Mason Evers sat on the edge of the bed, expecting another failure. He hadn’t even taken off his tie.
Roxy had made her intentions clear. She had rolled up the television screen, turned down the bedroom lights, and changed the wall colors to a light but sexy red. She had put satin sheets on the bed, and turned down the coverlet. On the bedside table, she’d placed a magnum of champagne and the crystal goblets they’d gotten for their last wedding anniversary. Right now, she was in the bathroom, preparing her entrance.
He wished he hadn’t called out her name as he walked into the bedroom, heard her husky response as she asked him to wait. He’d followed the trail of clothing she’d left like breadcrumbs from the front door, his stomach churning as he picked up each piece—the silk blouse, the bra, the stockings, the panties.
Part of him worried for her—this littering of clothes had never happened before—and part of him worried for him. Not that he was afraid he’d find her with someone else. Roxy was nothing if not loyal. But he really didn’t want to go in that bedroom, not with her expectations up, especially if they’d been up all day.
He sighed and flopped backwards on the bed. It was his thirtieth birthday. Thirty years old, and a complete and total failure.
During his lunch appointment, his shrink had tried to convince him otherwise. His job, linking hospital operating rooms with each other for virtual surgery, was going very well. He didn’t have to travel as much as he used to, and people had become quite accepting of the technology. The virtual operation—having the surgeon in one location and the patient in another—was no longer the wave of the future. It was the here and now, and he’d helped to bring that about.
But it didn’t satisfy him.
He had good friends, a strong family, and an eleven-year-old marriage, which he was convinced would end in the next year. His shrink believed otherwise, but Mason knew that sooner or later, Roxy would get tired of him and his problems.
The bathroom door opened and Roxy swept into the room. She was wearing a diaphanous nightgown, so thin that it barely qualified as clothing, and it revealed every inch of her body. Her breasts were fuller than they had been when he first touched them in the backseat of his parents’ car all those years ago, but her waist was still thin, her stomach still flat, and her legs as perfect as they ever were.
A wave of desire ran through him and he willed it away. The mind could control everything, the shrink had told him. Only Mason’s mind didn’t seem to control anything.
He closed his eyes, but the desire didn’t fade. Amazing that the girl who had attracted him when they were both sixteen still attracted him now. That was, the shrink said, part of the problem. Mason’s attraction to her had formed during his sexual development, and his response was a young man’s response.
Control was what he needed. Not the drugs he’d tried (which left him fuzzy and uninterested), not the various tantric techniques the sex clinic had tried to teach, not even the weird virtual devices his company made as a sideline.
He had control in every other area of his life. The doctors said there was nothing physically wrong with him. He would eventually outgrow this, or so they assured him. Or he could learn to outthink it.
“Mason.” Roxy sat beside him on the bed. “Sit up, honey. I have a present for you.”
He didn’t want to sit up. He didn’t want to move. He squeezed his eyes even tighter.
“Mason.” The bed moved as she lay down beside him. She knew better than to touch him so soon. “Please, honey.”
“Rox,” he said. “I don’t think this’ll be such a good present this year.”
“It’s not what you think.”
“Rox, I’m not in the mood.”
She shifted her weight slightly, rolling closer to him. He could feel her warmth. “You are in the mood. I can tell.”
He was always in the mood around her—at least, physically. But not mentally. Not now. “I don’t want to struggle, not on this birthday. Turning thirty’s difficult enough without being reminded about my inadequacies.”
“Trust me, Mase,” she said. “I have a little something that’s going to make this birthday a whole lot of fun.”
Something rattled above him. He opened his eyes as a bell went off, saw Roxy holding a square box the size of a grapefruit, wrapped in white paper and tied with a gold ribbon.
Only Roxy wasn’t smiling. “Damn,” she said. “How the hell did I do that? This wasn’t exactly how I—”
The bathroom door opened and Roxy swept into the room. She was wearing a diaphanous nightgown, so thin that it barely qualified as clothing. He found himself staring at her and got so aroused that he was dizzy.
“Son of a bitch.” Roxy was staring at the small white box in her hand. “I did not plan things this way.”
She strode toward the bed and sat beside him. He couldn’t help himself. He reached for her.
She slapped his hand away. “If we don’t do this right, you’re gonna hate this. Damn.”
He was still dizzy and confused, his hand stinging from her slap. Still, he reached for the single ribbon tied loosely around her neck. The ribbon held the nightgown in place. So much for control. All pretext of control had disappeared when she came out of the bathroom, looking just like he had imagined she would when he had stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes.
Never before had his wife so matched one of his fantasies. It was incredibly erotic.
She pushed his hand away.
“Mason,” she snapped. “You have to concentrate.”
“I don’t concentrate well at moments like this,” he said, loosening his tie. He didn’t think he could get this aroused any more. He thought he had analyzed the entire problem to death, that only his body responded—much more quickly than he wanted it too. His mind had been teaching him to avoid all sexual situations.
He leaned in to kiss her, and she shook that small gold-ribboned package at him.
“Mason,” she said. “You have to help me with this.”
A bell went off.
She rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe I did it again.”
“What?” he asked, feeling slightly irritated. He’d have to tell her that he’d been fantasizing about her a moment before she walked through the door.
“Well,” she said. “You see—”
The bathroom door opened and Roxy swept into the room. She was wearing a diaphanous nightgown, so thin that it barely qualified as clothing, and for some reason he was still laying on his back. He remembered loosening his tie, but it was tight around his neck.
“Oh, this is going to get old real quick,” Roxy said.
Mason sat up. He wasn’t aroused at all. He was a little dizzy though. But she did look beautiful, the way that gown held just enough of her in shadow so that he had to imagine the rest.
She leaned against the bathroom door. “Mason, we have to talk.”
“You’re not dressed for talking,” he said, distracted in spite of himself.
“I hadn’t planned on talking,” she said. “But things have gotten out of control.”
“Not yet.” He stood up and walked toward her. He took the box out of her hand and kissed her. He’d been wanting to do that since—
He pulled away and frowned at her. “What the hell is going on here?”
She raised her eyebrows and gave him her impatient look. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. We’ve got a problem.”
He liked the way she was pressed up against him. The material of her gown was so thin that he could feel her warmth through it.
The arousal was back. But how could it be back if it hadn’t been there in the first place?
Was he drunk? He glanced at the champagne. Nope. The bottle was still closed.
“Mason,” she said, putting her hands between them. “Give me that box.”
He had forgotten he was holding it. “What is it?”
“Don’t shake it,” she said, taking it from him as if it were going to break at any moment. She slipped away from him, and pulled the box open. “This is going all wrong.”
“Oh, no, babe,” he said. “It’s weird, but I’m kinda enjoying it.”
She frowned at him, and tipped the open box toward him. “Look in here.”
He sighed. Anything to please his wife. He peered inside the box. Inside, he saw a gold egg-shaped device. It looked like a Faberge Egg, only without the elaborate scrollwork.
“What is it?”
“A time machine.” She sounded panicked.
“A what?” he asked.
“It’s not functioning right.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I must have set it off when I waved the package at you. I didn’t mean to start it for a while. After all, I figured we had—”
The bathroom door opened and Roxy swept into the room. She was wearing a diaphanous nightgown and even though he’d seen it three times before, the look of her bathed in light, half her body in shadow, turned him on.
Mason sat up. “This has happened before.”
“Of course it has.” She leaned against the door and set the package down. The box was closed. “That’s the beauty of the thing.”
“What thing?” He wanted to touch her, but he didn’t get off the bed. Although he did take off his tie.
“Haven’t you been reading up on this?”
“No,” he said.
“Time travel is impossible.”
“Huh?” he asked. “You just said that was a time machine. Not to mention we’ve been going through the same five minutes for maybe 20 minutes now.”
She sighed. “What I mean is, they found out that time travel like in the movies is impossible. You can only go back about five minutes, and then you loop for a while, and then time goes on. This is a novelty item. An expensive novelty item, but a novelty item all the same.”
He frowned at her. “Then why did you get it?”
“Think, Mason,” she said. “We clocked you at six minutes. If I turned this machine on at the right time, we’d get fifty minutes of love-making without yoga or breathing exercises.”
He stared at her, his mouth open. “But I’m six minutes on a good day.”
She grinned. “I know. But with this thing, you go back in time. Your body resets.”
He felt a little overwhelmed. And he was still having trouble concentrating. His wife, after all, was naked under that see-through gown.
He made himself focus. “But—”
The bathroom door opened and Roxy banged into the room. This time she didn’t even try to be sexy as she slammed the door behind her. She set the box down.
“But what?” she asked, sounding very annoyed.
He was a bit disconcerted too, lying on his back, his damned tie too tight—again. But he wasn’t aroused. He wouldn’t be aroused until he really looked at her.
Which he did. He couldn’t help himself. She was so beautiful. How lucky was he to have such a beautiful wife?
“But what?” she asked again, using that tone she always used when she was about to get angry.
But? What had he been about to say? Oh, yeah. “But your body would reset too.”
She nodded, her mouth a thin line. “That’s why I wanted to time this perfectly. But I screwed it up. I had the machine set so that all I had to do was touch it at the exact right moment, and apparently I made it too touchy. And now we’re in the middle of this thing, and I don’t know how to shut it off.”
He recognized that tone of frustration. He loosened his tie and got up. “Give me the machine.”
“It’s also reset,” she said. “One wrong shake and it’ll go off again.”
“Was that the bell I heard?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“So it’s running twice.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Yes,” she said.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
He picked up the box very carefully and tugged at the bow. It came loose in his fingers. He could see his wife’s hip over the edge of the box. Her skin looked peach, thanks to the effect of the gown. He loved that curve there, the way it—
The bathroom door slammed open. Roxy tugged the lid off the box and handed it to Mason. She was close enough to touch, and he did, running his hand along her arm.
She pulled away. “Let’s solve this first.”
He sighed and peered in the box. “Instructions?”
“Against the side.” She caught his hand. “Better let me. My fingers are smaller.”
She removed a slip of paper and handed it to him. The instructions were calligraphed on the page, making it hard to read. A novelty item. A curiosity. Not meant to be used so much as admired.
He squinted, read, and frowned.
“What?” she asked, sitting next to him.
“There are ten loops,” he said, “every time you try this thing. Ten loops and no way to shut it off.”
She put a hand against her forehead and closed her eyes. He remembered that posture from college. It happened whenever she got stumped by a math problem.
The posture also made her left breast rise slightly. He stared at it.
“Okay,” she said. “I hit it twice. So does that mean we’re going to have twenty loops or twelve?”
“Twelve?” His concentration was fading. He had to touch her.
“The ten from the first time, and then the ten from the second, which started in the second loop—I mean, the first real loop, so nine would be overlapping.”
He took the box out of her hand and set it on the floor. He made certain his movements were deliberate so that he didn’t make the machine go off again.
“I have no idea,” he said as he—
The bathroom door slammed open and Roxy stomped out. “Did it say in those damn instructions why I go back to the bathroom and not the bed? I shook the box at you on the bed.”
She was getting very angry. Her color had risen, making her skin flush from her cheeks all the way down to her chest.
Mason stood and took off his tie in a single movement. “It said something about a two-minute delay.”
She let out an exasperated sigh. “I have to stop skimming instructions.”
He was already across the room. He took the box out of her hand, reached around her, and set the box inside the bathroom where neither of them could kick it.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He untied the ribbon holding her gown together, and pulled her against him. He was aroused, but his body was a little bit behind him for the very first time in his life.
“You were wrong, you know.” He kissed her. She tasted very good.
“Wrong?” she asked against his mouth.
He nodded. “I don’t reset.”
She pulled away ever so slightly. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I thought—”
He caught her mouth, silenced her with his own, letting the kiss linger. She—
The bathroom door slammed open and Roxy ran out, untying her gown, letting it fall off of her. She must have set the box down before she came out because it wasn’t in her hands as she dove onto the bed.
“We have to get this timing down,” she said, reaching for his tie.
“See?” He smiled at her.
“You don’t reset either.”
She shook her head at him. “I’m afraid I did.”
“Your body resets,” he said softly, “but not your mind. And the mind, the shrinks tell me, is all that matters.”
“Oh,” she said and then her eyebrows went up as she understood. “Oh.”
He leaned forward and kissed her like he hadn’t kissed her since they were dating. For once, he had time.
“I figure,” he said after a moment, “that we have at least five more loops, if we don’t waste them. And maybe as many as thirteen.”
“Thirteen?” Her eyes sparkled.
Then she frowned. “But we have to take off our clothes every time.”
“Just mine,” he said, grinning. This was the best birthday present she had ever given him. “Just mine.”
Copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
First published in The Retrieval Artist and Other Stories, Five Star Publishing, 2002
Published by WMG Publishing
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by WMG Publishing
Cover design by Allyson Longueira/WMG Publishing
Cover art copyright © by Carlosphotos/Dreamstime, Natalia Merzlyakova/Dreamstime
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.