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Chapter Six

Emma looked at the clock and whimpered. Russ would be there in fifteen minutes and she wasn't ready. Nothing was ready! Her eyes went to the microwave and the sexual accessory waiting within it.

Okay, so one thing was ready. But everything else was a disaster! It had been a week since she moved into the apartment, yet somehow that hadn't been enough time to get ready for this night.

She'd been late getting the stuffed, boneless leg of lamb into the oven and it still had forty minutes to cook, plus another fifteen minutes to rest before she could cut it, according to the recipe she'd downloaded off epicurious.com. The lima bean puree with garlic and rosemary had been made ahead and waited now to be rewarmed, but the utensils she had used were piled on the counter and in the sink, and her immersion blender had flung gobs of green puree onto the backsplash, the cupboards, and her blouse. The mint truffle ice-cream terrine for dessert was safely in the freezer, the homemade chocolate sauce in the fridge, but the mint sauce that also went with it was no more than a bag of leaves at the moment.

The table was only half-set. Her hair and face were a mess. Her body was a mess, the shower she'd taken earlier now a distant, sweaty memory.

She took a deep breath, assessing the situation. The lamb was cooking on its own. Setting the table and making the mint sauce could wait. The mixed greens salad was ready to throw together, giving him something to eat while she finished everything else up. If she was going to clean herself up, though, now was her only chance.

She looked down at her hands, which were shaking. Now that she was pausing in her frantic cooking rush she realized that her gut was sloshing with acid, her heart irregularly thumping, her vision blurring from the overdose of adrenaline.

The nervous anticipation was worse than on any first date. It was even worse than the night she lost her virginity.

Am I really going to do this? Am I really going to let a man I hardly know have sex with me three times a week?

She hovered on the thin edge of indecision, swaying between telling Russ to forget it, it was a mistake, she had to have been crazy to have said yes, and going ahead with the arrangement.

Is this really what I want?

She imagined the evening: Russ eating the dinner she'd made and then looking at her, silence falling between them as they both recognized that the time had come. She would send him to her bedroom while she prepared for the sexual experiment she'd downloaded off the internet; he'd said to be creative, after all. The activity was nothing she herself had ever done and at the thought of it, her body fluttered between arousal and the fear of humiliation. Russ might be turned off by it, and she might end up looking the fool. But if it worked

At the end of it she would climb on top of him, her thighs parting over his hips, and guide the tip of his hardened shaft to her opening. She'd feel herself stretching as she eased herself down on him, his erection filling her as she had longed to be filled for so many lonely months, and then his hands would come up to grip her hips and guide her to his own rocking, thrusting motion.

Oh yes. A warm rush went through her loins. Yes, this was what she wanted, nerves be damned! And let the opinions of others be damned as well!

Emma tossed down her oven mitts and dashed for the bathroom to give herself a sponge bath and slap on some makeup. Sitting on the back of the toilet tank was the cold-waxing kit she'd bought earlier in the week and had conveniently forgotten about. She stared at it. She lifted her short skirt and looked down, parting her thighs enough to see if it was really so bad that she needed the wax.

Holy hairy monkeys!

She couldn't show that tangle to him. Couldn't send his penis fighting through that thicket, with its dark curls creeping down the insides of her thighs like vines.

She'd shaved inside her thighs before, but it always left sharp stubble and a rash. If she was going to be someone's lust object, she wanted to be smooth and sleek and not worried about whether he was going to get sandpapered by her thighs.

She stripped and gave herself a quick sponge bath, put on some red lipstick as the quickest way to brighten up her face, combed her hair and smoothed out the frizzies with water and silicone serum, then sat on the edge of the tub and tore into the wax kit.

The instructions were full of cautions, but she'd waxed her legs a few years ago and figured she understood the basics. The cold wax came in a tube and had the consistency of honey. She squeezed a blob of it onto the small plastic spatula from the kit, smeared it over a quarter-sized patch of hair inside her thigh, pressed a strip of cloth over it, then held her skin taut with one hand while ripping off the cloth with the other.

"Holy crap!" she screeched, and slapped one palm down over her offended flesh, hoping that pressure would ease the pain. A moment later she lifted her hand and examined the damage. Her skin bore faint pink dots where each hair had been exhumed, but was otherwise a smooth, lovely patch of civilized hairlessness amid the wilds.

Emma darted naked out into the kitchen and checked the time: she had eight minutes. She darted back into the bathroom, hoping Russ would be late.

If she waxed in sensible one-inch patches it would take her forever to get it done, and impatience drove her to slather progressively wider and longer strips of wax on her skin, press on the cloth, then pull it off in a series of short jerks. Stray dollops of wax attached to her fingers, to the tub, to hairs she didn't intend to pull.

The doorbell rang and her hand jerked, sending a smear of wax from her inner thigh into the hair on her mound. "Dammit!" With the spatula she tried to scrape the wax off, but it made things worse. She took a cloth and slapped it down on the mess of wax.

He knocked on the door.

"I'm coming! One second!" she shouted, and tried to rip the cloth off. "Monkey Christ!" she shrieked, and tumbled in pain to the bathroom floor, her thighs clamped shut over the agony.

"Emma?" Russ called from the other side of the front door, his voice muffled.

"I'm okay!" she squeaked. "I'll be right there!"

She lay for a moment, breathing heavily and waiting for the pain to fade, then pushed herself up into a sitting position and looked at her crotch. The white cloth was attached to her like a bandage, running diagonally across her mound and down between her thighs. She lifted up the top corner and gave it a little jerk.

"Jeee-zus H!"

There was too much wax and way too much hair. She snatched up the instruction sheet, scanning it for what to do. She turned it over, then turned back to the other side. Where did it say what to do? Where?

"Emma?" Russ called again.

"Dammit! Dammit dammit dammit!" She'd have to figure it out later. She grabbed all the waxing paraphernalia and shoved it into the cabinet under the sink. She got up off the floor and yelped as she tried to straighten up. The damn wax and cloth had glued her left leg into a raised position. Standing up straight stretched her skin painfully. "Crap!" She'd have to hide her limp as best she could. She pulled on her bra, sleeveless white blouse, and short green skirt, skipping the underpants. She didn't want those stuck to her as well.

With the waxed cloth tugging painfully with each uneven stride, she hobbled barefoot to the front door and put her hand on the knob. She rested her weight on her right leg, the left one cocked and on tiptoe, as if it were a sultry pose. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself, and planted a welcoming smile on her lips.

Ready or not, here she was.

Russ approached the door to his old apartment with an unsettling mix of familiarity and alienness. It had been home to him for several years, but never in that time had there been a woman behind that door with dinner waiting and the intention of taking him to her bed. As wrong as he intellectually knew this arrangement was, as wrong as he emotionally felt that it was, part of him wanted it the way a drowning man wanted to see a ship in the distance. It might be an illusion, but what a beautiful illusion it was.

And wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong, he reminded himself. All week, he had meant to call Emma and break their agreement. He'd meant to do that even as he express-mailed her a loaded Visa card. He'd meant to do it as he e-mailed her a link to his lab test results. He'd meant to do it as he bought a bouquet for her, walked into the building, and rode up the elevator-and now, as he stood before his old door, he still meant to do it.

He looked at the flowers. What the hell was he thinking? This wasn't a date!

But what was it? His mind scrambled back through memory, trying to find a parallel. All he could think of was Madame de Pompadour, the eighteenth-century mistress to the French king. He didn't doubt that she was given flowers. Jewels, likely. Clothes, even land. Aristocrats used to give their mistresses houses and land, didn't they?

His cellophane-wrapped Dutch irises from Pike Place Market suddenly looked inadequate.

But wait, the flowers were an apology for asking her to be his mistress, then recanting.

Weren't they?

He wished he had a beer.

He reached up and rang the bell.

Nothing happened. No footsteps, no replying voice. He knocked.

"I'm coming! One second!" she called, and then he heard a shrieking curse and a big thump.

"Emma?" he called in alarm.

She squeaked something he couldn't make out, then said, "I'll be right there."

More silence. More muffled cursing. Silence again.

"Emma?" he called carefully, imagining all sorts of mishaps. Maybe she'd hit her head and was disoriented. Maybe she'd cut herself. Maybe-

He heard her approach the door and then stop. A quiet fell in which he imagined he could hear her taking a breath. He stared at the wall of door, knowing she was there.

Then she opened the door.

She was gorgeous. Her fair skin was flushed pink, her rosy lips parted in a welcoming smile. Her brown eyes sparkled and her dark hair fell like mink around her shoulders. His gaze skimmed down her body, taking in the vee of her blouse and the barest hint of lacy bra showing at one edge. Her short, emerald green pleated skirt looked like something a naughty Irish schoolgirl might wear. Her legs and feet were bare, one leg cocked enticingly, the lack of shoes making her seem more accessible.

His mouth went dry. This beautiful young woman was going to take him to her bed tonight. He imagined those soft pink lips on his arousal, those bright dark eyes looking up at him as she took him into her mouth. Lust stirred within him, his sex hardening.

"This was a mistake," he said, and thrust the flowers toward her.

"Nonsense! They're beautiful," she said, taking the bouquet. She sniffed them. "Thank you. Although I can't smell them over the roasting lamb." She lowered the flowers to chest height and smiled at him. "Come in, please. Dinner is almost ready."

He followed her reluctantly, wanting to correct her about what the mistake had been, but he was distracted by both the delicious scent of roasting meat and Emma's odd hopping gait. "Did you hurt yourself?"

"Just a temporary muscle tightness. Nothing to worry about!" She lurched into the kitchen.

He was going to ask again about her leg-it seemed a severe muscle issue-but was distracted by what she had done with his old place. The kitchen and living area were one room, divided only by a high breakfast bar. She had created a third space in the bay window at the front of the apartment by hanging panels of salvaged wood-framed windows from floor to ceiling, dividing the bay from the living area. She'd set up a dining area in that small glass-enclosed space, a tablecloth covering what looked like a card table. Two of the bay windows were open, bringing in the rustling of the leaves just outside them. It was surprisingly charming.

The living area had a futon couch, a desk with an elaborate array of computer equipment, a drafting table, and a bookshelf sagging with the weight of tomes. The only art on the walls was a series of black-and-white architectural photographs in lucite frames.

"These are fantastic pictures," he said, pausing to admire the light and shadow in an arched gallery.

"Thanks. I took them."

He turned, surprised. "You're a photographer, too?"

She shrugged and took the cellophane off the irises and started trimming their stems. "Not really. I only take them for myself, and they're only of things that I find beautiful. Patterns, mostly. Repetition. Symmetry. Angles and curves."

"The mathematics of beauty."

She looked up from filling a vase and smiled. "Yes. Exactly. Most people don't get that; that there is math in both the visual arts and music."

"You're talking to an engineer."

She laughed. "I guess that could explain it, but I've met plenty of math and science guys who lack an aesthetic sense. Look at the great flowers you chose: structural, and all one kind. I think it's the best way to display flowers."

Flattered, he made a faint noise that might be construed as thanks.

"So!" she said brightly. "Would you like to open the wine?" She put a bottle of red up on the breakfast bar, then bumped it when she reached up again to put down the corkscrew. She fumbled and just managed to catch it before it fell over, and before his own mad dash got him there. "Oops! Sometimes I think I'm all thumbs," she said, a quaver in her voice. She giggled, but not a happy giggle. More a verge-of-hysteria giggle.

He reached for the wine bottle and corkscrew and examined her surreptitiously as he went to work on the bottle.

Emma hopped about the small kitchen, prattling something about micro salad greens and vinegars, her hands moving as fast as birds' wings.

He pulled the cork and moved to her side of the breakfast bar, where the wineglasses were. He poured out two glasses, glad to see no cork bits, and paused to look at the wine label. It was a nice pi not noir from Oregon.

She bumped into him and bounced away, his closeness seeming to make her hummingbird nervousness go up a notch.

He reached out and touched her arm, to calm her, to tell her that she didn't have to do this. "It's okay," he said.

Her eyes went past him to the wine. "Is it? I was hoping so. I'm afraid I don't know as much as I'd like to about wine. The woman at the wine shop down the block chose it for me."

She snatched a glass and held it up. "Here's to new adventures!"

He took a glass as well, but when she clinked her glass with his he didn't drink. "Emma."

She lowered her glass. He saw faint tremors in the surface of her wine, revealing the shaking of her hand. "Yes?"

"You don't have to do this. We can stop right here. Forget the whole arrangement."

Her eyebrows went up in concern. "Stop? You've changed your mind? You don't want any of this?"

"It's not right."

"But I made a stuffed leg of lamb. And dessert." She looked helplessly around the kitchen, the signs of her efforts clear in the dirty bowls, pans, and utensils.

"We can still eat the dinner you made. Maybe even make a deal for you to cook at my house a couple times a week. But I don't want you to feel like you have to follow through on the rest."

Some of the light left her eyes. She looked hurt. "You don't want to sleep with me."

"Yes! I do! But you're so nervous, I wanted to give you a chance to reconsider." He was calling her nervous. Ha! What a joke! He was the one who was ready to die of nerves.

She set down her wineglass and played with its base, watching her own fingertips sliding around the circle of glass. Then she suddenly looked up, meeting his eyes with a steady gaze. "It's been a year and a half since I've had sex. They say it's like riding a bicycle and you never forget how, right? But that doesn't mean there isn't a part of me that's still a little nervous, no matter how much I'm looking forward to it."

He was surprised and pleased by her admissions of having been celibate for so long and of wanting to sleep with him. "It's been a while for me, too," he said quietly.

"I've never done it with someone I wasn't in a long-term relationship with." She stepped closer to him, bringing her mouth within inches of his own. "And I've never been creative with it, before tonight. But it's good to try new things. To learn. Don't you think?"

He could feel the warmth of her breath against his lips. "Education is important." He tried to give nobility one last chance. "I don't want to corrupt you."

"The sin of knowledge? A bit old school, don't you think?"

"I don't want you to be ashamed, afterwards."

"Will you think badly of me, if I become your mistress?"

Would he think less of her if she went through with it? If she were his age or looking for marriage, then he might. But Emma had other things on her mind than relationships. From what little he knew of her, she wouldn't be doing this unless it made practical and moral sense to her.

He laughed as he realized what his answer to her question was. "If you go through with it, tomorrow I'll wonder if it's all been real."

She raised a brow. "Will I be a toy to you? A sex toy in a very large toy box?" She gestured to the apartment.

"Not a toy. A toy implies mastery by another. I think pagan goddess' would be the better description. A goddess bestowing gifts upon the incredibly fortunate."

She smiled and came close enough for her lips to brush his. "I can live with that."

He was suddenly sure that he could, too. Oh God, yes, he could. He put his hand on her hip and began to close the scant distance.

The buzz of the oven timer cut between them. "Oh good, there's the lamb!" she said, hopping away from him and grabbing her oven mitts.

"Hurrah," he muttered. Walking was becoming difficult for him now, as well. He moved to the other side of the breakfast bar, where his lower half would be out of sight.

He watched her lift the pan out of the oven. She glanced up at him and smiled, and for the first time in his life he seriously wondered if he should start looking for a wife. There was something deeply appealing about a woman cooking for you. Though this was only a business arrangement, it was easy to forget that fact when Emma smiled at him, when she seemed to take such care and delight in the meal she had made.

"Do you want to help?" she asked.

"Sure. What do you need me to do?"

"You could finish setting the table. I took out dishes for two settings, if that's okay."

He looked at her in puzzlement.

"I wasn't sure that you'd want me to eat with you, or if this was supposed to be more like a restaurant experience."

"Two places is what I expected," he said, although he hadn't given it a thought before this moment. He couldn't swallow a bite if she was hovering in the background, watching.

"Good! I'm starving."

He went to work on the table. As he was finishing up she hobbled up to join him, carrying two plates of salad. He went back and got the wine, returning to find her lighting candles. It was a much more romantic setting than he had anticipated, and he was glad for it. It gave the illusion that they were both here because they wanted to be.

And wasn't that true anyway?

Emma stood in her awkward bird pose beside the table, gesturing toward a chair. "Sit. Please."

He moved past her and pulled out the other chair for her. "Please," he said. She might soon be his mistress, but that didn't mean he couldn't be a gentleman about it.

She ducked her head shyly and sat as he pushed in the chair.

"Your leg is still bothering you," he said.

"It'll go away, don't worry."

"Are you sure?"

"Oh, yes."

He took his own seat, still doubtful. "Do you need me to massage it?"

The suggestion made her eyes go wide. "No! No, really, there's no need to bother."

"I have strong hands: I could take care of it in a flash. It'll be gone before you know it."

She grimaced. "I doubt that. Trust me, it's going to be fine. Let's have our salads, shall we?"

He let it go, turning his attention to his plate. It was mixed baby greens with thin slices of pear, crumbled gorgon-zola, and candied pecans. He'd had something similar in a restaurant, and Emma's version was just as good. "This is delicious."

"Thanks."

After this scintillating start, conversation lagged. Russ racked his brain to come up with something that might be of interest to a twenty-six-year-old woman.

Twenty-six-year-old? He couldn't come up with anything to say to a woman, period. His life revolved around work, hockey, a bit of charity fund-raising, and sitting in his re-cliner reading the paper. He couldn't remember the last time he'd done anything significantly different. He used to have hobbies: he used to play classical guitar; used to play a mean game of backgammon; used to camp and hike and had backpacked around Europe and southeast Asia for six months; he even used to dink around in his wood shop, making bad furniture.

Emma made a little noise in her throat, and he realized that the silence had gone for much longer than it should have. "Shall I put on some music?" she asked.

"Sure." Anything to fill up the silence. It would probably be teeny bopper music that he'd never heard. Just as long as it wasn't rap or hip-hop.

When she'd chosen a few disks and pressed play, though, Dean Martin's "Sway" came out of the small speakers.

He laughed. "This is way before my generation. I hope you don't think I'm that old!"

"Stop with the 'old' stuff, will you?" she said, sitting down again. "You're in your freakin' thirties. Big deal."

"I stand corrected."

"Good." She smiled. "And I happen to like old standards, and this song in particular."

"It's a great song."

"My mother used to play it and dance 'round the living room with our pomeranian in her arms. I'm not sure the dog thought much of the experience. It was a terrible dog; peed on everything."

"So your mother loves Dean Martin?"

"She says it was 'their' song, hers and my dad's. He died when I was nine."

"I'm so sorry." He imagined her mother dancing around the living room with the lapdog in her arms, swaying to the voice of Dean Martin as she longed for her husband. The image cut to that part of him that still grieved for James, and he felt his throat tighten. "So sorry."

Emma shrugged, her smile sad. "Life's full of surprises."

"How's your mother now?"

"She remarried a few years ago and lives in the Midwest now. She's happy."

"It must have been hard for you, losing him at such a young age."

"It was bewildering. Frightening. Mostly I remember the feeling of chaos; that all normality had been destroyed. I was afraid we'd have to move."

"Did you?"

"No. Grandma came to live with us. She somehow made us all feel safe; that things were going to be okay. And we were, mostly. My brother got into a lot of trouble at school and had a few wild years, but he turned out okay. He lives in Kirkland now, with his wife and baby daughter."

"Is your grandmother still around?"

She shook her head. "She died a couple years ago."

"That's a lot of death to have experienced, for someone as young as you."

"I think it helps me to appreciate the present. At least I tell myself it does. What about you? Have you lost anyone you cared about?"

"My brother. Six months ago." He somehow managed to get the words out.

"What was his name?"

"James." To his horror he felt tears start in his eyes. He cleared his throat. "But this isn't pleasant dinner conversation. I think the lamb must be ready."

She looked at him for a long moment with wordless understanding, got up and lightly touched the back of his hand, then reached for his plate.

"I'll get it," he said, starting to stand.

"No, you can relax. Let me."

He stayed where he was, the feeling of that small touch on his hand lingering. As he watched her move away with the salad plates he yearned to sink into the warmth she seemed to offer; wanted to forget himself in her, if only for a few hours. Something about her seemed capable of that type of magic, transforming the grayness of his everyday life into something brighter.

The rest of the meal passed with light conversation about the city, about where they grew up, about places they'd been in the world. She'd spent her junior year of college in Italy and traveled extensively while she was there, which gave them plenty of impersonal topics to explore. They moved through the meal and into dessert: a mint truffle ice-cream terrine with two sauces.

"My God, you made this?" he asked as she set the square slice of ice cream with truffle polka dots in front of him.

"It wasn't as hard as it looks." She launched into a rapid-fire description of the construction, her voice higher than it had been over the lamb and side dish.

It took him a couple minutes to figure out what was going on. The instant he did, her nervousness became contagious. Once the ice cream was finished it would be time for that other "dessert."

Dammit! He'd forgotten about that-a testament to her cooking, or to his powers of denial.

Would she expect him to take the lead? No, wait. She'd said something about being creative with sex.

Crap. What did creative mean?

B movies rife with whip-wielding dominatrices cracked through his mind. Or maybe she'd bought a frightening toy at a sex shop: something long and electric, with nubs and lights and six speeds of humiliation.

He only had three bites of ice cream left until he was going to find out.

He made those last three bites last as long as he could, then looked at his watch. Eight-thirty. The night was young. Plenty of time for whatever she had planned.

Oh God.

"It's time, isn't it?" Emma asked, her voice going up two octaves.

"For coffee?" he asked, pretending ignorance. Hoping she would take the stall.

"Coffee breath," she said. "Although I suppose we could brush. Only you didn't bring a toothbrush, did you?"

Oh God. Did he have bad breath? Was there food in his teeth? "No. I could go out and buy one."

"Easier to save the coffee for later, don't you think?" she asked with a quaver. "I imagine you'll, uh, be sleepy. Afterwards. And you have to drive home."

"Sleepy. Yes." Ah jeez, she meant after he'd come. Oh God. Oh God.

"You were planning to go home afterwards, weren't you?"

"God, yes. I wouldn't want to intrude."

She giggled. "No. We wouldn't want that. No intrusions of any sort!"

"Emma-" he started.

"No," she said, cutting him off. She took a deep breath, regaining her composure. "Don't say it again. I want to do this. If you need to use the bathroom, please go ahead and do so. Then I'd appreciate it if you'd go into my bedroom, undress, and lie on the bed. I have something special planned: the 'something big' you said you wanted on Fridays, to last you through the weekend."

All I meant was a nice casserole.

"Okay." He went to clean up in the bathroom with all the enthusiasm of a man preparing himself for the guillotine.

When he came out, she was leaving the bedroom. They sidled past each other in the short hall. He went into his former bedroom, dominated now by a queen-size antique brass bed, its covers folded down to the foot revealing a white expanse of crisp, clean sheet. Candles in small glass votives covered the dresser and bedside tables. The furniture and a cheval mirror were all antiques: like the dishes, they must have been inherited from her grandmother.

The thought threw more water on his already damp amour. He didn't want to think of Grandma looking down from her heavenly abode at what was happening to her granddaughter on her bed.

That didn't stop him from undressing. He heard Emma go into the bathroom. She clearly wanted to do this; apparently was looking forward to it, and that, as much as his own awareness that he was not quite so reluctant as he pretended to himself, made him fold up his clothes and leave them in a neat pile on the floor beside the dresser.

He climbed onto the bed and lay down, his head on a pillow. After a moment he found the position too vulnerable, and stacked up all the pillows behind him so that he could sit up. He crossed his arms over his chest.

His penis lay half-tumescent as if it, too, was not sure if this was going to be a good experience.

He wished he had something to cover it with.

He heard a curse through the bathroom wall, right behind his head. Then another curse and movement. What the hell was she doing in there?

He perked his ears, listening. She must not know how easy it was to hear through these walls.

"Ow!" she said. "Ow! Dammit! Ow!"

His eyes widened. Visions of nipple clips and leather-wrapped objects for insertion into various orifices danced in his head.

Emma muttered darkly and thumped around a bit; then there was an ominous silence. His ears strained, trying to pick up some hint of what was happening. The silence continued. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought there was no one there.

And then all at once the silence was split by a Hai-ya! and a brief ripping sound. He bolted upright, his semiarousal shrinking like a snail withdrawing into its shell. There was a slap and a squeak, and then all was quiet again except for the pounding of his heart.

The water ran and was shut off, and a minute later the bathroom door opened. He grabbed the sheet at the bottom of the bed and pulled it up over his hips as he lay back, trying desperately to look relaxed.

"Almost ready!" she called softly. "Are you?"

"Sure." He swallowed and gathered his courage. He didn't want to disappoint her or hurt her feelings; somehow, no matter what she had planned, he was going to have to perform.

He tried to imagine her bare breasts. Touching one. Licking the nipples.

He heard the microwave turn on.

The microwave? What the hell was she doing with the microwave? She wasn't heating up a dildo, was she?

He closed his eyes and tried to think happy, bouncing-booby thoughts. He reached down and shook his penis, trying to encourage it to return to life. A shrunken willie was not the first naked impression a man wanted to give a woman.

The microwave stopped, the door opened and closed. Then the music that had been playing stopped and he heard her changing disks. The pianissimo opening bars of Ravel's Bolero began to filter into the bedroom. His penis perked up. It was the music used to cheesy sexual effect in the old Bo Derek movie, the piece composed of the same few bars of exotic, swaying melody repeated ad infinitum, only slightly louder each time as if building to a climax. Cheesy, but very promising.

He sensed Emma approaching. He pulled his hands back above the sheet and opened his eyes.

She was standing in the doorway, a red mixing bowl in her hands. She wore black fishnet stockings, a tiny white apron, and a small white cap pinned atop her head. His gaze skimmed over her body, seeking out piercings and straps of leather buckling on latex appendages. Relieved to find none, he took a slower, more appreciative look, his sex reviving as he took in the fall of her dark hair against the smooth paleness of her shoulders; the gentle fullness of her breasts with their pinkish brown nipples; the slope and rise of her waistline; the hint of black curls imperfectly concealed behind that little apron that he now guessed was meant to be an abbreviated French maid's outfit.

His animal lust shoved his noble instincts firmly to the back of his mind.

"What's in the bowl?" he asked, half-hopeful and half-wary.

Emma concentrated on keeping her hands from shaking as she stood in the doorway, the warm bowl in her hands and the apron the only shelter from his gaze. She had seen his eyes surf over her body, once quickly and then again more slowly. He gave no indication of whether he liked what he saw. Her gaze skimmed over his chest and shoulders; he was even more fit than she had guessed, his muscles well defined and coating his frame in a thicker, more solid layer than she'd seen on men her own age. He looked like a man, not a boy. Brown hair lightly covered his pectorals and traced a line toward his navel. She'd never been with someone with chest hair, and there was something about it in this context that made her nervous; it made her more aware that she was here to please a man, not to play with a boy.

"You'll find out soon enough what's in the bowl," she said, arching a brow and trying to sound confidently mischievous.

"Before you find out what's in the bowl you have to agree to two rules," she said, trying to stick to the plan for a "blow his mind" evening she'd downloaded from a sex advice site on the Internet.

"Okay," he said warily.

"The first is that you can't come until I say you can. No matter what I'm doing and how much you enjoy it, you can't come until I say so."

The sheet over his loins moved, a mound forming. "Okay."

"And two: you can't touch me until I say you can. You have to let me do to you exactly what I want."

The mound turned into a ridge, tenting the sheet. "I think I can do that."

She grinned, her confidence rising along with his erection.

She came forward and rested the bowl against her hip as she reached down and slowly pulled the sheet off him. The head of his erection came free, and then the whole lusty rod in its entirety, thick and strong and rising proudly from a dark thicket of hair, his balls beneath drawn tight up against his body. His thighs were lightly coated with dark hair, the hair growing heavier farther down his legs and ending neatly at the top of his pale, clean feet.

"You look like a satyr," she said.

"Is that good or bad?"

She felt a tingling between her thighs as anticipated being taken by him, those strong thighs between her own softer ones, that rigid member embedded deep within her. "It's good," she said in a husky voice. "Definitely good."

She set the bowl down on the side of the bed and dipped a finger in. She put on a fake French accent to go with her outfit. "Do you like zee chocolate?"

"Usually," he said warily. "Why?"

Emma had never been an actress; she couldn't even lie. As her finger scooped up a dollop of warm chocolate pudding, embarrassment made her want to giggle and make a joke about the situation; she was afraid that he would find what she was about to do ridiculous instead of sexy.

"Why? Because you are about to have a tres intimate encounter with it." She lifted the dollop of pudding and, with her eyes locked on his, painted it around her left nipple.

His eyes dropped to her breast, watching the movement. She swirled it over her aureole, leaving the peak of her nipple bare, then brought her finger to her mouth and slowly sucked the pudding off.

His erection bobbed in approval. "I think that chocolate just became my favorite food."

A smile quavered on her lips. A good start, but it was ad-lib time now. The sex advice script hadn't filled in all the blanks for this amorous scene, and she'd never been naturally creative with her body movements. She didn't even dance.

She dipped her finger again into the pudding and circled her other nipple, nervousness making her do it too quickly. She knew she was too fast, too stiff, but she couldn't stop herself. With more pudding she drew an outward spiral over her breast, watching her fingertip to make sure she got the spiral perfect. The shaking of her hand made the line wobbly. She scowled and tried to correct it, licking her finger and wiping off the uneven bits.

She glanced up at Russ and saw a faint frown between his brows, the delight of a minute before now fading, his erection looking a hair less upright. She was losing her audience. She was doing a terrible job of being seductive.

A squeaky giggle of embarrassment slipped out. "I'm messing this up." She fluttered her hands helplessly in the air. "Do you want me to stop this? This pudding thing?"

"No. But"

"But?"

"If I could offer a word of advice?"

"Please!"

"Go slow. And drop the accent."

She blushed. "Okay." She could do slow, couldn't she? And dropping the accent was easy enough. He didn't want her to stop everything. Just to slow down.

She closed her eyes and listened to the music. The rhythm was slow and swaying; she could imagine a belly dancer moving to it. Opening her eyes she set her gaze high up on the wall, so that Russ was only a blur in her peripheral vision. She untied the apron and let it fall, then scooped up more of the warm pudding and painted a circle in the center of her torso with two fingers. Trying to forget that she was being watched, she swirled her fingertips in the dollop of pudding and then let them wander across her skin in slow, dancing loops, moving with the beat of the music. She scrolled a path along the bottom of her ribs, letting the music guide her instincts, her fingertips dancing upward to paint the underside of one breast.

She let her fingers slide up over her nipple, the warm slickness of the pudding feeling erotic, turning her own fingertips into a warm tongue. She slid the peak of her nipple into the vee of two fingers, feeling the aroused hardness of it. She pinched it lightly and sensation shot straight down her body. Her lips parted and her breathing deepened.

With her other hand she dipped again into the bowl. She lowered her gaze to Russ, not afraid now to look at him. He was transfixed by her play with the chocolate, his gaze going back and forth between her nipple and her other hand, moving now toward her lower belly.

She smeared the chocolate just above her mound, then played at the tops of her thighs, creating a circle around her sex. She let her fingers go down into what remained of her hair, to smear the warm smoothness over the hood of her desire, stroking it while he watched and feeling the pleasure that came with her own touch. She had never touched herself in front of a man; had never let one watch as she gave herself pleasure. He clearly was enjoying the show, his attention never wavering.

She didn't see him now as the man she was here to please. He was the gorgeous male body she was going to use for her own delight. Her toy, her willing slave who did as she bid.

She climbed onto the bed, straddling him, and moved her hips back and forth over his erection, letting her folds lick his length, his rod massaging her clit as she moved over him. He reached up and held her hips, urging her down harder.

"Don't touch!" she ordered.

He groaned and dropped his hands.

She got down on all fours over him and lowered herself until she could feel his hardness pressing into the softness of her lower belly. She rubbed against him, the chocolate letting her glide over his ridge, then lowered herself farther so her nipples could rub against his chest. His hair tickled at her, stimulating her in a way she would never have guessed.

She glanced up and met his hazel eyes, the color almost swallowed by the blackness of his enlarged pupils. She wiped a bit of chocolate off her breast and painted it over his lower lip. He held motionless while she did, but she could hear his quickened breathing and feel his tension beneath her.

He's mine to do with as I please.

She licked the chocolate off his lip, then sucked at it, running her tongue over the soft silkiness. He started to kiss her back and she withdrew.

She slid down his body, letting her nipples rub against him the whole way, enjoying the feel of him beneath her. His erection slid neatly between her breasts, and that felt good, too. She raised her eyes to meet his gaze, then with gazes locked she pressed her hands to either side of her breasts and squeezed, trapping him between her mounds. Kneeling in a crouch, she raised and lowered her torso, pumping him between her breasts. He gasped, his rod sliding easily in the chocolate, the head popping out between the tops of her breasts at the end of each stroke.

"It feels so good," Emma said. "Feeling you against me, here."

"Oh God"

"Don't come."

"Christ"

She slid her hands so that her nipples peeked out from between her fingers as she pressed her breasts. That, too, felt good.

"Emma"

"I'm not done." She released her breasts and slid lower down his body still, forcing his legs to part and give her someplace to crouch, his erection near her face. There was chocolate smeared all over him.

She licked one of his balls tentatively, not sure what she'd think of it. Chocolate and skin; a faint coat of hair.

She licked again, a little more firmly, enough to lightly splay her tongue against him and take off some of the chocolate.

"Emma, what are you doing?"

"You have chocolate all over you. I have to clean you up."

His answer was a long groan.

Grinning, she lowered her head and went to slow, methodical work, starting at the bottom and working her way upward over every inch. Swirling her tongue at the base of his rod; licking at its sides as if it were a melting ice-cream cone; then finally tracing the edge of his head with the point of her tongue and then rubbing her tongue hard against the spot facing her where head met length. She felt his body hardening, all his muscles tensing.

She rested her closed lips over the tip and parted them slightly to taste the first drop of his desire. She pressed downward, letting the force of her descent open her lips around him, his engorged head filling her mouth and forcing her tongue down. She kept her lips carefully over her teeth and took him until he hit the back of her mouth. She sucked and pulled off him, then went to it in earnest, wrapping her hand around his shaft and moving it up and down in synch with her mouth.

Russ's breathing grew louder and more ragged. He lifted his hands beside her head and she knew he wanted to grasp her, either to stop her or to move her deeper. But he held off, obeying her command not to touch.

She released his shaft and moved her hand down, lightly stroking his balls. His whole body clenched.

"Emma, you've got to stop. Please, Emma! I can't hold back any longer."

She released him, rising up on her knees to look down at him. He lay beneath her, panting. She dipped her finger again into the chocolate and painted one of her nipples, then the other, then slowly brought her finger to her mouth and sucked off what remained. "You can touch me now."

"Thank God!" Russ sat up and scooped her into his arms, then lay her down on the mattress. He lowered his mouth to her chocolate-coated nipple, sucking hungrily, rolling the bead of it against his tongue. She moaned.

Russ heard the moan and felt his crotch respond. He wanted to part her thighs and plunge into her right this moment; but if he did, it would be over in three thrusts. He knew he couldn't hold back much longer.

He laved her other nipple, cleaning it, and felt her raise her hips against him in a silent plea for him to enter her. She raised her knees, tilting her hips for greater contact between them. He licked his way down her torso, sliding his body between her legs, feeling the softness of her lower hair and the dampness of her own desire against his belly.

His need for her burned, but he refused to let his satisfaction arrive with a simple thrust. To slow himself down he moved yet farther down her body until he could slide his arms under her fishnet-clad thighs and bend them, his hands coming up to splay against her hips, holding her pelvis captive. Her sex was bare before him, easy prey to his hungry mouth.

"Russ, you don't have to," she said, reaching down and touching the side of his head.

Of course he didn't have to, but it was something he'd never particularly enjoyed with past girlfriends, so it would give him time to cool down. He lowered his mouth to her dark pink folds and licked.

She moaned.

He paused, taken aback. He'd never been with a moaner. His past girlfriends-the list was short, as he was a serial monogamist-had lain silent and so relaxed, they seemed to be sleeping.

He licked again, and Emma writhed. Encouraged, he licked and stroked and skimmed her folds with his tongue, each touch bringing from her another movement, another sound, another arch of the back.

She tasted like chocolate and a hint of salt. Her flesh was smooth and elastic, a complex puzzle of ridges and valleys. She had little hair compared to the other women he'd been with, and her sex was sweet and smooth against his mouth. Each of his touches made her mewl in pleasure; it made him want to lick her forever, his own sex responding to her reactions.

He found her opening with the tip of his tongue and pressed gently against it, seeking out her moisture.

Emma tensed, raising her hips against his mouth. His tongue was a taunt, promising what it could not deliver. Her whole body was poised to orgasm, but she wanted him deep inside her when she did. She wanted to feel herself filled; wanted him to thrust into her and stretch her to her limit.

"Now, now!" Emma said, reaching down and touching the sides of his head, gently urging him up. "Now, please!"

He rose up between her legs. She grabbed a pillow and arched her hips off the bed, shoving the pillow beneath her bottom, her hips now tilted for better G-spot stimulation, her thighs parted and her body waiting in wet hunger for him to enter. Yes, yes, yes! Finally!

She reached down and helped guide him to her entrance. He pressed into her and after a moment of blunt pressure she felt herself open to accept him, the hard width of him forcing its way inside. It was what she'd been yearning for in all her lonely nights, and the first moments were almost enough to send her over the edge.

He entered with short thrusts, going deeper into her each time, her moisture easing his way. But as he stretched her, discomfort slipped in alongside her pleasure. It had been so long since she'd had sex, her body was no longer used to stretching to accept a man. But her body was still ready for pleasure; still seeking it; and she wrapped her legs around his waist and held on, urging him onward.

Supporting himself on his arms, he looked down at her as if asking for permission, his face tense with passion.

"Go for it," she whispered.

He went for it. He lowered himself to his forearms, holding her shoulders to keep her from being rocked against the brass bars of the headboard as he thrust like his life depended on it. She wrapped her arms around him and clawed gently at his back as he took her. His face was beside hers and she could hear and feel his breath near her ear. Sweat stuck their skin together, her thighs against his sides, his chest against her breasts.

The discomfort had lessened and she now felt nothing but the force of his passion; then thrust by thrust, the pleasure began to return. Just a tickle; a tease of excitement deep within her. A spot that his manhood stroked, bringing it slowly to life.

She clung to him more tighdy and rocked her hips against him, trying to steal more of that faint pleasure. She tightened her inner muscles.

"Oh God, Emma," he said on a breath, his motions slowing, his whole body tensing.

No, not yet! she silently begged. Just when she was starting to enjoy it again!

One more thrust and then he was gripping her shoulders, and through the sensitive flesh at her entrance she felt the throb of his orgasm.

Dammit! Dammit dammit dammit!

He eased gently down on top of her, his body relaxing.

"It's okay, I can take your weight," she whispered, sensing that he was holding himself partly off her.

"Are you sure?"

She nodded, and was rewarded with his body heavy against her own. She closed her eyes, her arms still around him. She unwrapped her legs from his waist and lowered them, shaking with weariness, to the mattress. She gently stroked his back with her fingertips, as if soothing him to sleep.

"You didn't get your turn," he said.

It took her a moment to understand what he meant. "That's not what this is about. I'm here to please you."

He didn't answer, and she didn't know if he liked what she'd said or if it had reminded him too much of their arrangement.

"I'm crushing you," he said softly.

"No. I like it." She meant it, too. She liked the weight of him; liked being pinned beneath him, his member still embedded inside her. She felt vulnerable and protected all at once. It might not be an orgasm, but it gave her satisfaction to have him there.

They stayed that way for a short time longer and then he shifted, and they carefully disengaged their bodies. Emma cursed herself for having forgotten to have a towel ready, and grabbed the sheet from the bottom of the bed to put into makeshift use.

"You can take a shower if you'd like," she said.

He stood beside the bed, his staff still rigid. Til just clean myself up a bit," he said, and gathered his clothes, carrying them with him to the bathroom, his nakedness looking a bit awkward now; almost embarrassing, now that the passion had been spent.

Emma found her robe and threw it on, then started to clean up. The bowl of pudding went to the kitchen, the sheets were stripped, the candles were snuffed, the fishnets and maid's cap taken off. It would be more romantic to leave it all in place until he was gone, but her nervousness was returning. How did one say good night to one's lover/ employer?

If he were her boyfriend he wouldn't be leaving at all, but would snuggle with her on the couch, eating ice cream and watching TV. He wouldn't be getting dressed and driving home, leaving her with dishes and laundry, an empty bed and a flush Visa card.

Russ used a washcloth to clean himself up and quickly got dressed in the bathroom. A glance in the mirror revealed mussed hair and a smear of pudding on his cheek. He washed it off and used wet hands to smooth his hair.

Emma's comb was on the counter, but to use it would be too intimate.

He breathed a laugh at that. Too intimate to use her comb without permission, after what they'd just done?

And yet it was true, and he dressed without using any of her things beyond the washcloth, which he tossed into her hamper. When he finished dressing he glanced around the small room, at the embroidered details on the shower curtain; at the porcelain toothbrush holder; at the framed series of small black-and-white photos of various foreign toilets. A bit of her humor there, he thought.

He glanced around once more, remembering the noises she had made before coming to the bedroom. What had she been doing? There was no clue to the mystery, and he couldn't ask her.

He left the bathroom and found her in the kitchen, wearing a silky floral robe and loading the dishwasher. The bright overhead light and the homely chore dispelled whatever lingering hint of romantic intimacy there might have been, and he felt he had overstayed himself already.

"I'll be going, then," he said, feeling exposed and vaguely ashamed of himself.

She straightened and turned around, holding a dirty dish in one hand and a too-cheerful smile on her lips. "Oh, okay! I hope that tonight Well, you know. That it was what you were hoping for. Was it okay?"

Christ. She was asking for a performance evaluation.

"Everything was wonderful. You obviously put a lot of thought and hard work into it." He grimaced at his own words. "I mean, into the meal. Into the other bit as well." He snapped his lips shut before he could dig himself in any deeper.

"I'm glad you liked it. The meal, I mean. And the rest." She bit her lip, then her eyes widened. "Oh, I almost forgot!" She grabbed two plastic containers off the counter and thrust them at him. "Leftovers, if you want them."

"You don't?"

She shrugged. "I can cook. You can't. Besides, I still have the ice cream."

He accepted the containers. "Thanks. This should last me through the weekend."

"Good." She smiled, and a silent moment stretched between them. "I'll-" she started.

"I'll-" he said at the same time, and stopped. "You first."

"I was just going to say, Til see you Monday, then?' Same time?"

"Yes."

"Great!"

They went to the door together and there was another moment of tense awkwardness. "Good night, then," he said.

"Yes, good night."

He opened the door and looked back at her, trying to read her expression. Trying to see if she wanted a goodnight kiss, or if she just wanted him gone. He couldn't tell.

"Sleep well," he said, and then gestured to the containers. "And thanks."

"You're welcome. Drive safe."

"Good night."

" 'Night."

He turned and walked down the corridor, and heard her gently close the door to the apartment.

When he was back in his car and driving home, his brain began to torment him with self-doubt as he mentally replayed the events. He'd bored her at dinner; he'd been stiff and awkward in conversation and action; he hadn't given her an orgasm.

He felt the burn of embarrassment on his face. He hadn't given her an orgasm.

Maybe she hadn't enjoyed any of it. Maybe the moans and writhing had all been for show, to make him feel good about his prowess. He'd never been with a woman who made so much noise. "Vm here to please you," she'd said. Maybe writhers and moaners existed only in the land of make-believe.

Ah, Christ. He'd just had the most surprising, most erotic, most weirdly exciting sex of his life, and all he could think was that she probably hadn't enjoyed a bit of it. She'd probably been imagining herself anywhere but in bed with him, her mind a thousand miles away. He may as well have been masturbating.

This was no way for a man with self-respect to entertain himself. He'd call her tomorrow and end it.


Chapter Five | The Erotic Secrets Of A French Maid | Chapter Seven