Double or nothing...
Rita Sawyer prepared to set her body aflame and catapult through the fifteenth floor window of the burning skyscraper. A master of double tasking, she also pondered whether she’d have time, or the inclination, to shave her legs before her date this evening with her ex-husband’s brother.
Well, it wasn’t a date exactly. Darron wanted her to meet the latest love of his life. Dirk Severino. Darron and Dirk. Doesn’t that say it all? In addition, he was bringing along the "perfect man" for her. His words. Presumably, heterosexual, with a job. Absolute essentials for her as a twenty-eight-year-old veteran of the dating wars.
Darron was suffering major post-divorce guilt...on his brother Scott’s behalf, of all things...and had made it his mission in life to find her a mate to make up for his hound dog brother’s betrayal during Scott and Rita’s short-lived marriage. To her embarrassment, Darron had discovered, after plying her with Fuzzy Navels last week, that she hadn’t been with a man in more than two years, since the divorce. It was none of his business, of course, but Darron was a busybody from way back.
To be honest, she was still raw and angry over Scott’s infidelity, whether it was one time, as he’d laughably claimed, or dozens, as she rightly suspected. Adultery was adultery in her book. She’d seen what it had done to her mother. Rita had suffered the pain herself.
She’d known Scott since kindergarten. Darron, too, who had been younger. She’d seen Scott at his worst, and it wasn’t even when she’d caught him in bed with a fellow architect. Think seven years old and green snot. Therefore, she shouldn’t have been surprised when he’d turned out to be an adulterous snot when he grew up. Females had been drawn to his blond good looks from a young age. As if that was any excuse!
Actually, she had her own ulterior motive for meeting with Darron tonight. He was a top notch financial advisor, and Rita was facing monumental money problems since her mother had died leaving her with medical bills out the wazoo. It wasn’t the long bout with cancer that caused all the problems, but the experimental treatments not covered by insurance, for which Rita had gladly taken out loans, and the year as a caretaker when she’d had no income. Unfortunately, all in vain. Collection agencies now had her on speed dial. And, no, she still wouldn’t accept alimony from Scott the Snot.
"Scene Three, Take Two. Lights! Camera! Action!" Larry Winters, the director of this latest spy thriller starring Jennifer Garner and Hugh Jackman, shouted through his bullhorn.
Whoosh! Bursting into a ball of flame, Jennifer went sailing through the glass and the air with expertise, landing on a trampoline which looked like the roof of another building, from which she then front flipped onto yet another rooftop, aka a padded platform. Of course, it wasn’t really the fifteenth floor, but the third, and it wasn’t really a skyscraper, but a set prop, and it wasn’t really Jennifer Garner, but her, Rita Sawyer, stunt double.
"Cut!" the director yelled. "That’s a wrap! Great job, Rita!"
Immediately, a technician began hosing down her flames while others were peeling back her flameproof wig along with the tight cap which protected her short, spiky blonde hair ala the singer Pink, two nomex jumpsuits, and gloves. Still others wiped the retardant gel off her face.
"Hey, Rita. Got a minute?" Dean Witherow, the producer, called out to her. "I have a couple gentlemen who’d like to meet you."
Noticing the two military types in the visitors’ area, probably consultants on the film, she sighed with resignation. Folks were fascinated with her after witnessing some of her stunts, especially men who fantasized about what she could do in bed. Being a proud lady of the SWAMP, as in Stunt Women’s Association of Motion Pictures, she’d heard it all. One lawyer from Denver once asked, before they’d even got to the entree in a fancy L.A. restaurant, if she could do any kinky stunts during sex. Jeesh! And, yes, she could, actually. Not that she’d told him that.
After a quick shower in the doubles’ trailer and a change of clothes to jeans and an Aerosmith t-shirt, she walked up and let Dean introduce them. "This is Commander Ian MacLean and Lieutenant Jacob Mendozo. They’re Navy SEALs stationed at Coronado."
Seals, huh? I’ve heard they can be kinky on occasion. They’re certainly buff enough.
But then she chastised herself. Unbelievable! I am flippin’ unbelievable. If I don’t go ga-ga over Hugh Jackman, why would I be ogling these two grunts?
Her eyes widened with interest, nevertheless. Like many others in this country, she had a proud appreciation for the good job SEALs did in fighting terrorism.
The one guy...the commander...was in his early forties with a receding hairline that didn’t detract at all from his overall attractiveness. He was too somber for her tastes, though.
Lt. Mendozo, on the other hand, was whoo-ee sex personified. From his Hispanic good looks to his mischievous eyes, he was eye candy of the best sort. And she’d bet her skydiving helmet that he knew his way around a bed, too.
Rita Sawyer, get your mind out of the gutter.
Maybe I am suffering from sex deprivation, like Darron thinks.
"Were either of you among those SEALs who got in trouble for riding horseback into Afghanistan a few years back? I saw it on CNN."
Both men’s faces reddened.
"We don’t talk about that," the commander said.
Which means yes. "Why so shy? It was really impressive."
"The Pentagon didn’t think so," Lt. Mendozo explained with a wink...a wink his superior did not appreciate if his glare was any indication."
"Heads rolled," the commander agreed with a grimace. "With good reason. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but in the case of SEALs, they better be private ones."
"What he’s trying to say is that a SEAL scalp is a coup for many tangos...uh, terrorists. It’s important that we stay covert. That episode in Afghanistan was a monumental brain fart."
"Well, it’s been nice meeting you. Maybe you can—" she started to say.
"We have a proposition for you," Commander MacLean interrupted.
Gutter, here I come. She laughed. She couldn’t help herself.
"Not that kind of proposition."
"Oh, heck!" she joked.
"I’m a happily married man. In fact, my wife would whack me with the flat side of her broadsword if I even looked at another female."
The lieutenant smiled in a way that indicated he wouldn’t mind that kind of proposition.
But wait a minute. Did he say broadsword?
"Can we go somewhere for a cup of coffee?" the commander suggested.
Or a cool drink to lower my temperature.
Soon they were seated at a table in the commissary.
"So, what’s this all about?" she asked, impatient to get home if she was going to make her "date." Now that her initial testosterone buzz had tamed down to a hum, she accepted that these two were here on business of some sort, not to put the make on her.
"How would you like to become a female SEAL?"
She choked on her iced tea and had to dab at her mouth and shirt with the paper napkins the lieutenant handed her with a chuckle. "You mean, like G.I. Jane?" she finally sputtered out.
"Exactly," Commander MacLean said. "It’s a grueling training program. Not many women...or men for that matter...can handle the regimen."
What a load of hooey! "My me?"
"The WEALS program...Women on Earth, Air, Land and Sea...needs more good women who are physically fit to the extreme. With terrorism running rampant today, Uncle Sam needs more elite forces, and our current supply of seasoned SEALs are deploying on eight to ten combat tours. Way too much! So, we’re recruiting special people under a mentoring program. Bottom line, we need a thousand more SEALs over the next few years, and a few hundred more WEALS."
"I repeat, why me?"
The commander shrugged. "We want the best of the best. Men and women who are patriotic..."
I do get teary when the National Anthem plays.
Did they hear about my wrestling an alligator? Jeesh! Can’t anyone keep a secret? It was an accident, for heaven’s sake! I fell on the damn beast.
You got me on that one.
"...controlled risk takers,"
That one, too. Stunt doubles take risks, but well-planned, safe-as-possible risks. But, boy, is he pouring it on!
I barely passed calculus, and how intelligent had it been to marry a serial adulterer?
"...skilled competitors who enjoy challenges and games,"
Does he see "Sucker" tattooed on my forehead?
"...people who love to travel,"
Yeah, like downtown Kabul is my idea of a Club Med vacation.
"...men and women with a fire in the gut."
The fire in my gut comes from the enchiladas I ate for lunch. And worry over paying my bills.
"Only one in a hundred applicants make it through Hell Week, you know."
And you think I want to put myself through that? "You’ve gotta be kidding."
Both men shook their heads.
"Each WEALS trainee has a mentor to get them through the process," Commander MacLean added, as if that made everything more palatable.
"And my mentor would be?"
The sexy lieutenant gave her a little wave.
Okay, I’m officially tempted.
But not enough. She’d read about Hell Week. She’d watched Demi Moore get creamed in G.I. Jane. Who needs that? No. Way. She started to rise from her seat. "I’m flattered that you would consider me, but—"
"Plus there’s a sizeable sign-up bonus," Lt. Mendozo added.
Rita plopped back down into her chair. "Tell me more."
And she could swear she heard the cute lieutenant murmur, "Hoo-yah!"
I’m in the mood for...
Steven of Norstead, proud son of a Viking prince, handsome as a god, far-famed in the bedsport, well-tested in battle, was bored. Actually, more than bored. In truth, he was in a black, nigh unbearable mood and had been for some time.
"Who ever heard of a depressed Viking?" Oslac, his friend and comrade-in-arms, inquired, followed by a loud belch.
He belched, too, just to be friendly.
They were both deep in the alehead following a full day and night of debauchery...or at least multiple partners in his bed furs, if he recalled correctly. Not all at once, praise the gods. Not this time anyway. But that other time! By the runes! Father Christopher had suffered a foaming fit when he caught him in the bathing longhouse with...well, nevermind.
Vikings often practiced both the Christian and Norse religions, but it was no great loss when Father Christopher left them for an extended monasterial retreat, leaving behind Father Peter, who was less inclined to foaming fits, leaning more toward foaming ale.
But that was neither here nor there.
"I am not depressed, precisely. More like I carry a huge weight on my shoulders. All the time."
"Well, ’tis no small feat managing two vast estates. Norstead and Amberstead."
"And a fine job you do for me at Amberstead." It was difficult running the two estates that were adjacent, but separated by a rocky mountainous terrain. If only Oslac would take over the much smaller Amberstead on a permanent basis, but he had property in Norsemandy that would be his on his father’s death. Still, for now, ’twas good to have a friend at one’s back. "Nay, ’tis more than that. I am only twenty and nine, and yet I have lost my zest for life. I can scarce get up in the morn, with naught to look forward to."
"And your people are aware of it, too," Oslac pronounced, squeezing his forearm in warning.
A serving maid, Asabor, stepped forward to refill their horns from a pottery jug in her hand. He could guess from the flushed expression on her round cheeks what was about to come.
"Did ya hear ’bout the woman who buried her husband twelve feet under?"
"Nay, Asabor, I did not." Spare me, Lord.
"It was ’cause deep down he was a good person."
That was not even funny. "Ha, ha, ha! Very good, Asabor."
When she left, he rolled his eyes at Oslac. His people had taken of late to telling lackwitted jokes in hopes of garnering a smile from him.
First of all, to say that the people of Norstead and Amberstead were "his" people struck an odd chord with him. He still thought of his home as Norsemandy where he grew up. When he and Thorfinn had come to Hordaland, it was Finn as the older brother who had ruled. He did not want, nor need, that role. Alas and alack! He was stuck being a jarl in a country which was not even his own.
Second, it was beyond distasteful, that the common folks were not only remarking on his moods but attempting to do something about them.
"I do not seek pity from anyone, Oslac."
"’Tis not pity, my friend. Everyone shares in your grief. They speak in general of a gloom that pervades this valley."
"Oh," he exclaimed, "now I know what you refer to. It is those damn witches, Kraka and Grima, who continue to spread their prophecies of a great light coming to brighten all the world."
"Not all the world. Just Norstead." Oslac’s lips twitched with amusement.
"Have you e’er met these two sisters, Oslac? Living in some mountain hut as they do, they are enough to scare the braies off a priest with their wild white hair and incessant cackling. I swear, they are older than time. I know they were here when my grandsire ruled Norstead, and that was some fifty years ago."
"Mayhap you need to wed. Mayhap that will be the light they speak of. Get yourself a wife and start breeding sons. King Olaf still claims you were betrothed at birth to his third daughter, Isrid."
He shot a glower at Oslac.
"What? She is not so bad."
"Oh, she is comely enough, but she talks constantly. About nothing. Blather, blather, blather. I would have to put a plug in her mouth afore tupping."
Oslac suggested something about the plug, which Steven should have expected. He had stepped into that one like a boyling unused to male jests.
"Whether Isrid or someone else, you must wed at some point. Heirs are needed for Norstead and Amberstead."
He shrugged. "Isrid or some other, matters not to me at the present. Time enough later."
"It’s your brother then," Oslac guessed.
He nodded. "Yea, ever since Thorfinn disappeared two years past—"
"Disappeared?" Oslac scoffed.
"Ever since Finn died, then." He cast a scowl at Oslac for the reminder. "We were in Baghdad. One moment he was laughing and telling me to meet him at the ship, warning me not to purchase any harem houris, whilst he conducted a final meeting with the horse breeder. The next he failed to appear, and all we found was a pool of blood and his short sword lying beside the road. Mayhap he is still—"
Oslac put up a halting hand. "Nay, Steven. You searched for sennights. Two years have passed. He would have let you know."
"But there was no body," he insisted.
"The miscreants who took his life no doubt dumped his body elsewhere. Accept that he is gone and move on with your life. I know how close you were, but he is in Asgard now, my friend."
Steven sighed and drew another long slurp of ale from his carved horn cup.
"I must say, though, that Finn was always the serious one, especially after his wife left him, taking their infant son. And you were the light-hearted one, always up for a good time."
"Are you saying I have lost my sense of humor?" he inquired, not at all offended, though Viking men did prize their ability to laugh at themselves and all of life’s foibles.
"Hah! You have lost more than that. Remember the time you and I fought off a black bear with our bare hands? Remember the time you tripped Balki the Bold when he was being particularly arrogant, and he fell into Mathilde Wart-Nose’s big bosoms? Remember the time you brought that ivory phallus back from the Arab lands and talked Maerta into inserting it whilst we watched? Remember the time we drank so much mead we decided we could jump off the roof of the keep into a hay wagon? Remember the time you tupped six women in a row and could still rise to the occasion?"
He just sighed deeply, again.
"Mayhap you should go a-Viking."
"I did that last month. Brought two ship loads of plunder back from the Saxon lands."
"I have too much amber already. Which reminds me. We must needs send several chests to Birka for trading afore the winter freeze over the fjords."
"Visit King Olaf’s royal court."
"I will be going there for the yule season. A man can stand only so much of Olaf’s bad breath."
"What we need is a good battle. Why is everyone so bloody peaceable of late?"
"I know. My broadsword will get rusty from lack of use. Many thanks for reminding me. I will have the armour boy oil it and my brynja on the morrow." In fact, now that he thought on it, it was time for the yearly cleaning of all the metal armour, putting the pieces in a barrel of sand and vinegar that was rolled around to shake and remove the rust. Later, they could be polished with bran.
Oslac poured them both more ale. "There are those pirates who are getting more daring of late."
"Especially Brodir the Bold. What have he and his outlaw band against you? He targets your ships more than any other."
Steven shrugged. "Some grievance he has against my family. I have met him in person only a handful of times, and never in recent years."
"You should post extra sentries lest they strike afore winter."
Steven nodded. "’Twas a time when they only attacked longships which were poorly armed and usually those farther south. Now they even stalk the inland fjords."
"Brodir has set an example for other outlaw Vikings, giving pirating a good name. If a Norseman of noble birth can pirate, why not them, too? Truly, they are becoming a menace as their numbers increase."
"Yea, ’tis a waste, too. Brodir was once a fine warrior, and respected even when he went rogue, but then he and his men raped those novices at a Sudeby abbey and put a blood eagle on the mother superior, for sport. Now he is a nithing, using his fighting skills to organize the pirates and train them to attack in fleets."
"Ah, look. Here comes Lady Thora, Rolfgar’s widow. Mayhap she can lift your spirits...or leastways your staff."
"She already lifted my staff. Three times last night she let me swive here. Or rather, she swived me, to be more accurate."
"Are you sure? I swived her three times last night."
He and Oslac exchanged glances of incredulity, then burst out laughing.
"Dost think she would consider joining us in..." Oslac then suggested something so outrageous that Steven, who thought he had tried everything that involved his cock, solitary or otherwise, was shocked.
But only for a moment.
Suddenly, Steven’s enthusiasm gurgled back to life. Not his mood. But then, when had a good mood been required for a zesty bout of bedsport? A man’s enthusiasm for sex play was a constant, especially the perverted kind.
"Oh, Thooor-aaaaa?" Oslac drawled out.
But in the end, Steven went to his bed, alone. Turns out, he was not in the mood, after all.
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