A Sin Such as This – Ellen Hopkins

E VERY HONEYMOON COMES TO an end, romance segueing into marriage. I should know. This is my fourth. It wraps with the bellow of a horn and a barely discernable reverse braking motion as the Radiance of the Seas docks in Vancouver. I take a deep breath, exhale regret that we must now return to the day-to-day minutiae. Alas, I bore too easily. It’s been a lovely two weeks, up to Seward and back again, a double cruise. Our stateroom suite was gorgeous. The food was amazing. And every excursion, from Skagway to Ketchikan, was a bold undertaking, though the cumulative effect was an uncomfortable reminder that my right knee hasn’t totally healed from last winter’s surgery. Admittedly, small irritations marred the trip. Cavin’s onboard gambling became a distraction and, if not for a late almost-break-even win, might have made a substantial dent in his personal bank account. Discovering your new husband has quirks you didn’t know about is one thing. Finding out one of those idiosyncrasies could wipe out your assets is another. I spent the bulk of my lifetime building financial stability.

Love will not ruin that. Whether or not games of chance will ruin love remains to be seen. Having invested around twenty times as much into this trip as the average couple, Cavin and I are afforded Royal Caribbean’s Enhanced Program privileges, including priority departure ahead of the mass exodus. I reach for his hand. “Ready?” He tugs me against his chest, rests his chin on top of my head. “Not really, but we don’t have a choice.” He tilts up my face, cool green marble eyes locking on mine, and his kiss swears he loves me. Love. Such a hard thing to accept when it takes forty-one years to find it. Love.

Such a hard thing to give when you’re not sure how to define it, let alone how to translate whatever watery meaning you can dredge up into action. This is the closest I’ve ever come, however, and I’m determined to explore this novel territory. Truthfully, I can’t believe I fell for him so hard, so fast, not to mention under such ridiculous circumstances. I mean, there I was, lying on a gurney in the ER after a serious fall skiing, when in saunters this doctor, going over my X-rays. My first impression was he was cute, in a careless way, his wheat-colored hair a bit too long and his scrubs slightly askew. But his bedside manner was marvelous— humor cloaked in physician talk that put me instantly at ease, despite the bad news he delivered about dual ligament tears and meniscus shredding. Then he pulled back the sheet to examine my leg, and when his hand touched my knee, electric sparks danced from patella to groin. That was enough to make me ask for his number. Next day, we were dating. Six months later, we were married.

As we’re given the “all clearto disembark,” I slide his arm around my waist and press his hand in place. He leans down, murmurs into my ear, “Afraid I’ll lose you?” “Afraid you might wander off.” “Never. At least, not permanently.” That stops me, but only momentarily. “To be clear, I don’t give second chances.” Wisely, he remains mute. Our luggage was collected earlier and will be delivered to our hotel, which is directly across the street from the Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal. We have to clear Canadian customs, so I’m glad our enhanced privileges allow us to leave the ship ahead of some two thousand unenhanced passengers. It’s a short wait, and Cavin has already filled out the necessary forms.

We have nothing to declare, as the stuff we bought came from Alaska, so is considered US goods, simply passing through on its way back to the lowerforty-eight. Regardless, for some inexplicable reason, the customs agent decides to be a jerk. “What is your reason for entering Canada?” Do they just randomly decide to be shitty to some people? “Uh . because the Radiance of the Seas dropped us off here?” offers Cavin. Mr. Customs shifts in his seat. The last thing we need is a problem. I lean forward, allowing a tempting glance just beneath the scooped neckline of my sweater, and can’t help but smile when his eyes immediately drop. “Unfortunately, we can only stay in your beautiful country overnight,” I say. He never even looks up.

“Shame. Hope you’ll visit us again.” Aaaaand . he passes us through. Ten paces beyond, Cavin snorts laughter. “Wow. You really know how to use those things to your advantage.” “Jealous?” “Of the ability? Yes. Am I worried about losing you to an overzealous Mountie? Hardly.” “I wouldn’t be overconfident.

Dumpy, bald customs agents are no competition for a gorgeous surgeon. But if there’s one thing hotter in the saddle than a doctor, it’s most definitely a cop, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police are the hottestcops of all.” “I suppose I’ll have to apply for a position, then. I’ve heard it’s very competitive. Do you think a medical degree will give me an advantage?” “Probably not, but your bedside manner might provide a leg up, at least if the commissioner happens to be a woman.” We reach the hotel lobby, which will fill in behind us very soon. When we booked the room, the desk clerk made it clear that this property is particularly popular with the cruise ship crowd, both coming and going, a fact that’s confirmed by the unavailability of our room for at least three hours while housekeeping tries to catch up. “We’ll keep your luggage safe until check-in is possible,” says the annoyingly dimpled girl behind the counter. “Meanwhile, enjoy some sightseeing. City tour buses leave every half hour, right across the street.

Or, if you’re so inclined, you could rent bicycles and ride overto Stanley Park. It’s a must-see.” Stuffing ourselves into a packed tour bus does not sound appealing, so we opt for the bike rental shop. The place is busy, and we occupy our wait time touching each other in ways inappropriate for a public venue. When it’s finally our turn, the geeky clerk (Tristan, according to his name badge) grins. “Newlyweds?” he guesses. I smile. “What gave us away?” “You’re too comfortable with each other to be dating. But you’re too, uh . interested in each other to have been married very long.

” Cavin glances around surreptitiously, lowers his voice. “Sounds like our Witness Protection Program disguises are working perfectly.” We all laugh as Tristan hands Cavin a form to fill out and takes his driver’s license and credit card. Once the paperwork is handled, he offers directions to Stanley Park. “The main bike path is along the seawall,” he says. “It’s one-way, counterclockwise, flat. But if you want more difficult and less crowded terrain, I’d try the interiortrails through the big trees. Here, I’ll give you a map.” He unfolds it, marking trailheads with asterisks and restaurants with arrows. When he hands it to me, there are a couple of circled areas.

“What are these?” I ask. Tristan winks. “Less frequented areas of the park. In case you’d like a few private moments, if you get my gist. Your bikes are in stalls thirty-four and thirty-five. Oh, and the helmets are over there. They’re mandatory in British Columbia.” As we start toward the protective headgear, Cavin whispers, “Better check the visors for hidden cameras. I think ol’ Tristan is a little too helpful, if you get my gist.” Cavin might have been kidding, but as improbable as the idea might seem, I go ahead and give the helmet a thorough once-over.

As we reach the bikes, my cell buzzes. It’s a text from my niece Kayla. Who’s Sophia? My jaw drops. The very mention of that name is like a slap in the face. How would Kayla know anything about Sophia? Cavin’s ex-fiancée is producing a show in Reno, only an hour from our Glenbrook home. He swears I’ve got nothing to worry about, but her proximity displeases me, despite the ugly reasons for which he broke up with her. If I thought she was a knockout in the old pictures Cavin still kept in his office over a year after they split (the ones I pouted about until he put them away), Icouldn’t help but be impressed by herin the flesh —tall, with coltish dancer’s legs and dark spikes of hair, tipped silver, that make her look even younger than herthirty-one years. That she’s a decade youngerthan I is only one reason I hate her. The fact that I ran into her in my house, after she’d just screwed Cavin’s teenage son (again!) , proves the woman owns no moral compass whatsoever. Eli is clearly smitten, and she’s obviously happy to use him.

But for what purpose? Is the boy really that great in bed, or is it just an excuse for her to stay near my husband? Cavin notices my consternation. “What is it?” I show him Kayla’s message. “Don’t look at me,” he says. “Eli must’ve said something. Stirring shit, as usual.” Eli is a champion shit stirrer. The question is, why this shit? two I T ISN’T FAR TO Stanley Park, a thousand-and-one-acre jut of forested land surrounded by water— Vancouver Harbor on one side, English Bay on the other. The seawall bike path is famous, and this being an absolutely sumptuous day, it’s packed with families on outings. As we maneuver the loop, avoiding small children who haven’t quite mastered their handlebars, Ican’t help but think about Sophia. And Eli.

I never wanted kids, never invited one to inhabit my home. But I wasn’t given a choice. Eli landed on our doorstep after expulsion from a pricey boarding school. His infraction? Hacking into the admin computers and improving his classmates’ grades. For a hefty price, of course. He couldn’t live with his mother, as she’s currently in Dubai with her diplomat husband for at least a year. Eli is a study in contrasts. On first glance, he’s a gawky boy. Get to know him, however, and you discover unexpected maturity. He’s a self-avowed partier and troublemaker, yet nevertheless maintains a 4.

0 GPA. He’s either brutally honest or masterful at deceit. It’s hard to tell because he and Cavin often spin the same basic premise in totally different directions. And that is maddening because, while I want to always believe his father, often Eli sways me. Cavin brakes his bike, pausing at a trailhead to consult the map Tristan provided. “I’ve got an idea. Come on.” He leads the way on the flat dirt track aptly named Beaver Lake Trail, because that’s where it takes us. Not that Beaver Lake is much of a lake. More like a water-lily-choked swamp.

Just beyond the point where the soupy water thickens into mud, we cross a small stream and soon after that the Stanley Park Causeway. Now we have three choices. Straight ahead on flat ground. Left, downhill. Or right, uphill on Bridle Path. Cavin opts for the most difficult route, up a very steep stretch through ferns and cedars. He studies the landscape and eventually stops, walking his bike well back off the path toward a dense copse of trees. When we drop the kickstands, he reaches for me. “Let’s play a game.” Seriously? “Like what?” He kisses me.

Hard. Rough. Leaves me breathless. “How about Red Riding Hood?” “What’s that?” “Hide-and-seek with a twist. If Icatch you, I eat you.” Okay, he’s piqued my interest. “What if you don’tcatch me?” “You can eat me.” “You still have to count to one hundred.” He closes his eyes. “One, two .

” I sprint back into a dense cop of woods, losing sunlight as the boughs close in. I zig right, zag left, try not to leave an easy trail. Cavin is still counting, “Ten, eleven, twelve . ” Deeper, deeper, loping into the shadows, where I succumb to a sudden luscious shiver of fear, a rare treat. Was this what R. R. Hood felt as she wound through the trees, a lupine threat on her heels? Breathing hard, I stop. Assess. Realize I’m not exactly sure which way is out. Everything looks the same.

Well, that was stupid. Quite unlike me. Caution is something I learned a very long time ago and honed overthe years. I listen intently butcan’t hear Cavin counting. Something rustles in the brush. “Hello?” No answer but a crackling of twigs and dried leaves. I plunge behind a curtain of ferns, heart drumming against my breastbone. Movement again, heavy footsteps disturbing drifts of fallen needles. Bear? Deer? Tristan? Some random forest dweller, hungry for a fuck? “Goddamn it, who’s there? Cavin? Is that you?” Just off to my left is the tall, hollowed-out stump of a huge cedar, lost in one of the big windstorms that felled many of the old-timertrees. I bend to peek inside it, ascertain there’s nothing there, and just as I start to tuck myself in, hands close around my throat from behind.

Tighten, thumbs pushing against the pounding pulse. Self-defense. There’s a move . no . can’t remember. I bring my own hands up, but when I try to pry my attacker’s fingers off my neck, he barks, “Don’t fight me, Red. This will barely hurt at all.” Cavin! Jesus. What the hell? Who is this man, and what, exactly, is his game? His teeth rake my neck, biting hard enough to cause pain, if not blood. And for some insane reason, the mad rush of near panic serves as an aphrodisiac.

I’m either going to die orcome. “Stop.” It’s a weak attempt and the word lodges in my throat. “Shut up.” He forces me facedown onto the thick cushion of forest vegetation. Briefly, I hope there’s no poison oak or ivy or whatever might grow in these woods. But any thought of rashes vanishes as soon as he yanks my leggings and panties to my ankles, then all the way off. My instinct screams get away. Do I listen? Or wrestle it and trust the Big Bad Wolf only wants to play? “Luscious,” he says, caressing the rounded contours of my butt, and that is closerto the man I’ve come to know. “Cav—” A hand clamps over my mouth.

“Do not talk.” He lifts himself over me, moves my hair to one side, and lowers his lips to the back of my neck. Again, there is a brilliant sink of fangs. I force myself to stay calm, but now he slides his spare hand under my belly, lifts the lower half of my body off the forest floor and toward his face. “I will devour you.” He burrows between my thighs, tongue tracing the slick path to the hard, round knob, and when it responds to the pull of his mouth, there is a small snap of incisors there, too. I’m moaning, “No,” but he knows I mean yes, and even if I didn’t, there’s no stopping him now. When he pushes his fingers inside me—one, then two, then three, four— there’s no resistance, only wet invitation. Cavin flips me onto my back, pulls my shirt up over my head, shuttering light and trapping my arms in the long sleeves. He nips the length of my body, not enough to open skin, but I might discover bruises later.

“Don’tcome until I say you can.” I lay wrapped in darkness, head whirling with semideviant sex, inhaling the scent of dampish earth and sharp evergreen incense. I hear him slither out of his jeans, and now he crosses my wrists, pins them over my head. He enters me, thrusting fiercely and growling like a rutting wolf and I learn something new about my husband. Also myself, when our mutual orgasm elicits my completely unscripted scream. He withdraws but doesn’t immediately free my hands. “We should play this game more often. I kind of like you helpless.” He smooths my shirt back into place and kisses me softly before releasing me completely. As I follow his unhesitant lead straight to the bikes, I’m listing slightly.

And as we start back toward the city, I sort through my unease. The only other person who engaged me in alternative play was Jordan, and it was always with tacitconsent. Cavin’s game was a surprise, and not totally pleasant. When I finally escaped my mother’s abuse, I swore forevermore to remain in complete control. Marriage cannot—will not—change that. We are almost back to the rental shop when I miss a shift and the pedal resists and my not-quitehealed knee does something strange. It doesn’t exactly pop, not like it did when it gave way on Ellie’s, a black diamond ski run well within my realm of expertise had it not been for a skier hitting me from behind. But it does . wobble, I guess. When I brake to a stop and slip off the seat, I’m careful to put my left leg down first.

Still, a slight sideways motion as I park the bike shoots a hot electric bolt through my patella. “Shit!” The word fires from my mouth, drawing Cavin’s attention. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” I lie. “Tara . ” “It’s just . I think I worked my knee a little too hard.” “Let me see.” He kneels and rolls up my legging, does a quick exam. “It feels solid but it’s starting to swell. We’ll ice it at the hotel.

Can you walk okay?” “Of course.” The bravado is short-lived, though I try to disguise my discomfort. When my limp becomes noticeable, Cavin wraps an arm around me and lifts so I’m mostly strolling on air. Rather than wait for the line at the desk, he sits me on a chair in the lobby and goes over to the concierge, who shoots me a sympathetic glance. Twenty minutes later, I’m settled on a big chair in our room, with my leg elevated and chilling nicely. Cavin orders room service, then digs in his suitcase for his Percodan stash. I accept one and by the time our dinner arrives I’m comfortably numb. After a glass of wine I’m comfortably numb enough to start humming the Pink Floyd song bearing that name while we try to find something to watch on TV. Cavin’s cell phone interrupts. He glances at the caller ID, excuses himself, and pulls off into a corner for a short, perhaps contentious, conversation.

I hear snippets “. still in Vancouver . I know . ” Long interlude, and then “. till tomorrow . ” When he signs off he doesn’t wait for a query. “Sorry about that. It was my service. I guess one of my patients is overanxious about a script refill.” Seriously? “Couldn’t you just okay that from here?” “I don’t like to prescribe without seeing blood work.

” I hold up the bottle of Percodan. “You did for me.” He grins. “I’ve been known to make exceptions.” He comes over, refills my glass, lifts the ice pack from my leg, and examines my knee. “Swelling’s down. How’s the pain?” “Percodan with a wine chaser? What pain? Seriously, though, I think I just overworked it.” “Well, take it easy forthe next couple of days. I’ll make an appointment with your orthopedist for you when I get back tomorrow. You sure you’ll be okay? As I recall, those Russian Hill stairs are steep.

” The plan is to fly into San Francisco tomorrow. From there Cavin will go on to Reno and pick up his car at the airport, where we left it two weeks ago. I’ll stay in the city a couple of days, then drive my BMW to its new garage in Tahoe, with a quick stop at my sister Melody’s house in Sacramento to drop off the Alaska trinkets we bought for herfamily. “I’ll be fine. To be honest, I miss the city.” “Enough to make you change your mind about selling the house?” I’ve considered and reconsidered, so the answer comes readily. “No. I love it, of course. But it’s a possession rooted in my past, and that’s where it belongs. When I crave the Pacific, there’s always your place in Carmel.

I’ve been considering where to reinvest my equity. I was thinking Park City, or maybe Jackson Hole.” Cavin smiles. “Some place to ski otherthan Heavenly?” “Yes, but both are beautiful in the summertime, too. And who knows? Maybe one day you’ll get tired of Tahoe. Eitherlocation would have the need for a sports injury expert.” He doesn’t comment, and I don’t mention the fact that, other than possibly the online type, gambling isn’t available in either place. And neitheris Sophia. three I ’M IN THE BACKSEAT of a limo, and when the driver exits the freeway into familiar neighborhoods, the barest hint of nostalgia threatens. It isn’t the coast that I’ve missed—I’ve had my fill of ocean recently.

But there is something about the opulent Americana that satisfies some appetite. I can manufacture happiness anywhere, but itcomes easily here. At least until I arrive home and find the garage doors are open. Apparently the real estate agent is showing the house. Yes, that is Carol’s job and I asked her to do it, but I’m displeased to come across strangers traipsing through my rooms. I pay the driver and make my way up the precipitous garage stairs. Passing the wine cellar door, I make a mental note to compare what’s left in inventory with the list I made after a break-in convinced me extra caution was required. I’ve done everything I could externally—updated the alarm system and hired a security service—but Carol does have access. So does Charlie, the university student I hired to play boy Friday after my accident. He still checks on the house from time to time, and will until it sells.

That possibility seems more concrete when I crest the main floor landing and overhear the current prospects and their agent talking bottom-line price. “I work for the seller,” says Carol, stating the obvious. “The best I can tell you is to put in an offer. But properties like this are few and far in between, and what she’s asking is more than fair, so I don’t think she’ll budge much.” “Ahem.” I announce my presence. “I won’t budge at all. I’m quite fond of this place, and in no hurry to sell.” “Oh!” Carol startles. “I, um .

didn’t expect you.” She is cool, and likely displeased with my frankness. “Just a short visit.” I redirect the dialogue toward the potential buyers, a thirty-something couple, couture-dressed and quite obviously showing off expensive jewelry. Silicon Valley is my guess, old money or tech-built new. Either way, I’m not impressed. “Hello. I’m Tara Lattimore. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.” Carol introduces the couple—Peter and Julie Baird.

They follow me into the living room, tossing out relatively benign inquiries. How long have I lived here? What about the neighbors? Why do I want to sell? Now Julie asks, “Who did the interior?” “My decorator was Sandra Bloomberg, but I did the actual design work.” I glance around the room, which looks a bit naked sans my favorite artwork, already hanging at the lake. Still, my ego inflates. I love the look we created. “Ah. I see.” Hardly the compliment I expected. “Would you like Sandra’s number?” “Oh, no. I’d bring in my own person, someone intelligent and quirky.

But thank you.” I hate her. Instantly. Sincerely. Would strangling be too severe? Peter seems to intuit my reaction. “You’ve got a beautiful home. We’ll definitely talk it over.” He tugs his wife toward the kitchen, where the two real estate agents have been conversing quietly. The idea of Julie defacing my house makes me livid. If she wants the opportunity, she’ll have to pay for it.

I reach for my phone, send Carol a text: Tell the Bairds we just got a full-price offer. I hearthe chime of hercell in the next room. It takes a minute to get herresponse: We did? Back at her, a straight-out: No. Game on, Julie. I wait forthem to leave, then claim my kitchen. Charlie has diligently scouted the farmers’ markets for me, delivering everything I need to make eggplant parmigiana, plus a loaf of bakery-fresh bread. He also left a couple of bottles of a lovely Sangiovese sitting on the counter. I open one, pour a glass, and consider dinner. The dish must be served straight from the oven, but I can do the prep work now. As I slice Spanish onions, I’m reminded of the first time Cavin visited here, just a few days beyond the dawn of this year.

We’d had two dates at Tahoe after my accident. He’d been called into the city to deal with Eli’s headmaster, and stopped by. It was the first night I cooked for him. He brought Cristal champagne and ended up spending the night. We hardly knew each otherthen. How much do we know each other now? Once the tomatoes, onion, carrot, and garlic are simmering, I slice the eggplants, arrange them in a baking dish, and grate fresh Parmesan. And now a low pulse in my knee signals it’s time for another painkiller. Cavin left me with Percodan, but I opt for ibuprofen instead. The last thing I want to encourage is dependency. Cassandra and Charlie arrive a little aftersix.

When they ring the intercom, the security camera shows them all over each other and giggling about it. Interesting couple, my socialite best friend and the cashstrapped college kid who originally struck me as gay. I buzz them in, and up they come, bringing the party with them. “Sidecars?” suggests Cassandra, who holds a bottle of Prunier cognac, to pair with Charlie’s Solerno blood orange liqueur. “Why not?” I amble over and give her a hug. “Charlie, would you mind bartending? Oh, and could you please sprinkle the bread crumbs over the eggplant and put it into the oven? Twenty minutes on the timer.” I take Cassandra’s arm, steer her into the living room. “I see you and Charlie are still, uh . enjoying each other.” She plops onto the sofa and I sit on the adjacentchair.

“Oh yes. Such youthful enthusiasm! How about you? I take it your honeymoon was enjoyable?” “Major understatement. Have you ever been to Alaska?” “Um, no. A nice, mellow Caribbean cruise would be my style. But then, you’ve always been more the rugged adventurous type.” That draws an amused chuckle. “Yeah, rugged. But even if that’s true, I’m afraid my adventurous days are overfor a while. Seems I might have reinjured my knee.” “Oh, shit.

Too much rough sex?” She’s joking. So why do I feel like she’s been peeking in my bedroom windows or maybe through a bike helmet viewfinder? I parry, “No, nothing as fun as that. Most likely I pushed the rehab a little too hard.” “You’d betterslow down, girl.” I roll my eyes. “I just got married. I’ve already slowed down considerably.” “Yeah, and how has that worked out for you in the past?” Depends on how you look at it. My first husband, Raul, hit a tree skiing. Despite my accidental role in his death—spiking his cocoa so he’d nap rather than flirt with his young ski instructor—I’ll always value the leg up he gave me.

Without his intervention, I might still be stripping in Las Vegas. Instead, he gifted me with a college education and an extremely large trust fund, plus the knowledge to invest wisely and form a long-term financial plan thatcontinues to suit me well. Jordan, husband number two, is currently serving federal time for some underhanded deals he made as a US senator. Glad I divorced the cheating rat well before I might have been implicated. Instead, I turned him in. He should’ve known better than resorting to blackmail to try and force my silence. I’m only vindictive when cornered. Finally, Finn, whose punishment for infidelity was the community property problem divorce brings. His generous settlement, which included all equity in this house, was stimulated by his need to eliminate controversy. He was taking his company public at the time, and having founded it on “Christian principles,” leaving his wife for a younger woman—one who happened to be pregnant with twins— wouldn’t have played well on that stage.

Twenty years of failed marriages has left me older, wiser, and wealthier, and that’s what I tell her. “I still think you’re crazy to marry again. Marriage is like slow death.” Charlie interrupts, drinks in hand. “Dinner’s in the oven, the bread is sliced, and the table is set. Let’s get buzzed!” The conversation segues to Inside Passage scenery and aerial glacier landings. Charlie’s grandfather, we learn, is a stellar fly fisherman, and the two of them have long planned a trip into the Alaska interior to catch some trophy-size rainbow trout. “I thought farmers’ markets were the extent of your outdoorsmanship.” Charlie grins. “Neverjudge a man by his suave demeanor.” “I’ll try to rememberthat.” The timer sounds. We move to the table and are halfway through our eggplant when I get the text from Carol: Just heard from the Bairds’ agent. They came in at 5.25M. Little shivers creep up my spine—the thrill of upping the ante. I text: Tell them the other buyer countered, too. I’ll preempt for 5.5.

.

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