? Lots of older women do it. Some of the women at the country club rave about the variety of offers they get.”

“Wait until I get back, Alexa. I’ll sign up too.” Laughing, Regina dashed ahead of her friends, hoping there was a cab waiting outside.

Lauren walked beside Alexa, wondering what she’d said wrong. “Did I hurt your feelings?”

Alexa snorted. “Variety is overrated, honey. Regardless of what your country club friends say, most women just want to find a decent guy who can inspire lust now and again.”

Alexa patted Lauren’s arm as they walked out to be sure the younger woman knew she wasn’t mad. There was no reason to take her sour mood out on her friends. It was just bad luck that the only sexually interesting man in years had turned out not to be a good possibility. Probably just as well. She didn’t need another empty sexual relationship without the remotest possibility of happily-ever-after attached.

Chapter 2

When he walked through the door of Eddy’s Bar and Grill, Casey’s attention zeroed in on Alexa Ranger sitting at one of the polished dark wooden tables with two other women. Since meeting her a month or so ago, he had evidently developed a radar for her presence.

Looking around, he saw Seth was not waiting for him as promised—no big surprise there. Luckily he was having a good day and hadn’t needed to use the cane, so he chose a seat in a dark area of the bar near the door. It was as far away as possible from Alexa’s table, but still offered a decent view of her.

Slipping off his sunglasses, he pulled the Marines’ logo ball cap lower over his eyes, not wanting to draw attention to himself while he studied her. Alexa had to be at least forty-five years old despite the fact that she looked much younger. The intensity of his attraction to the older woman was a mystery, but he couldn’t stop himself from meticulously planning what he would sexually do to her and with her if he ever got the chance. He had had that reaction even the very first time he’d met her.

Over the last month, Casey had not only been avoiding the necessity of dealing with his attraction to Jenna’s mother but also avoiding even minor social contact. Jenna and Seth had finally given up trying to include him in their activities. Not that it looked like Alexa was having the same problem. Looking at his watch, Casey saw thirty minutes had passed now without her even once glancing his way. Evidently, Alexa did not have the same physical radar for him, though he still believed she had been attracted to him too.

Maybe she was just better at denial. Maybe she was seeing someone else.

Who knew?

As Casey studied her, he considered it a point in Alexa’s favor that she didn’t constantly scan the bar for men like one of her companions was doing, or look around in disgust like the other one. No, Alexa Ranger just kept on talking, her focus completely on the conversation.

His phone buzzing with an incoming text message finally snagged his attention away.

Can’t make it after all. Last minute problem keeping me here. TTYL.

Telling himself he should have known this would happen, Casey texted back a reply.

WTF? Drinking your beer and mine then. Your fault if I don’t make it home.

Seth’s obsession with his entrepreneurial work matched any Casey had ever had with the Marines. Despite being only eight years older, Casey felt a couple decades ahead in understanding what was important in life. There had been some rough times for him during the last few years. While he hadn’t let a hip replacement or a wife dying of cancer take him down for good, he had let both those things teach him about living in the moment. Life was too damn short to work seventy hour weeks. He hoped his workaholic cousin figured that out soon.

His attention came back to Alexa just as hers shifted to the door opening. Even at a distance, Casey could read the concern in her unsmiling lips pressed into a firm line. He shifted in his chair, willing his body to relax when all it wanted was to go ask her what was wrong. She was probably the most independent female that had ever crossed his path, and yet he wanted to take care of her. It was the craziest reaction he’d ever had for a woman he barely knew, certainly a lot more crazy than simple sexual attraction.

Following her gaze, his attention finally shifted to the person Alexa had watched come through the door. He ducked his head as a blur of blue brushed by his table. He got a whiff of some expensive scent that made him think of silky sheets, pulled blinds, and ceiling fans.

From the back, he saw tall heels and seamed stockings going way up to more interesting curves outlined by a skin-tight dress. Maybe he was out of practice, but the woman was a dream come true for the lucky guy she had dressed to please tonight. That is a take-me-now-I’m-yours dress, he thought. Though it had been a while, he still recognized them. And thank God for that—or rather thank Alexa Ranger for reminding his body of things it had almost forgotten.

Dragging his attention away from the decked out woman, Casey finally noticed pretty much every man in the bar had also been watching her trek with great interest. But instead of singling out a man, she seemed to be heading directly to Alexa’s table. When the bartender yelled the woman’s name, Casey swore silently. The woman was Alexa’s daughter—Seth’s girlfriend.

So where in the hell was Seth?

His cousin hadn’t mentioned anything about Jenna in his text. What crisis had detained Seth at home if it wasn’t Jenna in a seduction dress? The freaking emergency his cousin needed to take care of was here in the damn bar. Seth swore Jenna Ranger was the one, but so far Casey hadn’t seen much evidence backing that up.

He drummed his fingers on the table as he thought about what to do. Some clichés were truer than others, especially where military men were concerned. All his instincts were telling him—no, yelling at him—that this situation was not good. Even if he contacted Seth, there was no guarantee Jenna would still be here by time he got downtown.

Sighing, Casey put his sunglasses back on, picked up his beer, and as discreetly as he could, moved to the other end of the crowded bar. This placed him nearer Alexa’s table where he could do some further reconnaissance. Or in other words, where he could eavesdrop on their conversation.

***

Alexa’s mother radar went on full alert when Jenna walked into the bar. Seeing Jenna in seductive woman gear was a thrill, but the look in her daughter’s eyes spoiled the perfect picture. She sighed with resignation when Jenna frowned at all the males avidly watching her swinging curves move across the room. Oh hell, she thought. What has Seth done to Jenna now?

When Jenna stopped at the table, she put her hands on hips, mirroring a physical gesture Alexa recognized as one of her own. Her heart contracted with love.

“Is there an age limit to join this hen party?” Jenna demanded, her gaze meeting her mother’s.

“Yes. Lauren barely makes the cut, but at twenty-seven you’re good.”

“Wonderful—because I really need a drink right now.”

Alexa offered her still nearly full glass of red wine to her daughter who took it while still standing and drank greedily.

“Well, don’t you look yummy tonight? If I were a lesbian, I would make a pass,” Regina said in her best sultry voice, giving Jenna an admiring perusal.

“Thanks.” Jenna bent forward to brush her lips across Regina’s forehead. “I’m glad the dress is getting an appreciative response from somebody.”

Alexa’s eyebrows rose into her hairline at the comment, but Jenna looked away before she could ask the obvious question.

Lauren looked at Regina and shook her head. “Lesbian? You? I can’t even imagine you giving up men.”

“Oh, I don’t know. How much harder could being a lesbian be?” Regina pushed her auburn-red waves back from her face. “When I suggested male enhancement drugs to the last man I hoped to be intimate with, he told me I needed to grow up. I told him he needed to get it up, patted him on the hand, and left.”

Lauren stared in complete and utter shock, because that was appalling behavior, even for Regina.

“You didn’t really suggest your date take male enhancement drugs, did you? Regina, you probably hurt his ego. If you’d just slipped it in the man’s drink at dinner, he’d have thought you inspired lust.”

“I would never trick a man into taking male enhancement drugs. Besides, drugging someone is a felony. Don’t you ever talk about sex with the men you date? Communication is key, you know.”

Regina laughed when Lauren rolled her eyes.

“I have no need to discuss sex with my male companions. My dates are strictly platonic, and I like it that way,” Lauren insisted, saluting Regina with her mineral water. “You are the only person I ever discuss sex with, Dr. Logan.”

Regina rolled her eyes and took a long drink of her pomegranate martini. “I feel sorry for you then.”

Alexa breathed a sigh of relief when Jenna belly laughed at the argument between Regina and Lauren. Jenna smiled the first real smile since she’d come into the bar.

Looking at her vital, lovely daughter, she couldn’t help wondering for the umpteenth time what Jenna found so appealing about Seth Carter. The man was good looking, but Jenna constantly worried about his lack of desire for her. How invalidating would that be? It eluded her how any hot-blooded woman could tolerate being sexually ignored and made her mad as hell thinking her daughter was putting up with it.

There had to be something wrong with Seth. His cousin’s sexuality had plastered her over the kitchen counter with a simple handshake. She was probably the only mother in history who ever worried about a man not putting the right moves on her daughter.

“Sweetheart,” drawled Alexa, “if your ego needs stroking, all you have do is turn around. There are at least eight pairs of eyes glued to your lovely rear right now.”

Jenna sighed, walked around the table, and leaned over the stunning brunette who had borne her for a lingering hug. “Thank you, Mama. If you were standing up, you know every man would be looking at you instead of me.”

Alexa crushed Jenna to her in a fierce embrace. “Not today. That shade of blue is amazing on you and matches your eyes perfectly, which is only secondary to what it does to enhance your—”

The sound of glasses dropping interrupted Alexa. It was followed by someone big hitting the floor with a loud thud and swearing.

The other women at the table giggled, and then laughed outright as Jenna straightened red-faced from the hug. “I guess I shouldn’t have bent over so much.”

A booming voice yelled.

“Jenna Lee Ranger, no more bending over the table. I can’t afford any more losses here, cutie pie.”

Several people in the bar laughed, but the women at the table laughed louder than anyone. Jenna felt her blush spreading upwards to the roots of her hair. She pulled out a chair to sit, but could barely manage to wiggle into it because the dress was so tight.

“Sorry, Eddy,” Jenna yelled over her shoulder. “I’m sitting down now.”

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