Book 1: Old and New
Zoe is a fresh-faced, adventure-loving young woman who has married her soulmate and settled down. Maybe married life, a steady paycheck, and living in the "right" part of town haven't turned out quite like she expected, but she's happy with what she has. She loves her husband, and even indulges him in a fantasy that she really doesn't understand - just pretending, but that's all he really wants her to do, right?
In a chance encounter with someone from her past, Zoe opens up to the idea of indulging Josh's fantasy with more... realism. Lucky for Josh, she's stumbled on to an older man, which is an aspect of his fantasy he never dared to share with her. It looks like they might have stumbled on the perfect infusion for their marriage: adventure for Zoe, and a touch of darkness for Josh.
But Zoe's choice of man comes with greater complications than she - or Josh - anticipated. Older men come with older passions, and more experience getting them. Did Zoe open up her marriage, or a Pandora's Box?
"Come. On. Zoooooooeeeeeee!" Alicia clapped her hands together and balled up her fists, bouncing on a bar stool with an excitement she almost never demonstrated. Her breasts traveled with her, rolling crests in the black ocean of her tight shirt, and the men from work who were treated to this spectacle carefully balanced their dual goals of personal safety and adolescent titillation, by staring only with eye-paining peripheral glances.
Alicia picked up her drink, a rum and Coke she was using to wash down a long list of cocktails, and placed her plump lips to the straw. "I cannot believe," she said loudly, without taking her eyes off Zoe, "that I am actually this excited about this stupid game." She sucked on the straw, and it was anybody's guess if she intended to do so as arousingly as she did.
"Me either," Gina said breathlessly, both elbows propped against the bar. "I mean, she is actually killing it. She's going to win! This is crazy."
Zoe waved from behind a cage of tight-mesh, heavy-duty chain link. She herself was a few too many in - it wasn't too hard to do at her weight - but the drinks seemed to have energized her. The drinks, and the fact that at 5'3" and 90 pounds, she was destroying a man who was evidently a league champion, at the team-building exercise of the month.
Currently being held at Blanche Axe Throwing.
That league champion, a grizzled man with a bright orange beard flecked with gray, and the sort of thick-waisted, tree-trunk-limbed build one would expect of an axe-throwing champion, glared at her. Zoe flapped her hand at him and shrugged, smiling.
How was she to know she was going to be an axe-throwing genius?
Longer ago than anyone cared to remember, their boss had attended a "life-changing" seminar - one of hundreds, because he loved attending conferences, seminars, conventions, and meetings the way Labradors love to fetch things from the water - over the course of which he became convinced that team-building through fun activities was crucial to the success of the company.
And so, the tired employees of Hessler Insurance had dragged themselves once a month to escape rooms and Chuckie Cheese, Dave and Buster's, and paintball and laser tag events, usually scheduled on an inconvenient weeknight such as a Tuesday. Having run the gamut of "fun" activities, they had resigned themselves to bowling forever, until a cousin of one of the accountants had opened an axe-throwing business.
"Oh Goooood," Alicia had complained. "They probably won't even let you get drunk while you're doing that."
Alicia had long ago established her level of participation in team-building activities at "drinking and making cynical comments" only. Upon her arrival at any "fun" event, she settled into the bar area and rolled her eyes at her high-fiving coworkers. They did not have a Bronx accent or Latin heritage, nor - perhaps because they did not have them - the ability to blink slowly and say, "you canna make me run around like an idiot in cosplay camo shooting people in the face with paint. And another thing, you are paying for my babysitter," with any conviction. So they participated. Like idiots. While Alicia drank and checked her Instagram account.
It turned out, however, that there was no law against selling large amounts of alcohol to axe-throwing patrons.
It also turned out - and this was unexpected by all - that Zoe Wilson was a pint-sized, axe-throwing savant.
At the beginning of the evening, the owner had patiently taken each person into the throwing cage to show them how to throw an axe, and, predictably, the axes had gone flying in all directions but at the target.
"This is so bad," Alicia had commented, a faint smile on her lips. "Somebody is gonna get an axe in the dick."
"Maybe I'll just take a pass on this," Zoe had commented, watching an axe chucked by one of the underwriters bounce off the chain-link fence and whirl back halfway down the court.
Alicia had shrugged and continued drinking, because everyone knew that Zoe was not going to actually take a pass at something if it was an implied requirement of the job. Also, everyone knew that Zoe was the only employee who felt bad for Neil, and so tried to save his ludicrous team-building activities with relentless and aggressive cheer.
And finally, anyone who knew Zoe well would know that she never, ever, ever passed up dangerous things. She was constitutionally incapable of it.
The owner, and everyone watching, and Zoe herself, had all been fairly certain Zoe wouldn't even get the axe to the target. It wasn't like she had huge guns or something, and while she managed to get through a softball game, she was not a whiz at those kinds of sports.
"Just do the best you can," the owner had told her cheerfully, with the kind of sappy encouragement men save for encouraging attractive women who are about to screw something up.
Zoe had snorted, planted her feet, and set up her throw. Alicia and Gina had assumed she was doing it in a half-mocking way, as she did when she was bowling, and made a big show of setting herself up properly.
"Holy fuck," Alicia had said dryly in the silence that followed.
"Wow," the owner said, a look of actual amazement on his face. "Nice... one. Uh, go get your axe. That's uh, that would be, if this wasn't practice, that's a six-point throw."
"Probably just lucky," Zoe said.
But that was twenty-some throws ago, and she had thrown almost every single throw almost in the dead-center of the target. The league players, who were waiting to have a match, could not believe it, and so Zoe had been enrolled in the match by a wave of enthusiasm and incredulity.
And rum and Cokes, because all of the other employees were just watching by now, mostly in awe, but also because Neil had not given them permission to leave yet.
"Oh my God," Alicia commented.
"Another six points, and Zoe from Hessler's is in the... lead."
Zoe bounced around excitedly, her ponytail bobbing, and clapped her hands. It was hard to tell if she was serious or not. Her small breasts bounced in her tight green shirt, and even the nearly-defeated league champion could not help enjoying the show.
Her five throws were completed, and the league champion was throwing.
"Wow," Zoe said, taking a seat at the bar next to Alicia, a faint sheen of sweat at her hairline.
"You want to have something to drink after that, seriously," Alicia said, snapping her fingers at the bartender. Snapping fingers at people was another habit she got away with because of her accent and latent Latina energy.
The champion lost, and Zoe took him a beer and gave him a hug in her typical, cheery fashion, and it worked the same charm it always did: even the gruff league champion, defeated by a tiny pixie, could not help but smile and take advantage of the opportunity to squeeze the pretty little Zoe, lifting her off the ground for a bear hug.
"I need a cigarette," Alicia said, rolling her eyes, when Zoe returned to the bar, and stood up to leave just as the bartender set a drink down in front of Zoe.
"What is that?" Alicia said, incredulously. She flicked her eyes up at the bartender, red-hot anger flashing beneath the surface. "You told me all you had was like, two-ingredient drinks," she said. "Yeah. You said, 'if it has more than two things in it, I can't make it.'" Alicia said this last part in her "imitation white man" voice, which sort of sounded like a very gay Texan, but managed to be terrifying at the same time.
The bartender, like many of the people in the immediate vicinity of Alicia, was starting to look scared. Alicia had come to a standing position, and between her heels and her hair, she was the terrifying height of 6'3".
"I didn't... uh... that guy -" he jammed a finger behind him, "paid me extra to make it, told me what to put in it."
He backed away, hands in the air, like a robbery was taking place.
Alicia hissed and then clicked her tongue before looking down at the drink. "What you think that is, anyway?" she demanded of Zoe.
"Californication," Zoe said, without hesitation, staring at it as though mystified.
"He put like, all the alcohols in there," Gina said. "I saw him."
"White people, I swear to god," Alicia said, before turning on her heel and heading for the door. She already had her cigarette and lighter in hand, and she had, in her magical way, already identified a young man to take with her outside.
Gina leaned on her elbows and stared into the drink. "You gonna drink it, or what? Looks gross."
"It's... my... it's a, sort of a favorite, I guess, cocktail," Zoe said, still staring at the drink. She was shaking her head.
Gina gave it another grimace and turned her attention to the rest of the bar. "You think we can get out of here now? You seen Neil?"
Zoe barely heard her. Remembering, suddenly, that the bartender had been asked to make the drink, she lifted her eyes to look at the other side of the bar. A cool sensation had begun to pulse through her, from the chest outward, into her limbs, and she was almost afraid to find what she expected, because there was only one person she could think of who would send her that drink.
As happened any time she thought of Derek, something coiled up inside of her lower abdomen, and an electric cool zagged through her, from the face of her clit to the base of her spine and back again. A feral desire gripped her for a moment, and her skin turned hot with it. And then, as the memory of everything else "Derek" elbowed its way into her physiological reaction, the desire cooled, and wound itself up tightly in her stomach, like a snake of ice.
Derek McIntyre, to whom she had lost her virginity. High school sweetheart, plus one tumultuous year of college. Black, straight hair, and piercing navy blue eyes, and a sort of serious and mean solemnity that she both hated and missed, for she had never found it in another man. It wasn't relationship material, but it definitely secured Derek's place as top performer in bed. Not that the list was especially long.