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Cactus Flower

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Title: Madly, Wildly, Desperately  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: Cactus Flower  

Pairing: Stephanie Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman)/Toni Simmons (Goldie Hawn)  

Rating: NC-17  

Disclaimer: Not mine. This belongs to Columbia Tristar, Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy, who wrote the play (ah, those Frenchmen!!), and Abe Burrows who wrote the American version.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 4/2003  

Series/Sequel: Not just yet.  

Summary: Stephanie Dickinson has settled for what her life has become, work and her sister's family. But now her boss, swinging bachelor, Julian Winston, a 5th Avenue dentist, needs her help to get out of a jam: having told his girlfriend, Toni, that he was already married, he has to come up with a wife. Who better than his capable, competent nurse/secretary?  

Warnings: f/f, implied m/f, implied m/m, major spoilers for the movie  

Notes: This takes place in 1969, so please keep in mind that things were a bit different then. Mucha mujer is much woman. Moder is Swedish for Mother. Only Make Believe is from Jerome Kern's and Oscar Hammerstein's Showboat. ¡Cómo es encantador! translates to How lovely! Many thanks, as always, to Gail for the excellent beta and for just being there.  

Madly, Wildly, Desperately

Part 1


"Stephanie." My sister stood in the doorway of the room that was mine in her apartment. Max, the bulldog, was straining at his leash. " Murray says Iggie is willing to take you out."  

I had no doubt this 'Iggie' was another of her obnoxious husband's obnoxious drinking buddies. He probably cheated at Monopoly as well. "I'm really not interested, Anna." I finished packing the box that contained my paints and canvas. "Here, Timmy, take this downstairs, please." My oldest nephew grasped it manfully and left the apartment. His little brother had already gone down to the street where my second-hand Volvo was parked, proudly carrying my easel. I picked up my suitcase and eased past my sister.  

She followed me down the stairs. "Stephanie. You need to find a man."  

This was neither the time nor the place for this discussion. I put the suitcase in the trunk, next to where the boys had placed my art supplies, and kissed them good-bye. "When I get back we'll go to the zoo. How does that sound?"  

"And we can watch them feed the lions again? Yay!" Their kisses were sloppy and enthusiastic. They were two of the male species that I had no problem tolerating. They raced back into the apartment building, busy listing the exhibits they intended to see.  

I pulled the front seat forward so the bulldog could climb into the back, then turned to my sister and took Max's lead from her. There was a blanket on the back seat, and he settled himself on it, panting in the summer heat. "Good boy, Max."  

"Stephanie, are you paying any attention to me at all?"  

Truthfully, no. "Anna, I don't see why I need a man."  

She became impatient. "Every woman needs a man!  

"I found a man, once. Remember?"  

"I'm not talking about Stephan." She curled her lip, as if the very mention of that early, failed marriage left a nasty taste in her mouth. "I knew he was no good for you."  

I wish I had. Everyone thought we were so adorable together, Stephan and Stephanie. "You were the one who introduced us."  

"Well, how was I to know he liked to dress up like a little girl and get spanked?"  

I remembered catching him over his lover's knee, his bottom covered in pink panties with rows and rows of ruffles on the seat. My mouth went dry, and I swallowed. "What hurt," I mused, "was that he didn't feel he could ask me if I would do this for him."  

"Stephanie! And you a good, Swedish girl!"  Anna looked shocked and just the least bit titillated. "Um… would you have?"  

I didn't answer her. Instead I thought of that severe black riding outfit that hung in the back of my closet, and the braided leather crop.  

"You have my address in Cape Cod , right? And the phone number of the general store in town?" The cottage I rented each year did not include a telephone among its few amenities. I was lucky the bathroom was not out in the backyard. "I may decide to spend a few days in Provincetown ," I murmured casually, "so if you can't get in touch with me, don't worry." I kissed her cheek, and she kissed mine, and then I got in the car. "I'll see you in two weeks, Anna."  

"Have a… er… nice time, Stephanie!" She couldn't see the attraction of paint and turpentine, but if that was what made me happy…. She stood on the curb, her hand raised to wave me off.  

When I returned home, it would be with the pleasant memory of soft, sweet-smelling, feminine bodies that twisted and moaned beneath the ministrations of my knowledgeable fingers.  

These two weeks in the summer were the only time that I permitted myself to 'cut loose.' My family thought that meant I went barefoot and wore blue jeans. I didn't see any need to enlighten them.  


That lovely summer vacation was behind me, and the next one was still some months away. I caught the E subway train for 5th Avenue and work.  

I had accepted that I could never make a living with my art, and so I got a job working as a dental assistant for Julian Winston, DDS. That was where I had been for the last ten years. I made the appointments, took the x-rays, and sterilized the instruments, and watered my cactus plant, hoping that one day it would put out a bloom. And since I had no desire for him to chase me around his desk, I dressed in shapeless white uniforms and thick white support hose and sensible white nurse's shoes.  

I wasn't in love with my boss, but it suited me to have my sister and her husband think so.  

I replaced his shirts when the laundry put too much starch in them and the collars became frayed. I reminded him when it was time to visit his barber or his tailor, and I made him chicken and egg salad sandwiches.  

Anna thought it was romantic and stopped pressuring me to go out on dates, and Murray thought it was poetic justice that I was pining for a man who didn't want me.  

I was… if not happy, then at least content.  

Until the Friday Julian Winston asked me out for a drink.  

It had been a very strange day. A young man named Igor kept calling, telling me he needed to speak with Dr. Winston, that it was imperative, but then refusing to tell me what it was about.  

A perfumed letter came in the mail, and Dr. Winston took it reluctantly. He opened it, turned sheet white as he read it, and bolted from the office, shouting that I was to cancel all his appointments.  

The office door slammed shut behind him. I scowled at it, then went to Mrs. Durant, a wealthy socialite who had arrived late to have a cavity filled. She was torn between relief at not having to face the drill, and indignation that Dr. Winston had left her sitting in the dentist's chair. In the end, relief won, and she left after agreeing to return on Monday.  

Señor Sanchez, a representative of the Argentine government, was waiting nervously in another room. "I will leave now, yes?" he asked hopefully.  

"You will leave now, no. I will take that x-ray that Dr. Winston requested, and then you may go."  

He sighed and opened his mouth, and I x-rayed his upper molars. Before I could leave, he took my hand in his and turned it over, kissing my palm and caressing it with the soft hairs of his mustache. I yanked my hand free. "Ah, lovely Stephanie, why will you not let El Bravo take you away from all this?"  

"Because Mrs. El Bravo would object! And you will call me 'Miss Dickinson'!"  

He pulled a mournful face. "Stephanie… Miss Dickinson, my wife is away at the fat farm. She will never know!"

I handed him his appointment card. "No."  

Before he could object, the phone rang, and I  picked up the receiver. "Dr. Winston's office."  

"Listen, just tell the tooth jockey that Toni is alive." It was Igor again.  

"What?" But the dial tone was all there was. I swore in Swedish. Now what was that all about?  

"Miss Dickinson! You are mucha mujer!" He reached for my hand again, and this time I smacked the back of his fingers and pointed toward the door. His shoulders slumped, and he left.  

What a day this was proving to be! I pulled the appointment book to me and reached for the phone. And it wasn't even half over!  


Dr. Winston returned as I was preparing to lock up for the night. "I'm sorry, Señor Sanchez," he said as he shut the office door, "I'm not seeing any more patients tonight. Miss Dickinson!"  

"Dr. Winston. You're back. Toni is alive." I placed the cover over my electric typewriter.  

"I know." His smile was that of a lovesick puppy. Or perhaps he just had indigestion. Then he frowned. "How did you know?"  

"Someone named Igor called. A number of times. Finally he gave me the message."  

"Igor?" His expression was displeased.    

"I rescheduled all your patients." I began to go  through the rooms, gathering up the instruments that would be sterilized over the weekend.  

"How did they react?" He trailed after me, and I glanced over my shoulder and frowned. Why was he following me from room to room?  

"I told them you had to see your own dentist." I put the instruments into the autoclave and set the timer. "That made them very happy."  

I needed to change for the subway ride home. My street clothes were hanging in the supply closet, and I hurried into it, slid the pocket door closed, and got out of that ugly uniform and into the sedate brown skirt suit I had chosen that morning. Then I went back to my desk and removed my purse from the lower drawer. Once the desk was locked, I glanced questioningly at my boss.  

He was looking pensive. Abruptly, he asked, "Miss Dickinson, would you care to have a drink with me?"  

I barely prevented my jaw from dropping. "Excuse me?"  

"I'd like to take you out for a drink."  

"Oh, I really don't think…" Through the frosted glass of the office door, I could see the hovering figure of Señor Sanchez. I didn't have the energy that evening to fight him off. I changed what I'd been about to say. "On second thought, Dr. Winston, I'd love to join you for a drink."  

There was a little bar around the corner from the office. I'd passed it on the way to the subway, and I'd even gone in once or twice. Dr. Winston took my arm and escorted me down the two steps and into the brightly lit interior. Later, I knew, it would become dim, as lovers stopped to share a drink before going on to their trysts. He led me to a small table and waited until I was comfortably settled before sitting down himself.  

A waiter approached, took our order, and quickly returned with a gin and tonic for him, and a gin and soda for me.  

"You look… um… very nice." Dr. Winston took a sip, then gave me a practiced smile. "So. Tell me about Miss Dickinson, the civilian."  

Good grief, was he flirting with me?  

No, he couldn't be, I wasn't his type. For one thing, there was more between  my ears than just a place to put my hat. "I don't know where to begin."  

"Start at the beginning. That's a very good place to start. Do you live alone?"  

"Yes. Well, no, I live with my sister and her family."  

"What do you do after work? On the weekend? For a hobby?"  

The questions were innocuous enough, but to my surprise, he seemed interested. I answered them cautiously. "I help my sister with the cooking; I walk Max, my bulldog. I watch TV, documentaries preferably. I paint seascapes up on Cape Cod ." I raised my glass to my lips.  

"Are you seeing anyone?"  

I began choking on the sip I had just taken, and he pounded my back. "Excuse me?"  

"Do you have a boyfriend?"  

"Not right now, no." I could feel the color rising in my face. Being so fair, I knew it was very noticeable.  

He seemed relieved. "Miss Dickinson, let me get right to the point. I need a favor."  


"I need a wife."  

"Why? Are you pregnant?" I snapped my mouth shut and glared at my drink accusingly. I hadn't taken more than a couple of sips. Surely I couldn't be tipsy already. "I beg your pardon. I think I had better go home." I reached for my purse.  

He laid his hand on mine. "Please, Miss Dickinson. Hear me out."  

I slid my hand out from under his and nodded reluctantly. "Very well, Dr. Winston."  

"Please. Call me Julian." He smiled, that winning smile I'd seen turn his female patients to mush. "This is rather complicated. You see, I've asked my girlfriend to marry me."  


"Thank you." He looked sheepish. "But… first I have to get divorced."  

"Dr. Winston… Oh, all right, Julian. You are not married."  

"No, but Toni thinks I am." He hurried to explain. "See, when I first met her, I knew she could be important to me, so I told her up front I was married. She's such a sweet girl; honesty means a great deal to her. Well, things were getting entirely too serious, so I broke a date with her last night to prove to myself I could, and she tried to commit suicide!"  

The poor girl. "You needn't sound so proud, you know."  

He had the grace to look abashed. "I do know, and I'm sorry. But I realized that if she loved me enough to kill herself over me, then she must really love me! She has to be the one I've been waiting for. We're going to get married. But…" He sipped his drink and looked away from me. "But Toni is a nice girl. She wants to meet my wife to make sure she's okay."  

"Well, it appears to me that you are up the proverbial creek."  

"No, you see, that's where you come in."  

"What does this have to do with me?"  

"I want you to pretend to be my wife. Go to Stereo Heaven, that's where she works, and tell Toni you're fine with the divorce. Please, Miss Dickinson? I'll never ask for another favor, I promise you! I'll even eat those damned chicken and egg salad sandwiches without a complaint."  

"I thought you liked those sandwiches!"  

"Of course I like those sandwiches!" he assured me. "I love them! Please, Miss Dickinson… Stephanie! I'm desperate!" His fingers closed around my hand.  

"I couldn't possibly…" I tugged futilely to get my hand loose.  

"Please, just think it over!"  

"I have to go." I tugged harder, and he finally let my hand go. "I will see you at work on Monday, Dr. Winston." I rushed out of the bistro. I couldn't possibly do what he asked me.  

On the ride home, as the subway car rocked from one side to the other, I thought about this girl, Toni, who loved, not wisely, but too well. I had never been that much in love.  

Perhaps I would go to see her.  


The next day was Saturday. I was  taking Timmy and Kenneth, my nephews, to the Central Park Zoo. I had dressed more carefully than I normally would, in a chic suit, with pumps, hat and gloves that matched. As we walked up from the subway, I glanced across the street. Stereo Heaven.  

"Timmy, here." I handed him a couple of dollars. "Buy yourself and your brother an ice cream. I'm going into the record store for a moment."  

"I thought we were going to the zoo."  

"Ice cream is much better, don't you think? Go ahead. And wait for me here." I watched them go into the little ice cream store, then crossed the street and entered Stereo Heaven. There were a number of customers browsing the aisles, and behind the counter were two saleswomen. One was an older woman, and I immediately ruled her out. The other was a vibrant redhead, dressed in a lime green mini. Her bra was apparently riding up, because she gripped the torso of her dress and gave a wriggle. The customer she was helping didn't notice. I was pleased that my clothes were quietly elegant. She might have my 'husband', but she did not have my sense of style. 

She was just the sort of woman Julian Winston dated, and I wondered at him calling her sweet. I shook my head. That  was certainly stretching it.  

I walked to a collection of Montovani albums. The older saleswoman bustled over to me. "May I help you?"  

"No, thank you. I'm just looking." I thumbed through the albums, keeping an eye on the redhead.  

Finally, she said, "The Horowitz Concert will be out the end of next week. Would you like me to hold it for you?"  

"That would be wonderful. I'll be back then." The customer smiled and walked away, and I approached the redhead.  

"That Horowitz album. Would you be able to order it for me also?"  

"Sure." She pulled out an order pad. "Name, please?"  

"Mrs. Julian Winston."  

"Do you have an account with us?"  

"No, but my husband does a good deal of business here. I'm sure you must know him."  

She shrugged. "I may have helped him." She gave me a perfunctory smile. "Would you like us to hold it or ship it to you?"  

"Perhaps you didn't hear the name. I'm Mrs. Julian Winston."  

"Marsha." A blonde had come out of the back room. "I'll take care of this. You handle my customer, okay?" She handed her the album she'd been holding and waited until the redhead walked to the other end of the counter, then turned to me.  "Mrs. Winston, I'm Toni Simmons." She was young, and pretty, and… sweet!  

"How do you do?" I moistened my lips. She wore a goldenrod yellow knitted top that was belted at the waist. Love beads hung from her neck and dangled between her pert breasts. My palms tingled with the urge to cup them, to feel her nipples drag against them. Her blue eyes were so earnest. She lowered her lids, then glanced at me sideways through her lashes, her eyes fastened on my mouth. Heat pooled between my legs, and I shifted discreetly.  

"You're nothing like what I expected!"  

Neither was she. "I understand you wished to see me."  

"Oh, er… yes. Are you aware of our plans, Julian's and mine?"  

I nodded. "The divorce. Of course."  

"And it doesn't bother you?" The older saleswoman was listening avidly, and Toni came out from behind the counter. She gestured toward an aisle that contained instrumentals. "Something here might interest you."  

It bothered me more to see this enchanting young woman falling for Dr. Winston's schemes.  

I followed her, my eyes on the brown mini skirt that covered her shapely rear and revealed the long, smooth expanse of her legs, which seemed to go on forever. I imagined them wrapped around my waist as we rocked against each other, softness against softness, and I cleared my throat.  

A few of Julian Winston's women had come to the office to meet him. They had been like the redhead: flashy, ostentatious, brittle. But this vision before me… she was exquisite. I shivered, thinking what it could have been like to have met her on Cape Cod , to have brought her to my little cottage, to have…  

I shook myself out of my reverie. "Tell me one thing. Do you love him?"  

She nodded. "Oh, yes! Madly. Wildly. Desperately!" And I sighed. She had her heart set on my boss. I would do what I could to see that she got what she wanted.  

"You're not wearing a ring," she observed sharply.  

I looked down at my left hand. "When it's over, Miss Simmons, it's over. It's best to acknowledge that and move on."  

A balding man in glasses approached us, his expression stern, and Toni smiled sweetly at him and took my arm. "I can play this for you. Please come this way." I hadn't even realized that I held an album in my hand. She led me to an enclosed booth and shut the door. "That's Mr. Shirley, the manager." With competent movements, she put the record on the spindle and turned on the phonograph. The sounds of lush strings filled the small room.  

"You asked me a question, Mrs. Winston. May I ask you one?"  

"Of course, but please, call me Stephanie. After all, I won't be Mrs. Winston much longer."  

"All right, Stephanie." She touched the skin of my wrist just above the gloves I wore, and I wanted to moan. "Do you still love him?"  

"No," I told her, glad there was no reason for me to lie. "Although after being with someone for ten years, scheduling his barber appointments, reminding him to see his tailor, making chicken and egg salad sandwiches for him…"  

"You *do* still love him!"  

"My dear girl!" I chuckled. "Not at all! I will be glad to turn all that over to you!" I wanted to touch the layers of hair that spilled over her forehead and ears, and curled around the base of her skull, to see if it was as soft as it looked. The scent she wore, something light and flowery, filled the booth, and I drew in a surreptitious breath. The scent teased my nostrils.  

"Would you tell me something else? Were you ever jealous of Miss Dickinson?"  

That startled me. Be jealous of myself? "No."  

She smiled, and my eyes were drawn to her mouth. "I'll tell you a little secret. I am, a little."  

"I'm sure you have no need to be. You're young and very pretty." Very pretty. "Are you very sure you want him?"  

"Oh, yes!"  

I remembered being that young and that certain once. "Then I wish you the best of luck, Miss Simmons. I must go." I opened the door. Mr. Shirley, the manager, was hovering outside the booth, and I was glad I hadn't given in to the temptation to stroke her hair, or even more shocking, to kiss those pink lips. "You'll see I get that Horowitz album?"  

"Yes," she said brightly. "Shall I send it to your home?"  

"No, please send it to 975 Glenwood, Apartment 3A , Jackson Heights ." I gave her my sister's address.  

"You've moved out? Mrs. … Stephanie, who's going to tell the children?"  

"The children?" I asked blankly. Dr. Winston had been a busy boy, spinning his fairy tales. "Oh, the children! I will do that. Julian is no good with that sort of thing at all. And they'll be fine, please don't worry. Well, it was very nice meeting you, Toni." Her name lingered on my tongue. "I hope you will be very happy with Julian." I walked out of Stereo Heaven. I resisted the temptation to turn and gaze at her again.  

Timmy and Kenneth were waiting for me across the street. I joined them. "You've been such good boys! What do you say we go to the Museum of Natural History , and you can see all the dinosaurs?"  

They bounced happily, and we walked down to the corner where we caught a bus that took us to 79th Street and Central Park West.  

And each time my thighs brushed together, I was reminded of the lovely girl in the record shop.  


After I had taken Max for his evening stroll, I went into the living room to find Murray in his undershirt, sprawled before the television set, waiting for his favorite sitcom to start. A beer was on the floor beside his chair and a bowl of popcorn balanced on his belly. At the appropriate time, when the hero did something unbelievably stupid, he would throw kernels at the screen.  

"I think I will go to bed now, Anna."  

"It's still early, Stephanie. Are you sure you don't want to watch Get Smart with us?"  

"No." I would have stayed up if PBS was airing a documentary, but not for Maxwell Smart. It was bad enough that in a moment of weakness I had allowed my nephews to name my dog after him. "It's been a busy day. The boys wanted to see everything in the museum twice."  

"I don't know why you went there instead of to the Central Park Zoo."  

"We've been to the zoo quite often. I thought this made a pleasant change." I didn't want to stand there debating the issue with her. "Goodnight, Anna, Murray ."  

My brother-in-law grunted a goodnight, but my sister called, "Pleasant dreams, Stephanie."  

If I dreamed of Toni, they would be.  

I showered in the single bath the family shared, dressed in my lightweight, spring pajamas, and crossed the hall to the privacy of my room. Once behind my closed and locked door, I opened my pajama top, baring my breasts, and skinned out of the bottoms, tossing them onto the chair by the dressing table.  

The feeling of being not quite naked was deliciously naughty. I squeezed and fondled my breasts, wet my fingers and ran them over my nipples. My breath quivered in my throat, came fast and shaky. Imagining that it was Toni doing this to me, I lay down on my bed and skimmed my other hand down over my torso, over the slight swell of my abdomen, through the curls that covered my mound. My legs parted, and I stroked over the folds. I was wet. I slid two fingers into my passage, while  the middle finger of my other hand rubbed the slick, tiny knot at the top of my sex.  

I bit my lips to prevent the moans that were building up from passing them. Toni was in my mind as my hand moved faster, my fingers pinched my clit, and I writhed as my orgasm overtook me. Gradually, my breathing calmed, and I realized that while the itch had been soothed, it hadn't been satisfied. I rolled onto my stomach and got my knees under me, then began touching myself again.  

I lost track of the number of times I brought myself to climax, and when I woke to the early morning sunshine that spilled across my bed, it was to find I was exhausted and still hungry.  

There was a knock on my door. "Will you be coming to church with us, Aunt Steph?"  

"Not today, Timmy," I called.  

I heard his brother grumble, "How come she can stay home, but we have to go?"  

"She's a grown up, Ken. She's been to church so many times, she's got enough points to get her out of hell."  

"What are you telling your brother, young man?"  

"Nothing, Moder."  

"I should hope not! Now come along." Anna tapped on my door. "Stephanie, are you sure you won't come?"  

I barely stopped myself from laughing. "Yes, Anna. I just need a little more sleep."  

"You need a man," she grumbled. "Then at least you'd have a good reason for needing more sleep."  

"I love you too, Anna. Now hurry. You don't want to be late!"  

While Anna and the boys were at church, and Murray was still sleeping, I dressed and went into the kitchen, and made myself a light breakfast. Then I began to bake.  

When they returned home, they sniffed the air appreciatively. "Ostkaka! Aunt Stephanie! You haven't made cheesecake since Christmas!" my nephews chorused.  

"Stephanie, it’s so much work! What's the occasion?" Anna's eyes sharpened. "Has your boss finally come to his senses and asked you out?"  

"No, Anna." If I told her he'd asked me to have a drink on Friday, she'd want to know if we had set the date. And if I told her it had simply been to ease the path of his romance with Toni Simmons, she'd start trying to match-make again.  

I didn't want to think of her reaction if she learned that I wanted a chance with Toni Simmons myself.  

"So what's wrong?"  

"Nothing is wrong. I just thought it would be nice to have a slice after dinner."  

"Stephanie, you never bake unless something has upset you!"  

"Nonsense. I was just in the mood to bake this morning. What would you prefer on your slices, boys? Whipped cream or cinnamon sauce?" They crowded around me.  

Anna beetled her brows at me, but said nothing more. She went into her bedroom to change out of her church clothing. I could see Murray sprawled on his back across their bed. Dense, dark hair covered his broad torso, arrowing down past the sheet which was bunched around his waist. His nipples, thick and dusky, rose from the pelt on his chest. An eye opened, and he leered at Anna lasciviously. She shut their door, and I heard her sultry laugh.  

I turned away. My brother-in-law was like a Neanderthal. At least Stephan had been slender, with very little hair on his body. He had looked almost girlishly pretty. I shook myself out of that memory. "What would you like to do today, boys?"  

"A movie, Aunt Steph?"  

"All right. A movie it is. I'll just get changed…"  

"Do you have to? You look nice in jeans."  

"You're so sweet, Kenneth. However, I do not think so." I went to my room and put on a neat hound's-tooth skirt  with a matching jacket. It wasn't Memorial Day yet, so I stepped into a pair of brown pumps.  

It was a good thing Anna didn't ask me any questions about the movie. I spent the whole time thinking of Toni.  


 Part 2


On Monday morning, to my surprise, I found the door to the office unlocked. I pushed it open cautiously, and dropped my purse and hat and two brown bags onto the floor. Dr. Winston was already there, sitting at my desk.  

"Dr. Winston!"  

"Don't 'Dr. Winston' me, you female Benedict Arnold!"  

"I beg your pardon?"  

"You've complicated everything, do you realize that?"  

"I beg…"  

"Don't you dare beg my pardon again! You know very well what you did, and I'll bet you did it on purpose!"  

"I beg… er… excuse me?"  

"You went to see Toni on Saturday. Don't deny it!"  

"Dr. Winston, you're behaving extremely irrationally." I picked up my purse and hat and put them in my desk, then retrieved our lunches. "You told me you wanted me to meet with your … your girlfriend. I did. I fail to see what the problem is."  

"You're the problem! She thinks you're gracious, charming, and very brave."  

"I'm not," I said defensively, but he just glared.  

"And she's afraid you're hurt by the divorce proceedings, that you're still in love with me."  

"What do you want me to do? Parade a… a boyfriend before Toni so she'll see I'm really doing fine?"  

His eyes lit up. "That's an excellent idea! We can run into each other unexpectedly. She'll see that you've already moved on to someone else, and she isn't a housebreaker… home wrecker. You can go to Mexico for a quickie divorce, and Toni and I can get married."  

"I wasn't serious, you idiotic man!"  

"Well, I am! Who can you get to play your boyfriend? Hmmm." He tugged on his lower lip. "You told me you weren't seeing anyone just now. Wait a second, how about your brother-in-law?"  

"Murray?" I could hear my voice climb three octaves. "No! Oh, NO!"  

"All right. Geez, take it easy!"  

"Listen, Dr. Winston. I did my good deed for the week, and for my pains, my head was bitten off. You come up with someone! Now, I have to get this office ready for your first patient, who will be here any minute. Here." I thrust a paper bag at him.  

"What…? Oh, please, not another…"  

"Yes, Doctor," I said sweetly. "Chicken and egg salad sandwich." And I hoped he choked.  


I had put on my uniform and was at my desk, the appointment book open before me, and was singing softly under my breath. "Only make believe I love you. Only make believe that you love me…" Images of blonde hair and eyes so blue that I could drown in them filled my mind, along with thoughts of what I wanted to do to her. I'd ease her back against a wall and lean close enough for her breath to feather over my lips. I'd bring a hand up to cradle her cheek, while my other hand would run over the flesh of her thigh, pushing her mini skirt up, my fingers sliding beneath the elastic of her panties where thigh and groin joined, and then I'd…  

"Miss Dickinson. Miss Dickinson!" The brown paper bag hit my desk with a plop.  

I jumped. "I'm sorry, Doctor. I …"  

"Never mind. Here." He shoved a piece of paper at me, and a handful of bills.  

"What is this?"  

"That's the address of The Slipped Disc. It's a discothèque on 45th Street. Be there at 9 tonight. Harvey's going to be your boyfriend."  

"Harvey? Harvey Greenfield?" I could feel myself turning green. Harvey Greenfield was an out-of-work actor, an army buddy of Dr. Winston's. He had a tendency to bring his girlfriend du jour to the doctor to have her teeth worked on, and then would neglect to pay the bill. "We can barely tolerate each other!" In fact, he took perverse pleasure in referring to me as 'the Sergeant'. He said I ran the office like a boot camp. One of the few joys in my professional life was presenting him with the ever-mounting bill. "Why would he agree to do this?" I asked suspiciously.  

"I told him I'd tear up his bill. Give this money to him to pay for your drinks. Oh, and try not to order something really expensive? This evening is costing me a fortune as it is!"  

"Isn't Toni worth it?"  

"Of… of course she is! It's not… I'm just…" I had never seen Julian Winston so flustered. "When I went to Toni's yesterday, a young man was coming out of her apartment."  

"I fail to see what that has to say about anything."  

"All he had on was a… a towel." He seemed very concerned with the young man's state of dress. Or undress.  

I sighed. I would be concerned too, if Toni were my girl. "Oh, well, I'm sure there must be a perfectly logical explanation…"  

"There was," he grumbled. "He had given Toni his electric razor. He said it was because there was no possibility of her slitting her wrists with it. Igor was the one who found her when she tried to commit suicide. He smelled gas and broke the window to get in."  

"There, you see? A good Samaritan." I'd have to send him a token of gratitude. Anonymously, of course. Even if I couldn't have her, she was too special not to be in this world.  

"I don't like him, Miss Dickinson. There's something about him I don't trust."  

I was getting very tired of this. "And what is that, Doctor?"  

"He was breathing!" He scowled at me. "Look, after work, go home and find something … I don't know… pretty to wear!"  

I tipped back my head and stared down my nose at him. "I promise you, I won't show up in this uniform."  

The office door opened, and we both turned to face the woman who entered. Dr. Winston gave her a charming smile. "Ah, Mrs. Durant!" He hurried toward the socialite.  

She simpered and allowed him to take her arm. "Dr. Winston. You were such a naughty boy on Friday, leaving me like that,  but I forgive you because Miss Dickinson told me you were having troubles of your own."  

He glared at me.  

"With your teeth, Doctor," I reminded him.  

"My teeth. Yes, of course. Well, won't you come this way, dear lady? I hope you had a lovely weekend…"  

Their voices faded. I pulled Mrs. Durant's chart, then went to put his lunch next to where mine sat in the small refrigerator in the office kitchen.  

I considered the clothes in my closet and shook my head. They would never do for this evening out. Toni would be there.  

Anna and I were the same size. Perhaps she would have something pretty that I could wear.  


The day passed more quickly than I would have liked. As I was leaving the office, Dr. Winston, his expression supremely innocent, reminded me, "Nine, Miss Dickinson." I was tempted to stick my tongue out at him.  

So at 9 P.M. I walked into The Slipped Disc and gazed around for Harvey Greenfield. Maybe he'd been hit by a bus?  

"Hey, Sergeant."  

No such luck. "Mr. Greenfield. How wonderful to see you," I said with an insincere smile.  

"Yeah, like I believe that. Look, neither of us want to be here, so let's just try to get through this the best way we can. Call me Harv. C'mon. I've got us a table." He pulled me after him. The tables were tiny, little more than postage stamp-size. Once we were seated, he flagged a waiter. "What'll ya have, honey?" 'Harv' asked me.  

"Oh, let's live a little. How about champagne?"  

"Make sure it's domestic!"  

The waiter nodded and hurried off. He was very pretty. Too bad he was the wrong sex.  

Suddenly I felt… "Mr. Greenfield! Your hand!"  

He was gazing around the small discothèque. "What about my hand, honey?"  

"It's on my knee. If you do not want to lose it, I suggest you move it!"  

"Geez, you're a cold woman! I've always heard Swedish dames were hot." But he took his hand away. "We aren't even going to need that champagne bucket. You can touch the bottle and chill it."  

The waiter brought a bottle and displayed it quickly before popping the cork and pouring two glasses.  

"I didn't know Idaho was noted for its champagne."  

"You're a picky broad!"  

"And you, Mr. Greenfield, are a …"  

"Uh, uh, uh!" He leered at me. "Just take it easy with that, honey. I don't think I can handle you drunk." I didn't deign to answer that. "Julian said you'd have money for me."  

I took the bills from my purse and passed them to him. "I get the feeling your friend is expecting change."  

"I'll worry about that." He leaned forward to stuff the money in his back pocket, and as he straightened in his seat he stiffened. "There he is!"  

"Where?" If Julian was here, then so was Toni.  

"On the other side of the dance floor. Okay, honey. It's show time. Try to look like you're nuts about me."  

"There is not enough wine in the world!"  

He yanked me next to him and slid an arm around my shoulders, then started to nuzzle my neck. This close to him I could smell his aftershave, a cloyingly sweet scent that I was sure had a name like Big Boss Man, or something equally asinine, and I tried to hide my distaste.  

"Have they seen us yet?" he whispered against my skin.  

"No. And if you put a mark on my neck, I swear you will sing soprano for the next month!" I managed to steal a look at the couple, but they gave no indication that they were aware of our presence. "This is taking too long. We'll have to do something. Let's dance!"  


I seized the hand that had dropped close to my breast and dug my nails into it as I jumped to my feet and tugged him along after me.  

"Oww! All right already! I get the message!" He drew me against him, and I locked my elbows, trying to keep at least some distance between us. Everyone else on the little dance floor was doing the Frug or the Phillie or the Skate. Harvey Greenfield persisted in slow dancing. "We're supposed to be lovers! Loosen up!" he hissed as he pulled me closer. "They're coming over!"  

"Well, M… my dear Stephanie, fancy meeting you here!" The jocularity in Julian Winston's voice was forced. "I didn't know you danced. I mean," he hastily corrected himself, "it's been so long since we had an evening out, I'd forgotten completely!"  

Harvey and I had stopped and faced the couple, and I was relieved to step out of his arms. I was sure he'd left fingerprints all over me. "It has been a very long time, hasn't it, Julian? Hello, Toni, it's so nice to see you again."  

"Hi, Stephanie." Toni's greeting was shy and pleased. "I didn’t expect to run into you here tonight. But I'm so glad we did!" Her eyes asked a question as they fastened on the man beside me.  

"This is Harvey Greenfield, my…" I almost choked on the words, "my boyfriend."  

"Hi, little lady! Hey, Doc! How they hanging?" Harvey's right hand extended to shake Julian's. His other hand, which had been on my back, was now firmly on my backside. I smiled, a baring of teeth actually, and removed it. "Sorry, honey," he said in a way that made it quite plain he wasn't, "I get carried away. You know how your ass drives me wild! But you should know that, right, Doc?" He winked at him. "You were married to her! Say, why don't you two come join us for a drink?"  

"Oh, no, that's… " Julian began.  

Toni over-rode him. "We'd love to!" She frowned at Julian.  

"That's what I was about to say. We'd love to do." He sounded anything but thrilled with the situation.  

Harvey waved to our waiter. "A couple more glasses here, garcon," pronouncing it with a hard c. He sat down while Toni and I were still standing, and draped his arm over the back of my chair. His legs were spread wide, as if he were trying to draw attention to his crotch.  

I muttered under my breath, some choice words in Swedish, which my parents had never discovered I knew, and sat beside him, making sure my legs were away from his, and my spine was straight to avoid his arm and octopus hand. Toni took the seat opposite from me, and I felt her foot slide against mine. My heart began to pound, but then she said, "Oops. I'm sorry," with a confused smile, and I realized it must have been an accident.

She turned those blue eyes on my 'boyfriend'. "So, Mr. Greenfield, how do you like children?"  


Julian caught the shocked expression on his fiancée's pretty face, and he quickly jumped into the conversation. "Spoken like a man who doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve. Harvey loves children!"  

"I do?" He saw the frantic, covert gestures Julian was sending him. "Oh! I do!" He took the glasses from our waiter and poured the champagne. "Especially… uh… Stephanie's kids. They're such good… um… boys?"  

"Don't you like Susie also?"  

"Susie?" He began to look panicky. For an actor, I couldn't say much for his improvisational technique. Just then an attractive young woman with an overbite approached the table. "Hi, hon." Her voice was breathy, but there was the hint of Brooklyn in it. "Sorry I'm late, I couldn't ketcha cab!"  

"Georgia!" Harvey jumped back to his feet, torn between relief and dismay. "She's my sponsor's daughter, a silly debutante. I'll be right back!" He took her arm and hurried her to the bar. We could see him speaking rapidly to her.  

Toni's eyes narrowed. Julian picked up his glass and downed its contents in a single gulp.  

"Excuse me." I stood up. I had wanted to see the younger woman again, so badly that I had allowed my desire to do so override my better judgment. This whole thing had been a horrendous idea. "I'm just going to powder my nose."  

Toni touched my hand. "Do you want me to come with you?" Her eyes were filled with sympathy.  

I touched my tongue to my lips, and for a moment I thought she seemed fascinated by my action. //She doesn't swing that way,// I reminded myself. //And she's engaged to your boss!// "Thank you, that's sweet of you, Toni, but no, I'm fine."  

Before I was out of earshot, I heard her whisper furiously, "He's horrible, Julian! She was humiliated!"  

I made my way to the ladies' room. Julian was right. She was a nice girl. A nice, straight girl. I'd run some cold water over my wrists, and when I returned to our table, I would make my excuses and go home.  


I had no idea how things had taken the turn they had. One moment I was gathering up my coat, preparing to say goodnight, and the next Toni was insisting that I couldn't possibly return home unescorted, and blithely stating that her fiancé would be more than happy to take me home.  

So now there we were, sitting at a red light, Dr. Winston not looking the least bit happy to be driving me to Jackson Heights. His hands were tight on the wheel, and he glared in my direction. "She wants me to be nice to you."  

A headache started clawing at  my temples, and I wished I could lean my head back. Why didn't some genius in Detroit come up with something a person could rest her head against? "What is that supposed to mean?"  

"How the hell should I know? You're a woman. Is that some kind of code women talk in?"  

I suspected Toni wanted to make up for my supposed humiliation. By the time I rejoined my companions, Harvey and the young woman had disappeared.  

"Well, you can drop me off and go back to Toni." It almost killed me to say that.  

"No, it's getting late. Besides, lately, every time I go to Toni's apartment, that playwright turns up."  


"Igor Sullivan. He lives across the hall from Toni."  

"Ah, yes. The young man who saved her life."  

"Every time I go there, Miss Dickinson! And he's so good-looking! I'm afraid he has designs on my girl!"  

"Isn't that a rather old fashioned way of putting it, Dr. Winston?" I gestured upward. The light had turned green, and Manhattanites were not known for their patience.  

He would have glared at me again, but the driver in the car behind us leaned on his horn, and I swallowed my grin. Julian stepped on the gas and made the turn that led to the 59th Street Bridge. We drove for some minutes in silence. Then he abruptly announced, "I've decided to tell Toni the truth. I'll buy her an expensive gift, she'll forgive me, and we can get the blood tests and take care of all the nonsense that getting married entails."  

"What an excellent idea," I said hollowly.  

"Yes," his voice sounded as hollow as mine. "A very excellent idea."  


I woke up exhausted, feeling vaguely hung-over although I'd only had the one glass of champagne. I contemplated assassinating my alarm clock, which was bleating annoyingly, but decided that would be too juvenile.  

With a sigh, I eased out from under the covers and rose to face the new day.  

"You were out late last night," Anna said as I poured myself a cup of coffee. She placed her sons' breakfasts on the table before them, and then began to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their school lunches. "And I happened to see the car that you got out of." The boys looked interested. "A Cadillac DeVille, I believe."  

"Ugh! An old guy's car!"  

She ignored Timmy's muttered aside for more important things. "That was Julian Winston who drove you home, wasn't it? He took you out on a date! I knew he'd finally wake up and smell the coffee! So. When is the wedding?"  

I had known this would happen. I thought fast but came to the conclusion I'd have to be honest with her. "Anna," I sighed, "there isn't going to be a wedding. Yes, that was Julian who drove me home, but he only asked me to meet him for a drink because he wanted my advice. He's going to marry someone else."  

The bread fell from her hand, to land jelly side down on the linoleum floor. "What? But you're always making those sandwiches for him! You order his shirts, and make his appointments for his barber and his tailor! How can he do this to you?" Her eyes widened, and then narrowed. I wondered uneasily what was going on in her mind. "Timothy, Kenneth, leave the room. Now!"  

The boys knew to obey their mother without question when she had that tone in her voice. I slid my chair back, about to follow them.  

"Stephanie Anne Dickinson, you stay right there!"  

I barely prevented myself from saying, 'Yes, ma'am.'  

Once we were alone, I found out exactly what was going on in her mind. She hissed, "You slept with him, didn't you? That's why he doesn't want to marry you! Once a man has sampled the milk, he doesn't need to buy the cow! Oh, Stephanie, how could you have done something so stupid? Now you will never get married!"  

"Anna. There was never a question of me marrying Julian Winston. For one thing, I don't love him."  

"Oh, my god, that's even worse! I could understand it if you loved him! Well, no, actually I couldn't understand it, but I could at least accept it if you were carried away by passion! What possessed you to sleep with the man if you didn't love him?"  

"Anna, I did not sleep with him, do you understand me? I would not sleep with him. He is not my type."  

"Well, then, who is your type?" she demanded, slightly solaced.  

Anyone not male, but she didn't need to know that. If she ever learned that I preferred women, she would have a stroke. In spite of everything, I loved my sister, and I didn't want to be the death of her.  

Her stare was accusing. "You're too picky." That sounded familiar. "You'll never have a home and children of your own at this rate. And face it, Stephanie, you're not getting any younger!"  

I picked up my cup of coffee. "I am probably just one of those women who are destined to be maiden aunts." The way she was carrying on, anyone would think she was my mother. "I must get ready for work, Anna," I called over my shoulder, and I retreated to my bedroom. When I had finished dressing and opened my door, she was standing there, ready to continue the conversation. "The boys' lunches?" I suggested hopefully.  

"Done, and they've left."  

" Murray 's lunch?"  

"He isn't feeling well. I called in sick for him. Now about finding you a man. If that dentist isn't going to be the one, there's still Iggie. Of course, if you hadn't been so rude to that other friend of Murray's it wouldn't have gotten around how cold you are."  

"Anna, please. I'm not interested in Iggie, or Ralph, or Ed. I'll find my own partner. Now, I'm going to be late."  

I strode out the door, ignoring her wailed, "But when?" Knowing this conversation was far from over.  


Dr. Winston called to tell me he was going shopping for something special for Toni, and to reschedule all his morning appointments. Since he didn't usually do anything as capricious as letting his love life interfere with his patient care, I didn't have too much trouble rescheduling his patients.  

I was about to call down to the diner at the corner for my lunch when the outer office door opened, and Harvey Greenfield walked in. Startled, I flipped the pages of the appointment book, then frowned at him. "I don't have you down to see Dr. Winston this morning!"  

He winced. "Have a heart, Sarge. I bit down on caramel, and I'm pretty sure I've cracked a tooth. It's killing me!"  

"Well, Dr. Winston isn't in right now."  

He threw himself down into a chair. "I'll wait."  

"Very well." I reached for the phone again, when the door opened once more. This time Señor Sanchez walked in.  

"You see before you the new Arturo Sanchez! I am early, no? To see the lovely Miss Dickinson, I will brave even el dentista!"  

"Señor Sanchez, I tried to reach you before you left the consulate. Dr. Winston is…" Before I could inform him that the doctor was not in, the door opened again.  

"… right here, Señor Sanchez." My employer gave me a satisfied smile. "Miss Dickinson will set you up in Room 1. Problem, Harvey?"  

"After the way you treated me last night, you're lucky I'm willing to continue using you! I'm dying, Jules! My tooth!"  

Actors! Still, I wondered idly what had happened while I was in the ladies' room.  

"I'll take care of you in a few minutes, and I'll explain it all then."  

I ushered the little Argentine into the treatment room and returned to my desk, and someone else came into the office. I was beginning to feel as if I worked in Grand Central Station.  

"Package for Mrs. Winston." It was our regular Parcel Post delivery man. "I didn't know the doc was married."  

"Yes, it comes as a shock to all of us. I'll sign for it, Bill. Thank you."  

"Say, Steph, about this weekend…?"  

"I'm busy."  

"What about the weekend after?"  

"I'll be busy then also."  

"June 24th, 1978?"  

"Sorry." I handed him his pad with a smile.  

He accepted it and took my hand as well. "I love a woman who plays hard to get!" He turned my hand over and pressed his lips to my palm. "I won't stop asking, baby."  

"Bill, if you did, I would be so disappointed."  

He winked at me and walked out with a jaunty step, whistling.  

"You've been holding out on me, Sarge!" Harvey Greenfield was staring at me as if he'd never seen me before.  

"I beg your pardon?" I asked frostily.  

Dr. Winston poked his head out of the doorway. "I need Señor Sanchez's chart, Miss Dickinson." I got the folder and handed it to him. "Don't get her started, Harv," he advised as he pulled out the Argentine's x-rays. "She can spend the day begging your pardon."

"Might be interesting getting her to beg." Now he was doing an imitation of Superman, trying to look through my uniform.  

"Please do not speak about me as if I am not even here!" I curled my lip, but I wasn't too concerned with their banter. The return address on the box's label said Stereo Heaven. "Dr. Winston, this package arrived for 'Mrs. Winston.'"  

"Oh, that. Keep it, Miss Dickinson. Come on, Harv. I'll take you in Room 2." He turned to give me that smile again. "I imagine it's from a secret admirer. I'll need another set of x-rays of Señor Sanchez's molars. The last ones you took were foggy."  

"Yes, Doctor." I took the letter opener and sliced through the tape that sealed the large cardboard box. Señor Sanchez's molars could wait a few more minutes.  

I folded back the flaps and stared dumbfounded at the lush brown fur that seemed to flow out of the box. I had thought, perhaps that Horowitz album, but… "Mink? For me?" I couldn't catch my breath. I lifted the stole and brought it to my face, rubbing the soft fur against my cheek. A light, flowery scent wafted out from it.  

Toni's scent.  

A small card fell onto the desk, one of Dr. Winston's appointment cards. On the back it read, As always, Julian.  

I didn't question why Toni had given me the gift Julian had purchased for her. I settled the mink around my shoulders and postured with it, stroking its elegant lines. "For me!"  

And then the realization hit me. Not for me, for Stephanie Dickinson, but for 'Mrs. Winston'. Who did not exist.

"¡Cómo es encantador!" Señor Sanchez stood in the doorway, his eyes hot. For once he did not look ridiculous with that bib hanging around his neck. "Please, there is a diplomatic ball tonight at the Waldorf. You must be my guest!"  

"I have nothing to wear," I hedged, "nothing that would be suitable for a ball." 

"Then you must allow me to buy you something! In a Swiss bank account, I have twenty million…"  

//Why not?// I asked myself. Here was someone who wanted me. "Thank you, El Bravo, but I always buy  my own clothes. However," I continued before his face could assume its usual crestfallen appearance, "I will meet you at the Waldorf at 8."  

He smiled broadly and returned to the treatment room, and I reached for the telephone.  

"Hello, Anna? I have a date for tonight!"  

"I knew you could do it on your own!" she gushed.  

"Yes, I knew you knew I could. I'm going to a ball!"  

"But you have nothing to wear!"  

"That's why I'm calling. I need you to do me a favor. Go down to Lucille's. She has the perfect gown in the window. I've been admiring it for ages, but I had nowhere to wear it."

"Now you do! I'll run right down and pick it up. Oh, and shoes, and a handbag, and…"  

"I'll leave the details to you. And Anna, see if Monsieur Sebastian would be able to do my hair on such short notice! I'm taking the afternoon off." I hung up, then folded the mink stole and put it back into the box, and hurried in to x-ray  Señor Sanchez's back teeth.  


Part 3


I was not surprised by how much I enjoyed the ball; I loved to dance, but I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed Arturo Sanchez's company. I even invited him to call me by my first name. He beamed.  

The little Argentine was the perfect gentleman and a very accomplished dancer. His tango was a prelude to lovemaking, and I regretted that he was not a woman.  

As we dipped and glided across the floor, I found myself imagining doing this sensuous dance with Toni Simmons. I could see her in my mind's eye, in a black mini dress that was rows of fringe that trembled and shimmied with each step. I would twirl her out, and then pull her fiercely back to me. Her body would caress the length of mine as she slid down it, and I would thrust my leg between hers. I'd be able to feel the dampness of her panties, and she would crouch at my feet, embracing my thighs and gazing up at me with parted lips. I would bury my fingers in her hair and bring her back to her feet so that I could cover those lips with mine, taste their sweetness, slip my tongue between them.  

"Oh, my! It's quite warm in here, isn't it?" I dabbed delicately at my temples with my hankie. "Excuse me, please, Arturo. I will freshen up and return immediately."  

"You do look a trifle flushed, my dear Stephanie."  

"The tango always does this to me." Thoughts of Toni did that to me. I needed to put a little cold water on my wrists. "You are such a talented dancer!"  

"Perhaps you will let me show you what else I am talented at?"  

I patted his cheek. "I think you should be called El Diablo!"  

He puffed out his narrow chest and kissed my hand with a flourish. "Hurry back to me. I will have the orchestra play another tango!"  

I left him at the edge of the dance floor and made my way to the ladies' room with as much decorum as possible. Fortunately, the enormous room was empty except for the attendant who sat in the outer lounge.  

I chose a stall at the far end of the room and entered it. As I latched the door of the tiny room, I stared in amazement. This was like nothing Macy's had! Aside from the commode, there was a sink with a mirror above it. I gazed at my flushed face. No matter how hard I tried, thoughts of the pretty blonde were never far from my mind. I leaned my forehead against the cool, silvered glass, puffs of breath leaving circles of fog on it, and I hoisted the sky-blue satin of my gown. Beneath it was a lacy blue garter belt, and beneath that, silk panties of the same color. The crotch was damp, and I moved it aside. The flow of cool air over my heated flesh did nothing more than inflame my senses. I stroked my middle finger over the swollen folds of my sex, and my eyes drifted shut. The tiny bud was throbbing in time with the beat of my heart, and I panted noiselessly although I was tempted to moan aloud. My legs trembled, but I was so intent on the feeling between them that it wouldn't have mattered at that moment if they had given out beneath me.  

Behind the closed lids of my eyes, I pictured Toni on her knees before me, licking that nub, teasing it with delicate swipes of her tongue, her fingers tracing the crevice of my buttocks, and I rubbed it harder. I wanted her hands on my body, learning all my secret places. My nipples were aching with the need to be pinched and squeezed, but if I dropped the yards of material that I was holding out of the way it would interfere with the rhythm of my fingers. I also knew that if I gave my nipples the attention they were demanding, I'd wrinkle the bodice of my gown. An evening gown was not the best thing to wear when one needed to see about one's own pleasure.  

I smeared more of my essence over my clit and scrapped my nail across it, and it was enough to send me over the edge.  

It took me a few minutes to catch my breath. A single bead of perspiration trickled between my breasts, and the heat of my body enhanced the fragrance of the perfume I had dabbed on my pulse points. I stared at the sated features reflected back by the mirror. Aftershocks were still zinging through my body. For a moment, I considered removing my panties and returning to the ballroom with them safely tucked into my tiny sequined handbag. It occurred to me that if I took them off, I'd have no choice but to surrender to the desire to touch myself again.  

I kept them on.  

I flushed the commode to keep up the appearance that I had used the john for its actual purpose, then washed the scent of my climax from my hand. I moistened the linen handkerchief that was in my handbag and blotted my cheeks and throat. A careful reapplication of my make-up, and I was ready to face my escort once again.  

A group of elegantly dressed women was entering as I tipped the attendant. They studied my gown approvingly. "Dior?"  

"Givenchy," I murmured. A copy of a copy.  

They smiled and nodded, and we went our separate ways.  

"Ah, Stephanie! I was afraid you had permitted another man to sweep you off your feet!"  

"Not at all, Arturo. I stay with the partner I come with." It was bad of me, but I couldn't resist fluttering my lashes at him.  

He handed me a glass of champagne, and I touched my glass to his. Before I could raise it to my lips, he entwined his arm with mine. "Now we drink."  

It was a little awkward, but we managed it without spilling a drop. He raised a hand to summon a waiter and gave him our empty glasses.  

And then he led me out onto the dance floor.  


The ball was over, and I was mildly tipsy. Arturo Sanchez gazed soulfully into my eyes as he kissed my fingertips, and then held my hand to his chest. "The evening is still young, beautiful Stephanie. Please, you will not end it so soon? May we not have one last drink?"  

"I'd like that." I didn't want to go home just yet. "I know the perfect place for a nightcap."  

He happily draped the mink stole over my shoulders and took my arm. "Where is this perfect place?"  

"On 45th Street ."  

"Give Federico the address, and he will find the way. He is a most excellent chauffeur!"  

We entered his limousine, and I gave his driver directions to The Slipped Disc. It was the one place I was positive I wouldn't run into anyone I knew.  


Well, those were famous last words. Arturo and I were no sooner seated and served the champagne from Idaho , when we saw Julian Winston and Toni Simmons at the other side of the dance floor. Sitting at their table was an interesting-looking young man, who reminded me not only of a young James Stewart, but of my former husband, Stephan. I could see from across the floor that he and Toni were engaged in a flirty conversation. Dr. Winston's expression clearly stated that he'd rather be anywhere else.  

I glanced away hastily, hoping to avoid drawing his attention, and at the bar I saw Harvey Greenfield and his 'debutante', Georgia. She was staring from me to Julian to Harvey in outrage. Had Harvey told her we were a threesome? It was something he would do, but I found that just then, I did not care.  

Arturo saw my discomfort and raised a questioning eyebrow.  

"It seems I can never get away from my boss!"  

"¿Qué? Ah, Dr. Winston! I did not see him there. Do you wish to leave, beautiful Stephanie?"  

"No." At least I could observe Toni, and she would never know how much I wanted her. "After all, my nights are my own."  

"And your weekends?" he asked hopefully.  

"They belong to my nephews."  

He reached for his champagne and knocked it back with as little respect as it deserved. "Would you like to go?" he asked morosely.  

If we left now, it would give the appearance of being routed by their presence. I would not permit that! "Ah, El Bravo, do you give up so easily?" I teased.  

The little Argentine lit up. "Never!" he vowed and stroked his moustache with his knuckle. "Did I ever tell you of the time I played an entire polo match with a broken leg?"  

"Tell me." And while he went on and on about the chukkers he played while in excruciating pain, I sipped my champagne and observed the woman my boss was going to marry. Her mini dress was burnt orange, and around her neck were chains of dull gold links with stones that looked like citrine. Her stockings were brown, leotards perhaps? I wondered what they would feel like under my palm, if they were textured or smooth. I wanted to run my hand along the length of her leg, up her thigh, to see if they were truly stockings, leaving her treasures sheltered only by her panties.  

They were on the dance floor now, and Toni's movements were so graceful, so captivating.  

Arturo must have seen the longing in my eyes and misread it. "Would you care to dance, my dear?" He stroked the fingers of my left hand.  

The lure of the younger woman was too great. "Why not?" I slid the mink stole onto the back of my chair and rose to take his arm.  

"Hi, Stephie." I was gratified at the way her eyes lit up.  

"Hello, Toni. Julian." I studied Toni's moves. "That looks like fun!" And I began to follow them.  

Dr. Winston spotted my mink, and his eyes appeared to bulge. "That stole!"  

It was hard to remember he was supposed to be my husband. "Yes, Julian? It's very lovely, isn't it?"  

He glared at Toni, but said, "Do you think it's wise to leave it lying around like that? Anyone could walk off with it!"  

"It's Stephanie's mink now, Julian. Do you like it, Steph?"  

"Oh, yes, it's lovely! Thank you." We were dancing together, and our steps became almost synchronized.  

"Why are you thanking me?" She was so adorable. She obviously hadn't realized her perfume had rubbed off on the fur. "That was a gift from Julian!"  

"Of course. I meant to thank him."  

"Keep an eye on that fur, Sanchez!" Julian snapped as he danced next to the other man. "Or I'll make you regret it!" That was the thing with these modern dances. A person could actually be dancing alone, or even with a member of the same sex, and no one would pay any heed.  

The little Argentine retreated to our table, his fear of the dentist greater than his machismo.  

Julian glowered first at his fiancée, and then at me, and then stalked back to the table where the young man sat drinking a beer.  

"I hate it when Julian sulks," Toni said. "Did he do that while you were together?" I murmured something noncommittal. "Men can be such babies."  

"Hey! I resent that!" The young man from the table had joined us.  

"Hi, Igor! Stephanie, this is Igor Sullivan, my neighbor. Igor, this is Stephanie, Julian's wife."  

"Well, well. I must say the tooth jockey has excellent taste in his women." He glanced back to where Julian sat, and then smiled down at me and crowded Toni out of his way.  

"Igor!" Toni frowned. "That's not his real name, you know," she informed me, her voice snippy. She couldn't possibly think the young man was attracted to me! I was old enough to be Igor's… er… older sister.  

"Oh, my first name really is Igor, but I changed my last name to Sullivan." It was obvious to me that he had repeated this so many times it had become rote.  

"Really? I understand you write plays."  

He danced closer so I could hear him over the music. "I lean toward Pirandello."  

I had always been confused by that type of theater, and I was more interested in Toni's reaction than his conversation. "What dance step is that?" I copied his movement.  

"This is the Uptight. And this is the…"  

"Hi, Sergeant!"  

"Hi, Harv!"  

Harvey gave a little salute and danced back to Georgia, who pointedly turned her back.  

"… Boogaloo." Igor's eyebrow was lost in the hair that spilled over his forehead, and he glanced from Harvey Greenfield back to me.  

I simply smiled at Igor. For a woman who truly preferred the company of other women, I suddenly found myself with more men than I knew what to do with.  

Toni's fingers closed around my wrist. "We have to use the ladies' room. Come on, Stephanie."  

"We do?" I found myself following her willy-nilly.  

The chatter of numerous conversations greeted us as we entered the back hallway. The ladies' room of The Slipped Disc was like nothing the Waldorf offered. It was cramped, with only a handful of stalls, and a line was out the door and along the corridor. "'Scuse me," Toni sang out. "Emergency! She's going to upchuck!"  

The wall of sound abruptly quieted, and a path was cleared for us. Fortunately, at that moment, a stall became available. No one objected to us jumping the line and entering it.  

"All right, would you mind explaining this to me?"  

"What are you talking about, Toni?"  

"I thought you were a lady! I thought you were so sweet and gracious! But you're a barracuda!"  

"I. Beg. Your. Pardon!"  

"Julian told me about you, but… "  

"Oh, really? And what did my dear husband have to say about me?"  

"He said you were a nympho! I didn't believe him! But look at you! You're surrounded by your husband, your current boyfriend, your ex-boyfriend, and… and maybe your future boyfriend! If that doesn't spell nympho, I don't know what does!"  

I took a step toward her. "Are you jealous, Toni?"  

She backed up a step. The door prevented her from moving any further away. "Well… Well… Well, I just want to know if you're going to keep Julian!"  

"Oh, Julian is yours. He always was." I touched her hair, and it sifted through my fingers like threads of silk. I shouldn't have been doing this, but I couldn’t prevent myself. I tipped her chin up and kissed her, close-lipped, barely enough pressure to paint her mouth with my lip gloss. It was a pale imitation of what I really wanted to do.  

"Stephanie!" Toni's lips trembled and parted, and my name was a whisper against my mouth. I resisted the temptation to delve further and taste the sweetness of her mouth. I wasn't about to take advantage of her. Not then. I eased my arms around her back and brought her flush against me, uncaring that my gown would wrinkle.  

"Oh," she sighed, and her arms went around my neck. "Oh!" Her blue eyes became enormous, and her hands came between us, and she pushed. I dropped my arms and stepped away from her. I didn't want her thinking she was being coerced. She fumbled behind her for the stall's latch, never taking her eyes from mine, and when she found it, the sound of it slamming back was lost in the noise of the restroom.  

And then she was gone, and I sighed. I had known I didn't stand a chance with her, but for a second, I had hoped…  

I walked back out into the discothèque and crossed the dance floor to reach the table where Arturo Sanchez was waiting. He looked relieved when he spotted me, and stood, ready to drape the stole over my shoulders so we could leave.  

The music had changed to something slow and dreamy, and Igor appeared before me. "Dance with me, Stephanie." He drew me into his arms. "Shhh," he murmured when I would have protested. "Relax." His lips grazed the line of my throat, and he nipped my earlobe, being careful not to dislodge the sapphire that dangled from its hoop.  

They were the wrong arms. They were the wrong lips. I had to let him know this seduction attempt was futile. "Igor…"  

"Stephanie," he whispered against my throat, "is Julian looking this way?"  

Julian? Not Toni? I turned my head as if giving him better access to my throat. "Yes, he is."  

"Groovy." His voice was filled with satisfaction.  

"Would you mind telling me what you're trying to do?"  

"Isn't it obvious? I want to make him jealous."  

"Igor." I blew out a breath, ruffling the hair that covered his ear, and he shivered. "Julian couldn't care less what I do. Any longer," I hastened to add, continuing the ruse that I was his about-to-be-ex wife.  

"But maybe he'll care about what I do."  

In spite of myself, I yanked back against the arm that spanned my waist. "I beg your pardon?" Staring into his dark eyes. Again I was reminded of Stephan.  

"I've shocked you. I'm sorry."  

Almost hysterically, I wondered if Igor had pink ruffled panties on beneath the corduroy trousers he wore. And I found that excited me. "Let's give… " them both… "him something to think about!" I curled my hand around his neck and urged his face down to mine. His lips were firm and warm, and for a man, he knew how to kiss quite well.  

He raised his head, and I glanced over his shoulder. "It didn't work. They're leaving." I started to step out of his embrace. The kiss had been enjoyable, but for neither of us had there been fireworks. It had been a long time, but I did know what an erection felt like, and Igor had not had one.  

Igor followed my line of vision and said urgently, "No, wait!" He angled his head so it would appear that he was kissing me again. "They're looking back!"  

We stood like that, swaying slightly to the music, until someone tapped my shoulder. "Beautiful Stephanie, may we not please leave now?" Arturo asked disconsolately. "El dentista has left, and the pretty woman with him."  

Igor looked as disconsolate as the Argentine had sounded. "Thank you, Stephanie."  

"For what, Igor?"  

"For going along with my plan. You're a good scout. I know you must be in love with Julian."  

"Why must I be in love with that insufferable man?"  

He looked confused. "He's your boss. Stephanie, it's a fact of life, secretaries fall in love with their bosses!"  

"I am also his nurse, Igor, and," I held up my hand to stop him from saying it, "please don't say anything about doctors and their nurses! I assure you, there was never any question of me loving him." Now if it was Toni…  

Suddenly, someone yelled, "Hey, everybody! Chase is having a bash at his place! C'mon! We're going down to Waverly Place !"  

Igor met my eyes. "What do you say, Steph? It's still early."  

"Oh, but…" Arturo gestured with my stole.  

I turned so he could place it over my shoulders. "El Bravo, I am sure no one would have any objections to your going also."  

He brightened. "No? Then I say we should go!"  

"And so do I."  


I stood in the doorway, observing the occupants of the living room. It appeared smaller than it really was, due to all the bodies sprawled on the sofas and chairs, not to mention the area rug with its Southwestern motif. Clothes were in disarray, and moans and sighs could be heard.  

When we had arrived at the pad on Waverly Place , our host had provided us with a vast amount of alcoholic beverages. Conversations had become intense, and some of  them even made sense.  

Chase had put on some dance music, and eventually passed around what he had assured his guests were simply funky cigarettes. After that it hadn't taken long for the party to devolve into an orgy.  

I watched with detached interest.  

A large hand settled on my shoulder, massaging the joint. "Penny for your thoughts, Stephanie."  

"I was just marveling at the many ways tab A can fit into slot B. Oh! I should not have said that!" I had lost count of the number of Mexican Missiles I'd downed, and everything was becoming a blur.  

"I don't object." He pulled me closer against his side. "Could I talk you into joining in?"  

"I never cared for sex as a team sport."  

"We could find somewhere more private, just the two of us."  

"I'm too old for you, Igor."  

"Age is simply a question of mind over matter," he pontificated. "In ten years…"  

"We'll all be ten years older."  

"Well, I guess that means we won't be living on your Social Security."  

"Scamp!" I lightly hit his arm with my handbag. "I think it's time for me to call it a night. Where is Arturo?"  

"The last I saw, he was making noises about returning to the consulate, and he and Federico were helping each other out the door."  

"Oh, dear. Well, I hope they make it back safely. I'll just find a phone and call for a cab to take me home."  

"May I hitch a ride with you? My apartment is just over on Sheridan Square."  

"Of course, Igor." I thought fuzzily that driving to Sheridan Square from Waverly Place wasn't too far out of my way to Jackson Heights.  

The atmosphere of Chase's pad was becoming too close, and after I called the taxi service and had been assured a cab would be dispatched immediately, we left the apartment and waited out on the street.  

Igor stood there with his hands jammed in his pockets. He tipped his head back and breathed deeply. "I love nights like this, when the darling buds of spring scent the air. That sky is like black velvet, d'you see? And the moon looks like a silver medallion." He had a way with words, and I could see why he wanted to be a playwright.  

"It is too bad the city lights make it so difficult to see the stars. When I was a little girl, my sister and I would lie on our backs in the backyard on warm summer nights and try to count the stars." I still did that on occasion on Cape Cod, taking a blanket to lie out on one of the beaches. I'd strip and let the cool ocean breezes wash over me. Sometimes I wouldn't be alone.  

I thought wistfully of how it would have been if Toni were there with me.  

"We could see the stars at the beach." It was as if he read my mind. "Coney Island is amazing at this time of night."  

I smiled up into his eyes. "Why not? There really isn't anywhere I need to be."  

"Outa sight! We're going to the beach!"  


I stretched luxuriously. "Mmm." Beneath me was something soft and plush. Beside me was something warm and firm. I opened my eyes to see the sun rising over the horizon.  

"Good morning, beautiful Stephanie."  

"Good morning, Igor. You've been listening to Señor Sanchez too much."  

He laughed. "He's a pretty groovy guy. He made some impression at that party. And so did that chauffeur of his."  

"Federico is quite a dancer. That was Federico who was doing the Flamenco, wasn't it?" There was something gritty under my fingers, and I raised my hands to find them covered with sand. I dusted them off. "Where did we wind up?"  

"We're at Coney Island . You wanted to count the stars, so we came to the beach. We played tag with the waves for a while, and then we decided to stay to see the sun come up." He turned his head to smile at me. "How are you feeling?"  

I seemed to remember being introduced to a drink I had never tried before, and I sat up cautiously. "Actually, not too bad."  

"In that case, why don't we go back to my place and make mad, passionate love to each other?"  

"Didn't we have this conversation last night?"  

"Ah, well, you can't blame a guy for trying."  

I patted his cheek. "You are a pretty groovy guy, too, Igor." As we had first sat and then reclined on my stole, watching the moon complete its arc across the night sky, he had spoken of the play he'd been working on for the last six months.  

Without realizing it, he began to speak of the man for whom I worked. "I'd like to see what he looks like under those suits he wears," he'd mumbled just before he fell asleep.  

Now Igor stood and extended his hand, helping me to my feet. I shook out the fur and flung it around my shoulders. "What time is it?"  

He checked his watch and told me.  

"Goodness! I'm going to be late for work!"  

"I still think we should play hooky today, but if you insist on breaking my heart by refusing, let's see if I can whistle up a cab for you."  We made our way to the street, and miracle of miracles, a cab appeared almost immediately.  

"Thank you for a wonderful night, Igor." I went up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, but at the last minute he turned his face, and I found his mouth on mine.  

It was the briefest of touches. Igor stepped back, a cocky grin on his lips, and nodded toward my hand. While I had been distracted by his kiss, he had slipped a piece of paper into it. "That's where I live if you ever want to find me, beautiful Stephanie."  

He opened the door to the cab and helped me in, then stood there as it drove away. I held my hand to my cheek, gazing back at his lanky figure. He did remind me of Stephan.  

"Where to, lady?" the cabby asked.  

It was too late to go home and change. I gave him the 5th Avenue address, and sat back, reliving not Igor's brief kiss, but Toni's.  


Part 4


I crossed the lobby of the building that housed Julian Winston's practice. It was still too early for the majority of workers to show up, but I did attract a number of appreciative glances from the maintenance crew.  

Dr. Winston was approaching from the opposite entrance.  

"Good morning, Doctor," I called as I got into the elevator.   

"Miss Dickinson!" He got in behind me and was staring at my stole.  

"As you can see, it is safe and sound."  

"Why are you dressed like that?"  

"There was not time to return home and change, so I came right to work." I hummed a bit of a tune that kept running around in my mind. A curl slipped out of my coiffure to tickle my neck, and I reached up to tuck it back in. "Did you ever have a Mexican Meessile?"  


"Yes, that is what I said. A Mexican Meessile. It's gin and tonic, but made with tequila instead." I hummed some more. //Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmmmm. Now I'm a believer.//  

He looked baffled. "You substitute the tequila for the gin?"  

"Hmm? Oh, no. You substitute the tonic for the tequila."  

"The tequila for the tonic?"  

"Dr. Winston, are you trying to confuse me?"  

"I think you're doing a good enough job of that on your own! Miss Dickinson, how many of these Mexican Missiles did you have to drink?"  

I furrowed my brow in concentration, and my lips moved as I tried to count them. "Six, seven, seven! I had seven of them. Of course, that was after the champagne."  

"I never knew you drank!"  

"There's a lot you don't know about me, Doctor." I smiled smugly.  

"What's this?" He shook out an end of my stole, and sand pattered onto the floor of the elevator car.  

"Oh, I thought I had gotten all the sand out of it. Dear, dear." I took it off and gave it a vigorous shake.  

"How did you manage to get sand on a mink stole?"  

"After we left Chase's pad… Oh, that's right, you and Toni were already gone by that point. Well, everyone got to know everyone else, and we went to this bash in Chase's pad on  Waverly Place ." I relished telling him that.  

"Bash? And who's this Chase person?"  

"A party," I clarified. "And I have no idea who Chase is. We thought he had an odd taste in area rugs and cigarettes, though. Anyway, after the bash turned into an orgy…" He choked, and I raised an innocent eyebrow. "You needn't worry, we survived, virtue intact. Anyway, we decided to go to the beach…"  

"'We'? You keep saying 'we.'"  

"Yes, Igor and I. We lost Arturo… Señor Sanchez earlier, I'm afraid. The poor man couldn't handle those Mexican Mees… Missiles." I touched my head and swallowed hard. "I think I need an Alka-Seltzer."  

"So it was just Igor? Igor and you?"  

"Yes." The elevator came to a stop, and the doors slid open. I stepped out. The cleaning women were still in the office, which was a good thing, since I didn't have my set of keys. I glanced over my shoulder at him. "Isn't that what I said?" 

"So you went to the beach with him?" He trailed after me, his expression disgruntled. "You spent the night with… with that hippie?"  

"Igor is a very nice young man. He's sensitive, sincere and very poetic. He is not a hippie."  

"That's what Toni says. Toni! Oh, my god!" He rushed to the phone. "My car was being towed when we left The Slipped Disc, and I had to run after it. I hope she had enough sense to get home on her own."  

Why did he give her so little credit for common sense? Then again, if she preferred Julian… I went into the supply room. By the time I had changed into my uniform, downed the fizzy remedy for my headache and suddenly queasy stomach, and returned to my desk, he was concluding his conversation.  

"Go back to bed, darling. I'll see you tonight." He hung up the phone and stared off into space. "It really isn't practical keeping one in the city."  

"A girl?" I asked innocently.  

"No, a car." His expression darkened. "That's not the issue here! I want to know what your intentions are toward Igor Sullivan."  

"My what?"  

"You heard me!"  

"Yes, I heard you, but I fail to understand why it is any concern of yours." I pushed him out of the way and used the spare key I kept under the flower pot that contained my cactus plant to unlock my desk. "Who are you, Igor's father?"  

"I'll have you know I'm not that much older than him."  

"Than he," I corrected as I took out the appointment book.  

He glared at me. "That's neither here nor there. The crux of the matter is that you are much too old for Igor!"  

"He is six years younger than I, whereas you are…"  

Julian looked nonplused. "Is that all? I thought sure…"  

I flung the appointment book at him, suddenly furious. "If it comes to that, what about the age difference between you and your child concubine? What is she, fifteen? Sixteen?" I knew Toni was really twenty-one, but that remark about my age hurt. Next he'd be calling me a dried up old maid!  


"Toni! The girl you love! Or are you so fascinated by Igor Sullivan that you've forgotten you have a fiancée?"  

"I am not fascinated by Igor, nor am I concerned about him! I'm madly in love with Toni."  

"Yes? Well, tell me something. What color eyes does Toni have?"  

"They're … um… light. Sort of blue. I think"  

"Mm hmm. And what color are Igor's eyes?"  

"Brown." He answered without hesitation. "But not ordinary, everyday brown. They're the color of bittersweet chocolate. Deep. Dark. Velvety. They're… Wait a minute! What are you trying to prove?"  

"I? I'm not trying to prove anything. I think you've proved it yourself, if you'll be honest with yourself, for once."  

He stiffened, and his brows beetled. "What are you insinuating, Miss Dickinson?"  

I narrowed my eyes at him. "What do you think I'm insinuating, Dr. Winston?"  

"Jesus christ, would you stop answering a question with another question!"  

"Don't you swear at me, you wretched man!"  

"I'll do whatever the hell I please!" he thundered, setting my head to aching again. "You've made my life nothing but miserable, always acting like a wife, even before this whole fiasco, and…"  

"What do you mean, acting like a wife? I never…"  

He glowered at me. "I'll tell you what I mean, Miss Dickinson! Buying my shirts! Making my appointments to get my hair cut or to see my tailor! Those are things a wife does for her husband, and god knows you've done them often enough!"  

My mouth opened and closed, but I couldn't express my outrage. He had taken great pleasure in informing me, when I was first hired and had protested, that those tasks were part of my job description.  

"That was your plan all along, wasn't it? You were hoping that by making yourself so indispensable that I would ask you to marry me! Well, it isn't going to work, Miss Dickinson! Thank god I see you for what you are! You're a Delilah! A Jezebel!"  


"You're a seducer of young men, Miss Dickinson!"  

"I a seducer? When I come in to work and find hairpins under the cushions of the couch in the waiting room, and lipstick stains on the rinse cups?"  

"You've been spying on me!" he accused heatedly. "How dare you?"  

"That is it! I have had it! I quit!" I went into the supply room and gathered up my gown and the mink stole, and the clear plastic galoshes I kept there for a rainy day.  

It was his turn to open and shut his mouth futilely. He was finally able to grind out, "We have a schedule filled with patients! You can't quit!"  

"Oh, no? Watch me!" With a final glare in his direction, I stalked out the door. Then I spun around and reversed my steps.  

"I knew you weren't serious about quitting," Julian gloated.  

"This will show you exactly how serious I am!" I gritted, and I flung the mink at him. Then I took the door by the knob, walked out, and slammed it behind me so hard that the door-frame rattled, and I heard a crash as a picture fell from the wall.  

I felt exhilarated in spite of childishness of my action, but by the time I reached the lobby floor, my sense of euphoria had evaporated. I was out of a job.  

It occurred to me that I probably would have been out of a job anyway. If I was supposed to have been his wife, how would Julian Winston explain to Toni my presence as his secretary? I could see it playing out like one of those bad French farces, with Toni one step behind me as I raced from one treatment room to another.  

Well, I was safely out of that. Only why didn't I feel relieved?  

Anna was just preparing to leave for lunch duty at the elementary school her boys attended when I arrived home. She took one look at my face and called a friend who was willing to switch days with her.  

"Oh, Stephanie! Your beautiful gown!"  

I let it drop to the floor. "I'm afraid it's a loss, Anna. Even if the wrinkles could come out, the hem is badly stained. I went wading in the ocean."  

"You and the ocean! Let me make you a cup of tea. Did you at least have a good time last night? And what happened to your lovely stole?"  

"Judging by the way I feel right now, I must have had a marvelous time. As for my mink, I threw it at Dr. Winston's head and quit."  

"You… you quit?" she asked faintly. She set the teacup on the table and sank down into a chair. "What are you going to do?"  

I shrugged. "I think perhaps I will go up to Cape Cod early this year. I feel the need to paint." I didn't usually do portraits, but there was one face I wanted to put down on canvas. Perhaps I'd stay there.  

"But Stephanie, you can't just leave! You are the most responsible person I know!"  

"I am, aren't I?" Did anyone have any idea how depressing that was? My smile was lopsided. "Never mind, Anna." I got her a cup and poured the tea. 


In the little sequined handbag was the slip of paper with Igor's address on Sheridan Square . I had no intention of seeing him, but Toni lived in the same apartment house. After I did my hair, I dressed carefully in a beige suede jacket with a matching skirt and gloves, and took the subway back into Manhattan . I'd have to change trains, but I didn't really care.  

I was going to make sure that someone had a happy ending.  

Her building was small and quaint, having most likely been built at the turn of the century. There were only three floors. Flower boxes at the tall, arched windows of the first floor apartments framed the stoop leading to the front door.  

I climbed the steps and checked the mailboxes to see which was Toni's apartment. It was on the top floor, and there was no elevator, so once again I climbed the stairs, this time to 3B, which was in the front.  

No one answered my knock, and I decided to see if Igor was home. Perhaps he knew where Toni might be.  

I raised my hand to knock on the door of 3D, wondering idly if he was ever teased about his apartment number, when I heard the voices from within.  

"I saw the way you kissed her neck last night, Dracula!"  

"I don't think this is any of your business, Toni."  

"Well, I just think it's in very poor taste for you to sleep with the woman who happens to be married to my fiancé!"  

Igor didn't say anything.  

"She wouldn't let you, would she?"  

"Hey! Maybe I didn't want to!" Igor's male ego must have been bruised, and I smiled ruefully.  

"You're a man, Igor. Of course you wanted to. Anyone would want to." Would she want to?  

"She's a lovely, appealing woman."  

Her voice became tiny. "Did you sleep with her?"  

"She's a lady, Toni."  

"Hmmph! A lot you know!" There was a pause. "So you're telling me she didn't try to seduce you, too?"  

"Me too?"  

"I mean… I mean, look at all the men she had around her last night! And Julian said…"  

"Oh, yeah, we have to believe everything Julian says, don't we?" Igor's tone was slightly bitter. "Look, Toni, you can't have it both ways."  

"I don't know what you're talking about."  

"Don't you? You can't be pleased that she didn't sleep with me because she didn't want to, and then be upset she didn't sleep with me because I didn't want to."  

"Oh, you're giving me a headache, Igor! And my feet hurt! I had to walk all the way home from The Slipped Disc last night. Julian's car got towed and he had to go after it, and I didn't even have a subway token in my pocketbook."  

She needed someone who would take better care of her.  

It wasn't going to be me. I might as well get this over with. I knocked on the door. Hard.  

Toni opened it, and for a split second her face lit up. And then she scowled. "It's for you, Casanova."  

Igor looked surprised. "Stephanie! Come on in." The apartment was quite small, little more than a studio, the entryway opening directly into the kitchen. "Did you decide to take me up on my offer?" He glanced at the young woman from the corner of his eye. "I can get rid of Toni, and we can make mad, passionate love to each other."  

"No, Igor. I actually came to talk to Toni. I tried your apartment first, Toni, but obviously you weren't home."  

"Obviously." Her lower lip was thrust out in a pout, and I wanted to take it between my teeth and gently bite down, and then lick it to soothe away the tiny hurt. She crossed to Igor's refrigerator and took out a bottle of Coke, then rummaged in a drawer for the bottle opener, demonstrating how familiar she was with his apartment.

"Igor, would you mind leaving us alone?"  

"If you're going to have a cat fight, can't I get to watch?"  

"Igor," Toni said impatiently, completely missing the fact that he was teasing, "you're such a male chauvinist pig! You can wait in my apartment."  

"I never get to have any fun," he bemoaned. Although he meant it lightheartedly, I could see there was a hint of truth in his words. I was sorry for it. I was going to set things right between this lovely young woman and the man she wanted to marry, but it was going to squash any hopes that Igor might have had for the dentist.  

He left, closing the door quietly behind him.  

"All right, Igor's gone." She took a sip of the Coke, her lips closing around the mouth of the bottle and her cheeks hollowing. I could imagine her lips around my nipples, sucking just as strongly, and I became breathless. "What did you want to talk about?"  

This was going to be the last time I saw her. I drank in her features.  

"Well? I used to worry about you, you know that?" she blurted.  

"You needn't have. That's what caused all the trouble."  

"Oh, fine. So this is all my fault?"  

"No." If she hadn't been so concerned with her lover's 'wife', I never would have been asked to take on that role. I never would have met her. "Toni…" I moistened my lips. "I came to talk to you about Julian and I. To tell you the truth." Only, where to start? I stared at her helplessly. "Julian and I… Oh, dear. This is harder than I thought."  

Her face became very pale, and her lips thinned. "I think I can guess what you're about to say. You're pregnant."  

"What?" I burst into laughter that quickly escalated to out-of-control. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and I shook my head, struggling not to dissolve into giggles. "Oh, no, that's not possible!"  

"Why not?" she asked, no doubt thinking herself imminently reasonable. "I told Julian to be nice to you. It was up to him how nice he chose to be. After all, you're still married."  

"We're not married!" I pressed my gloved fingers to my lips, but it was too late to recall those words. I smiled crookedly. "We've never been married. I'm not Mrs. Winston. I'm Miss Dickinson."  

"His nurse? Wait a minute. You're trying to confuse me. You just want him for yourself!"  

"Toni, if there was anyone I wanted less… "  

"If you're Miss Dickinson, then who's Mrs. Winston?" Her voice cracked.  

"There is no Mrs. Winston! Julian has never been married. I'm sorry."  

"He lied to me?" Her face crumpled, and I took her in my arms and stroked her hair. "You lied to me! Why?" she wailed.  

"Toni, try to understand. Julian loves you and wants to marry you, but he told you that foolish tale about being married. When you insisted on meeting his wife, he asked me to pretend to be Mrs. Winston. At first I refused, but I… wanted to meet you. It was only supposed to be that one time." I bit my lip and averted my face, hoping she wouldn't catch that imprudent admission.  

"I'll bet you both got a big laugh out of it. Humoring the silly, lovesick girl. I was so easy, wasn't I? And I liked you!" She pulled away from me, and I let her go. "I thought you were…"  

I remembered. She thought I was gracious and charming and very brave. I found a square of linen in my jacket pocket. The tears I dried on my cheeks were not caused by my laughter. And then I dried her tears. "I know how hard this must be for someone with your youth and idealism to understand. I'm sorry, Toni."  

"I put up with the broken dates. I accepted that we couldn't go out on the weekend because someone might see us together. I loved him, and I was willing to do whatever it took to have him in my life!" She fumed silently, then burst out, "Damn it, I've been swindled!"  

I agreed with her, but she loved him; she'd just said as much. "Toni, listen to me. Julian loves you. He wants to marry you! He isn't a bad man, he's just a little weak. He'll tell you the truth on his own. If you love him, help him."   

"Why are you telling me this now?"  

I walked to the door. "Let's just say that Miss Dickinson is a conscientious nurse, and when she leaves, she likes everything to be in order."  

"You're leaving?"  

"Yes. I couldn't bear to stay and…"  

"You do love him!"  

"No, Toni. Julian Winston is not the one I love." I wanted to touch her one last time. And then I thought, why not? She couldn't wind up hating me more than she did now. I went back to her, took the soda bottle from her hand and set it on Igor's tiny kitchen table. Her lips were parted in shock, and I whispered, "I never laughed at you!" I brought my lips to hers, my eyes opened to judge her response. The blue of her eyes seemed to darken, and then blur. Or perhaps it was mine that blurred. Her tongue tentatively touched mine, stroked deeper into my mouth, and she moaned and seemed to melt against me. She tasted of tears and Coke and Toni, and I lost my head and kissed her as I hadn't the night before. And for precious moments, she let me.  

She yanked herself out of my arms, her fingers pressed to her lips. "What have you done to me? I've never…"  

"No," I said sadly, "I didn't think you had." I gave myself a brisk shake. "Please tell Igor I'm sorry I couldn't make it better for him too."  


"He'll understand, I think. Be happy, Toni. Good-bye, my dear." I pulled the door shut and walked down the stairs, listening, hoping, in vain for a voice to call me back.  

As I reached the first floor, I heard the outer door open, and the unmistakable sound of Julian muttering to himself. I ducked into an alcove and waited for him to pass, then rushed out of the building.  

I fumbled for my handkerchief, but I must have dropped it in Igor's apartment. It would have to stay there; I would never go back.  

The subway station was a couple of blocks away. I started off in that direction.  


Part 5/End


I'd been on Cape Cod for a week. The portrait I'd been working on fitfully was in a corner of my bedroom in the cottage I rented. I was unhappy with it. Something was missing, and I decided to set it aside for the time being and go back to seascapes.  

The ocean was too cold to go swimming, but the sand was warm, and I curled my bare toes in it. I dipped my paintbrush in slate grey and tipped it in olive green, trying to give the waves on the canvas a restless, sullen look.

The sun reflecting off the ocean struck my eyes. That was what was making them water. I knew I'd get no more painting done that day. I packed away the little jar of turpentine and the rags I used to clean my brushes, and carried palette, canvas, and easel to my little cottage.  

The owner told me she was putting it up for sale, and I was seriously considering making her an offer for it.  

Max, my bulldog, came 'rolling' across the dunes with that peculiar gait of his breed. "Do you think you'd like to live here permanently, Max? Well, we'll see. I'm sure the dentists on Cape Cod need nurses as much as the ones on 5th Avenue ."  

But the thought of being so many miles from Manhattan depressed me.  

He followed me into the cottage and waited patiently while I put my art things away. His short stump of a tail wagged so hard his whole hind end vibrated. I took a can of dog food from the pantry and opened it, then spooned it into his bowl. "Beef and gravy." I sniffed it. "Not too bad. I could see eating this if push came to shove. No, all right, Max, I won't eat your food. Here you go, boy. Now, what would you like to listen to while I'm away? Jazz? Rock?" I had finally decided I would take a ride up to Provincetown . I wouldn't be gone more than a few hours, but I liked to leave the radio on so Max wouldn't feel abandoned. Halfheartedly I wondered if I would find someone to bring home with me, although I doubted it. "Ah! Sarah Vaughn! I know Timmy has you listening to the 1910 Fruitgum Company and Ohio Express when I'm not around, but truthfully, isn't Sarah Vaughn better?"  

But then they played her classic Broken-Hearted Melody, and I decided that Max would prefer Simon Says or Yummy, Yummy, Yummy after all, and I found another station.  

I took a shower and dressed in wheat-colored linen slacks and a man-tailored blouse a shade lighter. I flipped the collar up and looped a pullover sweater around my neck. It would be much cooler by the time I returned home. The last few nights had seen an unexpected drop in the temperature, and I was glad this cottage had a working fireplace.  

I ran a comb through my hair, made sure my wallet was in the flirty shoulder bag I had bought for myself, then took the car keys and closed the door. I was about to lock it when I heard a car pull up in the drive.  

It was Stan, who ran the local car service. He waved and grinned. "Got a visitor for you, Miz Dickinson!" he called in his broad New England accent. He reached over the seat to accept his fare.  

The back door of his ancient Ford taxi opened, and a slender, long-legged figure unfolded to stand there.  


"Stephanie!" Her smile was electric. She shut the door and came toward me. Over her shoulder was a macramé bag decorated with beads and fringe, and she was carrying a small suitcase. "There was no place for me to leave this at the train station." She took in my position on the small verandah, the way I was dressed, and abruptly the smile was gone. "You're going out? I know I should have called, but your sister told me you don't have a phone." Her lower lip quivered, and she started to turn away. "I shouldn't have come!"  

Stan let the Ford idle, waiting to see if he'd have a return passenger.  

"No, Toni! Stay!" I waved Stan off, and he pulled out of the drive.  

"But you were going out!"  

"Nowhere important. Come in." I led her into the cottage, and while she gazed around with interest, I drank in the sight of her thirstily. Under the aquamarine windbreaker she had on, she was wearing a pale yellow poor boy, a short-sleeved knit top that skimmed her waist. It buttoned from a point just between her pert breasts to its collarless neckline. Her bellbottoms were hip-huggers, gaily patterned in bright primary colors. A light, flowery scent seemed to envelope her. I cleared my throat. "You said you spoke with my sister? How did you find her?"  

She blushed, her gaze sliding off mine. "I got your address from work, and I went to your apartment to see you. Your sister told me you had gone out of town."  

"And you followed me up here?" That was rather flattering, I thought. But… "Why? Shouldn't you be making plans for your wedding?"  

Max came up to sniff inquisitively at her legs. "Well, hello there. And who are you?" She put down her suitcase and shoulder bag, and scratched the heavy folds of skin around his neck and under his chin, and he closed his eyes in bliss.  

"This is Max. Say hello, Max."  

He woofed obediently and licked her hand, then rolled over, offering her his vulnerable underside.  

"You've made a conquest."  

"He's a sweetie." She gave him a final belly rub.  

"You shouldn't say that where he can hear you. Like most males, he thinks of himself as a mighty warrior. Would you like to freshen up?"  


"The powder room is just through there." I pointed to the small room behind the stairs that led to the loft which was my bedroom. She removed her jacket and dropped it across her case. As she walked across the room I called after her, "Would you like some tea? Or I can make coffee if you'd prefer?" A thought struck me. "I'm sorry, I don't have any Coca Cola, but…"  

"Coffee is fine, Stephie."  

By the time she joined me in the kitchen, I had filled the battered aluminum percolator with water, measured grounds into the basket, put it in the pot, and put the pot on the burner of the stove. I turned on the gas. "Would you care for something to eat?"  

"Not right now, thank you."  

I gestured to the table and she took a seat while I set out cups and saucers. "Cream? Sugar?" I asked politely.  

"Both, please." Her response was just as polite.  

I went to the small refrigerator to get the cream. This was ridiculous. My hand tightened on the glass bottle. "You didn't answer me before, Toni. Why aren't you in Manhattan , making plans with Julian to get married?"  

"I won't be getting married. Not to Julian at any rate."  

"But Toni, there was nothing standing in your way!"  

"That's what you think!" She rose and crossed to the window that had a pretty view of ocean, and moved aside the curtain to stare at the restless waves. "I was going after you, you know, but then I heard Julian come up the stairs. I said to myself, 'Stephie's right! He's going to tell me the truth!' Although all of a sudden, I wasn't sure I wanted to hear it."  

"What happened?" I approached her and turned her around. Her face crumpled, and hesitantly, unsure how she would respond to my embrace, I took her in my arms.  

She wrapped her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder, and I sighed in relief. Her breath was warm and moist against my neck above the collar of my blouse. "I knew Julian would be furious to find Igor in my apartment, so I went back there to make sure things didn't turn into a pissing contest. Sorry, I shouldn't use language like that. Igor had a container of milk in his hand. Why do guys always drink right from the container, Stephanie? You'd think they never heard of glasses!" Her breath hitched in her throat, and she sniffed hard. "Anyway, Julian grabbed for it, and of course it spilled all over the floor. I don't think he cared about the mess. 'Where's Toni?' he growled. He sounded just like a bear.  

"They didn't realize I was there. Igor was looking at Julian in such a weird way. And then he said… Well, he said a bad word, lunged at Julian and kissed him!"  

"Oh, dear."  

Toni nodded, her soft hair tickling my chin. "I was expecting Julian to kill him, but instead, all of a sudden, he started kissing Igor back!" She raised her head and stared intently into my eyes. "He never kissed me that way, like he was starving!"  

"Oh, dear!" I rubbed her back with long, soothing strokes. She wasn't wearing a bra. //This is not the time to become aroused,// I scolded myself.  

"I went out very quietly. Then I made a lot of noise as I came back in. Julian had his head in the fridge, and Igor was cleaning up the mess on the floor with a handful of paper towels. 'Thanks, Igor. You can go home now,' I said.  

"He gave this kind of resigned smile. 'Okay, Toni.' He threw the paper towels into the trash and left.  

"My hands were shaking. Everything was out of control. You had kissed me, Igor had kissed Julian. I realized I still had that bottle of Coke in my hand. I put it down on the sink and took a couple of deep breaths. 'What are you doing here, Julian? I thought you weren't coming over until later tonight.'  

"He turned around to face me, and his mouth was all swollen. I wondered if he was going to tell me about kissing Igor. He didn't, though. He didn't even ask me where I'd been! He said, 'I wanted to see you, baby. Aren't I allowed to spend some time with my best girl?'  

"But it sounded forced, you know? 'Sure,' I agreed, although I really didn't. 'That's great, Julian.'  

"'Actually, it isn't great.' He took a deep breath. 'I have something I need to tell you. I'm going to need all your patience and understanding, darling!'  

"This is it, I thought to myself. He's going to tell me the truth! 'You know you can tell me anything, darling!'  

'''You're such a dear, sweet girl, Toni!' But his eyes wouldn't meet mine. 'Well, the truth of the matter is my wife, Stephanie, has refused to give me a divorce!'  

"'Excuse me?' Steph, I had expected him to tell me he wasn't really married. I maybe expected him to tell me about Igor. I didn't expect him to tell me the wife he didn't really have wasn't going to divorce him."  

A sharp hissing sound caught my attention, and I looked toward the stove. The coffee was boiling over and spilling onto the flame. Reluctantly I let her go and turned off the burner. It wouldn't do for us to be asphyxiated. "It will just take a few minutes for the coffee to settle, and then I'll pour it out. Are you sure you wouldn't care for a slice of cheesecake?"  

"Cheesecake?" That interested her. "Well, maybe just a small sliver?"  

The other day, I had felt like baking. I took the Ostkaka out of the refrigerator, and the bowl that contained whipped cream. When I had put the plate with the wedge of the rich dessert in front of her, she sat down again, then looked around helplessly. "What is it, Toni?"  

"A fork?"  

"Sorry." I gave her one and she began to eat daintily. It was hard to tear my eyes away from the sight of her pink tongue peeking out to catch a dollop of the whipped cream that clung to her lower lip. I wanted to lick it away myself. I almost missed the cups as I poured the coffee. My voice was strained. "Please, go on."  

Toni dipped her fork into the cheesecake and contemplated it for a second before putting it into her mouth. "Julian took my hand. 'Oh, my dearest!' He heaved this sigh, and I wanted to pull my hand away. 'Stephanie and I had it out this morning, darling. I fought like a tiger!' he insisted. 'I offered her money. The house. More money. She sneered at me and asked why she should settle for that, when she had it all already. She was Mrs. Julian Winston, and she was going to stay Mrs. Julian Winston.'  

"'But you can divorce her, Julian,' I said. 'After all, she's given you grounds, with all the men she's been shacking up with!'"  

I made a sound, objecting to being labeled not only a mercenary bloodsucker, but one with loose morals as well, and dropped into the chair opposite her.  

"I didn't mean it, Stephanie," she assured me, reaching across the table to take my hand. "I just wanted to see how far he would go. It was obvious to me he didn't want to marry me anymore.  

"Julian threw himself on my daybed and tried to look pathetic." Her mouth tightened. "The louse. He had the nerve to say, 'She knows I can't divorce her. On account of the children. I'm just sick about it!'  

"'But I thought you said the children might not even be yours.'  

"'Oh… er… yes… but…' He did look sick. And then he got this really sly expression on his face. 'They're the innocent ones in all this, Toni, and I'm the only father they've ever known! I could never do that to them! Tell me you understand!'  

"I understood, all right. I had to clench my fists or else I'd have given him such a karate chop! 'Where does this leave me? Dear?'  

"'There's no reason for us to stop seeing each other, darling. We can go on as we have.  It's a compromise, I know, but we'll manage to salvage some scraps of happiness.'  

"Dirty married bachelor!" Toni snarled, a heated flush mounting her cheeks. "He was lying to me again! Still!"  

She was magnificent. "And then?" My coffee was growing cold, but I ignored it.  

"I was furious! But he was so busy trying to make me believe that cock and bull story, he didn't even notice!"  

"What did you do?"  

"I didn't do anything, Stephanie. Honest. I just said, 'Oh, well. It won't be so bad. You'll have your wife and me…'  

"'You're taking this so well, darling!' He had this really stupid grin on his face.  

"'And I'll have you and Igor.'" Her expression was little girl innocent.  

"Toni, you didn't!" I bit my lips to keep from laughing. What a naughty angel!  

"That grin of his faded, let me tell you! And he stared at  me as if he couldn't believe that had come out of my mouth. 'What are you saying? That you and Igor are lovers?'  

"'I'm ashamed to admit it. I know how much you value honesty.' How much he values honesty. What a crock!"  

Julian never did know when to shut up. "Oh, Toni, are you sure you did the right thing, baiting him like that?"  

"I haven't gotten to the best part, Stephie!" Her eyes were glittering. "I went over to the wall between my apartment and Igor's, and banged on it.  

"'What are you doing, Toni?'  

"'This is our signal that the cost is clear, and he can come over.'  

"'I don't believe you!' His face got this expression that was a mixture of indignation and dismay. 'You realize that if he actually shows up, it's all over between us?'  

"'I know.'"  

"And did Igor come over?"  

Toni nodded. "He came through the fire escape window, and I thought Julian's eyes were going to fall out of his head. All Igor had on was a towel." She deepened her voice, mimicking Julian at his stuffiest. 'What do you mean coming into my fiancée's apartment like this?'  

"'Well, I can hardly go through the hallway dressed like this,' Igor said." She looked pensive. "I thought he had a point, but I guess Julian didn't.  

"'You didn't let that stop you the last time!' Julian actually sounded outraged, and he jumped to his feet. 'I just hope the two of you will be very happy! You've destroyed my marriage, you've alienated me from my children, you've broken my heart…'  But he was looking at Igor, not at me. 'Thank god I still have my integrity!' And he stormed out of my apartment.  

"'What was that all about?' Igor asked.  

"'He lied to me, Igor! A man who lies, cannot love!'  

"'So what got his shorts in a bunch?' He opened the fridge to get the milk again.  

"'I told Julian we were lovers.'  

He forgot all about the milk. "'You what? Toni…! Julian!' And he said that bad word again and ran after Julian."

"In his towel?"  

For the first time, she smiled. "Yes." Then she sighed. "The next day, Igor came over and asked for Julian's picture. I packed up a brown grocery bag with his pajamas and toothbrush, and gave them to Igor also. 'Thanks, Toni,' he said. 'I'm sorry things didn't work out with you and Julian.'  


"'Well, no. He isn't right for you.'  

"'Tell me something, Igor. Who is?' He just kissed my cheek and went back to his apartment. You know something, Steph? I never considered Igor anything more than a friend. Maybe a brother. As for Julian…" She sighed. "On the train up, I thought about what Igor said. I thought about me and Julian. I thought about Julian and Igor. And I thought about you and me." Toni came around the table and knelt before me. She brought her palm to my cheek. "It took me all this time to realize why I didn't like the idea of you having all those men."  

"And did you come to any conclusions?"  

"I… I wanted you for myself, Stephanie. I still want you for myself. If you wouldn't mind?"  

"Oh, my dear girl!" I placed my hand over hers and turned my head to press a kiss to her palm. "I don't mind at all. Why would I?"  

"I can be such a ditz, and I'm really not too bright." She peeked at me through those thick lashes. "The proverbial dumb blonde. I mean, I did believe Julian's lies."  

My hand was on her throat, and I'd been about to kiss her soft lips, but that gave me pause. "When men lie about being married, it's usually that they aren't married. You had no cause to doubt him." I pulled her up and onto my lap.  

"Yes, that's true, but still. I only just made it out of high school. All I could qualify for was a general diploma." She loosened the sweater I had round my shoulders and pushed it off, and it dropped to the floor.  

"Book learning is not the be-all and end-all, Toni." My fingers curled around her thigh and squeezed it, then began tracing patterns over the surprisingly firm muscles. "One day, pretty girl, you'll have to tell me how you got such lovely thighs." I nudged her chin out of the way so I could nuzzle the curve of her throat.  

"I was a go-go dancer for a while after high school. I quit when I realized I was dancing my heart out, but everyone was too busy drinking or getting high to notice."  

How stupid could some people be? "So that's why you danced so well at The Slipped Disc."  


A fingertip on her chin turned her face toward me, and I smiled into her eyes. I reached between us, undoing the top button of her poor boy, and dipped my head, pressing my lips to the hollow of her throat.  

"Oh! Oh, my!" Her voice was husky. I glanced up and saw her eyes grow blurry, and my smile broadened in satisfaction. I tipped her back over my arm and licked the spot and nibbled on it, then opened the next button, and the next and proceeded to kiss my way down to the center of her breastbone.  

My right hand slipped under her top and stroked over her ribcage, finally taking the sweet weight of her breast in my palm. I shifted it a bit, and the rosy nipple was exposed to my sight. And my mouth. I dragged my tongue over the tight bud, and her breath caught. I sucked it into my mouth and bit down gently, and she trembled in my arms.  


"I'm here," I soothed, and blew on her nipple before taking it back in my mouth. I ran my fingertips over the material that covered her crotch, pleased to find it damp. She shivered and parted her legs more.  


I brought my hand up past her taut abdomen, to the warm flesh of her navel, then slid my hand back down, under the waistband of her hip-huggers. Her panties were a scrap of barely-there nylon, and I edged my fingers under them to find the silky curls that covered her mound. It felt… I pulled my head up and stared at her. She blushed. 

"I… er… I shave most of the hair down there. I just leave a strip right down the center. I started doing that when I danced in the go-go cages. It's… um… hot." She blushed harder, avoiding my eyes. "My panties rub against my…uh…"  

"Like this?" I whispered. I slid my finger down to gather moisture, then found the small knot and stroked over and around, teasing it while my tongue explored the shell of her ear.  

"Ohhh!" She spread her legs wider and arched into my touch. "Yes!" Panting breathlessly.  

I held her firmly on my lap and continue to play with her. "Later," I murmured, "later I'm going to lick you there." She whimpered and turned her head, biting down on my collar to stifle the sounds she was making. "No, my pretty girl, let me hear you." And I scraped the nail of my middle finger over her clit.  

Toni gasped, then cried out shrilly as she shuddered into an orgasm. I pressed the heel of my hand against her mound and held her snugly as her hips jerked, and she rode out the contractions of her climax.  

I withdrew my hand carefully so I wouldn't exacerbate her sensitive flesh. She curled into me and rubbed her cheek against my shoulder. "Thank you," she sighed, and she took my hand and cradled it between her breasts. "That was wonderful."  

"Toni, what…?" My fingers were bathed in moist heat as she slipped them into her mouth and tasted herself on them. Desire was like claws that raked the center of my being, and I shifted a little desperately in my seat.  

"You haven't come! Stephanie, what should I do?"  

"Touch me," I begged. "Please!"  

She reached down between my legs, tentative and uncertain. It was her very inexperience that I found so electrifying. Once she realized the sounds I was making were from pleasure, she rubbed harder, and I arched under the unintentional torment of her fingers. I was hovering on the brink of climaxing, and I wound my fingers in her hair and urged her mouth closer to mine. She laughed softly, excitedly, the sound pushing me that much closer to the edge, and then she kissed me.  

"You're so hot! So wet! I can feel it right through your slacks!" she whispered against my mouth. "I want to touch you with nothing between my fingers and your sweet flesh!"  

"Toni!" And then I was spinning out of control, my thighs clamped together, trapping her hand between them, and she swallowed my moans. It was some minutes before I was able to do more than writhe in the aftermath of such a powerful orgasm.  

Toni sighed voluptuously, her head resting on my breast. "I… I think we need to lie down!"  

"Excellent idea, darling girl. Just give me a few moments more to recover."  

"Oh, Stephanie, you make me feel so special!"  

"You are special!"  

She hugged me tightly, and we stayed that way until Max strolled in and sat before the back door. "Men!" she laughed. She stood and steadied herself, then let him out. "Don't take too long, Max. I'm taking your mistress to bed, and we won't want to be disturbed until morning!"  

"Not even to eat?"  

"Oh, I think we'll manage to find time to… eat."  

"Toni, you take my breath away!"  

She giggled happily.  

Max scratched on the door to be let in. His claws clicked across the wooden floor as he went into the living room. He made himself comfortable in his bed by the fireplace.  

"This way, my pretty girl." Twining my fingers with hers, I led her to the shallow staircase that went to the second floor loft.  

"Stephie? I never felt like this before, not even with Julian." She paused at the bottom of the stairs and smiled shyly.  

I ran a fingertip over Toni's cheek to her chin, tipped it up, and kissed her pouty mouth once more.  

"You kiss me like you're starving!"  


When I returned to the city, I told my sister that I would be moving out.  

The only thing harder was deciding to try my hand once more at painting professionally. I had a substantial nest egg that would carry me over until the time I hopefully sold something, and meanwhile, my lover was in line for a promotion as head saleswoman at Stereo Heaven. The position carried a nice raise with it.  

We found a roomy apartment near Gramercy Park . The windows were huge, and the lighting was perfect for me to paint. In a corner was a stand that bore the finished painting of Toni. It was not the one I had started from memory, but the one I had completed during the time she stayed with me on Cape Cod , where she played tag with the waves.  

Max made the move with us, but he was a gentleman and did not sleep in our bedroom, even though it was easily as large as the entire first floor of my cottage. Toni would often walk him when I was engrossed with my painting, and his fierce demeanor kept anyone who might be interested in her, male or female, at bay.  

Once while we were walking him together, we ran into Igor and Julian, who, it seemed, were also together. It was awkward, and we quickly went our separate ways.  

Summer was a pleasant, fading memory, and our room had grown chill with the nip of autumn.    

My companion shivered and rolled over, seeking the warmth of my body, which was usually spooned up behind hers. She brushed the hair out of her eyes, eyes that were the blue of an early spring sky, warm and vibrant and filled with love for me, and she smiled sleepily. "Good morning."  

"Good morning, yourself, my pretty girl."  

"Do we have time to make love?"  

"Always." I reached for her, and she flowed into my arms and snuggled against me. "So this is what it's like," I mused.  

"What 'what' is like, Stephanie?"  

"To love someone madly. Wildly. Desperately."  

Her smile became sultry. She pulled my face close to hers so that our lips were just a breath apart. "Yes." She kissed me. "Yes." She kissed me again.  

"Yes." And this time I kissed her.



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