I don’t usually read ménage romance/erotica, but I can be something of a completist in my reading when an author has amused me with other titles. In this case, author Lea Barrymire charmed me with the kidnapped-by-aliens-for-sex title Maggie’s Abduction (in which, plot twist, the masterful alien lover is himself a prisoner of war with limited agency, at least at first) and then entertained me with her Coyote Bluff shifter romance series. And that’s how I got to her contemporary ménage title Angling For Love. There I slammed head-first into a scene that triggered a ancient memory, one still fraught with emotional resonance for me a quarter-century later.

In Angling For Love, our heroine is freshly single. She finds herself reconnecting with her love of fly fishing in the Montana wilderness with a couple of hunky fishing guides. The sexual tension is high and they have fooled around pretty intensely at this point, but no dicks have gotten wet (yet). Suddenly, the eerie sound of wolves howling under the big Montana stars sends her diving toward the men’s tent for comfort and security:

He stroked a hand down her back and made soothing noises as if she were a startled animal. After a moment he chuckled under her ear. “So, were you sneaking into the tent?”

“No. Well, yes, but not for anything naughty. The wolves scared me and I thought I could sleep with you guys.” She leaned back so she could see his face. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Mmm, a beautiful woman snuggled between me and my best friend? Nope, not minding at all.” He grinned at her. His face was only half-lit from the fire, but the side she could see held a sexy smirk. He hadn’t stopped smoothing his hand up and down her back and it started to make dips farther and farther down until he was skimming his palm over her ass. “Sure you want to sleep?”

“You are absolutely incorrigible. I need to sleep if we’re riding and fishing tomorrow –or later today, as it were. Do I need to drag my sleeping bag in to keep you from molesting me?”

“No, I’ll keep my hands off you. Come on, we’ll have to wake the grumpy one so you have enough space between us.”

“I heard that, and I’ve been awake since you scared the shit out of Arin and made her scream like a banshee.” Brent’s gruff voice filtered through the mesh of the tent. “Are you guys coming to bed or what? I’m tired and morning is going to come way too fast.”

“You heard him — get in there.” Jared gave her a little push and helped to get the zipper on the tent open. Brent already had their two bags opened to make one large platform. He held the top bag open so they could climb in. Arin lay in the middle of the pallet, trying not to touch either of the men as they settled in. She squeaked when a hand snaked out and dragged her into the hollow of Brent’s body. After a moment she relaxed into his arms and tried to calm enough to drift off. She didn’t think she’d be able to with all the testosterone-flavored air in the tent, but within moments the warmth and safety pulled her into sleep. Her last thought before drifting into the darkness of rest was that she’d never been snuggled so safely before, or so well taken care of.

At the top of the post, I mentioned a memory from a quarter-century ago. It was my first genuinely-serious adult relationship. I spent about seven years living with her, we bought a house and a parrot together, and I was helping to raise her kid. The whole thing ended badly, at least from my perspective. There was surprisingly little drama, and we’re still friendly in a social media kind of way, but she ended things abruptly, without any explanation nor with much apparent remorse. I didn’t fight it; we’d been growing apart and she wouldn’t talk about anything. That’s when I learned you can’t fight a breakup when you don’t know the reason things got bad, and the lady won’t say.

To this day, I still don’t know why we didn’t work out. But I can say with great precision why we weren’t married when it all fell apart at the end. No, scratch that. I can say why I never asked her to marry me, which is not quite the same thing. My reason for not asking? By now you’ll have guessed it involved a tent, and two sleeping bags.

There’s a fundamental law of men and women and tents in the north woods: if you’re even a little bit friendly, it’s best to unfurl your sleeping bags and treat them as blankets to snuggle between. In chillier weather, two identical sleeping bags can usually be zipped together at the sides to make one big bag, which is even better. It’s practical (sharing heat) and friendly (snuggling) and really, it’s the very best thing about sleeping in the woods. Our amorous fishing guides knew the drill and understood the assignment: “Brent already had their two bags opened to make one large platform. He held the top bag open so they could climb in.”

Damn me if reading that didn’t drop me straight into an unpleasant flashback from my old relationship. Me and the young lady and her kid were on a family camping trip, way out on a spectacular river in a ridiculously-scenic protected wilderness. There were plenty of tents. She and I had our own, to share, just us. I took care to guarantee before the trip that our sleeping bags were zipper compatible. With the tents of our other family spread all around us, there in the silent forest, foolin’ around wasn’t ever going to be on the agenda, but I fully expected to zip those bags together so we could snuggle quietly and sleep close. She wouldn’t hear of it. There was to be no snuggling in the wilderness.

We didn’t fight about it — not enough privacy, too many witnesses. But it hurt my feelings in a deep way. Now we come to the hook of this story: I had been gearing up to make a marriage proposal. Friends, I had already bought her a ring. The ring was in my possession on that fateful night. I’d thought an opportunity to propose might arise during the trip, somewhere among the spectacular wilderness vistas. But then, this woman I deeply loved, who knew the fundamental law of men and women and tents in the wilderness just as well as I did? She balked at the zipping.

She balked, and I started brooding. The next day, I sat on a driftwood log and ignored the scenery around me, staring instead at that blasted ring for about two hours. I thought things over. I seriously considered for the first time some issues I hadn’t thought were all that serious. And then I put that ring back in its box and buried the box in the bottom of my backpack. I carried it straight back out of the wilderness, figuring, I don’t know, maybe I would try again after a serious conversation about intimacy.

Yeah, that conversation never happened. And I never proposed. Perhaps she never wanted me to. She probably did me (us) a favor, zipping herself into her own chilly sleeping bag that night. I’m uncertain about a lot of things but not about this: it was the clearest moment of relationship communication we ever achieved between us.

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