Summary: An old friend has a favor to ask of Adam, with consequences neither of them will ever forget.
How had he come to be here? It still felt like a dream, even though the woman lying beside him was as real as he was. How had they ended up like this, in a strange town, in the same bed? Another man’s wife. His for a few days only.
A shaft of early morning sunlight found its way through a small gap between the curtains. Her hair was a mesh of gold against the whiteness of the pillow. He resisted the urge to touch the ivory-paleness of her exposed shoulder. She was still sleeping. He didn’t want to wake her. He wanted to lie here beside her and wonder at her loveliness and the odd turn of events that had brought them together.
It had all begun with an unexpected note from an old friend, Dan Henson. Once upon a time, he and Dan had been as close as brothers, but after Dan’s mother died, and then his father, Dan, by then a talented artist, sold up the family businesses and went travelling, in pursuit of his dream of becoming a painter. He and Adam had stayed in touch, writing regularly to each other. Then, three years ago, Dan had headed back to Nevada, buying land at Lake’s Crossing and building a house there, complete with studio. Adam was invited to visit, to see the new house and all the treasures Dan had brought back with him from his travels. Little did Adam suspect that the biggest treasure of them all would be Dan’s new bride, Cathy.
“What do you think then, Adam?” Dan had asked, eyes aglow with pride, face split ear to ear by a grin of such delight, it made Adam laugh out loud.
“Well, you’re a dark horse, Dan Hanson! Not a word of this in your letters.”
“I wanted to surprise you. I succeeded, didn’t I? It’s not often that happens, is it?”
When Cathy disappeared into the kitchen to bring a tray of coffee, Dan laid a hand on Adam’s arm suddenly earnest. “What do you really think, Adam?”
What did he really think? He was pleased, of course he was. For that aura of contentment glowing in his friend’s face; that sense of completeness that seemed to radiate out from him, like heat from a fire. What he couldn’t explain to Dan – or even to himself at that crucial moment – was the stab of pain in his own middle as he watched Cathy set the coffee on the table, her cheeks as velvet soft as rose petals, her hair the color of ripe barley. And when she smiled in his direction, the pain only intensified.
As he rode home, he told himself it was because he was envious of Dan’s good fortune. Dan had managed to achieve what he, Adam, so far had not. Dan had found a woman who loved him enough to commit herself to him forever; he had found that oneness with another that Adam longed to find; that sense of mutual belonging and unconditional trust; that sense of purpose that came from having someone to look after; and the pleasure of knowing there was somebody who felt the same way about him.
All that was true, certainly. What was harder to admit to himself was that the niggling dissatisfaction inside of him went deeper than a general discontent with his own bachelorhood. The plain truth was, when he had first laid eyes on Cathy, his heart had sped up of its own accord, and his blood had raced hot in his veins. Even now, thinking about her – the soft golden waves of her hair, the sparkle in her forget-me-not blue eyes, the smiling tilt of her gentle mouth, the delicate whiteness of her slender wrists as she set the tray on the table and poured the coffee. He had not been able to drag his eyes away.
It would not do. Lusting after the wife of one of his oldest friends was completely unacceptable. He was a strong-minded man. He would nip this weakness in the bud. Dan—and Cathy—would never have occasion to doubt his loyalty. There would be no compromise. And in the meantime, his own soul mate was out there somewhere, just waiting for him to find her.
The months passed. Life on the Ponderosa was busy and opportunities to socialize limited. He saw Dan and Cathy a few times. Each time his heart made that familiar jump, beating that little bit faster. But he was adept at hiding his feelings, and stern with himself.
And then had come that unexpected twist of fate.
Dan came to see him. Alone. Adam made a conscious effort to suppress his disappointment when he realized there was no one in the buggy alongside his friend.
“Dan. This is a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting you today.”
“No.” There was an uncharacteristic uncertainty about the smile of greeting on Dan’s face. “I suppose I should have written or wired….”
“Is everything all right? Is Cathy all right?” Adam tried to keep the sudden alarm out of his voice.
“Yes. Yes, we’re fine. Cathy’s fine.” Dan’s smile took on a fixed appearance. “We’re both fine.”
“Good.” Adam gave him a hard look. He’d known Dan long enough to sense when something was troubling him.
“Your Pa around? Or Hoss? Little Joe?”
“Pa’s had to go into town for a meeting with Hiram. Hoss and Joe headed out a while back to fix some fences on the lower pasture.”
Dan’s face relaxed a little. “Just you then?”
“Just me. How about some coffee?”
They sat on the porch to drink their coffee.
“Something on your mind?” Adam asked. So far they’d only made the usual small talk, but Dan was obviously preoccupied with something far weightier than everyone’s general health and the unseasonably cool weather.
Dan put down his coffee cup, staring at the half-finished contents for a long moment, before picking it up again and turning it round in his hands.
“Yes.” He took a breath and turned his gaze across the yard to the barn. Then he took another breath and looked back at the coffee cup in his hands. Another pause and he set the cup back on its saucer, finally meeting Adam’s eyes. “Yes, there is. It’s…it’s a little awkward.”
Adam raised an eyebrow.
“It’s to do with…me…and Cathy.”
Adam’s heart made the little jump it always did when he heard Cathy’s name, but this time it was accompanied by a sudden apprehension. His face must have betrayed his concern because Dan hurried on, “Oh, no, there’s nothing wrong between us. Nothing like that. At least….”
He hesitated again, then took another deep breath.
“We’ve known each other a long time, haven’t we, Adam? We used to share secrets with each other when we were just boys, remember?”
Dan nodded. “You’ve never let me down. I trust you, Adam.”
Adam frowned. His heart was beating harder than it normally would. He’d always been adept at masking his feelings; surely Dan hadn’t noticed that quickening in his blood when Cathy was around.
“There’s something I need to ask you. And it’s kind of a weird request.” Dan gave a nervous laugh. “Promise you’ll think about it before you answer.”
Adam’s brow furrowed deeper. “I promise.”
“Right. Well, the fact is, Cathy and I…we’d very much like to…start a family.”
Adam nodded in what he hoped was an encouraging fashion.
“Cathy especially. You know, being a woman and everything, it means a lot to her. But…it’s just…well, the truth is, Adam, it’s just not happening.”
Dan’s face reddened. It was Adam’s turn to stare down into his coffee cup. To fill the awkward silence, he said, “It’s not been that long yet, Dan. Maybe you just need a little more time.”
Dan shook his head. “That won’t help. There’s…a problem. With me. I…er…I have this…condition. I can’t….” His face twisted with the pain of embarrassment, “I can’t…you know…keep things up long enough to do what needs to be done, if you see what I mean.”
Adam’s cheeks were burning by then too. “Oh,” he said. “I see. Have you…have you talked to a doctor?”
“Yes. Nothing anyone can do.”
They were both silent for a long moment, then Adam let out a long breath.
“I don’t know what to say, buddy. I’m so sorry.”
Dan lifted one shoulder in a shrug of acknowledgement. Once again he raised his eyes to Adam’s. “The thing is, Adam, Cathy and I, we’ve been talking and I…we…wondered if maybe….” Dan sounded as if he was having to force the words out. “Would you be willing…to help?”
Shocked realization gradually dawned in Adam’s startled brain. He shut his mouth without even being aware that it had dropped open.
Help? Neither of them seemed to want to put into words the momentous thing Dan was proposing. Finally, Adam found himself stammering, “Are you suggesting that I… that Cathy and I…?”
Dan cleared his throat but his voice, when it came out, was still husky. “There’s no one else I’d trust, Adam. But I trust you.
“And Cathy? How does she feel about this?”
Dan wrinkled his face. “We’ve talked it over a lot. ‘Happy’ isn’t the word I’d choose. But she trusts you too. And more than anything, she wants a child.”
It hadn’t seemed real: arranging the time and the place, and all the small details so that no one would suspect; making their separate ways to a town neither of them knew. Adam had arrived first, a long twenty hours before the stagecoach that brought Cathy from Lake’s Crossing. He had already checked them into the hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Whitley. For the next three days, Cathy would be “his wife”, a thought that appalled and excited him in equal measures.
Taking her gloved hand to help her down from the stagecoach, enquiring after her journey, leaning in to place a chaste kiss on her pale cheek, taking up her luggage, they were all things any solicitous husband might do, so why did it feel as if the eyes of the entire town were trained on them and seeing straight through their pretense? Cathy looked neat and demure in her dark travelling suit, her wavy hair bound tightly beneath her hat. The smile she gave him as he handed her down was for appearance’s sake only, taut and brief. Her eyes were dark in her pale face as though she had not slept in a while.
“I hope you approve,” he said as he ushered her into the room he’d booked for them. “It’s the best room they have.”
Again the bleak smile. Her troubled gaze took in the Turkish rug, the satin curtains, the velvet sofa, the walnut table complete with a large vase of fresh flowers, and hovered hesitantly over the big bed with its embroidered quilt.
“It’s lovely,” she said, her voice flat and emotionless.
It wasn’t often Adam was unsure of himself but this situation was so far from normal, neither of them was sure what they should do next.
“You’ll want to freshen up after your journey,” he said. “Why don’t I take a walk round town while you do that, and come back in time to take you to dinner?”
“I’ll ask them to send up some hot water. What about some tea? Would you like that?”
She managed another of the wan smiles. “Thank you,” she said again in that same tight voice. “That would be lovely.”
He nodded and hesitated. “Anything else?”
She hesitated too then shook her head. “No. That’s all fine.” As he made to leave, she suddenly added, all in a rush, “Adam thank you for organizing—” she waved her hand at the room around her “—all this.”
He smiled, hoping the trepidation wasn’t as visible on his face as it was on hers. “See you in a little while.”
He’d been worried dinner together that first evening would be an awkward affair. In the event, it went better than he’d dared hope. They both drank a lot of wine; that seemed to help. They talked about the past, their childhoods, their families, and about Adam and Dan’s friendship. As they talked, Cathy’s pale cheeks took on a little color, her smile regained its natural warmth and the light brightened in her eyes so that he found himself once more wishing she could have been his. Properly. The way she was Dan’s. The wine, along with her loveliness and the knowledge of what they were there to do, were having other effects on him too. She was Dan’s wife, he reminded himself sternly. He was there to bed her certainly, but not to fall in love with her.
Cathy ate little. Her cheeks flushed deeper as she drained her third glass of wine. Dessert came and went and the conversation slowed and faltered as the moment of truth drew near. Swallowing the last of his own drink, Adam broached the subject both of them had so far avoided.
“How about you go up and get ready and I’ll have a brandy in the lounge?”
She seemed grateful for the reprieve. He went through the lobby to the lounge and downed two brandies while he watched the minutes tick by on the big clock on the mantelpiece. How long did a woman need to prepare herself? Was half an hour long enough? Maybe it was too long. He didn’t want to leave her waiting in an agony of apprehension. And there was his own predicament to be considered. The longer he sat there thinking about what was about to happen, the more uncomfortable his own anticipation became, manifesting itself physically to a point where simply climbing the stairs with any degree of dignity was going to be a challenge.
She was sitting on the side of the bed when he came into the room, pushing the door to behind him. The lamp was turned down and she had on a nightgown and a robe over the top. Her golden hair fell loose around her shoulders and her slender feet were bare, so that he caught his breath at her delicate vulnerability.
He must have stood there, his back to the door, for longer than he realized because she raised her head to look at him and actually smiled. Not the stiff little smile she’d used when she climbed down from the stage, but a genuine smile, touched with sadness, but real all the same.
“Awkward, isn’t it?” she said.
He smiled too and nodded. Without moving from the door, he said, “Do you still want to do this? It’s not too late, if you want to change your mind.”
She didn’t respond immediately, then she shook her head. “No, I don’t want to change my mind.”
He waited a moment more then crossed to the sofa. He took off his tie and jacket, and draped them over the back of the sofa, pausing with his back to her, acutely aware of the straining bulge at the front of his pants. Was it a good thing or a bad thing? It felt absurdly like bad manners to reveal his condition to her. Would it reassure or terrify her if she noticed? If she noticed! How would she not notice since it felt as if he had a tent pole in his trousers?
There was a changing screen in the corner of the room. Still with his back to her, he crossed to the press where he’d left his nightshirt, took it out and slipped behind the screen to undress. Maybe the offending article would be less visible beneath the loose nightshirt, he thought hopefully. But as the folds of fabric settled around him, he could see it was still blatantly obvious. Well, it couldn’t be helped. He drew a deep breath and stepped out into the room.
She’d shed the dressing robe and was already in the bed, the lace edging around the neck of her nightdress accentuating the fragile whiteness of her face. He climbed in beside her, for all the world as though they were an old married couple. He hadn’t lit the night light because he imagined they might both find it easier to complete their task in the darkness, so when he turned out the lamp, thankful blackness enveloped the room.
If only there had been some clear rules to follow. What did he do now? Should he just climb on top of her and do the deed? Like a bull at stud. What then?
One thing at a time, he told himself. The time to worry about afterwards was afterwards. He turned towards where she lay beside him in the darkness.
“Are you all right?”
He thought she nodded. It was hard to tell in the dark. Then, in a quiet voice, she said, “Adam?”
“Would it be all right if…if you kissed me?”
An unexpected sense of relief washed through him. A way to begin the proceedings! He edged closer, sensing her turn towards him. Their lips met in a touch so soft it was barely a kiss, yet every nerve in his body tingled as if a shower of sparks had engulfed him. Again their mouths brushed, and again, then they were kissing the way he’d dreamed of kissing her, with a hunger and a fervency he had imagined only he felt. And while he understood what was driving him, he could only wonder what was rousing her to such desperate intensity. But it wasn’t the moment to question. It was enough that the road ahead was suddenly a whole lot simpler.
When she turned her body so she was once again on her back, he knew what she was telling him, even though their mouths never parted. He had spent weeks wondering how they would ever arrive at this moment, but it was easy after all, and the release when it came was more than merely physical. There was an accompanying wave of huge relief that he had not let anyone down: not Dan, who had trusted him with the most precious thing he possessed; not Cathy, for whom the whole scenario must have been unimaginably difficult; and not himself, because he had secretly feared that the pressure might affect him, that guilt might hinder his performance, or stall it completely.
Cathy, who had lain still and quiet through the whole process, turned as he eased himself away from her and pulled back the covers to climb out of the bed.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“You don’t have to do that.” As he hesitated, she added, “Anyway, after what we just did, it seems a little like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
He smiled in the darkness, but he didn’t lie down again. Not yet.
“Are you all right?” he asked again.
“Yes,” she said. Then, “Surprisingly.”
“I can’t imagine how difficult this is for you.”
She took a deep breath. “I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. For a long time. I feel bad too, for Dan.”
“Yes, I’m sorry about that too.”
“No,” she told him. “You don’t need to be sorry for us. Not about that. I love Dan very much. It was just…this one thing. We wanted a family so badly. If you had been anyone else, I’m not sure….”
He waited for her to finish. When she didn’t, he said, “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“You should. Dan thinks a lot of you, you know. Obviously he does or he wouldn’t….” Again, she tailed off.
“I’m pleased I was able to help,” he said, and then with a little wince, “That didn’t sound right, did it?”
To his surprise, she gave a little giggle. “None of this sounds right,” she pointed out. “But now… now that we’ve come this far, it’s easier.”
He heard his own sense of relief echoed in her voice. “I’m glad,” he said. “I was worried you might resent me.”
“No. You were the right person. Dan trusts you and I trust you too. Why don’t you lie down?”
Her hand closed around his arm and he gave into his weaker self and lay back down. He felt her turn and settle herself more comfortably.
“Good night,” she said.
She trusted him, just as she had said she did. The trouble was, could he trust himself? The idea of spending the whole night in such close proximity to her was already stirring fresh longing in him. Even though he could barely make out anything of her in the darkness, he was acutely aware of her presence, her nearness, her scent, her warmth. He remembered her realness beneath him, the sweetness of sliding himself inside her. Everything in him wanted to know her, all of her; to caress the whole of her body hidden beneath the nightgown, run his hands over the softness of her belly, her breasts, her thighs; to discover all the secret loveliness of her.
Get a grip, he scolded himself. She’s Dan’s wife, not yours. You’ve already had more than you ever dreamed was possible.
He must have dozed off eventually. How long for, he didn’t know because when he opened his eyes again, the night was still velvet-dark around him. Although there were no sounds, he was aware without seeing, that Cathy was awake beside him, sitting up in bed, leaning on her drawn-up knees, a hunched shape darker than the general blackness.
“I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Don’t worry about that. Are you all right?”
“Yes,” she said, but something in the way she said it betrayed the tears in her voice.
“Hey,” he said, softly, “don’t be upset. This will all be over soon enough.”
She didn’t answer. He sat up in bed and put an arm around her hunched shoulders. “This is worse for you than for any of us.”
He felt her shake her head. “No. No, it’s not that. It’s….”
He waited while she struggled to find the words to explain.
“…it’s…that…it’s that I feel bad that I….”
Betrayed Dan, Adam wondered. Well, it was only natural. It troubled him too. He tightened his arm around her to reassure her.
“…I…liked what you did,” she said.
It took a moment for that to sink in. Even then, he couldn’t think what to say.
“I didn’t think I would. I’ve been living in dread but…but you were so kind. So gentle.”
Still he could think of nothing to say.
He felt her weight relax against him. “It seems wrong,” she said, “to…to want you to do it again.”
So close, he barely had to move his head before their mouths met. As one, they sank back down into the bed.
She must have turned her face to him because he could feel the feather brush of her breath on his lips.
And then, there he was, admiring her as she slept, in the small shaft of early morning light piercing the closed curtains, the urge to touch her gradually becoming too much to resist. She had been beautiful in the darkness, the feel of her soft flesh beneath his hands, beneath his lips, beneath his body. Now, with the ray of sunlight kissing her hair, she was unbearably lovely. He reached out with his hand, gently drawing down the sheet from her half-exposed shoulder until he could see the creamy roundness of her breasts beneath her folded arm. Lightly he traced the curve of her flesh with one fingertip until he touched the little round nub of her nipple.
Her eyes fluttered open. He drew his hand back, but when she smiled a sleepy smile, he let his finger slide down again to the hardening tip.
“So beautiful,” he whispered.
“Again,” she murmured, rolling onto her back and pushing off the blankets.
He needed no second asking.
After breakfast, they went for a walk around the town, arm in arm, like any respectable couple. Over coffee, they giggled together that no one suspected they were anything other than that. They were comfortable now in each other’s presence, but that comfort was charged with an undercurrent of lust that neither of them wanted to admit, like a hunger only their bodies could sate. Once the coffee was drunk, it was as if a silent agreement was sealed between them. A shared urgency drove them back to their hotel room. Barely had Adam closed the door behind them before she was in his arms and he was pressing her against the wall, dragging each other’s clothes open, before she had even taken off her hat.
They spent the afternoon in bed, eventually falling asleep, wrapped around each other, waking only just in time to make themselves respectable and go downstairs for dinner.
“It’s been like a dream,” Adam said, later that night, as she lay curled in his right arm. “I’ll always remember it that way. Like a dream.”
Cathy smiled. “That’s a good way to think of it.” She turned her face up to him, suddenly serious. “Adam, if this works—if there’s a child—how will you feel about that?”
“I’ve thought about that a lot. If there’s a child, it will be yours and Dan’s. That was the agreement. I’ll never make any claim on any of you, I promise.”
“If it works, we’ll be in your debt forever.”
“No,” he said, tightening his hand around her waist and grinning, “you won’t. I’ve been very well paid.”
“Mr. Whitley, you have no shame!” she reprimanded him, rolling over so that the soft mounds of her breasts squashed themselves against his chest. “Mmmm,” she went on, lifting her leg across him. She shifted her weight until she was astride him. “We haven’t tried this yet, have we?”
He pressed his head back in the pillow with a mock groan. “Again? You are insatiable, Mrs. Whitley! I’m not sure how much more I have left in me.”
It was almost three months later when Dan came to visit and share the news that Cathy was expecting. Pa was there when Dan made the announcement.
“That’s wonderful news,” he said, slapping Dan’s shoulder. He crossed the room to fetch his best whiskey in celebration.
“It certainly is,” said Adam, aware that his heart was beating faster than it should have been.
“How is Cathy?” asked Pa.
“Good,” said Dan. “Well, tired and a little sick, but nothing out of the ordinary, or so the doc says. But she’s happy.” He glanced over at Adam, and as their eyes met, a light flush rose in Dan’s cheeks. “We’re both very happy.”
They drank the whiskey and then Dan and Adam walked together towards the corral.
“I…er…I never said thank you, did I?” said Dan.
Adam turned his head towards the hills in the distance. “No need. I’m just pleased—relieved—that it worked out well.”
“You’re a good friend, Adam.”
“We should forget about the past. This baby is yours and Cathy’s and I’m pleased for you both.”
Dan’s hand squeezed his arm.
“We’re going to move back to San Francisco,” he said then, all in a rush.
Adam paused in his stride to look at his friend directly for the first time since they’d left the house.
“Cathy wants to have family around her. You know how it is.”
“And I…I just think…” Dan trailed off, floundering for the explanation.
“I understand,” said Adam, and when Dan looked doubtful, he went on, “I do. I think you’re right. It’s for the best, putting that distance between us. Not for my sake. I made you a promise and I intend to keep it. But for you. And Cathy. A fresh start is a great idea. But I’m going to miss you. I was just getting used to having you back.”
They continued walking. After a moment, Dan said, “Thanks, Adam. We owe you a lot and we won’t forget.”
“I think you should forget,” Adam told him. “Just make sure you stay in touch. Let me know how things go.”
“I will,” Dan promised.
He was as good as his word. Adam received a letter the next spring to tell him the baby had been born. It was a girl and they had named her Lydia and she and Cathy were both doing well. Adam had wondered often how he would feel when the baby was born, and he was relieved to find his overwhelming reaction was happiness for Dan and Cathy. Finally they had what they had so longed for. Of course, he couldn’t help wondering if the child would grow to resemble him at all. Not that anyone but the three of them would ever know. Dan was dark-haired too; there was no reason anyone would ever suspect. Still, it felt strange to know he was a father and not to be able to share that knowledge with anyone, not even his family. The same old Adam, and yet changed in a way that must forever remain his closest secret.
He struggled most with trying to put from his mind the memories of his time with Cathy. The unreality of those strange few days did indeed play like a dream in his mind, a dream of such intensity and vividness, he could still smell the scent of her body, feel the silkiness of her skin, taste her warm breath on his lips. Mostly he remembered how, once the ice was broken, it was as if all inhibitions between them were abandoned, as if the awareness of how short a time they had to make the most of this freedom from normal rules and conventions, fueled them to a gluttony of desire he had never known with any other woman.
Did she remember it too, he wondered? Did she look at her child and recall their feverish, desperate need for each other between the walls of that hotel room? Did she recall it with shame or with the same longing that still burned in his belly? Part of him—the sensible part—said she would try to push it from her mind. She was a woman, the respectable wife of a respectable man. She had done what she did because there was no other way. Yet, another part of him remembered the flush of her cheeks and the hungry fire in her eyes as their bodies met.
Dan wrote several times over the next year or so, detailing how Lydia was growing, sitting up, playing with different toys; how she had started speaking, then learning to walk; how beautiful she was becoming, with her head of wavy golden hair, just like her mother’s (Adam couldn’t help but think Dan must have been relieved about that). Then, when Lydia was about fifteen months old, Adam came home to find an envelope waiting for him on the table, addressed in Dan’s familiar handwriting. He opened it, looking forward to reading how family life was progressing, and what the little girl was doing now.
It seemed that Dan had bought a dog, a “scruffy, hairy thing”, and that child and dog had struck up an inseparable friendship. Several times, Dan had even found them curled up asleep together on the rug. Adam smiled to himself, picturing the scene.
The smile froze on his face as he read on.
“It has made us both think,” wrote Dan, “that it would be perfect if Lydia had a little brother or sister to grow up alongside her. We had always thought one child would be enough to satisfy the need in us, but increasingly, we find we are talking wistfully of another. I write this to you, my friend, as you know how much I value your advice. We’d both be very grateful to hear your thoughts.
“We await your response….”
Other Stories by this Author
- Last Christmas (by Inca / aka Tye)
- Men of Steel (by Inca / aka Tye)
- Unto Us a Son (by Inca / aka Tye)
- Julia (by Inca / aka Tye)
- Dead Ringer (by Inca ‘aka Tye’)