Summary: While studying in Boston, a young Adam Cartwright finds himself a part-time job – with unexpected benefits.
My response to Brand’s 13th anniversary R-rated challenge (to include the words “lacy lingerie”)
WC: 7150 Rating: MA (for sexual content)
Mrs. Hardwicke’s parlor
“It’s about time we introduced younger brother here to the delights of Julia’s Palace, wouldn’t you say?”
Hoss grabs Joe’s bag off the stage, looks at me and grins. Joe grins wider though. I’m about to make good on the promise I made him three years ago: that I’d take him to Julia’s as soon as he was old enough as long as he promised to trust to me and Hoss to decide when the time was right, and not to go satisfying his natural curiosity in any of the less reputable establishments on D Street.
Julia’s Palace is a world away from the sordid cribs at the rougher end of town. Julia has a taste for elegance, and it’s no secret her sound business acumen has made her a wealthy woman. The Palace is decked out with the finest furnishings. It’s a place of comfort and luxury. More importantly, Julia’s particular about the girls she employs. They’re her investment, of course, but that’s not the only reason Julia looks after them well. She has a sharp head for business, but she also cares. Bawdy behavior, excessive drunkenness and brawling aren’t tolerated at her place. Compared to most of the saloons in town, the Palace is a welcome breath of refinement.
Despite that, I’m well aware Pa would have something to say if he were to hear about this deal. Pa has strong views on the subject of brothels, so Hoss and I don’t mention our visits to Julia’s, and my promise to Joe is a secret between the three of us, Hoss, Joe and me.
“Our treat,” I tell Joe as we walk up the steps to the Palace. Well, Hoss and I walk; Joe springs. His face is flushed with excitement. He looks at me with burning eyes.
“I can choose any girl?”
“Any girl you like.”
I can’t hide my amusement; he’s as eager as a kid at a carnival. But I can’t blame him. All these years on, I still recall the fervor of my first time with a woman. I was pretty much the same age he is now, but unlike Joe, my life’s experience of the opposite sex had always been limited to a handful of women, most of them some other man’s wife, and none of them attainable. In my growing up years, Virginia City was barely more than a cluster of tents and shanties clinging to the mountain, inhabited by hard-bitten miners. Women were few and far between, particularly young and attractive ones. My father had by far the prettiest woman thereabouts. Marie was young and feisty and beautiful, and I adored her, but her image in my mind had spoiled me. The woman of my dreams was always another Marie, and women of her caliber were few and far between, particularly in the Washoe. The only other women I ever laid eyes on, aside from some toughened settlers’ wives, were the inhabitants of the cat wagons that frequented the mining communities. I watched them from a distance, stifled by awe and envy, and by the trust Pa put in me; brazen ladies with painted faces, often wearing little more than lacy lingerie that barely covered the necessary parts, who flaunted their bodies around the mining camps as if they were goods to sell. Which I guess they were. In spite of the physical excitement, secretly, I was scared of them. I was a boy used to a man’s world, and women – all women – were alien creatures.
When my father brought Marie home with him, she seemed to me like a princess from a fairy-tale; exotic and fine, like a beautiful doll. I was more than a little in love with her, but not as a boy loves a mother. It made me awkward with her at the start. I was eleven years old and barely understood my own mixed-up feelings. Her loveliness overwhelmed me. I idolized her with such intensity, I would bury my face in my pillow at night and cry tears of frustrated love. It was a bewildering passion. It wasn’t lust that haunted me, not in those early days, although as time went on she would factor in my fantasies. It wasn’t my stepmother I yearned for though; rather an ideal woman formed in her image. Maybe that was understandable since she was the only desirable female I had really known. No, Marie
stirred in me a yearning for something beyond my childish comprehension; that union of physical and emotional fulfilment, the simultaneous satisfaction of body and soul. I know what it is now that I’m older and wiser, yet still it eludes me.
It wasn’t until I left the Ponderosa and went away to college, in Boston, that my eyes were fully opened to the female of the species. That was a turbulent time. Marie’s death had destroyed all equilibrium at the Ponderosa, and the grief of my family was as hard to bear as my own. We’d talked about college, but after what happened to Marie, I mentally shelved all plans of leaving my family. But Pa was not so easily deterred, in spite of his own sufferings. So, I left the turmoil of grief back home, and found myself in a different world; one that battered my sensibilities with new experiences from the moment I set foot off the train.
Back in Nevada, I had been the clever kid, a book-loving oddity among men whose business was the earth, and day to day survival. Boston made my previous existence seem primitive. Here, at last, was civilization and culture, and I fell into it like a hungry puppy, eagerly lapping up every morsel that came my way. And women were part of the new fascination. The streets were filled with fine ladies, in elegant dresses, with frills and bows and all kinds of extravagant finery. They carried parasols to keep the sun from darkening their fair skin, and they walked in the park and drove out in smart carriages to call upon one another. They were delicate and pale and refined, and I was mesmerized. Many of them were young and pretty, and they would smile at me when I tipped my hat as they passed me in the street. Here at last, I thought, I would meet the woman of my dreams. My own Marie, with skin like rose petals and a laugh like water dancing over pebbles. I had more earthy dreams for her too that I indulged in my private moments, but as the months wore on, and I settled into my Boston existence, it became increasingly apparent, that in spite of the multitude of woman now available, I was no closer to fulfilling my dreams. Increasingly, I was becoming less motivated by ideals and more concerned with finding an outlet for my pent-up physical desires; one more satisfying than that which I could provide for myself.
It didn’t help that my fellow students appeared to view me as a man of vast sexual experience. I have no idea where the delusion stemmed from, other than the fact that I was from the West, which was generally considered in this elegant city to be a place of lawless iniquity, totally devoid of any moral standards. There was a general misconception that my home country was populated by women as wild as the land around them; women who would lift their skirts as soon as look at a man. I confess, I did nothing to dispel these illusions. These miscomprehensions only served to flatter a young man’s fragile ego. I was viewed with a mixture of awe and curiosity, and if some of my closer acquaintances ever wondered about the truth, they never divulged any hint of doubt to me. I suspect they truly believed I was some kind of modern day Don Juan. And I’m good at playing a close hand. I keep my own secrets too well.
So, when it finally happened, it came as a complete surprise.
I’d been in Boston almost six months. My old life on the Ponderosa had begun to feel oddly unreal, as though it belonged to another person. Boston life – college life – suited me. I was lodging with my grandfather. It was the only way my father could afford to for me to be at college. Pa had to work hard for every dollar as he built up the ranch. It was one of the reasons I had been reluctant to leave. I’d always been there with Pa, every inch of the way, his right-hand man, in spite of my youth. I worried how he would manage without me. I suspect my grandfather helped out financially with my college education too, although he never said. I was grateful to them both, my Pa and my grandfather, and grandpa and I got on well together. I hope he enjoyed having me to stay as much as I appreciated his kindness in accommodating me during those years.
So, my fees were paid, and I had comfortable bed and board. What I didn’t have was any spare cash to call my own. When I could, I helped out in my grandfather’s chandler’s store, but I was already in his debt and did not expect him to pay me wages for the little I could do to help. From time to time, Pa would send a little extra money, but every dime he sent was money he really needed for Hoss and Little Joe, and the ranch, and I was aware I was already a big financial burden to him. Still, I longed for some extra income of my own, some small amount I could freely spend on a night out with friends or buy a new novel for sheer indulgence.
I frequented the local bookstore most days. It was owned by Mr. Fortescue, a gentle, quiet man who shared my passion for literature. I knew he already had a part-time helper, a final year student called Thomas Downs, but a job in a bookstore would a have been a dream come true for me, so I asked him if he would consider employing me too, even if it was only for a few hours a week.
“I already have Tom,” he told me. “Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to take on another assistant. But when Tom leaves, in the spring, you can take his place then. I hope that helps.”
I thanked him and said it certainly would help. In the short term, I was no better off, but with no other practical prospects, I resigned myself to a few tight months, with the promise of improvement to my pecuniary status, come the spring.
“Are you still looking for some paid work?” Mr. Fortescue asked the next time I called into the bookshop. When I nodded, he went on. “One of my regular customers was in here yesterday, asking if I knew of a young man willing and able to escort an elderly gentleman to the park on Sunday afternoons. He’s recently been confined to a wheelchair and misses his social outings. It would be for a couple of hours each Sunday, and there would be financial remuneration.”
Mr. Fortescue handed me a card bearing a name and address. “Better not waste any time if you’re interested. I know they’ve been asking around. If you want the job, best get over there straight away.”
The address on the card took me to a road about half a mile away, lined with modest but pleasant houses. I climbed the steps to the porch of number twenty and pulled on the doorbell.
A maid answered; a thin girl in a starched apron. Seeing me on the step, she looked inexplicably flustered.
“Is Mr. Greenway in?” I asked.
She gathered herself together. “Whom should I say is calling?”
I told her my name and that Mr. Fortescue from the bookstore had sent me. She vanished into the house and reappeared thirty seconds later, to usher me inside and take my hat.
I followed her down a narrow hallway. Opening a door on the right, she showed me into a small, neat parlor before dropping a little curtsey and vanishing again.
I had a brief impression of cream and lavender, and a gilt-framed painting of a vase of flowers above the fireplace, before a woman rose from the sofa.
She had a deep voice for a woman. Deep and husky. Something about it caused my heart to flip over in my chest.
“I’m Mrs. Hardwicke, Mr. Greenway’s daughter. Are you here about my father?”
I blinked and nodded. “Mr. Fortescue at the bookstore said he was looking for someone to escort him to the park on Sundays.” For some reason, I couldn’t manage the whole sentence without having to catch my breath in the middle. I hoped she hadn’t noticed.
“It was my idea,” she said.
Again, my insides contracted.She wasn’t young, yet she wasn’t old either. Looking back now, I imagine she was about thirty, but barely eighteen, with my brain in a spin, I had no idea of her age. She was attractive, certainly. My brain registered that fact instantly, as it always does. Coils of fair hair framed a face that was more handsome than pretty and her green silk dress, plain and respectable though it was, nevertheless highlighted some promising curves. But that wasn’t what took my breath away. That was something less tangible; something about that deep, breathy voice, coupled with a direct gaze that seemed instantly to see how my blood was racing and my body burning in all the wrong places.
“Won’t you come in properly? Take a seat?”
“Oh…oh, yes,” I stuttered, blushing like a twelve-year-old schoolboy. “Thank you.”
I perched myself, awkwardly, on the edge of a cream-upholstered armchair, doing my best to conceal the blatant and inconvenient erection now bulging beneath the hem of my jacket.
“Tell me about yourself,” she said.
Each time she spoke, my blood tingled afresh. She breathed her words, like soft deep sighs, as though she relished the sounds. Her penetrating stare took me in, from head to foot, and she seemed to approve what she saw because she dropped her gaze and smiled – a secret, half smile. My insides shivered.
“I’m a student at the university,” I told her. “Architecture.”
“You’re not from around here though, are you?”
I shook my head, more vehemently than I’d intended to. “From Nevada,” I told her. “My pa has a ranch there.”
I’d never given any thought to the name of my home territory, but when Mrs. Hardwicke said “Nevada”, I had to suppress a groan of longing – and it wasn’t for Nevada!
“That’s a long way.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I tried to think of something else to say about myself that would interest her, but my brain was a scrambled mess. All I could think about was how much I wanted to see what lay beneath that green silk dress, touch her skin and hear that deep, sweet voice murmuring my name as I sank myself deep inside her.
“My father no longer enjoys the good health he used to,” she told me. I was sure she could see how she had reduced me to a gibbering wreck. I even thought I detected a slight note of amusement in her voice. “He can no longer walk more than a few steps without the aid of a wheelchair. He used to walk often in the park. He misses the social intercourse. It’s in my mind that a strong young man, such as yourself, might walk him there, in his chair, on a Sunday afternoon, when the weather is fine. For which service I will pay you one dollar.”
I was sure I wasn’t mistaken about the purposeful emphasis with which she pronounced “strong young man”. She asked if I would be able to start that very next Sunday. I just about managed to formulate a coherent sentence in the affirmative, and she said her father was currently sunning himself in the garden behind the house and that she would take me to meet him.
A portly and aged gentleman dozed beneath a flower-hung arbor. “My father,” said Mrs. Hardwicke, “Mr. Greenway.”
I experienced a nasty moment then. Hardwicke would be her married name. She had a husband, of course. Why hadn’t that occurred to me? Mentally, I chided myself for my foolishness. Mr. Greenway shook my hand and we exchanged the usual pleasantries, while Mrs. Hardwicke looked on with satisfaction, and I burned with her close proximity.
“So, you’re happy to wheel an old man around in that blessed contraption?” said Mr. Greenway, waving his hand in the direction of the wicker-seated wheelchair and smiling at me in a way that said he would be happy to have me do so. He looked like an amiable gentleman. I nodded and said I’d look forward to taking him out the following Sunday, if that suited him.
“You look a fine young fellow,” he said, seemingly content. “I shall look forward to making more of your acquaintance.”
After I’d taken my leave, I walked home with my blood still tingling and my mind in a restless whirl. I told myself I was acting like a foolish boy, but I could not get Mrs. Hardwicke and her intoxicating voice out of my head. There were four whole days to get through until Sunday, and I spent every free moment replaying in my mind our short interview, remembering the way her eyes seemed to examine every inch of me, the slight twitch of her lips as she spoke to me (did I imagine that?), the hint of suggestion in her voice. I knew I was already in love with Mrs. Hardwicke, come what may. She haunted my waking moments and filled my nightly dreams with pleasure.
On Sunday, the day dawned cloudy. I kept looking up at the overcast sky and willing the sun to break through. If it rained, there would be no walk in the park. I accompanied my grandfather to church, shamelessly praying for sun, restless with the anticipation of seeing Mrs. Hardwicke once more. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when we came out of the service to find the town bathed in golden sunshine. I could hardly wait for the morning to be over so I could make my way back to number twenty Forest Drive. I was all too aware my longing for the lady was unlikely ever to be reciprocated, and yet that reality didn’t dash my youthful fervor. There is something exquisitely sweet in the self-torture of unrequited love. I was young and green, content to take what I could get, even if that meant I could only worship and admire the object of my affections in the solitude of my own heart.
I expected the maid to answer my summons, so I was taken by surprise when Mrs. Hardwicke herself appeared at the door in response to my tug on the bell-pull. My heart threatened to burst out of my chest. I swept the hat from my head.
“Mr. Cartwright,” she greeted me, her eyes running up and down my body and setting all my nerve ends into overdrive. There was nothing I could do to prevent the instant arousal her voice generated in me, but I was careful to hold my hat between my hands in such a position that she would not notice.
“Do come this way. Papa is ready and waiting for you.”
She was wearing a red and gold floral print skirt. I followed her along the narrow hallway, entranced by the way her hips moved beneath the heavy fabric.
“Sunday afternoon is Mary’s half day,” she said over her shoulder.
I presumed Mary was the skinny maid. For some reason, the knowledge of Mary’s absence only made my erection throb the harder.
“I’m so pleased you were able to come,” she said. “Papa has talked of nothing else all morning. He will be so delighted to see you.”
She opened the door to the parlor and stood back to let me through. Every nerve in my body sparked as I brushed past her. My face burned so hot I was sure Mr. Greenway must feel the heat radiating from me as I greeted him with a shake of the hand. But he was focused on his much-anticipated outing, and with no excuse to linger in the parlor, we set off through the autumn sunshine to the park. On the way, Mr. Greenway distracted me from lustful admiration of his daughter with tales of his life; from his career as a banker, to the death of his much-loved wife. He was an intelligent man and his stories were interesting, particularly when he spoke about his daughter. He called her his “dear Annette”. I felt an inexplicable surge of excitement simply from hearing her first name, as though I’d made some wonderful discovery that made us intimate acquaintances.
“My dear Annette,” said Mr. Greenway, “takes such great care of me. A man couldn’t ask for a kinder daughter. It’s not been an easy few years for her since Peter’s death. Her husband,” he added, remembering that I was a stranger.
My heart took a leap into my throat, and dropped back into place, racing at twice its normal speed. I forced my voice to remain level.
“What happened?” I asked. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Not at all, my boy. It’s no secret. Peter was a doctor. Very well thought of around here. But he contracted a most unpleasant fever from one of his patients. We were very sad to lose him. A young man of such great promise. My dear Annette misses him greatly, as you can imagine.”
“They had no children?” My heart was still thudding far too fast.
“Sadly, no. A child would have been of great comfort in her loss.” Mr. Greenway shook his head. “But she’s a strong woman, my dear Annette. Very like her mother in that respect. My beautiful Margaret never crumbled in adversity. Take my advice, young fellow, choose a wife with sound common sense. It’s worth a deal more than a pretty face. Although, if you can find a girl blessed with both, that’s even better. Tell me, Mr. Cartwright, do you have a young lady of your own?”
I said him to call me Adam and that, no, I didn’t; that, for now at least, I must concentrate on my studies. He told me I was wise and asked me more about my home. We’d reached the park by then. He had lived in the area for most of his life and was well-known in the neighborhood. Every fourth or fifth person we passed stopped to say hello and exchange news. It was a pleasant afternoon, enjoying the fresh air and the company, but as we made our way back along the tree-lined street to the house, I was again gripped by the eager anticipation of seeing Mrs. Hardwicke – Annette – again.
“Thank you, Adam,” said Mr. Greenway, as I helped him out of his wheelchair and up the steps to the front door. “It’s been the most enjoyable afternoon. I can’t remember when I last had such a pleasant time. You are a most agreeable young man.” He patted my arm. “I wonder if I could impose upon your good nature just a little longer and ask you to help me to my bed. I think a rest before dinner is in order.”
Mrs. Hardwicke met us at the door.
“We have had a wonderful outing, my dear,” said her father. “Now this charming young man is going to help me to my room.”
Mrs. Hardwicke looked at me and smiled. My belly quivered strangely. “After you’ve done that,” she said to me, “maybe you’d like some tea in the parlor.”
I settled Mr. Greenway in his room and made my way back to the parlor. I was trembling inwardly simply at the thought of being once again in close proximity to Mrs. Hardwicke. I couldn’t explain my excitement, even to myself. Mrs. Hardwicke had given no tangible signal that my presence meant any more to her than that of the able young man she had engaged to wheel her elderly father around the park, and yet, when we looked at each other, the air between us shivered, I was certain of it. She had hinted at nothing, but her invitation to take tea in the parlor had tightened my belly into a hard knot and sent the blood rushing hot through my veins. It was as if I already knew something momentous was about to happen before I even laid a hand on the doorknob.
There was a silver teapot on a silver tray on the table in front of the sofa, with bone china teacups and a cake decorated with a pattern made of sugar. My breathing quickened. So, it really was to be tea and cake, after all.
“Do sit down, Mr. Cartwright,” she said.
“Call me Adam.” My voice sounded dry.
“Adam,” she repeated, as if she were savoring the sound. Hearing her pronounce my name in her sultry tones sent hot rivulets all around my body. “It suits you.”
“You think so?” I managed to say.
She patted the sofa next to her and I obeyed, seating myself so that our knees were less than six inches apart.
“Adam,” she said again. “It’s such a dependable name. Earthy and solid and strong.” She paused to pour tea into one of the little cups. “Is that what you’re like – Adam?”
I laughed, nervously. “I suppose I am,” I said, cringing at the lameness of my response. I’d wanted to be sharp, witty, dazzling, yet I sounded exactly what I was: an unsophisticated and untried farm boy.
I declined and she lifted the cup to hand it to me. Our eyes met and she smiled. I could barely swallow. I set the cup back down on the table.
“Your father enjoyed his walk,” I told her, wondering why my voice emerged suddenly squeaky.
“Yes,” she said.
“I enjoyed it too,” I went on, hoping she didn’t notice my air of desperation. “He’s good company.”
“Yes,” she said again.
I stared down at my knees, wondering what else I could say to keep the conversation going.
“Do you really want to talk about my father,” she asked then, so bluntly I almost jumped. I stared at her in surprise, and for the first time noticed that the fever I could feel burning in my eyes was burning in hers too. For several long seconds, neither of us said anything else, and although I was staring at her eyes, from the edge of my gaze, I could see her breast rising and falling as hard and as fast as my own.
I leaned in towards her and our mouths met without any help from me. I didn’t have much experience, kissing women, and I’d certainly never been kissed before the way Mrs. Hardwicke kissed me that day. It was as if we were trying to force our way inside each other through our mouths. I had a fleeting moment of anxiety that my lack of experience would ruin the moment, but my body was way ahead of my brain, following its own instincts. My arms enfolded her of their own accord. My hands traveled her back; hers caressed mine. I lost all sense of time as our mouths continued their greedy explorations. My hands grew bolder, sliding down into the small of her back and thence to the curve of her haunches. She didn’t pull away or protest as I half feared she would. In fact, she seemed only to press harder into me. I dragged my lips from her hungry mouth to kiss her neck instead. She seemed to like that, tilting her head back, offering up her smooth, pale throat to my lips. My hands, of their own volition found their way to the mound of her bosom, safely encased in a rigid armory of stays.
She pushed my hands down and pulled away from me.
“Drink your tea,” she said. “It’s getting cold.”
I wouldn’t have cared if a film of ice had collected on the surface of the liquid, but it was clear the intimacy was over.
“I’m sorry,” I said, still breathless. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
She had turned her attention back to the tea tray, absently patting her hair back to neatness with one hand. Only the flush on her cheek betrayed her recent passion. It made her more attractive than ever.
“You didn’t,” she said, and she smiled at me in a way that said she meant it.
I stared at her in longing, burning with unspent desire. I even leaned towards her again in an attempt to rekindle the flame I’d seen in her eyes earlier, but she held up my cup and saucer between us, smiling an inscrutable smile.
“Too much, too soon is never good for anyone, Mr. Cartwright,” she said, touching my lips with a teasing finger. “Adam,” she corrected herself in a husky whisper that caused me almost to ejaculate there and then.
I swallowed the lukewarm tea obediently, our eyes never leaving the other’s face. Hers glinted with coquettish amusement; mine, I’m sure, were frantic with the desperate hunger I was trying so hard to control.
“I shall look forward to seeing you again next Sunday, Mr. Cartwright,” she said, rising from the sofa, “if you’re happy to continue with this arrangement.”
I could barely string together a coherent sentence, but I assured her I would return next week. Wild horses would not have stopped me!
The weather held fair, which was as well as, by Sunday, I was a blithering mess. I’d struggled all week to concentrate on my college work, and I handed incorrect change to my grandfather’s customers so often, he became concerned I might be unwell.
Once again, Mrs. Hardwicke answered the door to me. She wore a dark blue skirt and blue-striped blouse with a white silk bow at her neck. Once again, she greeted me with formality and politeness, and no hint of all that had passed between us the week before. And once again, I was rendered a stammering wreck with longing. Even Mr. Greenway’s cheerful ramblings as we made our way through the park could not dispel the burning ache in my loins, and I was haunted by a whole army of “what-ifs” too terrible to contemplate. What if Mrs. Hardwicke didn’t invite me to take tea again in her parlor? What if the maid came back early for some unknown reason? What if there was tea, but Mr. Greenway took it into his head to join us for the ritual? I was almost trembling with apprehension by the time we got back to the house and I helped Mr. Greenway up the steps to the door.
“Again, I thank you, my boy. A wonderful afternoon. Very much appreciated, you know.”
I held my breath as we waited for the door to open. And there she was, demure in her blue-striped top, holding out her hand to her father. Once again, I positioned my hat to disguise the swelling desire manifesting itself below the hem of my jacket while Mr. Greenway sang my praises to his daughter. Then, to my eternal relief, he once again asked me to help him to his room so he could take his nap, and I was never so keen to offer my assistance.
And then Mrs. Hardwicke said those three words I had been dreaming of hearing all week.
“I’ll make tea.”
Once again, when I reached the parlor, the tea tray was on the table, but I spared it no more than a brief glance. I had eyes only for the woman on the cream sofa.
“Come, sit by me,” she said, pouring tea into two cups.
I did as she bid. In truth, at that moment, I was helpless to do anything else.
As before, she handed me the cup and, as before, I set it back down on the table.
“Mr. Cartwright,” she began. Before I could say anything, she corrected herself. “Adam.” She smoothed the skirt over her knees. She had slim, elegant hands. I resisted the urge to pick one up and put it to my lips.
“Adam, I trust you are a young man of honor and discretion.”
I assured her I was. Most certainly.
“Good,” she said, “because I have my reputation to consider.”
My throat was dry. Had she had second thoughts about me? I had had such high hopes for this afternoon and suddenly I could scarcely breathe for fear she was about to tell me there could be no repeat of the previous Sunday.
“If anyone were to think there was something between us…”
“I would never breathe a word,” I told her, aware I sounded frantic, even to my own ears.
She smiled and lifted a hand to rest it against my cheek. “Poor Adam,” she murmured, “you look so anxious. I knew I could trust you though. There is something about you that is so…dependable. So trustworthy.”
Her thumb stroked the top of my cheek. I swallowed hard and once more leaned in towards her. It wasn’t until our lips touched that I dared to believe the dream I had clung to so fervently all week was finally happening for real.
I was bolder this time. My hands caressed her back, her shoulders, crept round to the front of her blouse. Last time I’d encountered the armored stays; this time there was no such obstruction. Beneath her blouse, there was only the soft roundness of her breasts. A bolt of excitement shot through my already aching groin, not simply at what my hands had encountered, but at what her deliberate absence of clothing promised.
She didn’t pull away this time; in fact, her kisses were hungrier than ever. She sank back against the cushions, and I followed her downwards, the fingers of my right hand pulling loose the silk bow of her blouse and working the little pearl buttons undone.
There was some sort of camisole beneath. My knowledge of female undergarments was scant to say the least, but with a little blind exploration I discovered there were no other buttons, just a narrow ribbon at the neck of the garment. When I pulled that undone, it was an easy matter to loosen the neckline until I could ease it down over the deliciously soft, warm mounds beneath. Finally, my hands were caressing the delectable flesh of her breasts. She pushed her head back into the cushions to offer her throat to my willing mouth.
I obliged, kissing up all the way to her ear, then down to the little hollow at the base of her neck. I pulled the front of her blouse fully open so I could take in the full beauty of her glorious bosom. I took one luscious mound in each hand and pushed them together, and I ran my tongue over the tips, first one and then the other. They were rosy-pink and very hard. I took them in my mouth, licked, suckled, played games with one while my hand caressed the other.
Her leg rubbed against the bulge of my straining erection. It felt so good, I groaned and pressed harder into her. Moments later, my face still sunk in the creamy whiteness of her breast, I spilled my seed, helpless to hold on any longer.
I had a fleeting hope I could pretend nothing had happened, but Mrs. Hardwicke was as wise as I was inexperienced. Stroking the hair back from my face, she whispered my name as she kissed the top of my head. Then she took my right hand in hers, down to her skirts, pulling the heavy layers upwards over her knees. Guiding my hand over her leg, she led me up between her thighs. As drunk and giddy as I was with my own release, it took me a moment to register there were no drawers beneath her petticoats, nothing but cool flesh beneath my captive fingers. And then my hand was being guided into the moist, hot recesses of the hidden place between those softly rounded thighs.
Her hand, over mine increased its pressure and rubbed back and forth with a rhythm I understood, even if everything else beneath my fingers was alien to me. My cheek was still resting on the cushion of her breast. I turned my head and once again closed my mouth over the swollen tip.
Moments later, I felt the deep, pulsing contractions of her climax and, innocent that I was, learned something else I’d never known about women. Her response spurred my own arousal to near painful intensity. Once again though, she seemed to understand that without any word from me. Unbuttoning the front of my pants, she took me in hand. Literally. After which we drank our cold tea, slumped against each other in shared disarray and euphoric bliss.
That was how it began, on those Sunday afternoons, in a frenzy of fevered lust. For four whole months, it continued that way. I would walk Mr. Greenway around the park. Then I would wheel him home again and help him settle for his nap while his daughter prepared tea which we drank only once our other, more pressing thirsts were sated, and the tea no more than lukewarm. Our sessions were brief but never dull. I would walk down the narrow hallway from Mr. Greenway’s room, my heart racing with anticipation, and she would be waiting in the parlor. After the first couple of times, we didn’t bother with small talk and pretense. She was always as desperate as I was to get down to the real business between us. Mostly she took the lead and I was content to let her do so, bowing to her experience. She was very particular to avoid “unwanted consequences”, as she put it, necessary limitations that forced us to be creative and taught me useful techniques that have stood me in good stead many times since.
Several weeks into our arrangement, she spoke close to my ear. “Today, we can go the whole way. You want to, don’t you?”
I raised my head from her delicious breasts. She read the question on my face.
“It’s a safe time,” she told me, “and I’ve taken precautions.”
I didn’t understand either of those explanations at the time, nor did I ask. What mattered was that finally, on that memorable Sunday afternoon, with the two of us sprawled half-naked on her cream couch, I could do what I’d been longing to do ever since I’d first laid eyes on her. Three times in fact, in different positions. And it was sweet. Very sweet.
There were never any protestations of love between us, or even affection. In fact, there was barely any talk at all. I imagined she preferred it that way, and I never questioned. Our heady encounters were the highlight of my week. On the Sundays when it rained, I was moody and irritable for the whole day. But mostly, fate smiled on me and the weather was kind, and Mr. Greenway was not averse to cold, only rain and snow.
I think back now, with the wisdom of twelve years’ experience, and I wonder what Mrs. Hardwicke genuinely made of me. Was she fond of the gawky young man who turned up, almost panting with longing every Sunday, or was I just a convenience, a willing outlet for her loneliness in the absence of her husband? At the time, I spared no thought for the whys and wherefores, just counted myself amongst the most fortunate of young men. I had a regular lover who wanted nothing more than sexual gratification. What young man wouldn’t have been euphoric? Whatever her motivation, I will always be indebted to Mrs. Hardwicke, not simply because she made a young man very happy, but also for what she taught me on those incredible Sunday afternoons.
It ended as unexpectedly as it began. Mr. Greenway caught a cold that turned into pneumonia and died, almost exactly four months after I first wheeled him out of the house.
The Sunday after he passed away, I took flowers to the house. Mrs. Hardwicke answered the door and stood back in silence to let me in. Dressed in her mourning black, she looked pale and serious.
“I’m sorry about your father,” I said.
She laid the flowers on the hall stand. “Thank you. But he was an old man. He had a good life. None of us can ask for more than that. And he was very grateful to you for all you did for him, Adam. The walks in the park with you were the highlight of his week.”
“And mine,” I said, unable to prevent the rush of blood to my face.
She smiled a little smile. “And mine.” She raised her eyes to me. “I’m sorry it has to come to an end, Adam. But it must. You understand that, don’t you?”
I wasn’t sure I did. I could not imagine my life without our weekly trysts.
“Surely, we can still see each other,” I said. “Somehow.”
“It wouldn’t be…proper.” She dropped her gaze. “I have a reputation to think about. You do too.”
I wanted to protest. Surely our intimacy could not be cut short so abruptly. For one brief, mad moment, I even considered a marriage proposal, but then I met her eyes again and recognized my desperation for what it was.
“If you change your mind…” I told her.
She smiled properly then, stepped close to me, and our mouths met in one last passionate kiss, then she stepped away again, a small patch of pinkness on each pale cheek.
“Goodbye, Adam. It was fun knowing you.”
After the heat and dust of the street outside, the inside of Julia’s Palace is cool and quiet. A mixture of perfume, whiskey, and cigar smoke tickles my nostrils, stirring up agreeable memories of other afternoons, other evenings, spent here in the company of Ellie-Rose, or Saffron, or—best of all—Angel. Joe’s fervor is catching; there’s a pleasant tingling in my own groin as I contemplate the prospects of the Palace, not just for Joe, but for all three of us.
I imagine everyone remembers their first time. I know the girls here will make sure Joe doesn’t forget his. Just as I won’t ever forget Mrs. Hardwicke.
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