My Autumn and My Winter

By Chulkhan Chito Naholo Imastabi All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Humor

Blurb

Kindergarten teacher turned pro wrestler Steve Borden is due to marry the love of his life, the bellicose but passionate Autumn Winters. At first all seems bliss, but then Autumn lays out some ultimatums; She wants to be sexually dominated, and explore a D/S relationship. Steve has no choice but to step up his game in the bedroom. Learning the ropes is tough, especially if you're the contestant on a reality TV show! Hilarious, heartwarming, and full of torrid romance, My Autumn and my Winter won't disappoint.

Chapter 1

Author’s note: This novel, while complete in its initial form, is undergoing a metamorphosis. It is the third novel in the Forever series, and I do not have the rights to the first two novels so I cannot post them here. If you want a free copy of either Forever Autumn or Forever Winter please email me at hunsenabadeer@gmail.com and I will try to provide one. (Or you could purchase a copy hint hint...) LAST UPDATE: 1-21-18 new content in chapters 8,9,10.

“Damn you,” Steve said, squinting his eyes to slits “you don’t belong here. I’m going to to get rid of you, no matter how much it hurts.”

His fingers closed on the strand of wet, slippery gray hair. He yanked his arm downward but the pale invader’s coat of moisture proved too much for his grip. Cursing, he tried several more times without success.

“What the hell are you doing?”

The hard clop of Autumn’s high heels on the concrete floor echoed throughout the locker room. Steve turned away from the mirror as she strode into the bathroom.

For a moment he forgot his gray hair. His breath caught in his throat and his heart raced as he beheld Autumn. It wasn’t her generous curves, or her revealing outfit which left little to the imagination, or even the deep brown eyes he’d fallen into and never climbed back out of, that held him so spellbound. Autumn’s overt sexuality, hips moving like the sea, dark eyes flashing like lightning and laying everything bare to her cutting wit, seemed so much more stimulating.

“I asked you a question, Sasquatch,” Autumn said, coming over to lean on his shoulder. Her head barely reached the bottom of his chin. When Steve stared at their dual reflection, he was struck by the dichotomy. Autumn was short, round and feminine, while he was just a lump of a man, a moving cliff of granite edges and ungainliness. He slipped a hand around he waist and squeezed her tight against him, glad as ever to have her by his side.

Autumn’s reflection scrunched up its face.

“Don’t play with my fat,” she said with a sigh, disengaging from him.

“You’re not fat,” Steve said, chuckling. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re smoking hot!”

“What about that sign the fans were holding up in Anaheim last week?” Autumn said with a sigh. She looked down at her belly and squeezed it. “It said Candy Pain? More like Weight Gain!”

“That was just one guy,” Steve said with a grin. “Come on, it’s almost show time.”

“It wasn’t just one guy, Steve,” Autumn said, rolling her eyes and slumping her shoulders. “It was a banner. A whole row of people were holding it up.”

Steve stared at her midsection. There was a tiny bit of muffin top, but her shorts were tight to a ludicrous degree. Still, the wrestling crowds were known to be unforgiving of even the tiniest perceived flaw.

“Well, maybe you could get some new outfits?” Steve said, returning his attention to the gray hair. “Something that covers up your middle.”

“Oh, so you think I’m fat, too?” Autumn said pointedly, crossing her arms and cocking her chin toward him.

“Uh, no,” Steve said, turning toward her even as his blood ran cold. This was one of those times he’d stepped on a land mine without realizing it until it was too late. All he could do was minimize the damage. “Of course not. That’s not what I meant-”

“You want me to cover up my fat belly,” Autumn said, nostrils flaring. “That was what you were getting at, right?”

“No,” Steve said, holding up his hands. “That’s not what I mean at all! I mean, the whole leather bikini thing has kind of become blasé. Maybe you could wear, I don’t know, a sexy sequin dress, or-”

“Maybe I could wear a full body furry costume,” Autumn said “to cover up my body so you won’t feel offended by the fact that I’ve put on a little weight! Give me a fucking break, Steve, our wedding is coming up I have a god damn right to be nervous and maybe take out that nervousness on a bag of chips!”

“Uh, what about your corset?” Steve said, thrusting the garment toward her.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said, eying the shiny latex garment with suspicion. “Takes way too long to lace it up, even if I do look good in it...”

“Steve, get your ass to the tunnel,” a voice called from the hallway. “Your music is gonna hit in like thirty!”

“Let’s go, let’s go!” Steve said, grabbing Autumn’s arm and dragging her toward the hall. The door slammed open harshly, and Steve winced. He turned sideways, pulling Autumn through a hallway crowded by massive men in spandex. One of them, a muscled ebon giant, patted him on the shoulder as they passed.

“Don’t let them put you through the table til they take the monitors out,” he said, mouth wide in a grin.

“C’mon, Jerry,” Steve said, turning his head to stare at the giant while he kept moving forward “Clancy and Chester are consummate professionals.”

“Tell that to the Toledo Kid,” Jerry replied, shaking his head. “Still walks with a limp.”

“Turn around before you run into something, moron,” Autumn said, scrunching up her face.

Steve looked ahead just in time to duck under a lighting rig. Autumn giggled as she dodged beneath, dark eyes flashing.

“That would have been funny,” she said “almost wish I’d let you just run into it!”

“Anyone ever tell you you’re a sadist?” Steve said with a grumble.

“Actually, I’m more the other thing…a whatchacallit,” Autumn said, eyes going north as she contemplated her vocabulary. “You know, the bottom?”

Steve felt his cheeks flush and Autumn laughed.

“I can still make you blush after all this time,” she said with a self-satisfied sigh.

Inwardly, Steve was feeling a bit overwhelmed. The angle that had been worked out for his time off was that he was going to cheat to defeat one of the Doomsday Destroyers by pulling his tights. They would not take kindly to that, and would administer a ‘beatdown’ culminating with putting Steve through the announce table.

Steve wasn’t worried about going through the table; It had been rigged to collapse, and the Destroyers were consummate professionals whom he trusted implicitly. He was far more concerned with his wedding.

He glanced over at Autumn briefly, hoping his fears were hidden well by his mirrored sunglasses. Soon they would be married, and then real life would supposedly start. They had been through a great deal together, and he didn’t doubt her devotion to him, not anymore. Still...

“What?” hissed Autumn through her smile. “Do I have something on my face?”

“No.”

Steve quickly re-adopted his pimp guise, leaving Autumn to cock a pierced eyebrow at him and wonder.

The match went well enough. Though Steve was every bit as large as his opponent, they played it off that the Destroyer was much more powerful, and shrugged off every attack thrown at him like a gentle summer breeze. Steve spent most of the match either running away or being tossed around by the face painted man.


After the finish, which Steve was rather proud of due to the chorus of boos it received, the two large men put him through the announce table. It collapsed just as cued, which he was glad of. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he may have tweaked his ankle during the match and a hard landing would have exacerbated it.

He played dead, laying in the ruins of the announce table as Autumn fawned over him. The paramedics, actually just some security staff with a gurney, rolled him out of the arena while the crowd cheered his misfortune.

Once they were out of sight, Steve tried to roll off of the gurney. He was instructed right away to stay where he was. It seemed they wanted some photos of his ‘broken’ body being wheeled away for the WWL website. Steve was a good sport through it, and soon enough he was free.

“Two weeks off...” Steve gratefully took the towel that Autumn offered and dried the sweat off of his face.

“Uh, yeah, and a little thing called our wedding?”

Steve pulled the towel away from his eyes to see Autumn’s narrowed umbra eyes.

“I know that! I didn’t-”

“Is that all it is to you? A chance to sleep and be lazy for two weeks?”

Her nostrils flared, brown eyes glittering with menace. Steve swallowed hard. He could not believe the transformation in Autumn as the wedding day grew closer. The expectation he had was that she would be her usual happy go lucky self, downplaying the significance of the ceremony. Instead, she had become rather persnickety about every little facet of their nuptials—including his attitude.

“Of course not.” Steve stroked his hand across her cheek, unmindful of the smudge of mascara left on his thumb. “This is going to be the most important day of my life!”

Autumn’s fierce gaze relented a bit, and her hand went up to cup his own. Gently she pried it away from her face.

“It had better be. I’m mad at you, you know.”

“You are? Why are you mad at me?”

“Because you made me love you.”

Steve started laughing.

“Oh, that’s cute, I-”

“I’m serious. Living life with my condition means that everything you love can be taken away at the drop of a hat.”

Autumn’s eyes were staring at the floor, her shoulders slumped as she continued.

“I figured I’d just kind of half ass it, you know? Life I mean. I’d just kind of half ass it and not really care about anything or anybody. That way, when my time came...”

Steve tucked his hand under her chin and gently lifted her face. He kissed her on the cheek, tasting the salt of her tears.

“Your time might not come for sixty years, beautiful.”

“Yeah, but we don’t know that, Steve, we don’t know that!”

“We don’t know that it isn’t true, either.”

“Shut up. Stop trying to make this better because you can’t. When I didn’t care about life, I didn’t care if I died. Simple as that. Now I have to, to worry about you, about us, and it...it SUCKS.”

“Welcome to the human race, beautiful,” Steve said, moving to embrace her. Her half hearted push turned into a clawing grip on his bare chest as she cried raggedly into his shoulder. They stayed like that for a while, other wrestlers and production staff giving them a wide berth.

After a time Autumn lifted her head and pulled away from him slightly. Her red limned eyes stared into his for some time, as they silently basked in each other’s company. Then their lips met in a soft kiss.

“Take me home, Steve.”

Steve arched an eyebrow at the promises her eyes made.

“I thought you wanted to take time off before, you know, before the honeymoon...”

“Oh, you knew I was full of shit as soon as I said that. Besides, I just got off my period and you know how horny I can get...”

She nibbled on his nipple, her teeth just the other side of painful.

“You’re something else, Autumn. You’re definitely something else!”

She raised her eyes to stare at him and grinned playfully.


Crawley stared, unblinking, at the black widow spider perched on the back of her hand. The fearsome creature had almost no weight, and far more docile than its reputation. Most of the time they wouldn’t even bite you, preferring to play dead.

Venom was a valuable resource, which was why she sat inside her basement laboratory milking the little monsters. Sometimes they got out of their cases, like this time. Though she could have used forceps, allowing the Latrodectus Arachnae to crawl on her had had a much lower risk of harm for the spider.

Besides, she thought as she put her hand inside one of the dozens of glass cases lining the concrete walls It’s not like I haven’t been bitten before.

Crawley could recall at least seven times she’d been envenomated, and lived to tell the tale. Her resistance to spider venom bordered on immunity.

She stood up and stretched, her shirt riding up to midriff level and revealing her pierced navel. In the lab she often wore yoga pants and one of Phil’s t shirts, and today was no exception.

A sigh came out of her lips as she considered her boyfriend. Last year had been rocky, with a brief breakup and rather sudden reunion. Since they ran in the same social circles--and played in the same band--a great deal of awkwardness had ensued.

They were together again, and that’s what she tried to focus on. As if in summons to her thoughts, the phone in her back pocket vibrated with Phil’s ring tone.

“Hi honey,” she said sweetly as she trod up the wooden stairs to the main floor of her home.

“Hey, Ellie,” Phil said, his voice bearing a slight tremble. “Are you packed up for the gig tonight?”

“The gig?” Ellie asked, blinking. “OH SHIT! No, I’m not--I didn’t--I’ve been so busy--”

“Relax, my dear,” Phil said, “I figured as much, so I’m on my way over to help you pack up. Sven and the others haven’t even got their shit together yet, so don’t feel bad.”

“And you just got off work,” Crawley said, sighing. “We’re all so damn busy.”

“We have adult lives, Ellie,” Phil said. “We do adult things. And speaking of adult things...how about a visit from the Prowler?”

Crawley’s heart skipped a beat.

“Oh, we haven’t done that in a long time,” she said, feeling all giggly “I was afraid, you know, that you didn’t like it.”

“Of course I like it,” Phil said. “I like it more than being top Tank in our clan, I like it more than unicorns shooting rainbows from their asses, I-”

“Okay, calm down,” Crawley said. “You sound so damn nervous. You can’t be nervous when you’re the Prowler.”

“I know, I know,” Phil said quickly. “Just...I’ll be there in ten minutes or so. Be ready.”

“Okay,” she said breathlessly. Then she gasped. Ten minutes? Crawley ran in socked feet to her bathroom and checked out her reflection.

A slender, dark skinned young woman stared back at her. She’d inherited her father’s almond shaped eyes, but the color was reminiscent of her mother’s light brown. Often, Crawley thought her nose was a little too wide, and her breasts too small, but Phil thought she was perfect, or so he said.

She decided to cheat on the game a little bit, and changed her underwear. Crawley slid out of the baggy old boxers and into a sheer pink lace g string. The elastic was a little frayed but it didn’t matter as she probably wouldn’t be wearing them long...

Crawley sat down in front of the television and turned on an action movie. She turned the volume up loud, though her neighbors were a dozen feet away in either direction.

Then she waited. She smiled a little when she heard the front door open, then Phil’s light footfalls. Crawley tried to appear oblivious and hid her smile, though she couldn’t stop the pounding of her heart.

Then his hand slapped over her mouth, and the barrel of a very real--though rendered incapable of firing--.38 revolver pressed against her temple. Getting into character, she screamed behind the hand and threw her hands up to his wrist.

“Quiet, bitch,” Phil--the Prowler, now--said in a rough voice. “If you do exactly what I say you might get to live. Nod if you understand me.”

Crawley nodded, eyes wide. She whimpered as he picked her up roughly and dragged her over the back of the sofa.

“We’re going upstairs,” he said, keeping one hand on her mouth and twisting her left arm behind her back with the other. Phil pushed the hammerlock just hard enough to hurt.

As he walked her up the steps, her body responded. Crawley felt her twat opening up all on its own, and her fresh undies weren’t so fresh any longer.

They reached the top of the staircase and he shoved her into the first room on the right. Though her parents had moved out months ago, she still hadn’t claimed the master bedroom down the hall. It just hadn’t seemed right.

Phil pushed her onto the bed face first and then put his knee in her back.

“Give me your hands,” he said. Crawley put her hands behind her back, and Phill wrapped a cinch around her wrists. Though Phil lacked a lot of confidence as a Dom, his rope work was coming through tremendously. In less than three minutes he had her arms bound at wrists, elbows, and biceps. Her little finger seemed a bit numb, but nothing she couldn’t endure for awhile.

She cried out as an orgasm ran through her body. Phil was taking her pants off, peeling the tight fabric away from her shapely legs. As she predicted, the g string was ripped away, leaving an abrasion on her thigh.

“Open wide, bitch,” Phil said, shoving the panties toward her face. Crawley whimpered.

“Please don’t hurt me,” she said in a little girl voice.

“Open your damn mouth,” he said again “or I will hurt you.”

He took her by the jaw and shook her head roughly. Crawley felt herself creeping toward another orgasm, and he hadn’t even touched her pussy. She opened her mouth and accepted her own wadded up panties as a gag. Phil used black electrical tape, winding it about her head, to keep the panties in place.

And he wasn’t finished. He looped rope around her already helpless arms and then wound it about her chest. Crawley’s small breasts were soon taken prisoner by hemp rope, swelling them up into dark balloons. Just Phil’s hot breath across her her engorged nipples felt amazing.

Unable to resist, Phil put his mouth over her swollen tit. It felt painful, yes, but also intensely pleasurable. Though he wore a ski mask, she could picture his slender, soft features underneath. His eyes were always full of love for her, even when he was trying to be a bad ass home invader.

His hand worked its way between her legs, and she spread them wide. Phil looked up at her and pinched one of her nipples.

“Opening your legs like a slut?” he asked.

Crawley hissed behind her panties, face wrinkling up. It hurt, the way he pinched and stretched her already swollen and tortured flesh. But it felt nice, too.

“Well, you’re not getting it in the pussy,” he said, forcing her to kneel on the bed. Her t shirt hung about her neck, not covering her at all but reminding them both that he had exposed her body. Using more rope, Phil bound her legs thigh to ankle. The knots were a little tight, and she wouldn’t be able to bear it for too long if he kept her on her knees. She blinked twice, staring Phil right in the eye.

“What hurts?” he asked.

She looked down at her legs and tried to speak, but of course it came out garbled and soft.

“Your knees?” he asked. Phil had gained proficiency at understanding her gag speak. “Then let’s get you face down, ass up.”

Phil pulled her large body pillow over and lifted her up by the hair. Being dragged over to the pillow and pushed onto her belly across it triggered another orgasm.

“Your cunt is dripping wet,” Phil said “too bad I’m gonna stick it up your ass!”

Crawley heard the squealch of a bottle of lube, then Phil’s finger probing at her anus. She relaxed, letting him slide it in all the way to the knuckle. Bit by bit, he worked a second digit in alongside the first, gently stretching her asshole in a way no prowler ever would.

Phil took good care of her, she decided. But they were going to be late for the gig if he didn’t fuck her soon....

Phil pressed the head of his cock against her ass, and she arched her spine to allow him access. She caught sight of herself in the vanity mirror, her brown skinned body bound with loops of white rope, face half covered in black tape as a man took her in the ass.

She came again, this time squirting a stream onto her bedsheets, as Phil began thrusting in and out of her asshole. His hand slipped below and played with her oozing cunt, triggering another hard cum and more ejaculation.

“You’re really a squirter,” Phil said. “Or you’re an anal slut.”

Can’t I be both? Crawley thought dreamily.


“Let me help you with that.”

The pretty young woman paused, her empty cup scant inches away from the spigot. Rich gently pried the plastic vessel from her painted fingernails and made to fill it with frothy amber fluid.

“You see, tapping a keg is a dying art. If you want a good, thick head that you can balance a quarter on, you have to aim the spray so it’s just touching the side. Here we are, perfect!”

Rich handed the cup to the girl. She ran her vivid blue eyes up and down his form, and he relished the attention. He knew he was handsome, with chiseled features and verdant green eyes that popped from under his neatly manicured eyebrows. His clothing was fashionable, tailored to fit snugly around his lean, muscled form.

“Rich,” he said, offering a handshake. He checked her out as she cooly took it. The girl had on sausage casing pants, accentuating her sleekly toned legs. Her belly was equally as impressive, midriff bare in her one-shouldered spandex top. Long blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders, golden highlights catching the lights from the empty stage.

“Genesis,” she said, shaking it. Her ruby red lips pursed as she continued to assess him.

“That’s an awesome name. Yeah, I’m kind of hanging out here waiting for the rest of my band to tune up.”

Her eyebrow arched and her posture became a bit less stiff.

“You’re in a band?”

“Oh yeah. We’re going to be playing here in a bit.”

Rich took a drink from his own cup of beer and grinned.

“Oh. I saw the drummer earlier,” she said. “He looked like an old guy.”

He’s not that much older than me… Rich thought.

“Yeah, he’s a lot older than I am,” Rich said.

Genesis’s face scrunched up.

“Not really,” she said.

“Oh, come on!” Rich laughed it off, but inside he felt himself crumble just a little. “How old do you I think I am?”

Genesis shrugged, making her generous bosom dance in a way he found irresistable.

“Like, thirty four?”

Rich sucked in air through his nose and tried to keep his tone calm.

“I’m not even thirty yet!”

“Whatever. Look, it was nice meeting you, Rick, but I have some friends waiting for me.”

Rich glanced up at a gaggle of women, equally as attractive as his quarry. They tittered a bit, perhaps keeping their distance out of respect for the game.

“Hey, wait a second,” he said.

The girl sighed, but did turn back around and stare pointedly at Rich.

“I hope you don’t think this is too much, but I’d like to give you my number,” he said.

“Sorry,” Genesis said, turning back around “I’m just not interested.”

Genesis joined her friends, hair dancing in the outdoor breeze. Rich’s mouth fell open as he watched her go. His eyes widened and he paled visibly when he caught a snippet of the girl’s conversation.

“Who was that, Genny?”

“Him? I don’t know, some dinosaur.”

“Dinosaur?” Rich’s lips moved silently around the word. He’d been shot down before, for a lot of different reasons, but he had never been rejected because of his age.

He stood there numbly for long moments, party goers passing by him to get to the keg. At length, a thin bespectacled man came up to his side and clapped him on the shoulder.

“There you are!” said the newcomer. “Come on, Rich, it’s almost time to start our first set! This is a paying gig, you know.”

“Yeah,” Rich said, feeling like he was made of lead “sure.”

Rich followed him, shoulders slumped. The other man cocked an eyebrow at his demeanor.

“Rich, what’s wrong?”

“Phil, do you think we’re old?”

“What? No! Why would you think that?”

“I’m turning thirty next month, nerd.”

“So? That’s not old.”

“For skirt chasing, it’s practically over the hill!”

“Oh, give me a—you’re moping because some chick shot you down? It’s hardly the first time.”

“Yeah, but she called me a dinosaur—a dinosaur. I’m going to have to hit the gym more often, up my game...”

“You’re a little young to be having a mid life crisis, Rich. Maybe instead of trying to get tail all the time you should concentrate on finding a good woman.”

Rich’s face scrunched up. They weaved in and out of a thick crowd to reach the patch of grassy ground behind the six car garage. The sounds of the party faded behind them as they navigated between vehicles to reach a large white van.

“You know, you’ve never properly thanked me for helping you and Ellie get back together,” Rich said.

“How did you...never mind. I’ll just say 'thank you, Rich' and hopefully move on.”

“How are things going with you and Crawley?”

“Good. Great, even, though she’s gotten a little bit snarky since her parents moved out. I think it’s all the stress-”

“What, she should act like more of a simpering little housewife? Don’t dis Crawley, man, just because you’re intimidated by her. She’s smart, she’s sexy, she’s...”

Phil was staring at him with a knowing grin. Rich rolled his eyes and muttered.

“...well, she’s too much woman for you.”

“You want to hear a theory?”

Rich rolled his eyes as he slid open the van’s bay door and began unloading his instrument.

“This should be good. Go ahead and tell me, my nookie neophyte, what you have learned.”

“I think you actually liked Ellie. A lot. You liked her so much it scared you. You know, it’s okay to feel things for women with your heart as well as your dick.”

“For you, maybe. Not me. That’s not how I roll. I don’t get soft spots for chicks—I only get hard spots!”

“Well, like you said, Rich, you can’t keep playing the field forever.”

“Shut up, nerd. Tonight was just a minor setback, a fluke! I’m going to nail one of the chicks at this party, you have my word.”

Phil helped him with the heavy amplifier, an amused grin on his face.

“And my ax! And my bow!”

“What are you going on about, dickless?”

Phil’s smile faded.

“Legolas and Gimly, Lord of the Rings? You know, where they’re all sitting around the elven-”

“I don’t care about that nerdy crap.”

“You were in the theater with me when I saw it!”

“Yeah, but I was playing tonsil hockey with one of the Dubois sisters and don’t remember anything except how gay those two hobbits looked.”

Phil’s eyes narrowed, and he jabbed a finger at Rich.

“They were not gay! They were just good friends.”

“If you say so, but I think the director cut the scene just before the hobbit on hobbit action started.”

“Homophobic much? You danced with a guy at Autumn’s dad’s wedding, didn’t you?”

“That was just to prove I wasn’t homophobic—to his tasty little redhead faghag.”

Phil huffed as they hauled their burdens past the garage towards the patio that counted as their makeshift stage. He shook his head at Rich, forcing his words out past grunts of exertion.

“You’re hopeless, man, just hopeless.”

“Shut up and carry my shit, bitch!”

Their banter was greeted with smiles from their bandmates, Rex and Sven. Rex was a stout, blunt featured man who had an easy manner and impish smile. Sven was a lanky swede whose atrocious accent belied his magnificent soprano singing voice.

“You guys aren’t fighting over Crawley again, are you?” Rex asked. He tooled with his cymbals, tapping them and listening intently to the resulting clash.

“What? No! Rich is just being an ass, as usual.”

Rich shrugged, not disputing the claim.

“Liar!” Rex jabbed a drumstick in his direction. “Crawley is young, hot, brilliant, and a hell of a guitarist. Fuck, if I wasn’t married I’d be all over that shit!”

“Oh, ja!”

Phil and Rex turned their gazes on Sven.

“Of course my wife is beautiful, but Crawley is wicked awesome! Plus she’s too smart to waste time on either of you.”

“Why don’t you go spit the syrup out of your mouth before you talk?” Rich said.

“Why don’t I open up the can of ass whip, ja?”

“Might want to stop talking about Crawley, because here she comes,” Phil said.

Rich followed Phil’s gaze, his breath catching in his throat. Eleanor Crawley moved sinuously through the crowd, the subject of many prolonged male gazes. Their eyes lingered on her tight, shapely rear, her small but firm breasts that strained against her thin Hello Kitty t shirt. Crawley snapped her head back, freeing her almond shaped eyes from a curtain of her thick black hair. Her upturned nose was a bit on the wide side, but it did not detract from her beauty. A smile broke out on her scarlet lips when she saw her bandmates.

“Hi!” She carefully set down her guitar case and hugged Rex and Sven in turn. Phil got a hug as well, but his was punctuated with a full kiss on the mouth. Then she turned to him, and her smile faded as she stood awkwardly a few feet away.

“I don’t get a hug?” Rich asked.

“Of course you do, Richard.” She strode forward and wrapped her arms around him. Her firm body was tight against his for a moment, and Rich wondered why he was suddenly so sweaty.

“Glad you could make it, Crawley,” Rex said.

She turned to face him, scratching the bridge of her nose.

“Yeah, work ran a little long. Sorry I’m late.”

“How are things going now that you’re in charge of Arachnid Meadow, LLC?” Phil said.

Crawley blew out a razz at him.

“Saying it like that makes it sound like a bigger deal than it is. It’s just me and a basement full of spiders at this point. I was having dinner with a client, is all. Man, I wish my folks hadn’t retired. I really hate dealing with the schmoozing side of the business.”

“Dinner, huh?” Phil said. He tried to keep his tone casual, but Rich was certain even he could hear the note of envy in his voice.

“Just dinner.” Crawley’s eyes rolled. “Settle down sweetie.”

“So you didn’t slide under the table and uh, seal the contract?” Rich said.

“I’d ask you to get your mind out of the gutter, Rich, but I know that’s asking too much.”

“Ask the mountains not to be tall!” Rex said.

“Ja, ask the ocean not to be deep!”

“Well, I trust my lady,” Phil said.

Rich faux gagged when they kissed again. Rex cleared his throat with a wry grin.

“I don’t wanna interrupt your soap opera...but I’m interrupting your soap opera. We need to get our sound check out of the way, yesterday! It’s going on nine and I told Chet we’d be playing by eight thirty!”

Rich set up his instrument, trying to pretend he wasn’t jealous of Phil and Crawley.

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