Authors: Shelby Gates
LOVE IN ALABAMA
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
LOVE IN ALABAMA
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Indie-Spired Design
This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the expressed written consent of the author.
Books by Shelby Gates
The Chance Series
The Me Series
The Love In 50 States Series
LOVE IN ALABAMA
LOVE IN ALASKA (available 10/20/14)
LOVE IN ARIZONA (available 11/3/14)
LOVE IN ARKANSAS (available 11/17/14)
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Paige raised her glass of cabernet and looked at me expectantly. “To sex and divorce.”
I gripped the base of the delicate crystal wineglass and stared at the dark red liquid filling it.
“And travel,” Mimi chimed in. “Don't forget travel.” She lifted her own glass and, balancing baby Jacob against her chest, managed to take a sip. Her blond hair was pulled back in a short ponytail, the strands just barely long enough to be tamed by the purple elastic wrapped around her hair. “But, yeah. Sex. Lots of sex.”
My own wineglass was arrested halfway between the polished teak coffee table and my mouth as I wavered between lifting it in a toast of triumph and downing the entire contents in complete and total panic.
“I can't believe I'm doing this,” I muttered.
“Jess.” Paige's voice was firm.
I looked at my best friend. The whole scheme had been her harebrained idea. I wasn't sure how I'd let her talk me into it but, like always, she had. It was just like Paige. She could be very persuasive.
Her wine glass was still raised and she reached out her free hand to tuck a shiny lock of black hair behind her ear. She dyed it regularly, preferring ebony black over her own natural brown, keeping it cut in a severe bob that showcased her razor-sharp cheekbones and astonishing blue eyes. She liked to compare herself to Angelina Jolie but her beak-like nose and thin lips always killed the comparison for me.
“You should be looking forward to this,” she told me, leaning forward just a little from her perch on the couch. We were in her apartment, a loft above Mama Maria's, a hole-in-the-wall Italian place that served the best calzones in town. “Freedom. A chance to experience all the things you've missed out on.” She smiled over her wineglass at me. “So many men and so many...”
I held up my hand. “I know. I know.”
We'd had the conversation a dozen times before. She'd pointed out all the reasons why the adventure I was about to embark on was the best decision of my life. Even timid, passive Mimi, our other best friend, had agreed. And I had, too. Initially.
But, with my suitcase packed and tucked away in the corner of her living room and the first stop of my itinerary printed and stowed in my purse, I had to admit I was feeling a little nervous. A lot nervous, actually—like I'd made one hell of a bad decision but still had to see it through.
Jacob let out a wail and Mimi set her glass of sparkling cider back on the coffee table. She yanked the neck of her tank top to the side and deftly pulled a boob from the confines of her bra.
“Wow.” Paige watched with frank admiration. “That's impressive.”
“Third kid.” Mimi grinned. “I've got this down to a science.”
We were all the same age, had graduated from the same tiny high school in the tiny town in tiny Vermont that we'd grown up in and still lived in. But our lives couldn't be any more different from each other's.
Paige Armstrong, 26, and the youngest adjunct professor at Baker Whitfield College. She'd graduated with her Master's in Women's Studies at twenty-four and, after serving for a year in a paid position with the National Organization of Women, had come home to teach at the liberal arts college twenty minutes from our hometown. She didn't burn bras or throw things at men but she was the most empowered female I'd ever met.
Mimi Lawless, the only 26 year old I knew with three kids under the age of four. She'd gone to UVM to study art history and had fallen in love with Alan Lawless, a fellow art student. A year later, they were married and, seven months later, Natalie was born. They'd come home to Mitchell, rented a duplex half a block from her parents, and Alan had gone to work for Mimi's dad at Carpet Carnival, the family business. Instead of a life of art, he was buried under carpet samples and steam machine rentals. He didn't seem to mind and Mimi was as happy as I'd ever seen her, herding kids and keeping house, the picture of domestic bliss.
And me. Jessica Connor-Peterson. No. Not Jessica Connor-Peterson, I reminded myself. Just Jessica Connor again. Like my best friends, I was twenty-six. Like Paige, I'd gone to school and graduated, gotten my degree in English. Unlike Paige, I'd never left Mitchell, Vermont. Like Mimi, I'd married the first guy I dated, Brian Peterson. Unlike Mimi, we'd never had kids.
And, unlike either of them, I was divorced.
Brian and I had lasted fifty months as a married couple. All of the things I'd thought I'd seen in him while we dated seemed to disappear the moment he'd slipped the ring on my finger in a church that I hadn't wanted to get married in in the first place. I wasn't happy or elated or hopeful as I walked down the aisle. I was resigned to the fact that I'd just made a big mistake.
And I had. He forgot our first anniversary. I didn't have unrealistic hopes for a massive celebration, but it annoyed the hell out of me that he hadn't remembered. He was in the Bahamas on our second anniversary, his company having sent him down to do some IT work for a hotel. He hadn't offered me the chance to come along. The gap between us widened by the day. We didn't even bother with celebrating our third anniversary—he was too busy launching his own IT company—and on the fourth he chose to celebrate with Lucy Bohannan, his secretary and, as I'd learn two days later via an email he sent me, his lover for the previous six months.
We divorced in the fiftieth month and while I was glad to be rid of him, there was an immense amount of sadness that I couldn't get over. That I had failed. That I wasn't good enough. That I sucked at nearly everything and was going to forever be a failure. I'd wallowed and whined and let self-pity hang on me like old clothing.
And that's when Paige took me to lunch, told me to stop feeling sorry for myself and suggested that I sleep with fifty men in fifty states.
three weeks earlier
I leaned back in the restaurant booth, trying to make sure I'd heard Paige correctly. “You want me to sleep with fifty men?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. She jabbed at the air with her salad fork. “I want you to
“Thanks for the clarification.”
She stabbed at the air again. “Sleeping is an incredibly poor way to describe sex. There should be no sleeping. Ever. Because if there is, you're doing it wrong.” She smiled. “And life is too short to do it wrong.”
I stared at my half-eaten sandwich and tried to imagine having sex with fifty different men. I'd had sex with exactly one. Brian. We'd gotten together in high school and I'd never been with anyone else. Sex with Brian had been...fine. When I'd lost my virginity to him our senior year, it was exciting, but only because his parents were on their way home and we had to hurry up so we didn't get caught. I'd gotten used to routine sex – him on top, me pretending to be excited until he finished – and just thought that's what sex was. At some point during the fifty months of our marriage, I realized that I was missing out, that our completely sporadic sex was boring and mechanical and did nothing for me. I didn't know how to talk to Brian about it because I was afraid he would think it was his fault and that wasn't the point. Together, we were doing it wrong.
“You've slept with Brian,” Paige continued, making a face. Anyone walking by would think her salad was filled with vomit. “And you've said it was terrible.”
“I said it was fine.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Which means it was terrible. You should never describe sex with the same words you'd use to describes the weather.” She mimed a conversation. “'How's the weather today?' 'Fine.' 'How are you feeling today?' 'Fine.' 'How does your husband's penis feel inside your vagina?' 'Fine.'”
The heat rose in my cheeks. Hearing those words out loud made me uncomfortable, which was ridiculous. Paige had no problem spouting off about vulvas and foreskin and female ejaculation. And, usually, I had no problem listening. But when the conversation was about me? In a public restaurant? My comfort level was nonexistent.
Paige popped a crouton in her mouth and crushed it violently between her teeth. “You, Jess, need better than fine sex.”
I pushed my plate away. “So I should just go hook up with fifty guys?” I kept my voice to a whisper but I was sure she could still hear the note of hysteria in it. “Just go down to Eddie's Tavern and line them up?”
She set her fork down and tented her hands over her plate. “No. I have a far better idea.”
I rolled my eyes. “This should be good.”
“You've always complained about never having left Vermont,” she said, her head tilting to the side, studying me.
“I wouldn't say complained,” I said.
“Fine,” she said. “Lamented? Is that a better choice of words?”
“Yes. Let's say lamented.”
“So you've always lamented never having left Vermont, right?”
I nodded. I had. I'd been on day trips to the surrounding states in New England, but mostly, I'd stayed firmly rooted in Vermont. It was familiar, it was home, and it was safe. Brian hadn't wanted to leave and while there'd been a pang of disappointment when he'd told me that, I thought it was okay because it was all I've ever known. But as my frustration with my marriage had grown, so had my claustrophobia. I was envious of Paige and my other friends who took off to other states for work and pleasure while I stayed behind. I guess I'd been vocal about it...at least vocal enough for her to hear it.
“And you told me when we were kids that you wanted to visit all fifty states,” Paige continued.
“I also said I wanted to marry Justin Timberlake,” I reminded her.
I sighed. “Yes. I said that.”
She slapped her hands lightly on the table. “So now's your chance. Travel the country and see all fifty states. Fifty states for enduring fifty months of a shitty, sexless marriage. Oh my God, it's brilliant.
am brilliant.” She leaned over her plate and gave me that wicked smile again. “Visit fifty states. And fuck a guy in each one.”
“Are you insane?” I asked. “I'm not going to do that!”
“Because...because I can't just
She leaned back in the booth and gave me a look that a kindergarten teacher might give a misbehaving student. “That is a ridiculous attitude. Of course you can do it. It's a brilliant idea. You should be packing rather than arguing.”
“Well, I'd have to bring an extra suitcase for all the condoms. And you know checked baggage fees are ridiculous now.” I tried to sound like I knew what I was talking about but the truth was, I hadn't been on a plane since my honeymoon.
“They aren't that bad,” she began.
. You think that's my biggest concern with this stupid ass plan of yours?”
Paige slapped the table again. “Well, I'm
. Do you know how many women would kill to be in this position? You're financially set after the divorce—thank God you had a shark of a lawyer.”
“I'm not set yet,” I said. “I have to wait for the house to sell.” Brian and I were selling the house we'd bought three years earlier.
“Yeah, but you have your severance money to tide you over. Which leads me to my next point. You have no job tying you down.”
“Only because I got laid off...” It still hurt to say it, even though I'd been out of a job for almost two months.
“Who cares?” Paige said. “You were an office manager at an insurance company. Not like it was your dream job.”
She was right about that. My dream had been to go back to school for my teaching license and teach high school English. But Brian had nixed the idea almost immediately, telling me we didn't have enough money for me to take more classes. Instead, I'd taken the first job offer I'd gotten and had pushed paper at the insurance office while Brian decided to pursue his own dream and open an IT firm.
“You have no kids,” she continued.
A ghost of a smile touched my lips. To have kids would probably mean I would have needed to have sex more than once every couple of months. A part of me envied Mimi's blossoming family but another part of me was relieved I hadn't gotten pregnant while married, simply because it would have been that much harder to end things.
“And...you're young.” Paige smiled again, but this time, it was my best friend smiling at me, not the wicked devil smile she'd cast my way earlier. “This is your chance to not miss the moment.”
“The moment that nearly everyone misses in their life. The do-over. The chance to reinvent yourself.”
I stared at her. “Pretty sure most women don't want to have sex with fifty different men in fifty different states.”
“Bullshit.” Her eyes were lit with passion and I imagined this was what she looked like when she lectured at school. “Don't tell me that women don't wish they'd had sex with more men before they enter into a life of monogamy with their husbands or partners or whatevers. We like to hang that sign on men, but women wonder, too.”
She pressed her lips together and furrowed her brow and I knew for sure that she was going into professor mode. “Did you know women used to be considered more sexual than men? Up until about a hundred years ago, actually. It was women who were promiscuous, who derived more pleasure from sex. All according to men, of course. They liked to blame women...the whole original sin and fall of man crap. The Protestant movement changed all that, when women realized that if they acted more pure, more sexless, they might be considered more equal in men's eyes. Clearly, that backfired but—”
I held up my hand. “Got it.”
She smirked. “Not up for a lesson in women's studies?”
I shook my head. “Not when we're discussing this asinine idea of yours.”
“It's not asinine and you know it. Because you wouldn't be arguing with me, discussing this, if you weren't at least slightly intrigued.”
“I am not intrigued. In any way.”
“No?” She raised her eyebrows. “Don't you wonder what another dick looks like? Feels like? Aren't you curious about how it might feel to have some other guy suck your tits? Your pussy?”
I covered my ears with my hands. “Stop!”
She chuckled. “Why are you so hung up on sex? It's the most natural thing in the word, Jess. And just because you've had a shitty sex life so far doesn't mean that you should resign yourself to a lifetime of bad sex. You deserve more.”
I looked away and toyed with my straw. I sort of hated how well she knew me. I wasn't going to admit that I'd wondered about sex with other men. Fantasized about it. Paige had nearly gone through the roof when I'd admitted to her two years back during a drunken Girls Night In that I'd never orgasmed during sex with Brian. And that he rarely took the time to help me reach the Big O via other avenues. She'd practically demanded I divorce him right then, or, at the very least, seek sexual counseling or therapy. When I brushed her off, she disappeared into her bedroom and re-emerged with a hot pink vibrator in her hands, begging me to take it home so I could find ways to pleasure myself. Mimi and I had dissolved into fits of laughters and I'd swiftly changed the subject. But it had planted a seed of doubt inside of me. Did other women really have that much better sex? Were Brian and I just not compatible in bed? I knew we weren't compatible in other ways but a penis and a vagina were just supposed to work together, weren't they?
“Fine,” she said, filling the silence between us. She speared a piece of romaine and brought it halfway to her mouth. “I'll lay off for now. But this is your chance, Jess. You can help yourself and all of womankind. We can all live vicariously through you. See the country. Fuck the men.”
“Live vicariously through me?” I rolled my eyes. “What do you think I'm going to do, write a blog about it? Do a vlog or something?”
Her eyes lit up again. “Now there's an idea.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head violently. “I was kidding.”
She chuckled. “No blog. No YouTube channel. Just the fact that you're out there, promoting and embracing female sexuality is enough for me. And for womankind.”
I narrowed my eyes. “This is one of your social experiments, isn't it? Are you writing a paper on this? Something you're gonna publish in some psychobabble journal? That's the real reason why you want me to do this, isn't it?”
“No,” she said emphatically. “I swear, I'm suggesting this for you. Because you need it. Not just the sex. Although, dear god, we know that's been missing in your life.” She picked up her glass of water and took a sip. “But you need to see the world. Throw caution to the wind and just...be Jessica. And find out who she is. What she wants. And what kind of sex she likes.”
“Travel, Jess,” she said quickly, backpedaling from the sex talk. “Don't forget the travel. You could see the Pacific Ocean. The Mississippi River. The Grand Canyon. The Golden Gate Bridge.”
My mouth practically watered as she recited landmarks across the U.S. I had to admit that the idea of traveling was intriguing. When she'd mentioned my lack of responsibilities and my financial security, the lightbulb switched on. My divorce would leave me in great shape financially, mostly because my ex-husband had decided to pay me off—well—rather than give me a share of his wildly successful company. My lawyer had suggested we go for more but the paid-off house and lump-sum cash payout by the end of the year had been enough for me.
And I knew it was enough for me to seriously consider what Paige was suggesting. Get on planes and rent cars and see each and every state and still have enough money left over to live comfortably for a long while, and maybe even go back to school and get that teaching license I wanted.
But finding a guy in each state to have sex with?
“You're insane,” I said. She opened her mouth to object but I held up my hand. “I can travel. I might do that. But I'm not sleeping with fifty guys.”
“Not sleeping, fu—” she began but I cut her off.
“No,” I said firmly.
She sighed, exasperated at my resistance. Then something flashed through her eyes. “What if Mimi agreed with me?”
I thought of sweet Mimi, blissfully content with her husband and her three kids and her life of domesticity. “She wouldn't.”
“But what if she did?”
I shook my head. “She wouldn't.”
Paige's mouth twisted with irritation. “Stop being so goddamn obstinate.”
I frowned but waited for her to continue.
“What if she agreed with me and my so-called insane idea?” Paige asked. “What if it wasn't just me who thought this would be good for you? Would you do it?”
I stared at Paige. Her expression was innocent. I thought for a minute. There was no way Mimi would think it was a rational idea. No way. And then I could rub it in Paige's face for all of eternity.
“Sure,” I said slowly, nodding my head. “If Mimi agrees with you, I'll do it.”