Raine Covington has found the perfect lover—online.
When Jack's sexy words fly across the computer screen, he can seduce her in a heartbeat. The hot, detailed images of them together feed her sexual fantasies. The best part? Raine doesn't have to make a commitment or even cook dinner for Jack. No fuss, no muss. She can switch him off at any time.
Jack's ready for the next step—to meet in person. He wants to make it real with Raine. Their virtual relationship has left him in a constantly aroused state, hungry for a taste of her lips and the touch of her skin. He wants to make love—all night long—to the woman who's captured his heart sight unseen.
Except, once Raine and Jack meet face-to-face, both are surprised at the outcome.…
Normally, Raine Covington would’ve enjoyed a stroll on a snowy evening. Though Salem town was renown to tourists as “Witch City” for its gruesome persecution of women and men accused of witchcraft, the town had more than the history of its witch trials and occult legends to offer. It was a quaint New England coastal town, but in many ways, it was also a developing metropolis.
She’d always felt comforted by the homey, narrow streets and historic Federalist-style homes huddled up against each other. Right now, however, she couldn’t enjoy any of it. She was too preoccupied figuring out some way to escape Jerry Donnelly who was by her side, nudging into her suggestively from time to time. She clenched her jaw, didn’t say a word, and walked a little faster.
Jerry Donnelly was a freelance graphic artist she’d met at an office lunch given in appreciation of freelance workers. He’d seemed nice enough then. Yeah, nice – they were all “nice” until they were trying to slide their hand up your leg under the dinner table. He had beach-boy-blond hair and soft, brown eyes that gave him an innocent look that she’d found attractive. It hadn’t taken much time alone with him to discover that he was anything but.
When he’d suggested dessert-to-go so they could enjoy it in more interesting ways, she officially called time and asked to go home. Who the heck suggested something like that two hours after meeting someone on a first date? Well, apparently Jerry did. And she had the feeling he didn’t take rejection easily.
They were finally here. On the sidewalk in front of her house. The porch light warmed the step, and she gazed at the brick-red door wistfully – escape was so close at hand. Jerry moved closer, going for the kill, and Raine, trying to avoid a confrontation, did the only thing she could think of.
“Oh, God!” She doubled at the waist and held her stomach hard, contorting her face in what she hoped looked like a very painful expression. Startled, Jerry stepped back.
“Um..uh...what? What’s the matter?”
She threw a little heavy breathing into the mix, and winced up at him, backing away slowly. He started to follow, but she held a hand out, motioning him to stay away, as she inched toward the porch.
“Oh, Jerry, I’m so sorry, but I have to get inside quick. Something bad…stomach cramps…night!”
“But you seemed fine a moment ago--”
His voice trailed off behind her. Without a glance back, Raine closed the door behind her with a blustery sigh of relief, leaning back against it as if the devil himself were on the other side. It wasn’t her most elegant escape, but at least it had worked.
Leaning her head back against the door, she let the emotions roll over her. Annoyance, relief – ah, there it was – disappointment. Her familiar friend. All she wanted was some good company, a little romance, and, if she was lucky, half-way decent sex. When it came to men, those things were getting increasingly hard to find.
There was only one man whom she missed when she didn’t get to see him after so much as a single day. Only one who popped up in her thoughts and made her smile, and who didn’t disappoint.
Not even bothering to change, she grabbed her laptop and plopped down on the sofa, a soft shiver of anticipation taking the edge off an otherwise miserable night. The screen glowed, and she tapped at the keyboard, hoping she hadn’t missed him.
She hadn’t! He was there! He saw her logon immediately. She smiled wider watching his words appear across the screen. He had been waiting. For her.
“Hey, beautiful, I thought you might not be by tonight. Working late?”
“No, was just out for a while.”
“No.” She lied, not knowing exactly why she didn’t want to tell him she had been out with someone. “Boring, boring night.”
“Nilla, maybe it’s time to spice it up a little.”
“I think we have been quite spicy enough lately.”
Nilla – her pseudonym. She hadn’t been able to think of anything else when she had registered on the site and had been eating vanilla cookies at the time. So much for her creativity.
“Oh, I don’t know. Depends on your taste. I like things a little on the hot side.”
She grinned, her fingers racing over the keyboard.
“Hold on, tiger. Let me get a glass of wine and change into something more. . .comfortable. I’ll be right back.”
Jumping up off the sofa, she headed into the bedroom to change. She had been talking with Rider – not his real name, of course – on-line for a little more than a month. They had met on-line RomanceMUD, an interactive virtual world. She’d been researching Internet romances for her most recent column in Real Woman magazine, just hitting its stride as one of the leading women’s magazines in the U.S.
She had literally grown with the magazine over the last decade, which had recently relocated to a bigger and more prestigious building overlooking Salem Harbor to house its ever-expanding staff, now topping two-hundred employees. She started as a freelance writer right out of college. The job had fallen into her lap and she took it for some income while figuring out what to do next. Then as more and more magazine work came her way, she discovered a knack for writing; she loved the work. Eventually she was hired for a permanent position.
Raine was the head writer for the Lifestyles beat, which covered everything from raising children to fashion. She had editorial input and was deeply involved in planning each issue’s content. She hired freelancers for most of the articles, but the core element of the section was her relationships column. It had begun as an advice-type column and had blossomed into longer pieces of deeper social commentary. She wrote about all kinds of relationship issues, including friends, siblings, marriage, sex, same-sex families, and working parents.
Pouring herself a glass of Merlot she thought about how some things never changed: jealously, passion, misunderstanding, loneliness. More and more readers were writing in with questions about Internet romance. So, she had pitched a series of columns exploring love and sex on the Internet – and here she was right smack in the middle of it herself.
She had started off the series by writing about Internet dating services that had emerged over the past two or three years. Plenty of people used the formal services, but since the majority of her readers had met someone online, she’d been wandering through chatrooms and virtual erotic playgrounds to see what she found “out there.”
Raine had joined the RomanceMUD site on impulse, and there she’d met Rider. They’d clicked immediately. With him, she felt that little hint of something special she had been missing with the men she’d dated. Padding back to the sofa, she sat, lugged her laptop up close to her, and stared at the screen. What was he doing right now? What was he thinking?
She was coming to understand more and more about what attracted women to men on the net. She and Rider talked about everything and they shared intimate fantasies without the disappointments and expectations that plagued relationships. He could be intense and romantic, and he was always amazingly sexy. It was a compelling combination.
She was sure that in real life, Rider, like all men, probably left the toilet seat up and his beard shavings in the sink. He would make promises he didn’t keep and would glaze over when you talked about things that mattered to you. On-line, she didn’t have to worry about any of that. If she wanted to, she could just hit the off button and he would be gone. The perfect man.
He had started out being part of her research project. An experiment. But things had changed, and she felt that they were becoming, well, close. They talked every night, long discussions that kept her up into the morning hours. She was starting to feel like she knew him, and he her.
For the past few weeks she and Rider had talked almost every evening. Sometimes it was casual conversation; sometimes it was very intimate conversation. At first it was awkward, writing out her innermost feelings on her laptop’s screen. But then, it became more like they were weaving their own little world. As if she was the heroine in her own romance novel. She didn’t have the chance – or the nerve – to be as bold, funny or daring in real life as she could be on-line. But here, all inhibitions were lifted without risk. What could be better? She shook her head briskly, shaking herself out of her thoughts and typed.
“Hey, sorry I took so long. I’m back. So, have you thought about joining up with another game?”
“No, I think I am done with that for now – this was just a whim to keep me amused while work was slow. I think I would rather take a dip into reality for a while. How about you?”
Grunting in annoyance, she had hoped he would drop the issue, as she’d obviously ignored it several times before. Another infuriating male trait – if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear, they refused to get the message when it was offered loud and clear.
Rider had been hinting about taking things to the next step, referring to real life a little too often, and she wasn’t big on that idea. However, she knew from her previous research and interviews that this was also the key moment that came about in every Internet romance: should we or shouldn’t we? And she had no idea what to do.