Chapter One

Cocoa shadows fluttered on the bedroom wall. A warm breeze sifted in through the casement windows. The moon floated high behind the trees, and bars of milky light spilled across the floor.

Silence filled the house. Everyone was sleeping. Everyone except Sarah.

A greenish glow illuminated her long, bare legs, splayed in front of her on the sheets. The laptop battery felt warm against her thighs, and her fingernails clicked on the keys, loud in the stillness.

A pop-up window appeared on the screen, white letters glowing inside a small blue rectangle.

HotNCold: Coco, want to chat or... cyber?

The avatar next to his name was a selfie of a firm, lean set of abs. She knew that lots of people were hooking up online at these dating sites. They called it “cybersex” or “sexting.” It seemed perfectly safe, invisible, and anonymous. Wickedly spontaneous. She clicked to read his profile. “Single man 36 seeking single woman 30-45 for walks along the river, coffee by the fireplace, and whatever develops.”

Sarah hit Reply, and the window expanded, with space for her to type a response. Her fingers hesitated.

She had signed in just now as CocoLvr, the account created by her cousin Paisley last night after they’d polished off too many bottles of merlot. Sarah had kept saying, “No, no—I’m not ready for this! I’m barely over the divorce,” as she’d grabbed for Paisley’s phone. Holding it aloft with a grin, Paisley had snapped a shot of Sarah’s cleavage. She’d posted it with the caption “Sexy mama wants to paint you with chocolate sauce and you can imagine the rest, Big Boy.”

“See?” Paisley had said. “You’re only two years older than this guy and well below his expiration date.”

They’d laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks, reminding Sarah of the carefree days before everything changed. Paisley had sent out a dozen silly messages, including one to this guy, whom she’d found on the page for new local members. Sarah figured if his face was half as gorgeous as his midsection, it must be amazing. But it didn’t really matter what he looked like. She never planned to see him in person.

Too late to change her ridiculous profile now. This was irresistible. Just for fun.

CocoLvr: Sure. Love to.

Her pulse beat faster as she clicked Send.

Single since her ex-husband had revealed his true colors, Sarah ached for intimacy. But she couldn’t see herself sitting down with a blind date, making awkward conversation while they checked each other out, or going to a bar to meet a stranger. An imaginary love affair seemed like the perfect amount of togetherness. Especially if it could satisfy her in more ways than one.

It wasn’t as if they were actually going to touch each other. No condoms required, no embarrassment the next morning. The private message was all text, so he couldn’t see her. He had no idea what her real name was. Nobody would ever know, and she was ravenous for a man’s touch, virtual or otherwise.

CocoLvr: Teach me.

Her wrists tingled.

CocoLvr: I’m a cyber-virgin.

HotNCold: OK baby have no fear, I’ll be gentle. Tell me what you’re wearing.

CocoLvr: Not much. Just a cami and bikinis.

She inhaled sharply.

CocoLvr: And you?

HotNCold: Just a big smile, baby.

Her eyes opened wider as she read his reply. A shiver of anticipation shook her, and a trail of goose bumps popped up on her arms.

HotNCold: Where are you right now? Want to picture it.

CocoLvr: In bed.

HotNCold: Alone?

CocoLvr: Of course.

She searched the keyboard, looking for the plus sign.

CocoLvr: Me + laptop.

HotNCold: Make room for me, baby.

CocoLvr: Okay, come on over.

She leaned forward, her eyes fixed on the screen.

HotNCold: <Sits on edge of bed and strokes his hand slowly up her leg, starting at the ankle>

CocoLvr: Oooh.

She felt she was starting to get the hang of it.

HotNCold: <Bends over to kiss her gently on the lips, while running his hand up, and up, and up.>

Sarah read the words, and her imagination went wild. She licked her dry lips. This was just as up close and personal as making out in real life but without the actual touching.

Now her lap was hot for more than one reason.

“Mom?” The small voice came from across the hall.

Sarah gasped and jumped, feeling as if she were still sixteen and her parents had caught her kissing a boy on the front porch. She snapped the laptop shut and shoved it under her pillow. The room suddenly filled with darkness and the sound of Sarah’s panting.

Or was that Hershey, her chocolate-brown Labrador? He lay on his pad across the room. She heard him hold his breath to listen, as she did, for the sound of that little voice to come again.

“Mom?” Devon called, his tone quavering.

“Coming.” She swung her legs off the bed.

As she walked across the hallway to his room, her breathing became calmer. A guilty smile pulled at the corners of her lips.

His room was lit by a nightlight shaped like a star.

“What’s up, sweetie?” Sarah asked, sitting on the edge of the bed to hug him.

“Bad dream.” He rubbed his head against her shoulder.

“Want to tell me?”

He shook his head and sighed. “Gone now.”

“Okay, buddy. Need to pee?”

Devon nodded. She took him by the hand and steered his wobbly form into the bathroom then lifted the toilet seat for him. He peed, yawning, and slammed the seat down as he flushed. After he ran his hands under the water in the sink, she dried them with a towel. Devon staggered back to his bed.

After he burrowed down under the covers, Sarah kissed him on the forehead and tucked him in. She left his door ajar and hurried back to her own room.

When she opened the laptop, the private message had disappeared. HotNCold must have thought she’d chickened out. She looked for him on the list of people online, but it no longer showed his name. He’d probably quit for the night.

Sarah lay alone in her big empty bed, with no one’s head on the other pillow. No slow, even breathing to hear in the darkness. No warm body radiating coziness, pressed up against her under the sheet. Not even a virtual lover to soothe her with a sweet fantasy. A wave of bleak desolation rolled over her, and her stomach clenched as she swallowed the lump in her throat.

She shut down the computer, curled on her side, and hugged a pillow spooned against her.  Then she reached over to pull open the drawer in her bedside table, the drawer that hid her guilty secrets. Her hand encountered a foil packet but rummaged further to find the plastic container. She pulled it out and peeled off the lid.

A dusky, delicious scent tickled her nose.

Mmm. Dark, sweet, and oozing, with just a little crunch for texture.

The best brownies on the planet, or so everyone at the restaurant said. The treat was another of Paisley’s original recipes and one of their most popular desserts served à la mode. Cocoa, dark chocolate, and pecans, chock-full of the magic chemicals that made Sarah’s heart beat faster and her body quiver with joy. The best high she’d ever felt. Well, nearly the best. Maybe chocolate wasn’t really better than sex, but under the circumstances, it was a damn good substitute.

The sugar-laced chocolate bliss pumped through Sarah’s body. Her anxiety began to subside. Maybe someday the right guy would come along, but in the meanwhile, she had to make sure Devon wasn’t hurt by another of her flawed judgment calls. She never wanted to see that expression on his face again, as she had when she’d told him Daddy wasn’t coming home anymore. It had broken her heart to watch Devon assume this was his fault. Too many times, Devon had heard Jim refer to him as Sarah’s son, not his own. “Your son isn’t normal,” Jim would complain. “He’s some kind of freak. Get him under control.”

Sarah lay on the bed and watched shadows crawl up and down the wall as the trees outside moved in the wind. She imagined that someday a man might climb up to her window. A beautiful man, maybe one with a Zorro cape and a neat little mustache, intense eyes. He would stare at her through the casement window as she dropped her flowing silk nightgown to the floor, then she’d reach out to open the latch. His eyes would shine in the moonlight as he swung inside before standing tall and strong in front of her. His hand would stroke her hair as he leaned close to kiss her. Their tongues would touch, sweet, dark, and smooth with a spark of cinnamon. Ahhhh.

She swallowed and reluctantly put the remaining brownies back in their container then slipped it into the drawer. She slid down to rest her head on the pillow and stared into the darkness, picturing a naked man beside her, running his hand up her bare leg.

Up, and up, and up...

Recipes from the Three Chocolatiers Cookbook

Better Than Cybersex Brownies

4 oz dark semi-sweet chocolate
1 stick butter
1 vanilla bean (or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 medium eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup flour
1 cup coarse-chopped pecans


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the chocolate into coarse chunks and put it into a small microwavable bowl with the butter, cut into 4 pieces. Heat in microwave SLOWLY on low/defrost for 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the chocolate, and stop when it is not yet completely melted. It will continue to melt for a few minutes after you take it out. Stir to blend and expose any solid chunks to the warmer liquefied part. Set this mixture aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a wire whisk until well mixed and add salt and cinnamon. Slit the vanilla bean and scrape out all the seeds. Mix them into the eggs, too. Add the sugar in three parts, stirring gently with a big spoon until it all dissolves. Chop the pecans and set aside.

Butter the bottom and sides of a square 8” pan.

When the chocolate mixture is cool enough not to cook the eggs, pour it slowly into the sugar mixture and fold them together. Mix thoroughly. Gently add the flour, stirring it in slowly with a spoon. Last, add the pecans. Pour the batter into the baking pan.

Bake at 350 until brownies pull away from the sides slightly and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 mins (depends on your oven). Let the brownies cool for at least 1 hour. They will be slightly cake-like and slightly fudgy, a perfect compromise, utterly delectable, about 2 1/2” tall.

Source: original recipe.

©Gail Cleare, 2018


From Red Adept Publishing - August, 2018
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