Tempt Me, Taste Me, Touch Me

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ONE

TONIGHT WAS THE NIGHT the world would say good-bye to Carrie Anderson, single-girl-in-the-city, and hello to Carrie Anderson, deliriously happy woman -engaged -to-a -wealthy-hunk.

Ever since her boyfriend, James Carrigan, had asked her to dinner at Farallon, San Francisco's most elegant restaurant, she'd taken to staring at her bare left hand with a secret smile. She'd have bet the contents of her 401(k) that, come Thursday night, a sparkling diamond was going to be weighing down her left ring finger. Farallon was their special place. It was where they'd dined for their first date, the night they'd first slept together, and their one-year anniversary.

Dinner had been lovely. Although, to be honest, she hadn't really tasted the butternut squash soup. And she'd barely been able to swallow her grilled salmon on a bed of polenta. With every moment that had passed, her stomach had twisted into a tighter, tenser knot. And when the waiter had asked her if she'd like to see the dessert menu, she'd nearly bitten his head off. No, I don't want flan, she thought. I want an engagement ring! At long last, the waiter cleared their plates away and brought over two snifters of warmed B&B. Carrie had never been a huge fan of the potent after-dinner drink, but as it was James's favorite, she gamely took a sip. It burned her tongue and stung her throat, but she didn't mind, because James was finally reaching into his pocket. For a ring!

Her very own Prince Charming was about to bend down on one knee and ask her to become his wife. She'd run through the scene at least a hundred times. Her eyes were going to be filled with tears as he popped open the Tiffany's box; her hands would be trembling slightly as he slipped the engagement ring on her finger. She would whisper yes, and then they would kiss passionately to a backdrop of applause. But James didn't bother getting down on one knee. Instead he simply put the open ring box on the place setting before her and said, "It's finally time for you to become the next Mrs. Carrigan." Carrie's breath left her chest in a whoosh of disappointment.

She knew she was supposed to gasp with glee, to offer James her hand so that he could slip the ring on at the very moment she said "yes." Carrie worked to swallow her dissatisfaction at James's unromantic proposal. She tried desperately to get her lips to form the one word that would ensure her position as newly crowned Princess of the San Francisco elite. She pushed her tongue into her molars and opened her mouth. She could do it, she could say it. "Yes" was a one-syllable word. Even her one-year old niece could say it. But all that came out when she forced the air up from her lungs was, "Yeourgh."

What was wrong with her tonight? Of course she was going to marry James and live happily ever after. They were going to have 2.4 children and live in a large ranch house in the wealthy suburbs of Palo Alto behind a remote-activated iron gate. She was going to drive a HUMMER with booster seats in the back, and she'd drop off her kids for swimming lessons in the summer, piano in the fall. They'd play tennis every Saturday with the Williams gang, winter in Hawaii at the family beach estate, get their teeth whitened twice a year by his uncle John. They'd have the perfect life, the perfect kids, the perfect marriage.

It was all so perfect that Carrie's head swam. She felt nauseous. This perfect life was what she had always wanted. Wasn't it? Evidently, a badly mangled "yes" was good enough for James.

He reached for her clammy hand and slid the enormous, square-cut, canary yellow diamond onto her ring finger. The huge jewel sparkled in the candlelight, but Carrie felt like it was mocking her, telling her she'd never fit into his world of society galas and charity lunches. Of gray-haired moguls with barely legal, siliconeenhanced second wives. Sure, during the past two years she'd learned to play her part to perfection. She went to the right hairdresser, used the right personal shopper at Neiman's, made the right witty remarks at exactly the right time. But could she do everything just right for a lifetime? And, she couldn't help but wonder, did she really want to?

James's voice cut through her reflections. "The minute I saw this ring I knew it would look perfect on you, Carolyn. And I was right."

A silent "as always" hung in the air between them.

Carrie looked up from the blindingly gorgeous jewel. James was better looking than any other man she'd ever met, let alone dated. Too bad his smug grin seemed to say marriage proposals were only a formality for a catch like him.

And why did he insist on calling her Carolyn when he knew she much preferred Carrie? She'd always thought it was charming, the way he was so formal, but now she wondered if it was simply a way to change her into his image of perfection. For her to be the perfect addition to his already perfect life. On paper, James was Prince Charming come to life. His staggering wealth and his Harvard MBA, combined with his classic blond, blue-eyed good looks put him at the top of any list of eligible bachelors. One of her residential landscaping clients had set them up, and Carrie had been shocked, and terribly pleased, that he'd wanted to see her again. On their second date, he'd hired a classical quartet from the San Francisco symphony to serenade her with Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture. For the next two years he'd showered her with gifts and weekend trips to Paris.

And yet. : . something was missing. None of her other lovers had treated her like a porcelain doll in bed. At first, she'd felt cherished when James had insisted on taking things slow. But as the weeks had rolled into months, she couldn't help but wonder if there was something wrong with her, if she wasn't sexy enough to drive her boyfriend wild.

She felt like she was seeing the real James for the first time.

Even though she hadn't agreed to marry him yet, he'd already closed the deal.

Ring, check. Fiancee gaping at size of diamond, check. Now all he had to do was iron out the details. "We will use Grace Cathedral for the wedding, of course.

Mummy will have a word with the pastor for us. They're quite close, you know. The Olympic Club for the reception. And then-" "James," Carrie said, trying to stop the train before it picked up enough speed to smash into a brick wall. And flattened them both. "Carrigans have always honeymooned in Bora-Bora, so of course you can spend a month on the beach while I play golf." Carrie cleared her throat and tried to steel her nerves. Could this be any more awkward? Somehow, some way, she needed to avoid a scene. "James;' she tried again, "maybe we should discuss this at your-"

But James had already clicked open his cell phone and speed dialed darling Mummy. "Guess which greatlooking San Francisco couple just got better-looking thanks to a two-hundred thousand-dollar diamond?" Agnes's grating squeal came through the earpiece, and something inside Carrie snapped in two. It was one thing to deal with the idea of waking up next to a gorgeous man who didn't really listen to her every day for the rest of her life, but the thought of having to do Sunday brunch with his mother fifty-two times a year (not to mention countless family dinners and parties) was truly vile.

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