Jeremy invited her on a day excursion to the Blue Lagoon. Again, the terrain reminded Lydia of a desert—a cold desert—as they drove through the rocky volcanic countryside between Reykjavik and the hot springs.
The Blue Lagoon was a giant resort built around a geothermal abnormality, an acre or so of an enormous hot tub, essentially, filled with minerals at the bottom of the hot springs. She’d never seen anything like it, and as they parked it looked like an exotic, high-end spa. In fact, it turned out, there was a spa doing a fairly brisk business, but that wasn’t what she and Jeremy came for.
As they checked in and paid their admissions, she saw that the man on the airplane who had harassed her on her plane trip here had been correct; one could, indeed, rent a bathing suit, and towels, and just about anything you needed. As bus after bus brought people from the airport on a layover for a quick dip in the water, she was impressed at the efficiency of the entire operation.
Changing into her bathing suit was a bit of a cultural shock as women wandered around the locker room completely naked and absolutely uninhibited, whether they were fourteen or ninety-four. She joined in. Being the only girl among a gaggle of boys had meant preserving her modesty, but she also had no problem with joining the Romans when in Rome.
Her body was one of the curvier in the room, although each woman had her own differences—some with wider hips, some with saggier skin, some with saddle bags, others with pert breasts and tight waists and perfect skin. The sheer variety of bodies in the room was almost artistic, and if she hadn’t thought that it would brand her as some sort of pervert or peeping Tom, she would have stared openly just to catch more of a nuanced look at what a woman’s body could be and why she didn't need to feel a sense of shame for her own lushness and peaks and valleys in the way that her body had formed over the years.
Wiggling into her suit, she was glad she had manicured herself where she needed to be manicured, and while some women seemed to be waxed such that any hair trying to escape would have been lasered, tasered, or plucked, others went au naturel with hair wherever hair grew. She was somewhere in between and wondered what others must think of her body, of her cultural norms, as she straightened her body in the mod ’60s black bathing suit that she’d chosen for its slimming characteristics.
A wave of self-consciousness hit her as she began to pad barefoot outside to the main lagoon area. What would Jeremy think of her body? Why was she worried about this? They weren’t dating, this wasn’t a relationship, he’d simply asked her to go to this natural wonder that she could only access here in Iceland. It was a fun day trip and nothing more.
Yet, she felt exposed… as if the first moment his eyes landed on her uncovered flesh she’d be judged. An evaluation she didn’t feel like undergoing right now, one that felt heavy and cumbersome, and for the first time she wished his presence weren’t such a weight around her neck.
The day was sightly overcast, the sky’s blueness still peeking out through grayer clouds. This wasn’t the kind of cover that made her worry about rain, but was more a gentle shift in weather patterns that simply muted the sun. As she searched the crowd for him, she found him, his height no variant here—most of the men were his size.
He wore swim trunks and her self-consciousness increased as she had the opportunity, while his head was turned away, looking for her elsewhere, to evaluate his body. A long, stretched-out torso, like an Olympic swimmer’s, went down to narrow, sculpted hips and stretched up to broad shoulders. He was what her mother would call wiry, with tight, small muscles stretched across his bones in ways that were compelling, that made her want to touch each one with her fingertip as if taking an inventory.
He had a smattering of hair in all of the places that men should have a smattering of hair, and it thickened at the waistband of his swimsuit. His legs were long and his stride confident as he turned away from her to look for her. By the time he turned back she could feel her breathing quick, and, licking her lips—an involuntary response—she enjoyed the few moments to just take him in.
“Dear God,” she muttered. “What the hell is wrong with you, Lydia?”
And then, as if she were calling him, like some sort of signal for Batman, he turned and locked eyes. His face went slack as he openly cataloged her with an expression of smoky lust.
To her surprise, she let him, not moving a muscle.
Her body could almost feel his eyes on the swell of her bicep, the outer edge of her breast going down to the soft curve of her waist and then the wider, ample hips. By the time he got to her feet and her toenails, which were painted a lovely China red, she tingled, completely caught off guard by his simple, searching look.
Those were the eyes of a man who wanted her. Pure and clear. There was no ambiguity. No disguise. No fake green eyes.
No fake human being.
Faltering, his smile shook a bit as they reached each other, then looked down at the milky waters, mesmerized. Steam rose up in pockets from the water’s surface, jagged black rock around uneven edges of the hot springs.
“It’s too hot!” she exclaimed, dipping one toe in.
“Yes, you are.” He coughed as she arched one eyebrow. “I mean, it is.” Contradicting himself, he waded right in, diving under the water like a seal, popping up ten feet away to Lydia’s right.
Following slowly, her feet sank into the muddy floor, the gray dirt mushing between her toes. It wasn’t really mud, yet not sand. Wholly new, the feeling disturbed her as she made her way, inch by inch, toward Jeremy, who was now crouched down in three feet of water, his head hovering, wet hair slicked back and face excited, like a child’s.
His exuberance was contagious, and Lydia imitated him, sinking into the water until only her head and shoulders were above the surface. Warmth radiated through her, relaxing all her muscles. Reaching down, she scooped up a handful of the strange mud from the water’s bottom and held it out to him.
“What is this?”
“Mineral mud, I think,” he answered, shrugging. Scooping his own handful from under the water, he studied it. “I think the brochure inside said it’s silica mud.” Jeremy looked around, then rubbed both hands together.
“What are you doing?”
“Spa treatment.” He began applying the mud to his face, like a woman getting a mud mask, leading Lydia to giggle. Two older women nearby were doing the same, Jeremy studying them intently, mimicking their movements. When he was done, he looked ridiculous, with whitish-gray mud on his skin, eyelids, lips—like a four-year-old’s version of playing “spa.”
“Here. Let’s do you,” he said, reaching out with one muddy hand for her face. Do me, she thought, laughing nervously to get rid of the thought. Wrestling away from him, their arms clenched in battle, she enjoyed the contact, wet skin and fingers sliding against each other, his face a mask of playful determination, covered in white goo. How could he be so open, so uninhibited? Jeremy had no filter. No self-consciousness or concern about how he appeared; he was just there to make merriment and to enjoy himself. His hand brushed against her breast and she wondered if he was like that in bed, the idea making the sudden heat that filled her burn far hotter than the water.
On the losing side of fitness compared to his size and physique, she found herself hopelessly outclassed by his sheer strength, succumbing to a palmful of mud on her cheeks and nose.
“Hey! On the face, not up the nose!” she sputtered, snorting inelegantly.
He looked stricken, the shocked expression comical when combined with the mud mask.“You look like Mr. Bill.”
Flattening his hands, he placed on palm on each cheek in mockery of the Saturday Night Live joke. “Oh, noooooooo…”
She took that as her cue to dip underwater, the hushed sound of the hot bath covering her ears, making her stop thinking about how his hands felt on her bare skin, how strong his forearms were, how she’d brushed against his taut thigh while he pinned her in place to wipe the mineral mud on her. Down here, she could think, even as her lungs burned for air.
Breaking the surface, she stood, the water at her waist, the cold air a balm. When she opened her eyes, he was staring openly at her breasts, a half-smile on his now-clean face.
“I've been watching—”
“I noticed,” she interrupted.
“—other women,” he continued. Oh. Oops. “And they massage the mud all over their bodies.” He stepped closer, his body looming over hers, hips inches from each other. The steam filled her lungs and rose in a cloud around them, the lagoon large enough that no one was near. Jeremy began wading further out, with Lydia entranced, following him, her eyes drawn to the rippled muscles of his chest, the same cut abs that Mike possessed, stretched out in a swimmer’s body on the longer, lithe Jeremy. Both bent under water to grab fistfuls of white mineral mud, and she reached out to rub his back, seeking an excuse to make contact. He straightened up, shoulders broad and outstretched like a cobra’s back, her hand taking its time to massage the mineral mixture in.
How strange life was. A few weeks ago she was living a life she’d carved out for herself, barely having met “Matt Jones” and worried about her romance marketing presentation. Here she was, now, in Iceland, slathering silica residue all over the best friend of the man who’d won her heart and betrayed her. As her hands moved down, closer to Jeremy’s waistband, she took some liberties, caressing the skin at his hip a bit too sensually, reaching forward just one extra inch to…
The hitch in his breathing told her what she sought.
He felt it, too.
What could they do with these emotions, though? Mike had sent Jeremy to watch over her, right? What the hell did that mean? Teasing this out just a bit more, she leaned forward into his shoulder, her lips at his neck, and whispered, “Is this relaxing enough?” as she massaged the mud into his hip, reaching forward just enough to—
A ninja-like grip on her wrist was her answer. “Don’t start something you’re not prepared to finish.” His tone was beseeching, not the smoky threat she'd expected. If he turned around right now, if she faced him, if one more millimeter of skin touched his, she would kiss him and start something she would absolutely want to finish, back in her room, on her bed, on the floor—hell, in an alley. The image of Jeremy's nude body over hers, his hands on her ass, his mouth on her where she needed it most, invaded her brain as his grip softened, his face turning back toward hers, cheeks against one another. When he swallowed, she felt it, the movement sending a ripple through her.
“And,” he added, his voice ragged with emotion as he turned around, facing her, making it impossible not to kiss him, “it’s your turn.” Hands clamped over her shoulders as he spun her around gently. The heat and wet of mud stroked against her shoulder blades as Jeremy patiently began touching her in small circles, branching out into larger paint swipes, his palm a brush and her back his canvas. No mere massage, his hands told her what his body could not—yet. As he stepped closer, his hips touched her ass, giving Lydia a very certain sense of how he felt about her, firm and rigid flesh colliding with her pliant curves. A gentleman, he stepped back, letting only his fingers smooth and push into her back and neck now, covering her in a pale, creamy coating meant to rejuvenate and restore.
Oh, how it did.
Yet it wasn’t the mud that accomplished one iota of that…
His presence behind her blocked out the sun, his warmth radiating so much more than any rays could produce, and as her pulse raced, her knees locked and throbbing, her body thrumming with desire, she realized that if he didn't stop touching she would never let him stop touching her. This had to end. Now.
Plunging underwater with a sudden, vicious drop, she ended the torture of his socially acceptable touch, a series of brushes that led to not so socially acceptable scenes in her mind. Coming up for air, she found him standing in place, hands planted on his hips, a seductive smile on those lips.
Oh, Jeremy, she thought. Hell, no.