“For the crime of causing irreparable sexual mischief through magic, I hereby
banish the defendants, Dorcas and Ambrose Lowell, to Big Knob, Indiana, until such
time as they straighten out the dragon living there. So mote it be.”
Dorcas lifted her head and looked at Cyril, the white-robed wizard who was about to
ruin her life. “Cyril, are we talking about that dragon named George?”
“Yes, we are.”
“But they say he’s ADD!”
Cyril gazed down at her. “There’s no medical evidence of that.”
“Whatever. Nobody’s been able to do a thing with George. We’ll be stuck in that
hick town, and you know it.”
Ambrose nudged her. Defendants weren’t supposed to speak during sentencing, let
alone carry on a debate with the Grand High Wizard.
“But it’s not fair,” she muttered to her husband.
“Just accept it,” he murmured. “Or it might get worse.”
She didn’t see how. And they hadn’t screwed up that bad. For some reason, Cyril
was trying to make an example of them, probably because the plaintiff, Thaddeus Hedgehump,
was his brother-in-law.
Cyril gave her a stern look. “You’re in no position to complain, Dorcas. Thanks to your
untested potion, the plaintiff becomes aroused by any woman wearing support hose, not just
his wife, as he requested. Restitution must be made.”
“At least he can get it up, now!” Dorcas felt completely unappreciated. “Before we came
along he was limp as a –”
Ambrose nudged her again, harder this time. “We understand, your honor.”
“Good. Your belongings have been loaded onto a moving van, and the bailiff has your
tickets for Indianapolis. We’ve arranged for a driver to take you from Indianapolis to Big Knob.”
“What about Sabrina?” Dorcas wasn’t going anywhere without her cat.
“Sabrina will travel with you on the plane. When you have something to report regarding
George, you know where to find me. Court adjourned.” With a sharp rap of his jewel-encrusted
gavel, Cyril ended the trial.
“I’m looking for an old-fashioned screw.” Sean Madigan knew he’d messed up as soon as
the words were out.
Heather, the blonde morning clerk at Big Knob Hardware and Camping Supplies, swooped into
his personal space. “I can help you with that.” Her double D’s brushed the front of his
Sean stepped back and cleared his throat. Better to pretend he didn’t know what she was
thinking. “It’s longer than normal.”
“I have no doubt.”
Sheesh, he couldn’t seem to say anything right. “About this length.” He held his thumb and
forefinger approximately five inches apart.
“Sean, don’t underestimate yourself. According to the grapevine, it’s much longer.”
As Heather moved in again, her perfume hit him like a blast of mace. “No one’s here but me.
And forget the old-fashioned part, hon. Every done it on Astroturf? Or cork?”
“No.” Sean backed up some more and found himself trapped against the reels of ropes and chains.
“Seriously, Heather, I’m not interested. I came in here for –”
“Baby, you work too hard, always wearing that sexy tool belt, always hammering something.”
Her blue eyes burned with lust. “I’d love to get nailed.”
“We’re in the middle of the hardware store.”
“I know. Think of the possibilities. How about a little bondage action? I can tie
you or you can tie me. Whichever turns you on.”
He could tell her that nothing turned him on these days, but she wouldn’t believe him.
Nobody would. Women craved him and guys envied him. They had no clue the hell he endured
with the catcalls, the groping, the leers.
It had been like this since puberty. In Big Knob, Indiana, Pop. 947, single guys were at a
premium to begin with, so a green-eyed Irishman who looked like Sean could name his price.
As a teenager he’d loved the attention. Nonstop boinking was perfect when you were eighteen.
Ten years later, he could have any available woman in town and probably a few who weren’t, but
they were too aggressive, too pushy, too horny.
At the moment all he cared about was finishing the renovation of Calvin Gilmore’s house. Once
Calvin paid him for that, Sean would have almost enough to make a down payment on his childhood
home. One more job and he’d be ready to buy the dilapidated old Victorian and the acreage that
surrounded it, assuming he could locate the owner.
“They say you’re saving yourself for someone special, someone who’ll keep you warm in that big
old house you have your eye on.” Heather moistened her lips. “Well, here I am, sugar.”
Without warning she grabbed the zipper on his fly and yanked.
Sean caught her wrist before she could fondle his privates. “I said no.” He hated to push
a woman, but she gave him no choice. Shoving her aside, he left the hardware store, zipping his
fly as he went.
“You’re such a tease, Sean Madigan,” she called after him. “But you don’t fool me. Those bedroom
eyes say you want me, baby. You want me bad!”
Bedroom eyes. He’d been accused of having bedroom eyes for years, and he’d never figured
out what the hell that meant.
Once safely outside the hardware store, he turned up his coat collar against the biting wind and
glanced at the town’s most obvious landmark, a chunk of granite that jutted a hundred and
ninety-two feet into the wintry sky. Rising from the forest on the northeast side of town,
the prominent rock dominated the landscape. No wonder it had inspired the pioneers to name
this place Big Knob.
Southwest of town nestled Deep Lake, also named by the pioneers. In the early eighteen hundreds,
sexual symbolism hadn’t been an appropriate topic of conversation. In some Big Knob households
it still wasn’t.
But late at night while enjoying a beer in the Big Knobian, some guys liked to speculate that
if Big Knob ever buried itself in Deep Lake, the end of the world was at hand. Sean had always
wondered if the combination of Big Knob and Deep Lake had a subconscious effect on the people
in town, increasing their focus on sex.
Personally, he could testify that the women seemed quite focused on that topic, and they
concentrated the bulk of their sexual interest on Sean. He would give anything to be less of
Like for instance, instead of feeling compelled to jump in his old truck and leave, he’d love
to grab a cup of coffee at the Hob Knob Diner. He’d appreciate the caffeine jolt if he could
manage to order without being waylaid.
No such luck. Francine Edgerton, owner of the Bob and Weave Hair Salon, came bouncing toward
him, her multi-colored hair dancing in the breeze. “Sean, you cutie patootie. Let me buy you
a cuppa, cuppa, hubba, hubba.” She closed one eye in a suggestive wink.
“Thanks, Francine, but I can’t. I’m on my way back to the Gilmore’s. Job’s almost done, and I –”
“Don’t be silly.” She hooked her arm through his and tugged him in the direction of the diner.
“Come play footsie with me under the table.”
“Why, if it isn’t Sean Madigan.” A low female voice sounded in his left ear.
He turned. “Hi, Bet.”
“Hi, yourself.” She fluffed her bottle-red hair and batted her fake eyelashes. Then she pinched
“Hey, yourself.” She laughed as she grabbed his other arm. “Come on, Francine. Let’s share him.”
Francine blew out an impatient breath. “Look, Bet, I realize you’re a good customer and all,
but I saw him first.”
Sean held his ground. “As I keep saying, I don’t have time for coffee.” But how to escape?
Aha. Dorcas and Ambrose Lowell, the new couple in town, were walking in this direction.
From his first glimpse of them when they’d moved into the old Harrison place six weeks ago,
Sean had wondered why they’d picked Big Knob. It was a nice enough town, all the lecherous
women aside, but it wasn’t the sort of location where you’d expect to find an attractive and
fit middle-aged couple who looked like they’d stepped out of a Ralph Lauren commercial.
Today they both wore belted leather jackets and designer jeans. Sean pictured them sailing a
yacht along Martha’s Vineyard or strolling the wharf in San Francisco. Yet here they were in
Beside him, Francine stiffened. “Dorcas goes out of town for her hair,” she muttered. “Too
good for the Bob and Weave.”
“She says she does it herself,” Bet said. “His, too.”
“Yeah, and I’m Angelina Jolie. Nobody gets that natural brunette look from over-the-counter kits.”
Sean made use of the distraction to yank his arms free. “Excuse me,” he said to Francine and Bet.
“I need to discuss something with the Lowells.” Then he said the first thing that came to mind.
“They have a problem with their porch.”
He had no idea if their porch needed work or not. But the house was close to the lake, which meant
it was subject to damp fog most evenings. The porch might need work.
Both Francine and Bet backed off, because even they wouldn’t stand in the way of a business
opportunity, especially if the potential customers looked rich.
“I’ll see you later, then,” Francine said. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, which leaves you
plenty of room to maneuver.”
“Francine, you’re scaring the poor boy,” Bet said. “Listen, Sean, I’ll be up late tonight if
you want to stop by. I make a great hot toddy.”
Sean gave them each a wave and jogged down the sidewalk toward Dorcas and Ambrose. “I’m glad I
ran into you. I wanted to discuss your front porch.”
“You did?” Ambrose looked amused.
“Is this really about the porch?” Dorcas smiled at him. “Or is it that you need rescuing?”
“A little of both. Listen, I didn’t mean to interrupt whatever you were doing, but –”
“Coincidentally, we were on our way to the hardware store,” Ambrose said. “You must be psychic,
because we just noticed a couple of loose boards on the front porch, and some warping going on.
I wanted to fix that before the first snow.”
“Seriously?” This was kind of freaky.
“Seriously,” Dorcas said and turned to her husband. “Unless you have your heart set on home
repair, what do you say we hire Sean to do it for us?”
“Works for me. Let’s take him back to our place so he can check out the job.” Ambrose glanced
at Sean. “Unless you have something else to do right now?”
“Nothing that can’t wait.” Sean had left his old truck parked in front of the hardware store,
but he’d walk back and get it later, sometime when Heather was busy with a customer and wouldn’t
“Then let’s go.” Ambrose turned back, taking Dorcas’s hand as they started down the street.
The sidewalk was only wide enough for two, so Sean followed behind. Holding hands in public
was another thing that made the Lowells stand out from your average Big Knobian. Someone had
even seen them French kissing in broad daylight. They acted like teenagers, which many in the
town thought ridiculous for a couple in their fifties.
The Harrison place, or what was now the Lowell’s place, was at the far end of Fifth Street.
The town’s first residents, Ebenezer and Isadora Mather, had laid out the town’s main streets
in the shape of a five-pointed star. Legend had it that Ebenezer had intended the layout as a
tribute to Isadora, his guiding star.
Because of the shape created by these five streets, Big Knob boasted a town square with one extra
side. Everyone still called it a square, even though it wasn’t. Businesses lined the square,
and a five-sided gazebo in the middle was flanked by a life-sized statue of Isadora, a true
heroine who had selflessly nursed the pioneers through a bout of smallpox.
“Hey, Sean!” Denise Woolrich ran coatless out of the Big Knob Realty office on the corner of
Fifth and Third. “I think I’ve tracked down the owner of your family’s old property!”
“Are you sure?” Sean had his doubts. He thought Denise might be drawing out the title search
so she had a better chance of seducing him.
“This is it. I can feel it. Oh, hi, Mr. and Mrs. Lowell.”
“Hello, Denise.” Dorcas gave her the once-over.
Sean could imagine what a classy woman like Dorcas was thinking as she looked at Denise.
Her red sweater was so tight it was in danger of unraveling any minute.
Eyes bright, Denise stepped in close and moistened her lips as she gazed up at him. “You need
to come into my office, Sean.”
He figured it was just another excuse to get him alone. “Couldn’t you just tell me here?”
“I want to show you what I’ve found on the Internet.” She lifted her dark hair from her neck
as if dealing with a heat wave, despite the chill wind blowing across the square. The movement
made her breasts quiver.
Instead of getting him hot, her behavior only annoyed him. “I’ll come by a little later, okay?”
Denise pouted. “I thought you cared about this property, Sean. If you don’t want me to track
down the title holder for you, just say so.”
As Sean was trying to decide how best to handle Denise, he heard a low whistle and a woman
calling his name. He noticed a silver SUV gliding by with the window down and recognized
Angie, an ex-girlfriend, behind the wheel. Not wanting to be rude, he waved at her.
“Sean, I’m trying to talk to you about this property.” Denise sounded irritated.
He glanced back at her. “I do care about the property. But I’m kind of busy right this minute.”
“If you’re too busy to look at what I’ve found for you, then obviously your priorities have changed.” Denise turned on her heel.
“I swear, they haven’t.” But it was too late. Denise had stomped back into her office.
Sean needed her help, so he’d have to go by later and soothe her ruffled feathers while trying
to avoid ending up naked on her desktop.
He glanced over at Dorcas and Ambrose. “Sorry about that. Let’s go.”
They’d taken about three steps when another female voice brought him to a reluctant halt.
“Well, if it isn’t Sean Madigan!” Candice, a woman he’d dated two years ago, came running
across the square, plastic grocery bags in both hands, her short plaid skirt hiking up to
reveal a shocking amount of creamy thigh.
Looking neither left nor right, she crossed the street, all her attention focused on Sean.
Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic. “What a coincidence! I just bought a package of those
little cakes you like, the ones with the cream filling.”
He panicked. Those little cakes had been part of some hot times. “That was quite a while ago,”
“Funny, it seems like only yesterday to me. We had such fun with those cakes, eating them in
bed. Remember how I smeared them on your –”
“Gotta go!” Sean motioned to Ambrose and Dorcas as he took off down the street toward their
house. “Emergency porch repair! Very critical!”
Within half a block, Dorcas and Ambrose had caught up with Sean, and they weren’t even breathing
hard. He couldn’t help commenting on it. “You guys are in great shape for your . . .” He
stopped short of saying age, which sounded insulting. “For your size.”
“And age,” Dorcas said with a wink as they reached the house and she climbed the porch steps.
“It’s okay. Our secret is great sex.”
Sean hadn’t meant to let his jaw drop, and he snapped it closed the second he realized what
he’d done. “That’s terrific,” he said quickly as they ushered him inside. The house smelled
of incense, which confirmed his suspicion that they were from out West somewhere, probably
“Come in and sit down.” Dorcas hung her jacket on a coat tree in the hall. Underneath it she
wore a silvery silk shirt tucked into her jeans. “What would you like to drink?”
After the morning he’d had, he could use two fingers of Scotch, but it was a little early in
the day to start knocking back hard liquor. “Whatever you have handy.”
“I’ll make some herbal tea. I’ll only be a few minutes. Make yourself comfortable.” She
gestured through a doorway into a sitting room.
Definitely from California. If anyone in Big Knob drank tea, it was Lipton, hot in the winter
and cold in the summer. Herbal tea sounded a little swishy to him, but maybe he’d like it.
He walked into a room filled with colored light, sort of like in a church. Pretty soon he
figured out why. Dorcas and Ambrose had hung stained glass in the windows – free-form designs
of red, purple, blue, green and gold.
Or maybe they weren’t so free-form. The one in the front window might be an angel or a fairy.
The one in the side window looked kind of sexual, almost like a couple was about to . . . whoa!
Startled by the explicit picture now that he’d figured it out, he turned away. Definitely
“Let me take your jacket.” Ambrose had already shed his coat. He was wearing a long-sleeved
black T-shirt with a picture on the front, a bumblebee wearing a halo. Underneath were the
words Blessed Bees.
“A band,” Ambrose said by way of explanation. “I used to play guitar for them.”
“Oh.” Sean was having a tough time meshing the sexual stained glass with religious musical
groups. “You know, I didn’t get a good look at that porch,” he said. “Maybe I should go check
it out.” Come to think of it, he hadn’t noticed any loose or warped boards when he’d walked in,
but maybe they were off to the side.
“There’s nothing wrong with the porch.”
Sean stared at him. “But you said –”
“If I’d said that you looked as if you were having a problem and we could help, would you have
gone along with that?”
Sean backed toward the door. “You’re shrinks, right?” He might have a problem, but he didn’t
need a head doctor to solve it for him. He wasn’t sure what he did need, but definitely not a
session on the couch.
“We’re not shrinks. We’re relationship counselors.”
“Same girl, different dress. And I have to say, I don’t think you’ll find much business in
Big Knob. People around here don’t go for that stuff.”
“We’re not really looking for business. We’re taking a . . . a sabbatical.”
“Oh.” Sean wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but the Lowells looked like the kind of
people who would be taking one, whatever it was. “The thing is, I don’t need relationship
counseling. I have more relationships than I can handle, and I wish they’d all go away.”
“That’s a problem in and of itself.”
“Yeah, but unless you can change me into some kind of nerd who doesn’t attract women, you
Ambrose’s gray eyes brightened with interest. “You want to change your appearance?”
“Come to think of it, no. I’ve tried gaining twenty pounds, and it made no difference. The
women said they adored my love handles. I grew my hair out, and they said I reminded them of
a sexy pirate. So physical changes don’t work.”
“Oh, I’m a regular science experiment. But since you don’t have a porch that needs fixing,
I should probably be leaving.”
“Leaving? But I just made tea.” Dorcas arrived carrying an enameled tray holding a flowered
pot, cups and a bowl filled with lemon wedges. She was followed by a slender black cat who
pranced over to Sean and rubbed against his legs, purring loudly.
When Sean reached down and scratched the cat’s ears, she wriggled in ecstasy. “Let me guess,”
he said. “Female cat.”
“She is. That’s Sabrina.” Dorcas set the tray on the coffee table in front of a plush-looking
sofa upholstered in purple fabric.
Even the cat was fit, Sean thought as he stroked Sabrina’s soft fur and listened to the deep
rumble of her purr. “Ambrose just told me that you’re relationship counselors.” He straightened
and the cat strolled over to hop onto the windowsill under the explicit stained glass.
Dorcas frowned at her husband. “You did?”
“I also admitted there’s nothing wrong with the porch. Sean was about to go look, and he
would have found out right away that –”
“Maybe not,” Dorcas said. “Have you checked the porch recently, Ambrose?”
Her husband lifted his eyebrows. “Did you –”
“Yes, but it doesn’t matter now, does it? You’ve let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.”
Sean wasn’t following any of it. “Look, thanks for offering to help me, but I don’t know what
you could do.”
“He says changing his appearance hasn’t done any good.” Ambrose said.
“Really?” Dorcas surveyed Sean with amber-colored eyes. “We could try cutting off his
“Hey!” Sean backed up. “I don’t want a sex change!”
“It’s not that drastic,” Ambrose said. “Pheromones are chemicals that attract the opposite
sex. Yours might need to be toned down.”
“Huh.” Sean had never considered that he had a chemical imbalance.
“Can I take your jacket?” Ambrose held out his hand.
Sean hesitated. Nah, they couldn’t do anything for him. No one could. “I’d better go.”
“It wouldn’t cost you anything except a little time,” Dorcas said.
“I told him we were taking a sabbatical,” Ambrose said.
Dorcas blinked. “Uh, right. That’s exactly what we’re taking. Anyway, you don’t have to pay us.”
“Thanks, but that feels like charity.”
“Then we’ll barter,” Ambrose said. “We could use some carpentry work in the master bedroom.
I’ve designed a sex bench, and I –”
“A what?” Sean couldn’t believe what he’d heard.
“A sex bench,” Dorcas said without blushing, not even a little bit. “And we don’t have a lot of
square footage, so we want it to fold out from the wall. It was actually my idea.”
“But I came up with the design,” Ambrose said.
“Yes, I have to admit you did, and I think the design’s workable. Chairs are all well and good,
but we’ve broken a few. We could use a nice firm bench.”
“I see.” Sean would bet no other house in Big Knob would require a fold-out sex bench. Even
though sex wasn’t a top priority with him right now, he was curious about the concept.
“So it would be our expertise in exchange for yours.” Ambrose gazed at him.
He was tempted. It wasn’t every day that a guy was handed plans for a fold-out sex bench. It
would spice up his work routine considerably, and he did wonder what the thing would look like.
As he debated whether he could afford the time away from the Gilmore job, the cell phone clipped
to his belt rang. “Excuse me a minute.” He took out the phone and flipped it open. Speak of
the devil, Calvin Gilmore was on the line.
But the connection was bad, which was weird. Big Knob had a lot of drawbacks, but cell phone
coverage was usually great here.
He glanced up. “I need to take this call, and for some reason I’m not getting reception in the
house. Can I get back to you about this later on today?”
“Absolutely.” Ambrose smiled and wrapped an arm around Dorcas. “We’ll be right here.”
Sean gave them one last look before he walked out the door. They would be there, all right,
and after hearing about the sex bench, he had no doubt what they would be doing with their time.
On his way across the porch he tripped on a warped board. Funny, but he would have sworn it
wasn’t there when he’d gone in.