Hannah Stewart knows what she likes, and it doesn’t include relationships. She has enough on her plate with her fledgling adult novelty shop, Yes Please. But even with an arsenal of sex toys at her disposal, she’s hit a dry spot—one she wishes the sexy Mitchell Fredericks would help her out with.
There’s just one snag. His sexy roommate and business partner, Ben Harrington.
The last thing she wants to do is come between their friendship—even though she’d like to come between them in other ways. Instead, she comes up with a proposition for them, one that might lead to a very hot, very unexpected outcome.
Hannah sank back into the booth seat, the smooth leather cushioning her with the familiar cradle of a well-known spot, and looked lustfully at the man emerging through the swinging door of the Mapleton Pub kitchen. The burger he was holding was beautiful, but the head chef carrying it was definitely the tastier-looking entrée. With his blond hair, chiseled jaw, and steel-gray eyes, Mitchell Fredericks was so model pretty it was practically a cliché. Add in that body, built like a brick wall, and she would take whatever he was serving her. She smiled at Mitchell as he reached her table, resting her chin on her hand.
“Damn, Mitchell, all that meat for me?”READ MORE
Mitchell gave her a tight-lipped smile, his favorite kind. “You know it, Hannah.” He slid the burger in front of her, giving her the chance to ogle his taut forearms below the rolled-up cuffs of his chef jacket. “And for you, Lori, the fish and chips. Just as fried, just as deadly.” He pulled a bottle of malt vinegar out of his jacket pocket and set it down next to her. “And your malt vinegar. Like I could forget.”
Across from Hannah, her best friend, Lori, smiled up at Mitchell and accepted her plate. “Ahh, Mitchell, nobody’s coming here for the health food. You’re not going to sell salads as long as the rest of your menu is so delicious.” She shook her head in appreciation, the loose spiral curls of her afro bouncing with the movement. After tapping her fork on the batter of the fish, she made an appreciative noise that sounded obscenely sexual. “That is a beautiful batter.”
“Thank you.” Mitchell looked between the two women. “Do you ladies need anything else?”
Hannah flashed him another dazzling smile. “I was hoping to make some more inappropriate double entendres about the burger if you wanted to stick around.”
Mitchell sighed and shook his head. “I swear you only like me for my food.”
Hannah shrugged. “I can’t help it. You deliver the meat. Besides, you’d be disappointed if I stopped making lewd comments. What else are you going to think about at night?” She bit into a french fry, still looking up at him through her lashes. Teasing Mitchell was one of her favorite games.
“I’m sure I’d think of something.” He put his hands on his hips. “You planning to be at tonight’s Chamber of Commerce meeting?”
“You know it.” Hannah raised her water. “Some late-breaking news about Fall Festival.”
“Yeah, I saw the email.” He scratched his jaw, where he always had a light dusting of blond stubble. Hard to tell if he was keeping that on purpose or if he just got lazy about shaving. Probably the latter. He didn’t seem to be the type to obsess about his appearance, except for clearly working out on the regular. He kept talking as she poured out some ketchup for her fries. “I want to see if Ben will come tonight. He might want to get involved in the festival.”
“Ben?” Hannah hadn’t seen Mitchell’s best friend at the Chamber of Commerce meetings in a long time. She seldom saw him in general, even though he and Mitchell were co-owners of the restaurant. “Is he going to sell beer at your booth?”
“I don’t know. Regulations have been a pain in the ass in past years. They’ve always charged a lot more to booths that sell alcohol.”
“You should, you know.” Lori piped up and lifted her glass of German-style wheat beer. “Sell this stuff at the festival. Even if it costs more. I would cut a bitch to get some.”
Mitchell fixed her with a deadpan expression. “If you don’t want to get violent, you could just buy some in the shop. Or at the supermarket. We distribute all over western Mass.”
“You get your beer wherever you want, Lori. I’ll be here every week as long as everything stays so delicious.” Hannah winked at Mitchell, who shook his head at her lewd expression.
“Enjoy your lunch.” Mitchell took a step back. “Jess will be over to check on you soon.”
As soon as he was back in the kitchen, Lori rounded on Hannah. “You are a whore, you know that?”
Hannah laughed. “You’re not allowed to call me a whore! You’re doing your entire dissertation on alternative sexualities.”
“Your only alternative sexuality is flirting shamelessly with that man and never doing anything about it.” Lori sighed, turning to peer at the closed kitchen door, then turned back to Hannah. “He is a fine piece of man.”
“You want him, you go after him.” Hannah took another bite of burger. “You know I don’t do relationships.”
Lori wrinkled her nose. “I don’t know. He’s hot and all, but I haven’t dated a white guy in a really long time. And I don’t think the middle of my PhD dissertation research is the time to get involved with someone new. Plus, he’s so serious. I need someone more lighthearted. Or several someones. I don’t know.” She used her fork to break apart the flaky fish and batter. “The deeper I get into this dissertation, the more I think that monogamy is fundamentally flawed.” She popped the bite into her mouth, then sprinkled some malt vinegar over the entire plate.
“I don’t think so.” Hannah contemplated her friend across the table. “I know lots of people who are happy with monogamous relationships. Just because I’m not one of them doesn’t mean the whole system is a failure.” She set the burger down and gestured at Lori with a fry. “You’re having sample bias. You’ve only been talking to nonmonogamous people, and now you think monogamy is terrible.”
Lori broke off another piece of fish. “Maybe. But aren’t you being hypocritical here? You’re always blabbing about how you’ll never tie yourself down to one person, one man can never meet all your needs, blah, blah, blah. How is that any different than what I’m saying?”
Hannah picked up her burger and thoughtfully chewed a bite, considering how to answer. “I think most people are happy with just one partner. I’m too independent for that. It wouldn’t be fair to put all my desires onto one guy and think he can be everything to me.” That, and the idea of being vulnerable and risking heartbreak was not on her to-do list. “My needs are…varied.”
Lori snorted. “Kinky as fuck, you mean.” She gave Hannah a knowing look, and Hannah grinned in response.
“What can I say? I own a sex-toy store. It’s spoiled me for vanilla missionary sex.” She ate more of her burger. “God, if I could fuck this burger, I would.”
“That’s unsanitary and terrifying.” Lori sprinkled some more malt vinegar over her plate. “You should fuck the chef instead.”
Hannah sighed. “Don’t think I haven’t considered it. Nightly, and in a number of detailed ways.”
“What’s stopping you?”
“Mitchell’s a relationship kind of guy. You can just tell.”
“How can you just tell?” Lori pressed.
How couldn’t she just tell? All the conversations she’d had with him, both here in the restaurant and at their monthly Chamber of Commerce meetings—it was obvious.
“It’s hard to describe. You spend so long working in a sex shop, you get a feel for people. Who’s a freak, who’s not. Mitchell’s not. He’s vanilla. He’s monogamous. He’s probably looking for a committed relationship. Or maybe he’s not looking for any relationship at all. This restaurant probably keeps him pretty busy.”
Lori shrugged. “Maybe he’s already in a relationship.”
“Nah.” Hannah paused, looking off toward the closed door, then back at Lori. “You think? I’ve never seen him with anyone besides Ben, but that makes sense since they live together.”
Lori raised both eyebrows but didn’t comment.
“No, I don’t think so. It’s not like that.” Hannah shook her head. “They’re best friends. Business partners. And Mitchell flirts with me like that all the time. I feel like if he were with someone already, I’d know about it. He’d talk about it, at least.”
“Maybe.” Lori didn’t look convinced, but she also didn’t continue to debate the issue with Hannah. Any sort of friendship that lasted so long—in their case, the ten years since college—came with that kind of sixth sense where she felt like she knew Hannah better than Hannah knew herself. Hell, sometimes she probably did.
It was probably Mitchell’s loss, though, that she wasn’t going to fuck him. She was good in bed—she’d had enough experience to confirm—and her career had taught her a few tricks not known to the more traditionally employed. After all, when you had eight hundred square feet of retail sex shop space plus two hundred square feet of storage, you had a lot of sex toys, and a lot of time to learn creative ways people might use them.
“If you’re not going to fuck the chef, then who are you fucking?” Lori stopped eating long enough to drink some of her beer. “I know you’ve got to be fucking somebody. I just keep thinking you’re hiding it from me. Like, maybe you’re fucking a celebrity and had to sign an NDA.”
Hannah snorted in laughter. “Not in over a month. Work has been crazy, and we had inventory last week, and before that, my parents were visiting.” She grimaced at the memory. She loved her parents, but having them a few hours away in Maine was much nicer for their relationship than when they were staying in her house. They always found little ways to criticize her, small, well-intentioned comments about how she might be living her life differently that left her on edge by the end of any visit.
“How are you even coping without sex?” Lori’s smile was teasing, a flash of white teeth.
Hannah shrugged. “I don’t need sex, Lori, I just like it.” She had always been the most sexually adventurous of her friends, quickest to invite a potential partner to bed, unable to wrap her mind around the shame that others seemed to feel about the act. “Good sex is like good food. It’s one of the most beautiful pleasures in life.” She held the mostly eaten burger up for emphasis. “It’s like this burger. You get a burger this good, you savor it. You don’t worry about calories, or carbs, or whatever. You live in the moment; you don’t ruin it by trying to make it be more or different than it is.” She set it down and picked up a french fry. “But you can’t live on burgers.”
“You’d die of a heart attack, for one.” Lori ate some of her own fries.
“Well, right. But you won’t get a heart attack from good sex.” Hannah paused. “Maybe from really good sex.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Lori clinked her glass with Hannah’s.
Hannah took a drink of her water. “Truthfully, though, I’m thinking about giving up one-night stands.” She set the glass down. “When I don’t know a guy well, he doesn’t fuck me well. I don’t have the time to teach him what I like.” Her most recent date came to mind, an app-generated hookup with a local grad student. “The last guy I slept with, really nice guy, but he was probably in his midtwenties, and he just didn’t know enough about how to please a woman yet. I taught him a few things, but Lori, I’m almost thirty. I don’t have time to teach college boys how to fuck.”
“That doesn’t sound like a one-night-stand problem. That sounds like a young-guys problem.”
“Maybe, but my two hookups before that were my age, and they weren’t any better. I guess my clit just has a steep learning curve.” Hannah sighed. “The fuck buddies thing was working well for a while, but Jalen moved away, and now Tim’s gotten serious with Deborah.” She rested her chin on her hand. “I need somebody I can fuck around with on an ongoing basis and have it not be serious.”
Mitchell walked past them carrying plates of food for another table, and Hannah watched him go, absentmindedly turning to check out the flex of his ass in his slacks as he passed by. When she turned back forward again, Lori was giving Hannah the biggest “are you fucking kidding me?” face.
“What?” Hannah couldn’t help how defensive she sounded, nor the red flush that crept up into her cheeks. “It’s like looking at beautiful art.”
Lori snorted. “Beautiful art that you want to ride like a pony.”
“Shut up.” Hannah smiled anyway. “No harm in looking.”
“What’s up for the Mapleton Fall Festival this year?” Lori drank some of her beer. “You get a booth? It’s been a few years since you’ve done it.”
“Not this year.” The festival was such a blessing and a curse all at once. “It’s always the same situation. It’s a family-friendly event. I can’t sell toys. I have to sell the tamest stuff I have, like the massage bars, and the candles, and those stupid love coupons. I barely break even. Sometimes I lose money. I wish there were a way to sell my actual products, but the chamber would never go for it.”
“Why not? Can’t you just card people? They do it at the booths that sell beer.”
“They don’t want underage people to even be able to see my products.” Hannah grimaced. “I suggested a curtained-off space with ID check, and they still wouldn’t go for it, worried kids might run in and accidentally see a dildo. There was a lot of pearl clutching at the idea.” Sometimes Mapleton wasn’t nearly as progressive as they wanted everyone to think they were. “The chamber sent out some surveys over the summer asking for suggestions, and I’ve been pushing for an adults-only night event.” She gestured toward where Mitchell had been, like he was still standing there. “But it’s also like Mitchell said. Even if they give me the go-ahead, it’s pricey. I haven’t been able to afford the space in, like, three years now.”
“It’s a good event, though. Builds visibility. You spent all that money on marketing earlier this year. Seems like this would be more good marketing.”
“I know.” Hannah picked at her fries, drawing patterns in the ketchup on her plate. She did like the spirit of the festival, when the entire town essentially shut down to celebrate their community and local businesses. “It’s good for community spirit. The problem is that community spirit is going to drain me dry.”
“Meh, it’s an investment.” Lori shrugged. “And you always have a good time.”
“You know how hard it’s been for me since the new property owner bought the building last year and raised my rent. I can’t take any financial risks right now.” Hannah hated talking about this shit out loud. Lori might be her best friend, but it was also hard not to envy her professional competence. Lori was juggling so many responsibilities: writing for the Valley Voice paper, interning in the community, teaching a class, and writing a doctoral dissertation. Hannah was struggling to keep one simple business operational. It was pretty damn embarrassing.
“But a boost in sales wouldn’t hurt.” Lori tapped a fry against her lips, then ate it. “You’ve been saying for months that if you got a sudden cash boost, you could turn the tide before the holidays.”
Lori had a point, but Hannah had run the numbers. The financial burden was still too great. “I didn’t send in a vendor application, so I think that ship has sailed.” Hannah rested her chin on her hand. “But I don’t know. The email they sent us was really cryptic, something about last-minute changes to the event. Maybe they’ll make all the booths suddenly free.” She forced a laugh.
Conversation drifted to Lori’s ridiculous schedule, and thank goodness they had moved on to talking about something other than her. Even best friends like Lori got a little intense sometimes. She didn’t want to admit it, but Lori always asked the questions she didn’t want to ask herself. Why didn’t she ever ask Mitchell out? Was it really because she thought he was a committed-relationship kind of guy, or because she wasn’t sure he was really into her?
All this time flirting with him, over a year of eating regularly at the Mapleton Pub, and he never progressed past flirtation. He never seemed bothered or uncomfortable about it, but he didn’t return her affections, teasing as they may be. Even if she wanted to fuck him, she wasn’t entirely sure he was interested. Normally, that sort of thing didn’t matter. She could handle rejection when it came to sex. She wasn’t everybody’s type. With Mitchell, though, something seemed different. Getting rejected by Mitchell would feel like a deeper rejection. Somehow, she’d come to care what he thought about her.
She watched him pass by on his way to deliver another table’s food, and as he caught her eye, he gave her a quick smile, which she returned. No, Mitchell was good to flirt with, but she wasn’t going to take that any further. She could find a fuck buddy, or she could entertain herself.