Book three in the Sexual Healing Series
She was Typhoid Mary reincarnated. Erin McClellan stared in horror as Trent Gray heaved the contents of his stomach into the vase she’d shoved into his hands just in the nick of time. The flowers that had occupied the vase lay limply beside a discarded condom wrapper. Guilt swamped her. She stared at the wrapper as Trent bent again over the vase, clutching his stomach.
If only she could blot out the sounds of his agony as he heaved again. She could kick herself for letting this happen. Hadn’t she learned with Ryan, the last man she’d slept with?
Trent raised his head and she took the vase and set it aside as he flopped weakly onto the pillow. How could she have done this to such a nice man?
If only her sister’s friend, Josh, hadn’t introduced them and Trent hadn’t been willing to take over for Josh, who’d been helping her with her design projects. If only she and Trent hadn’t spent all that time together. If only he hadn’t talked with her late into the night about all her dreams and her worries, making her feel first safe, then vulnerable in a way that had her melting into his arms. If only his lips hadn’t been so soft, his kisses so hot.
If only she hadn’t given into temptation and slept with the man.
“I’m so sorry.” She mopped his forehead with a cool cloth.
He raised his bleary eyes to her. “Don’t worry. It isn’t your fault.”
If only he knew.
“Well, I feel responsible.” She held the vase away from her. “I’ll get you a drink of water.”
He nodded. She left him to pad down the hall to her kitchen. She left the vase to soak in the sink, then poured him a glass of water.
As she walked slowly to her room her mind drifted over her past relationships. That first time with that guy from the park that neither of her sisters, Tess or Nikki, knew about had been surprising at best. She’d been concerned when he’d become ill after they first made love, but chalked it up to bad timing.
The second time he’d gotten ill after their lovemaking, she’d thought he’d just needed more time to recuperate. When it happened again after some time had passed, she’d placed the blame squarely on his shoulders, thinking it was some strange quirk on his part. How shocked she’d been when he’d broken up with her, saying he couldn’t take it anymore.
Then she’d met Pete and the same thing had happened again. She somehow talked herself into believing it was all some weird coincidence. Surely none of this was her fault.
Pete had come and gone rather quickly and she’d begun to think it was all an unpleasant dream. Then she’d met Ryan, and after four days of him being too sick for her to sneak him out of her bedroom, she’d known.
It was her.
“Here.” She handed Trent the water.
He took a feeble sip, then shook his head. “This is so embarrassing. I swear I never get sick.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She looked anywhere but at him.
He wrestled himself into a sitting position. “I should probably go.”
“Can you drive?” She cringed at the note of hope in her voice.
“I think so. I’m sorry about this, Erin.”
“You have no need to apologize.” She helped him dress, shamefully grateful to have him leaving. If she had to go through another catastrophe as she’d gone through with Ryan, she might just jump out the window.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Guilt returned to weigh her down as she walked Trent to the door. “I can drive you…or you could stay.”
His eyes widened. “No, it isn’t that far.” He gripped the doorjamb. “I can make it. I’ll recuperate faster in my own bed.”
“Right. I’m sorry again about…” She gestured lamely, feeling three times an idiot and hating herself for causing him such discomfort.
After nodding awkwardly he lurched out the door. Relieved beyond measure, she turned the deadbolt behind him. At least her sisters had moved out. The thought of discussing her little problem with them sent dread twisting through her. They’d never taken her seriously. Why would this be different?
She’d avoided an interrogation over Ryan only by refusing to discuss the issue and they’d taken her silence for heartache. In this case, they might not have given up so easily. The last thing she felt like doing was explaining what had happened with this latest love interest.
Where both of you inherited the wonderful gift of sexual healing, I seem to be experiencing some kind of quirk in the gene pool. You sleep with a guy and he comes out of it revived and ready to conquer the world. I sleep with a guy and he ends up so ill he wishes he could die.
She let her gaze sweep the apartment that had been home to her and her sisters for the past several years. Memories flooded her: bumping into one of Nikki’s lovers as he made a hasty, but ecstatic, exit in the middle of the night, Tess’s ex-lovers falling all over themselves to please her sister and never taking notice of Erin, the old guy next door leering at her after a particularly high-traffic day.
It was time for a change. Her lease was nearly up and she didn’t need such a big place all to herself. Though Nikki and Tess had moved on with their prospective lives, they had both issued invitations for her to move in, but the thought of living with either of them sent unease racing through her. Besides the fact that they were both basking in glorious love affairs, the two had embraced Aunt Sophie’s ridiculous assertion that the three of them had descended from a long line of sexual healers.
“Sexual healers.” Erin’s mouth quirked into a lopsided grin.
“Sexual healers.” A giggle tickled its way up her throat.
“Sexual healers.” Laughter burst from her in a rush of nerves and incredulity.
She laughed until she sank to the floor, her back to the wall. She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. How could they have bought into such foolishness?
Hurt and resentment swirled through her. When they had been kids she’d been excluded from all the fun, and as they’d grown up, she’d been left out of all the more serious discussions. Things had improved and she’d come to terms with being the youngest sister, but her sisters’ acceptance of this gift felt too much like a betrayal. Logically, she knew it wasn’t, but the feeling had lodged itself in her and she hadn’t been able to shake it.
Again, she let her gaze sweep the empty rooms that had once overflowed with Nikki, Tess and Tess’s minions, as they called her collection of men. The quiet settled around Erin and she breathed deeply, savoring the peace. She’d had so little peace sharing this apartment with them. She had no desire to stay in a place tainted by less-than-happy memories.
It was time to move. She longed for something different, a normal place, where no one talked about empathetic natures, Aunt Sophie’s brews or sexual healing—a place far removed from the McClellan lore.
* * *
“Why is this estimate so high?” Jack Langston frowned over the total on the work order from the electrician his mother had contracted.
“These fixtures aren’t up to code. They need fireboxes installed. When was this house built?” the electrician asked.
“Some time in the seventies?” Jack glanced at his mother for confirmation. He’d grown up in this house and they’d had the same lighting fixtures.
His mother shrugged. “Seventy-four, I think. These are probably the original fixtures.”
“Yes, ma’am, you were lucky when this shorted it didn’t start a fire,” the electrician said. “I can’t install the new lights without first putting in fire boxes.”
“Jack, when you’re done with that, do you have a minute?” Jack’s mother’s sister, Rose, peered over the electrician’s shoulder. “I can’t decide about this new insurance policy. I’ve been putting this off forever and my current policy is about to expire. I need to make a decision today. I could use your advice.”
Jack’s cell phone buzzed in his pocket. “Hold on a minute, Aunt Rose.” Rubbing the tightening in his chest he answered his phone. “Jack Langston.”
“Hey, bro, what’s up?” his brother, Bobby, asked in his usual laid back manner.
“Trying to help out Mom and Aunt Rose.” The heaviness in Jack’s chest increased as he glanced at his watch. If he didn’t tie things up soon, he’d be late for his one o’clock appointment with his new client.
“Great, you’re at Mom’s?” Bobby asked. “I’m right around the corner dropping off my car. Do you think you can swing by and get me, then take me back to my place?”
The heaviness grew into a dull ache as Jack’s gaze drifted over the electrician, his aunt and his mother, with her worried frown. His cardiologist’s words rang in his ears.
You’ve got to cut back, not push yourself so hard. This fatigue and these chest pains are your body’s way of warning you that all isn’t as it should be.
But Jack was fine and how could he let his family down? “Give me about fifteen minutes to finish up here, Bobby, then I’ll come get you.”
His brother gave him directions to the garage, then Jack hung up and turned to the electrician, saying, “Go ahead and replace both fixtures and install the new fire boxes.”
“But, Jack,” his mother said, “I’m not sure I can afford that right now.” She turned to the electrician. “Maybe you could come back at the end of the month?”
“He’s here, Mom, let him do the work. I’ll take care of it.” Jack gave her arm a reassuring squeeze.
“Sweetheart, are you sure? I hate to count on you all the time like this.”
“Not to worry. I’m here to look after you.” He spent a few more minutes with the electrician, before he felt satisfied the man would do the job to his specifications, then he turned to his aunt. “Okay, Aunt Rose, I have exactly one minute. How can I help?”
Fifteen minutes later he raced for his car. His aunt had had questions about everything from deductibles to flood insurance, with a sidetrack on term life insurance. In the end, she’d opted to renew her current policy.
He shifted, trying to ease the tightness in his chest as he sat at a light on his way to pick up Bobby. Why had he told his brother he would get him? Jack would have to hurry and make every light on his way to meet his client.
The light turned green and Jack sped on. Ten minutes later he pulled to the front of the garage where Bobby said he’d be, but his brother was nowhere in sight. Jack slammed his door shut, then hurried into the low brick building. A kid with a Mohawk greeted him at the counter.
“I’m looking for my brother. He just dropped his car off here.”
“Yeah, looks kind of like you. He ran across the street. Said he’d be right back.”
“Across the street?” Jack turned to look where the kid pointed. An adult novelty shop. Jack’s frustration burned into anger. “Thanks.”
He hurried across the street, running to avoid an approaching sixteen wheeler. Bobby’s platinum head was clearly visible through the wide front window of the shop. Jack entered to find his brother leaning over the counter flirting with the young woman behind it.
He turned as Jack entered. “Hey, big brother, this is Deloris. She says they’re having a sale on whips. You want one?”
“It’s time to go, Bobby. I have to make it to a meeting by one.”
Bobby groaned. “Sorry, Deloris, got to go. Maybe I could call you some time?”
“Bobby,” Jack said, putting the tone of authority into his voice that their father had used all those years ago and that Jack had perfected when he’d stepped in to fill his father’s shoes.
“A guy can’t have any fun around here anymore.” Bobby cast Deloris one more look filled with longing, then followed Jack to the door. “Your timing sucks.”
“You’re welcome,” Jack said as he slid into the car.
“Okay, thanks for giving me a ride.” Bobby grinned, oblivious to all but the pretty brunette as he craned his neck to catch one last glimpse.
“You can pick up where you left off when you come back to get your car,” Jack said.
“If she happens to be working then.”
“I have never known you to have trouble getting a date.”
“True.” Bobby cranked up the radio as Jack headed toward his brother’s apartment.
A short while later Jack dropped off Bobby, then sped toward the interstate, his pulse pounding through the dull ache in his chest. The light ahead turned yellow. Jack floored it, rubbing his chest in an effort to relieve the growing pressure there.
The radio disc jockey announced the time and Jack swore. He was going to be late, even if he hit all green lights. He should call his client. Steering with one hand, he reached into his briefcase for the file with the client’s contact information. The file spilled as he yanked it from the briefcase, scattering its contents over the front seat and floor.
The ache radiated from his chest, with a sharpness that took his breath. Grimacing, he pressed his hand to his heart as the pain escalated to agonizing proportions.
A horn honked. He glanced up, then jerked the wheel hard to the right to avoid an oncoming car. The road veered off to the left as the car careened over the shoulder. He braked hard, fighting to maintain control of the wheel. All the while, he clutched his chest and gasped for breath through the bone-numbing pain.
His car hit an embankment and stopped. Adrenalin pounded through Jack as he peered at the back of the other car as it continued up the street, apparently unscathed. The pain eased, though his heart hammered and sweat beaded his brow.
That had been too close for comfort. He could have been killed.
This fatigue, these chest pains, are your body’s way of warning you that all isn’t as it should be.
Jack bowed his head, his hands still gripping the wheel. Dr. Carmichael was right. Jack needed to cut back.
If he didn’t want to end up like his grandfather and father before him, he had to face that he could no longer be everything to everyone. It was time to help his family learn to stand on their own feet. Without him.
He’d been wrong not to take his condition seriously.
* * *
A few days later, smoke curled from an oil burner on a shelf in the small, but tidy shop. Jack wrinkled his nose, but the smell had a surprising appeal. Sunlight filtered through a window set above shelves of jars, boxes and packets of things he tried not to contemplate. He took in a deep incense-filled breath and rolled his shoulders in an attempt to relax.
“Chamomile.” A woman with rosy cheeks smiled from behind a stack of books. “It’s good for lots of things like insomnia and stress.”
He nodded, not quite sure how to respond. He’d had his share of both in recent months, among other symptoms. He cleared his throat. “Do you have any books on alternative healing?”
“Sure.” She gestured for him to follow her between two book-filled aisles. “Here you go.”
He glanced at the assortment of titles. “I want something that’s more informational, not a how-to. I’m studying alternative healing methods–what they are.”
“I see.” She peered at him through narrowed eyes. “This is for your personal use as opposed to research, right?”
Unease rippled through him. “Yes.”
Her face split into a smile. “You’ll be okay. Spirit gives us only what we can handle.”
He laughed, a small strangled sound. Right, he could handle a bad heart and the near certainty of a shortened life. He rubbed his chest as though doing so might relieve the constant pressure there. “Thanks. Can you make a recommendation?”
“Is there a particular type of healing you’re interested in?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been to countless doctors. Have been poked, prodded and peered into more times than I care to admit.” He stopped.
Why was he telling her this? He hadn’t breathed a word to his family. Yet, something about the woman put him at ease, loosened his tongue. “A good friend suggested that I look into alternatives. She mentioned several things. I’m not sure where to start.”
“Hmmm, let’s see.” She ran her fingers across the book spines, muttering to herself. “Why don’t you try this one?”
He took the book and read the title. “The Beginner’s Guide to Alternative Healing Methods. I’m certainly a beginner.”
He scanned the contents page. “Acupuncture-I tried that last week. Aromatherapy-think I need something with a little more kick to it. Cellular release, etheric pulse—never heard of them. Hypnotherapy, reflexology, reiki—already have an appointment for that. Tantric healing-what’s that?”
“Oh, tantra could possibly be the most powerful healing of all.”
“Really?” He flipped to the section indicated, then drew back at the picture of a couple entwined in a lovers’ embrace. “Are they talking about sexual healing?”
“Like I said, one of the most powerful forms of healing. It’s an ancient practice.”
He stared at her. “You have to be joking.”
“Not at all.”
“But…people actually practice this?”
Her eyebrows arched. “Some do. I think I could help you find a local practitioner.”
“That’s okay. I’ll pass.” Lifting the book, he said, “I’ll take this and read up on some of this other stuff. Maybe I’ll find something helpful.”
He tamped down on the frustration that threatened to overwhelm him. He was grasping at straws. What would his family say if they could see him now?
As he followed the woman to the register he shook his head. His poor mother would be even more confused than he’d already made her when he’d given her the number for a handyman. Jack had tried to ignore her hurt look when he’d insisted he didn’t have time to help her any more this week, but the guilt of letting her down and lying to her weighed heavy.
“Is that going to be all for you?” the woman asked.
The issue wasn’t so much his time, but his need to help his family become more independent. Not to be there for them was just as hard on Jack. He’d been holding them all together for so long, he had to fight the urge to run to the rescue any time his mother needed something fixed or his brother needed advice. They had to learn to stand on their own feet, though.
What would they do if he wasn’t around?
The woman handed him a bag with the book in it. “Receipt’s inside.”
“It would do you a world of good.”
“I’m sorry. What would?”
“Oh, that. I don’t know. Seems a little…personal.”
“Any kind of healing is going to be tailored for the healee. This type of thing is no different.”
“It’s hard to imagine hiring a professional for something like that.”
“That’s not necessarily how it works.”
“How does it work, then?”
“If you’re lucky, you meet a healer and enter into a relationship with her, where she imparts her gift to you.”
He shook his head. “That takes care of that. I haven’t had much luck lately, at least not what you’d call good.”
“But if you met a woman with the healing touch, you’d be open to it?”
“Maybe, but that sounds like something I might need to work my way up to. I’m a novice at all this alternative stuff. I’ve tried some of it, like I said, and I’m open to other options. Maybe I should try some…” he consulted the book “–hypnotherapy, then perhaps some reflexology. Maybe after all that I’ll look at the tantra and see if it seems any more appealing.”
“All that takes time. Can you afford to wait?”
A chill shot up his spine. Both his father and grandfather had been struck down in their prime. “I think so.”
Her expression was so full of doubt that he had to resist the urge to ask her if she knew something about him he should know. How nuts was that? Of course she didn’t know anything. She didn’t know him from Jack Sprat.
She leaned across the counter. “Not many know this, but there was a family, right here in Miami, where all the women inherited the gift of sexual healing.”
Again not sure how to respond he nodded and she said, “I only know because I met the mother and one of the daughters. Must have been at least ten years ago. The daughter was just fourteen at the time and she was this quiet thing. Nothing like her sisters, according to the mother, but there was something about that child. She came in for some feng shui classes–” she gestured to a book leaning against the register “–and she had this presence. I have my own gift. I can tell things about a person. I sensed this powerful energy about her, so I wasn’t surprised when the mother, Maggie McClellan, hinted at the family background. They all have it. There’s an aunt, too—she comes in from time to time– but you’re closer in age to the daughters.”
“But even if I was interested in pursuing…that, which I’m not saying I am, what are my chances of meeting any of them?”
Her shoulders shifted beneath her loose cotton dress. “The aunt was in recently, so I believe they’re still around. Can’t be all that many McClellans in the area. What was that young one’s name…Evelyn? No, Erin McClellan, that’s it. She was an excellent student of feng shui. I’d be willing to bet she’s practicing it somewhere.”
“You’re suggesting that I look up this woman, strike up a relationship, see if she’s interested in sharing her gift with me?”
“Something like that.”
He stared at her a moment in disbelief. How could she think such an insane plan would work? Only a desperate man would embark on such a mission.
“One step at a time. Thank you for the book. You have a good day.” He headed for the door, but she stopped him halfway there.
“If I were you, I wouldn’t take too long with that one-step-at-a-time stuff.”
He gave her a half smile, then continued on his way. His chest tightened and he rubbed it. He had time. The one thing he wasn’t was a desperate man.