Vibrant forty-something widow Annie Conroy is determined to follow her late husband’s wishes and start having fun again and living life to the full. At the Waverley Grange country hotel, she encounters the most exotic, sensual and desirable creature she could ever have dreamed of and all thoughts of resistance are completely banished. Is it a man? Is it a woman? Who even cares?
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Afterwards, for several moments, we lie in silence, the only sound, at both ends of the line, our synchronised heavy breathing.
I feel replete, yet unsatisfied. Happy, yet also sad. Pleased with myself for the fine, naughty thing I’ve just done, but somehow also uneasy.
Irrationally, the sight of the pink sex toy still clutched in my hand irritates me intensely, so I fling it away and watch with a frown as it bounces and rolls across the carpet.
Needless to say though, the small noise it makes doesn’t escape the attention of my keen-eared lover, even though he’s over five miles away as the crow flies.
‘Is everything all right, tesoro?’ His voice is blurred by his recent pleasure and perhaps by sleepiness too, but there’s a distinct note of worry, and the fact that he is worried about me clears my negativity.
‘I’m fine… no worries… That was just the vibrator falling off the bed, not me. But I don’t think I’ll be able to move for another half an hour to pick it up.’
Valentino laughs softly. ‘I feel much the same… but I think I will be able to sleep soon now, thanks to you.’
‘Did I make you forget your hotel stuff?’
It just comes out on impulse and I could kick myself. Really, I am so stupid sometimes. Now I’ve mentioned the ‘hotel stuff’, it’ll be back in his mind again, won’t it?
‘Yes… yes, you did… until you just mentioned it again,’ he points out, confirming my fears, although happily he still sounds mellow.
‘Don’t be sorry, Annie. Never apologise… unless we’re playing, of course.’ My heart and my sex seem to twist suddenly… Are we going to go again?
But when he speaks again, his voice is edgier. I might be imagining things, but I can almost hear him frowning all of a sudden. ‘In the real world a woman like you should never apologise for anything. You don’t have to… you hold all the cards.’
I scoot myself up against the pillows, almost as if sitting straight might help me to think more clearly.
‘I don’t know what you mean… a woman like me. What cards do I hold, Valentino?’
There’s another long, loaded pause, but eventually he speaks, the words low and intense.
‘All of them, Annie. You’re intelligent and beautiful. Supremely innocent yet also knowing. I know you’re inexperienced in certain areas. But in every way that matters, you’re complete. Grown-up. Gorgeous…’
My eyes start to prickle and overflow. I’m glad he can’t see it. There’s nothing particularly gorgeous about me at the moment.
‘But I’m not, Valentino. I’m just an ordinary, very middle aged woman who’s extremely naïve. You’re the one who’s gorgeous! ‘
Now, I’ve really done it. So much for his belief that I’m intelligent and grown-up? I’ve nullified that by gushing like the most gauche and love-struck teenager. Another long silence only confirms the fact that I’ve made an idiot of myself.
Ah well, it was fun while it lasted. He’ll be back to his lush, young beauties tomorrow, and I’ll be forgotten… or maybe just remembered vaguely as a diversion… or a close escape.
‘Tut tut, that’s either false modesty again, tesoro,’ he says at last, a strange, almost wondering quality in his voice. ‘Or you need some kind of an attitude adjustment…’
There’s another pause, and I get the most vivid picture of him snagging his soft, red lower lip with his white, but ever so slightly crooked teeth. ‘Maybe we both do?’
‘How so? There’s nothing wrong with you… You’re the most fascinating, self assured, amazingly imaginative man I’ve ever met.’
Agh, I’ve done it again! Why does this keep happening? Falling in love with a sexy younger man seems to have had a mushing effect on my brain… I’ve got to start behaving like that grown-up he says I am.
All the same, I laugh… and so does Valentino.
‘I’m shallow, vain, greedy and a hedonist at the expense of other, perhaps more worthy pursuits. I also hide behind any number of masks to avoid facing the truths of my own insecurities.’ There’s a rustle of bedding, and I’d give every last penny of my financial portfolio to see what he’s doing. ‘There, does that make the playing field more even for you, Annie?’
‘Yes, I suppose it does… but I’d love to know why you feel insecure. Can you tell me?’
He draws in a deep breath, and in my mind I see that broad, smooth, hairless chest rise.
‘Perhaps another time. Soon… Although I suspect you’re shrewd enough to guess from things I’ve said, and what Maria might have told you…’ he lets out his breath again ‘You, above all the other women I’ve known in the last decade, might be the one to force me to face my demons… and grow up at last.’
I daren’t believe it… I daren’t hope… But my heart is flying, soaring, shooting upwards towards heaven knows what, my attitude adjusted.
Don’t push, Annie. Don’t blow it. I pinch my thigh through my pyjama bottom, wondering if I’ve actually fallen asleep. Either that or whether I’m just imagining things or making something out of nothing.
‘Fair enough…’ I keep my voice light, cautious. I feel like a rather inept horse whisperer trying to gain the trust of a wild, gypsy stallion. Gosh, where do these images come from? I suppose it must be Valentino’s long black mane…
‘You’re an insightful woman, Annie Conroy… a lesser one would be making demands now. Insisting on information.’
‘You don’t know how close I am to that,’ I snip back at him, subconsciously wanting him to see it as a prompt to give me exactly what I want… which is the knowledge of all that’s in his heart.
‘Oh, I think I do,’ he answers, his voice teasing… It’s almost a relief to hear the lighter, more relaxed note, and yet in other ways, not so much.
‘I’d love to play again,’ he goes on, and I hear more small sounds of a large, powerful body settling itself to comfort…
© Portia Da Costa
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