He selects a table with just two seats towards the rear of the hotel’s bar. He debates the wisdom of choosing one this far from the entrance, concerned that she might feel confined, even trapped, so far from the sanctuary of the street. In the end, he decides that having sufficient privacy to talk is worth the risk.
He places his wide tumbler of bourbon down on the table and watches the entrance. He’d wanted to meet her off her train at Kings Cross, but she rejected the offer. She had some things she needed to do first. She’d meet him somewhere in the city later on. Where? He’d thought about suggesting one of a dozen neutral bars or restaurants he knew. Instead, he’d given her the name of the hotel he’d chosen. There seemed little point in being coy.
When he looks up from checking his watch for the fifth time, she’s standing in the bar’s entrance, scrutinising the other customers, looking for him. She’s wearing a dark blue dress, buttoned along the length of its front, and black leather knee-high boots. She looks casual and very feminine. His heart beats a little faster.
She sees him. Her expression freezes. For a moment, he’s afraid that she’s about to turn tail, to show him her back and walk, no, run, from the hotel and back out into the neon-threaded light.
She doesn’t turn away, though. Her frozen expression melts as she smiles. She begins to walk towards him.
He gets to his feet.
“Hello,” he says.
“Hello.” She smiles again. “Finally.”
Her hand is small and soft and warm in his. She leans forward, turning her head slightly to offer him her cheek. He presses his lips chastely against her smooth skin. She smells of Chanel Allure. His pulse is a teenager’s again.
“What can I get you to drink?” he asks.
“A vodka and tonic, please.”
He returns to the bar and orders the drink. He’s greedy to refresh his memory of how she looks, but he doesn’t want her to catch him scrutinising her. He wonders if she’s looking at him. The urge to turn around feels like a million fire ants crawling around inside his skull.
He carries the drink back to the table and sits down directly opposite her. “Cheers.” The clink of the glasses meeting sounds louder than it ought to. He pulls deeply on his bourbon. She sips nervously at the vodka.
“How was the train journey?”
“Good, thanks.” She puts her glass down on the coaster and slides it an inch away from her. “Certainly better that I was expecting. I managed to get myself a cheap upgrade to first class.”
“Well, I got a wider seat and more leg room. Oh, and complimentary coffee and a free copy of The Times.”
“That’s just Murdoch’s attempt to take over the rail network as well.”
They laugh, the sound full of genuine warmth on both sides of the table. She looks as relieved as he feels.
“When did you get here?” she asks.
“Just after midday. There’s a film season on at the BFI that I wanted to catch.”
She perks up noticeably. “Which film did you go to see?”
Her smile is a trifle too thin for his liking. “Revenge and betrayal. Interesting choice.”
He shrugs easily. “I like noir cinema, and Les Diaboliques is a favourite of mine. I’ve always wanted a chance to watch it on a big screen.”
She peers at him. “Had you planned to take me with you?”
He laughs. “I wouldn’t have done that to you. I just decided to take advantage of the free time.” He swills some more bourbon and summons a nonchalant tone. “Did you manage to get done what you needed to?”
Her eyes flicker away. “Yes. Thank you.”
An awkward silence settles over them. More than a year has passed since they talked with any real intimacy, and the weight of that knowledge is pressing down on them both, hindering the conversation now that the initial burst of energy at the renewal of their acquaintance has ebbed.
Finally, the lengthening silence compels him to take a chance.
“You know, I consider the fact that I haven’t made love to you one of the great frustrations of my life.”
“Really?” She seems genuinely surprised. By the change of direction, or the choice of words? There’s a hint of scarlet in her cheeks as she glances down at her glass. “Better a great frustration than a huge disappointment.” Her eyes come back to his and she smiles. “I’m sorry. You probably want to admonish me for that.”
“I wasn’t even going to respond to it.”
They both laugh again.
“I thought you were bound to chastise me,” she says. “You always used to whenever I was negative about myself.”
“You’ve always doubted yourself too much.”
“I can’t help myself.” There’s a fresh bloom of scarlet in her cheeks, but this time when she speaks, her eyes don’t leave his. “But perhaps I just like being chastised?”
Is this the moment when things start to move forward? he wonders. Stick or twist?
“You’re still gripped by hesitation, aren’t you?” he asks.
She doesn’t speak. She just nods.
“I’d to sweep aside that hesitation with my lips, banish your doubts with the sensation of my hands in your clothes. I want to open each garment with measured force, revealing you layer by layer until you’re finally – finally – naked before me.”
She gasps. “Measured force sounds lovely.”
“The thought of being fully dressed while you’re lying naked before me … it’s making my pulse throb more deeply than anything has for what feels like an age.”
The tip of her tongue traces the centre of her upper lip. “I like the imbalance of that image. Very much.”
He looks around quickly to make sure that they’re still alone, that there’s no one close enough to eavesdrop on their conversation.
When he speaks again, it’s in a low, measured voice.
“I want to lie over you, still fully dressed while I kiss your mouth, your neck, your shoulders … slowly working my way over your breasts and across your belly … down the inside of one thigh and then back along the other … parting the folds of your sex with my tongue and plunging it deep inside your cunt, coaxing your orgasm with the flicker of my tongue over your clitoris … feeling your thighs tightening on either side of my head, listening to your sighs and gasps of pleasure building to a crescendo. And then I’ll stand up so that you can watch me as I slowly undress.”
She raises her glass with a hand that trembles lightly and swallows half of the remaining liquid. “God, that’s lovely.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
She nods. “I’d love to watch you like that,” she says in a voice that’s mostly whisper. “I’d love to look into your eyes and then up and down your body as you undressed for me.”
“I want you to have that moment. I want to feel the heat of your gaze, to see the desire, the lust, the naked wanting in your eyes.”
Her gaze narrows fractionally as she looks at him. “I’d probably touch myself as I watched you.”
“Good. I want to see your fingers showing me where you want me, where you need me, as you watch me approaching you. Steadily, relentlessly, unstoppable in my burning desire, my cock hard and thick, eager to take you, to claim you, to leave its mark within the wet mystery of your cunt.”
“Oh God,” she whispers. Her eyes dart left and right. “I want you to watch my mouth as I tell you how wet I am, as I tell you how much I want you to fuck me.” She swallows some more of her vodka. “I love to say fuck. And cock. And cunt.”
“I remember.” He’s aware of just how hard he is already. He yearns to feel her hand gripping his length tightly, wantonly. He suppresses a shudder. “I want to hear you saying those words to me, gasping them to me.”
She looks back over her shoulder as she leans conspiratorially towards him.
“Do you still want to hear me begging for your cock too?”
He swallows with some difficulty. “You know that I do. I’m hard now, just from being near to you, just from talking to you. Just imagining hearing you saying those words to me … it sends the most delicious shivers coursing down my spine, all the way to my balls.”
She looks down at the tabletop. “That’s such a lovely thought: your cock all big and hard and only a couple of feet away from me.”
“It’s hardly the first time you’ve made me hard, is it?”
She smiles, a little wistfully he thinks. “No. But this is the first time that I’ve done it when I’m within touching distance.”
Her eyes – the colour of crystal jade – hold his unwaveringly.
“I’m ever so wet.”
“I’ve always enjoyed making you wet,” he says. “Even though I was never there to enjoy you. I relish the thought of you being wet because of me. Because you want me, because you need me inside you, fucking you soft and slow, then hard and relentless, the two waxing and waning into each other until they become indivisible.”
He sees her swallow, sees her hands convulsing against the varnished tabletop. “Yes. Oh, yes.” She looks around herself again. “What I really want now is to sit in your lap, facing you, with your thigh between my legs.”
“So that you can slip back and forth against my leg? Coating my thigh with your lust?”
“Yes. So that I can say, ‘Feel how wet I am. Hot and wet and all because I’ve been thinking about your cock.’”
He smiles, overwhelmed by the thought of her words combining with the sensation of her soft wetness against his naked skin.
“You could rub yourself against any part of my body you desired. My chest … my abdomen … the small of my back.”
She grins shyly. “You would smell of me. I’d be all over you.”
“I know. I want that. I want to smell how excited you are. I want to bathe in the scent of your desire.”
She leans a little closer. “Perhaps I’d touch myself and then offer you my fingers.”
“I’d suckle on them like a hopeless drunk.”
She laughs. “Then I’d kiss you and taste myself from your lips.”
“And what if I finger you to a shuddering climax and slowly draw a dripping fingertip around the edges of your mouth?”
“That would be lovely too.” She licks the edges of her mouth, just as he has described doing with his fingertip. “Would you look into my eyes as you fingered me? As I came all over your fingers?”
“Yes. Yes.” He looks at her as earnestly as he knows. “Do you honestly have any doubts left about whether I still want to fuck you?”
She glances away, perhaps with a touch of embarrassment. “No. I know that you do. Thank you. Thank you for wanting to.”
He snorts. “You don’t have to thank me for anything.”
She nods. “You’ve given me something back. A little self-belief. I think I’ll be able to look at myself in a mirror and see myself as desirable again.”
“You never stopped being desirable.”
“It felt like I did.”
He looks pointedly over her shoulder, towards the lobby and the elevators that lead up to the residential floors. “Come with me now. I promise that you’ll never feel undesirable again.”
She follows his gaze.
“I want to.”
“Then do it.”
She shakes her head slowly. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”
He sits back, bewildered. “I don’t understand … why are you here? Why did you come tonight, if-”
“I wanted to meet you in the flesh, finally. To know whether we would still want one another when we moved beyond the emails and the chat rooms and the web cams. To know if the attraction between us would still exist if we actually met face to face.”
“And it doesn’t?” He wants to shake his head to try and clear the confusion. How could he have read her so wrong?
“Yes, it does. As strong as I’d hoped it would. Stronger, in fact.”
“Then … come upstairs with me. Finally. Let this take us where it’s always been heading.”
Her expression is so sincere, it’s almost painful to behold. “I wish you knew just how badly I want to do that. How badly I want to take your hand and let you lead me to one of those lifts. But I can’t.”
“You’re not making any sense to me.”
She smiles. “I know. I’m barely making any sense to myself.” She drains her glass. “I’ve thought about this moment so often. And this is exactly what I’ve always feared: that when I did finally meet you, it would be everything that I wanted, everything that I’ve always promised to myself in every fantasy I’ve ever had.” She reaches out a hand towards his, and when their fingertips touch, he shivers violently. She does too. “That the connection between us would be so electric, so … alive.”
“I still don’t see the problem. There are people who would…” He shakes his head. “I was going to say that there are people who would die for this, but that’s too strong.” He holds her eyes with his. “But there are people who would do almost anything to experience feelings like this, moments like this.” He cups her hand with his and feels the naked energy running between them.
“I know. That’s why it’s so sad that it can never be.”
He sits back from her, breaking the physical connection between them. He has to fight to keep his irritation and his bitterness in check.
“Rachel, I don’t understand you at all.”
“I’m afraid that if I fuck you, if I make love to you, it will be just as electric as this moment. More so. And after that, I’ll want more. I’ll need more. I know I will.”
He leans forward. “Who said that you couldn’t have more? Have I said or done something to make you think that this is a one-time deal?”
“You don’t understand.” Her voice – still low – is full of resentment and pain. “If it was as good between us as I think it would be, then I could never go back to my life. I would have ruined it forever. Yes, it’s bland and it lacks passion and electricity, but right now, I can live with it. I can survive it. But if you help me to see just how good things could be, how good they should be…” Her eyes close resignedly. “Then I could never go back to that blandness and hope to survive.”
He slumps back in his chair. Finally, he sees the sanity in the midst of the madness. He wonders what he should say. In the end, he says nothing. There’s nothing to say. She’s said it all already.
She gets to her feet. “You won’t try and follow me, will you?”
He shakes his head.
“You always were chivalrous.” She smiles one last time. “Goodbye, then.”
He watches her leave, feeling the ache growing inside him until the pain is almost overwhelming. There’s a part of him that wants to run after her, to catch her and kiss her and make her change her mind. But to do that would be utterly selfish, and therefore unforgivable, by either of them.
Only when he can’t see her any longer does he get up and return to the bar. He orders a double bourbon.
“And another for the lady?” the young bartender asks.
“No.” He hands over a twenty-pound note.
“Too bad. She looked really nice.”
“She was. Is.”
The bartender hands him his change. “You must be frustrated.”
He thinks for a moment before he speaks. “Sometimes, it’s better to experience a great frustration than a huge disappointment.”
The bartender cocks his head. “Is that a quote from Shakespeare or something?”
He smiles sadly as he turns away from the bar. “No. Just something that a friend said to me once.”