top of page



     Damn, girl! You big.

     He didn’t even have to say the words out loud, because I could already hear them in my head.

     I had agreed to meet Vin in person at a local coffee shop because it seemed like neutral territory and since I’d met him on a dating app, I wanted to be sure there were plenty of people around us. 

     Chances weren’t good he’d get anything over on me, but I’d had a bad experience in college that had colored all my interactions with men since the tender age of nineteen. In fact, it was only within the past few years that I’d started to dip my toes back into the brackish waters of the over-30’s dating pool.

     Let me tell you, the water in here was not fine. It felt like I was trying to dodge typhoid half the time. The odds were clearly not in my favor and my physical presence further reduced those odds, because the truth was that I. Scared. Men.

     In a land filled with ex-Brooklynite hipsters, Onondaga and Oneida men and locals of indiscriminate origin that probably worked out to be some polluted Dutch bloodline–like my own–the pickings weren’t exactly great. This was especially the case for someone who looked like me.

     “So, Madelyn…” Vin stood, clearing his throat uncomfortably and I knew he’d already clocked both exits. “Uh, nice to finally meet you–you know, in person. You’re…uh, taller than your picture.”

     Thank you, Captain Obvious. Why is it surprising that I’m bigger than the screen of your phone?

     I tried not to roll my eyes, but it was obvious I was making him nervous, the guy who’d admitted to me after the first five messages exchanged that he had “a real thing for bigger girls.” I was several inches taller and had a good twenty pounds on the guy, but it was already painfully obvious that I was not what he meant when he said “bigger girls.” He didn’t mean tall and muscular, not at all.

     Suppose some clarification on his kink might’ve been a good thing.

     I smiled benevolently, because I’d known the instant I agreed to meet Vin that I was wasting my time. He would disappoint me and I would disappoint him and both of us would be back to the dating app drawing board by the end of the day–or week–depending upon how long it took for us to work our hopes back up.

     “Mads?” The voice was incredulous and I watched something like relief wash over Vin’s face as he realized that a distraction meant he could make his escape without so much as a polite goodbye. I watched him do it, too, a sour expression on my face as he snatched his paperboard cup off the table and made a beeline for the door.

     Finally, I turned to thank whoever it was that had recognized me for providing a distraction for the jerk. I wasn’t exactly happy about it, that much was evident by my expression, but when I clapped eyes on the offender my mouth dropped open in surprise just before the smile threatened to eat my whole face. 

     “Beckman! What the hell are you doing here?”

     Adam Beckman was your stereotypical brother’s best friend: tall, built, and gorgeous. And still just as completely unattainable as he’d been the day I first set eyes on him in the fourth grade. 

     Probably still a horse’s ass, too.

     I saw him first, though. 

     Pffft, like that counted for anything. 

     “What the hell are you doing here?” His voice was warm as he covered the distance between us in just a few long strides. His arms went up immediately like he was going to hug me and I swallowed hard, because to be fair, an inordinate number of my fantasies still involved being held by him, though perhaps in situations a bit more intimate than what was appropriate in a coffee shop.

     “Last time I talked to your brother, you were stationed overseas. Air Force medic, which I knew…but Pararescue?”

     He’d asked Steve about me? They talked about me? 

     Stop wobbling, stupid knees.

     “Yeah, 57th Rescue Squadron the last five years. Italy.” My voice sounded scratchy to me as he wrapped me up in a tight hug and my face was smashed into all that long, glorious black hair of his. “I’m out now…trying to figure out my next steps.” I had to spit out some of his hair to say it, but I wasn’t mad about it because it was the first time my tongue had been on any part of Adam Beckman.

     “Fucking impressive.” He pulled back much, much too quickly. “That makes you an official badass, Mads. The dropout rate for PJ training is insane–but you stayed with it.” He looked proud. Of me.

     The only time I didn’t hate that nickname was when it came out of Adam’s mouth.

     “You know me.” I laughed weakly, still completely hypnotized by the gorgeous man still standing close enough to kiss. “I like a good challenge, so when there was even a whisper a girl could try out for PJ…”

     Adam laughed, a low, rumbly sound that did terrible things to places that had been neglected for far too long. “A good challenge? That’s ridiculous. You know most people have slightly lower standards.”

     “Oh, not me.” I grinned at him finally. “You should know that by now.”

     Something flashed across his face and was gone. It happened so quickly, I couldn’t be sure what it was, but I suspected it might be discomfort although I wasn’t sure why.

     “Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “Yeah, I suppose I should.”

     The barista was the girl regularly on duty and she grinned at me when she held up my standard flat white and I passed her a bill.

     “So, no more? What happened, you get tired of it?”

     “Aged out. I stayed until the day I turned thirty-nine, so you could say I was there for my own curtain drop.” I grinned, even though I felt a little twinge inside. Identifying as a PJ for the last few years of my life meant I didn’t exactly know who I was now that I wasn’t in pararescue.

     Adam’s eyes went wide as he did the math in his head and I knew he was realizing for the first time that I was no longer twelve.

     “So, what brings you to New York?” he asked, his eyes tracking my movement as I lifted the steaming cup to my lips.

     “Besides growing up here? I’ve still got some family here, as you’ll recall, and maybe work.” I took a cautious sip. “My brother told me his buddy’s got a security firm that needs a couple more solid employees. I figure I’m a pretty good candidate: medical training, security clearance, combat experience…I’m a triple threat.”

     “Not gonna hurt anyone’s feelings to look at you either.” Adam grinned at me, and I wasn’t sure he knew he’d said it out loud.

     “Doubt that’s part of the job description,” I said smoothly, feeling for the first time I might have the upper hand when his cheeks colored with just the faintest pink. 

     Yup, he’d had no idea he said that out loud.

     Adam and my brother Steve were five years older than me. When I was ten the age gap put me firmly into Annoying Territory and I didn’t leave it for the next six years.

     Both of them had gone to school locally and it meant that I had them in my life until they were twenty-two and graduated from college. 

     When they joined the Army as officers, with degrees under their belts, I cried myself to sleep for months.

     I missed my brother. He’d lived at home until the day he shipped out, but the truth was that the day they shipped out, I also lost the man I’d been in love with for the better part of a decade. 

     When you’re seventeen, you can convince yourself you’ll never overcome that first loss.

     “Adam Fucking Beckman.” I took another sip and watched his eyes go wide. 

     What the hell did I have to lose? I was gonna go for it. 

     “You have no idea the massive crush I had on you when we were kids.” I laughed. “I must have been so annoying.”

     His cheeks pinked again and I wondered for a second if he did actually have some idea.

     “Your brother would’ve kicked my ass.” He grinned, holding his hand out for the cup the barista passed across the counter to him.

     My brother would probably still kick his ass–try to–Adam was bigger than him these days.

     “You two are a gorgeous couple,” the barista said softly to us, leaning over the counter, and it was my turn to blush. 

     “Oh, no. I mean, thank you, but we’re not…that.”

     The girl raised an eyebrow with a smile directed at Adam. “I’d call that a shame.”

     That’s for damn sure.

     Shut up, inside voice. No one asked you.

     “You, uh…meeting someone here?” He looked a little nervous.

     I looked over my shoulder, toward the door where Vin had pulled a disappearing act.

     “Nope, apparently not. My date clearly decided I’m terrifying and pulled a runner.” I sighed as I said it, although I wasn’t terribly disappointed. Vin had been much smaller than I’d expected and I liked guys who were bigger than me, which was a bit of a tall order, in every sense. That made it fair, I supposed: neither of us had gotten what we were looking for and as it stood, things were already looking up.

     “These are terrifying.” Adam squeezed my bare, very well-defined left bicep, but his expression was full of admiration. “I know PJ’s need to be fit but holy hell, Mads, the guns on you. You could bench me.”

     I doubted that, but I entertained the visual anyway because it wasn’t at all unpleasant.

     “Pffft, whatever. You should see what I can do on the leg press.”

     His eyes glazed over and I gave myself a mental high-five, because I knew he’d just envisioned my ass. That was something I’d been trying to get him to do for decades and I rejoiced a little as I watched the wheels spin in his brain. I’d been locked in an anti-aging time warp in his mind, quite obviously.

     “So, VanBuren...” The expression I remembered so well from my childhood was back on his face: tolerant and amused. “Grab a chair and tell me what you’ve been up to the last twenty-something years.”

     “You’re free?” I asked, looking around us. It was a weird time of day to be in a coffee shop.

     “I’m a med flight nurse,” he explained. “It can be a weird schedule sometimes, especially when it’s a full moon.” He pointed vaguely over my shoulder. “I just pulled a fireman’s shift.” He grinned. I knew that meant a straight twenty-four hours at the hospital. “I’ll work two or three more days this week, depending on staffing. We haven’t been able to find someone who’s the right fit for years now, not since Harlowe left.” He swallowed hard and I was pretty sure there was quite a lot more story there than he was ready to tell. “She got married; has another little girl on the way in the next couple weeks.”

     I didn’t really want to hear about this person he was obviously in love with, so I just made a noncommittal noise, nodded my head and hoped he was ready to switch subjects.

     Adam had studied Health Sciences in college, since he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life and immediately after, he’d gone into the Army. Honestly, I think he’d have gone into it right out of high school if he hadn’t followed my brother into college. That might have been the one time Steve was a positive influence.

     After graduating college it was Steve’s turn to follow Adam, and the two of them ended up in the First Brigade, out of Fort Drum, eventually moving to Delta Force at Fort Bragg. They didn’t know it, but every time they deployed, I spent sleepless nights praying they both came back. Infantry was dangerous enough, but they went from a specialized combat unit to an elite team, which was code for high mortality rate in my book.

     The next time I looked up, it was getting dark outside. Adam’s eyes followed mine and widened in surprise as he looked down at the face of the phone he’d flipped over on the table.

     “Well, how about that?” He huffed out a laugh. “I can’t remember the last time I spent so much time just talking! I’d forgotten how easy it was to talk to you, Mads.” He reached over the table and socked me playfully in the shoulder, then spread his fingers and curled them around the bare skin of my upper arm.

     I felt that touch in the most inappropriate, unholy places, all the way down to my toes–which curled in my shoes, I’ll have you know. 

     Adam Beckman had absolutely no idea how he still affected me, apparently, which was pretty stinking inconvenient, because for his part he seemed totally unaffected. I was still just Steve’s goofy little sister.

     I may as well have been just Steve’s goofy little sister, because while sitting with Adam I wasn’t an accomplished, driven, strong, almost-forty-year-old woman. In his presence I was all of fourteen again, shy and gangly, hoping he would notice me while simultaneously praying he didn’t. 

     He was a god among men: tall and broad, muscular and handsome, with really good hair. And I was just…Madelyn–Mad or Mads, to be precise. 

     I had always been too tall for a girl. Growing up, I had been all arms and legs and teeth, bashful as hell and almost incapable of getting through three words at a time without a nervous giggle. Because when I was a young girl, Adam had rendered me stupid and it was clear to me that, all these years later, I wasn’t all that far removed.

     “You hungry, Mad?”

     I snapped out of my uncomfortable reverie to realize Adam was asking me a question.

     “Hungry?” I gestured toward my person. “I’m burning calories just sitting here blinking, Beckman. Look at my genetics. What do you think?”

     His grin was broad and white, even more devastating than I remembered, and I half wished I’d packed a spare change of underwear in the small bag I’d looped over my shoulder.

     The two of us walked down to Maggie’s, where Adam requested a table outside, overlooking the river. 

     The food was incredible and by the time I drained my third glass, I had a pleasant buzz going on. I wasn’t a big drinker so it didn’t take much, and from the four glasses lined up in front of Adam and the way his smile had gone permanent, I guessed he was a lightweight too.

     “Where too, Ms. VanBuren?” he teased after refusing to let me pay, and I threw a nice tip down on the table and challenged him with my eyes. It made him hold up his hands in mock surrender and when I rose a little unsteadily from my chair, he held out an arm in my direction.

     You’d better believe I took that arm. Tipsy or not, it gave me a reason to touch him, to smell him, and to bemoan the fact that twenty years had done nothing to diminish the fact I was going to go home and have incredibly pornographic dreams about the boy who was now all man.





     Madelyn VanBuren, as I lived and breathed. She was the last person I’d have ever expected to run into that day in Vito’s coffee shop and the instant she turned and I caught sight of her face, I felt like a mule had kicked me in the chest. I kid you not, I think my heart stopped for three or four beats and I staggered a little before I called, “Mads?”

     The blinding smile on her face when she’d turned and realized who I was…I would remember the look on her face until the day I died, because it was the look I’d wanted from her for years. She looked happy to see me–no, fuck that. She looked downright overjoyed to see me, like she was so happy she wouldn’t be able to keep it all in, and when I crossed the room to hug her my knees almost buckled when she tucked her face right into my neck.

     It was at that moment that I died and went to heaven for about five seconds.

     Since I’d made it very clear I would walk her home, the two of us trailed down the road with her arm in mine as I walked her back to Steve and Kennedy’s house, just a couple blocks off Main Street.

     There was a single light burning in the entryway when we finally came up on the massive Queen Anne house Steve had spent the last eight years of weekends trying to restore.

     “I’d invite you in,” Madelyn worked hard not to deliver the “but” blow. “Steve would be so happy to see you–I know you two have been really busy lately and haven’t had time to catch up, but…” There it was, cushioned inside a sentence filled with nice words. “Tegan’s teething again and she keeps the most God-awful hours. No one’s getting any sleep.”

     I let my eyes drift to the window on the top floor, tucked in under the sharply sloped roof and her eyes followed mine.

     “Yeah, I know. The irony isn’t lost on me: I’m back in my childhood bedroom–and believe me, I can hear the baby all the way up there.”

     I remembered Steve buying the home from his parents years earlier, so they could move to some retirement village in the middle of Florida. It was actually named The Villages, if memory served, which stuck with you even without being snappy.

     “We must have been out of our minds,” I mused out loud, realizing for the first time just how dangerous it had been for Steve and I to sneak in and out of his bedroom window on what was effectively the fourth floor. The drop from the rooftop had to be more than thirty feet.

     “Yeah,” she chuckled, unwinding her arm from mine and I felt a little colder without her keeping the air of an early October evening off that side of my body. “Those really were the days, weren’t they?”

     Well, they were and they weren’t, but I wasn’t about to admit to that. The last thing I was going to tell her was that by the time she turned sixteen, I’d started to feel like a creep for the thoughts I was having about my best friend’s little sister. 

     “I remember the last time you slept in this house.” She’d walked up the first two steps on the front porch and she turned slowly to face me, a slow smile spreading across her face.

     Yeah, I remembered that too…

     “It was a week before you two left for Fort Drum. You two went out for a big sendoff with some of the guys…” I took a step closer because I couldn’t help myself. 

     “You two were such a mess.” She laughed at the memory. “I heard you come in because I’d stayed awake waiting for you. I decided it was time for my grand declaration. I was going to tell my brother’s best friend that I’d had a huge crush on him for the last five years and maybe…” She trailed off and she shook her head, a sweet smile on her face. “I don’t know what I thought. Maybe I thought I’d get to kiss you goodbye or something.”

     I cleared my throat uncomfortably. “Doesn’t seem all that long, and yet it seems like a lifetime ago. Funny how time gives you a different perspective.”

     She hummed. “On most things, yes. There are always a few that stay the same.”

     I wanted to ask her what those things were. I was sorely tempted to ask her if she’d ever thought about it again, because as far as I could remember, I had been fairly smashed. Still, I was certain I hadn’t kissed her that night. 

     “It was wonderful to see you again, Adam.” I was being dismissed. “I’ll let Steve know I saw you today.”

     Why was I disappointed when she said that?

     “I’m sure he’ll be mad that I got to spend time with you and he didn’t.” She grinned. “I’d expect a call or a text from him tomorrow if I was you.

     “You stealin’ my friends now, Mads?” Her voice dropped lower in register to imitate her brother and I couldn’t help but chuckle. She sounded nothing like him, but the bluster came through loud and clear. “As if he has any friends other than you.”

     I gave her a two-fingered salute and waited for her to let herself in through the front door, then I turned and continued down the sidewalk toward my place. It was closer to the river, so I doubled back the way we’d come. 

     It was a little less than a mile to my place and I let myself into the quiet townhouse.

     “Lucy,” I called softly as I shut the door behind me, rewarded by a sleepy trill in the darkness. “Where are you, girl?”

     I dumped my keys and wallet in the dish near the door, shot the deadbolt and kicked off my boots before a little body wound around my leg. I leaned down to scoop her up, cradling the sleek black cat to my chest as I walked through to the kitchen to check on her food and water situation.

     Lucy was short for Lucifer, which was hardly a female name, but the woman whose porch she lived under didn’t really give two shits about gender identification when it came to trapping the feral kitten under her deck. The cat was a vicious killer, she said, lying in ambush under the deck, waiting for the birds to come to the feeder or, preferably, the squirrels.

     My friend Harlowe, the woman I’d been hopelessly in love with for three years, ran a dog rescue, so she knew a thing or two about strays. She’d come with me one afternoon to help me trap the kitten hiding under my neighbor’s deck and when we pulled all two pounds of the kitten out, I took Lucifer home with me.

     Over the last few years, the time I hadn’t spent on duty had been at the dog shelter instead. I still spent a crazy amount of my free time there, but I’d scaled it back just a little. Anthony was running operations pretty smoothly and managing the volunteers and now that Harlowe was running a rescue on her farm, I didn’t get to the rescue in Clayton quite as often.

     Lucy was a hell of a lot more independent than a dog and while I’d have loved to adopt several of the sweet pits at the rescue, my working hours would have been hard on a dog. So I lived the life of a cat owner, because Lucy and I could peacefully coexist and yet I could disappear for thirty-six hours at a time and she didn’t give a shit as long as there was enough food in her bowl.

     There was still some kibble in the bottom and Lucy wasn’t a real picky eater, so I left it, but I freshened up her water before I drew a glass for myself and pulled out a chair at the small kitchen table. My brain was still reeling from running into the last person I ever expected to see in Watertown again, and I needed to take a few moments to sort my thoughts and gain some perspective.

     Madelyn VanBuren was distressingly hot. Like Move over satan, because I’m headed straight to hell for the thoughts I’m having hot.

     I remembered the little girl: too tall for her age, gangly, all arms and legs. Her mom always gave her these at-home haircuts that left her bangs a little too short, and her teeth had been too big for her face until she was about fourteen or so. But around that age the little tomboy I knew started growing out her hair. She got into makeup just a little bit, and the first time I saw her in a skirt rather than gym shorts or overalls, I just about passed out. Which was wrong in my opinion. Because not only was Mads my best friend’s little sister–which practically made her my little sister–she was also way too young for me.

     It’s funny, how a five-year age gap means everything when you’re nineteen but nothing when you’re coming up on forty-five. Perspective, I guess. Life experiences seem to shrink those gaps for the right person when the time is right.

     I huffed at myself in irritation and pushed up from the table, making Lucy jump down with an irritated little chirp as she hit the floor.

     Madelyn was in town temporarily. Running into her and spending the evening talking, laughing and letting her tease me had been an unexpected bright spot in what had become the fairly dull routine of my life.

     The guy she was talking about taking the job with…I hadn’t served directly with Katsaros, but I knew of him thanks to my friend Lincoln, and his security company had been going through some rapid growth according to Harlowe. She was the inside track on that one, since Aaron had just started working for him. As far as I knew, Katsaros was a pretty stand-up guy. Careful, honorable, and possibly connected.

     I put myself through a hot shower and gave my long hair a little extra conditioner, since it was such a hit with the ladies. They could never wait to get their hands into the straight black hair that had been a gift from my mother–about the only thing she left me with, if I gave it any thought. With the exception of my dark hair and eyes and slightly olive skin, I looked exactly like my father: same nose, same smile, same shoulders the width of a football field. 

     Dad came from hearty German stock, to hear him tell it, and even in his late 60’s he was in pretty exemplary shape. The ladies still flocked to him like he was a high school quarterback and his ready, easy smile probably broke more hearts than he’d ever meant to.

     Mom broke his heart when she up and died in some parking lot altercation at the casino. Her friend had gotten her a job there and she worked late nights, serving drinks to men who had no business looking at her the way they did. My dad told me that more than once he arrived to pick her up at the end of her shift and had to take a few teeth out of one guy or another who’d tried to follow her out of the building.

     Mom was a knockout. I touched the framed photo I kept of her and my dad, sitting on the nightstand next to my bed. She was where my Onandaga blood came from, and though she hadn’t been around to raise me, Dad saw to it that I was really immersed in her heritage.

     I became friends with Steve VanBuren at the beginning of my junior year of high school. He didn’t make fun of me when I told him I wouldn’t be attending any weekend sporting events, because sometimes I had tribal events instead.

     He didn’t call me half-breed or pull my long hair, and not once did he make fun of the way I dressed.

     Dad tried, he really did, but I grew like a weed and by the time I turned seventeen, during that junior year of high school, I hit 6’3”. I went through such a rapid growth spurt, in fact, it probably looked like I was wearing a toddler’s clothes for a while.

     My dad was hopeless when it came to noticing things like that, so Steve dragged me along with him to a thrift shop one day and tossed twenty bucks at me, claiming it had fallen out of my pocket in his car. I knew that was a lie, but I gave him a tight nod and joined him in digging through an enormous stack of jeans.

     Steve’s family wasn’t wealthy, but they had more money than my dad and I did. I worked a lot of odd jobs after school, trying to help out where I could, but we were definitely what most people would have called the Wrong Side of the Tracks people. 

     Both Steve and I went to the local community college and in order to pay for the loans I took out, I joined the Army and Steve followed. He said if I was going to go get my ass blown off in a sandbox somewhere, he was going to be there to patch me up. 

     He did, too. More than once.

     It was getting late and I tapped out a quick text to my dad, letting him know I was free the next couple days if he wanted to have dinner or watch a game together. Chances were good my stepmom was eager to get him out of the house, homebody that he was.

     Lucy sauntered into the room about five minutes after I crawled in, hopping up on my chest, her standard spot. She rattled with her affectionate purr and I warned her I’d be rolling in about fifteen minutes, since I was a side sleeper. But until then she was content to sit on my chest and knead her paws into the soft sweatshirt I wore to bed. 

      Yeah, the cat…she was the closest thing I had to a woman in my bed. My own fault, too. I’d gotten too damn hung up the last couple years on a woman I couldn’t have and honestly, together we’d have been a disaster. But that had been enough to keep me from looking for anything even so much as just casual, though I wasn’t really bragging when I said I got more than enough attention. I was a chick magnet to hear Steve tell it, which he thought was hilarious, especially since none of them ever seemed to “stick,” as he put it.

     Drifting off to sleep, I let my mind wander back to the evening spent with a beautiful woman. Madelyn had no idea how gorgeous she was, or what she did to men. She was confident, her movements sure and graceful, the biggest fucking turn-on ever.

     She was funny and smart, experienced, capable of witty conversation and had endless crazy stories–genuinely wild, hair-raising ones. She was a woman who’d already lived a real life, one that had shaped the incredible person she’d become.

     I’ll confess that as I fell asleep, I didn’t want to think about her intelligence or her sense of humor. Instead, I drifted off to the way it felt to hug her, when she’d folded into my arms and her face tucked into my neck.

     Thank God she’d be moving soon for work, because if she stayed I was going to have a real problem.

Copyright 2022, Erin FitzGerald

bottom of page