Casey raised her head as Lily entered, a teasing glint in her eyes.
Lily grimaced in response, then raised a hand, attempting to sidestep the inquiry she knew was coming. “Okay. It was a bad choice. You were right.”
Casey held up a finger. “And why was I right?”
Lily sighed. “He wasn’t right for me.”
Casey pressed. “And why wasn’t he right for you?”
Lily pursed her lips and frowned. “Because I look for men with qualities that I don’t really want.”
Lily grabbed a stool and sat down, placing an elbow on the wooden table and resting her chin in her hand.
Grace cast her a sympathetic look. “Don’t get discouraged. He’s out there.”
“Yeah, that’s what my doorman says.”
Casey grinned. “You list all these qualities that you think make your perfect partner, yet you’re admittedly so inexperienced that you don’t know what you want in a life partner or a sexual partner.”
Kiki tapped her pencil against her chin. “It can’t be that hard to find a guy that can give you a good time. There are apps that let you choose a ready partner based on priorities. If you’re really lazy and your number-one priority is location, it will list the closest available fuck buddy based on your current GPS location.”
Grace made a sound of distaste. “Nice. Very romantic.”
Lily frowned. “It doesn’t sound very safe.”
Casey laughed. “I think by the time you are looking for a fuck based on location, you have given up any idea of safety.”
Kiki suggested, “Well, what about those clubs where you can go and have consensual sex with a stranger and no questions asked?”
Grace groaned. “Ugh. I always imagine its some flabby old guy looking for someone desperate enough to walk in there.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Kiki smirked, absentmindedly sketching in her journal. “I hear some of these clubs have some pretty hot men and women. ’Course, I also hear you better be prepared to like a good smack on the ass or something up your ass.”
Taking a sip of her wine, Grace reiterated, “Again, nice. Very romantic.”
“Sex doesn’t seem very romantic in today’s world.” Lily sighed.
Kiki winked. “But it has definitely become more exciting. I think women may have an easier time getting a partner who knows his way around a clitoris.”
Lily turned a bright red.
Casey quizzed, “Hmmm, is it the spanking or the clitoris that is making you blush?”
“Leave her be,” Grace chided.
Kiki looked up from her sketch. “Lily, if you had your ultimate sexual fantasy experience, what would happen?”
Lily’s color heightened. “Oh. I’m not sure I could talk about that.”
“Come on. What happens in Blue stays in Blue,” Casey cajoled, her eyes gleaming with curiosity.
“Um…okay. Well, I admit, I haven’t been attracted to some of the…”
“Geeks?” Casey supplied helpfully.
“Yes, well, the men I have found on the dating sites.”
Casey nodded in understanding. “So you would like a guy who might qualify for hot or at the very least, be attractive to other humans.”
“And?” Casey prodded.
Lily blushed but smiled, knowing what she was about to say would get a reaction. “Well, ideally, we wouldn’t know each other.”
“Huh?” Echoed the three other women simultaneously.
“I think I would be more likely to relax if I wasn’t distracted by what the guy thought of me, of my body, of my expectations. If I could just meet a hot guy in the dark, get naked, and not know anything about him. That would be ideal.”
“Wow. That actually does sound pretty hot.” Kiki sighed.
Casey’s face lit in a wide grin, intrigued. “Hmmm. Yeah, maybe even a blindfold… Your other senses get amplified. Wow. Our Lily is growing up on us. I’m getting teary.”
Lily threw a scrap of fabric at Casey, which she easily dodged.
“But with a stranger? Someone you didn’t trust?” Grace reproached.
Lily sighed. “I guess that isn’t really realistic.”
Grace frowned, disapprovingly. “Not unless someone could vouch for him. Someone would have to know him.”
“As a security expert,” Casey submitted, eyeing Grace, “Grace isn’t going to like this idea. She needs to have some control over this situation.”
“Yeah, like a blind-fuck referral service,” Kiki suggested blandly.
“I’m quitting my day job.” With a clap of her hands, Casey exclaimed, “That’s it! The perfect business. It’s a no-brainer.”
Gamely, Grace got on board with the idea. “Okay, how are you going to line up the hot guys?”
Casey waved her hand dismissively. “Are you kidding? Craigslist. Hot guys willing to fuck strangers in the dark, no questions asked? Must be willing to audition…”
“Wait.” Grace held up a hand. “Who’s doing the auditioning?”
With a dramatic sigh, Kiki held up her hand. “Fine. I’ll take one for the team.”
Casey gasped in offended outrage. “No. Ridiculous. I’m not whoring out my friends for my new venture. I’ll do it.”
“Off track, girls.” Grace tipped her wineglass toward Lily. “Let’s get back to hot guy, in the dark. How dark? Dark enough so you can’t see each other’s faces?”
“Yes. Anonymous,” Lily insisted.
“Hmm, that might be sort of tough.”
“Why?” Lily asked.
“Well, for one, aren’t you going to knock into furniture? Bump into things?”
“Oh.” Lily hadn’t considered the strategic issues with the idea.
“Perhaps, if you wore a blindfold, you would make sure he stayed anonymous, at least to you.”
Lily considered this. “Yes, I don’t care if I find out who he is afterward, but at the time, I want to just think he is an anonymous hot guy.”
Kiki said. “Jeez, he better be pretty hot. This scenario only works if he is. Anonymous flabby guy just doesn’t do it.”
“Look, back to my business idea,” Casey said. “I need to get to work on it, or Lily’s life is ruined.”
“This idea does sound pretty fun,” Kiki admitted. “Much more entertaining than the alternative. Lights on, knowing the guy doing you is the boring guy who you just met over a Caesar salad.”
Grace sighed. “Ah. This is really putting a damper on my new attitude toward dating.”
“What attitude is that?” Casey propped her elbows on the table, chin in her hands.
“That I would go out on a date,” Grace said.
In agreement, Casey declared, “If my next date is as bad as the last, I’m going for that dominatrix club Nate told me about.”
“Your stepbrother does that sort of thing?” Lily expressed in surprise.
Casey smothered a laugh. “Not really. But his friends opened a private club, and he told me about it. It is sort of…tantalizing. Just a thought. Nothing super kinky, not that I’m judging anyone who is into that because, I have to admit, a super alpha male is sort of a turn-on.”
“So what’s up with the anonymous thing?” Kiki asked. “Is it embarrassment?”
Astonished, Grace said, “Lily, you have to be aware that you are beautiful, and you have an amazing body.”
“Oh. I don’t know about that…” Color bloomed in Lily’s cheeks.
Casey rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s the problem. You don’t believe because your ex-boyfriend is a tool. He did a number on your head. He made you feel like you weren’t sexy, and so now you think it’s true.”
“I’m not sure what’s stopping me from having sex.” Rubbing her hands over her face, Lily pondered. “Sometimes I think it’s because I haven’t spent enough time with the men I meet. Then I think it’s because I don’t find them attractive. Then I wonder if I can’t be intimate if I’m not in love. Then I’m worried I will mistake intimacy with love and fall in love with the first guy I have sex with. And then I look at the guy at dinner and try to imagine myself spending the rest of my life with him, and I get confused and unable to move forward. Date ends.”
“So, anonymous and dark.” Kiki tossed her pencil in the air and caught it.
Lily nodded and grinned. “Yes. I think that would take care of it.”
* * * *
Early next morning found Casey and Lily on the first mile of their five-mile run.
Lily had waited until they were completely warmed up before she announced, “I decided to do it.”
“Do what?” Casey asked, breathing light and even.
“I’m going to find a guy on that app.”
“The one where you look for someone to hook up with and have sex.”
Rolling her eyes, Casey griped, “Stop screwing with me.”
“I’m not. I’m serious. I think it’s the perfect solution.”
“What? Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll call an emergency session at Blue if you don’t stop this kind of talk.”
With a shake of her head, Lily insisted, “No. Hear me out. It really is perfect. I imagine there is some way to find someone who is willing to do what I want. Dark, anonymous…”
Casey waved her arms frantically. “Wait. Wait. Remember? Total stranger? Potential psycho? Or even worse, really bad in bed? Have you lost your mind? How can you trust the person? Know they understand your limits? You said yourself you barely have a sense of what you like or don’t like. How can you do this with a stranger?”
Lily shrugged. “Well, what’s the difference between that and these guys I meet online? I go to dinner with them once or twice and then sleep with them? I won’t know what I’m getting into when we end up in bed.”
Warily, Casey said, “I don’t know. This seems really different.”
Lily set her chin. “I want to do this. I need a one-night…”
“Look, you can’t even say it.”
“Yes, I can.”
“Fuck buddy?” Casey supplied helpfully.
“I can say it,” Lily said defensively.
“Don’t bother. Look, there has to be another option.”
Again, Lily shook her head for emphasis. “No other option, not until the referral service is up.”
“Wait…” Casey was quiet for a moment, thoughtful. She shot Lily a covert glance, then said, “Referral service.”
Lily raised her brows. “Oh? You know a referral service? I won’t pay. I’m not that desperate.”
“Well, what if I knew someone? Someone who I think would be perfect for this role?”
“Do I know him?” Lily asked curiously.
“Not as far as I know. But you said you’d be okay if you found out who he was…after the deed? Just before, you’d rather not know. Just to keep your head in the right place.”
Lily answered, considering, “Yes…”
A slow smile dawned as Casey said, “Well, I do know someone I trust. And he fits the bill. Hot body, knows his way around town.”
Lily frowned. “What do you mean he knows his way around… Oh.” She blushed. “Have you been with him?”
Casey sputtered, “Oh, no. No. Just a…friend.”
“Well, I mean, you think he would do the whole dark and anonymous thing?”
Casey glanced at her. “You’re determined on that, are you?”
“Yes. I actually quite like the idea. First time I’ve been excited at the idea of sex.”
Casey laughed. “Okay. The idea does have some appeal. Let me have a little conversation with my friend.”
Waffling, Lily said, “Oh. I don’t know…”
“Come on. It can’t be an option unless I scope it out first. And remember the alternative you are considering. This is better than that.”
“Okay…no names,” Lily insisted.
Crossing her finger over her heart, Casey agreed. “No names.”
* * * *
Dressed in low-riding sweatpants and T-shirt, Nathan opened his door to a beaming Casey as she flounced in and made her way to his kitchen.
Checking in the refrigerator for something to eat, Casey greeted him, “Hey, Nate, I see you’re up bright and early.”
Nathan returned to his seat at the kitchen counter. “It’s eight thirty.”
Casey grinned, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. “Well, sleepyhead, I’ve already been for a nice long run. You really should get some exercise.”
Nathan replied, “I do. Just not at five a.m.” He was just returning from a two-hour workout, but he didn’t bother to mention that. Best to let Casey believe he didn’t rise early; it would keep her from showing up at his door at an ungodly hour.
“Whatever.” She took a sip of her juice.
After a minute of catching up with him on things, Casey said, “I’ve got something I want to talk to you about. And I need your full attention because it’s a bit nuttier than my usual thing.”
Nathan nodded, crunching on a bowl of granola. “Go for it.”
“Well, I have a friend…”
Nathan glanced at her with raised brows.
With a short laugh, Casey assured him, “No. It’s not me. Really. Not. Me.”
“Okay.” He continued to eat his breakfast.
“Well, my friend, she’s got…a little problem.”
Nathan continued to eat, waiting for Casey to get to the point.
“It’s…sensitive and personal. Oh boy, this sounds even nuttier as I try to say it out loud. Hmm, seemed so much more normal an hour ago. Must be the endorphins.”
“You going to spit it out, Casey?”
She made a motion with her hand as though ripping a Band-Aid from her arm. Casey said in a rush, “My friend… She wants to hook up with someone. Don’t roll your eyes!”
“I’m not interested.”
Casey smirked. “Yeah, whatever. You wish. In fact, if you saw her, you would wish. But anyway, let me finish. She wants to hook up with someone, a one-night thing.”
“Look. I’m in the middle of breakfast.” Nathan put down his spoon. “Can we have this discussion later? In a parallel universe?”
“She is shy. She isn’t into lots of partners, strangers, and random hookups… Actually, I think she’s worried she may be sort of a serial monogamist. But she’s determined not to get into another serious relationship for a really long time. She isn’t ready to get attached again.”
“And so the problem is?”
“She’s looking for a one-night hookup—but…but she doesn’t want to see him or know who he is.”
Nathan stared, started to speak, and stopped.
Casey waited, clearly amused, then prompted, “Say something.”
Nathan threw up his hands. “How does she think she can avoid seeing the guy?”
“Well, it could be done.”
He snorted. “Enlighten me.”
“She wants to do something different, which is unlike her. I think she feels she needs a bit of a shake-up out of her old life into a new one. She has had a couple—well, several—bad dates, and she is convinced that she will never be able to loosen up enough to, well…you know. Have sex, have an orgasm. But she liked the idea of being in the dark. I think the anonymity appealed. Just to be someone else for a night.”
Nathan groaned, covering his ears. “This conversation is going way past the normal brother-sister comfort zones.”
“Whatever.” Casually, Casey leaned back against the counter. “We aren’t blood related.”
Nathan shuddered. “Still, not in a good place right now.”
“Get over it.”
He threw up his hands again. “What do you want from me? You want me to give you a list of names? Guys I know who want to blindfold a hot girl and get it on? That shouldn’t be a problem as long as they know they won’t be arrested afterward. Or find out she’s their boss’s daughter.”
Tapping her finger to her chin, Casey looked thoughtful. “I can never remember what she does for work, some sort of retail finance merchandising type thing.” She snapped her fingers. “Oh! Works for the Urban End.”
“They are a big company. Hard not to find someone who works for or has worked for them,” Nathan remarked.
“Yeah. Well. I don’t know if she really cares if she finds out later she knows them. She just doesn’t want to know during the encounter. But she doesn’t feel safe without some assurance that the guy isn’t a whack job.”
“Yeah, psycho killers aren’t a lot of fun in dark rooms.”
Casey tapped her finger to her nose. “Right you are, Mr. Holmes. She just needs a referral.”
“Like I said, I don’t have a wide selection of friends who would be comfortable with this, but I can probably come up with a couple.”
“Well, it can’t be just anyone.”
Nathan sighed, hearing the tone. “What are you looking for?”
“Well, he should be hot. Nice body. Patient, um, has to know what he is doing. Don’t want a guy who does sex by Ikea—sex by numbers. Put screw A into slot.”
Nathan raised his hand to stop her from continuing. “Again, going outside comfort zone.”
With a shrug, Casey continued, “Well, just don’t give me someone who doesn’t know how to go down properly on a young lady.” She burst out in gales of laughter as Nathan went from embarrassed to red-faced.
He sputtered in exasperation, “Crap. Sibling discomfort at maximum.”
She grinned widely. “Okay, little boy, sorry, but I have to make sure the guy isn’t a sexual dud. He needs to be able to take control. The whole anonymous thing could be really exciting or scary. Depends on the guy and how he handles it. I know your friends have that Dom-submissive club and that you’ve been there a couple times.”
Nathan scrubbed his face with his hands. “I should never have mentioned that to you. I don’t want to discuss my experiences, but I also don’t want you to think I have some hidden lifestyle and you’re going to come across some room with a secret door and blow-up toys and whips.”
She laughed. “Oh, come on. That was the only reason I hang out at your place. In the hopes of finding that secret panel.”
“I thought it was because you never have any food in your apartment.”
“Yeah, that too.” She shrugged. “I wouldn’t have any problem knowing you like doing kinky—”
Nathan groaned. “Stop. Just stop. Boundaries, you know? We are not talking about my sex life. But I can assure you, it isn’t anything you wouldn’t do.”
“Oh, really? Well, now that is interesting. Now, now. I don’t want to discuss my activities either. I want to talk about yours.”
With a shake of his head, Nathan asserted, “Let’s not. So, what are you suggesting, I ask one of my friends? Brad?”
“Bradford?” Casey said sullenly.
“You know he hates it when you call him that.”
“Whatever. But, no.”
“Why? What’s wrong with Brad?”
“Nothing,” Casey said. “Just no.”
He considered. “Ian?”
“Uh…no.” She waved her hands vaguely. “Too much testosterone. Maybe a little too rough around the edges. I told you, she’s a bit…Anne of Avonlea. Anyway, this is very personal. I don’t want you spilling this all over town. I’m trusting you to keep this on the down low.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry.” He rolled his eyes. “Guys don’t spend their time talking about this sort of stuff.”
Casey snorted. “Too busy scratching your balls?”
She huffed in frustration. “Lord. You must realize what I am trying to get at.”
Nathan stared. “Huh?”
She eyed him. Several heartbeats passed, then Nathan began to shake his head emphatically.
“Wait. What? Are you crazy?” He laughed in astonishment.
“Come on. You said you considered the anonymous thing when you were at the club.”
“No. No way.” Nathan eyed her, his expression flat. “Just no.”
“Come on! Nate. This is important. If not you, she’s going to pull up some scary skank on an app.”
“Sorry, but not my problem. No way.”
Casey frowned. “Why?”
“Seriously? Let me count the reasons.”
“She’s a friend of yours?”
“So eventually we will learn our secret identities, and we may run into each other?”
He ran his hand through his hair in exasperation. “How about extreme embarrassment? I will feel obligated to ask her out. She will hate me because I don’t.”
“No. Won’t happen. In fact, she is as commitment phobic as anyone I have ever met. She just got out of her one and only relationship. It lasted way too long, and she wants to date. Be single. Discover herself. She’s lived with her college boyfriend for years, and now she finally has her own space. She used to live across the bay, but I found out Ken was looking for someone to take care of his apartment for a couple years while he’s overseas.” Casey pumped her fist. “Score. Just a few blocks from her office.”
Nathan, who had been idly stirring his coffee, now went still.
“I really like her. She’s my running partner on the weekends. She’s very real and genuine, but also a weird sort of throwback. Doesn’t drink, doesn’t go out much. Barely linked to any social network. She’s crazy smart, sweet, funny—but there is also something oddly innocent, and I don’t know… She reminds me of Bambi.” Casey gestured with her hands as she illustrated. “Sort of wide eyed, little lost in the single world, trying to figure it out. It’s strange to meet someone as innocent as her. She doesn’t have much of a social life, seems to work all the time.
“She might seem a little quiet, shy. But once you get to know her, she isn’t anything like that. Very open, honest, observant.
“Oh, and I forgot to mention. She’s freakin’ gorgeous. She just doesn’t know she is. Sort of a late-bloomer thing. Has absolutely zero idea. Less than zero.”
Nathan poured Casey a cup of coffee. “What do you mean?”
“Boyfriend was a tool.” Casey paused to add sugar to her coffee before taking a sip. Then she continued, “He gave her the idea she wasn’t sexy. She used to dress in big flowy outfits that covered up her figure. Kiki and I have been working on her, revamping the way she dresses. If I were a guy, I’d do her.”
Nathan, now attentive and thinking fast, said, “What if you introduced us and I wanted to ask her out? Wouldn’t that be a better route to take?”
Casey considered. “Um…truth? You aren’t really her type. At least, not as far as I can tell. She seems to steer clear of tall, dark, and handsome. Seems to go for pale, smart, and egotistical. Followed by socially awkward, fashionably challenged, and comically dysfunctional. I’ve seen normal guys try to talk to her, and she can’t tell a pick-up line when it’s staring her in the face and doing the mamba. Eventually, most men sort of give up. The ones that ask her out are the few clueless idiots too stupid to know she is out of their league.”
Nathan frowned into his cup, thoughts scattered and confused.
“Nate, it freaks me out that this is going down no matter what. She’s pretty determined. I can’t talk her out of it, and she was open to the idea of me asking someone I knew. I didn’t tell her who it was, but I told her I knew someone I trusted who was perfect for her.” Hurriedly, she corrected, “I mean, perfect for…well, for this.
“I know it’s a little…out there. But if you think about it, it could be pretty hot, right? It’s just weird because your stepsister is asking you to do it. If it was someone else suggesting it, like your Dom friend…”
He held up his hand. “Stop. I wish I had never told you about that.”
She nodded. “I know. It never gets old.”
“Can you let me think about this?” Nathan was gripped by a panic of indecision. It appeared that fate had handed him Lily on a platter. Was he supposed to take her? Or was this a cosmic-level mistake?
“Seriously, you’re considering it?” Casey was openmouthed. Then, as if afraid she might scare him off, she snapped her mouth shut.
Cautiously, he answered, “Yes.”
Casey stared, then smiled. “Whoa. I have to be honest. I wasn’t sure you’d…”
Preoccupied, Nathan stared into his cup, watching the dark liquid as it swirled around his spoon. “How would I contact her and set this all up?”
“I’ll give her your number, and she can text you at a certain day and time. That way, you don’t need to exchange names if you don’t want to.”
He looked up. “I’ll let you know by the end of the day.”
“No, sorry. You have to decide sooner than that.” Casey shrugged in apology. “She is ready to swipe that app any moment.”
Flustered at the thought of Lily sleeping with a stranger, Nathan did the only thing left to do. He agreed.