Day 3 of the 12 Days of Christmas Contest...Adrift - M/M/F
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Ben Eckhart has been the object of Kari Kirkland’s lust for almost three years. Yet he’s never spoken a word to her and why would he? She’s a plus-sized woman with scars that haunt her every day. And although Kari longs for happily ever after, she's pretty much given up on love.
When their boss declares he’s having a mandatory picnic, Ben not only talks to Kari, he wants to know if she’s going and if she’ll be alone. Kari is, if only to fantasize about Ben in his swim shorts.
But Ben has other ideas in mind for Kari. He’s bringing along his best friend and lover Adam - to help him seduce Kari into believing there's great sex and true love in her future.
Unexpectedly trapped on a deserted island, Kari witnesses the men having sex then lets herself get talked into sex on the beach and a whole lot more. But when they're rescued, will Kari accept their proposition or cast their newfound love Adrift?
“I expect everyone to be there.” Mr. Carlton stood up and continued talking to the small group in the conference room. “My wife looks forward to this every year, so I don’t want to disappoint her. There will be boats at the dock to take people back and forth to Carlton Island.”
Kari cringed just thinking about getting into a boat and being escorted over to her boss’s island. The last thing she wanted to do over her weekend was spend it with him and fellow coworkers. Kari enjoyed the peace and serenity of her apartment. She didn’t have to make small talk except with Pepper, her cat.
Last year she’d been able to get out of the company picnic, but something told her this time she wouldn’t be so lucky.
“This is bullshit.”
Kari swiveled her chair to see who else felt like she did, but was brave enough to voice his opinion. She was met with the most amazing blue eyes.
Her heart caught in her throat. Was he speaking to me?
Ben Eckhart hadn’t uttered a word to her in the three years he’d worked at Carlton Technologies. Kari had admired him from afar, knowing he’d never be interested in someone like her. She wasn’t a size 2 pinup model like Ben probably dated.
“Does he think we don’t have a life outside of work?”
He was talking to her.
Hanging out on her deck with a book wasn’t in the cards for her this weekend.
“Have you ever been?” he asked.
“Once. I’ve managed to escape all the other yearly get-togethers, but I don’t see that happening this weekend.”
“I heard people have gotten let go for not attending.”
She’d heard that too, but thankfully it hadn’t happened to her. With the economy in dire straits, she wasn’t risking it this year. “That’s what they say. I can’t afford to take any chances. I’ll be going.”
“Me too, I guess.”
Kari groaned inwardly. She didn’t want to spend the weekend lusting over Ben. At work she could cover up her scars, but on Carlton Island she’d be expected to dress more casually.
Maybe she could think of a way out of this.
“Spouses and significant others are more than welcome too,” Mr. Carlton continued.
Kari turned her attention back to her boss. Right about now, she wished she had someone in her life she could bring along to ease the pain of watching Ben. Fortunately he wasn’t aware of her feelings for him.
He leaned closer to her chair and whispered in her ear. “You bringing someone?” Heat from his breath trickled down her neck, straight to her core. Images of Ben wearing only swim trunks filled her mind. She pictured a hard, smooth chest and abs of steel she could run her fingers along.
“No,” she snapped.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
She swiveled her chair slightly and glanced over her shoulder. His lips were close. Close enough that if she leaned just a little bit, she could graze them with her own. “I didn’t mean to snap. I’m just really frustrated about having to go this weekend. I’m going alone.”
“Hmmm. I guess I’ll see you there.”
Mr. Carlton ended the meeting. Kari gathered her notebook, pen, and coffee mug before heading back to her office. She wondered if Ben would be coming alone or if he would be bringing some lucky lady.
She prayed he came alone. He’d broken the ice by talking to her in the meeting. Maybe they could get to know each other better over the weekend.
As she sat in her chair, she realized she was fooling herself. Ben would never be interested in a size 12 disfigured woman. Even if he did show an interest, Kari couldn’t take her clothes off for him. Her scars were a reminder that she’d never have a love life again. It was bad enough that the memories of that horrible night still haunted her; visible scars stared back from the mirror. They screamed at her, taunting that she’d be lonely the rest of her life.
* * * * *
Try as she might, Kari couldn’t find a way out of the weekend. She packed enough clothes for the overnight excursion. Maybe she could feign sickness later in the evening. Surely Mr. Carlton would understand her leaving if she was sick.
Kari parked her car in the parking lot just above the boat launch. Grabbing her overnight bag from the trunk, she made her way to the dock. There wasn’t anyone waiting, and the boat ferrying people to the island was nowhere in sight.
She set her bag down and leaned against a wooden pole, waiting for the boat to return. The warm sun cascaded its rays down on her. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She’d have to remove the sweater she’d worn over her tank top soon.
“Hey, are you waiting for the boat?”
Wariness crept into her body. Kari was certain she knew that voice but prayed it wasn’t him.
She used her hand to shade the sun from her eyes; even with sunglasses, the brightness was blinding. She looked toward the voice calling her name. Sure enough, it was Ben. He wasn’t alone; he was with another guy, who appeared to be around five-ten, Ben’s height. He had jet-black hair, a contrast to Ben’s sandy blond.
They dressed like twins in khaki cargo shorts and tight T-shirts. Ben’s was hunter green, and his friend’s an orange color. As they drew nearer, she noticed they moved in sync. Were they lovers? Their motions were as familiar as a couple. She dismissed the idea. Ben had seemed interested in her during the conference. He couldn’t be gay. They each carried backpacks in one hand and a cooler in the other, swinging it as they walked.
She hadn’t thought about bringing anything to drink. She had assumed Mr. Carlton would provide all the food and drinks they needed.
“Hey, Ben,” she said as they drew nearer.
“This is Adam. Adam, this is Kari. We work on the project management team together.”
“Nice to meet you, Kari.”
He placed the cooler on the ground and offered her a hand. She accepted. Tingling sensations filled her body. She pulled her hand back quickly, afraid he’d sense her arousal at his touch.
“The boat’s not here right now,” she said, looking out at the water.
“We’re not taking Mr. Carlton’s boat,” Ben said. “I have my own. Want to join us?”
She was not getting into a boat with these two gorgeous guys.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’ll wait for the boat.”
“Are you sure? There’s no one else here. At least you can talk to us on the ride over.”
Ben had a point, but Kari couldn’t get her mind off him. Being on a boat making small talk should produce warm, fuzzy emotions, but she was nervous. She didn’t know what to talk about with either of them.
“Come on,” Adam urged. “We won’t bite.”
What the hell was she thinking? Neither of them would be interested in her.
Kari swung her head toward Ben. He’d moved to her side and whispered softly. Was she imagining it, or was there desire in his eyes? He looked like he was undressing her with those crystal blue eyes. For a moment she allowed herself to be mesmerized.
She swallowed the moan that threatened to escape and said, “Yes, please.”
Adam touched her arm, and Kari felt faint. How could she resist when they were practically begging?
“Okay, you’ve convinced me. I’ll go with you guys.” She took a step back, regaining some of her personal space. She couldn’t help but wonder if she’d made the right decision.
Getting into a boat all alone with two men who made her skin prickle with desire was not a good idea. Warning bells went off in the back of her mind, but Kari ignored them. At this point she had nothing to lose. What could go wrong? It was a simple boat ride with Ben and Adam to Carlton Island. A twenty-minute ride making idle chitchat. She could survive it.
“Wonderful.” Ben placed a hand on the small of her back. “Let’s get to this party.”
“You’ll be happy you joined us.” Adam laid a hand just above Ben’s.
Weak in the knees, Kari placed one foot in front of the other, trying to keep from falling. If they knew how they were affecting her, they didn’t show it.
They led her down the dock to Ben’s boat. It was large speedboat. The name Lady Luck was stenciled on the side.
Hmmm, would she have luck? Would she finally get to know Ben on a deeper level, or would he forever remain part of her fantasies?
Adam offered her a hand, guiding her off the dock into the rocking vessel. Once inside, Kari immediately took a seat at the rear. She’d taken a pill to keep the queasiness at bay, and with any luck, it would work. It would be very embarrassing if she was to get sick on Ben’s boat.
Ben disappeared below the deck for a few minutes. When he returned, he was wearing sunglasses and a Red Sox baseball cap. A true New Englander. Even in the hat, he was sexy.
Apparently Adam thought so too, because he leaned over and kissed Ben full on the lips. Kari’s mouth hung open. So much for wanting them or worrying about having an oversize body.
Her mouth was still open when they turned to ask her if she was ready.
“Something wrong?” Ben asked.
“Uh…umm…I...” What the hell could she say? Sorry I didn’t realize you guys were gay. That didn’t seem appropriate. “I’m fine,” she said. She averted her gaze. Any ideas of being with either of them were dashed by that kiss.
“Shall we get this show on the road?” Ben clapped his hands and rubbed them together.
“I’m ready.” Kari felt some of the nervousness wash away. If nothing else, she could be friends with both men. It was easier than lusting over Ben. When they returned to work on Monday, she’d have a different perspective on her attraction to him.
The boat roared to life under Ben’s touch. Kari settled in for the ride to Carlton Island.
Adam joined her on the cushioned seat. “So how long have you been with Carlton Technologies?”
“Wow. I didn’t think people lasted that long at a company anymore.”
She laughed. He was right. Most people didn’t. She wasn’t sure if it was luck or the fact that Mr. Carlton took pity on her after the accident. She had spent almost a month in the hospital and then suffered through a few more months in physical therapy before returning to work. She’d cheated death; Walter hadn’t been as fortunate.
“I’ve been blessed.” She avoided his stare so that he couldn’t see the pain in her eyes. Whenever she thought about that dreadful night, images came crashing to the forefront.
“Ben hasn’t been there that long, maybe three years.”
“Yup, three years next month.” Shit, that had slipped out too quickly.
“Wow. He has an anniversary coming up.”
Kari shrugged. “I’m not really sure. I could be wrong.”
God, she hoped she brushed that off. The last thing she needed was Adam realizing she’d lusted over Ben since he joined the company.
They made idle chitchat. It seemed to be taking forever to get to the island.
“Is everything okay?” Adam asked Ben.
Ben slowed the boat until it idled in the choppy water. “I’m not sure where we are. I thought we’d be there by now.”
“Are you serious?” Kari panicked. This was not funny. She knew she should’ve stayed on the dock and waited for the transportation Mr. Carlton was providing.
“I’m afraid I am. And there’s another tiny little issue.”
Kari’s pulse rate increased. The pounding in her chest ran straight up to her ear. It sounded like a drum beating right next to her.
“What’s wrong?” Adam asked.
Kari was thankful he had asked, because she didn’t have the nerve.
“I think we’re running low on gas. None of the gauges seem to be working.”
“Unbelievable. Are you telling me we’re stuck out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“No. I’m saying, I think we’re running low on gas and should find a place to dock the boat.”
Kari looked around. There was land in the distance, but she wasn’t sure if it was Mr. Carlton’s or even if they had the fuel to make it that far.
“Is that the island we’re looking for?” She pointed in the direction of the land.
“Let’s find out.” Ben quickly returned to the wheel, gunned the engine, and sped off.
“Should I be worried?” Kari demanded from Adam.
“Nah. He’s terrific. He’ll find the way. I have faith in him.”
Kari wished she felt the same, but right about now she was losing all hope of making it to Carlton Island. She just prayed she’d have a job come Monday.