Separated, With Benefits comes out on July 22. Check out this excerpt. If you like it, you can pre-order it now over on Amazon. This is early on in the book. For context, Michael is a neighbor and platonic friend of Ethan and Nicole. Enjoy!
An Excerpt from Separated, With Benefits
Our front door was the same, buttery yellow that it had always been. The plants beneath the awning were also the same. The walk could have used some edging, but beyond that, it was like I’d never left. But I had, and things were different.
Taking a deep breath, I knocked. Then continued to hold that breath. What if a guy really did answer the door? Her boyfriend. Her live-in boyfriend. The idea of it twisted in my gut. I reached out, bracing my hand on the door frame when the door finally opened.
“Oh, hi there,” Nicole said, surprised to come face to face so close.
I realized how this must look, how I was hanging onto the door like some brash suitor. The only other thing that was needed was a sparkle in my smile.
“Um, hi.” I snatched my hand away from the door frame and stepped back. I lifted the growler. “Michael sent me over with this.”
“What a thoughtful man,” she said, taking it from me. “Come on in.”
If this was weird for Nicole, she didn’t show it. If anything, she was acting like this was perfectly normal. I needed to copy that.
Judging by her damp hair, she’d showered since she’d run by. Showered and changed, although she’d put on another pair of black leggings that conformed to her legs and butt just as nicely. She wore a plain, pale pink t-shirt and a short, black cardigan. Casual, in other words. Deliberately so? Or was this how Nicole normally hung around the house when she was alone? I seemed to recall rattier jeans and sweatshirts.
I followed her in before she caught me staring at her ass.
The house looked different than the one I remembered. All the furniture was new, for one. Gone were our IKEA furnishings, replaced by a more adult sectional, more polished coffee and side tables, artwork that I didn’t recognize but immediately felt like Nicole.
“So this is the color that Michael finds so objectionable,” Nicole said.
I looked away from the new furniture and into the kitchen. Gone was the tired beige it had been when we’d bought it. Nicole had painted it a rich, orange-red, textured by a sponge to make it look like stucco. It reminded me of the Italian cafes that Nicole had always wanted to visit.
“Well?” she said.
“I don’t understand why he hates it,” I said.
Nicole retrieved a couple pint glasses and set them on the counter. “So does that mean you don’t hate it?”
“I love it. It’s very…it fits you.”
“So I’m like a…how did he put it? A sun that vomited on the wall? Am I the sun? Or the vomit?” She popped the hinge-top of the growler and filled the pint glasses.
“Definitely the sun. You smell too good to be the vomit.” It was the previous drinks talking, but now that I’d said it, I realized that she really did smell good. She wasn’t wearing perfume like the not-a-date, but she must have switched shampoos to something fruity.
“Well, cheers to not being vomit. This stuff any good?”
I touched my glass to hers. “It’s certainly strong.”
Nicole laughed, then took a sip. “Not bad. Not bad at all. But yes, I can taste how strong that is. How many did you have?”
“I can’t remember.” I laughed.
“That many, huh? Did you eat dinner?”
I had to think for a moment before answering. Had I downed something at the hotel? “Nope.”
“Oh, Ethan, how irresponsible. Is this how you live your life now?” She smiled, making the scolding seem like flirting. “I’ve got some leftovers. I’ll heat them up. You go easy on that glass.”
She turned to the fridge, opening it and crouching down to grab some Tupperware from the lower shelf.
“You don’t have…to.” I stuttered when her black leggings pulled tight and low on her ass, and the black band of her thong peeked out.
I moved sideways, putting the counter between me and her and the thong. It was the only way I would be able to stop looking. In all the years that we’d been together, Nicole had only worn a thong a handful of times, and always with dresses that required them. Never had she ever worn them around the house like this. Never so casually.
Or maybe that was for me?
“Here we go. Lamb kabobs okay?” She popped up and set the plastic container between us.
“Perfect,” I said. “But seriously, you don’t have to.”
“I’m hungry too, and I need to get these out of here.” She turned and popped them into the microwave. “So you didn’t let me know you were coming into town.”
I stared at her ass, thinking about her racy underwear when she turned back to me. This time, she caught me. She smiled but didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that.” Then, again because I was a little tipsy, I added, “I wasn’t sure you’d want to…you know. After last time…”
“Last time?” I couldn’t tell if she was playing coy with me on purpose, or was actually confused.
“Wasn’t sure if you’d be busy or something,” I said lamely.
“Only way to find out would be to ask,” she said. The microwave beeped behind her. She turned away from me again. “But you’re acting strangely. Maybe you didn’t want to see me.”
“No, not that,” I blurted. “Actually, I was worried that you wouldn’t want to see me.”
“Really? Why’s that?” She didn’t bother with a plate. She just grabbed a couple forks and placed the steaming plastic container before us.
“I don’t know.” Because you had a date after, I didn’t say. “It’s kind of weird, after…you know. The separation.”
“A little,” Nicole conceded. “Wait, it must be really weird being here, then. For you, I mean.”
“Not for you?” I asked.
“I guess some. But it’s not a bad weird.” She forked a chunk of lamb and bit into it as she thought about it. “It helps that you’re kind of drunk. Makes me feel like I’ve got the upper hand. You always were a fun drunk.”
I said, “Should I be worried about being taken advantage of?” The question registered with a twitch between my legs.
When she smiled at me and didn’t say anything other than to take a long sip of her own beer, that twitch turned into something real and rising.
“I like the new furniture,” I said, changing the subject.
Nicole brightened. “Thanks. After we decided to separate, I decided that I needed a fresh start, you know?”
The way she mentioned the separation like she was referring to last week’s snowstorm should have been off-putting. Instead, it helped me relax. It was a thing. It had happened, and we were adults who could move past it.
Also, though, deep down, her casualness hurt. I kept that emotion bottled up. It was embarrassing.
“Well, you’ve got good taste. I should have let you decorate my place in DC.”
“Oh, God, let me guess, black leather sofa?” I winced, and Nicole laughed. “You did not!”
“Afraid I did,” I said.
“Was Michael serious about the BMW?”
“Does that sound like me?” I said defensively.
“Fair, fair.” She went over to the stereo system—at least that was from my time—and turned on some music.
“The Cranberries?” I asked.
Nicole shrugged. “Since we got together last, I’ve been going through a phase. Everything that’s old is new again.”
I remembered how much Nicole loved the Cranberries when we’d first started dating. “Did you pull out the Ani Difranco albums?”
“That was so last week, Ethan.”
We laughed together. It felt good. It felt…like home. Or at least the memory of home.
“So I also replaced most of the furniture upstairs,” she said.
“My grandfather’s desk chair?”
“That’s still there, goof. So is your desk.” She finished up her pint. I looked at mine, barely a quarter of the way down. She must have been chugging hers.
That’s when I saw the nervousness in the way she couldn’t quite hold my eyes. Interesting.
“Got a new bed, though. A queen.”
My heart kicked up a notch. “Yeah?”
“Want to see it?”
This wasn’t what I was expecting, and yet somehow exactly what I dreamed. “Yeah, I do.”
Nicole seemed to let go of something she’d been holding on to—nerves, anxiety, fear of rejection. She came around the counter, trailing her fingers along its edge. She’d painted her nails the same pink as her t-shirt, and she wore a number of rings that I didn’t notice, including one on her thumb. But her wedding rings were gone. It shouldn’t have felt like the gut punch that it was. After all, it had been a long time since I’d worn mine. Still, it did.
“You look good, Ethan,” Nicole said. I tore my eyes away from her hand as she reached out to me. She touched my chest, spreading her fingers up to my shoulders. “You’re keeping in shape.”
“So are you. Running even in the winter.”
Nicole shrugged. “It’s a routine. Keeps me thinking about…other things. You know?”
I didn’t, but also couldn’t find the courage to ask. My mind was too busy filling it in with all kinds of crazy things—she’d turned into a nymphomaniac and spent her free time prowling for men; she’d gotten into online sex chat rooms; the square-jawed M.D. wormed himself in there.
“I don’t want you to read anything into what’s about to happen, okay?” She really did look nervous. It made me see her the way I had when we first crossed this line. It was thrilling to be able to do that again.
“And what do you think I’d be reading?”
Nicole sighed. Like, this is a mistake sighed. Like, we shouldn’t do this sighed. But what she said was, “I know how things are between us. How they stand. I’m not trying to lure you back. I know the past is past. But right now…” She blew out some air, looked away for a split second, then back. “Right now, I need you.”
I didn’t let her twist in the breeze. Not even for a second. Before she’d even finished saying you, my lips were on hers.
Like so many other things in this surreal return to my past life, our kiss was both familiar and powerfully new. Her lips felt the same, and the way she accepted the kiss was as I remembered. I pressed with my tongue, parting her lips; she accepted and then, after a playful moment, pressed back.
Only this time, she pressed a little harder than I was expecting. Or maybe I just remembered wrong. Maybe she’d always been like this, and I’d just forgotten. Whatever it was, it felt different, and because of that, the new overwhelmed everything else.
When I pulled at her cardigan, she stopped me. “Upstairs. It’ll be more comfortable.”
I nodded. Upstairs. Right. The bedroom. My heart skipped. The bedroom!
Nicole laughed, taking my hand and pulling me toward the stairs. How many times had we made this trip together in the past? How many times had things started heating up in the kitchen before we’d quickly taken the stairs? Not enough. No where close to enough.
And it had never felt so charged as now. My teeth practically chattered as I followed her up the stairs, watching her ass, tracing the toned lines of her runner’s legs. This didn’t feel domestic. This didn’t feel like just another Saturday night.
Nicole shed her cardigan before we entered the bedroom. It smelled like the shower, fresh and clean. Nicole moved to the new dresser she’d purchased, her footsteps light across the plush, new area rug. I looked around. Everything was different here, from the bed to the paint on the walls to the photos.
“What do you think?” she asked, following my eyes to the black and whites over the headboard of the bed.
“Yours?” The images were close-ups of things I recognized once I was looking—the sign over the general store downtown, the lattice work along the old courthouse, the stone fountain in the park.
“Yeah, just playing around.” She turned on some music, sensual Spanish guitars layered over a soft yet driving beat. “Most were duds, but I liked those.”
“I love them.”
I heard the whisk of clothing. My heart raced even faster. Shyly, I looked.
Nicole had removed her shirt and had just pushed her thumbs beneath her black leggings. She’d left her bra on, black and basic, but by no means not sexy. As she bent forward to guide the leggings down her thighs, her arms pushed her breasts together, accentuating her already deep cleavage. I couldn’t not look. Judging from the way Nicole smiled, she knew what she was doing—and that made the whole thing even more sexy.
I wouldn’t say that Nicole was unaware of the effect that she had on men—she was beautiful and knew it—but she’d never harnessed the full power of her sex appeal. Even with me. Even at our most intimate. In our past, I usually initiated the sex, and I could count the number of times that she’d actively seduced me on one hand.
She was actively seducing me now.
Not that she could keep it up for long. She kept a straight face until she had her leggings around her ankles, then broke into a smile. “You’re looking at me like you’ve never seen me before.”
“Well, it’s been a while…”
Nicole straightened up, and while her cleavage wasn’t so obvious, she still looked amazing. She’d been blessed with good genes—her hips were wide enough and her tits were full enough to give her an elongated S-shape without having to put much work into it. Apparently she was now putting work into it, and it showed.
She stepped out of her leggings and sauntered over to me. She didn’t even bother exaggerating the sway in her hips. It was there, and I followed it.
“Your turn,” she whispered, fingering the bottom of my shirt. “It’s been awhile for me, too.”
Together, we pulled off my shirt. Judging by Nicole’s sharp intake of breath, she approved. Like her, I’d filled my spare time with trips to the gym. I’d joined a morning bootcamp group. I was in better shape now than I’d ever been in my life, and when Nicole ran her hand through the sparse crop of dark hair on my chest, she traced the swell and rise of my pectoral muscles.
“Well, I think I’ve found at least one good thing about this separation,” she said. Her lips found mine again. It was just as deep and even more urgent. The feel of her soft bra and warm skin against my bare chest helped, but I wanted more.
I filled my hands with her ass cheeks, left bare by the thin thong. When I squeezed, she kissed me harder.
“This really happening?” I said between kisses.
“Only if you want it to.”
Nicole smiled. “Good. Me too.”
Then she did another thing that surprised me. When she went back to kiss me, it was along my jaw and down my neck, down my chest, down along the underside of my pecs. She sank to her knees, trailing kisses the whole way, as her hands went to work on my belt.
We weren’t strangers to oral sex, and when we’d first started dating, what Nicole didn’t have in experience she made up in enthusiasm. She’d always maintained that she loved making me happy, and a blowjob clearly made me happy. But since we got married and things settled, the blowjobs were few and far between, and when it did happen, it was just a means to get me up enough for the final act.
When Nicole freed me from my pants and wrapped her hand around my full cock, there was no getting ready needed. I was as hard as I’d been in a long time. Hard enough that I needed to be careful about finishing too quickly.
Nicole looking up at me from her knees as she tilted her head and ran her tongue along my shaft certainly didn’t help. Even back in our dating days, I don’t think it was like this. I don’t remember the eye contact—or if it was there, her blue irises hadn’t been filled with the same…need. This may have been about my pleasure, but that wasn’t the only thing. I saw it in the shortness of her breath and her slightly unfocused pupils. She was excited.
And then, when she’d slathered my cock with her tongue, she readjusted and enveloped me whole. I think I yipped. I definitely sniffed hard and fought back the intense temptation to just let go. Instead, I tore my eyes away from her and looked at the ceiling as she began to bob along my length.
It was the absence that made this feel so good, I told myself. It was time making me forget how good it had been. It was a rekindling of an old flame. She hadn’t learned anything new since we’d broken up. She certainly hadn’t practiced on another man—
“Oh, God…” I grunted. Nicole had taken me deeper than ever. I felt myself pass into her throat, however briefly, and it nearly undid me. I clenched my jaw, and somehow, didn’t come. Somehow, despite the fact that she’d never done that before. She’d never even tried.
She did it again, a brief, tight caress along my head with her throat. I groaned again and looked back down at her. She was still looking up at me, her eyes playful. You like that? they seemed to ask.
Where did you learn that? I wanted to ask. I couldn’t. Instead, I held on and tried to stave off the orgasm as Nicole did everything she could to coax it from me.
“Nicole, you need to… lay off…”
She pulled back, but continued to pump me with her hand. “I don’t mind,” she said.
I shook my head. I didn’t, either, but I also didn’t want this night to end so quickly. I reached down and pulled her up to her feet. We kissed, her lips and tongue moist and hot with what she’d been doing. I reached behind her and twisted open the clasp of her bra with one hand.
“Still got the touch,” she said. She stepped back and shimmied her shoulders, freeing the bra from her body.
I loved Nicole’s breasts. They were definitely on the larger side, and best of all, they were completely natural. They hung round and ripe, slightly sloped outward and capped with tiny, perfectly circular nipples.
I dipped low and took one into my mouth, unable to help myself. She sighed, wrapping a hand around around my head to pull me closer. “Definitely still have the touch,” she sighed.