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Carrying the Lie

A little lying never hurts

"Didn't mommy say you're not to go into her make den? The rest of the house is your playground. The den is where mommy does her work. Okay? Okay. I love you, bun-buns. Now get your keister into bed. Can you pass Debbie the phone?"

Jess held her cellphone aside, offering a sheepish grin and apologetic shake of her head to Maggie seated across from her in their cosy cocktail booth. Her friend didn't react, mentally gnawing at her own concerns.   

Jess spoke on her phone again, "Hey, Debbie. Yeah, sorry. Carter just misses our goodnight snuggle. I told him to get to bed. You're going to read him a bedtime story? Hmm? One of mine? Oh, no, no, don't bother. I've used him as a guinea pig too many times, and he's not impressed. Ha, ha. Okay, help yourself to any snacks and feel free to watch TV. Hopefully won't be too late. Thanks!"

As she put away her phone, Jess sighed, "That kid of mine. Last time Carter got into my den unsupervised, the Rock Trolls ended up calling each other ‘fart' and ‘poop' for ten entire pages. Compelling reading, let me tell you."

Maggie wasn't paying attention. She was preoccupied scanning the bar floor as she sat there stiffer than the two shots of liquor she had imbibed. Jess could see the glow of cold perspiration all along the surface of her beleaguered friend's pale face and neck.

"Hey, Mags," Jess said, reaching over and patting Maggie's hands clenched around an empty glass, "you need to relax."

"Do you think he's here already?" Maggie asked, then anxiously checked her phone.

"Will you stop looking at your phone every ten seconds? Your battery must be nearly dead," Jess said, then scanned the crowded lounge. "You told him 8:00 p.m. He still has fifteen minutes. Why? Do you think he's hiding in a corner somewhere checking you out?"

Maggie fussed with the black velvet choker displayed prominently around her white neck. A pearl pendant dangled from it. Her pouty lips mumbled, "Maybe."

Jess smiled. "Then, so what? He's probably thinking, ‘Wow! She's gorgeous! I need to down a few beers and build up my courage before I can approach this vision of hotness!'"

That sounded pretty stupid, even as she was saying it. Her attempts to loosen Maggie's screws bounced like sponges against a brick wall. Jess rolled her eyes. Her friend was sliding down that muddy hill of doubt faster and faster, and it was starting to make her feel bad.

She was doing a terrible job playing the supportive wingman on this blind date. Maggie should have picked someone else, to be honest. Jess was horribly out of practice. Hell, she had no practice at all. Being in a bar and meeting strangers for dates seemed so foreign to her, having skipped that particular rite of passage during her formative years.

Despite her relatively young age, this type of place and the social activities happening around her right now had been so foreign to her for so long. Her nightly routine for the past several years has been to put her son to bed, then lock herself in her bedroom for a rigorous yoga session for an hour or two depending on how well the day's writing went. It was a fairly solitary life, but she had settled into it.

Now she didn't even know how to dress properly for stuff like this. Maggie had told her that they were going to a casual spot. It turned out the place was more like a club than the pub bar that she had described. While everyone else was decked out in fashionably cool or provocative attire, Jess stuck out like a sore thumb in her mom jeans, cardigan sweater and a white t-shirt. She wore barely any makeup and her hair was tied back in a ponytail to hide the fact that she hadn't properly brushed it today. Normally at this time of night, her clothing of choice would be yoga pants and a unicorn-vomit coloured stretch top.

Despite her conspicuousness, she soldiered on. "Look, it's just a meetup, okay? Just meeting this guy, uh…?"

"Waylon."

"Just meeting... Waylon," she still couldn't get over that name, "to get to know each other. Put a face to all the blind messages you've sent so far."

Maggie nodded unconvincingly, still fidgeting with the choker around her neck as if it was actually strangling her.

"He seems like a nice guy, right?" Truthfully, Jess had no idea what Waylon was like. Maggie just sprung it on her that she had met a guy on some app and that they were meeting up. Jess never saw the messages.

She was aware Maggie had been out of the dating scene for a while and was surprised when she told her that she had jumped back in. Jess encouraged it, however. Maybe depending on her friend's fortunes, she'd give it a whirl again someday.

Yeah. ‘Someday'. She rolled her eyes.

"A nice guy…" Maggie sighed.

Attempting to punctuate that idea and bring some levity to the mix, Jess laughed a bit too loud and said, "Not like he's the type who you'd sleep with on the first date!"

"God, I need to go to the washroom!" Maggie suddenly blurted. She stripped off the choker and tossed it on the table before standing up.

"Washroom? Wait. Now? Mags…" Jess looked bewildered as she haplessly watched her friend plough through the crowded lounge towards the washrooms. She slumped her shoulders, hunched over the table, bleak-faced. Softly groaning through clenched teeth, she rubbed her temples with her palms.

This wasn't going according to plan. She was supposed to be the one getting up at this time and finding an inconspicuous hidey-place in the bar. From that vantage point, she could safely observe --okay, stalk, if you will-- the proceedings at the booth when Waylon arrived.  If anything went awry, she could come to make the save. They hadn't even worked out the signal for that, though.

"Shit," she muttered, then immediately winced. It was a rarity these days, hearing herself swear. She'd been mindful of that for the last several years, being both a children's book author and a young mother of a 5-year old.

The quickly souring situation and the bustling, stifling setting of the crowded lounge justified an exasperated response, however.

As she waited for Maggie to return, she glanced awkwardly around. A shiver suddenly coursed through her. A feeling like she was being watched crept up the skin of her neck.

She quickly shifted her attention toward the choker on the table. She sort of liked it, though she wondered if such a thing was fashionably dated. She picked it up and slipped it around her neck, then checked herself out on her cell phone, running her fingers along the soft velvet. Not bad. A little accoutrement went a long way to improve her bland look. Well, not really.

She noticed the time on her phone. Maggie had been gone for almost ten minutes. What in the world…?

Jess was about to stand and go after her friend in the washroom, but even before she raised her butt from the seat, she was confronted by the abrupt view of the crotch of a pair of jeans.

"Oh!" She flinched and looked up, startled.

Standing by her booth was a brawny figure holding a beer in his hand. He nodded at her with a tight-lipped smile. "Hey," he said.

"Uh, hi?" Jess mumbled, still shaking the fog from her head. "I mean, hi!"

"Mind if I sit?" he asked, gesturing to the seat across from her.

Her brows pinched. "Sorry, are you… Waylon?" He definitely did not look like a ‘Waylon'.

The guy cocked his brow. He nodded, offered his hand and said, "Yeah, Waylon."

Jess realized she was gawking. She took his hand quickly and said, "I'm Maggie's…-"

Sudden raucous laughter from a crowded nearby table interrupted her. The guy looked towards the commotion momentarily.

Jess regarded his large, rough hand still clutching hers, noting the tattoos running along his forearm up to the rolled-up cuffs of his black shirt. She found the intricate network of lines and colours instantly intriguing. When he turned back to her she was still scrutinizing his arm.

"Maggie, yeah?" he said.

"What?" Jess said. He spoke with a low, dry tone that was swallowed up by the amplifying clamour in the bar.

He leaned down and said, "Maggie. Good to meet you."

Jess blinked. Waving her free hand, she replied, "Oh, no. Maggie is… "

"Hold on." Waylon raised a finger abruptly cutting her off. He straightened back up, frowning, and reached in his back pocket for his phone to answer a call.

He finally released Jess' hand as he turned away, covering his other ear to talk.

Jess continued to look up at him fixed to her seat. She didn't hide her admiration of how well his broad shoulders filled out his shirt. Foremost on her mind, though, was wondering just how much body art covered his physique with ink flowing from behind his collar, up the back of his thick neck to the smooth line of his close-cropped black hair.

Biting her lip, she had to shake her head to pull her eyes away. She grabbed her phone and quickly texted Maggie:

Where are you?

The guy turned around pocketing his phone. He slid down into the seat. Hands clasped on the table, he smiled and said, "Sorry to keep you waiting."

Jess chuckled anxiously. "Actually, I think you're right on time. A man who is prompt. Imagine that."

He frowned and grinned crookedly. "I meant my talking on the phone just now."

"Ah."

Over the growing din of chatter and laughter in the bar, Waylon remarked, "Packed place."

Jess did notice how considerably more crowded it had become since she and Maggie arrived. She touched the choker on her neck. Maggie had worn it to identify herself if the place got busy. "I guess this was a good idea?" she asked.

He nodded. "Yeah. It's nice. Suits you."

"Wouldn't want you ending up meeting the wrong online blind date," she laughed.

Oh, sweet irony...

"Wouldn't want that." Waylon shrugged and shifted in his seat. "I'm feeling a bit underdressed myself. This type of place isn't my typical hang out, you know?"

"Not at all. You look good," Jess said with a rolling nod of her head. She repeated the sentence to herself. Though he was more casually dressed than most of the men in the bar, the grey jeans and the black button down shirt with rolled sleeves suited wasn't an unappealing look for him.

It was a helluva lot better than what she wearing, anyway.

"So, Waylon," she started to say, figuring she'd kill some time till Maggie got back. She paused at a sudden loss for words and not to mention caught up in the steady gaze of his dark eyes. She gave her head a slight shake then tried again, "‘Waylon'... that's such a unique name these days."

"Not my real name," he said.

Jess frowned. "It's not?"

He shrugged. "People usually use their real names online when they're hooking up?"

She was taken aback a little. She thought people would at least know their real names, but maybe it was safer to use fake names for online dating sites. She played it cool and managed a cheeky snicker.

"I mean, is your name actually Maggie?" he asked.

Jess paused, then said, "No."

At least she wasn't lying… sort of.

"So if your name isn't Waylon, what is it?" she asked.

His eyes narrowed. A coy grin shifted the noticeable stubble around his mouth. "Maybe… " he said with a deliberate pause, "maybe we stick with our online names for now?"

Jess turned her head aside and peered at him from the corners of her eyes. She also sported a curious grin. "Why?"

"I don't know," he said as he leaned a bit more forward over the table, "little lies make things more interesting."

Now it was Jess' turn to narrow her eyes on him.  "Momma Rock Troll says, ‘A muskrat who tells everyone he's a bird often finds himself face down in the dirt'."

Waylon leaned back in his seat, smirking. "What?"

Instantly, Jess regretted her remark. She rolled her eyes and looked away, rubbing the back of her neck. "Sorry. I just read that in a book somewhere… "

Actually, it was from one of the books she wrote. Momma Rock Troll was quite fond of such sayings. Sometimes it was difficult to turn off her writer's brain.

Still smirking, Waylon nodded.

Jess sighed again to herself as she looked into his dark eyes. It was hard for her to ignore the fact that she was increasingly hoping Maggie wouldn't come back from whatever black hole had sucked her up anytime soon. Honestly, her concern for her absent friend was shockingly waning.

"Sorry for saying this," Jess said, "but you don't really strike me as the sort of guy who uses a dating service."

"Yeah?" he remarked. "What sort of guy do I strike you as?"

A guy who goes to bars to pick up women not to get to know them. That's what crossed her mind immediately as she chewed her lip while pondering a reply. "A guy who doesn't need to use an online dating service," she repeated.

"And yet, here I am with you," he replied.

"Ah, there!" she chuckled. "Eat apples with your eyes closed and a worm might bite your nose."

More Momma Troll quotes? Jess couldn't believe how she couldn't control herself.

"Sorry!" she exclaimed, burying her face in her hands. "What is wrong with me tonight?"

Waylon chuckled and shook his head. "I really need to read that book," he said.

Jess laughed through a heavy sigh.

Despite more flustered words on her part, they continued to chat, mostly innocuous conversation. It seemed like Waylon was intent on keeping anything of substance close to his chest. It was enough for Jess to maintain a wary eye on him, even as she became more curious about him.

There was definitely something about this guy -- his magnetic gaze, his confident demeanour and gruff, dry tone. He spoke a coarse, masculine growl lacing his voice like he was speaking with a piece of sandpaper in his throat.

Along with the plentiful tattoos, she found his face fascinating as well. It was perfectly imperfect with a faint but long scar across his right upper cheek and a nose that looked like it had been dinged once or twice. He probably put that solid body of his to good, rough and tumble use a few times.

The guy was just one raw piece of hardwood lumber.  

How in the world did Maggie ever match up with him? Jess was also beginning to question exactly what sort of dating app she used to find him. She brushed that thought aside for the moment.

At some point, the volume of the music and the chatter in the place kicked up a notch. Jess noted the increasingly perturbed look on Waylon's face due to the noise.

She was also past the point of worry about Maggie and moving towards fed up. She obviously had succumbed to cold feet.

"You want to go?" Waylon said, nodding his head aside.

At first, she wasn't sure if she heard him right over the clamour of the lounge, but then it dawned on her what he was asking. She hadn't thought that far ahead, leaving with this guy she had just met.

He curled a finger toward her and spoke into her ear as she leaned forward. "There's a bar around the corner. Quiet. Might be more our speed."

Jess tilted her head and rubbed her teeth together aware that she was probably looking a little bit caught in the headlights.

Waylon's cool smile and gaze held steady upon her.

"Yeah. Sure," she finally answered, "I just have to go to the washroom for a sec."

"Wait for you by the front," he said.

Jess stood and rushed her way through the crowded room. Each time she brushed against a person as she pushed her way past raised her anxiety level. By the time entered the washroom, she was feeling dizzy. She hurried to the sink, clutched the counter and let out a huff of air.

Rolling her eyes to the ceiling and groaned as she took a moment to regain her breath. "What are you doing? What are you doing?" she muttered repeatedly to herself.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and said aloud. "Maggie, you better have not been hiding in here this entire time!"

No one answered. Where the hell did she go?

Jess leaned hard on the counter and stared at herself in the mirror. A flushed faced woman in dull clothes and a silk choker gazed accusingly back at her reminding her that she was a mother with professional deadlines who still had a babysitter who was on the clock.

She took a deep breath then told herself, "You're not actually going to do this."

When she finally left the washroom, she still wasn't sure exactly what it was she wasn't going to "do".

As she waded back through the crowded floor, she kept her eyes down. It was only when she neared the front of the place did she happen to glance up. She stopped and blinked, surprised to spot Maggie at another table off in a corner. Her friend was looking unexpectedly jovial, having a lively conversation with some guy.

"What the hell?" Jess grumbled, frowning and psychically burning a little hole into her missing friend's grinning face.

She was about to march over to Maggie when someone touched her elbow. It was Waylon, appropriately wearing a beaten leather jacket.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Uh," Jess hesitated, mouth agape, before looking back toward Maggie. Her friend tossed her head back, laughing, and touching her throat where her constricting choker had been. She looked confoundedly carefree.

Jess drew a tight line on her lips. She turned to Waylon. "Let's go."

As she followed him out, Jess took one last rueful look toward her friend and the guy she had dumped her for.

Funny. He kind of looked like a "Waylon".

^^^^^

"Now this is a bar," was the thought that had crossed Jess' mind as they entered the dark, intimate watering hole Waylon had suggested. It turned out to be less than a ten-minute walk from the lounge.

Each with a mug of beer as they sat at the bar, they continued their conversation without having to strain their throats and hearing.

"I see why you like coming to this place," she said, glancing around the room. She cocked her brow toward him and remarked, "Dark and secretive."

"Actually, I've never been here before," he replied, shrugging. "Just spotted it on my way to the other place."

Jess sighed and shook her head, agitated that she was unable to pin him down on anything.

The muted confines really brought out his dry drawl voice. Jess found it unusually lulling. Still, though Waylon wasn't exactly as brooding and tight-lipped as she would have pegged his type to be, he was still noticeably evasive.

She tried smoking out a few more details personal details from him with some coy, tactical questioning, but finally shook her head and remarked, "Look, you've got to give me something. I'm beginning to think you're in some witness protection program."

Waylon smiled crookedly and nodded. "Alright," he said, putting his beer down and clasping his hands together, "we can do four and one."

"‘Four and one'? Is that like a football term or something?" Jess asked before taking a sip of her beer.

He explained, "You can ask me five questions. I answer four truthfully and one as a lie."

Jess grimaced. "That sounds awfully similar to a kids game I know."

He shrugged. "You want to play?"

She eyed him then placed her beer down as well. "Alright," she said, grinning. She cocked a brow. "You'll play fair?"

"Always." He held up Scout's Honour fingers.

Jess narrowed her eyes and pressed her tongue inside against her cheek as she thought. May as well go straight for the throat. "What's your real name?"

"Irwin."

Jess tilted her chin down, regarding him blankly. "‘Irwin’? That suits you about as well as ‘Waylon’."

He shrugged. "Keep calling me ‘Waylon’ if you want.”

"A worm by any other name still eats dirt," Jess chuckled then immediately groaned, "Oh my God! I did it again!"

"Same book?" he asked.

"Actually, it's a whole series of them," she said, rolling her eyes.

He took a long chug of his beer then beckoned her with his fingers. "C'mon. Four to go."

"Okay, Waylon, or Irwin, or whoever you are... how many tattoos have you got?" She was anticipating he had lost count after the first hundred.

"Four."

"Four?" she said in disbelief. "I count at least like a gazillion on your fists alone."

"Four big ones," he explained. "Back. Chest. One on each arm from the shoulders down."

"Yikes. How long did they take?"

He chuckled, "About a bottle of tequila each."

"I'm not so convinced," Jess said, sceptical. "I think you just don't know."

He reached for the buttons on his shirt. "You want to count for yourself?"

"Here?" she blurted. She shielded her eyes and laughed, "No. No. Not necessary!"

Actually, she'd be lying if she said she wasn't a bit piqued to see him with his shirt off.

"And what's your occupation?" she asked.

"Maintaining grizzlies," he replied without hesitation, "and part-time rock star."

Jess blinked and shook her head. "Are you sure this isn't four lies and one truth?"

"Is that your fourth question?"

"No, it's not," she exclaimed. She pointed to his cheek. "So is that where the scar comes from? A grizzly did that? And yes, that's question four."

"Yep."

Jess sighed looking away, exasperated. She felt like she knew the man even less now. She grabbed her beer and took several long gulps.

"Last question," he declared.

She plonked her mug on the bar, speaking as she swallowed hard. "Why did you meet me tonight?"

She just tossed the question out in mild exasperation. While he definitely didn't fit Maggie's type, she also wondered why he bothered to approach her plain-looking self the moment he glimpsed her back at the lounge.

"Just drink and conversation."

Jess tilted her head aside but didn't take her leery eyes off of him. He was unflinching, however, as if he was convinced of every word he spoke.

His words seemed harmless enough, warm and social, Jess thought. Filtered through his cool smile, that husky voice, the dark eyes constantly tethered to her, though… he channelled all the hypnotic charm of the Big Bad Wolf or the allure of a smooth leather sheath hiding a hard-edged blade.

Waylon finished up his beer and asked, "Should we go?"

Jess paused, hung up on her previous thought. After a moment, she offered only a meagre response, "Where?"

He shrugged his big shoulders. "You tell me."

Jess' eyes searched around as if the answer to his question was somewhere in the bar. "Uhh…"

Suddenly, the vanilla chime of her cell phone sang out from within her bag. It startled her back to life and she quickly rummaged for it.

"Sorry," she begged, then answered her phone. "Hey, Debbie! What's up? Hmm? He won't? Maybe try a warm cup of milk. That usually does it."

She looked up. Waylon was still watching her attentively. She mouthed again, "Sorry."

Returning to her phone conversation, she said, "Yeah. Having a nice time. Won't be much longer, though. Um-hmm. Maybe twenty minutes after I grab a taxi. I'll see you soon. Thanks. Bye."

She hung up and exhaled. Regarding him, she said once more, "Sorry."

"You're gonna break the record for the most unnecessary apologies in under a minute."

Jess bobbed her chin. "Heh. Yeah, I'm kind of like that."

"Got a kid who won't go to sleep?"

She gestured toward her phone with a coy nod of her chin. "I guess the mother cat is out of the bag."

"I kind of figured you might be," he nodded.

She mentally noted that he didn't naturally follow up with the one-two combination of asking her if she was married.

"Not fair that I can't seem to hide anything from you while you don't reciprocate in kind," she mocked.

"I told you four truths," he replied, grinning.

"Whatever," she scoffed.

As they sat there chuckling softly, Jess looked up at him and smiled, casually reaching to pull back a lock of hair that had come loose from her ponytail.

"No," he said, gently brushing away her hand, "leave it. It's nice."

Jess held in her lips as she watched his fingers carefully adjust the lock across her forehead. She froze as his hand moved to her neck. A tingle quivered through her as she felt his fingertips brush her skin while he examined the pendant on the choker with admiring eyes.

She cleared her throat and said, "Um, it's not mine, actually."

"It looks good on you," he complimented again. He locked his eyes on her. "Real nice."

Jess felt the warm blush across her cheeks. "I, uh..." she stammered, pausing to swallow, "I guess I should head home."

Waylon held his gaze for a deliberate few seconds then said, "I'll drive you."

"Oh, no. It's okay," she said, waving him off, "I'll call a cab."

"I'm parked across the street," he said. He dropped some cash on the bar counter. "That covers for the drinks. Let's go."

He stood up and walked past Jess without giving her another chance to decline his offer.

She remained in her seat for a moment before finally getting up and following him out the door.

As they drove toward the highway in his pickup truck, Jess sank down into her seat, arms crossed, holding herself close. She remained quiet as she stared out at the dark road ahead.

The unfamiliar ring of a cell phone suddenly filled the cab of the truck. Waylon grabbed an earphone and answered the call.

"Hey. Something the matter?" he said. "Oh. Okay. No problem. Hold on. I'll be there in a minute. Yeah."

He hung up and quickly turned at the next intersection. The truck sped up. Jess sat up, frowning. "Everything alright?"

"Yeah. Sorry about this," he said. "Got to make a quick detour. Don't worry. Just be a sec." He looked at her and winked.

Jess smiled uneasily and then looked back out the windshield scanning the unfamiliar neighbourhood. Before she could ask where they were, he was already pulling up and parking on the driveway of a bungalow.

As he got out of the truck he nodded towards the house and said to Jess, "Come on in for a bit."

Reluctantly, Jess climbed out of the truck. As she followed several steps behind him along the path to the front door, a few horribly awkward thoughts crossed her suddenly alert mind.

Just as they got to the door, it opened and out stepped a teenage girl. She was hunched over, arm across her belly and sporting a faintly green complexion.

"Hey, Naomi," Waylon said, patting her on the shoulder, "you alright?"

"Sorry about this, Mr Irwin," the girl squeaked, wincing and squeezing her gut like a squirrel was running through it. "Something on the pizza I ordered must have been off."

"No worries," Waylon replied, "I'll take you home."

"Thanks. I already called ahead to my mom," Naomi replied, then looked toward Jess with a meek smile. "Hi."

"Hi," Jess said. "Looks like you've had it rough."

Naomi said to Waylon, "She's been asleep since 8:30."

Jess blinked and tilted her head, curious.

"Thanks a lot. Go on into the truck," Waylon said, starting the teen down the path. "I'll be there in a sec."

"I hope you feel better," Jess said as Naomi shuffled past her.

The girl nodded and mumbled, "Uh-huh."

Waylon stepped beside Jess, stroking the stubble on his chin. "Hey, can I ask a favour?"

"Umm, sure?" she replied.

"Mind hanging out here for a bit while I take her home? Won't be more than five or ten minutes."

"Wait here?" Jess asked, pointing downward.

Waylon nodded toward the door. "You can make yourself comfortable in the house. Just so I don't have to wake up the kid."

"‘The kid'?" Jess thought. She managed to crank her brain up to speed. "Oh, there's a child in there? Um, sure."

"Thanks," he said and went back to his truck where Naomi was already slumped aside in the passenger seat. He called back to Jess, "She sleeps like a rock, so she'll be no trouble."

"Sure," she repeated.

"Back in ten, tops."

Jess watched the truck pull out down the road then headed for the door. She didn't know what to expect before entering, but honestly, she was prepared to find the place to be a beer can-strewn, cluttered mess stuffed with chunky, incongruous furniture. So much for being unbiased.

"Hmm," she exclaimed in surprise when she entered and had an initial look. The simple layout was decidedly tidy and organized. She also was impressed by the décor --mostly eye-catching professional photos on the walls—and furniture that was modern and suited the size of the home.

"I guess Big Bad Wolves can still live in organized dens," she joked to herself.

She walked into the equally clean and modern kitchen and went over to the fridge; you could tell a lot about a person by checking the fridge. Jess nodded approvingly as she inspected inside and noted the appropriate ratio of fresh fruits, veggies, and other cooking ingredients to take out containers. Nothing growing alien bacteria, either.

She grinned as she scanned the front door of the fridge. It was very familiar with random magnets holding up a patchwork of photos, notes, business cards and kids' drawings.

"‘Lila Irwin, Age 6'," Jess read from the bottom of one drawing.

She scanned the pictures. Almost all of them were of a little girl she presumed was Lila, most by herself and a couple of her clinging her arms happily around Waylon.

Then she examined one of the business cards: "Irwin Mechanical Maintenance – Servicing all makes of outdoor appliance and mechanics: Deere-Caterpillar-Grizzly".

Jess leaned back as the Edison bulb in her head crackled to life. Her mouth slanted up to the right as she murmured, "He maintains ‘Grizzlies'."

Well, hell.

After poking around the living room for a minute she walked down the hall to the bedrooms. Her intention was to check on the child, but her nosey-self got the better of her and she detoured into the master bedroom.

Lit only by the moonlight through the window, she could tell the room was like the rest of the house: neat and tidy. The spartan look of the furniture bore no evidence of a "woman's touch". She perused the top of the dresser and found another portrait of Lila. There was also a bottle of men's cologne which she gave a sniff. Definitely familiar.  

Finally, she quietly entered the child's room. Soft light from a small bedside lamp glowed around the room. It eschewed the stereotypical colour scheme of pinks and violets, but it still showed "daddy's little girl" touches throughout.

In the bed, she found a pretty, young girl looking like Briar Rose in the first month of her hundred-year nap. Sweet thing.

She picked up a pile of books beside the bed and nodded approvingly as she shuffled through them. Along with some classics, there were a few by authors she knew personally; good people and talented peers. She came to the last book in the pile and suddenly paused, her eyes widening as she glared at the back cover.

It was a picture of her and the standard chirpy bio that adorned the back cover of each book in her "Rock Troll Family" series.

Jess quickly looked at the other books on the girl's bookshelf.

"Ohhh…" she thought as she spied her entire series of books lined up in order on a dedicated shelf. There even was a Rock Troll stuffy leaning against them. Lila was a fan. Jess finally finished her thought, "…crap."

Her mind raced as she looked at the back cover of the book again. She was never happy with the photo they had gone with, but now she really hated that smug grin she wore even more.

"Hey, Maggie," a dry whisper called out from behind her.

"Oh, sh-" Jess gasped and jerked back nearly dropping the books. She managed to hold on to them and turned around, her heart punching at her chest.  She whispered back, "Waylon! Oh my God!"

Standing at the doorway, he grinned and said, "Sorry."

"You’re back so quickly."

"Naomi is just in the neighbourhood." He nodded toward the girl. "All good?"

Jess quickly flipped her book over and stuffed it under the bottom of the stack before putting them all down. "Yeah," she exhaled, looking at the girl and then back toward Waylon, "she's fine. She's a beautiful girl."

Waylon smiled. He nodded his head back, holding the doorknob. "C'mon."

Jess stepped past him, keeping her eyes down, and he closed the door before following her down the hallway.

She made a beeline for the front door and reached in her bag for her cell phone. "I'll call for a taxi."

"Want to check out the rest of the house first?" Waylon asked cordially as he opened another door.

"Umm," Jess uttered, hesitating. She guessed the doorway led to his basement. Strange, unpredictable things always happened to her Rock Trolls when they went underground.

He cocked his chin downward. "C'mon. Got some cool gear down here I want to show you."

Jess pursed her lips aside. It was really hard to resist that slender grin he sported; it had a boyish eagerness he hadn't revealed thus far.

As she slowly stepped towards him, she spiked a suspicious brow and grumbled, "No iron maidens or other instruments of torture, I hope?"

"Only if you're good," he chuckled.

"Ha, ha."

After she went down the stairs, Waylon closed the door. "It's okay to talk normally now," he said, his voice louder. "She won't be able to hear."

Jess was stopped at the bottom of the steps gazing around the room. "Woah!" she exclaimed. "This is one serious setup."

Now this was what she had been expecting all along: wall-to-wall orange shag carpet, wood panel walls, worn out, incongruous furniture. The highlight, though, was how the space was filled with a full set of band equipment: drums, guitars, a keyboard, amplifiers -- the whole kit.

"You play down here?" she asked, placing her bag on a table.

"Rehearse, yeah." He nodded as he walked past.

"Your neighbours must love you," she said.

"Soundproofed the room myself," he said, then shrugged, adding, "But yeah, I've gotten a couple of ‘disturbing the peace' visits."

She looked toward the wall. There it was, a honking huge and chunky-cushioned leather sofa that Jess figured a body or two had been sucked into over the years, never to be seen again.

"That for the groupies?" she asked.

He shook his head as he sat down on the sofa arm, removing his leather jacket and tossing it aside. "Just for the guys to hang and crash on."

Jess strolled around the room, grinning incredulously. She eyed the man across and asked, "So… Mister Irwin, was it?"

He raised his hand. "As charged. Yep."

"And you're an actual, uh, ‘rock star'?"

He tapped his temple with a finger. "In here."

"A wannabe rock star who works with ‘Grizzly' mechanical outdoor equipment?"

"Mm-hmm," he affirmed again. He pointed to the scar on his cheek. "Got this from a tussle with a particularly ferocious Grizzly lawnmower."

Jess caught another cheeky wink from the man. She chuckled and shook her head.

Waylon stood up and unexpectedly began to unbutton his shirt.

"Uhh, wh-what are you doing?" Jess asked through a suddenly nervous grin. She took a step back.

He had already parted his shirt before she had further opportunity to protest. As she blinked at him, he said, "You wanted to know how many tattoos I had."

"No. I, uh, just… you don't have to… " Jess stammered as she waved one hand at him and weakly covered her face with the other. She still left plenty of space between her fingers to watch him strip his shirt off.

To no surprise, he had a strapping upper body, thick and ripped hard. He aside his hands and slowly turned around showing the elaborate patterns of ink that made up four large, separate ornate works of art: a rippling sunburst exploding on his chest; spirals of blue and black fire emblazoned on the entirety of each arm; a burning effigy of a long-horned cattle skull blanketing his back.

Jess was mesmerized into stunned silence. She tilted her head side-to-side to fully take in the intricate designs and admire the chiselled physique at the same time.

"I was thinking of starting small with a heart with ‘Mother' written through it, but got carried away," he joked.

"One, two, three, four," Jess counted aloud. "Well, you weren't lying about that."

"Nope," Waylon replied, slowly stepping towards her.

She looked up and thought about it for a second. "So wait. Your name is Irwin, you're a musician and work with ‘grizzlies', one of which gave you that scar on your cheek," she said, keeping track with her fingers, "and you have four tattoos."

"Check, check, check and check," he said, nodding and taking a step forward each time.

"So… your one lie was that you didn't just meet me tonight for drinks and light conversation," she said, more as a statement of dawning realization than a question.

By now, he was just within her reach. He stood there, bare-chested before her.

"So," Jess said, feeling her gut dropping, "why did you?"

Waylon tilted his chin up slightly, looking at her down the length of his imperfect nose with a smouldering gaze. "You tell me."

For a moment, she thought she could hold her own against his brash look. Instead, after a moment of staring back into his piercing eyes, she quickly withdrew and slipped around him. As she stepped backwards, she searched around the room again in vain for answers. She tried to steady her breath and said, "Look, Waylon, I'm not sure I'm ready for… I mean, whatever you're thinking..."

"Actually," he said turning around slowly to face her, "I just thought maybe we can continue playing our game."

Jess' brows pinched. "What do you mean?"

"Four and one," he replied, "You got to ask me five questions, now it's my turn. Same rules. Four truths and one lie. Sound fair?"

"Waylon… I… "

"First question," he continued, "Is your name really Maggie?"

"You know it's not," Jess answered, watching him as he slowly approached her again.

"You have a kid?"

She shook her head in confusion. "You know that, too. I told you…"

"What colour is your sweater?" he asked, grinning and flashing straight rows of white teeth.

"Blue," Jess scoffed. "You can see that for yourself. Why would you…-?"

He was within a couple of steps from her once more, his rugged, tattooed chest looking towards her. He reached up and ran his finger along the velvet choker around her neck. "This yours?"

Again, he already knew the answer. Jess, looked at him in earnest and spoke softly, "No."

He was upon her now, with his heady cologne wafting through and filling her lungs, and the heat from his bare chest resonating. It was as if she were frozen from the inside out as she watched his hand move and gently cup against her cheek.

"Last question," he said, stroking his rough fingers along her smooth skin, "Do you want to leave?"

Jess' mouth slipped open, but no words accompanied the wisps of breath that escaped past her lips. It was so hard to think, but she had paid enough attention to reach deep down and pull out the only answer she could find.

"Yes."

"You know," he said as he leaned in towards her, "that would be your one lie."

Jess knew. And she didn't have a chance to rethink it as his lips pressed up against hers with an extended, burning kiss.

A dormant desire engulfed her as the seconds passed. In the vacuum of the soundproofed basement, all she heard was her own unsteady breaths and the sound of wet lips locked in a torrid kiss. By the time their mouths finally parted, she was surprised to find her arms wrapped around the back of his neck.

His hands were holding fast along her waist and stayed there, keeping her close as her chin dropped. While Jess tried to regain her breath and sort through her confusing impulses, he pecked at her forehead and temples with soft kisses.

Jess' hands came down between their bodies and she tentatively dragged her fingertips down along his broad chest and the firm bumps along his abdomen. She felt his stubbly chin brush against her ear.

"What would Momma Rock Troll have to say about this?" he asked.

Jess didn't dare to say it, but Momma's exact words would be, "You don't invite the bear to a picnic and not expect him to take the whole basket."

This wasn't going to end with a hug and a kiss.

Firm fingers on her chin brought her mouth to his once more. His tongue slipped forward, lapping her upper lip before probing into her mouth. It was met with an aching gasp that pulsed up her throat.

The sudden sound of her cell phone ringing yanked her from the vortex she seemed lost to. Jess jumped back from the embrace and kiss. "Oh! Oh, sorry. I… I need to get that."

She went to get her phone and noticed that her legs felt weak as she walked.

"Hello?" she answered. She needed to clear her throat before continuing, "Oh, Debbie! Sorry. Yeah, a change in plans. I might be a bit late. Is that alright?"

She flinched as two strong hands wrapped around her waist from behind. Her head was nudged aside by a stubbly chin allowing for a pair of warm lips to press against the side of her neck.

"Uhh… what?" she stuttered, trying to focus on the call. She gulped and continued, "Oh, yeah? He… uh… he's still up? That's not, um… that's not good."

Waylon nipped at her flesh around the choker. His hands went to work as well, moving from her waist, unbuttoning her cardigan and cupping her breasts through her t-shirt.

"Talk to him? Ohh… no… no," she said, sounding more desperate at the sitter's suggestion that she speak to her son. As kisses and licks fell upon her neck and fingers dragged over her breasts, she closed her eyes and said, "Just… um… just tell him that he better be asleep before I get home. Yeah… tough love… huh… don't… don't give him attention. Mm-hmm… "

Eyes still pinched closed, she heard the button of her jeans snap apart. She leaned back against a hard, warm chest as one bold hand delved under the waistline of her pants.

"Oh, sh-…" she cut herself off. "Sorry? Mm-hmm. Great. Uh… thanks." She nodded quickly with her lips sucked in. "Yeah. I'm not sure when exactly. Uh… late… later… mmm. Just… just later. Is, uh… is that okay?"

She bit her lip as a pair of fingers stroked deep through the crotch of her panties. As her knees weakened and her thighs clenched, she relied on Waylon's strong body to keep her propped up.

"S-sure. Of course," she eked, her voice straining. "Thanks so much."

Waylon took the phone and said, "Bye, Debbie." He hung up and tossed it aside. He resumed sampling her neck and body as he growled softly, "Hope I didn't upset the sitter."

Jess was too caught up in his busy hands and lips to consider the implications of his impish comment. Unable to think straight as her head lolled back against his shoulder, she uttered almost mindlessly, "I just… uh … have to pay her time and a half every hour after 10:00."

Waylon spun her around and flashed a sharp smile with a wink. "I'll cover."

With a gentle shove from him, Jess fell back onto the sofa. She sank into the marshmallow soft cushions, refocusing her eyes rolling around dreamily in their sockets. There was a stern, harsh look of desire on the face of Waylon as he gazed at her. It filled her with the same cautious anxiety she had been battling back at the bar.

As he settled down on the sofa, she slowly backed up until her back was pressed up against the thick arm. Waylon grinned, shaking his head slowly as he reached for her jeans. Instinctively, she clutched at the waistband.

Waylon smirked and scolded her with a mocking "tsk, tsk" of his tongue, before yanking her jeans down and off her ankles. "Relax," he said softly as he slid his rough hands back up the length of her bare legs.

"Sorry," she begged, "I really… I can't do things like this."

"Like what?" he asked, angling himself down and shifting her legs apart.

"Like this," she insisted, watching impotently as he lowered his mouth towards her crotch.

"Why not?" He flicked his tongue against her panties.

Jess' belly trembled at his touch. Her voice shuddered, "Uhh… I'm a mother."

"I'm a dad. So what?" he scoffed, then wrapped his mouth around the cup of her panties and stabbed his tongue forward.

"So…- ohh, oh my God," Jess moaned, shoving back hard against the sofa bolster. She looked down quickly, breathing sharply,  glimpsing Waylon's nose nuzzling over her pelvis as his tongue soaked her panties. She tossed her head back again, curving her neck over the arm of the sofa and groaned.

Waylon was relentless, barely stopping to strip off her underwear before renewing his oral pleasuring with  vigour. Jess gasped over and over, bucking and twisting her hips against the firm brace of his hands. His slick tongue sliced through her folds with voracious, flicking licks. She felt his fingers join the fray, prodding her apart tenderly before sinking in and out of her with a steady rhythm. His rough beard dragged against her hot, soft thighs, sending a cold shudder through her.

Before long, a creaking, drawn-out groan rattled up her throat, languidly announcing a soaking wet rush from deep within her.

She stared at the ceiling in disbelief, clasping a hand against her warm forehead, gasping hard.

Waylon's face came into view as he crept up over her. A wide grin stretched his lips. He kissed her, sliding his tongue around her in her mouth and upon her lips before leaning back. Cocking a brow, he said, "See? You can do this."

Jess blinked repeatedly as if she were lost in a fog. Her whole body felt clenched and overheated, her short clinging to her skin. She could barely move and could only watch as Waylon stood up and unbuckled his belt.

"You can do a lot of things," he said with a sly grin. "Anything you want, Maggie."

Jess sucked in her lips and looked away briefly, reminded about how all of this started with that little lie.

Apparently, Momma Rock Troll knows what she's talking about. Huh.

The sound of his zipper and his pants dropping heavily to the floor pulled her back to the moment. She turned her attention to Waylon. Her mouth slipped ajar at the imposing sight of his bare, sculpted body, a rugged canvas for his impressive tattoos.

He took her hand and helped her sit up on the sofa facing him. She hesitated but didn't resist as she lifted her hand and wrapped her fingers around his length.

"Want to show me what you can do?" he asked.

Jess' eyes shifted back and forth between his face and the heavy length of muscle in her uncertain grasp. She swooned as he brushed his fingers and palm against the side of her head. Finally, she moved her open mouth forward and wrapped her lips hungrily around him.

She moved her mouth on and off a few times, sweeping her lips along his head, sinking upon him deeper each time till he was nudging against her throat. Within moments, she stroking with long, steady sucks, painting his hardening length with her tongue.

She was on automatic as if some switch of nascent desire had been flicked. Waylon's guiding hand upon her head shifted around to the back and undid her ponytail, her hair falling messily behind her back.

Jess hummed and gasped, gulping back saliva that wasn't dribbling down her lips. She looked up at Waylon as he filled her mouth. His sharp grin was gone, replaced by a burning, dark gaze. She couldn't remember when was the last time someone looked at her like that. It shot a bolt of electricity through her gut.

Lost to the sensation of his fully hardened shaft prodding her mouth, she wasn't expecting him to withdraw, his glossy tip popping off her lips. She heard him breathing hard, almost animalistic sounds. As he settled down beside her on the sofa, he pulled her t-shirt off over her head. While they kissed, he undid her bra and quickly discarded it.

All that remained on her body was Maggie's velvet choker. That damn choker.

Waylon took her into his long, muscular arms. Her soft breasts mashed against his warm, broad chest. They folded their lips together, entrenching their tongues deep into each other's mouths.

As he dipped his head down to suck and lick her taut nipples, Jess ran her fingers through his short hair. She kissed the top of his head, sighing at the touch of his lips, tongue and teeth upon her breasts.

Soon she found herself lying back against the shoulder of the sofa, her glossy skin clinging against the worn leather. Her whole body rippled with an icy tingling as she allowed him to shift apart her legs, moving between them.

She breathed hard, her bare, glowing bosom rising and falling as he prowled over her once more. He really did look like the Big Bad Wolf with tempting, hypnotic eyes.

He clasped her wrists together in one hand and raised them back over her head over the sofa's shoulder. His other hand worked below, as Jess felt his hard tip nuzzling at her opening.

She licked her lips and swallowed, squirming beneath him. She looked up, soaking in his intense, brutishly handsome face glaring back at her with stern desire.

She managed a breathless chuckle, "You… you really don't look like a Waylon."

The man's harsh expression didn't flinch.

Eyes locked on his, her mouth rounded open as he pushed his stiff length into her with a determined thrust. Air surged from her throat expelling a trembling groan.

Within moments, he was lurching into her with long, steady thrusts. Immediately, her thighs drew up and clenched against his wide torso as he filled her with undulating strokes.

Every pointed thrust ended with a snap of his hips and drew sharp gasps from her, sounds so strange, so lustful they made her blush at how unrecognizable her own voice was. Even as he covered her mouth with his own, her groans still filled the room.

Waylon drew up to his knees, holding his hands firmly at her waist, wrenching her hips upward with his thrusts, arching her back. Jess was entranced by the sight of his tattoos coming to life as his long muscles twisted and contracted. She felt him pulsate within her, the throbbing of his shaft intensifying as the minutes passed.

Moments later, she was on her belly, dragging her teeth on her knuckles as she heard and felt the harsh slaps of his crotch against her butt. Her eyes closed, brows pinched, she shuddered against the blunt thrusts.

A modicum of sensibility traced the events of the evening that brought her to this improbable moment. Her, a responsible mother, an author with professional obligations who hadn't so much a moment of intimacy with a man in ages, now in the basement with some stranger she had just met that evening, having lurid, exhausting sex without pause or regret.

Her publicist would kill her.

Both their bodies gleamed with perspiration as she rode upon him, digging her nails into his pecs. Her hair tossed forward and back, swaying and rolling on him as if busting a wild bronco. She gasped and groaned, biting her tongue as she stifled curses repeatedly.

"It's okay, Maggie," Waylon grunted. "Go ahead. Use big kid words."

As he bucked his hips upward with rattling, sharp thrusts, Jess tilted her chin toward the ceiling and wheezed, “Uhh… fuck!"

The word burst from her lips like a cork shooting from a champagne bottle. It was an exhilarating release. Still, she was definitely not going to be in the right mindset to continue the adventures of the Rock Troll Family for a while.

Down the homestretch, Jess found herself in the position they had begun with: on her back, Waylon smothering his body upon hers, her legs clenched like pincers against his torso, knees bent almost to his armpits, toes curled, arms wrapped around his back. She rocked back forth on the sofa with every long, torrid thrust, a layer of slick sweat pressed between their two bodies.

As he grunted like a bull at her ear, she gnawed at his round shoulder, groaning and swearing through her teeth. She couldn't even recognize her own voice; it was so raw and impassioned, in full release, surrendering to buried desires finally bursting forth.

Jess scratched her fingernails down the slick, tough hide of his back then dug them into his flesh. She froze, holding her breath, her entire body clenching. With one last, stiff thrust from Waylon, she cried out with a piercing groan. Her body hitched and shook beneath him as she came hard, spilling over his buried length.

As she twisted her hips and felt the release flow through her, she watched him withdraw his swollen, dripping length of muscle and handle it roughly in his palm as he reared back on his knees. He groaned in almost a trance-like state as he stroked himself vigorously over her.

With a stuttering grunt, he came. Strands of viscous lust landed across Jess' belly and between her glistening breasts, right up to the choker, dotting her neck with off-white beads alongside the pearl pendant.

Jess savoured a tantalizing ache ebb through her body. She inhaled and sighed deep breaths as she felt the pools of Waylon's cum cool on her skin.

God, that felt so good.

Waylon pulled her up from the sofa, and she welcomed him with a long, tender kiss.

A bit later, as they gathered their clothes and started to get dressed, Jess nodded towards the instruments in the room and asked, "So, after that, are you going to grace me with a private concert?"

Waylon snickered and stood up. "Sure thing," he said. He swaggered over, picked up a guitar and flipped on an amplifier.

To Jess' utter amazement, within a minute of him strumming and picking at the strings, she was already gawking in complete awe. Once he had finished his short riff, she paused. "That… was awful," she said, regarding him with utter disdain.

Waylon laughed and put the guitar down. He picked up a picture and walked it over to Jess.

She examined the photo for a second. It was of the band with an unfamiliar guy holding the guitar Waylon had just abused. "Who's this?" she asked.

"My brother," he replied. "His guitar. His band. I just let them rehearse here."

Jess frowned. "So you were lying about being a musician?"

Waylon smiled.

Confusion rattled in her head. Thinking it through further, she said, "If that was your one lie... then you were telling the truth about just wanting to meet me to chat and drink? None of these, um... extracurriculars?"

"Yeah." He winked. "I'm a gentleman, after all."

Jess feigned mock astonishment and slapped him on the arm. She raised her hand again, but he caught her by the wrist and pulled her in for another kiss.

They continued to kiss with reinvigorated intensity until they fell back onto the beaten sofa.

Debbie was going to clock more overtime tonight.

Finally, just after midnight as Jess waited at the front door for her taxi to arrive, Waylon came up from behind and nudged her arm. She turned to find him holding one of her books in his hands, smiling like a dog who had spooked the cat.

"Oh… um…" she uttered, blinking at her stupid picture on the back cover, at a total loss.

"My kid would never forgive me if I didn't get you to sign one of her books," he said, handing it to her.

Still embarrassed and shock, Jess stood there, frozen, as he leaned in and whispered in her ear, "Please don't sign it as ‘Maggie'."
 

****


Afterwards, as she stared out the passenger window of the taxi on her way home, Jess heard her cell phone beep. Finally, a text from the long-lost Maggie:

Hey! Sorry! Met Waylon and we ended up talking right away.

Jess bit her lip and arched her brow. Another text came through:

We really hit it off. Got caught up and forgot about the time.

"And me, you bi…-" Jess stopped herself, wincing.

Please, please, please don't hate me! Promise to make it up to you.

Jess scoffed.

BTW. No. I didn't sleep with him! I only met him tonight! LOL

"Oboy," Jess muttered, blushing and grimacing.

A minute later, she was looking out the window again at the passing streetlights. She looked forward to getting home and giving Carter a hug. Smiling to herself, she touched the velvet choker around her neck, going over the evening's events in her head again. She laughed softly, suddenly thinking about revising one of Momma Rock Troll's sayings.

"Carry a lie as far as you can and maybe even a muskrat can fly."

A new text came through:

Need you to sign the rest of the books next time. - Mr. Irwin

Or perhaps she should take a break from writing children's stories for the time being...

 

 

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