Archive for romance

GROUND FLOOR

Posted in writing with tags , , , , , , on January 8, 2017 by kimmy

elevator-pic

Although my imagination tends to embellish more than I care to admit, this time he appeared more handsome and seductive than in my most fevered dreams.

Was it the lazy way he lounged against the elevator wall as it slowly lowered us to the ground, or the gently possessive curl of his fingers around my wrist that made me sweat? I wasn’t sure. The only thing of which I was certain was that my desire would never be satisfied; that this was only another one of our endless erotic preambles that invariably concluded with nothing.

For many years, too many to count, he has prowled my dreams. Like a jaguar, sleek and dark, rousing both apprehension and desire so often that the two chase each other in a never-ending circle. Predator and prey always in motion, neither captured nor capturing. And for all these many years, I blamed myself for not yielding, for not allowing the cat to savage my body and satisfy his need.

But he is and always has been a cruel hunter, not availing himself of easy game, but reserving his attention for only the choicest morsels, those who embody closest his ideal of physical perfection. And I, alas, never conformed to those lofty standards and was, in both life and dream, judged to be wanting.

Yet despite my imperfection, he maintains his irregular orbit. Sometimes so distant that I wither and freeze; and at other times, as tonight, I burn.

And so this chase would continue unabated, as it has done for decades, if not for those fingers snaking around my wrist and his dark eyes prodding me to begin my flight. I suddenly halted the game. The elevator had finally reached the ground floor and it was, at long last, time to exit.

I stepped out and the doors closed behind me, carrying him away to places I neither know nor care. The goddess may be generous and willing to forgive the constant rejection of her bounty, but even She can become weary of the game.

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THE PERILS OF SUZANNE

Posted in writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by kimmy

When last I spoke to her, she was planning a ski trip with her new boyfriend, a 20 year-old college student that she had met at a store-front art gallery.  I wasn’t all that surprised when she called this morning at 2am, begging me to meet her at an all-night diner.

“If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have bothered,” she sobbed, burying her head in the crook of her arm.  She looked up suddenly with swollen red eyes.  “And if you tell anyone and I mean anyone you saw me like this, I’ll deny everything!”

 “So what happened?” I asked, partially guessing the truth.  If I knew Suzanne, it probably involved love gone wrong.

 “He left me for his wife.”

“He’s married?  I didn’t think he lived in Kentucky.”

“Not Josh, you idiot, his father.” 

“You got involved with the son AND the father?”  This was new holy ground, even for her.

“Not at the same time, Kimmy,” she whimpered.  “ Peter just sort of happened.”

 “Peter?  His name is Peter?  Why not Dick?” 

“If you only knew how he made me feel…”  She looked off into the distance, eyes suddenly unfocused.  “I felt alive for the first time in my life.” 

“You said that about his son, remember?” 

“No, no,” she said, eyes refocusing.  “He was just a kid, an amusement to fill my lonely days.”  She heaved a sigh and crumpled into the seat. “And now my loneliness has no bounds.”

I rolled my eyes.  As a businesswoman, she really missed her calling.  She would have been better off on the stage.  “Don’t you think you’re overdramatizing the matter, Suzanne?  He’ll be forgotten in a week.”

“You’ve never been supportive of me,” she snapped, drawing herself up. “I’m pouring out my heart and you dismiss me!”

“If that’s the case,” I said dryly,  “why am I sitting in Denny’s at 3 o’clock in the morning?  I could be at home, dreaming about George Clooney.” 

“I should have called one of my real friends,” she muttered.  “They’d understand my pain.” 

“You don’t have any other friends, Suzi. They all got tired of the late-night emergencies.”

“ … someone with real heart, who knows the wretchedness of my being….”

“If you don’t stop right now, you and your wretched self will be sitting alone.”

 She shifted back on topic without taking a breath.  “…he told me that he loved me… that he wanted to have kids with me…” 

“Kids?!  Are you kidding me?  You’re 52!” 

“I should’ve had my eggs harvested before I switched over to Cobra,” she said, wandering off again. “They don’t cover fertility treatments.” 

“Yeah, I can see you as a mom.”

“Oh, can you?” she asked breathlessly.

 “The first time the kid pukes on your Coach bag, you’ll be handing him off to a nanny like a football.”

She frowned.  “I planned on being a hands-on mom.  I’d never hire help.” 

“How could you?  You already have a stylist, personal trainer and chef on payroll.” 

“But, now… now, it’s over!” she wailed, “and he’s gone back to that cow.” 

“Perhaps it’s best,” I said. “No doubt the entire family will need counseling after you plowed your way through them.”

“She doesn’t even love him, Kimmy!  She sleeps on the sofa with the dog.”

“Maybe he snores?” 

“She smokes like a chimney and has an ass like a Mack truck,” she sneered, lighting up a Winston. “At least I go to the gym…”   

“But what about Josh, the snowboarder?”  I asked, digging for the real story.  “I don’t suppose he warmed to the idea of you banging his father.” 

“What?”  She seemed distracted. “Oh, him.  You’re right, I should blame that little twirp!  I wouldn’t have even looked at Peter if it hadn’t been Joshie’s doing.”

“He hooked you up?”  This really was sordid.

“No, he just had too many Jager shots that night and passed out.  I went downstairs and there he was… Peter all alone and desperate for company.”

“So while your teenage boyfriend was sleeping off the booze, you seduced his father?” 

“Seduce?  Kimmy, why do you have to cheapen everything?  It was love…” 

“Wait a minute, let me get a visual here… the kid’s asleep, you’re canoodling with his father and the wife, where was she?”

“In New York with their terrier.”  She sighed again.   “Everything was perfect:  the moon, the snow, the bearskin rug in front of the fire…” 

“…the alienation of affection…”

“Before I knew it, we were pledging undying love.” 

“Was that before or after his wife came back?” 

“It wasn’t like that,” she said indignantly.  “Well, not exactly like that …”   

“What was it like… exactly?” 

She squirmed a bit. “Well, Joshie must have seen us because he called his mother  and she had her fat ass on a red-eye within an hour.”  She frowned and stubbed out her cigarette.  “You just can’t trust young people nowadays…”

ROUND THE WORLD AND BACK AGAIN

Posted in musings, writing with tags , , , , , , , on March 12, 2011 by kimmy

Take me ‘round the world and back again

To the hidden places and secret spaces that dot the landscape

Like flakes of snow.

Let’s hide within them and never look back

On what we’ve left or the ones bereft of soul to witness

Them melt in the sun.

 

For dwindle they will until they’re gone

Leaving behind only faded stories of former glories that none believe

Save young girls

Who cling to fairy tales and enchantments

With the hope that one kiss will lead to bliss neverending

In a castle far away.

 

I close my eyes and I see the white horse

With his two riders running hard toward a shard of crystal yet shining

In the light.

If we tarry, the sun will burn it away forever

And we’ll never share passion fine and rare of which bards sing

And poets write.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, DARLING

Posted in erotic fiction, writing with tags , , , , on December 25, 2009 by kimmy

I’d put your present under the tree, only I don’t fit under it. Santa conveniently placed this gift in an infinitely more comfortable, but less traditional spot.  How he knew is anybody’s guess.  Maybe the missus taught him a few tricks that he saves only for the grown-up kids.

Of course I’ve been a good girl; how do you think I’ve been able to keep my wits about me?   It’s not easy, especially when you pass by so near that your scent fills my head and all I can think about is you pressing against me.  It’s not a crime to dream about you slipping down my chimney and rewarding me, is it?  There’s something so terribly erotic about that form of breaking and entering that it leaves me weak.

But then, there isn’t much about you that doesn’t fascinate me.  It’s like waking up on Christmas morning every day.  Each time I unwrap you, there’s something new for me to discover.  But unlike the thoughtlessness of youth, I don’t want to tear into you only to consume the sweet creamy center and discard the cake.  No… I want to savor every bite.

What an incredible feast do I see before me.  Have you been reading my mind again, enticing me to a table groaning with the most delectable flavors imaginable?  If you’re sitting at the head of it, be forewarned that I’ll push aside the entire repast just to taste the sugarplum on your lips.

IN PRAISE OF THE SNOG

Posted in love, musings, romance, social commentary, writing with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2008 by kimmy

This morning, I dreamt about lying next to a delicious man and kissing him for what seemed like an eternity.  It was an exercise in the art of mindfulness.  Nothing would have pleased me more than ripping off my clothes and giving it up to my subconscious lover.  However, he held me fast and made love to my mouth like Rudolph Valentino. 

Aside from last night, I can’t remember when making out was the end in itself.  Was it high school?  Hours spent lip-locked with a boy in the front seat of a car, tasting the infinite flavors inside his mouth, feeling the slow creep of moisture descend from within until my panties soaked through my jeans and the scent of sweat and arousal was so strong you could cut it with a knife. 

Who has the time for lengthy foreplay?  We’re in a rush to get to the finish line and collapse, hoping to forget the mountain of tasks that await in the morning.  Snogging has been reprioritized to the bottom of the list.

Yet, is it not through the lips that we learn to surrender to our lover?  We also detect the subtle fluctuations in their health, mood, and receptivity.  If we constantly bypass this source of information, then it’s no wonder we become distant from our beloved.   They are as blank to us as any stranger even though they share our bed.

I recently overheard a conversation between two obviously frustrated women.  One of them complained that her husband refused to kiss her because ‘it was no longer a necessity now that they were married’.  Perhaps he, as do others, believes that once the ring is on the finger, the pump is continuously primed.

That’s the catch in long-term relationships:  the pump is seldom attended to, as if it’s expected to function without assistance.  But no one talks about what comes after happily ever after.  We presume the years will be spent on a cloud.

Not that I would mind a cloud, especially one with the silver lining that I’ve heard told.  But I don’t know anybody who actually found one.   Instead, we leave behind torrid courtships and enter the dismal monotony of marriage.  Who wants that?  Even the most frumpy hausfrau wants to be desired.

Chicks just can’t get enough romance and throwdown… which probably explains the popularity of the formulaic Lifetime movies.  Who cares about the paper-thin plot and wooden acting!  All that stuff is just a vehicle for what we really want:  HEAT!

UNREQUITED LOVE

Posted in musings, romance, social commentary, writing with tags , , , , , on October 13, 2008 by kimmy

Is it possible to forget about love, to let it trickle out of your mind until nothing is left but a dry creek bed?  Or does it fester, oozing silently in a corner, suddenly breaking open like a blister and spilling its contents? 

It’s possible to fill one’s time and head with innumerable mindless activities.  That’s what we usually do, isn’t it, when faced with the unpleasant task of enduring heartbreak?  We breath in and out, go to work or school, cook, clean or walk the dog.  Each one, like a brick in a wall, done to close off the wound.

And it works…. for a time.  Years, decades may pass and then, suddenly, the pain is fresh anew, as if the lapse of time never existed.  Why does that happen?

Perhaps love, in whatever form it takes, never truly goes away.  It may lie dormant for a spell, but it never disappears.  With time, the reasons why love wasn’t enough to sustain a viable relationship may become clear, but the love itself never dies.

Who can say why we love whom we love?  It could be fate, karma or chance.  But those persons appear for a reason, if only to remind us that the heart often has its own agenda.   The heart rarely discerns with any measure of reliability.  It wants what it wants.

And therein lies the problem.  The wild spirit of the heart, roaming free without constraint, makes no judgment.  It acts impulsively, without the sobering influence of the head.  It recklessly plunges into experience, constantly seeking its own.

But wild emotional rides cannot sustain us for long.  Neither can cerebral self-denial.  As long as the two are at odds, we will never feel whole. Our lives are spent searching for the companion whom will make us complete.  Perhaps this effort is just the outward manifestation of the inward search.

PAS DE DEUX, Chapters 1 and 2

Posted in fan fiction, romance, writing with tags , , , on June 4, 2008 by kimmy

Chapter One:

*************************************** 

“One and Two and Three and Four…. Again! One and Two and Three and Four….”

Jennifer’s voice droned on in the humid afternoon air, accompanied by the tick of the metronome and the scraping of ten pairs of toe shoes across the worn wooden floor. She watched the students as, faces red with exertion, they labored at the barre. The first few weeks en pointe were the toughest, even for this eager group of pre-adolescents. No matter how many times they had watched “The Red Shoes” or dreamed of dancing Giselle, the painful realities of endless drilling and bloodied blistered feet were always an unwelcome surprise. She observed them closely, wondering who among this year’s hopefuls would have the fortitude to move beyond the pain to artistry.

“…and Four…. Sarah, chin up! Therese, straighten your back! Again, One and Two and Three and….”

Without missing a beat, Jennifer retrieved the cellphone vibrating in her pocket and glanced at the incoming number. It was Don Lieberman, her attorney, who rarely called with happy news. She abruptly clapped her hands and called for a five minute break. The girls groaned in unison and dropped their heels noisily to the floor.

“Gently, ladies! You’re not a herd of elephants,” she chided as she flipped open her phone. “Hello, Don?”

“Are you sitting down?”

“No, Don, I’m in the middle of class.”

“Well, I just got an answer from opposing counsel; they’ve rejected the settlement.”

Jennifer sighed in dejection and glanced at her students. She soundlessly opened the french doors and stood on the balcony overlooking St. Ann’s Street. The late afternoon sun was oppressive.

“But Eric agreed to the terms!”

“He wants half of the house, Jennifer. You’ll have to either buy him out or sell it and pay him half the proceeds.”

“But, Don, you know nothing’s moving in this market! Who’s buying property in New Orleans anyway? Even in the Garden District….”

“Don’t shoot me; I’m just the messenger boy,” he replied. “He’s stalling for time. Are you certain he has no other assets than the ones we have listed?”

“If he does, then he’s a much better liar than I suspected,” she said, wiping her forehead.

“I want you to come up to New York this weekend.”

“This weekend!”

“We must depose him again, Jennifer; I’m certain that he’s hiding something.”

“If he was, don’t you think he’d cooperate with us?

“Not if he needs more time to conceal assets!”

“Don, I can’t possibly fly up on such short notice. I’ve got no one to sub for my classes….”

“Just for the weekend. I’ll arrange for the deposition to be held Friday afternoon, so you’ll be home in time for Sunday dinner!”

“You’re all heart, Don,” she said dryly.

“We’ll put you up at the Four Seasons, Jen,” he said, sweetening the deal. “The firm has a suite on retainer.”

“A suite,” she said slowly. “I guess I’ll have to go now….”

“You will if you want to put an end to this nonsense,” Don replied firmly.

“Is that your professional opinion, or are you just trying to lure me up to re-negotiate your fees?”

Don chuckled heartily. “Don’t tempt me! I’ve been working twelve straight hours already…”

“Twelve hours in air-conditioned comfort?”

“The best your husband’s money can buy!”

“Yeah, as if Eric would agree to pay court costs and fees!” she said flatly. “I can’t get him to pay for the kids’ education!”

There was a long pause. “Jennifer, you didn’t refinance the house, did you?”

“I have to, Don. Michael’s in his last semester and Claudia was just invited to dance at ABT.”

“ABT?”

“American Ballet Theatre. Suzanne Farrell herself singled out Claudia and asked her to join the corps.”

“Wait! Are you talking about the dance company here in New York?”

“Is there another?”

“Well, now, you must come up for the deposition, Jennifer! It’s your duty as a good mother…”

“I don’t think I have that much equity in the house.”

“You’re serious? You took out another loan?”

“Don, the kids can’t pay for their education on looks alone! Eric has refused to pay a dime; says they can work their way through, as he did.”

“He had access to a million-dollar trust fund when he turned 18.”

“Yes. He used it to open his brokerage firm.”

“And he won’t pay for his childrens’ tuition?”

“Not a penny.”

Don snorted in disgust. “We’ll see that Michael and Claudia are provided for, Jennifer. Don’t you worry about that! Just make certain you’re here by Friday!”

Jennifer snapped the phone shut and slipped it back into her pocket. She opened the balcony door and stepped back into the marginally cooler air of the dance studio. Her students stopped their furtive whisperings and stood at reverent attention.

“Is everything okay, Mrs. Mathee?” peeped one scrawny girl, her big round eyes full of questions.

“Yes, Amy, everything’s just fine,” she said, turning the address the group. “In fact, girls, I’ll let you have a long weekend to rest up. But, I want you all back here Monday afternoon prepared to work doubly hard!”

************

An hour later, with the last of her students safely escorted home, Jennifer locked up and meandered the few blocks to Cafe du Monde, across Jackson Square. Espresso and beignets were not the stuff of a proper dancer’s diet, she admitted as the white-clad waiter placed them on her table, but neither were torn cartilage and three failed ACL surgeries. She stretched out her long legs and rubbed at her aching knees. What was the sum total of this dancer’s life, she quietly asked herself. 42 years, three surgeries, two children and one soon-to-be ex-husband. It didn’t seem like much, not compared to her ruined career and the Katrina-ravaged dance school.

She sipped the espresso. Maybe life was like this acrid brew: hot, bittersweet and not for the feeble-hearted. She closed her eyes for a moment, giggling that an analogy for life could be found in a cup of coffee.

Her muffled giggles suddenly turned to shouts of pain as a cup of hot tea and a plate of beignets landed in her lap. Sprawled over her outstretched legs was a scruffy, fair-haired man, a pair of crumpled eyeglasses hung from a dirty cord around his neck.

“Oh! I’m terribly sorry, M’am,” he sputtered, red-faced. “I’m so clumsy!” He scrambled to his feet and began to awkwardly brush the soggy doughnuts and mounds of powdered sugar from her legs.

“Please!” she said quickly, taking his hands from her thighs. “I can manage quite well…”

He froze for a moment, his hand suspended over her lap, before he collected himself and issued another profuse apology. “I’m so terribly, terribly sorry,” he said shyly. “I must have tripped over your…” His eyes drifted down to her wet skirt and shapely legs.

“No,” she said quietly, “I am to blame. My legs were blocking the aisle…”

He smiled sheepishly. “I suppose if I had bothered to wear these,” he said, pulling at his eyeglass cord, “I might have seen them more clearly.”

“I don’t like wearing mine either,” Jennifer said with a smile, “but what choice do we have? We wear them or we…”

“Trip like a bloody schoolboy and land in the lap of a beautiful woman…”

Jennifer laughed out loud; his moxie impressed her. “You’re a bit of a flirt, stranger,” she said, blotting her skirt with a wad of napkins. “I hope you didn’t stage this just to pay me a compliment.”

He knelt to pick up the cup and overturned plate. “Oh, no!” he said hurriedly, glancing up at her, somewhat distracted by the lengthy expanse of leg. Those stems were impossibly long. “But it has put me in an enviable position.”

“Has it now?”

He stood, brushing the sugar from his rumpled trousers. “Would it be awfully presumptuous of me to pay for your tab ….. and your laundry bill?”

“It wouldn’t be and you may,” she said, appraising him. “Won’t you sit down?”

He slid into a chair and extended his hand. “I’m Sean, by the way” he said with a grin.

“Jennifer,” she said, shaking his hand. “And judging from that drawl, you are not native to Louisiana.”

“No,” he admitted with a self-conscious chuckle, “I’m from the north of England, town called Sheffield.”

“You’re a long way from home, Sean from Sheffield. What brings you to my part of the world?”

“I’m, ah, here on business…..” he said expectantly, flashing her a dazzling smile. He waved to a waiter. “Would you like another coffee?”

Another espresso and she’d be up all night. “Why, yes, I would,” she said, smiling back at him. “What kind of business are you in, Sean? Construction? We’ve had a lot of foreign contractors in town since the hurricane…”

“Me? No, I’m in the, uh, film industry,” he said, disconcerted.

“Ah, the movies…”

“And some television, too”

“Really? I don’t watch much of it myself. When my children left for university, they took both TV sets with them….. just haven’t gotten around to replace them.”

“You have children at university?” he asked, amazed. “You don’t look old enough…”

She raised an eyebrow. “Old enough to know better,” she said sharply. “And you? Any children?”

“Three girls. Don’t see much of them either,” he said, quickly smoothly his misstep. “They live back home with their mothers.”

Jennifer smiled tightly and said nothing, watching as the waiter placed fresh cups before them.

“My eldest is away at school, too,” he said tentatively, venturing a hesitant look at Jennifer. “I hardly know them anymore; my work has kept me from home so much.”

An absentee father, she assessed, glancing at him briefly before picking up her espresso. She should have known those flirty eyes of his were trouble. “It seems men have many …. reasons for not participating in their childrens’ lives,” she said mildly, veiling her eyes. How many arguments, over this very subject, did she have with Eric?

He seemed relieved. “Yes,” he said eagerly,” I’ve worked hard to provide for them; that’s a father’s duty.”

Her smile was reserved. “A father provides many things…”

“And I have” he said proudly. “I’ve given them the best of everything: schools, housing, clothes…”

“That’s very generous of you, Sean.”

“It is,” he said immodestly. “Money is not gotten on trees, you know. But, they’re still so …. ungrateful for all I’ve done for them.”

He looked down at his tea. “You’re a parent, Jennifer; why are they so difficult?” he asked plaintively.

She gave him a quizzical look. “Is that a rhetorical question?”

He continued unabated. “They have a cheeky answer for everything,” he said morosely, stirring sugar into his tea. “I can barely get a civil reply from any of them…. And pulling those long faces! In front of the paps, too…” he mumbled, licking the spoon and setting it aside.

Jennifer looked at him as he noisly slurped his tea. It was apparent to her that discernment wasn’t the only thing he lacked. He took a big bite from a beignet, powdered sugar drifting like hoarfrost onto his 3-day stubble. She wondered absently if all movie people behaved with similar decorum. It was really too bad; the afternoon had started out so promising.

He wiped a napkin across his mouth and gave her a broad smile. “These are really quite delicious, Jennifer. Now I know why the crew insisted I give them a try!”

Despite the sugary frost clinging to his unshaven face, he was, she had to admit, surprisingly attractive. “You have a little sugar on your chin, Sean.”

He reddened, brushing at his face. “This sugar is everywhere,” he said anxiously. “What a clumsy git I am…”

“You’ll get used to it,” she said with a laugh. Maybe this one might redeem himself. “Thanks for the coffee, Sean, but I must be off.”

He looked a bit deflated. “Must you really?” he said, lowering his voice. “I thought we might chat a bit longer.”

“Can’t. I’ve got another class yet to teach tonight.” She rose from the table. “Maybe some other time…”

He was persistant. “A teacher, you say? And might I tag along to your class,” he said drolly.

“Certainly, as long as you agree to wear a dance belt and a leotard.”

“I’m intrigued,” he said with a twinkle. “What are they, might I ask?”

“A jockstrap and a pair of tights. I teach ballet at Le Danse Exquise on St. Ann,” she said, laughing at the look of horror on his face. “Whenever you’re ready to shimmy into a pair, they’ll be waiting.”

Chuckling, she turned and strolled out of the cafe. He watched her walk across the square, her graceful figure swaying atop legs that defied description. She looked over her shoulder and gave him a wave before rounding the corner.

He scratched his head and lit a cigarette. These Southern women were a mystery.
************************

After two mojitos, Jennifer thought the rum and the blaring music were getting to her. Her best friend, Lainie, was, on the other hand, just getting started. She rocked with laughter upon hearing the story.

“Whaddya mean you didn’t get his number?” Lainie screeched over the zydeco. “You let an eligible man get away?”

“He didn’t offer it and I didn’t ask.”

“Jen, what am I going to do with you? You’ll never get the hang of this if you don’t put yourself out there.” Lainie took a sip of her drink. “Do I have to write out a cribsheet for you? Jennifer’s Go-To Emergency Man Protocol?”

“I’m not that bad…”

“You walked away from opportunity, girl!”

“He might have been married for all I know!”

“Did you ask?”

“Lainie! For God’s sake, I barely know the guy…”

“At our age, we can’t afford to let things fall to chance.” She signaled the waitress. “You better have another drink.”

“I’ve had enough, thanks.”

“Come on, Jen! The night’s young! Besides, Beau Jocque will be on in ten minutes… We gotta dance!”

“I’ve been dancing all day, Lainie; my feet are killing me.”

Lainie rolled her eyes. “Watching a bunch of kids jump around in tu-tus ain’t dancing, girl! Look at all the hotties in here! We’re gonna have some fun tonight!”

She let out a whoop as a tall cowboy passed by. “Now, there’s a fine piece of man… I’m gonna get me some of that!”

She jumped out of her chair and sidled up to her new friend, talking animatedly and pointing to the table. Jennifer watched them confer a moment and turned away, cringing. Was Lainie really coming back to the table with not one, but two cowboys in tow? How did she move from spurned divorcee to desirable catch in one afternoon?

“Excuse me, pretty lady, but may I have this dance?”

She looked up, … and up … and up. A tall drink of a cowboy, well over six feet, stood before her, Stetson in hand and deep brown eyes expectant.

His smile was wide and very white. “A two-step is my favorite.”

She shrugged and returned his smile, and gave him her hand. “It’s mine, too.”

*************************

He danced divinely, Jennifer had to give him that. And it had been so very long since she actually danced with a partner. Eric had two left feet and never took her dancing. After the surgeries, she had given up most dancing entirely. But none of this occurred to her for the next three hours; those were spent waltzing and whirling on the crowded floor, relishing the attentions of a man who was clearly too young for her. But she didn’t care, not tonight. The room was dark, the music loud and Ty, her lanky partner, attentive and graceful. She almost felt beautiful again. And when Ty kissed her shyly at the end of the evening and asked if he might call upon her, she returned his kiss with feeling and gave him her number. So what if she was old enough to be his mother; at least he behaved like a gentleman and didn’t talk with his mouth full.

Lainie teased her during the cab ride home, but was fortunately too engrossed in her own new-found love interest to be pointed. “Aren’t you glad I talked you into going out tonight? Just think: instead of dancing with that cutie, you could have been sitting home watching ‘CSI’!”

“I’m glad, Lainie; but it’s 2 a.m.! I’ll never make my 7 o’clock class…”

“So, sub it out! All work and no play make Jennifer a dull girl! You think that son of a bitch Eric sits at home and watches TV? You know his ass is out every night with Katie.”

“Katje.”

“Whatever. The point is, you can’t let that loser know you’re pining for him! He ain’t worth it.”

Jennifer pressed her hand. “I know, Lainie, but it’s just hard sometimes… I feel too old to start all over.”

“Too old? Too old?! Say that horrible word one more time and I’ll leave your ‘old’ ass here on Canal Street!”

“Lainie, you and I are hardly debutantes…”

“And who cares about stupid young girls anyway? Your life is just beginning, Jen; I feel it!”

The cab pulled off onto St. Charles and slowed to a halt. “Call me tomorrow, Jenny! I want details!”

***************************

The telephone was ringing when she got out of the cab and let herself in the front door. Her heart skipped a beat. Who could be calling at 2 a.m. if not one of the kids? She ran to the phone and picked it up breathlessly.

“Michael? Claudia?”

“Mom, it’s Mike! Where’ve you been?”

“Michael, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Ma; I’ve been trying to call you all night. I left three messages on your cell. Don’t you bother to listen to them?”

“Oh, honey, I’ve been out with Lainie tonight and just walked in…”

“You been out with that hoochie mama?”

“Michael! Don’t refer to your godmother by that vulgar term!”

“Ma, she’s like a ‘girls gone wild video-seniors’ edition’! Why do you hang with her?”

“Lainie is my best friend and furthermore, I don’t answer to you, young man! What is so important that it can’t wait ‘til morning?”

“Mom, I’m getting married.”

“Very funny, Michael. Have you been drinking?”

“Mom, I’m serious!”

Jennifer heaved a sigh. Would she fall victim to yet another of her son’s practical jokes? “Great, honey,” she said dryly, “I’ll order the invitations…”

Michael was silent for a moment. “I think we can handle those.”

“Well, that’s a relief; I’d hate to misspell the names on the engravings. Does she have a name, this one, or should I just refer to her as bride-to-be?”

“Lee, Mom. Her name is Loralei Lee.”

“Loralei Lee,” she repeated slowly. “Michael, have you been watching old MGM musicals again?”

“Mom…”

“Honey, I know that you have to research film scores for class, but must you constantly challenge my knowledge of movie trivia?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Loralei Lee? Come on, Michael! That was the name of Marilyn Monroe’s character in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.”

“Wait! Is that the one where Monroe was singing about diamonds, dressed like Madonna?”

“Yeah,” Jennifer said acidly. “Amazing how she was able to copy the astounding dance technique of a hack not yet born…”

“Wow, Ma, I’m impressed,” he ceded, “your knowledge of useless facts is awesome! You should be on “Jeopardy!” I think Alex Trebek is single….”

“Good night, Michael.”

“Mom! Wait! I meant what I said. Lee and I are getting married, …. in April.”

“April? Why not have it in June, a combination wedding and graduation open house? You can ask your guests to pay off your student loans…”

Michael snorted. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“No, I don’t and what’s more, I don’t have the patience for your little game. It’s been a long day, Michael, and I have yet to go to bed. ‘night, honey.”

“Mom, please…”

Jennifer hesitated a moment, her maternal instincts tingling, and then her blood went cold. He was serious! “Oh, Michael! You’re not really planning to marry this girl, are you?”

“I am. I love her, Mom.”

“Before graduation? Have you spoken to your father about this?”

“Yeah, he knows all about it; thinks it’s a great idea!”

He would, Jennifer thought sourly, if only to be free of child support. She steadied herself and drew in a long breath. “There’s no point rushing into this, Michael…. Oh God! She’s not pregnant, is she?”

“No,” he said, annoyed, “like I’d do something that irresponsible…”

Jennifer grit her teeth. “And getting married before graduation, before you even have a job or a place to live is responsible?”

“I got a job, Mom! Well,… I might have a job. I’ve got an audition with the Royal Philharmonic in London in three weeks and I’m pretty sure that…”

“London! Don’t tell me they issued a cattle call to all last-year students at Juilliard?”

“No, not exactly…”

“Then, what, exactly?”

“Well, Lee knows this dude who knows this other dude who told us that the third-chair cello position was vacant and that auditions were being scheduled. So, we pulled a few strings and I got the gig. Easy!”

“Michael, you didn’t get the gig, only a crack at it…”

“Once they hear me, they’ll beg me to sign on! I so rule!!”

Jennifer smiled in spite of herself. Confidence was not an asset her son lacked; his practicality, however, was questionable. “Michael, you are a wonderful cellist; no mother could be prouder. But perhaps you should wait until you are offered the job before you assume anything.

“Ma, you just don’t have the ‘vision’.”

“Oh, I have a vision all right…”

“The world is my oyster!” Michael crowed. “Once Lee and I get settled in London, I want you to come and stay with us.”

Jennifer suppressed a laugh. “Well, son, that’s awfully kind of you, thinking about your poor, gray-haired old mother, but I think I can get along just fine.”

“No, Mom, I insist!”

“Michael, I can manage very well yet; I hardly ever have to use Depends…”

“Ma, where are you going to live? Once Dad takes the house, you’ll have no place to go and ….”

Jennifer interrupted him. “Excuse me? Your father taking the house…?”

“Well, … yeah! I just talked to Dad tonight. He said you’re coming up to New York this weekend to sign the house over to him.”

“Oh, he did, did he?”

“I’m, like, so stoked that you two finally settled this thing! And you can meet Lee while you’re here! There’s a recital this Saturday night, Mom; you’ll come, won’t you?”

“Of course I will.”

“And you can crash at the dorm, if you want. My roommate’s out of town.”

“That’s okay, Michael; I’m staying at the Four Seasons.”

“Whoa, the Four Season! Sweet! I knew Dad would come through and put you up at a choice hotel! That’s probably what he meant when he said he was calling in a few favors to have you taken care of. What a guy! ‘Night, Mom.”

“Night,” she echoed and hung up the phone.

What a guy indeed!
Chapter Two
******************

On Friday morning, Don Lieberman met her unexpectedly at LaGuardia Airport. She was pulling her suitcase off the carousel when he came up from behind and took the bag from her hand.

“Hey! That’s my bag, ” she cried indignantly, turning to face the pilferer. “Don?! What on earth…?”

“Change of plans, Jennifer; no time to let you settle in at the hotel. We have to go straight to the office!” He nodded toward the exit. “I’ve a car waiting.”

She followed him. “Don, you’re not billing me for this, are you? I mean, it’s not customary for a lawyer to shuttle his client about…”

“No, but we need to talk before we depose Eric and this is our only opportunity” He opened the door to the limousine and handed the bag to the driver.

“A limo?” Jennifer teased. “A taxi wasn’t sufficient?”

Don was not amused. He barked impatiently to the driver and slumped into his seat. “I don’t suppose it occurred to you that, as your attorney, I should be kept informed of any deals you make,” he said waspishly. “You could have saved us both a trip.”

“I thought you handled all the deal-making.”

“Not this one apparently. Imagine my surprise this morning when counsel FedEx-ed over the new property settlement, along with a deed quit-claiming your interest in the house. Have you completely lost it, Jennifer? You’ll be left without a dime!”

“I can’t believe his nerve,” she mumbled under her breath. “But I never agreed to any such arrangement!”

“Well, Eric’s attorney thinks differently. He wrote rather a windy letter; said you had a sudden change of heart prompted by the happy news.”

“The only news that would make me happy is to hear Eric was hit by a bus.”

“That’s not the kind of congratulations one normally extends to the father-to-be…”

Jennifer’s mouth dropped open. “Are you kidding me?”

“You should probably address that question to Eric; his attorney is quite convinced of it.”

Disbelieving, Jennifer shook her head. “But, Eric had a vasectomy ten years ago. He never wanted any more children, … he didn’t really even want the ones we had…”

“Well, if the reports are true, he must have changed his mind. Men caught in the midst of mid-life crisis will do just about anything to satisfy a whim…”

“Or the demands of their young girlfriends…”

Don considered the idea for a moment. “This should throw a wrench into her career plans; didn’t you say she’s a model?”

“A swimsuit model.”

“Worse yet. Not many men want to ogle a pregnant woman in a bikini. Eric may find his prize less desirable when she no longer commands public appeal,” he said thoughtfully. “A trophy is only as good as its shine. So, I take it that the house is not your generous baby shower gift to them?”

“I have no idea where he got such a notion, but I assure you it wasn’t from me. I haven’t talked to Eric in months. But….”

Don pricked up his ears. “But, what?” he asked grimly.

“His attorney isn’t the only one deceived. Michael called me the other night and mentioned the same thing.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t see a need, really. Since he stopped talking to me, he relies on the kids as messengers and the crazy stuff I hear from them… well, I’ve just come to ignore it. In fact, last month he had Claudia convinced that he was giving up his business to join a Tibetan monastery in Nepal.” She shook her head wearily. “I hate the way he takes advantage of them; they adore him and he knows it.”

“Jennifer, there’s a limit to forebearance; your children have a right to know his true nature.”

“No, Don,” she said flatly, “I won’t become one of those bitter ex-wives pitting children against father.”

“You’d rather they live deluded?”

“No, but the divorce has been hard enough on them; they don’t need the extra burden of choosing sides.” She looked out the window, blind to the activity outside it. “Whatever he has become, he’s still their father. They’ll learn soon enough who and what he is.”

Don was silent. He had known many clients in similar predicaments, but few who cared to take the moral high ground. He stole a furtive look, absently admiring her profile and lean crossed legs. He had waited all his life for a woman like Jennifer: smart, strong and sexy. What a pity that he was in her employ. Eric must be a fool, he thought, a damn fool to let such a woman walk away.

The towncar pulled to the curb at Fifth and Lexington and discharged its two passengers. Don took her elbow and led her into the building. “Whatever you do, stay calm and say nothing. Let me do the talking, Jennifer; I have a plan which might put this affair to a quick close.”

She tapped her toe nervously as the elevator climbed to the 45th floor. “You don’t suppose he’ll bring Katje, do you?

“Katje?”

“You know, … her… the swimsuit girlfriend…”

“Not unless his attorney has forgotten the rules of law. I requested a closed deposition.”

“But, what if she’s in the lobby, waiting for him?”

“Unless she’s dressed in a thong, who cares?”

Jennifer faltered. “I just don’t think I could handle …that… right now.”

Don gave her shoulder a quick squeeze. “Don’t worry, Jen; I won’t let Eric use his Sports Illustrated model as a bargaining chip.”

He ushered her into the office where they were met by Don’s breathless secretary. “Oh! Mr. Lieberman! I’ve been texting you since 9:30! I got an e-mail from Sidley and Austin regarding the Mathee divorce!”

Don furrowed his brow. “And…?”

“They’ve requested that the deposition be continued until next week. It seems that, uh…,” the secretary stalled, glancing at Jennifer, “Mr. Mathee’s, um, companion, had to fly to Paris on business and he needed to accompany her.”

“Of all the lame excuses…!” Don snatched the printout from his secretary’s hand. He scanned it briefly before wadding it up and hurling it to the floor. “Get this moron on the phone now!” he barked, sending the secretary scuttling down the hallway.

“Looks as though I’ve dragged you up here for nothing, Jennifer,” he said with a heavy sigh. “I’m guessing here, but I think that Eric is under the impression that the new property settlement they sent over resolves all disputes. It doesn’t, of course, but he’s simple enough, or crazy enough, to assume it does.”

Jennifer looked at the floor. This was an all-too-familiar scenario for her. “He’s crazy like a fox, Don; you’ll be running in circles looking for him if you’re not careful.”

He looked at her sharply, then shrugged. “If he thinks this is the last of it, he’s mistaken. I can be just as tenacious.”

She smiled wanly. “I told you he’d never give in without a fight. But, he prefers to let his opponent to all the work. He just clamps on and waits until they’re exhausted.”

“I’ve dealt with his kind before.”

“No, you haven’t.”

Don cocked an eyebrow. “Have you lost faith in me already?”

“Not at all, but this fight won’t be easily won. More than anything, Eric thinks of this divorce as a competition and he hates to lose.”

“In my opinion, he’s already lost the best thing,” Don said solicitously.

Jennifer tactfully ignored the compliment. “If you want to beat him, you’ll have to lure him out with the promise of something irresistible.”

“There’s no need to sink to his level, Jen. We have courts of law that will intervene.”

“I know we do, Don,” she said, patting his arm, “but Eric has never been a model citizen. He’s always felt himself above the law.”

“That’s ridiculous, Jennifer. No man is above it.”

“I didn’t say he was, only that he thinks he is.”

Don laughed. “You split hairs as well as any attorney! I hope you haven’t given yourself entirely to the study of minutiae; it’s pretty lonely and not very interesting!”

Jennifer gave him a rueful smile. “I never paid much attention to detail before I met Eric, but I learned the hard way to be cautious. He’s quick to exploit weakness, I’m afraid.”

Don snapped open his attaché. “You know, aside from being handsome, wealthy, successful and devious, I can’t for the life of me understand why you married him.”

“I’ve asked myself that question,” she said, “but we were so young back then, Don. Isn’t everybody wildly idealistic in college? I had no clue then of what he would become…”

Don lowered his eyes. For a spurned wife, he thought she was unusually forgiving. What a remarkable man Eric must be, behaving like a completely selfish jerk yet still eliciting sympathy. He felt a twinge of jealousy.

“Could I at least take you out for breakfast? You must be starving…”

“Thanks, Don, but I’d rather check into the hotel and get settled. I’m meeting Claudia for lunch today and I’ll need to rest up before she grills me about her father.”

“Why can’t she ask him directly? Doesn’t she live with him?”

“Yes, and I’m not happy about that…”

“Wait a minute! Weren’t you just complaining the other day about his disinterest in the kids? At least she’s living under his roof!”

“He only invited her to move in with them because he wouldn’t give her an allowance for an apartment.”

“Them? He’s living with the girlfriend and the daughter?”

“Yes. Claudia’s probably the only kid in town who’s older than her stepmother.”

Don raised his eyebrows in mock horror. “What strange bedfellows! I take it she’s not happy with the arrangement?”

“What do you think?” said Jennifer with a knowing look. “Eric spoiled Claudia rotten, but Daddy’s little princess has been replaced. I can only imagine the arguments in that house. Claudia’s never been one to keep her mouth shut…”

Don smiled broadly. “And to think I almost envied the guy, … almost!” He scribbled a few lines on the back of his business card. “Give this to the driver, Jen; he’ll drop you off at the hotel. The concierge has been informed of your arrival. He will see to it that you’re shown to the suite.”

He looked at her wistfully as she pushed open the office door. “You sure I can’t talk you into breakfast?”

She shook her head. If he threw one more of those sad, whipped dog looks her way, she’d have to seriously think about hiring another lawyer. “You’ve done more than enough, Don. Call me if you hear anything further from Eric.”

*******************************************

“Mommy…….”

A few of the patrons at Le Cirque cocked their heads toward their table. “Please, Claudia, don’t start whining.”

“But, Mom, you have to get back together with Dad!”

“Honey, that’s never going to happen; we’ve been through this before.”

“I can’t stand that bitch, Mom! She’s always borrowing my clothes!”

“I thought you two were rather like sisters…”

“Don’t make me hurl, Mom! She’s such an Emo!”

“If you want to stay in your father’s good graces, you’ll keep still about his girlfriend.”

Claudia pushed her salad around with a fork. “What do I care about that pervert…”

“And you will refrain from referring to your father as a pervert.”

“Well, he is!” she said stubbornly. “I mean, she’s, like, younger than me!! I could just die! All my friends are, like, laughing their butts off!”

Jennifer couldn’t resist a smile. “I’m certain that the behavior of your friends’ parents wouldn’t stand up under scrutiny either, Claudia.’

“I can’t believe you’re taking his side,” she said resentfully.

“I’m not. But if you want to live peaceably with your father, you’d better learn to compromise.”

Claudia was silent, but Jennifer knew she was just gearing up for the next barrage of questions. “Why don’t we go shopping after lunch, honey?” she said, artfully changing the subject. “Let’s find something stunning to wear to Michael’s recital tomorrow.”

“Oh! I think there’s a huge sale at Barney’s, Mom, and I have Dad’s American Express card!”

Jennifer listened absently as Claudia jabbered away about an ensemble she had seen in the window at Henri Bendel’s, but she was worried. Claudia was thinner than she had been in the autumn and had only picked at her salad. She was too familiar with the signs to ignore them. The pressure on a young dancer to stay unnaturally thin was great and Claudia was ambitious.

Jennifer dabbed her lips to conceal a shudder. Claudia never did listen to her advice about weight; she’d have to enlist Eric’s help if she was to prevent Claudia from lapsing into bulimia again. At this point, she wasn’t sure which would be more challenging: keeping Claudia healthy or convincing her father.

She re-folded her napkin and forced as smile. “Why don’t stop for an egg cream later, sweetheart. I haven’t had one in ages!”

“Sure, Mom,” she said brightly, “I know a place right off 5th that serves a mean one.”

********************************************************

After nearly four hours of combing Manhattan for bargains, Jennifer regretted her decision to wear high heels that afternoon. Her feet throbbed as she walked through the front entrance to the Four Seasons, laden with shopping bags and desperate for a cocktail.

“Will you see that these packages are taken up to Suite 1746?” she asked the desk attendant. “I can go no further without serious fortification!”

The concierge nodded briskly and rang for the porter. “Happy hour has just begun in the lounge, Miss, and you can’t get a finer martini anywhere in the city!”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said, heading to where he pointed.

Despite the sizeable crowd inside, the noise level was tolerably low. There were, however, no unoccupied tables, so she was forced to take a seat at the bar. She slipped off her heels and ordered a double vodka martini, hoping the liquor might dull the ache in her feet as well as her heart.

After all the numerous trips to see the kids and even her own, very brief, stint at American Ballet Theatre years ago, she hated New York. It was such a lonely town. She never could get used to the pace and brusqueness of its denizens. They all seemed terribly foreign to her, as alien today as they were more than twenty years ago when she first arrived, a Deep South transplant to the proverbial Big Apple. But then, as now, the city was no orchard. It wasn’t the glamorous hub of culture and refinement she had imagined, but a dirty maze where she was vilified for her antebellum sensibilities and confounded by the constant frenzy of activity. Her grandfather that warned her, long before she made her first trip, that northerners were aggressive, forced by their cold and bitter winters to frantically work and hoard like squirrels. She couldn’t help but laugh thinking that perhaps there was some truth to his simple country wisdom.

“I hope you’re not laughing at me again.”

Jennifer looked up from her drink. “I don’t believe it! Sean from Sheffield? What on earth are you doing here?”

“I might ask the same of you,” Sean said with a grin. “The last I saw of you, you were on the way to… class, wasn’t it?”

She returned his smile. He was more handsome that she remembered. “What a good memory you have! I don’t suppose you recollect everything from that afternoon…”

“Only that I made a complete fool of meself, and that you left too soon.”

“Did I?” she asked with a short laugh.

“I do hope you don’t rush off tonight,” he said with a glint in his eye, “I’m rather in the mood for a good chat.” He slid onto the stool next to her and waved to the bartender. “Would you like another?”

“I really shouldn’t,” she said, fishing the last olive from her glass. “The barkeep here pours with a heavy hand.”

‘I hate to drink alone; it makes this miserable city even harder to bear…”

“You hate New York, too? I thought I was the only one!”

“Hardly. I think most of its inhabitants hate it as well. I’ve never seen a sorrier lot in me life!”

“Well, in that case, I will join you. We can commiserate!”

“I don’t know why you Yanks think this is the capitol of fun.” He took a crumpled box of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and threw them on the bar. “You can’t even have a fag with your pint in this bloody city! Do you legislate everything in this country? I’ve got a right to smoke meself to death if I want…”

“But not to take everyone down with you.”

He looked askance. “Ah, you’re not one of them bleeding tree-huggers, are you?”

She laughed and took a sip of her drink. “I’ve been called a few things in my day, but that’s not one of them.”

“If I have to suffer one more of those granola-eating yoga types lecturing me about health and the environment…”

“Catching a lot of grief for your personal habits, are we?”

“Everyone here has something condescending to say about another’s private life!”

“Everyone?”

“Well, nearly everyone! Even the little old ladies at the off-license wag their fingers when they see you with a carton of Rothman’s.”

“Oh, that is terrible,” she said with a giggle, interrupting his rant. “I would have sworn you were a Malboro man. What in the world is an ‘off-license’?”

He took a breath, momentarily distracted. “What? Well, I guess they’re like a convenience store….”

“So, let me get this straight. The cashiers where you shop for cigarettes lecture you about quitting? Why do you even pay attention?”

“Why do they have to trot out their opinions? It’s not as if I asked for them…”

“Maybe you remind them of their wayward grandsons,” she teased.

“Me own Gran would never presume…”

“Now that I don’t believe for a minute!” She leaned into the backrest and slowly crossed her legs. “If you’re trying to win my sympathy, you’ll have to use another strategy.”

“Not working, huh?” he said sheepishly, sneaking a look down the length of her gams to her red-painted toes. “Oh, you seem to have lost your shoes, Jennifer…”

“So, you do remember my name! And no, you’d have a hard time convincing me to take up your cause. Defending your right to inhale toxic substances is better left to those with a vested interest. I never saw much use for it myself…”

“Is that so? I thought all you dancers smoked like chimneys…’

“Not all of us, but I suppose it’s done for the same reasons you movie people do it: boredom and weight control!”

Sean chuckled. “Well, it does get rather dull on set,” he admitted, “we spend more time waiting for the shot to be set up than actually taking it.”

“I guess preparation is the hardest part of any pursuit. Dancers spend years in class before, if ever, they dance professionally.”

“You must be exaggerating.”

She shook her head. “I’m not. Great dancers are not born; they’re made. Some are more naturally inclined, I’ll grant you, but even they must be honed, with blood, sweat and hours of practice.”

“That seems like an awful amount of work. I didn’t think the poncers had it in them,” he said with a smirk, taking a long pull from his glass.

Jennifer ignored the reference; she could only guess at its meaning. But, after years in the business, she recognized derision when she heard it. How odd, she thought, that a person associated with entertainment would behave so provincially.

“Yes, and what I’ve seen of your industry, the actors would be well-advised to get to class themselves.”

He snorted into his beer. “Oh? So you’re not pleased, eh? You sound like one of those bleeding movie critics…”

She raised an eyebrow. “Have I touched a nerve, Sean?” she asked innocently.

He looked at her distrustfully. “Now, how do I know you’re not a lady reporter, out to write a piece exposing me faults?”

She laughed out loud; this was becoming too fun. She hadn’t sparred with an opponent this literal since, well, she couldn’t rightly remember. “What makes you think I’m a journalist?” she said playfully.

“I can always spot you media types; you’re always stalking me, asking your cheeky questions…”

“I didn’t know I was being cheeky. I must do it more often…”

“You’re making fun of me now,” he said crossly.

“That was not my intention, Sean. After all, you were kind enough to buy me a drink,” she said, twirling her swizzle stick, “and I have two olives here to show for it!”

“What have I gone and done, buying bevvies for the enemy?” he muttered.

“Enemy?” She laid her fingers lightly on his arm. “You mustn’t ever think of me as that…”

He surveyed her from under his brow. “Well, you are the best-looking lady reporter I’ve seen, better than the trolls we have back home. But,…ah, you may want to reconsider where you place your hand, Jennifer.”

“Why is that?” she asked coyly.

“Because I could sue you for assault. You paps have to stay at least ten meters away from me!”

She rounded her eyes. “Oh! I had forgotten,” she said, feigning shock, “we’re not allowed to touch holy relics…”

“So, you think I’m old, too!”

“Well, you’re not exactly sixteen anymore…”

“And who’d want to be? I can have any woman in this pub tonight, if I wanted! What spotty kid could say the same?”

“None, I imagine. Teenagers aren’t legally permitted into bars,” she said with a laugh.

“I’ll best ‘em outside the pub, too,” he said quickly. “No man is a match for me!”

“What a marvelous title this will make for my expose,” she said thoughtfully, nibbling on an olive. “Aging Cameraman Boasts No Woman Safe.”

“I’m not a bloody cameraman.”

“Director?”

“No!” he said incredulously.

“Producer?” She was running out of options.

His look was grave. “What kind of game is this, Jennifer?”

“I’m not certain. We could just run down the list, but those credits at movie’s end are interminable. We could be here all night…”

Sean set down his pint and turned to face her squarely. “I’m an actor.”

“An actor?” she said dubiously, looking at him more closely. She guessed that Hollywood must rely upon vast amounts of airbrushing or flattering lighting, because she could not place him. She did however recognize the injured look on his face.

“Oh, right! Yes, of course!” she said, concealing her blankness with a breezy acknowledgment. “You’re that famous guy from that….ah, famous film!”

“Why, yes I am,” he said, assuaged. “For a moment there, I thought you were playing me.”

“Me? Oh, never! I…, I’m like most Americans, wild for the cinema!” she said gaily, puzzling as to his identity. “So, from Louisiana to New York, you’re keeping busy!”

“Busy, yes… which reminds me, Jennifer… what are you doing here, at the bloody Four Seasons, if not stalking me?”

“Just a happy coincidence, I assure you,” she said, beginning to suspect it was well-founded rumor that actors were egocentric. “But, I’m not sorry I ran into you.”

“I knew it! She’s a reporter,” he mumbled to himself.

“Aside from my children, you’re my only friend in New York.”

He drained his glass and regarded her suspiciously. “I’ve heard some tall tales, but…”

“This is my son, Michael,” she said expansively, pulling out a wallet photograph. “He’s in his last year at Juilliard. And this is Claudia. She dropped out of college last semester to dance full-time, much to her mother’s chagrin.” She sighed. “But kids have to find their own way in life, wouldn’t you agree? And sitting in a classroom won’t necessarily make her a better dancer…”

Sean glanced at the photograph. “Did you say Juilliard? That bloody music school here in Manhattan?”

“Well, music training isn’t the only thing they offer, but yes.”

He looked up at her suddenly. “And are you here for the recital tomorrow?”

It was Jennifer’s turn to be suspicious. “How do you know about that?” she asked, unable to hide her surprise.

“Because me daughter Loralei will be playing. She’s a last-year student at Juilliard as well…”

Jennifer drew back. “Loralei? As in ‘Loralei Lee’?”

“So you’ve heard of her then,” Sean said proudly.

“Why, yes, I have,” she said slowly. “Her name was recently mentioned to me.”

“She’s full of piss and vinegar, me girl is, but can she ever play! She’s top of her class!”

“How very extraordinary,” said Jennifer under her breath.

“Not so amazing really,” he said defensively, “she comes by it quite naturally…”

“Oh!” she said, recovering quickly, “no, I was just surprised… Michael didn’t tell me she was playing tomorrow night!”

“Your boy knows Loralei?”

“They are … acquainted, I believe.” Could it be Sean knew nothing about Michael?

“The whole campus knows about me girl; she’s got quite a gift…”

 Jennifer ruled out a direct assault. “What… ah, plans does your daughter have after graduation?”

“Oh, she’s talking about playing in a depraved rock band, but that’s just to spite me, I think.”

“Some of those groups have lucrative careers, Sean; it may be a smart move.”

“What? All that sex, drugs and rock and roll? She was bad enough at sixteen; I don’t need to support a university graduate while she runs about looking like Marilyn Manson.”

“Oh, she’s still in her gothic phase? Thank God, Michael outgrew his…”

Sean nodded sadly and rolled his eyes. “Dyed her pretty hair black and got herself all pierced and tattooed like a bloody sailor.”

Jennifer trembled inwardly. What kind of daughter-in-law was Michael bringing home? “At least the kids don’t pierce their cheeks with safety pins like we did…”

“Bah! I couldn’t pierce meself like those wankers on King’s Road, spitting and walking their girlfriends on leashes. I had a wee bit more sense than that!”

“But not enough to avoid piercing your own ears a few times, I see,” she said with a broad smile.

He shrugged. “I let them close up years ago. It’s a bit dodgy at me age to ponce about like a bloody pirate.”

Her laughter rang out, rich and throaty. She wasn’t sure, however, if he was a natural wit or if the vodka made her feel unusually magnanimous. He might made for an amusing in-law after all…

“I don’t think anyone could suspect you of that,” she said, leaning in, “unless, of course, it’s your habit to take no prisoners…”

He gave her a long look. She didn’t seem particularly awestruck by him. In fact, he was increasingly convinced that behind the gracious solicitude was a completely disinterested woman. How was that possible?

He decided to turn up the heat. “I’ve never had to take captives,” he purred, “they come willingly…”

“Is that a fact?”

Bemused, she twirled the martini stem between her fingers. No doubt many women enamored with the movie business might find the lure irresistible. He must have been on the receiving end of innumerable grateful embraces. He’d have to work a lot harder than that if he wanted hers.

“Your daughter must have inherited your charm, Sean,” she deflected, “seeing as she’s so popular on campus…”

“You find me charming then?” he asked with a wide grin. This would be all too easy. He brushed his fingers over her knee. “I can be a lot more than that…”

Jennifer glanced down, then looked at him pointedly. “Sean, your hand is on my leg…”

His hand caressed her silky skin. “I can’t help meself…”

It was clear to her that Sean had no idea that the knee in question belonged to his daughter’s future mother-in-law. Maybe Michael’s plans were premature… or non-existent.

“You’re a presumptuous man,” she said with mock disdain. “I hardly know you…”

“Would you like to know me better? I know a little place not far from here where I can plead me case properly…”

“Why, Sean, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying to pick me up!”

He smiled slowly and leaned in. “I’d pick you up and carry you over me shoulder, if I could,” he whispered low.

The hair on her neck stood up.  She’d have to tread carefully with this one, even if he was a bit rough around the edges.

“You’re a regular Neanderthal, aren’t you?”

He nodded. “I’ll drag you right off that stool and up to me room…”

She felt her heart jump involuntarily. “You… you’re not staying here, are you?”

“Of course! The Four Seasons is me home away from home…”

“No, you must be joking!”

“I never joke about where I stay, Jennifer; it’s in me contract.”

“You have a clause in your work contract about hotel accommodations?”

“Absolutely! You can’t expect me to stay just anywhere; I want only the best,” he said with a wink. “Me bedroom overlooks Central Park; would you like to see the view?”

She felt dizzy. Could this day be any weirder? She wasn’t sure if it was serendipity or misfortune which caused their paths to cross, but she was wary.

“The view from my room is grand enough,” she demurred. As tempting as it seemed, ending up in a stranger’s hotel room was only the stuff of fiction, not the complicated reality of her life. Besides, what lady would throw caution to the wind with a potential family member?

“Thanks for the drink,” she said hastily, scaring herself sober.

Visions of them awkwardly avoiding each other at the wedding intruded upon her suddenly. She shivered. What would Michael say if he discovered the identity of his mother’s lover? Would that make Sean both step-father and father-in-law? The implications were chilling.

She squeezed into her shoes and stood unsteadily. Whatever dramatic exit she had planned would have to wait as the room started to spin. “Oh!” she said, clutching at the back of the chair, “I think I’ve over-indulged…”

Alarmed, Sean quickly took her arm. “You’re in no condition to leave on your own,” he said firmly. “You’d better let me see you safely home.”

“That’s quite all right; I don’t have far to go,” she said, taking a few wobbly steps, “just upstairs…”

“If you think I’m going to let you stagger out of here without making certain you get to your room, then you must have a very low opinion of me!”

“No, please! I’ll be fine,” she said, struggling to focus. She looked about uncertainly. “Do you remember where the elevator is?”

He smiled and walked her to the elevator banks. “Not much of a drinker, are you, Jennifer? You’re the only bird I know who’s felled after two drinks…”

“I have not fallen,” she said indignantly as he led her into an empty elevator car. “But, you’re right, it doesn’t take much…”

“What floor,” he asked, finger poised over the buttons.

Her eyes slowly dimmed. “Se… se… seventeen,” she said with a sigh, passing out cold on the elevator floor.