âI'll show you.' His teeth gleamed in the dimness. When he spoke again his voice was lowered. âLift your skirt up.'
I stared at him, my heart beginning to thump.
âLift your skirt,' he repeated, leaning in ever so slightly. âI want to see your thighs.'
I looked down at my legs. Sunlight shining through the little hexagonal holes in the blind lay in bright specks all over my white skirt.
The table shielded me partially from the rest of the restaurant. I put my hands on the fabric and began to gather it slowly, revealing my knees. Why not? I asked myself. They were knees, that was all.
âGood. Now, all the way.'
Very slowly I pulled the skirt right up, almost to my crotch. I wasn't showing him anything he couldn't see on a poolside, I reasoned, but it wasn't the reasoning part of my mind that was in charge. The light-spots on my pale thighs were blinding white.
âVery good. Well done.' His voice sounded thicker. âNow, do you feel that?'
I felt something all right: my knickers were full of heat and wetness, my clit was pulsing, and my entire lower body felt heavy and swollen. Marcus put out a hand very carefully and stroked his fingertips up my thigh. I bit my lip.
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A Black Lace Short Story Collection
IF YOU STAND
at the right angle near a floodlight in the garden of the Royal Aqaba Hotel, and you happen to be wearing just the right sort of light cotton dress, then the light shines through the cloth revealing everything beneath it. I wasn't aware of the full significance of that at the time. It took me a few hours to even realise that it had happened.
Rhys had fetched pre-dinner drinks from the bar under the palm trees. I had a sunset-coloured cocktail in my hand as we wandered between the flowering shrubs, pausing every so often to admire the fish in the artificial rills winding at our feet. In a country where fresh water was precious, the hotel made a point of conspicuous consumption. The evening was just settling to a comfortable warmth after the baking heat of a day we'd spent mostly in the sea. We stopped in front of a floodlight and Rhys kissed me, snaking his hand about my waist.
âAre you enjoying it all?' he murmured.
âOf course I am.'
âAnd you still love me after all these years?'
âAll these years?' Four years of marriage was hardly a lifetime. I grinned cheekily at him. âOh, I think so.'
âGood.' His gaze lifted from my face and I saw his eyes widen a little. âOh â Marcus. Evening.'
Turning, I saw a man leaning on the parapet of a little ornamental bridge. He nodded at us. âRhys.'
âAstrid, this is Marcus Stringer. I met him in the bar that first evening. Marcus, this is my wife Astrid.'
We made polite greetings. Rhys had made a slight tactical error in mentioning our first evening, since he'd annoyed the hell out of me then by insisting on going down to the bar for a drink when I'd wanted to roll him on the bed and mess up the clean sheets. I'd ended up spending a grumpy half-hour reading on my own, and he'd had to work with some vigour to make me forgive his thoughtlessness.
Marcus, it turned out, was an American, and I forgave Rhys even more because he had that whole George Clooney look, in spades. He was on his own that night, and I had no objections when Rhys invited him to join us at dinner.
âAre you holidaying by yourself, Marcus? Is your wife not here?' I asked as we flicked open our table napkins. I figured it would be acceptably gauche to ask right now; if I left it too long the question would look plain nosy.
He smiled. âI'm not married.'
âOh, right.' I reached for the table water.
âAllow me.' He took the carafe from my hand and began to pour into our glasses. âNo, I know I'd make such an appalling husband that I've decided to spare any woman the pain of finding it out for herself. Besides, I like to travel solo. You meet more people that way.'
My interest was piqued. âWhere've you been travelling, then?'
âRight round the Middle East. Yemen, Syria, Egypt â now here. Backpacking mostly, but I felt I needed to chill a bit by this stage.'
I felt my jaw drop. There just weren't that many American tourists in Arab countries at the moment: to find one with the guts to do it solo genuinely surprised me. âYemen?' I said, almost squeaking. âOh â I'd love to go there! What's it like?'
So dinner that night was eaten to the tune of a long interrogation about the countries Marcus had been to. Rhys mostly sat and listened, smiling faintly. Our new acquaintance wasn't even based in the States, it turned out; he worked for a German manufacturing company and constantly flew back and forth between its different European offices. I had a marvellous time vicariously indulging my wanderlust. Then the conversation turned to what we had been doing: Rhys's scuba-diving mostly. He'd become wildly enthusiastic over the last few days.
âDon't you dive?' Marcus asked me.
I pulled a face. âNot really.'
âThe idea was,' explained Rhys, setting an empty wine bottle aside, âthat we'd both get our PADI certificates before we came out here so we could do the coral reefs properly. But Astrid caught a cold the week we were booked in for the intensive course, and got an ear infection.'
âThey wouldn't let me go down.'
âOf course not,' Marcus answered.
âSo she missed out on the certification. She's been on the beginners' dive here, but it's not the same.'
âI don't even think I'm that keen any more,' I admitted. âI mean, it's lovely on the coral and the fish are fantastic, but you know; there's only so much of it I'd want to do in a day. Unlike Rhys.'
âI'd stay down there all week; I really would.' Rhys sighed. âBut Astrid's getting itchy feet, I think. This isn't really the right place for a holiday if you're not interested in the beach or diving.'
âIt's OK,' I reassured him. âIt's a change from the usual.'
âWell, would you have any interest in visiting a Roman ruin?' Marcus wondered. âThere's a wayside settlement they've just finished excavating about an hour out of town, on what used to be the Via Traiana Nova. I'm taking a taxi out there tomorrow. Would that be your sort of thing?'
My eyes widened. I love ambling about ruins trying to picture what it would have been like to live in such places. âThat would be great! Would you mind us joining you?'
âNot at all.' His eyes crinkled warmly.
Marcus left us after dessert and Rhys and I retired to work off the effects of the two bottles of wine. As we walked back through the gardens to our apartment I noticed a couple passing by one of the powerful uplighters that lit the faÃ§ade of the hotel. For a moment her dress turned into a misty nimbus with the shape of her body perfectly outlined within. I caught my breath, wondering if the same thing had happened to me earlier in the evening. Then I checked myself, reassured. Rhys had been looking right at me as we stood in the gardens; if there had been anything untoward he would have noticed and done something about it.
I'm not used to drinking at dinner; it made me giddy and giggly that night. It seemed to put lead into Rhys's pencil though, and he chased me squealing across the bed, determined to spank my behind no matter how much I tried to
thwart him. âWhat did you think of Marcus, then?' he asked, pinning my wrists behind my back.
âHe seemed a nice bloke.'
âHuh. Bet you liked him more than that. Bet you thought he was fit.' His hand descended sharply on my bottom and I squealed into the mattress.
âHe was all right, I suppose,' I admitted. Rhys, I realised, was a bit jealous. âFor someone that old, anyway.'
âWhat are you, then â jail-bait?' But the conversation fell apart after that as we concentrated on spanking and fucking.
The next morning, though, despite having been all enthusiastic about our excursion while he'd had a few glasses of wine inside him, Rhys suddenly lost interest. âTell you what, love,' he said, eyeing the dive boats in the harbour with the gleaming eye of the fanatic, âwhy don't you go out to this Roman thing with Marcus and enjoy yourself?'
âOn my own?'
âYou'll be fine with him. He's been all round the Middle East; you heard. He speaks a bit of Arabic, and knows what he's doing better than I would out there.'
That wasn't quite what I'd meant but I just frowned, a little hurt that Rhys found the reef more alluring than a day with me. I also felt, even though I didn't admit it to myself at the time, a tingle of pleasure. Marcus was attractive and interesting and had travelled all over the world. I was more than happy to spend a day in his company, even alone. Perhaps especially alone.
Marcus himself didn't seem exactly upset that it was just me, when we met in the hotel lobby. âYour husband must be the trusting sort,' he remarked with a disarming twinkle. I chose to misunderstand him.
âWell, you're not in a position to kidnap me, are you?'
âNot really.' He cast an eye over my figure. âGood choice of clothes.'
Because we were leaving the hotel I'd picked a summer dress with a long skirt and modest sleeves down to my elbows. Against the sun I'd brought a floppy-brimmed straw hat. âI'm not daft,' I pointed out.
âYou certainly aren't. But the way some tourists dress, you'd think they had no idea at all.'
We went out to meet our taxi driver. He spoke only a little English, but Marcus's combination of Arabic and French allowed them to carry on a trilingual discussion about the route and the timing. I left my travelling companion to it, trusting him to get everything sorted. With both of us in the back seat of the car we set out inland.
For someone so keen on foreign travel I paid remarkably little attention to the baking-dry scenery on that journey, because I was enjoying the conversation with Marcus too much. We had so much in common, in taste if not experience,
that it was startling. We both enjoyed the same books, the same movies, the same music. When I mentioned attending the Glastonbury Festival we were united in preferring the fringe to the main stage events, and he insisted I ought to go to Burning Man one year soon â something I already held as an ambition.
It is, somehow, enormously flattering to see our own traits mirrored by someone else, as if it validates us.
But I was also beginning to get a handle on him; why this attractive, confident man should be âappalling' husband material. It was there between the lines of his life-story; he'd been a volunteer worker in Botswana, spent a couple of years as a teacher and then a tourist guide in the Far East, and now bent his talent to making quick easy money from business positions that lasted no more than a year or two each before he moved on to the next faceless corporation. Marcus had a terminal case of itchy feet. Day-to-day life was hardly real. His career didn't interest him and he laughed at the thought of ambition; it was entirely about making enough money to fund his leisure travel. He just wasn't the sort who could settle down to family life. He would always be looking for new horizons, new experiences and â I rather suspected â new girlfriends. It didn't make me dislike him. It just made me grateful that Rhys and I could balance our own selves rather better. Marcus had a life I could admire, but not covet.