68 & Climbing
© Kate Douglas 2011
"...I didn't want this story to end, and I only touched on the action. No Spoilers here. I will say it made me laugh, get very hot and bothered, and even brought a tear to my eyes. I would have to give this book a breathless FIVE stars....As you can tell, I loved it....more Kate, please?
"...68 & CLIMBING is an awesome read, full of humor and blood-sizzling erotic love scenes. Ms. Douglas pens a truly delightful romantic read. 68 & CLIMBING is a fast-paced story that I read in one sitting, and it made me sigh with enjoyment until the very last page."
"...Douglas hits the nail on its head describing Annmarie's internal debate about wanting Nick and the young seamstresses' reactions to the construction workers. She also uses Annmarie's very pregnant office assistant Jean as a foil to her confusion. The honesty between the two friends generates laughter and warmth."
"...68 & Climbing is sexy, fun, sweaty and breathtaking romance all in one fabulous package. I hope Kate Douglas writes another story like this again very soon! I loved it and can’t wait to read it all again!"
68 & Climbing
A door slammed in the hotel room next to hers and loud voices dragged Annmarie Weston from a deep, exhausted sleep. She glanced at the clock.
She rolled to one side and pulled the blanket up over her head.
Giggles. Incessant, irritating, mind-numbing giggles. Did women always giggle during sex? Annmarie glanced once more at the clock beside her bed.
She was meeting her client for coffee and, hopefully, the final discussions on their contract in less than six hours.
She rolled over on her stomach and shoved the thin hotel pillow over her head, clamping it tightly against her ears. The giggling from the next room faded.
Annmarie sighed, dreaming longingly of her own bed in the little dormer room above her shop. Her own bed where she could sleep blissfully and quietly alone.
Her eyes burned behind her lids. Alone was good. Alone was okay, right? At least, when she was alone she got a good night’s sleep.
Sleep. Please . . . just a little bit of sleep. Was that too much to ask? Damn, she hated these blasted sales trips, hated the buyers with roaming hands and big egos, the slick come-ons, the groping and innuendo.
It was enough to turn her off men altogether—as if she even had time for sex.
Annmarie shifted into a more comfortable position and her eyes drifted closed, exhaustion winning out over the stuffy room and the muted voices from next door.
Two more nights and she’d finally get to sleep in her own bed.
The bed shook. Then shook again. A steady thump, thump, thump reverberated through Annmarie’s head as the bed next door bounced rhythmically against the wall.
Deep, painful-sounding groans, more giggles. Clenching her jaw, Annmarie reached over her head and pounded on the wall.
The banging continued—faster, harder.
The giggling stopped.
The groans grew louder.
Moaning, an agonized cry, the thump, groan, thump, groan, thump marking point and counterpoint.
A dramatic shriek echoed through the thin walls.
A man’s voice, breathless, uncontrolled. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck!”
Finally, silence. Blissful, unremarkable silence.
Annmarie opened one eye and gazed blearily at the bedside clock. It blinked.
She rolled her eyes. “Four minutes, start to finish.” She’d have to let Jean know she was right. Men were only good for reaching stuff on the top shelf and lifting heavy things.
Oh yeah . . . and fixing sewing machines.
A deep snore reverberated from the next room.
A few moments later, the snoring was joined by the unmistakable buzz of a vibrator.
Picturing the woman in the next room taking care of herself next to her sleeping lover might have been comical at some other time. Now, it merely lulled Annmarie into sleep.
“Why’s it suddenly so quiet out there?”
“Don’t know, boss. Check the temperature.”
“Excuse me?” Annmarie slipped her reading glasses down her nose and frowned over the top of the wire frames. Jean Alexander may have been her best friend since second grade and her secretary for almost as long, but sometimes she still drove Annmarie batty. “You want to run that by me one more time?”
Jean’s smile looked downright smarmy. “You heard me. The temperature. How hot is it? And I don’t mean the steam rising from your collar, m’dear.”
Jean waddled across the polished oak floor and peered at the thermometer hanging from the fire escape outside Annmarie’s office. “Yep. I thought so. Sixty-eight degrees and climbing.” She stretched, arched her back and rubbed her very pregnant belly. “That explains it.”
“That explains nothing, Jean. Please. Sit down. Every time you stand up, I expect that baby to fall out on his head.”
“Trust me, childbirth is not that easy.” Grumbling, Jean rubbed the small of her back. “Her. Her head . . . I told you, the doctor said Emma’s a girl.”
“Okay . . . her. So?” Annmarie gestured with a flip of her hand. “Do you intend to explain the temperature analogy . . . sometime within this millennium?”
“So, the wheels of industry, including the sewing machines at Weston Designs, grind to a halt when the outside temperature hits the high sixties.” Jean left off with a very pregnant pause.
Annmarie slowly shook her head at Jean’s ambiguous reply, stood up and headed for the door. Ten sewing machines should be humming away right now. Ten young women, residents of a shelter for troubled girls, should be busy assembling the sleek business fashions Annmarie designed. Instead, the only noise coming from the workroom sounded like one large, collective sigh.
Jean’s soft chuckle grated on Annmarie’s already exhausted and tattered nerves.
“It started just after you left on the sales trip,” Jean said.
Annmarie took a deep breath and turned her head to glare over her shoulder at Jean. “Do you have to sound so smug? It’s terribly unbecoming, especially when you make absolutely no sense at all. What started?”
“The temperature-dependent, hormonally driven work stoppage at Weston Designs. It’s become a definite issue.”
Annmarie frowned. “I don’t need this. Really, I don’t. Damn, that last trip was a bitch.”
Jean shook her head. “More jerks with roaming hands?”
“You got it.” In a nasal voice, she said, “‘Sure, Annmarie . . . sweetheart. We’ll order your line. Join me for a drink and a little nooky?’”
Annmarie ground her teeth when Jean laughed. “It’s not funny. I do not put out . . . for anyone.” She rubbed her eyes and ignored the little voice in the back of her mind. The one reminding her that might be part of her problem. Problem. Sewing machines. Temperature? Oh, yeah.
“Okay. You said this started right after I left?” She took a deep breath and let it go on a long, ragged sigh. “Not that I understand. You have to admit, it’s a new phenomenon. I mean, since when have the wheels of industry been tied to fluctuations of hormones and daily temperature?” Annmarie stared baldly over her shoulder at Jean.
“Since the construction crew started work on the old boardinghouse next door.” The corner of Jean’s mouth twitched with a barely controlled grin. “Once it warms up, the shirts come off.”
Annmarie mouthed a disbelieving “What?” then quietly opened the door. Just as quietly, she crossed the hardwood floor of the workroom. Ten young women, the entire workforce of Weston Designs—unless you counted old Fred, who kept the sewing machines running and the water dispenser full—filled the narrow fire escape stretching along the east side of Annmarie’s newly renovated brick tenement building. Not a single sewing machine hummed, not a head turned at her entrance.
“Girl, that man is gorgeous.”
“Gorgeous is not an adequate description.”
“He looks more than adequate to me.”
“Look at the chest on the blond dude. I’d die for a chance to . . .”
“Chest nothing . . . look at the package he’s carrying in those tight . . .”
“Ladies, isn’t there something else you should be doing right now?”
“Oh, hi, Ms. Weston, we just . . .”
“I mean, they’re so . . .”
“They’re . . .”
“They are none of your business. Your business is getting that order finished before Myers and Bold decides they don’t want to carry my line anymore. Now back to work.”
“Slave driver,” Jean whispered as, laughing and teasing, the young women headed back to their workstations. “Aren’t you at least going to look and see what all the excitement’s about?”
“I am not into ogling half-naked men.” Annmarie glared at her friend, then broke into a reluctant grin at Jean’s knowing look.
“I remember ogling a few with you back in college.”
“That was different. I was young and foolish then. Besides, look what ogling got you into.” She stared meaningfully at Jean’s bulging middle.
“Actually, I got into nothing. Leo got into me. That’s how it works, you know. Of course, it’s been so long, you’ve probably forgotten the mechanics of the act.”
“It has not been that long.”
“Your last date, as I recall, happened before Sam was born. He’s almost three, by the way.”
“I am perfectly aware of your son’s age. I’ve been busy. Getting a new business off the ground doesn’t leave a whole lot of time available for fun and games.” Annmarie nervously wiped her hands along her short cotton skirt. Not that there was anything wrong with being single at thirty-four, which made her barely one year older than Jean. Nothing at all. Except Jean had a husband who adored her, a beautiful little boy and a baby girl on the way.
Annmarie looked around the workroom. She had Weston Designs and a business loan that often looked like the budget overrides for Boston’s notorious Big Dig. Not much there to keep a woman warm at night.
Besides, not every date ended in the bedroom.
In fact, Annmarie could count on two fingers the number of dates that had. With that depressing thought in mind, she smiled at Jean. “I don’t have time to fulfill your sexual fantasies, m’dear.”
“Well, it’s not my fantasy we’re talking about. You, m’dear, are not too busy to take a look at this.” Jean grabbed Annmarie’s arm and propelled her out onto the fire escape.
“This is childish and stupid.” Annmarie glanced over the edge of the railing, intending to satisfy Jean with one quick look.
“Oh my.” Had she said that? Annmarie’s hand went to her throat. So, this is what all the fuss is about.
Half a dozen young men performed as many different jobs on the sagging building next to Annmarie’s. She knew the old boardinghouse had been slated for renovation, had even considered renting one of the upscale offices for her own use once the project was completed.
She hadn’t realized, however, that work had begun while she was away on her trip, nor had she considered the impact of six bare-chested, broad-shouldered, handsome, suntanned, young construction workers on the productivity of her equally young, multiethnic force of female employees.
“Pretty cool, huh, Ms. Weston?”
“Oh, yeah,” she muttered, tearing her gaze away from one particularly broad set of shoulders. “Did you need something, Lil?” she asked, suddenly all business.
“Just another look, ma’am.” Lil giggled, took a quick peek over the fire escape and waved. A tall, blond Adonis grinned and waved back, then returned to his labors.
“C’mon, Lil.” Jean grabbed the young woman’s arm. “We’ve got orders to fill. You can check out the scenery when it’s time for your break.” She herded the giggling young woman away from the fire escape, but managed a glance that spoke volumes to Annmarie as she left.
Annmarie watched as Jean hauled Lil back to work. “Damn. This really could be a problem.”
Annmarie hated when Jean was right.
Even now, though her business fashions for women were winning awards and the name Weston Designs was showing up with regular frequency in high-end magazines and newspaper articles, Annmarie knew her success, or failure, was only a missed order away.
A loud crack caught her attention. A man shouted, another cursed. She glanced over the railing just in time to watch a pile of lumber slowly tumble from the back of a flatbed truck and spread out in a messy pile across the cobblestones.
With a lot of joshing and teasing, a couple of the young men began restacking the lumber. Annmarie watched them a moment, fully aware of the healthy male bodies she was going to be contending with over the course of the renovation.
Somehow, she had to figure out how to keep her girls interested in finishing the new order for Myers and Bold. It wouldn’t be easy, not with the gorgeous new neighbors offering up more beefcake than she’d seen in a year.
They were definitely a terrific-looking group of young men. Too young for her, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to look. Sleek and well-muscled from working outdoors, there wasn’t a single couch potato in the bunch.
For instance . . . her gaze was drawn to the broad shoulders and lean hips of the largest man on the crew.
She couldn’t see his face. He worked steadily, ignoring the silly sparring of the kids stacking the lumber, his arms stretched high over his head as he used a pry bar to carefully remove rotten strips of wood siding covering the old brick building. A fine pattern of dust covered his wide, deeply bronzed shoulders. A light sheen of perspiration defined the corded muscles across his back.
Muscles that bunched and rippled with each powerful thrust of his arms. He’d tied his long dark hair into a ponytail hanging well beyond the nape of his neck. A leather construction belt rode low on his hips, and his faded cutoffs had frayed way past anything even remotely decent.
He looked more mature than the rest of the crew. There was a seasoned strength about him, a well-defined, solid musculature the younger workers’ bodies only hinted at.
Annmarie licked her lips and swallowed. At some basic level of consciousness, she accepted the fact she was incapable of turning away, at least until she checked out the rest of the man’s body. Lordy, lordy, but there was a lot to check.
She’d never seen legs quite so beautifully shaped and muscled—or so long. He was definitely taller than anyone else on the crew; well over six feet with a lean strength she found more than appealing.
She studied the definition of muscles on his rock-hard calves where they disappeared into heavy gray socks above steel-toed boots. The dark hair on his legs only highlighted the corded tendons and sinews as he stretched and pulled and bent and lifted.
Slowly her gaze traveled over his lean contours. She paused to savor the worn patches on the rear of his cutoffs and wondered if the tan on his legs met the sun-darkened skin on his back.
Probably not. She didn’t picture this guy hitting a tanning booth or nude beach for the all-over look.
She closed her eyes against the vivid image of untanned flesh. There’d be taut, rounded buns, muscular with shadowed hollows at each side. She could almost see him, strolling naked across a darkened bedroom—her bedroom—walking away after a really good fuck, his pale butt visible in the glow from streetlights outside her window, his darkly tanned back and legs fading into shadows.
She was sure she’d be able to see that butt, though.
She wouldn’t need a vibrator after he was through, either. Not with him in her bed. She licked her lips, then gnawed a bit on her lower one.
He straightened up and stretched his arms over his head, then twisted slowly, side to side, an obvious effort to loosen up tight muscles. His back and shoulders rippled. His skin glistened with sweat. Dark strands of his long hair stuck lightly to his right shoulder blade.
Annmarie licked her lips again.
He leaned over and touched the ground, stretching with his palms flat to the dirt, his long fingers splayed wide. His denim shorts rode tight against his perfectly shaped ass.
Annmarie almost choked. Then she slowly released a deep breath, barely aware she’d been holding it so long she felt lightheaded. Jean was right. Annmarie almost laughed aloud—she had been working too hard.
Any woman who could get so caught up in the sight of a well-built male backside that she forgot to breathe definitely had a problem.
Not enough of a problem, however, to turn around and head back to her office. She moved away from the open doorway to the wrought iron railing that encircled the fire escape, edging closer for a better look. Just then, the man straightened up and, without turning her way, returned to his job ripping the old siding off the building.
He worked with a powerful steady rhythm, almost hypnotic in strength and purpose. Annmarie’s fingers tightened on the railing and she took another deep breath. She ran her tongue over her top and then bottom lip, aware of an unusual tingling sensation.
She licked her lips again then rolled and hunched her shoulders. Her bra felt too small, her breasts unusually full and tender. Her throat was tight and her mouth dry, and she almost didn’t catch herself in time, so ready to laugh over the situation. She suddenly had a whole new awareness and a little more sympathy for her young workers. At least as the boss she had the option of enjoying this view whenever she wanted.
Oh damn, what a view! There was something absolutely mesmerizing about the supple stretch and sway of the man’s body as he methodically demolished the wall.
Suddenly he paused, arms upraised, metal pry bar in place beneath a long strip of rotting wood, and tilted his head. As if he listened for something? Or because he felt her watching him?
Mortified, Annmarie knew she had to back away from the fire escape before he turned around. Now, before he . . .
Her legs failed her. Before she could take a single step, she was caught by a brilliant pair of electric blue eyes. He was close, not more than thirty feet away, but still, she shouldn’t have been able to tell his eyes were blue, should she? Not at this distance, but she knew without any doubt at all what color his eyes were beneath those dark lashes. Knew their color even as they held her immobile.
She felt like a doe caught in the headlights, trapped here on the narrow ledge with her loose hair blowing across her face in the morning breeze. Her cotton skirt clung to her thighs, and the fabric of her blouse molded her breasts as if Mother Nature held her up for nothing more than this man’s enjoyment.
He certainly didn’t appear to be wasting the opportunity. It felt as if he literally devoured her with his unwavering gaze, exploring her every bit as thoroughly as she had examined him. His inspection was hot and invasive, trailing over her flesh like warm hands or a searching tongue. When he studied her full breasts, she felt as if his hands were on her, as if he’d actually squeezed her nipples between his long fingers. When he lowered his gaze to the sharply defined V between her legs where the light breeze held her skirt close against her mons, Annmarie fought an involuntary clenching of her muscles. She shivered, already growing hot and wet, as if he actually tasted her there.
She felt herself leaning closer, leaning into this heated inspection that left her hot and wanting, powerless to back away.
At least until he curled his lip up in a half smile, tipped an imaginary hat and winked at her.
A leering, suggestive, flat-out lascivious wink that had the same effect as a bucket of cold water thrown in her face.
Furious, more than a little embarrassed, Annmarie spun around. She almost stumbled over three of her girls. “Back to work,” she ordered. She felt like a complete idiot, knowing the girls had seen her practically drooling over the jerk.
“What do ya think, boss?” Jean asked, shooing her giggling young charges back to their machines.
“I think . . .” She took a deep breath, all too aware her heart still raced, the sensitive flesh between her legs still throbbed with heat and wanting, and the narrow strip of her expensive thong panties practically dripped. Embarrassed. That’s all it was. She was just embarrassed that he’d caught her.
Why couldn’t she have just waved and said, “Hi, neighbor.” That’s what Jean would have done. Then she wouldn’t have felt so stupid.
“Annmarie?” Jean grinned at her. “You were thinking?”
“Oh. Yeah.” She took another deep breath then walked briskly across the floor to her office. “I think I’m going to have a little talk with their foreman about keeping his employees properly dressed while on the job. Otherwise, I have a feeling our young ladies will be a bit too distracted to accomplish what I’m paying them for.”
“I highly doubt it would do any good. I don’t even know who the foreman is. Some days it’s hard to tell who’s in charge.” Jean laughed. “They all seem to like to shout orders. That’s not, however, what I was asking.”
She followed Annmarie back into her office and shut the door behind them. “I wondered what you thought of the big guy with the broad shoulders, long hair and cute butt. If I didn’t have Leo . . .”
“Well you do have Leo.” Oh, good Lord, she sounded so stuffy, just like her mother! Annmarie took a deep breath, flashed an apologetic smile at Jean, and lied. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap. I’m just worried about the Myers and Bold account.”
How could she possibly explain to Jean how humiliating it felt to be caught, well, ogling? She hadn’t given Myers and Bold a single thought while she’d been watching the man work.
“Hiring young girls from the shelter has been good for all parties involved, but we have to remember how impressionable—and impulsive—they are,” she said, warming to what sounded like a fairly reasonable argument. “Having a group of half-dressed young studs preening just outside the window not only interferes with the girls’ concentration, it could lead to some real problems down the road. Some of these kids are mothers already and I dare you to tell me there’s one young woman in that other room who is ready for the responsibilities of motherhood. I . . .”
“Annmarie, just listen to yourself. C’mon, boss. Get off your soapbox. Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy the view,” Jean interrupted. “I saw that look of uncontrolled lust on your face.”
“I am never out of control.” Annmarie forced the image of work-roughened hands and a face that made every other male on planet Earth look average, out of her mind. She shivered at the fleeting impression of those calloused fingers stroking her in places left too long unstroked, then sighed.
“Maybe that’s your problem.”
Jean’s soft statement, spoken without a hint of humor, brought Annmarie up short. She stared at her friend for a moment, at the conflicting expressions of affection, frustration and awareness, then quickly shut her mouth. She took another deep breath, turned her lips up in a semblance of a smile and nodded her head. “Maybe you’re right. It might be fun to just cut loose for a change, not worry about anything.”
There’d been a time . . .
Then Annmarie caught her wayward thoughts and shrugged. “Losing control, however, is not how we’re going to get that order filled by the due date. We need to keep the sewing machines humming and the girls working, and away from the ‘temptations of the flesh’ next door, no matter how tempting they are. At least while the girls are on my time. They’re free to do as they wish on their own.”
“I’ll have a talk with the girls. Let’s hold off talking to the foreman. It might tick him off and make things worse.”
“Okay.” Annmarie nodded. “You play bad cop for a while so I can catch up on the mail.”
Laughing, Jean saluted and headed out the door to the workroom.
NOTICE: This novella is protected under Copyright Registration with the
United States of America. No part or portion of this work may be used
for re-sell or re-print either digitally or in print format by ANY entity other
than the legal publisher of this work listed above. Re- sell or re-print of
this work may not be used without the written permission of the author
AND the publisher or without full monetary compensation of the work
to both the author and legal publisher. Any infringement upon this
copyright will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If you have
purchased this novel in a `re-sell packet', please inform the author and/or