by Connie Chastain
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
FIRST BRASSTOWN BOOKS EDITION, JUNE 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Connie Chastain
All Rights Reserved.
An imprint of Great Southern Publishing
Verona, Georgia 1983When his plate was cleared, Troy checked the lunch bag to see if a small dessert was tucked in there somewhere, but there was nothing. Patty must be planning a high-calorie dessert for supper if she was depriving him at lunch.
His attention was caught by a piece of paper protected in a plastic sandwich bag and he took it out. It was a small, cream-colored envelope, cool to the touch from having been in a compact refrigerator in his office all morning. Inside was one of his wife’s notecards, a pine bough and her first name printed in gold on the front. The cards were blank, for writing personal messages.
This one had no written message, though. When he opened it, a smaller folded paper about the size of a business check fell out and barely missed his plate. He unfolded it, looked at it a few moments, cut his eyes away and stifled a smile.
"What is it?" Max said, bristling with curiosity.
"It’s a gift certificate."
"She’s kinda jumping the gun on your birthday a little bit, isn’t she? Anniversary, too."
The Stevensons’ tenth wedding anniversary was coming up at the end of June, and Troy’s thirty-third birthday in early July.
"She wouldn’t give me a gift certificate for either one of those." He put the certificate and card back into the envelope and slid it into his inside breast pocket. "It’s a no-occasion gift certificate."
He reached into his inside breast pocket and withdrew the envelope to give the contents another look.
The gift certificate was homemade and Patty had done a terrific job with the calligraphy and the intricate border. It entitled the bearer to a session of hot, wild sex at the time and location of his choice: (a) in the master bedroom at home on a week night, (b) on a big, cushiony sofa at the lake cabin over the weekend or (c) in a rent-by-the-hour room at the No-Tell Motel on Highway 41—on his lunch break.
He looked at her portrait again, smiled and said under his breath, "Oh, baby."
With a soft laugh, he marshaled his thoughts and brought his attention back to the challenging work on his desk.
“Tro,” she called.
“What?” He came through his bathroom into the tub room.
“Get in.” She tilted her head to give him an inviting smile.
He stood just inside the door and looked down at her. Only her head and shoulders showed above the froth. “You shameless hussy.”
“It’ll make you feel good.”
He shook his head. “Real men don’t take bubble baths.”
But one side of his mouth quirked up as he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it from his trousers. The half-smile changed to a mock leer and in moments he was naked, his clothes tossed carelessly onto the hamper. He stepped into the tub, grimaced at the temperature of the water and sat down gingerly, pulling air through his teeth.
“Turn around and I’ll rub your shoulders,” she said.
“I won’t argue with that. This water’s hot.”
“It only takes a minute to get used to it, wuss.”
....Patty leaned back against the slanted wall of the tub, pulled him against her and crossed her arms around his neck. Troy grasped her feet and stroked her insteps with his thumbs. They lay there in silence, eyes closed, as the last of the day’s tension from fussing children, radical feminists and plummeting sales dissipated seemingly into the water.
After a while, he rolled over toward her, making their diminishing blanket of bubbles rock and slosh. She studied his face—the dark eyes, the exquisitely shaped lips, now slightly parted, the fine coating of sweat. Her steadfast love for him began to stir into ardor.
You beautiful, sloe-eyed man! It’s a miracle that you love me and belong to me!
He studied her face, too, and murmured, "You’re so sweet and you look so cute covered with bubbles and your hair done up like that. I wish I could stay with you all night—we could have so much fun together—but I have to go."
She blinked. "Go? Why?"
"I promised my wife I’d be home by ten-thirty. If I’m not, she’ll pitch a hissy-fit."
"The bitch," Patty said caustically, her brows lowering. "You are completely henpecked."
She filliped the water, sending a small splash toward him. He jerked his head to the side but not quickly enough. With drops rolling down his face, he flashed her a menacing grin.
"Oh, you bad girl, you have done it now," he said, giving each word exaggerated enunciation. "You better watch it ’cause you never know when I’m gonna get you for that."
She put the tip of her forefinger in her mouth for a moment and said, "You won’t, though."
"Prob’ly not. But I ought to. Think how pissed you’d be if I’d done that to you."
"Yes, but you know I would mind, and I know you don’t."
As she looked at him, the desire building inside her fountained upward to show in her face and glow in her eyes. She didn’t try to conceal it, but took his face in her hands and pulled him closer to kiss him.
She kept it going a long time. He stirred but made no move away from her, no attempt to break the seal of their lips. At last, she did, and tilted her head back enough to see his face, to lose herself in the sweetness of his expression and in the beginning of passion and desire her kiss had put in his eyes.
He blinked and inhaled, as if breaking out of a mild trance, and slid forward to follow up with a kiss of his own. He murmured against her mouth, "Darlin’ darlin’ baby ... I’m gettin’ in the shower."
Troy believed tubs were for relaxing in and showers were for getting clean. Patty watched him step out and walk through the doorway to his bathroom. Naked or clothed, he was magnificent, exquisitely proportioned, like Michelangelo’s David, like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, except for the slight extra length to his legs, which enhanced rather than detracted from his perfection.
* * *
Patty stepped up to him and gave him a petulant look. “You said you’d be home by ten thirty. Where were you? Who is she?”
He shook his head, grinning. “You’re not a very convincing harridan, sweetheart. You just don’t have it in you.”
Their little game had been fun, but his smile faded and the look on his face said he was ready to get back to reality. A sultry flame leaped to life in his eyes as they went down her body and moved back up to her face. With a forefinger, he pushed aside the thin strap of her negligee, trailed his lips along her shoulder and nuzzled her neck.
Patty shivered and broke out in goose pimples.
She gave the towel a tug and it fell to the floor.
Troy put his arms around her, pulled her to him and kissed her. He took a soft, uneven breath and murmured, “She’s you. You’re all the women I want—my sweet wife, my children’s mother, my helper, naughty girl, best friend.... and I love every one of y’all to death.”
“Do you think mustard colored throw pillows would be too much in here?” she asked him.
Troy thought throw pillows, anywhere, of any style or color, were among the most useless inventions of man, but when he’d looked at her to speak, he’d felt himself suddenly overcome by sexual craving, the way it happened sometimes, and told her, “I like mustard and I love you and I want to make love to you right now.”
As she gazed back at him and listened, her expression melted, giving way to that look of helpless desire that never failed to stir him to both tenderness and quaking ardor.
Afterward, in the tiny bedroom, he reclined against the pillows, mellowing out, eyes closed, holding her in his arms while the haze of rapture wore off them.
That was when Patty pressed her lips against the curve of his neck where his pulse still raced and murmured, “So, what about the throw pillows?”
He had banged his head against the wall a couple of times, laughing softly. “I think mustard colored throw pillows would be the piece de resistance of the whole dang cabin.”
“You’re making fun of me now.”
“And you’re making me a happy, happy man....”
Flashback 1971 Tuscaloosa, AlabamaTheir junior year, Max was still Troy’s ticket broker and after more than a year of friendship, Troy’s goody-goodiness was starting to get on Max’s nerves.
One Thursday before a home game, Max scribbled a note for Troy between classes and said, “At lunch time, drop off the tickets here. I’ve got to be somewhere.” He tossed his keys to his friend. “Take my car.”
Troy looked at the note. It was a room number and the address of the Slumber Suites Motel on the bypass. Max must have sold the tickets to some alumni coming from out of town for the game.
At lunch, he drove to the motel and knocked on the door to room 125.
A female voice called faintly, “Come in.” Troy opened the door and pushed it back a little. The bright midday sun threw the interior into darkness.
“Hello.” He took a hesitant step to the door.
“Come on in,” said the voice again. “I’ve got your money.”
He still didn’t see anyone but he took a couple of steps inside.
The door slammed behind him and he whirled around to see a girl he didn’t know stepping between him and the door. Her voluptuous body was clad in a skimpy red teddy and beneath golden hair that tumbled around her face, her eyes gleamed with sexual hunger. He stared at her, chagrined.
“Hello, Troy. I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted this.” She flattened her hands against his chest and pushed him.
It was completely unexpected. Caught off balance, he stumbled backwards and found himself seated on the edge of the queen-sized bed. He scrambled to gain his feet, but she was much too quick and she was on him, pushing him back against the bedspread, pressing her mouth to his and her body against him.
He turned his head to the side with a grimace and squeezed the word "Stop!" between his teeth. She ignored that and began to writhe against him. His discomfort grew and turned to anger at the edges as he wondered how best to stop this. The way she was clamped onto him, there was no pushing her away without possibly hurting her.
He rolled atop her. Their faces were very close. Passion and triumph glowed in her eyes and she lifted her face to kiss him. He tilted his head back, looked down at her from beneath half-closed eyelids. He felt the stirrings of sexual response in his body, purely physical and against his will. It ignited inside him a flame not of passion but of rage and he brought to the situation all the self-control he could command.
“Kiss me!” she insisted.
He shook his head, an indication of incredulousness as much as a denial. “I want to leave. Turn me loose.”
She frowned. “What? Leave?” Her hold on him did loosen though it seemed to be the result of her surprise rather than compliance with his demand.
He levered himself off the bed. As he looked down at her, she reached between her legs and pulled apart the snaps that fastened the crotch of the teddy. She raised herself on her elbows and undulated her body to further reveal what she had just exposed.
“If you know what’s good for you,” she said, her voice husky with lust and fury, “you’ll get back on this bed and do me. If you don’t, I’ll tell eveybody you tried and couldn’t. I’ll tell ’em you’re a hillbilly queer.”
Troy shrugged. “I don’t care what you say.”
His anger turned to a strange sort of sadness and he left the room without another word.
1972 Tuscaloosa, AlabamaThey went to a small fast food place called the Dairy Freeze. It was farther away than Troy’s usual lunch places—a little too far to bicycle to—but he didn’t have to pedal today.
Max fed coins into a juke box and got the place rocking while Troy stepped to the counter where three or four high school girls in pink tunics milled around, chatting and laughing, awaiting the lunchtime rush. With the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose crooning in the background, Troy looked up at the wall menu.
"What can I get you?" The voice asking the question was a girl’s voice, no doubt, but toned down and midrange, not shrill and giggly. He looked down to see who accompanied the voice and found himself looking into the face of a girl that was so sweet and pretty it mesmerized him for a moment. It was framed with long brown hair that reached her shoulders and rested there in big curves. She was chewing gum and looking at him with wide brown eyes.
For the rest of his life, he would look back on that instant and pinpoint it as the moment he began to fall in love.
"Um ... two double burgers, fries, Coke."
She stopped chewing, gazed at him for a moment as if she were mesmerized, too, and murmured, "Two bubble durgers, fries, Coke. Uh, small or large?"
"All we have is small or large."
She tore her eyes from his face to look at the cash register. Her fingers pressed the keys and she said, "That’ll be a dollar and ten cents." She looked up and their eyes met again.
Troy started digging in his pockets but Max slid a sawbuck across the counter and said, "Here ya go."
"Thanks, man," Troy said, finally pulling his eyes away from the girl to look at his friend. "’Preciate it."
In the dining room as they ate their burgers, Troy kept an eye on the counter, following the girl’s movement as she waited on customers. At one point, when he glanced up, she was looking at him. He smiled at her and inclined his head.
Max saw Troy’s smile and glanced back over his shoulder just in time to see the brown haired girl return the smile and then, shyly, duck her head and turn away. He looked back to his friend, his eyes narrowing.
"Troyster. Are you crazy?"
Troy suspected the look on his face was preoccupied. Dreamy. Ridiculous. He didn’t care.
"Did you see how she looked at me?"
"She wasn’t looking at you. She was looking at number twenty."
Troy’s expression hinted that the idea troubled him. "No, she wouldn’t know that."
"She knows you’re the Tide’s star halfback. Every one of those girls do. You can put money on it."
If she had any misgivings about him unawares, they were obliterated late one night in May, in the swing on her parents porch. In the shadows Troy kissed her over and over and his sexual hunger got away with him. He turned her to face him and pulled her onto his lap. She felt the hardness in his jeans beneath her as his hands slid up from her waist, his palms pressing against her breasts.
The feeling that shot through her was like nothing she had ever experienced and a breathless moan sounded in her throat. A similar sound welled up in his and sent chills over every inch of her skin. When his tongue gently prodded her lips and found its way into her mouth, she thought for a second she would lose consciousness. Her muscles drained of strength; her mind lost the will to resist and she melted against him.
At that instant, he began to retreat. He stiffened, took her upper arms in a gentle grasp and carefully slid from beneath her. They sat side by side in silence a few minutes, coming back from the brink of passion.
"Patty." His voice was soft and thick, gravelly with arousal. "I shouldn’t have done what I just did but I’m not sorry. I just want you, I want you so bad and I don’t apologize for it. It’s part of love and I love you so much. But we’ve got to be strong. I’ve got to be strong. You understand why, don’t you?"
With enormous eyes, she gazed at him and nodded. "Because it’s wrong."
"No!" he insisted. "It’s not wrong. We’re supposed to feel this way about each other. That’s the way God made us. What makes it wrong is that we’re not married yet."
He took her face in his hands. "Oh, baby, we can’t defile our marriage bed when we’re this close. We can’t let a lifetime of heaven on earth turn into ordinary sex just because we got too weak to wait. We’ve been strong all this time. We have to be strong one more month. If we can’t, I don’t think we need to be alone with each other anymore before the wedding."
Atlanta, Georgia 1973....at the apartment, Troy had gallantly lifted his bride off her feet and carried her inside where they lay on the sofa and talked softly about their beautiful wedding and the beginning of their life together—and made out like they never had before.
With the fullness of desire pulsating in their bodies, they reluctantly pulled apart. Troy was the first to prepare for what came next, showering and shaving and elbowing into a cropped T-shirt that showed his lean, hard midriff above drawstring pajama bottoms slung low on his hips. Excitement quaked inside him—the excitement and anticipation of protracted longing at last about to be fulfilled.
While Patty bathed and dressed, he waited in the living room, sprawled on the couch they had just vacated, his unseeing eyes on the muted television while the stereo, set to a top forty station, played softly in the background.
In a while he heard her call to him sweetly before she stepped into the living room on satin-shod feet. She halted a few paces into the room and he sat up and inhaled deeply, his eyes, his attention, his whole being focused on her.
What a vision of beauty she was! The babydoll piegnoir of white chiffon barely reached to her thighs and skimmed her body like a cloud. Her hair rested on her shoulders and gleamed satin-like in the lamp light. He saw so much on her lovely face—sweet, unhesitant love and trust so deep they humbled him, even now, along with a hint of apprehension that called forth from him the greatest attentiveness and tenderness of heart he had ever felt.
He saw desire in her eyes, too, as she looked at his face and form. He snapped off the television and went to her. Bathed in the warm, dim glow of the table lamp, he took her in his arms. They pressed their bodies together and trembled with the longing to give and the equal longing to take what the other was giving. Passion made their hearts beat faster, their breathing uneven, their skin hypersensitive to the other’s touch.
His voice was so thick with arousal it hardly sounded like his.
"No need to hold back anymore."
And they had made love—the first time for both of them—not in an impersonal bed in a hotel room or a gaudily furnished honeymoon suite used by countless unknown couples before them but in their own bed, a new and virgin bed that became that night a marriage bed. It was a night of gentleness and joy, of thrashing, panting ecstacy, of tears and softly spoken words of comfort and the beginning of a profound bond of oneness—the first of many such nights to come.
He could be the tenderest, most attentive lover imaginable. Most of the time, he was sweet and slow, his attention focused on her—on loving and pleasing her. But other times, more rarely, he was an animal, intense and vigorous and single-minded, in it for himself, driven by his body’s physiological need for release. Then, he seemed hypersensitive to everything she did, every touch, every kiss, the very sound of her voice.
Both extremes filled Patty's heart with love for him, like Scripture said—good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over—even as they filled her body with cravings for him.
She especially cherished the knowledge that no one else in the world—nobody but she—knew what he was like when he was sexed up. That part of him was hers, and hers alone.
Nobody but she had ever seen him when his hair was tousled by his lover’s fingers ... when his lips grew red and his lipline went fuzzy ... when moonlight slanting through the windows reflected off the whites of his eyes and the tips of his teeth, making them glow like nacre ... when, under lowered lids, his dark eyes smouldered, and his beautiful face took on a sultry expression of yearning ... when he was caught up in the warm, dreamy pursuit of ultimate gratification, and his respiration would go from long and deep to quick and staccato ... when it would catch in his throat from a spike in pleasure as they slowly, tantalizingly worked their way toward fulfillment ... it was like making love to an angel come down from heaven.
This was her first encounter with the Doberman Pinscher, Dinah Langley, and she expected the redhead to guard the door to Troy’s office like Cerberus. But surprisingly Dinah motioned her on through.
Brooke stepped into Troy’s office, her heart thumping in her ears, only to find it vacant. Where was he? It was well after lunchtime. Had he just gone on break or was he out of the building for some reason? She was terribly disappointed, but at least she had the opportunity to look around. One could tell a lot about a person by looking at their workspace.
On the wall next to the door to Dinah’s office there was an autographed portrait of Bear Bryant flanked by photos of Troy as a Crimson Tide halfback. Two of them she disregarded because he was on the field, running, his helmet obscuring his face.
The third was much more interesting. A younger Troy held his helmet in front of him with both hands, as if he were about to put it on. He stood on the sidelines next to Bear Bryant in his iconic houndstooth fedora. The coach rested a hand on his star halfback’s shoulder and they both looked off-camera, toward the field of play, Bryant pointing with what looked like a folded magazine. Hot and sweaty, his wet, Seventies-length hair hanging in strings, Troy wore a look of intense interest, his brows slightly pulled together, his lips parted and pursed. Brooke’s stomach fluttered.
The other photo showed Troy with a girl whose hairstyle, make up and clothing were in the mod style Brooke remembered from junior high. They were on a football field after a game, in profile. She was standing on a low wall and Troy, sans helmet, sweaty and tousled as in the other photo, had put his big hands around her ribs, just beneath her breasts. He was moments from swinging her to the ground when the shutter snapped. His head was tilted back and he looked up into her eyes, laughing. The girl looked down at his face, sharing his laughter. Her hands were on his shoulder pads, but not resting there, flat. They were fists clamped onto wads of his jersey, and there was something riveting about that, something intimate ... covertly sexual.
Suddenly annoyed, Brooke abandoned the football prints and continued to the credenza, glancing about the office on the way.
...She moved to the credenza, her destination. Above it hung a couple of childish crayon drawings on notebook paper—stick men and crude, slanting text that read Daddy, one signed Missy and one Randy. They were elegantly matted and framed.
They were part of a grouping of framed prints anchored by a twelve by fourteen photograph with a three-inch mat—a casual family portrait in an outdoor setting, full length view with the family seated on a rustic bench.
Troy, in a white, open-throated knit shirt over khaki bermuda shorts and leather sandals, sat in the middle, looking straight into the camera with those odd, compelling eyes, and wearing that knockout smile. His arm was around a dark-haired woman to his right who sported a taupe shorts set and brown grasshoppers—the same woman who was a girl in the football photo, and the photos downstairs. She was half-smiling, Mona Lisa-like, and turned toward Troy slightly, leaning against him, her hand resting possessively on his thigh.
While rather pretty, she was no match for her husband’s extraordinary good looks and Brooke wondered why it was that the handsomest men so often married mousy women.
Troy’s other arm was around a dark-haired little girl of about seven or eight, dressed in a pink gingham sundress and white sandals. Her head was ducked slightly as she leaned against her father’s side and looked up at the camera with big eyes. In the middle was an adorable black-haired, dark-eyed boy about five years old wearing a white T-shirt and denim shorts, his feet bare. He was sitting astride Troy’s other leg—the one not occupied by a dainty, French-manicured hand attached to the arm of the sweet-faced little wife. The boy was holding a small football and leaning back against Troy’s chest. He wasn’t smiling, exactly, but his face, set with the same arresting eyes as his father, exuded contentment that bordered on smugness.
Attached to the bottom of the frame was a small pewter placard with engraving that read The Stevensons - Patty, Troy, Randy, Melissa - Summer 1981. Brooke’s focus returned to the wife, Patty, to her left hand, adorned with a gold wedding set that showcased a huge, sparkling diamond. It wasn’t really resting on his thigh. It was pressed loosely against his inner thigh, between his knee and the hem of his bermudas—an erogenous zone. For Brooke, the realization added another layer of dimension to the woman’s smug, secretive smile—and to Troy’s wide, happy one.
Sudden jealousy enflamed Brooke from head to toe.
She heard the sound of a throat clearing and looked up to see Dinah-the-Dobie standing in the doorway.
"Oh, sorry," she said, thinking quickly, wildly, as she put the files on the credenza. "This portrait caught my attention. This little girl looks just like my cousin’s daughter. It’s incredible. I mean, they could be twins. I don’t guess there’s any relation, though. My cousin is from Virginia."
"Interesting," Dinah said, lifting a brow. "You might mention it to Troy some time. His family’s been right next door in West Virginia for generations."
"Is that right? Well, if I remember, I’ll mention it to him." Brooke headed for the door and remarked, in passing, "Company decorator did a nice job on this office. It’s the best one up here."
"Actually, Troy’s wife, Patty, decorated it."
"Oh, really? Wow. Is she an interior designer?"
"No," Dinah said with a knowing smile that irritated Brooke to no end. "She’s just an expert on what pleases Troy. You have a good weekend, now. Enjoy the holiday."
“I’m sorry,” he murmured thickly. “I wanted this to be slow and sweet for you, but I’m too hungry.”
“It’s okay. I’m hungry, too. We can do slow and sweet some other time.”
His big feather pillow had flattened in the middle and he had created a second pillow of his folded arm. He had flung off the lightweight blanket and only the sheet covered him, pulled up to his chest. His shoulders rose and fell as he breathed.
Several times the past two nights she had awakened and looked at him, or heard his soft breathing, and she felt surprise and gratitude. His time away from home had done something to them and it was taking longer to adjust than they had anticipated.
But adjusting did offer its opportunities.
Patty got up, tiptoed to the door and closed it. Walking quietly back to the bed, she slipped out of her pajamas and crawled under the sheet naked. She lay on her back thinking, praying and occasionally stealing a glance at her husband.
About six, he started his languid wake-up routine. She loved to watch him wake up but the opportunity to do so was rare because she habitually got up before he did to fix breakfast. After his time away from home, though, she was determined not to miss this. She turned toward him and propped herself up on an elbow.
In shallow sleep, Troy rolled onto his back. He straightened one long leg, then the other. His body stiffened slightly and his brows lowered with the mild effort it took him to break wind. He relaxed again. Eyes still closed, he turned his face toward her, his breathing grew steady and he fell back into full sleep
Patty giggled silently, pondering how a bodily function that caused embarrassment under most other circumstances could be endearing, or at least amusing, when a lover did it in sleep.
After a few moments, he moved again. He shrugged his shoulders, stretched his arms, put his left hand in the middle of his chest, fingers spread apart. He laid his right arm across the bed between them, elbow bent, hand resting on her pillow.
The room was brighter now and Patty gazed at him. When he was asleep, the effects of his virtue, his faith, and his love showed without distraction on his face. They enhanced his human attractiveness, lifting it to angelic beauty that, paradoxically, ignited strong carnal desire in her. She wanted to see him aroused, with passion on his face and desire in his eyes. She wanted to feel his mouth on hers and his breath on her cheek, to feel his hands on her skin and his body covering hers. She wanted to feel him inside her ....
In a few moments, he began to stir lazily again. He was very close to waking.
Patty took a package of breath mints from the drawer of her bedside table and put one in her mouth. She waited a few moments, put another mint in her mouth and slid over to him, snuggling against him under the sheet, laying her head on his shoulder and her hand on his chest. She was filled with desire and touching him intensified her craving for him.
His arm curled around her.
She raised her head to see his face. His eyes opened, black and dreamy. He looked at her and smiled. She smiled back, a cartoon smile showing her teeth with the breath mint clamped between them.
He laughed softly. "You brazen hussy."
He parted his lips and lifted his face toward hers. She put her mouth to his and pushed the mint with her tongue. He took it and laid his head back against the pillow. He wallowed the mint in his mouth for a while and looked at her appraisingly.
"All you want is my body," he accused.
"That’s not so. I want your money, too."
He smiled wryly and lifted his head to nuzzle her hair. "Then this better be real good."
He lazily kicked the sheet off of them and rolled onto his side. His eyes roamed her body as his hand stroked and clasped her shoulder to pull her to him for a kiss.
He didn’t look angelic anymore. He looked like what he was—a son of Adam driven to sexual union by the God-given nature of his body and by the love in his heart for his wife, lover and soul mate.
Patty got everything she wanted and this time it was slow and sweet and real, real good.
“Dinah, this is to Harold Edwards at Patterson, Boyd and Stiller Corporation. Today’s date is June twentieth. Use Harold’s address that’s in your Rolodex, not corporate headquarters. The usual greeting, then, here are the figures you asked about by phone Friday on the Gerabaldi two thirty-four transponder. I have verified them.”
He had long since ceased to dictate routine punctuation. Dinah knew as well as he where to put commas, periods and paragraph breaks.
“Uh, Dinah, refer to the sales figures from the March 1982 report on the Model two thirty-four transponder manufactured by Gerabaldi, Incorporated. I’ll put a photocopy of the page with the figures in your in-box. Use the ones I’ve circled in red—”
He interrupted himself to look through the scattering of papers on his desk. Where was that photocopy? He had it a minute ago....
There was a knock on the door and he glanced up from his search. It was the girl from the library—he couldn’t remember her name, if he’d ever known it—with a haphazard stack of file folders in her arms. She stood in the doorway and looked at him, awaiting instructions.
“You can put those over there,” he said, glancing toward the credenza. As she walked toward it, he abandoned the search for the photocopy and gave in to an annoyance he’d been suppressing for an hour.
“I requested that those files get here by four,” he said testily. “I needed them for a last-minute conference call at four-fifteen. Did anyone in your department tell you that?”
Her back was to him as she laid the files down. “I’m sorry they’re late. I’d love to make it up to you.”
Provocative words spoken in a sultry voice, and they instantly evoked in Troy a pervasive unease.
She turned toward him. She was dressed in a tan summer-weight suit—a short, straight skirt topped with a matching blazer. The blazer was unbuttoned and gapped open a few inches and she had on nothing beneath it. The gap revealed the inner third of her breasts centered with a shadow of shallow cleavage.
Troy felt a mild shock and his brows lowered for a moment before his face went expressionless.
“I’m Brooke Emerson. When I see you around, I can’t take my eyes off of you.”
He stood up. “You need to leave here.”
“I don’t want to leave. I want to be where you are.”
“But you need to leave.” His face was stony. Tense and suspicious, he nevertheless kept his voice calm, neutral.
She didn’t. “I know about you. You’re not living with your wife. You’re all alone.”
Troy’s eyes narrowed until they were completely black. Some part of his mind wanted to laugh because this had to be a joke.
“Max put you up to this.”
“Nobody put me up to it. You must be awfully lonely, living by yourself out there at the lake. I’ll take care of your loneliness, right here, right now. On the couch, on the carpet, wherever you say.”
She shrugged slightly, opening the gap wider, and started walking toward him.
Troy’s brows knit together as his discomfort began to break through the neutrality on his face, but his voice remained dispassionate. “If you walk out of here right now, nobody ever has to know about this. I won’t tell. But you have to go, right now.”
She was within arm’s length of his desk. “I’ll do anything. Whatever you want.”
“Get out of my office. That’s what I want.”
“You don’t mean that.”
Another step and she’d be behind the desk. Troy glanced down to press a button on the speakerphone. A dialtone filled the air and he instantly pressed another button.
Brooke looked down at the phone, startled, as a man’s voice came out of the speaker. “Security, Craddock here,”
Before Troy could speak, she picked up the handset and dropped it in its cradle, breaking the connection.
Suddenly furious, Troy said, “Arright, then I’ll leave.” He stepped around the computer extension and walked toward Dinah’s office, tightly controlling his fury and shaking his head slightly.
“No!” Brooke hurried back the way she came and caught up with him halfway across the room. She threw her arms around him. Her blazer gapped apart, her breasts pressed against him and she kissed him hard on the mouth.
Troy jerked his head back and turned his face aside with a grimace while he reached up to take her forearms in his hands. He wanted nothing more than to pull her off him, but through the haze of rage, a thought broke through.
Don’t touch her.
His hands balled into fists that he dropped to his sides and he took a step back, then another. In a mad, bizarre imitation of dance, Brooke stepped forward to keep her body pressed against him.
At that moment, a knock sounded from the direction of Dinah’s office. He froze and so did Brooke.
“Any mail to go out?” It was Robin from the mailroom standing in the doorway holding a cardboard mail crate. She was looking at them without a twinge of surprise on her face, as if she encountered co-workers in compromising positions all the time.
Troy stepped back again, freeing himself from Brooke’s stranglehold. Trembling from head to toe and breathing unevenly through his mouth, his fists white-knuckled, his eyes glittering with fury, he looked more like a party in a fistfight than the object of an attempted seduction.
His would-be temptress looked at him, then Robin, and tears of humiliation sprang to her eyes. She clutched the lapels of her blazer together and hurried from the room, sobbing, nearly knocking the mail crate out of Robin’s hands in her haste.
When she was gone, Troy cut his eyes toward Robin. They were the only thing mobile in his glacial expression.
“Mr. Stevenson, I know that wasn’t your doing. I was out here the whole time. I heard everything and saw some of it.”
Robin glanced behind her toward the door to the corridor. “She’s been obsessing over you for weeks. The whole place knows about it. Now she’s a woman scorned and might be dangerous, so you watch your back.”
She turned and left.
Troy’s anger dissipated as quickly as it had hit, leaving him both physically and emotionally wrung out. He took a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped it across his mouth and looked at it. There were smudges of coral colored lipstick on it that gave him a touch of nausea.
He would come in early tomorrow to finish dictating the letters. He didn’t want to stay here another minute.
He left the office as it was—lights on, papers scattered, briefcase open, files everywhere. With trembling hands, he locked his door, then Dinah’s, and walked down the corridor to the utility stairwell. He detoured by Security and told Jeff Craddock to disregard his call.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Jeff said, taking in Troy’s unsettled expression. “The call disconnected so quick, I didn’t notice where it came from and had to check the computer log. I called back just now, got no answer. I was just about to come check on you.”
“It’s all right. I locked up. I’m going home.”
Then she spotted him and his family getting out of a white station wagon. They walked to the back of the wagon and Troy took things out and handed them around. He hoisted a mid-size cooler to his right shoulder and took something in his other hand and they headed for the exhibition hall.
...As always, seeing Troy took her breath away. Above khaki bermuda shorts, he wore an unbuttoned white shirt with short sleeves in lightweight cotton over a brown T-shirt with some sort of writing on the front. She couldn't tell what it said at this distance, but she was a bit surprised. She’d heard that he wasn't enthusiastic about wearing clothing with logos and slogans, the exception being insignias from the University of Alabama. His sockless feet were encased in bulky white tennis shoes, the laces untied and flopping with every step. Dark sunglasses and a cap with a curved bill shaded his face but did nothing to hide his extreme handsomeness.
Patty took the refill back to Troy. He took a sip and set the cup on the little table next to a portable radio. Patty stepped behind his chair, put her hands on those wide, strong shoulders and slid them down to meet above his breastbone. He covered her hands with his, tilted his head back to look up at her with a lazy, summer smile. He said something and she ruffled his hair before going back to the chaise.
It was perhaps ten minutes later that Troy stood up and left the shelter, his dark glasses hiding his eyes. As he navigated his way through the clumps of spectators, Brooke got a clear look at the slogan printed in white on his T-shirt, and it was like a hard slap across the face.
Made for Monogamy.
They had come in shortly after she did and stood at the edge of the dance floor talking with a visitor from Atlanta. But five minutes into the dancing the DJ started a song that had an instant and visible effect on them.
Their faces turned toward each other simultaneously and communication, silent and significant, passed between them. Troy’s eyes narrowed and one side of his mouth quirked up. Patty's lips parted slightly and her eyes gleamed as they fastened on his.
He said a quick word to their companions and raised his hand in a leave-taking gesture and took a few steps onto the dance floor with Patty beside him. They turned toward each other and began to dance.
Brooke didn't recognize the tune, but she recognized its effect. Jazz with a touch of soul, it featured punchy brass orchestration in the background and an alluring saxophone lead that was sensual, seductive. Music for lovers to make out by, spine-tingling in its sexiness.
At first, Troy did little more than shift his weight from foot to foot, and barely tilt his shoulders. Except for the fingertips of his right hand resting against Patty's waist, they weren’t even touching. As their bodies moved slightly to the compelling rhythm, they spoke to each other too softly for anyone else to hear.
At last, Patty reached up to rest her hand on his shoulder. They took each other's free hand, loosely laced their fingers and Troy began to lead. Patty followed him perfectly.
There was nothing extraordinary about their dancing. They weren't pressed together as were a few couples sharing the dancefloor with them, or showing off their bodies with gyrations and undulations like some of the younger folks. What was extraordinary was their absorbtion with each other and aura of intimacy that permeated it.
This was more than just sexy, more than physical, Brooke realized with a painful jolt. Their behavior bespoke intimacy not just of their bodies, but of their minds and hearts, perhaps even their souls.
Max was right. They weren’t breaking up. They were still falling in love. This realization, growing and trying to force itself on her throughout the day, had turned the picnic into an episode of near torture for Brooke, and though watching Troy so deeply focused on his wife tormented her with pain and jealousy, she couldn't take her eyes off them.
"Lovely couple, aren’t they?"
Brooke nearly jumped off the chair. She looked up to see Dinah Langley standing next to her. "You scared the crap outta me."
She wondered how much the Dobie knew. That Brooke was interested in her boss? Surely. That he had rejected and humiliated her? Fifty-fifty.
Dinah made herself comfortable, uninvited, on the adjacent chair, crossed her legs, and watched the Stevensons dance. "Did you know they don't dance with anyone but each other? Troy says dancing is pre-foreplay, and he won't do that with anyone but his wife."
The redhead's lips curved into a smug smile.
"That's one of their favorite songs, by the way. It’s an old Earth, Wind and Fire tune, Can't Hide Love, originally released when they'd been married, oh, maybe two years or so. Even done up by a jazz ensemble, it sounds so mid-Seventies and no doubt carries some exquisite memories for them."
Dinah clasped her hands around her knee and gave Brooke one of her infuriating know-it-all looks. "They fell hard in love at first sight. I didn't know them then, but they've told me about it. Patty was sixteen. She was only seventeen when they got married. She was a beautiful June bride. They had both just graduated, him from college, her from high school. And they're still very much in love."
"So?" Why do people keep telling me this ancient history?
"I’ve been watching you watching them—watching him—today. Those dark glasses you're wearing don't really hide it, you know? I’ve heard all the gossip around the office, too. He won’t say, of course, but I strongly suspect you’ve tried to hit on him."
Brook looked at her sharply. "Has that mail girl been talking to you? She doesn’t know anything. She’s a liar, too."
"A liar who doesn't know anything, huh?" Dinah chuckled. She glanced toward the Stevensons and back to the dark glasses. Her face exuded the intense protectiveness Brooke had heard so much about.
"He’s a good, honorable man. If I were you, I’d find somebody else to obsess over. I know you’ve got the hots for him but you might as well forget it. You don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting in his britches."
~RIP, Wayman Tisdale
Brooke followed at a discreet distance, pretending to be engrossed in the stores on the other side of the corridor. Her interest shot up when they stopped to look at the displays in a women’s clothing store.
Patty studied a camel colored blazer with a tan tattersall checked shirt and a brown skirt, perfect for her unsparkly persona, as Max had put it. Troy looked at the outfit with passive interest and walked beyond it to the area where lingerie was on display, gazing through the glass until his wife joined him. He pointed to a tiny, see-through red thing on an armless, headless mannequin, whispered into Patty’s ear, then straightened with a sexy grin on his face.
He was facing the way they’d come and he had but to cut his eyes slightly to the side and he would see Brooke standing across the corridor, staring. She scurried into the first refuge she saw, the Smoke and Pipe Shop, and peered around the carved wooden Indian by the entrance.
From there she watched Troy go into the store while the wife-bitch walked with the kids to the adjacent toy store where the brats looked hungrily at the displays. In a few moments, he rejoined them carrying a smallish shopping bag, much too small to hold a blazer or skirt. He held the bag out to his wife, its handles draped across his forefinger. Patty took the bag and gave him a coquettish look that made Brooke curse under her breath.
The family moseyed down the corridor. Troy put his arm casually across his wife’s shoulders and Patty’s hand went behind him to stroke and pat his buttocks before her arm settled around his waist. He responded with a quick squeeze of her shoulders that momentarily jostled her against his side.
To anyone who had see the it—and probably nobody had but Brooke—Patty’s gesture and Troy’s response made an unmistakable statement about the sexual intimacy that characterized their relationship. But it went beyond sex, beyond intimacy to belongingness—to the possessiveness they felt toward each other ... and the willingness and desire each felt to be possessed, to be owned, by the other.
With the dagger-blade of envy lancing her heart, Brooke watched them stroll down the corridor toward the multiple glass doors of the exit. It came to her that they were headed home. There, the wife-bitch would put the brats to bed and then she would get herself clean and sweet-smelling, get all fixed up for him, and put on the little see-through red thing and go to him. And he would slowly peel it off her and put his hands and his mouth on her, put them all over her and make her whimper. And he would get naked and breathless and hot and ... hard ... for her.
"May I help you ma’am?"
Brooke jumped and turned a startled look toward the store clerk, her lust and jealousy so great they had become physical, draining the color from her face and making her body shake.
"No." She averted her face and hurried from the store.
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