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Afterlife, Page 2

Joey W. Hill

Page 2


  He was always courteous, talking to each woman in a way that suggested he took a personal interest in her life and how her day was going. He had that still, attentive way about him as Peter did. If another male attended her class, he handled that interaction in a relaxed, friendly way, seamless male bonding amid a sea of estrogen.

  He was a K&A management scion as well. Following impulse rather than good sense, she"d looked up articles on the company. Like Peter, he was one of the brilliant five-man team that ran K&A. They"d been given various nicknames in both the business and society pages, including the wunderkind, because of what they"d accomplished at a relatively young age in the manufacturing world.

  However, one gossip columnist gave them a different name. Knights of the Board Room. With the calculated indiscretion that a gossip columnist could dare, the reporter had noted they had a closely bonded intuition usually shared by fetuses in the womb.

  Another reason for the nickname was that they were well known for their support of charitable efforts, both with money and hands-on time. They"d been deeply involved in relief efforts for Katrina and supposedly always had personal bets running between them where the winnings went to the charity of the winner"s choice. In the pictures taken of them at different functions, she knew they were all handsome as sin, though her gaze always strayed to Jon"s face, and sometimes her fingers, slipping over the image with guilty shame at the girlish act.

  With his mechanical aptitude and inventor"s spirit, Jon was called the “boy genius” of the group. He held dual financial and engineering degrees and already had multiple patents for innovative manufacturing processes and gadgets. He also had impressive diplomacy and negotiating skills, and was considered the calming yet irresistible influence of the group. Business rivals had dubbed him “Kensington"s Archangel” with grudging admiration.

  Knowing he was an engineer and inventor explained why the knuckles of his long-fingered hands were often scraped, his palms calloused. She"d not only had the shameful, secret pleasure of touching them, but some of the rest of him as well. Enough to know firsthand his trim frame truly was solid muscle. Because his upper body strength made the more extreme positions easier for him to execute, she"d fallen into the despicable habit of using him to demonstrate those. Despicable because she used those innocuous visual cues as an excuse to make contact.

  Note how Jon has his weight balanced. A quick touch of his thigh, braced and holding in Warrior One. Pay particular attention to the position of the neck here, the angle of the hips…

  She"d almost gone too far that day, because when she"d stepped up behind him to lay her hands on his hips, she"d accidentally brushed the upper rise of his taut buttocks with her thumbs. She"d blushed like a girl. Thank heavens for the dim lighting, the flickering candles that created a tranquil environment and hid such reactions. His skin was fueled by a heat that warmed her whole body at the casual touch.

  She assumed he came to the class for the camaraderie of others, because he was more proficient in the ancient practice than Rachel was. Some days she wished he would stop coming; other days she could hardly wait to see which day he turned up. In less rational moments she blamed him for reviving all these feelings.

  He"d given her direct permission to touch him, after all.

  * * * * *

  It was a ritual she performed with all her new students. At the beginning of a class, she would take a seat on her mat and ask the first-timer the same question. “May I touch you?”

  The reason for the question was innocent enough. At the end of each session, they would perform the yoga nidra, the students lying on their mats, entering a state of deep relaxation. She would visit each one, kneel at the crown of his or her head and massage the temples with herbal-coated hands, her thumbs slowly rotating over the third eye, spiritually located above and centered between the eyebrows.

  When she"d met his gaze that first day, at the beginning of class, those blue eyes had been deep and mysterious in the candlelight, almost causing her to lose her train of thought.

  “May I touch you? Jon. ” She added the name as an afterthought, but it felt wrong, as if an honorific was needed instead. Particularly when something indefinable entered his gaze as if he heard the pause and—unlike her—had no doubt about what should go in that empty space.

  “Yes, Rachel. You may. ”

  No nervous half smile and quick one-word assent, as often happened with a new student, surprised by the question. Those four words, uttered in that velvet tone, had brought back to life dangerous fantasies she"d kept quelled for so long. She had the crazy thought that it wouldn"t matter when or how she wanted to touch him. He would always require that she wait for his permission. It made her palms dampen and her pulse flutter.

  Maintaining her focus that day, staying centered in her practice, had been all but impossible, because all she could think about was touching him at the end of it. She"d lectured herself, messed up right and left cues about twelve times, until her students were teasing her good-naturedly. However, when she finally knelt at his head, her hands scented with lavender and eucalyptus oils, she"d tried to keep her eyes on the gold band of her wedding ring, the protection that illusion gave her. Instead, her gaze strayed to his closed eyes, the set of his firm mouth, the slope of his jaw. The way his hair brushed her skin as she laid her fingers on his temples.

  She imagined what would happen if he lifted his hands, closed them over her wrists, holding her manacled there as he opened his eyes, looked up at her and made entirely different demands. Just the vision made her wet, a shocking development. It had been quite a while since anything had caused her to have that response.

  As if some kind of devil on her shoulder was determined to make things worse, Jon had lifted his chin as she settled her fingers on his brow. Though he kept his eyes closed, his nostrils flared. “I like this scent, Rachel,” he said, his voice low.

  Of course he meant the eucalyptus and lavender. Right?

  * * * * *

  Of course he did. He was a business executive who had the confidence to handle people well. For heaven"s sake, he"d never made a single inappropriate move toward her. She needed to put him out of her mind. Particularly right now, with Peter and Dana here. It made thinking about him all the more hazardous. The idea that her small world had rolled into the trajectory of two full-blown sexual Dominants was an irony that smacked of the Universe"s cruelest sense of humor. It was best for her to pretend she"d never heard that powerful word fall from Dana"s lips, a word that unlocked all sorts of wild things in Rachel"s soul.

  The same word she"d been certain had belonged in that empty space when she"d asked Jon if she could touch him. And how insane was that?

  Jon Forte. Just saying his name in her mind made her breath shorten and crazy things happen to her body. Things that her body didn"t do, hadn"t done, for a very long time. Unlike Peter, he was not engaged and therefore far too tempting. He might as well have been happily married though, because he was no less off limits, for a variety of reasons. She reminded herself of the least painful one, that the man was at least ten years younger than she was. Probably fifteen, though she winced to push it that far. He was closer to her son"s age than hers.

  The age her son would be now, if he were still alive. Another sharp hurt came with that thought, even higher up. In a moment, she was going to be as rigid with pain as one of her new patients, fresh from a car wreck.

  Damn it, she was done with all the things that Peter and Jon represented. She"d tried to go down that road and ended up nearly destroying herself. Squaring her shoulders, she turned away from her thoughts, her desires and her memories, and gave herself the here, the now and the realistic—a much safer trinity.

  Chapter Two

  “All right, there you go. Take a deep breath. Think we can go a bit further?” Rachel leaned on the triceps, ready to push the arm back another notch if Dana gave her the slightest indication she w
as ready for it, though she was pretty sure the woman had reached her limit.

  Dana gave her a quick jerk of a nod and closed her eyes, focusing. Watching the tension throughout the rest of Dana"s body, Rachel cut the hold time down to half before she released. “I think that"s plenty for today. You"ve made progress since last time. You"re doing your exercises religiously. ”

  “Try getting out of them with an ex-captain who wants to be a drill sergeant when he grows up. ” Dana managed a wan smile.

  Reaching into the drawer next to the cot, Rachel withdrew a gold-foiled chocolate and put it in Dana"s hand. “Your reward. You did really, really well, honey. I know it"s slow, but you"re improving your flexibility at the rate someone like me wants to see. ”

  “Improving, but it will never be the same as before. ” Dana pressed her lips together, showing the strain behind the words, but then she sat up with a quick snap, a shake of her head. “Sorry. Weak-assed thing to say. ” Rachel put a hand on her shoulder, but merely said, “You"re still doing the Iyengar poses I showed you, with the straps?”

  “Yes. ” Dana nodded, offered that half-smile again. “Peter likes the straps. ” Rachel normally would have managed a witty comeback, but it caught in her throat. She couldn"t joke today. She was too full of envy for what Dana had.

  “Hey. ” Dana moved her hand to Rachel"s knee. “You okay?”

  “Yes. Definitely. I was just…smiling at you two. Being so in love and all. It"s a nice thing to see. ”

  “It"s a nice thing to feel. ” Dana cocked her head. Rachel"s left hand was resting on her knee, so now her patient was touching the gold band on her ring finger, a plain contrast to the diamond engagement set that flashed on Dana"s. “I hope you"re going to tell me you still feel that way about your husband. It might keep me from bashing in Peter"s big rock head before we even make it down the aisle. Or are you still newlyweds?”

  It happened on occasion. Rachel would never lie about it, but she did everything to avoid being asked. “I"m not… I"m divorced. ”