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Faye released the tiebacks on her bedroom curtains. With a silky whisper, the heavy, luxurious panels fell together, blocking out the night, turning her bedroom into a private chamber. Crossing the room, she folded back the floral quilt, exposing the crisply ironed ivory linen sheets. She plumped the already puffy pillows, leaning them invitingly against the headboard.
She paused, listening. Aubrey was still in the bathroom. Always fastidious, she knew he would be especially particular with his grooming tonight.
Tonight they would make love for the first time.
She didn’t want to be caught admiring herself, but her full-length cheval mirror invited her to appreciate her appearance. The curves of her voluptuous body were enhanced by the drape of her silk nightgown. The slenderest of straps supported a bodice of exquisite lace dipping to reveal her full breasts. The loose cut allowed the material to skim the rest of her body without emphasizing her other bulges. She’d kept her long white hair in the low chignon she often wore—she was planning, at some appropriate moment, perhaps when she was on top of Aubrey, to reach up with both arms and remove the barrette, so that her hair would tumble down around her shoulders, just as it did on the heroines in romance novels.
Bringing her face closer to the mirror, she inspected a freckle on her nose. In spite of her straw hat, the work she’d done in her garden had let the spring sun darken the small, pea-sized blemish. Because it was on the same level as her eyes, it gave her the unfortunate appearance of having three eyes, so she’d had it lasered off a few years ago, even though it wasn’t precancerous. Now she’d have to do it again. Taken with all the other changes on her face and body, it made her look not just older, but peculiar.
Water ran in the bathroom. Faye squinted at the mirror. She wore the beautiful gold filigree necklace Aubrey had given her for Christmas this December. Should she remove it? She never wore jewelry to bed. But then, she hadn’t gone to bed for this purpose for years. The necklace was very pretty, lying against her chest. It led the eye down to her bosom. She’d leave it on.
Walking around the room, she took up a pack of matches and lighted all the candles she’d set out earlier in the day. The candles made eager, almost erotic, little gasps as their wicks took the flame. The sound sent her into a hot flash. Oh Lord, she hoped she didn’t have a hot flash while they were making love! She grabbed a perfume bottle and pressed its cool glass against her flaming cheek. Did she have time to get a glass of ice water? Probably. But if she had a drink of water, she’d have to get up to pee right in the middle of this long-awaited romantic interlude. No, she couldn’t take the chance. She picked up another bottle and held it to her other cheek. Wow, she really was a little radiator. What a shame she couldn’t somehow channel all this extra heat into some kind of battery. She could run her house for the winter.
Aubrey was still in the bathroom. She chided herself for impatience. After all, what was the hurry? She had all evening. All night. But her back hurt from standing all day painting, and her arms and shoulders ached from preparing the light dinner of fish, fruit, and salad. She folded back the covers and slid into bed. Ah, it felt so good to lie down! She chuckled to herself, thinking how sexual cravings changed during a lifetime. In her youth, desire often made it impossible for her to sleep. Now she was in her fifties, and she wasn’t sure she could stay awake to make love.
Well, that was only to be expected, she supposed, now that she’d traded her birth control pills for K-Y Jelly. She opened the drawer of the bedside table and took out the new tube she’d bought yesterday. When should she put it on? Should she wait and let Aubrey put it on? Would he want to? He was a bit finicky when it came to the earthier parts of being human.
Which reminded her, she should bring some towels to the bed. Sex was such a messy business, and Aubrey was such a tidy man. The only child of a wealthy family, he’d been coddled and fussed over and raised to live up to certain standards of elegance. He was the only man she’d ever met who actually owned, and sometimes wore, a cravat. He loved squiring Faye to operas, ballets, concerts, and the many charity events to which he donated generously. Tall, handsome, possessing a thick head of gleaming silver hair, Aubrey was also deeply kind. Faye didn’t know that she loved him, but she was terribly fond of him, and thought he was equally fond of her.
That didn’t necessarily equate to sexual passion, but the night they first met, that exciting, surprising spark had been there. One spring evening, at an open house at The Haven, they’d begun chatting in front of the art exhibit. Over the course of the evening, they’d lingered, feeling more and more drawn to one another. In fact, by the end of the evening, they’d found themselves making out in the front seat of Aubrey’s Jaguar like a couple of hormone-driven teenagers. Yes, Faye remembered, with a smile and a little shiver, they definitely had been sexually attracted to each other.
Unfortunately, Aubrey’s daughter Carolyn had interrupted them, rapping on the window, nearly snarling at Faye. That had cooled their ardor, and since then, events had conspired to make it difficult, if not impossible, to regain that passion. They were busy people, occupied with family duties and private interests. They were older, and they were less energetic. Furthermore, Aubrey, who was in his early seventies, almost fifteen years older than Faye, had made a brief, bad, marriage to a young gold digger just before he met Faye. While the marriage had been annulled and his fortune safely protected, his self-esteem had been damaged. He knew only too well how sexual desire could get him into trouble.
Well, everyone at the hot-flash stage came with a burden of history. Faye knew she was one of the lucky ones. She had loved her husband Jack for all the thirty-five years of their marriage. His unexpected death when he was only sixty-four had plunged her into a well of grief. With her daughter and granddaughter around, she’d eventually struggled back into a life of something like happiness, and with the help of her Hot Flash Club friends, she’d begun to have fun again. They’d encouraged her, a year or so after Jack’s death, to try dating. What a bizarre quartet of experiences that had occasioned! She snickered now, remembering the four different men and the disastrous dates. At least she’d ridden a motorcycle—she’d always be just a bit proud of that.
Jack had been the only man she’d ever slept with in her life, except for the brief affair she had the year she turned thirty. Back then, Jack had put in eighteen-hour days at a law firm, and Faye had kept house, mothered her baby, and organized the obligatory cocktail parties. Zeke, an old friend, just back from leading a hiking tour in New Zealand, had seemed like freedom, danger, fresh air. He didn’t love her, he didn’t even care for her—he was just furiously sexually attracted to her. When they made love, it was fierce and completely physical. Kindness, trust, love, and the responsibilities of family weren’t in the same room—they weren’t even in the same universe.
Remembering those few, brief, crazy meetings brought a smile to Faye’s face, and then—oh, damn!—another hot flash! This one was accompanied by its familiar comrade, irrational crankiness. Why was Aubrey taking so long? She huffed in exasperation. In a way, it seemed rather cold, making love this way, after they’d performed their necessary ablutions, but Aubrey was easily embarrassed by the indignities of age.
The bathroom door opened. Finally! Faye’s heart did a little salsa step and she sat up, smiling.
“Sorry to be so long,” Aubrey apologized. “Candlelight. How nice.”
He was completely naked as he came toward the bed, and Faye gave him full points for courage. She wasn’t ready to walk naked in front of him. With her clothes on, she felt attractive, and she wondered briefly whether it would be possible for her to keep her nightgown on while they made love.
Aubrey slid into the bed next to her. He was in excellent shape for a man in his seventies, yet beneath his silver chest hair, little pouches of fat hung, and Faye was glad. They lay side by side, smiling at each other.
Aubrey put a warm hand on Faye’s arm. “You look very elegant.”
She blinked in dismay. “I look like an elephant?”
Aubrey laughed. “I said,” he repeated carefully, enunciating each word, “you look very elegant.”
“Oh,” Faye laughed, too, relieved. Great, I’m going deaf, too, she thought.
Aubrey moved his hand, gently slipping the nightgown strap down her arm. The lace bodice folded delicately over, revealing her breast.
Aubrey said, “You’re beautiful, Faye.”
Leaning forward, he kissed her. His mouth tasted of both mint and cinnamon, and Faye was slightly amused at all his careful grooming, but as they moved together, touching with hands and mouth and lips and teeth different parts of each other’s body, she was glad he smelled so very good, so clean, and slightly spicy. As he delicately explored her, bits of her body woke up, like plants lifting their faces to the sun after a long winter. Now she was glad he moved so slowly. Her flickering thoughts—the day’s warm sun, the delicious evening meal, her lovely house, this shadowy room—melted away in concentric rings, like the reverse of a stone tossed into a lake. The world grew smaller, tighter, more concentrated, on the bed, on their bodies, on her skin—and then, beneath her skin, in the warm, nearly forgotten space between her thighs. Aubrey spotted the tube of moisturizing jelly. Without speaking, he opened it and gently and very slowly spread it on Faye, his fingertips painting spirals of sensation on tender, long-unnoticed skin. He lay on his back, pulling Faye on top of him, and for just a moment, she thought Oh, no. All my double chins! but he adjusted himself, moving her hips with his hands, and she gave herself over to pure feeling.
Oh, my, her body said. I remember this. This is very nice.
Goodness! her body said. This is very, very . . .
Scoot forward just an inch! her body demanded. Tilt forward! No, more! More! NOW!
“Aubrey,” she gasped.
Tilting her pelvis forward, her body found a spot she’d forgotten existed. She moaned aloud as she adjusted herself. In response, Aubrey put his hands on her breasts, both arousing and supporting her as she lifted and lowered her hips. She’d forgotten to take out her barrette, but her hair fell loose of its own accord, a strand of it sticking in the sweat on her forehead. This was really a kind of labor, like climbing a mountain, a breathtaking endeavor, a struggle, and she was so close, so close, so close, she was almost—
“Aaah!” Aubrey cried out, dropping his arms to his chest.
With the sudden loss of his support, Faye fell forward, losing her momentum and nearly crashing into Aubrey. She caught herself on her hands just in time.
“Aaah!” Aubrey groaned. He grasped his right arm at shoulder level.
“Aubrey?” Sexual sensations vanished. Dear God, was he having a heart attack? “What’s wrong?”
“Shoulder,” he groaned. His face was contorted in pain.
Faye moved her confused, trembling body off Aubrey’s. Kneeling next to him, she touched his arm. “How can I help?”
“Aspirin,” he gasped. “Heating pad. Brandy.”
Faye hesitated. “Um, is it safe to take aspirin with alco—”
“Please!” Aubrey’s voice was thick with pain.
“But are you—”
“It’s only bursitis,” Aubrey panted. “But it hurts like the devil.”
Faye scooted off the bed, nearly tripping as her foot caught in one of the straps of the silk nightgown that had been discarded at some point in their lovemaking. Grabbing it up, she wrapped it around her like a makeshift towel to cover her rear as she scuttled toward the bathroom. She grabbed her robe off a hook, pulled it on, filled a glass with water, sorted through her medicine cabinet, found the aspirin, and hurried back to Aubrey, who lay clasping his arm, his teeth gritted in pain.
“Shall I help you sit up?” she asked.
“Don’t touch me,” he barked, adding, “please.”
As she watched, Aubrey rolled over to his left side, got his feet on the floor, and sat up, all the time keeping hold of his right arm. He took the glass she held out and swallowed the aspirin. Beads of sweat gleamed on his forehead in the candlelight.
“I’ll go downstairs and pour you a brandy,” Faye told him. “Then I’ll get the heating pad.”
“Thank you.” Gingerly, Aubrey leaned against the headboard, his face etched with pain.
Faye brought him the snifter of brandy. She blew out all the candles and plugged the heating pad into the electric socket just behind the bedside table. When Aubrey said he’d like to lie down, she arranged pillows to support his arm. He closed his eyes. His face relaxed. Faye slipped her nightgown on and sat down on the other side of the bed.
“Ouch!” Aubrey’s eyes flew open.
Faye jumped up, alarmed. “What happened?”
“You made the mattress move. Any movement jiggles my shoulder and makes it hurt.”
Faye winced. “Oh. Sorry. Well, um, would it help if I slept in the guest room?”
“Would you mind? When my shoulder goes out like this, even the slightest alteration is agony.”
“Of course I don’t mind. I’m so sorry, Aubrey.” Very, very lightly, she kissed the top of his head. “I’ll see you in the morning. Sleep well.”