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I gave myself a once-over in the bathroom mirror and smiled at my reflection. I looked good.
Hot enough that my husband wouldn't be able to resist me.
I'd flat-ironed my hair, giving my shoulder-length ebony locks the razor-sharp straight look I didn't wear often. Robert typically liked it softly curled. The straight hair, combined with the dress and dramatic makeup, gave me more of a high-fashion model or actress look. My hair had taken a good thirty minutes to perfect, but I was extremely pleased with the result.
I smoothed my hands over my black sheath dress. It was tight, hugging my curves. I'd put on a push-up bra to give me more cleavage, and the dress's V-neck exposed a teasing amount of flesh. A little too much?
I shook my head. No, I didn't think so.
I wasn't trying to be subtle in my sex appeal, though I was trying to be tasteful. What I wanted was my husband thinking of getting me home—and naked— during every moment of our dinner.
We needed something to get us into baby-making mood.
"Elsie, what's taking you so long?" I heard Robert call out to me. His voice was close, which meant he was in our bedroom. I'd left him downstairs watching CNN in the great room as I'd come to the master bathroom, locking the door so he couldn't inadvertently see me before I wanted him to. This was the second time he'd come up to check on me.
"We have a seven-o'clock reservation," Robert said sternly. "It's six-twenty."
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," I said. "We'll get there. We've got enough time."
"We're going to midtown."
The doorknob rattled, but with the door locked, it didn't budge. "Open up, Elsie."
"Just give me a few more minutes." I wanted my look to be a surprise. We were going to The Melting Pot, a popular fondue restaurant in midtown Charlotte that always got rave reviews, and I wanted to look chic and sexy as I walked in on Robert's arm.
He knocked on the door now—fast, impatient. "Open the door, Elsie."
He was irritated. I could tell by his tone. He probably thought I was going to take another twenty minutes to finish getting ready. "Okay, I'm coming."
I applied my deep red lipstick, picked my LuLu clutch up off the vanity—and then spotted the necklace I'd forgotten to put on. Robert liked classic pearls, but they weren't right for this look, so I had decided on a six-strand beaded black necklace that I rarely wore.
"I'm just putting my necklace on." I secured the clasp at the back of my neck. Then I slipped into my Jimmy Choo black patent shoes. Yes, I thought. Perfect.
"I'm coming," I called, and hurried to the door. I hoped Robert's tone was an indicator of his impatience, as opposed to a bad mood. I'd been looking forward to our first visit to The Melting Pot for ages, and I didn't want anything to sour our romantic evening.
I swung open the door and spread my arms. "Ta-da."
It took only a second for Robert's eyes to widen in surprise. That I expected. This wasn't my typical demure look. His gaze roamed over my face and hair first, then went lower, stopping at my breasts. "What are you wearing?"
My husband's expression was far from appreciative— not the reaction I had expected. "You don't like it?"
"I thought you were going to wear the red dress I bought you last week."
"I preferred this one. We are going to that hip fondue restaurant." And I want you thinking about getting me naked. Creating a baby inside me.
"Restaurant. Exactly. Not a club with your friends."
Once again, Robert's eyes landed on my cleavage. Then they moved upward. "And what on earth did you do to your hair?"
I raised my hand, fingering some of the strands. "I tried something different."
"I don't like it."
"Oh." I had hoped he would. I'd worked so hard on coming up with a hot, irresistible look. The kind that would have my husband whistling with appreciation, not staring at me with scorn.
Robert glanced at his watch. "We're cutting it close, but you should have enough time to change. The red dress is more appropriate for dinner. Even if we're a little late, I'm sure they'll hold our reservation."
"Oh," I said, feeling deflated. "You think I should change."
"I'll, uh, need a few more minutes to get ready then." I spoke as evenly as possible, trying to hide my disappointment.
"I'll be downstairs."
Robert turned and walked out of the bedroom. There was no more discussion. He'd made his wishes clear, and if I went downstairs in anything other than the red dress, he would be miserable the entire night.
Closing the bathroom door, I tried to ignore the swell of unhappiness rising inside me. I tried, as I had done so many times before, to put the unpleasant feelings in an emotional box. It had taken him two years to agree to take me to The Melting Pot, and I didn't want to ruin an evening I had been looking forward to.
I went back to the vanity table and looked at myself in the mirror one more time. The spark in my eyes had disappeared. The sexy, excited woman didn't look sexy and excited anymore.
The his-and-her closets were connected to the bathroom by a carpeted hallway. I suppose the suite had been designed that way to make it easier for people fresh from the shower to be able to get dressed. Everything in a house like this—nearly ten thousand square feet—was about making life easier for the owners. If you wished to watch your favorite television show in the bathtub, you could do that. If you didn't want to go downstairs to your home office, you didn't need to; the master bedroom was so large, it had a desk and computer in a corner by the bay window. My closet was big enough to have shelves upon shelves for hundreds of pairs of shoes, plus racks to hang hundreds of outfits. So was Robert's.
I took the red dress off the hook where I'd hung it after deciding I'd wear the black one instead. There was a mirror in my closet—two floor-length ones, in fact—so I didn't need to go back to the bathroom to see what the gown looked like when I held it up against my body.
It was a perfectly nice dress. Classic. Elegant.
But it wasn't the look I had wanted for tonight.
I pushed that thought aside. Time was ticking away. I had to tone down my dark makeup, which would be too dramatic for the red dress. I went back into the bathroom, dampened a face towel and tried to smudge off as much of my dark eye shadow as I could—then grabbed a tissue to dab at the tears that filled my eyes.
"Why are you crying?" I asked my reflection. "So what if Robert wants you to change? What's the big deal?" I unzipped my black dress and wriggled out of it. "If he thinks the dress isn't right, it's because he knows more about this stuff than you do."
My husband was the former head of a Fortune 500 company. Having lived most of his life in privilege, he knew much more about etiquette than I did. Maybe he thought I looked trashy, and as the wife of a wealthy and prominent citizen, I couldn't bring any shame to him.
The words made sense to me, and yet I found myself thinking something that had flitted into my mind many times over the past couple of years. Robert doesn't think I fit into his world. Even after all this time.
And then I had another thought: When you dress too provocatively, it screams to the world that you're a trophy wife. Everyone will always see you as the woman who married up.
Robert had said that to me more than once when we'd first gotten married. I'd understood his point then, and I understood it now. Eight years ago, I'd married a wealthy man thirty years my senior. I know that most people would believe I did it for financial reasons. But that wasn't true.
I married for love.
Before walking down the aisle, I signed a prenup entitling me to one million dollars if our marriage ended before the ten year mark. My lawyer had wanted to renegotiate for a higher amount, arguing that Robert was enormously wealthy, but I had refused. My goal wasn't how much I could get should we divorce, but rather on living happily ever after with the man I adored.
Reaching a hand behind me, I was about to unclasp my bra, figuring something more conservative would be better. But then I glanced at the clock. It was already 6:33. I could imagine Robert downstairs, sitting on the chaise in the great room, impatiently glancing at his watch.
So I kept the bra on and got into the red dress, a delicate number with a much higher neckline. The gown cinched below the bust with a black ribbon band, and from there flowed down to my knees. With the combination of the push-up bra and the ribbon detail, my breasts really popped.
But at least they were covered. It was one element that made me feel sexier, and I was grateful for that. I still wanted to be irresistible to Robert.
The only other issue was my hair. Robert had said he didn't like it. I did. But again, I wanted to be turning him on, not off. I searched my vanity for a black clip. Instead of wearing my hair down, I swept the back of it up off my neck and styled it up with the clip. I arranged some loose tendrils around the sides of my face, giving me a softer look.
The black ribbon on my dress went well with my black clutch and shoes, and also my necklace, so at least I didn't have to change my accessories. I wrapped a cashmere shawl around my shoulders and was ready to go.
One last time, I checked myself out in the mirror. I wasn't the vixen I'd been a while earlier. But I was still attractive, hopefully in a way that would make my husband happy.
Because I still hoped that Robert and I would end up in our bed later, making love.
And making a baby.
By the time we got to The Melting Pot, we were ten minutes late. But I had called ahead, ensuring that they'd hold our table, while Robert drove.
He pulled up to the valet stand in front of the restaurant. An attendant came over immediately. They usually did when the car was a Porsche.
Moments later, we were inside The Melting Pot. The restaurant was warm and inviting, done in a combination of dark beige and burgundy. Intimate, curved booths lined the walls. Unique lighting fixtures hung above the tables, reminding me of blown-glass designs I'd seen in Venice.
I liked the place. A lot. My mood instantly brightened.
The restaurant was full of chatter. Happy people all
around us were laughing and talking and dipping various items into pots of fondue.
"I hope we made the right choice," Robert mumbled.
I glanced at him as we approached the hostess stand. He didn't make eye contact with me. I didn't bother asking him what he meant.
The hostess sat us at our table in the center of the restaurant. I took my shawl off and placed it and my clutch on the seat next to me.
Robert was looking around. Not a casual glance inspecting his surroundings, but more of an intense, evaluating look.
Some of the diners were throwing curious glances our way, as well.
I suddenly understood why Robert had muttered that comment. The crowd was young—late twenties to late thirties, mostly. Young and attractive. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Robert was uncomfortable here.
Uncomfortable because of our age difference.
I reached across the table and took his hand in mine, letting him know that I wasn't uncomfortable. After eight years of marriage, I was used to the second glances we got from some people. At first those looks had bothered me, but not anymore.
I was with my husband, and if the rest of the world didn't like it, they could go to hell.
In the beginning of our relationship, Robert had had no problem going out with me in public. He'd been a fit and attractive fifty-nine. And when he colored the…