Guests were beginning to leave more quickly, now that it was approaching two in the morning. Trevor was getting more and more animated, thinking about what he would tell Maggie once they were alone. He was planning to start with a tour of the house to help her relax and feel more comfortable before he showed her the bedroom. A heated debate raged in his mind, as he pondered the issue of turning down the bed. He could lead her into a room that was ready for immediate occupancy and be quite blunt about his intentions, or he could go more slowly and more accurately test her level of interest. The more he thought about it, the more he pictured those stockings and he was afraid that once he got her dress off he would not be able to proceed slowly.
“He’s still an asshole,” Bea fumed as she said goodbye to her host. “As if I would ever let him touch me again.”
It was the same old speech that Trevor almost knew by heart. Every time that Nigel tried to make amends he would say something that he thought was witty but Bea was never left laughing. With her departure, it meant that Nigel was the last guest remaining, since he had a habit of being the last to leave Trevor’s galas. Only the hired wait staff was still bustling about, cleaning up the detritus of empty plates and glasses, collecting their linens, and loading up their equipment.
“Have you seen Maggie?” Trevor asked for the hundredth time that night, but Nigel could only shake his head. He thought that he had seen her earlier, getting into Ciaran’s car, but the driver was holding up an umbrella to shield the couple from the photographer who somehow managed to track Ciaran down. He was not absolutely and unequivocally positive that it had been Maggie, and maybe it was someone else. Such a fantasy was something that Nigel attributed to wishful thinking, out of loyalty to his best mate. What was necessary at some point was a true confession, but Nigel could not bring himself to tell his closest chum that he had failed, completely and totally, to win the heart of a woman who was trying mightily to give her love to someone.
“She must have slipped out when we weren’t looking,” Nigel suggested. He wanted to get out himself at that moment, to get away from Trevor Harwood’s broken heart. Not tomorrow, but the next day, the picture of Ciaran and Maggie behind an umbrella would turn up, and Nigel would have to find some way to get Trevor over another one of life’s hurdles. He could not do it tonight, though; he needed to prepare his speeches.
“Did she go home with Doyle?” Trevor asked, grabbing Nigel’s arm with unexpected force. “Just tell me the truth, for God’s sake.”
“I don’t honestly know who he took home, Trevor. I couldn’t see who was getting into the car.” There had been several cars, and several couples, and Nigel was not going to review the muster of guests. He had seen another blonde with one of Ciaran’s friends, but that bit of news was far too cruel to deliver.
“He probably solved her little riddle,” Trevor fumed, throwing cushions around on the sitting room sofa. “What comes after seek and you shall find, how very clever of you, Maggie.”
“Knock and the door shall be opened, ask and it shall be given,” Nigel said blankly, not understanding the significance of the phrase.
Trevor’s face reflected an utter disbelief at his own blindness. Nigel had his answer there, a bright dawning of awareness that was coupled with admiration for a clever woman who did all that she could to get Trevor’s attention, yet still maintain some fragment of her dignity. Of course it would have made things easier for them all if she had done the asking, if she had thrown herself at those Tony-award-winning feet and ignored Trevor’s bumbling. If she had known how much Trevor feared her rejection, she might have done things differently, made a bolder move, but Maggie was very much a lady, and she had her pride.
“Oh God, I am so damned stupid. Ask, she only wanted me to ask and she would have said yes. I don’t deserve her, Nigel, she’s far too good for the likes of me.”
“On that we agree, old chum, she is too good for you. And she is far too good for Ciaran Doyle. Your last, best hope is that Doyle will be finished with her by tomorrow, and you can beg her to give you a try.”
“There is no hope, I had my last chance tonight. In the pantry, she stood there and practically begged me to take her. All I did was tell her not to stand on chairs because it’s dangerous.”
“She’s very kind and understanding. Put the question to her in the right way and she might feel sorry for you.”
“Please, I’m not that pathetic. Give old Trevor a tumble, Maggie, he’s too much of a dunce to take advantage of you at a weak moment when you offered the first time.”
“Sleep on it,” Nigel suggested as he pulled on his coat. “Bea still likes you, she can intercede on your behalf. And if you do get a second chance at love, don’t make a mess of it again. Ask, and it shall be given. How could you not remember that?”
The catering company was finished shortly after two-thirty and Trevor wandered through his gracious home, with its cavernous rooms echoing his solitary footsteps. He switched off lights, carefully checking every corner in case Maggie had gotten as smashed as she had planned, and had passed out in a quiet corner somewhere. There was only silence, only the sounds of a very historic and very empty house. He walked up the stairs slowly, feeling dog-tired and old.
Earlier that night he had searched Maggie’s handbag to get his own glimpse of her passport. Her home address was printed on an inside page, and he copied it into his address book. Even her birthday was jotted down, as he mentally calculated that her fortieth was coming up in March. His first reaction was to make a note in his appointment calendar so that he would remember to send a gift, but as he thought about it he decided that he would fly to Chicago and deliver it in person. He would give her another peony, the type that she told him was named in honor of the great Sarah Bernhardt, the one he selected because it was a rich shade of pink and more fragrant than the red ones. In the box with the flower he would put an article of jewelry, something special like a diamond necklace that she could wear with the elegant black dress she had on tonight.
Those dreams were fading now, as he pictured her with a younger man who would give her a night of passion, all night long if she could stand it. Trevor Harwood was the old lion, the one that lost the fight and lost the lioness. He was the one who was at home, to lick his wounds while Maggie and Ciaran were together. He did not want to think about it, about all the things that Ciaran could do to Maggie to make her stay with him until he was tired of her gorgeous breasts and her soft skin.
One final inspection of the upstairs bedrooms uncovered only a rumpled bed, used by some lucky couple, and rooms full of quiet. Will had gone back to his flat with Susan, no doubt thinking that dear old Dad would need a bit of privacy tonight. Standing in the hallway, Trevor leaned against a wall, trying to determine why was he so afraid to leave his own party when some of the guests had made full use of the facilities. In that crowd, no one would have noticed or cared if he had stolen away for an hour, and he sighed loudly over the lost opportunity. If he had made the offer, Maggie would have accepted because she was willing to go with him tonight. He blindly entered his room, switching on the light before peeling off his sport coat. He pulled off his shirt and sat on the end of the bed.
Thinking about Maggie with Ciaran was making him nauseated, yet he could not stop wondering what they were doing at that moment. It was pointless to fantasize, since it only made him feel more powerless, and with a weary groan he stood up to get ready for bed, alone. The coverlet was rumpled and he knew someone had been there, where he should have been. He flipped it down to the end of the mattress and knocked the condoms off the table, sending them fluttering to floor, like so many dry leaves skittering in the wind. The packets clattered to the wooden floorboards with the sound of latex sheaths laughing at the old man’s futility, at his pitiable bungling.
Looking down at his middle, he had to admit that Maggie would never want to be with him after she spent a night with a buff, trim Ciaran Doyle. There was a roll of loose flabby skin bulging over his waistband that was not such an attractive sight, and God only knew what gravity had done to his bum. Trevor climbed out of his trousers, tugged at his socks and stripped off his underwear, shuffling to the bathroom to brush his teeth but feeling too tired to lift the tube of toothpaste. There was something else that he had to do, and then he would be able to face the overwhelming emptiness of his bed.
Before he did anything else that night, Trevor had to make a phone call. He picked up the phone and silently draped the cord across his bed, sitting on the floor among the condoms as he pressed the buttons. While the phone rang at the other end, he held his breath, listening intently, but no other sounds came from his house beyond the usual creaks and groans of old wood. Somewhere a joint popped, and the wind rattled the windowpane while he waited for an answer.
“Ciaran,” he whispered into the phone when Doyle finally mumbled a greeting. “Trevor Harwood here.”
“I’m a little busy at the moment, Trevor,” he hissed quietly into the phone.
“Oh, sorry, yes, it’s late,” Trevor stammered.
“Maggie’s not here, if that’s why you’re calling. She’s not giving it away, not to me or anyone else. If you’d talk to her you’d understand that.”
“No, no, I understand now. We have a little in common, I think.”
“You’ve buried a wife and Maggie’s buried a husband; that’s a shared sorrow you can talk about. Is that all?”
There was a silence as Harwood’s brain tried to interpret the words. Surely Callista knew the facts earlier, when she reminded her father of his humiliation in Los Angeles. Trevor was beginning to think that everyone knew except him. “Oh, no, I, I am sorry, about tonight. I was drunk and a bit edgy; it was rude of me to lash out at you. I called to apologize.”
“You could have called in the morning,” Ciaran sighed. Trevor could hear a woman’s voice in the background, while Ciaran could be heard explaining that it was Trevor Harwood calling, and the man was essentially incoherent.
“I expect to be busy in the morning,” Trevor said, “and I thought it best to extend my apologies at once. Oh, and one more thing, when you were with Maggie the other day, did you take her to the British Museum?”
“You randy old bastard, is she there with you?” Ciaran burst out laughing. “Are you having it off with Mrs. Angiolini?”
“That’s rather a personal question, Ciaran,” Trevor replied, his sense of decorum and restraint coming to the forefront.
“It’s time for her to be thinking about grandchildren, I guess.”
“That’s the natural order of God’s universe. You get married, you’re a couple, you have children, they grown up, and then you have to learn about life all over again. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the right person to learn with.”
“I’m far behind you, aren’t I? Just getting to the first part, ready for the little chiselers under foot. She’s been a good friend to me, my best female friend.”
“Sorry I interrupted.”
“Apology accepted, and call me tomorrow anyway. Let me know if her bush is as blonde as her head.” Ciaran hung up the phone.
Feeling along the walls of the hallway, Trevor made his way down to the kitchen to retrieve a bottle of champagne and an ice bucket, to bring a little cold courage to his bedroom. All he had to do was ask and Maggie would give; that was what she had told him when he was not rational enough to see that she was being rather blunt about her desires. He would call, ask her to pop over, crawl on his hands and knees and drag her back if need be, but by God there was going to be love and romance tonight. Always a gentleman, and cautiously anticipating a negative outcome, he mentally prepared himself for a complete rejection, payment for his callous treatment of a woman who had suffered as he had.
“I didn’t know you were a widow,” he tried the excuse, but his behavior at the party was nothing less than inexcusable. He had run because he was afraid, but he could see that Maggie had things to fear and he was the only man who could understand.
He recalled so vividly his first sexual experience after Allison died. An overpowering sensation plagued him that night, when he could not shake the feeling that he was cheating on his wife even though he knew that she was dead. If he was Maggie’s first lover after so many years of marriage, he was the best man to help her overcome the irrational guilt, and he was gentle enough to give her the time she needed to make the transition.
He climbed back up the stairs with the energy of a twenty-five year old virgin on his wedding night, ready to make right all that he had made wrong only a few hours ago. Setting the scene and creating a mood, he placed the ice bucket on the floor. Languidly lying on his back in the bed, he reached over with sensual grace and found the spot that was within his reach, and he carefully adjusted the placement of the champagne. Next, he saw to the music by opening the entertainment center that was hidden in one of the armoires. His collection was limited to the soft music that he preferred when he was reading, but stacked on top of the CD player was a pile of jewel cases. Picking them up, he recognized the sort of modern tunes that Callista liked, and he had to smile at his daughter’s thoughtfulness. She had left him an outstanding collection of sappy love ballads, which Trevor suspected was the sort of thing that women liked to hear playing softly in the background during intimate moments.
As the first song began to play, Trevor realized that he had been wandering about his bedroom in the nude with the light on and the curtains open. Never before had he been that distracted, and he chuckled at the thought of his neighbors observing him in the nip, justifiably presuming that he had gone mad. Crawling along the floor, he retrieved his trousers and slipped them on so that he could stand up and pull down the shades. At the same time, he tried to understand how Maggie’s mind worked. There was no reason for a modern woman like her to confine herself to one lover, yet he could not understand why she did not accept Ciaran when she clearly liked his company. She reminded Trevor of a more old-fashioned sort of girl, the like of which had not existed for the past fifty years. It did not matter if one or a dozen men wanted her, because she only wanted one man and he smiled at the notion that he was that one man. As far as he could judge, there was nothing special about him, with his average physique and his average outlook, but still Maggie found something in him that led her to offer her body to the nice gentleman who was not very good at displaying his emotions.
Not that she would know the difference, but he could not talk to her over the phone until he had brushed his teeth, run a comb through his hair and washed his face. The bathroom door was ajar, the light left on, and he made a move to storm in, to tell whoever was in there that it was time to go home because the party was over. Afraid of coming upon a man’s buttocks flexing rhythmically between a lady’s thighs, he peaked in first before quietly opening the door.
“Maggie, are you working? Tired of the party?” he asked as he walked into the bathroom, carrying two glasses of chilled Veuve Cliquot. “I brought you a fresh drink.”
“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry, Trevor, but I started reading Callista’s novel and it’s so good I couldn’t stop. I am so rude to leave, I’m really sorry,” she said, writing furiously without once looking up. “Is my car here yet?”
She was sitting on the floor with her back against the bathtub, in a cross-legged pose that hiked her dress up above the tops of her stockings. Her posture looked positively painful, as she was bending over to write with the paper on the floor. Trevor slid down to the floor next to her, his heart pounding in anticipation. “Shall I help you, then, so that you can finish before you go?”
“It’s her ending, you see, it’s sweet but the way that she wrote it, it comes out a little too trite,” Maggie explained, making marks on Callista’s typed copy.
He had read his daughter’s book, and was even thinking about having it turned into a screenplay for a television movie. The trite ending was very familiar to him, and it had bothered him the first time he read it. At the time, he was going through hell, and only when he read the story did he discover that Callista was aware of how much he was suffering. “Real life is often trite, Mrs. Angiolini, if you pick it apart and analyze it.”
She looked up at him then, as he made fun of her remark from so long ago. Maggie looked into his eyes, only to find two warm brown smiles sparkling with the stars of the night sky. Trevor kissed her lips gently and with hesitation, as if he was not sure if this was the right thing to do.
“I would be grateful for your help, Mr. Harwood,” she said so shyly that he almost could not hear her.
His kiss had stolen her breath and made her eyelids fall slightly. He lightly put his hand on her neck, with his fingertips barely touching her ear as he kissed her tenderly again. She could feel her pulse pounding wildly in her throat, racing even more rapidly than his heart. The scent of her perfume, with its top note of peony, was making her dizzy. “Should it be a sad ending for the hero, with the widow returning to one of her old boyfriends, or perhaps some former lover?” he suggested, whispering seductively in her ear.
“There were no other lovers, only her husband,” Maggie said, her voice trembling as she made a confession that she did not really want to make.
“None? On your wedding night, you were…?” Trevor asked incredulously. Maggie’s eyes turned down to look at the paper, sorry that she had admitted to being the good Catholic girl who waited for marriage, just like the nuns had said. It made her sound like a country bumpkin, unsophisticated and clinging to Victorian nonsense, but she was urbane in the Chicago style, stylish and modern, and proud that she had waited. This was a gift that she was giving him, something priceless and rare, and she wanted him to appreciate what she was doing.
“Only my husband.”
“Only the husband. Then the story should end with the widow agreeing to spend the night with the host of the party that she was attending, and they make love all night.”
“All night, Mr. Harwood?”
“At my age, Maggie, having if off twice in an eight hour period constitutes all night.”
“In my revision, I’ve written the hero as someone who is very experienced, and he has had several lovers. Does he laugh at the widow because she’s not very good in bed?”
“Oh, no, that’s not a suitable way to end the story. You see, the widow was married for a long time, and she read all those women’s magazines that offered one hundred and one tips to please your man, and she memorized the Kama Sutra. She was very studious, a star pupil, and she will be the most skilled lover that the hero has ever had. But he won’t tell her that until the epilogue.”
She drained her glass quickly, eager to make a leap into another world. She watched him, studied the way his lips touched the crystal flute, thought about his fingers touching her in the ways she had imagined when she was standing on a box on a chair in the pantry. He took her empty glass and set it on the vanity, not bothering to ask if she wanted more, taking charge with the grand magnanimity of the victor. After he stood up he helped her to her feet, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck, her ears, and finally her lips. There would be no going back, but she did not want to go back, ever again. It was time to initiate Trevor into the most exclusive club on earth, the brotherhood of men who had shared a bed with her. There had been a small pool of candidates, but he was the one who had been selected, and before the night was over, he would be the only man in the entire world who knew how Maggie made love, the one who would help her over a hurdle that he had once faced.
They danced slowly into the bedroom, with Maggie’s eyes gazing into his with a look that told him everything that was in her heart. He unzipped her dress and slid it off her shoulders, taking a moment to absorb an image of erotic French lace, tiny bows and ribbons. With her eyes still fixed on his, she slipped off her shoes and stepped out of her dress. As if she were an angel gliding from heaven, Maggie floated down with her arm outstretched, holding his hand as she pulled him towards her. His eyes were fixed on hers as he took hold of his waistband and began to unbutton his trousers, looking every bit the mighty conqueror as he slid the zipper down.
What had begun as a slow seduction was played out when he moved his lips from her face to her chest, the sight of her bra igniting his passion. His fingers were trembling as they gently slid under the lace cup, a tender caress that set her on fire. Firm flesh greeted his fingertips, and he fondled with a light squeeze that was all probing and exploring in a strange and foreign land. With amazing dexterity and the speed of a crazed man, he reached around her back and undid the clasp. His breath came in fast, deep gulps as he slowly removed the Lejaby size 34C, throwing it aside carelessly while his eyes locked onto her chest.
“Oh, Maggie,” he sighed, a lover enraptured, a man standing at the gates of heaven as they were thrown open, inviting him to enter. Greedily caressing her and tasting her skin, he took her breath away with one warm touch of his tongue. “So beautiful, Maggie, your breasts are so beautiful.”
For a moment, he was not her master but a humble servant, worshipping and paying homage to a body part that she was quite proud of. As if he had read her thoughts, he spoke the very words that she wanted to hear, the sounds of adulation that were the most erotic, most arousing things any man could ever say. His hands slid between her thighs and she could scarcely wait for the end so that they could start all over again, the longings of a woman who had buried her desire for so many years that she was surprised at the intensity of the feeling. She was starving but she did not want to be sated; she was in a hurry but she wanted to take her time, to feel everything at once while basking in every individual sensation.
“Forgot the raincoat,” he mumbled, out of the clear blue, just as he had positioned himself between her legs and was only inches from penetration. He rolled over in the bed and took her with him, one arm holding her close against his chest while the other stretched down to the floor. Opening an eye just a crack, Maggie saw what he was struggling to get to. The condoms that had been arrayed on the lamp table were scattered on the floor, lazing just out of reach. She was woefully inexperienced in these things, not sure if he was meeting a requirement or following common practice, but his flapping fingers were taking forever to locate a packet and she did not think that she could wait another minute.
Without question she was ready to start and take matters into her own hands if he could not tell that she did not need another second to warm up. At last, he located what he needed, turning up the intensity of his kisses as a way to signal that he was coming in for a landing. With one hand he tried to rip open the foil, panting in frustration, and it took all her control to not laugh. Gently, with all the subtlety she could muster, she rolled onto her back, knowing that he would follow. The unopened condom popped out of his sweating fingers and landed with a moist thud on her neck. The debonair, suave man of the world needed help before he crumbled into a pile of self-doubt and impotent jitters. As if she were brushing a stray strand of hair away, she flicked the warm foil wrapper off her neck and onto the bed, pretending that it was not even there and that he was just as polished and smooth as he had been all night.
“You don’t need that Trevor, I swear I can’t get pregnant anymore,” she said as she touched his hand, to guide it down to her left breast where it belonged.
“It’s all right, my love, you don’t know where I may have dipped my wick,” he said in a breathy whisper, and she could not believe that he was being so jocular at such a moment, but that was what came out. “It’s how things are done these days.”
He was trying to catch his breath afterwards, while she held him against her body, not willing to let him go even while a drop of sweat dripped from his hair onto her cheek. Exhausted as only a fifty year old man could be, he lay on his back and pulled Maggie into his arms, kissing her hair and unable to speak. Her fingers stroked his chest, with her red nails twirling through the thatch of black hair that coiled down to his stomach. Maggie looked up at him, to share with him an angelic smile, the smile of a woman who had made love and enjoyed every minute of it.
“I never knew it could be like that,” she whispered. Her words were utterly sincere.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” he agreed. “To have this at the end of the day makes life worth living, no matter what gets thrown at a man.”
The bottle of champagne was at the tip of his hand but the glasses were sitting on the vanity, and he had to climb out of bed to retrieve them. She giggled at the way he scampered across the room, a light sound that informed him that his bottom was quite nice. They drank a toast to the joys of sex, being silly for a time before they cuddled quietly, with champagne to celebrate the night. “I was going to ask you to turn off the light,” Maggie said, too shy to look Trevor in the eye.
“You wanted me to miss all this?” he teased her, with a playful squeeze of her breast.
“But I’m glad you didn’t, or I would have missed all of this,” she retorted, grabbing the little roll of flab around his sides.
He paid her back with tickling and she returned his attack, trading teasing jabs about their middle-aged body parts that were no longer perfect, but then they both knew that they were not youngsters anymore and this was about much more than pure physical attraction. Before long, they were rolling on the bed, laughing their heads off until they tumbled off the edge and landed in a heap on the floor. With a seductive grin, she pinned his shoulders down, brushing her breasts against his face as she reached across him.
“You wouldn’t,” he dared her when he heard her hand rattling around in the ice bucket, but she did, tearing him free of his reserved and inhibited nature. On the floor of the bedroom he became a selfish animal, as virile as a young man who was completely blinded by urgent desires that overpowered all rational thought. She was only along for the ride this time, but she found pleasure on a different plane, where it was more enjoyable to give than to receive. His wildness transferred through his skin and then throughout her body, not only a physical connection, but a complete merger of bodies and minds and hearts and souls. Without knowing how she got there, she found that she was lying on the bed, his arms wrapped around her in an embrace that was as comfortable and soothing as a soft quilt on a cold winter’s night. Champagne flooded her brain and she began to sink down, deep into the mattress and deep into a place she had never been before, where every cell in her body was bathed in contentment and the unique atmosphere of pure sexual gratification. This was what all the hoopla was about, and Trevor had given it to her, the finest and most generous gift that a man could ever give to a woman.