The night all around her was warm. Once it would have been considered hot, but things had changed over the last four centuries. Enough that the pockets of humanity left called it warm.
She pulled the dress up over her head and draped it over the branch of a nearby tree and walked over the weathered boards that made up the dock. Some preferred to enter slowly at the shore, but Summer was done with easing into things.
She sped up, running to the end, springing into the air, exhilaration racing through her system until the water enveloped her, cool, the weight of it embracing her, speeding her heart.
Kicking her legs, she extended her arms and swam, letting the rhythm, the sound filtered through the water soothe even as her muscles began to work. A fit body and mind was a weapon in the world. A strong woman made her own way and Summer liked that very much.
She let the repetition take over like meditation. One end of the cordoned-off swimming portion of the lake to the other. Back and forth as her strokes ate up the space. Side to side, she moved her head, gulped in air and did it again.
The night blooming jasmine hung heavy in the air as she finished, lazily heading to the shore. Where her entry had been fast and exhilarating, her exit was languid, the water sluicing down her body, cooling her as she headed back to where she’d hung her dress and a towel.
On her way back to her little house, she bumped into someone heading to the water.
“Sorry about that.” His hands at her waist kept her from falling but he let go once she got her equilibrium.
“No problem. It’s dark out here.” It was late. Well after midnight so the paths were dark and the stars above weren’t enough to do more than give his face an outline.
“This is the path to the lake? We just arrived and I wanted to get a lay of the land.”
“Yes, just keep on the paved part and you’ll eventually find it. You can swim on the north shore. The swimmers’ beach is marked well, even in the dark you should see it. Just be aware it’s deep in parts. There are lifeguards in the daytime if you’re so inclined.”
The flash of his teeth was visible in the pale moonlight as he smiled. He took her hand and squeezed in thanks. “Appreciate it.”
“Welcome to Paradise.” She turned and headed home.
After three hours’ sleep she made it to work as the sun broke over the horizon. The Circle, the metaphorical and physical center of Paradise Valley, beckoned. Permanent stalls ringed it selling all manner of things from clothing to pastries.
Inside that ring of stalls there were tables set for the evenings where many meals were eaten communally and several nights a week people gathered for live music and dancing. Itinerant sellers sold their wares as they came and went through town over the year as well.
Summer had found a place here. A home. No longer just passing through, she headed to the bakery she worked at. Filled with people who’d become a lot like family.
A new harvest was set to start the following day so the village was filling up with newcomers there for the season. Her shift would be busy but even with very little sleep, she felt good.
“Busy already,” Lucy called out as Summer tied her apron on after securing her hair back with a bright blue scarf.
When she opened up the gates fronting the shop she waved to the line of customers. “Good morning, everyone!”
The time flew in a rush of smiles, of mugs of tea and little bags of bread and breakfast sandwiches, in its own way as repetitive and yet meditative as swimming was.
So it wasn’t until things had calmed down that she began to really see faces of the people in line. And she recognized the man she’d bumped into the night before on the path.
She loved men, no lie. Loved to fuck them. Loved to listen to them and feel the vibration of their voices in her belly. But it was rare to look up and feel an instant zing right to her toes the way this one gave her.
Summer’s gaze slid down to his mouth and then his throat. Oh yes, she wanted her mouth there, where the bloom of a tattoo showed above the collar of his shirt. His hair was thick with a little bit of a curl at the ear and where it touched his neck at the back.
When she managed to get her attention back up to his eyes, he was smiling like he knew exactly what she was thinking.
“Did you find the lake?”
“Thought that was you. I did, thanks. We’d been on the road a long time without any real break so a long swim was exactly what I needed.”
The flush that swept over her skin had nothing to do with the heat and everything to do with his look.
“I’m Charlie and, as well as a loaf of the brown bread and some honey I’d love your name and maybe a tip on when I could have a few minutes of your time to get to know you a little better.”
He was enchantingly forward. It was a quality she really loved in a man. If there was any takeaway from the way the world had changed, from the devastation her sister had suffered, it was that life was short and joy could be fleeting and therefore it was meant to be grabbed when it came around.
“I’m Summer and I take a break in about an hour. I’ll be over at that table.” She pointed. “Having my breakfast. If not, there’s a social tonight here in the circle. Live music. Dancing. Food. Ale. All the things one needs.”
“Any particular reason or is it just a night out under the stars?”
“A new harvest starts tomorrow so Paradise has been filling up with workers for the last week or so. It’s a welcome and a chance to get to know one another.” And of course for all the artisans and tradespeople who came into the Village at the start of every harvest to make a few dollars here and there. The constable also liked to keep an eye out to see who might be trouble over the season and no better time than during a celebration to see who couldn’t handle their liquor or mind their manners.
“My partner and I are here for the season so we need to get checked in. I suspect that’ll take longer than an hour. But tonight.” His gaze went hooded and her nipples beaded. “We’ll be there. Save us a dance.”
Hm. Two men.
“I’ll be there.” She gave him the total and he paid, his fingers brushing hers as he did.
She pointed him in the direction of the check in and he bowed and turned to leave.
His back was nearly as nice as his front.
On her break she bagged up two egg sandwiches and poured tea with some honey into two mugs and wandered over to Dulce’s shop.
As usual, her sister’s head was down as she bent over some this or that, tinkering until she made it better.
“Brought you some breakfast,” Summer called out as she approached.
Dulce looked to the wall full of clocks and started. Just as Summer had figured, her sister had lost track of time.
“And some tea.”
Coffee had been a crop nearly impossible to grow in the United States for the last hundred years or so. The hotter it got the less hospitable most of the world had become. It used to be a booming crop for Indonesia and parts of Africa but the temperatures had risen so high—along with ocean levels so many island nations were either nearly gone or had faded into a whisper—that the only place still producing coffee was South America.
But green tea had become a big crop in and around the Pacific Northwest, especially in the Cascades and the foothills where Paradise and its surroundings lay.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Dulce took the sandwich and the mug of tea with her thanks.
“You’d starve and probably turn into a husk right there in that chair.” Summer managed a smile, but it was true. Her sister battled with her loneliness and grief every day, burying herself so deeply in her work that she forgot important things like eating on a regular basis.
When Summer had visited a year before and found her sister so thin and estranged from daily life, she’d gone back home, quit her job, packed up her house and moved to Paradise Village. Their parents had worried over Dulce had urged Summer to convince her to come back to the city. But that wasn’t going to happen and now that Summer had been in Paradise Lake nearly a year, she knew why.
Portland had been a nice place to live in, but she had a life in Paradise Village. A tight knit sisterhood of friends. She worked enough to pay her bills and have some left over to play and save. She danced and fucked and slept late on her days off.
Speaking of that… “So I met someone this morning.”
Dulce sipped her tea and then raised a brow. “Really now? Tell me.”
She described him to her sister, including their meeting the night before on the path to the lake. “I don’t know, Dulce. I just looked up and he was there and all my parts started tingling and zinging. I like boys and all, but I don’t usually want to jump the counter and onto their cocks two minutes after I meet one.”
“Chemistry is good.”
“He said he’d come tonight. With his partner.”
Dulce sucked in a knowing breath. “Ah. That’s why you’re unsure around the edges.”
“One man is hard enough to deal with. But two?” Then she realized what she’d said and wished she could unsay the words.
Pain flashed over her sister’s face for a brief moment.
“I’m sorry. I’m a jerk.”
Dulce waved it away. “No you’re not. I don’t expect you to never mention it. I’m surrounded by triads all day long.” She shrugged. “Two men can be trouble, I won’t lie. But, it can be magic too.” Dulce fell back into her memories as Summer watched her. Her sister had been in a triad for eight years. Had two young children with her men. It had been wonderful and special and then it had all gone horribly wrong and she was alone and seemed to want it to stay that way.
“You can’t walk on eggshells, Summer. It’s okay. I promise. So, you gonna give it a whirl?”
“I’ll have to see what his partner is like, you know? The thing about just one man is that you can move or not based on that. What are the odds I’m going to like two of them?” Or more? She thought about her failed relationship with Jemmy. About the way his two partners in an established triad had wanted her to be their fourth.
Dulce laughed as she brushed the crumbs off her pants and folded the bag carefully before handing it back to Summer.
“That’s part of the fun. But it’s really all right if you don’t want to do a triad. It’s not mandatory for goodness’ sake.”
No, it wasn’t. She’d had a steady man at one point. Just the two of them and it had been wonderful until he’d hit the road. But with the ratio of men to women, multiples were the norm, even in the cities it had been.
“I know what to do with one man.” She shrugged one shoulder. “I love sex, it’s not that. It’s just…I guess I’m a little unsure.”
“Understandable. It’s our world now. Women make our rules. We decide what we like and what we don’t like. If you don’t want a triad, don’t have one. Try it out or don’t. It’s up to you. Plenty of men out there whatever you choose.” Dulce winked.
Summer stood. “Thanks. I’ll see you later, right?”
“The social you mean? Oh I don’t think I’m up to that. But dinner, definitely.”
“I’ll come by to get you at six then. Love you.”
Summer hugged her sister and went back to work.
Charlie found Hatch in their caravan, ready to go. “I grabbed us some provisions while I was out. Picked up the packet we need to bring with us to check in too.”
He noted Hatch’s hair was wet and mock frowned. “I see you found the shower center.” Being on the road meant too many dips in rivers or streams—if they were lucky to find them—otherwise it was lukewarm, two-minute showers in the caravan or wipe downs with washcloths.
“I did. Sorry I didn’t wait for you though. I haven’t taken a shower with you in a really long time.” Hatch’s voice made Charlie’s cock hard. Hatch hailed from a settlement in what used to be upstate New York. His accent had remained.
“We’ll be here at least a few months. Plenty of time for that.” Charlie paused, brushing a kiss over Hatch’s lips and then settling in for a while. Hatch’s arms went around his neck as his mouth opened, warm and welcoming.
Charlie groaned at how good it felt and also that they didn’t have time to take it anywhere.
Hatch broke the kiss, threading his fingers through Charlie’s hair for a moment before he stepped back. “It’ll be nice to settle in for a while.”
It would. Each time they left a caravan camp it was harder. The road wasn’t as comfortable. Being settled began to have a powerful appeal in ways it hadn’t before.
“Agreed.” Charlie put the cheese in the fridge. “I met someone. She’ll be at the social tonight.”
Hatch already had his cap tucked in his back pocket but he smiled as he took some bread and cheese as they headed out the door. “You work fast.”
“This one is different. I think. Strawberry blonde. Big blue eyes. Freckles. Flirts just right. Her mouth, Christ, baby, she’s got a mouth on her that may be as lush as yours. It’s the woman from the path last night. I didn’t see all of her in the dark, but in the full morning sun she’s beautiful.”
“You know I love redheads, but I have a deep weakness for those pale strawberry blondes.” Hatch slid his sunglasses up his nose and it felt to Charlie like he was changing the subject. “You’re antsy now, aren’t you?”
Charlie had been on the road traveling from one village and settlement after the next for the last nine years. He’d hooked up with Hatch three years before when they’d been up in Alaska on a water purification plant project.
They’d actually met through a woman Charlie had been seeing. Two months after that meeting, the woman had gone, but he and Hatch had begun the foundations for the relationship they had now.
“Not antsy really. I just…she’s different. I don’t know if I can say why. Made me think about roots and a woman to fit in that space in our life.” He shrugged. Of the two, Charlie knew was the more sentimental one.
Hatch slung an arm around Charlie’s shoulders. “Okay then. We’ll see your redhead tonight and charm her.”