Copyright © 1999, Kellis
To him it was as gunpowder spilled on an open flame. Suddenly she was a different woman. Suddenly a rather dreary bit of stolen morning relief, as he thought of it, dreary because of the rain and stolen because he should be inspecting a motor park, soared into pure delight. After long minutes of undistinguished grinding, she had groaned throatily and in the space of a few strokes passed from toleration to enthusiasm, from indifference to fascination. Her arms and legs had tightened, her aroma had strengthened and she had somehow opened herself further. She seemed to flare all around him as gunpowder would, as if her body were enfolding him entire, as if he were sinking into molten ecstasy. It was almost a mystical sensation, a merging of souls, and it was irresistible. Never did orgasm overtake him so powerfully and so unexpectedly.
The surprise of it struck him as hilarious. He began to giggle helplessly, the almost silent male giggle manifested mostly as spasms of the chest. Amazingly the woman understood and answered in kind, despite her quivering torso and arched back. Such humor feeds itself. Shortly both were laughing aloud. Both had plenty of wind for it; the strenuous part of their coupling had ended almost before it started.
When he raised off her on extended arms, her dark eyes flashed open to him above lips parted wide. Her face and shoulders were flushed and glowing with perspiration in the stuffy little room. Even at that moment, the nadir of any man’s sexual impulse, he thought her face the most stimulating he had ever seen. The power of that sight turned humor to curiosity.
He asked in an awed voice, “Tilly, what just happened to us?”
Her laughter died also. Her expression faded from merriment to contemplation. She declared, “It was you!”
“Me?” He stared at her. “Not me!”
Her eyes searched his. Her legs had loosened about his hips. Now they retightened slightly. She shivered as her sphincters squeezed him. She said hesitantly, “You … you made it grow.”
She shrugged impatiently. “That’s silly. But I could feel you …” She grinned and shook her head in wonder. “I could feel you everywhere in me.”
He stared. “That’s how I felt, too!”
Her eyes seemed to brighten in the oblique light of the table lamp. On an impulse he flexed his elbows, letting himself down again upon her, and kissed her gently. Her moist lips parted and his tongue touched the tip of hers briefly before he raised his head.
She opened her legs when it was clear that he would disengage their bodies. He backed off the bed and stood at the foot. She lay naked on her back as he had left her, arms and legs thrown wide, enduring his probing gaze, studying him as he studied her. He saw a mature woman’s body, wide hipped, narrow of waist, with medium breasts and small nipples that probably had never suckled babe. At least the slight paunch exhibited no stretch mark. The sweetly tapering legs were full fleshed and, along with pubes and underarms, clean-shaven in accord with Katy’s policy. The eyebrows were thinly plucked, but a rich head of dark brown hair spread all across her pillow. Presumably because it was morning, her face was unembellished. When first observed, about twenty minutes earlier, he had judged it not very comely. Now he realized he’d been mistaken.
She saw a man slightly above average height, not yet of middle years, clean-shaven of face but adorned otherwise with sandy hair at all the usual sites. The lean physique was appropriate to a runner. Her gaze lingered briefly on the wet remains of his erection.
He remarked introspectively, “Something happened to us, something unusual.”
She licked her lips. “I know it.”
He took a breath. “Tilly, my name is James Osborn.”
“Do you? Katy didn’t introduce us.”
“She said your name when she saw you through the curtains.”
“‘There’s that James Osborn! What’s he doing here at ten A.M.?’”
“Something like that. All the girls in the parlor went upstairs.”
He grunted. “How to find out who your real friends are!”
She grinned. “Right. Show up at a whorehouse in the morning.”
She lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “That’s what it is.”
“But you didn’t go upstairs.”
She seemed about to respond but raised her arms over her head in a whole-body stretch. His eye was drawn to his residue suddenly evident between the naked lower lips.
“Why didn’t you?” he insisted.
“Maybe I like your looks,” she responded at last as her arms came down.
He chuckled. “You weren’t even in the parlor.”
“Maybe I’m more ambitious — or just greedier.”
“Or maybe I need to establish my own clientele.”
“That’s right, I haven’t seen you before. Are you new here?”
“Katy signed me up Tuesday.”
“You’re under contract?”
She hesitated, then shrugged again with the same shoulder. The attached breast jiggled pleasantly to his eye. “All of us are.” Her eyes narrowed. “What do you do?”
“I’m in the army.”
“I noticed that! Stationed at the fort?”
“Yes. Captain James Osborn, at your service. Jim to you. Is Tilly really your name?”
“No. It’s my back name.”
“My name when I’m on my back.”
“My real name is Hilda Jordan, but that’s a secret.”
“I know. Sometimes Katy feels like talking about the fascinating life you ladies enjoy.”
“Ladies!” she repeated with amused contempt. “Half of them can’t even set a table correctly.”
“But you can?”
She smiled lazily. “Some things are hard to forget.”
“That’s a fact,” he agreed with a significant nod, picking up his underclothes. “Hilda — Excuse me. I mean Tilly; you are still on your back! I wanted to say I know the rule. ‘When you come you go.’ But I have been very pleased to meet you and I very much want to see you again.”
Again the shoulder rose. “It’s morning! Except for old George, you’re the only man in the house. What’s your hurry?”
“I’m wanted at the fort — and I need to talk to your madam just a bit.”
“If it’s money, I’m sure she’ll take a captain’s IOU.”
He grinned. “I’m sure she would, too.”
When his tie was knotted, she stood beside him at the door. She seemed unconcerned by her full nudity; not so the captain. She was nearly tall as he, needing only to tip her head back slightly to raise her lips to the height of his. She asked huskily, “Will you kiss me good-bye?”
His answer was to do so. This time when her lips parted his tongue probed more aggressively. The velvety skin under his hands, along with an odor that now included a component originally his own, were compelling. She chuckled deep in her throat and separated them enough to whisper, “I can feel you. Don’t tell me you want to leave. No one will know if you break the rule.”
“Only you and I.”
“Rules mean so much to you?”
“I really do have to go. But I’ll be back.”
She sighed. “Well, thanks for the kisses. They’re rare here, you know.”
“I guess they are.”
Her eyes twinkled. “I wondered if you’d kiss me again.”
“Did I surprise you?”
She thought about it. “Three times.”
“But I only kissed you twice.”
“Those were the little surprises!”
He descended the stairs, turning at the last moment to see if she still leaned against the door. She did. The gray light from a hall window contrasted her pale curves against the dark background. He paused in study, noting that of course her breasts were more impressive standing, deciding that Katy’s policy of shaven pubes was inappropriate to this woman. She smiled slowly under his gaze.
Firming his intent to stop a moment with the madam, if she were available, he turned into the cool parlor. A black maid was dusting the furniture. He nodded to her as he passed and knocked on the door at the back of the room labeled Private / Keep Out.
“What is it, Mabel?” demanded a female voice querulously.
“Katy, it’s Jim Osborn.”
“Oh! Well, come in.”
The madam was a peroxide blonde, plump, pretending to an age at least 20 years less than actual. He had known her for two years, once intimately. Her appearance was her secret despair and only vanity. He had found her scrupulously honest in all other ways.
She looked up from her accounts as he closed the door behind him. She shook her head. “What can I do for a man who likes morning tricks?”
“Answer a question.”
She sniffed in pretended suspicion. “I’ll bet you’re after a discount. I ought to charge you a premium instead!”
He grinned. “You get half my army pay now, Katy.”
“By god, it is a discount!”
He chuckled. “I wouldn’t object. Mind if I sit?”
She indicated the chair across from the desk and stretched back in her seat as he took it. “When’re you gonna bring out that crop of lieutenants you mentioned last Spring?”
“I told you, Katy: the new chaplain has us lying low.”
“Then bring him out!”
“Ha! Wouldn’t that be a coup!”
She chuckled with him but glanced up at the clock on the wall. “If it’s not a discount, what else can I do for you?”
He nodded. “It’s business in a way. How is your business these days?”
“Not so good. I’ve been doing this job a damn long time and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen prices cut.”
“That shouldn’t surprise you. Everyone is cutting prices.”
“Why is that, Jim? The market’s settled down, even risen a little. We’re almost half way into 1930. Things ought to be getting better, but I swear they’re getting worse.”
He shrugged. “Supply and demand.”
“Yeah. Too much supply and not enough demand.”
“I notice you’ve got some new girls. That what you mean by ‘supply?’”
“I had to turn away two yesterday. If I can’t keep ’em busy, they’ll eat me out of house and home.”
“Tilly is new.”
She cocked her head at him. “You got a complaint?”
“No, no. She did fine. It’s probably a mistake to admit it, but I’m impressed with her.”
“Yes, I am. Uh, what can you tell me about her?”
“Huh!” The woman’s eyes were speculative. “What do you want to know?”
“How old is she?”
The woman shook her head. “You know we don’t give out such things, Jim.”
His hand emerged from his pocket to lay a small gold eagle on her desk. “Not ordinarily, I agree. Nor should you.”
“That’s a lot of curiosity,” she observed, looking at the coin.
“Just turned 30.”
“She won’t say, but I doubt it. You know the signs. Didn’t you look her over?”
“The signs aren’t always right. Where’s she from?”
“Somewhere around Chicago, I think. I know this much: she grew up in the Cattleyard Orphanage. Ever hear of it?”
“Hmm. Maybe I have. Wasn’t there some scandal connected with it?”
“I’ll say! They called it a den of white slavery.”
He grunted. “Your line of work?”
“Except with kids.”
“No wonder they had trouble!”
“Huh! Undercutting the city boss’s prices is what caused the trouble.”
He chuckled. “That would do it. But Tilly must have left there a good while back, if she’s 30.” He nodded. “You’re right: she doesn’t look like a mother. But she doesn’t look like ten years of your trade, either.”
The madam didn’t ask what he meant. She gazed into distance and mused, “A note from the boss forestalls regular questions, but it’s not hard to guess what she’s been doing. A lot of sugar daddies have splashed on the sidewalks lately.”
“That’s a fact. Just for curiosity, Katy: what’s her contract worth?”
The woman’s attention snapped back to his face. She grinned. “Gonna open your own house, Jim?”
“Good! I don’t need the competition. Then what do you want with her contract?”
“I told you: it’s just curiosity.”
Her hand came forth and took away the gold coin. “I got her cheap, Jim, but not this cheap.”
He nodded, deciding not to press. “Fair enough. But she’s a sweet kid.” He rose to his feet. “Thought I’d put in a good word for her.”
The woman studied him. “Glad to hear that kind of thing. Maybe she’ll work out.”
“Oh, I’m sure of it. Thanks for the morning attention.”
“Huh! You’re lucky she was willing.”
“Yes, I was.”
* * * *
She opened the door to his knock. Her voice was not exactly welcoming. “The morning man again!”
“Good morning, Katy. May I come in?”
“It’s not even nine o’clock!”
“I know it’s early. I’m on my way to work and I … just …”
“In civilian clothes?”
“Okay. Let’s say I was just passing by.”
She grinned sardonically and stood back. “Come on, then. What is this? Did you find the Fountain of Youth?”
He grinned as he entered the parlor. “You mean I’m acting like a recruit?”
“Like a teenager with a swelling.”
He chuckled politely. The parlor was unoccupied and untidy. Ashtrays overflowed. Stained drink glasses sat on every horizontal surface. A pair of lace panties hung from the chandelier. He nodded at the room. “Must have been a nice party.”
“It was Saturday night, you know.”
He turned to her. “Stupid of me! I couldn’t pick a worse morning, could I?”
She agreed. “For service, I’m afraid.”
He cocked his head. “Could I make it worth your while — and the girl’s, of course?”
She studied him. “Any particular one?”
“Tilly,” he admitted.
Her eyes narrowed. Slowly she grinned. “Jim, we’ve known each other a good while. I’m gonna presume on that acquaintance. You are acting like a teenager!”
He spread his hands. “Maybe I am. If a ten day retreat won’t get her out of my mind, maybe a full frontal attack will.”
“Did you try other girls?”
He took a breath. “It’s no use, Katy. Can I see her?”
The woman frowned and lowered her voice. “Jim, don’t make a fool of yourself over her. She’s not worth it.”
He stared at her. “What have you learned?”
“Nothing. But I don’t think she’s gonna stick.”
“Mainly because she won’t work.”
He studied her. “What do you mean?”
“She refuses too many johns. I don’t think she’s happy here at all.”
“I didn’t know they were allowed to refuse.”
“Because none ever refused you! But of course they’re allowed. This ain’t China, you know. They’re not prisoners.”
“All right. But can I see her?”
“Sit down. I’ll go ask her. But you’ll probably be disappointed.”
“Then so be it. I’ll defend a woman’s right to refuse.”
“Good for you! That chair on the end is clean. I’ll be right back.”
He waited stoically. The huge old house was very quiet, presumably because nearly everyone was asleep. Though he had pretended thoughtlessness to the madam, his appearance on Sunday morning was no accident. Having finally admitted his longing, he wanted no competition for the object of it. That she might refuse him had not crossed his mind, and he couldn’t believe it now.
The madam returned soon. She crossed the room calmly and sat in an adjacent chair. “I’m sorry, Jim,” she said in a low voice, “but I warned you.”
“You can’t mean …”
She shook her head. “Her exact words were, ‘Leave me alone.’”
“She was asleep?”
“Yes. But she wakes up easy.”
“Damn it!” He stood up, unconsciously swinging his arm in the manner that in uniform would have slashed booted leg with swagger stick.
The woman rose beside him and cocked an eyebrow suggestively. “I know Linda would love to fix you up.”
“Linda!” he repeated. “No, no. I need to see Tilly.”
“Now, Jim, you know the cure for —”
He grasped her arm. “Listen!”
Rapid footsteps thudded on the carpeted stairs. They had turned to face the doorway when Hilda burst through it. An unfastened peignoir streamed behind her shoulders. She was otherwise naked and barefooted, hair drifting unrestrained about her head. She came to a stop, breasts jiggling, just inside the room. Her unadorned face showed anxiety followed by relief. “It is you!” she declared.
He inclined his head and said gravely, “Hello, ah, Tilly.”
To Katy the newcomer demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you!” repeated the madam. “Since when does a name matter?”
“Names always matter!” Holding the translucent garment closed with one hand, presumably from habit, she crossed the ash-stained carpet to stand before the pair. “Good morning, Jim,” she intoned, looking into his eyes.
Katy cried, “Jim, is it!”
Careful to keep a neutral tone, he asked, “May I come to your room, Tilly?”
Hilda smiled politely. “I was about to suggest that.”
The madam drew herself up. “All right. But you’re disrupting my house, Jim. That’ll be five dollars.”
“Five dollars!” cried Hilda, eyes suddenly blazing. “Why, that’s highway —”
But the man held up one hand, the other rummaging in his pocket. He proffered a tiny half eagle to Katy. “Five dollars it is.”
“Hmph!” The older woman accepted the gold but her mouth twisted petulantly.
He cocked an eyebrow. “Surely this buys me the whole morning?”
The madam regained her composure. “All day, if you want. Would you like lunch to be served?”
“What about it, ah, Tilly?”
“If you wish it.”
“Have you had breakfast?”
He regarded the madam. “How about sending her a plate?”
“As you wish. What about yourself?”
“No, thank you. But you might include a pint of hooch and some ice.”
“I’m sure we have some Canadian left. Very well, sir. Give us fifteen minutes.”
“Thanks. Are you ready … Tilly?”
For answer she linked her arm with his. They marched silently from the parlor up the wide stairs to her bedroom, now all the way at the end of the long hall. He closed the door behind them.
She came immediately into his arms. They kissed deeply and passionately, his hands stoking her back through the gown, her arms squeezing his shoulders. When their lips finally parted, he declared huskily, “I want you, Hilda.”
She stared into his eyes. “No more than I want you. Oh, god, Jim, where have you been?”
“I’ve been stupid.” His hands went to belt and fly, hers to his shirt buttons. In seconds he was naked as she. On the bed her readiness matched his own. They coupled wildly, hips plunging, while kisses rained on both faces, his hard hands bruising her shoulders as her nails clawed his back. In seconds they were groaning in passion. In additional seconds it was over. Though they had occupied the bed less than a minute, both were gasping for breath.
He rolled off onto his side and pulled her against him. She threw a leg over him. Her hands came up between them and cupped his face to hers, synchronizing her panting breaths to his, kissing him on each exhalation. He saw that her eyes were wet.
When he could trust his voice again, he said softly, “Hilda, I want to take you out of here.”
She heaved a shaky sigh. “Jim, Jim …”
“What is it?”
“You don’t know me.”
“So what? I know only one thing: I want you for myself.”
Her expression changed. He heard bitterness in her chuckle. “You’ve got me whenever you want me. And the rest of the time I’m somebody else’s problem. A nice arrangement, don’t you think?”
It was his turn to sigh. “Hilda, if I could do it over again … I knew what I wanted to say to you an hour after I left here. I wanted to come back the next day — hell, that same afternoon! But I thought … if I said it you’d laugh at me.”
“Laugh at you?” She sighed. “We laughed together, Jim. It was the best laugh I ever had.”
“Was it? I thought so, too.”
“I’m so glad,” she whispered, craning her neck to kiss his nose. “You said it: something unusual happened to us.”
“And it just happened again.”
“I know it.”
“There’s a word for it — that is, for us.”
Her eyes searched his. He saw a twinkle in hers. “Is there?”
Definitely a twinkle. She said, “I’ve read romance novels, too. Soulmates are supposed to be matched in every way. So far we’re only matched in one — one the books don’t mention, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Damn the books! It’s my word for us. Do you dislike it?”
“No, Jim. After I’ve known you a very long time, if I’m to be so lucky, I might learn to dislike something about you, but it’s a long way off.”
He smiled. “That’s a wonderful thing to say. It goes the other way, too.”
“No, Jim. Don’t forget what I am.”
He stirred restlessly. “According to your boss, you’re not a great success at it.”
“Is that what she said? Well, she’s right.”
“I’m not sorry to hear it, I’ll admit, but … Hilda, I can’t believe any man could pass you up.”
“Oh, they don’t!”
“Then … I don’t understand.”
Her eyes turned away from him. “If I tell you the reason, it’ll give you a good laugh.”
“She said you refused to work.”
“That’s almost right. Why do you think I’ve got the worst room in the house?”
He looked around. Indeed it was a tiny room. The light came from a dormer window. The bed was a single instead of the double she had previously enjoyed. No chair was evident. The only other article of furniture was a wash stand tucked under the sloping ceiling. She had thrown his clothing and her peignoir to the window seat.
He turned back to her, eyes growing larger. “Surely you didn’t refuse because …”
“Because of you,” she admitted bitterly. “Go ahead and laugh.”
He stared at her.
She said with a catch in her voice, “If you don’t laugh now, it’ll be worse.”
He pulled her mouth against his and kissed her tenderly. When he let them part, she explained helplessly, “I couldn’t stand them, Jim. They weren’t you. Isn’t that hilarious?”
“Hilda, I don’t think it’s funny at all.”
“Don’t you? It’s a classic case: a whore who thinks she’s fallen in love after one little trick.”
“I don’t believe you’re a whore.”
“Oh? Was that half-eagle just a gift to Katy, then?”
She actually chuckled. “For this dump?”
“And cheap at the price! Hilda … I want to talk to you.”
She kissed his chin. “You are.”
“I want you to listen to what I have to say. When I get through, tell me what you think. Okay?”
“Meaning you want me to keep quiet until then.” She caught the hand that lay on her hip and drew it up, forming it into a cup for her breast. “This keeps me quiet for awhile.”
He massaged her, compressing the nipple between thumb and forefinger. “Me, too, unfortunately.”
She chuckled. “Then forget it! I do want to hear you.”
“I have a lot to say —”
A knock at the door interrupted him. Hilda kissed him quickly, levered herself out of the bed and opened the door in naked unconcern. It was the black housemaid, pushing a hospital serving cart that must necessarily sandwich over the bed in order for the door to swing.
“Thank you, Mabel,” Hilda called as the door closed. She raised the cover on the plate. “Oatmeal!”
“Why didn’t you order something else?”
She grinned. “At the time all I wanted was you.” She raised an unlabelled bottle containing amber liquid. “Here’s the hooch. Want a drink?”
“Two fingers over ice, please. Send it back and order eggs.”
“Oh, it’ll do till an early lunch.” She made her voice tender. “I don’t want any more interruptions.”
She prepared his drink and gave it to him before sitting beside him to eat her cereal.
He took a sip and made a face. “This isn’t Canadian!”
She nodded. “Tea leaves steeped in cold Kentucky moonshine. That’s what Katy calls ‘Canadian.’”
“That’s not like Katy!”
She shrugged. “They say the second swallow tastes better and the third is downright good.”
“‘They say!’ You don’t drink?”
“Champagne, when I can get it. Applejack, sometimes. D’you think they’ll ever wise up on this prohibition?”
“Maybe not. The bootleggers have bribed too many politicians.”
She ate a while, sitting with shoulder, hip and thigh in contact with him.
He said, “They’re wrong about the third swallow.”
She laughed around her mouthful of oatmeal.
He sat the glass on the table and continued seriously, “What I have to say boils down to a few essential points — especially about me. I’m a married man, Hilda, with two kids, twin boys a little over one year old. I live with my wife and family in a big house near the fort. I’m moderately wealthy. My father put our money into federal securities that the crash, if anything, made more valuable.
“My wife is the problem. Her folks were wealthy, too, until last year, but that’s not the trouble.” He took a deep breath. “The trouble is that she hates sex. It’s funny how it seems to affect her. Unless she’s drunk, it scares her to death. I mean that almost literally. I gather it arouses strong feelings in women about the same as men. To her those feelings are terrifying. The only way to get into her is to rape her.
“I can’t do that, Hilda, even if the state says I can. So what I have done is get her drunk. Then she can tolerate it. Once, on the night the twins were conceived, she even enjoyed it, but of course she couldn’t remember anything the next morning. It seems that drinking enough for sex gives her an awful hangover, two or three days worth!
“The tragedy of it is, my wife’s a pretty woman. And she’s a lady. When I graduated the Point, we were the best looking couple to marry under the swords. I can’t divorce her because of the twins and because it would kill her socially. Wouldn’t do me any good before the promotion board, either.
“She’s also not too strong on mother love. Maybe they’re related: frigid in cradle as well as bed. We had a wet-nurse for the babies, but two weeks ago she dried up and returned to her husband. Martha’s going nuts about baby bottles, but she hasn’t approved any of the replacement nannies.
“The reason I’m telling you all this is because of what’s happened twice now. I want to make you a proposition.” He sighed. “I’ll admit in advance that it’s … pretty shameful.”
He sighed again. “I want you to move into my house. I want you to assume the duties of nanny for my sons and —”
“You’ve noticed I’m not fresh, Jim.”
“Of course. Nanny with bottles, not wet-nurse. I also want you to assume the … pleasures of my” — he took a breath — “alternate wife.”
She paused in her chewing to study his face. She laid her cheek on his shoulder. “I accept.”
“Huh? I’m not finished!”
“Neither am I. You may not want me after you hear what I have to say!”
He stared while she resumed eating. He said, “I just wanted to add that I’ll advance any reasonable sum in cash and open you a checking account soon as the banks settle down.”
“What am I supposed to do with that money? Buy baby food?”
“Whatever you want. Everything but leave me. Baby food, all that stuff, comes out of the household accounts. Martha manages them but I think she’d rather I did — or you.”
“That’s very fair, Jim. Incredibly fair.” She laid down her spoon and shook her head. “All that for a whore you’ve fucked exactly twice.”
He winced. “Are you trying to shock me?”
“Maybe I am.”
He sighed. “I thought I understood what a man and a woman feel for each other. They told me it came from shared values, common interests, equal backgrounds. I believed them until I met you. I had decided marriage was just an economic alliance, but I knew something was missing. I tried lots of women and I tried all the good stuff. I’ve been shot, I’ve even been kicked unconscious by a mule. But nothing ever affected me so strongly as you have!
“Maybe that is the right word! It really gets down to the fundamentals, doesn’t it? So, yes, you’re right. I fucked you twice! And learned by doing so that I’ve never really fucked anyone else. Do you … understand that?”
“Of course. It’s the same for me. But I warned you, Jim …”
He took a breath. “Go on. It doesn’t matter, but let’s hear it.”
“I was raised in a Chicago orphanage. In 1900 they found me on the doorstep, a few days old. The director picked my name out of a box. That was the Cattleyard Orphanage. Ever hear of it?”
“Yes. I know about it.”
“When I was fourteen somebody — boy, master, outsider, who knows? — knocked me up. The do-gooders were watching us that year, so the doc scraped it out of me. I’ve never been caught since. My husband had me X-rayed. They said my tubes were damaged, probably by gonorrhea.”
“I’m a widow, Jim.”
She shrugged. “He was a crooked cop, 25 years older than me, retired on his invested payoffs. He took care of me and I took care of him. I was a legally kept woman. He got wiped out the week before Christmas and was dead of a heart attack before New Year’s.”
“You know how that works. He borrowed on his insurance to cover the early losses.”
Jim studied her face. “And you couldn’t get a job.”
“You are so right. There aren’t any. Two of the girls up the hall can take shorthand fast as you can talk. But my husband had a friend, one of Katy’s investors. He gave me a letter for old time’s sake — I’d partied with him, too — and here I am.”
“Then you’re only a whore by accident.”
She shook her head. “I wouldn’t say that. I knew what I was doing. The orphanage taught me well. The fact is, Jim, I let life beat me. I was just waiting to see how long it took for some drunk to cut me up or some incurable disease to come along. Then, almost the first trick out of the box … I couldn’t believe what you did to me. When you left, for the next day or two I was stunned. I did whatever Katy suggested without thinking. I was going through the motions. A couple of my johns complained that I … was no fun. I guess they were right. They weren’t you.”
His hand covered hers. “I’m sorry, Hilda. It was the same for me.”
She gestured at the walls around her. “You’ve ruined me for this work. And I’ve never really done anything else.” Her head dropped. “Are you sure you want to deal with such soiled merchandise?”
His hand crept behind her head and stroked the rich fall of hair. “Can you love two baby boys?”
Her eyes rose to meet his. She said resolutely, “I can sure try!”
He took a deep breath. “Then it’s settled. How much is your contract?”
A wide smile brightened her whole face. “God, Jim! You mean it, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course.”
Her smile faded. She shook herself. “For a minute you had me going. What wife would ever take in a tart to diaper her babies and screw her husband?”
Her eyes widened. “Are you serious?”
“I’ve already talked it over with her. She will remain my legal wife, with the last word on any domestic dispute, subject only to my override. My bedroom will still adjoin hers, however seldom the bed gets rumpled. The boys will still be taught to call her ‘Mother’ and award her due respect and obedience. She will dictate policy in regard to their education and hygiene. She remains entitled to my support and protection, and her household budget will be maintained. I will cease to demand any gesture of affection from her except in public or before the children. And you have to wear a maid’s uniform except in your quarters. Beyond that she doesn’t care what you and I do, so long as we don’t, as she says, ‘create a flagrant display.’ In fact, she is quite curious about you. She’s looking forward to meeting you.” He chuckled. “I think she wants to ask how you can stand it.”
“What have you told her about me?”
“Very little. That you are my mistress.” He smiled. “At the time I knew little else.”
“Nothing about this?” Her tilted head indicated the house.
“No. I believe I said you’re about our age. And a lovely woman.”
“Lovely!” She snorted in self-deprecation, dropping her eyes. He realized that she was blushing.
“But you are!” he insisted. “I believe you’re the prettiest woman I ever saw.”
“Oh, Jim, how did you ever get so prejudiced so soon?”
He leered at her. “Maybe I’m looking through my third eye.”
She crossed her legs with a tiny gasp. “I know which eye you mean.” She shook herself again. “Tell me something else. What do you think of your wife?”
“I told you. She has a body any man would desire. It’s her attitude that’s the damned shame!”
“You still want her?”
He frowned. “Well, of course, socially she’s quite an asset. That’s something else. I’m afraid you and I won’t have much outside social life, Hilda. We can visit bars and theaters across town, and take the kids on trips, but that’s about it.”
“That’s no disadvantage. I loved keeping younger kids in the orphanage. Staying home with your little sons, waiting for you to come to me, sounds like a wonderful life. But do you still like your wife, as a person?”
“As somebody else’s wife, she’d be a fascinating companion. She’s witty, knowledgeable, socially adept and plays the cello beautifully to my piano accompaniment. You may even enjoy our duets. I have to say, yes, I like her as a person, just not as a lover. You’ll be my wife in all but name.”
She put an arm around his back and snuggled close to his side. “‘Alternate wife,’ did you say?”
“And you still want me for that?”
“I’ve got to have you, Hilda!”
“Excuse me.” She slipped away to the drawer under the wash stand, took out a slip of paper and handed it to him.
“$187.17,” he read aloud. “What’s this?”
“What I’m worth. To Katy. Of course, she’ll gouge you if she can.”
“I know. That’s no problem.” He grinned. “In fact your moping may have worked to my advantage. How soon can you be ready to leave?”
* * * *
“My wife, Mrs. Martha Osborn, this is Hilda Jordan, our new nanny.”
“At your service, Mrs. Osborn.”
“Oh, I’m wonderfully pleased to meet you, Hilda. And let me say in advance: let’s not be so formal. I’m quite determined that you and I shall be friends. As you know, the men in this house, whom I ask you to believe are all very important to me, need your help so desperately.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Osb—”
“Oh, do call me Martha! Hmm. No, you’re right. When my friends visit, we must be formal. But I hate it at all other times. Do you think we can distinguish?”
“I think we’ll make —”
“Oh, yes! We’ll make a wonderful beginning. I’m determined we shall. James, have you shown Hilda to her quarters yet?”
“No, my dear. You surprise me. Are you nervous?”
“Nervous? Perhaps a little. It’s not every day that a wife welcomes … such attractive help for her husband. That dress is most stylish, Hilda.”
“Thank you. Your husband bought it for me just today. And I didn’t quite finish my answer to your earlier question.”
“Whether we could be formal for guests but informal otherwise.”
“I’m sorry. What was your answer?”
“That we — that is, I — would make mistakes out of habit.”
The wife peered at her new servant, newly coifed, dressed and shod, but not yet in uniform. Hilda, the taller, returned the woman’s gaze unflinchingly. She saw a full figure, gowned in yellow afternoon silk below restrained makeup and bobbed chestnut hair.
The wife smiled slowly, shaking her head. “In a moment I would let this get off on the wrong foot. I’d deplore that. Please forgive me if I’ve been abrupt.”
“Of course, Mrs. Osborn.”
“Oh, call me Martha and hang the mistakes!”
“All right, Martha.”
“Hilda, I know that James is supporting you, too. I don’t mind. We can afford it.”
She continued without pausing, “I admit that when I saw you, I felt a stupid touch of jealousy. It’s because I viewed this tableau through my friends’ eyes. But in fact you are doing me a wonderful favor. Has James explained our little agreement?”
“I believe so.”
“What’s your opinion of it?”
Hilda took a breath. “It’s unusual, though I’ve heard of similar arrangements. What would you like from me, Martha? You will find I’m a person who keeps her word. I intend to devote myself to the happiness of your men.”
Martha smiled. “What a thing to say!” She advanced to Hilda and put arms around her, saying into her coiled hair, “But I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Thank you,” murmured Hilda, returning the hug. “I hope to be of help to you, also.”
“Do you!” Martha backed away slightly to study the other’s face. “How so?”
“I also know how to clean house and keep accounts.”
“Do you indeed!” She turned to the watching man. “This one may be truly an asset.”
“She is to me,” he declared. “I want to introduce the twins to her.”
“Of course. Follow me, Hilda.”
In the nursery the new nanny accepted both babies from the elderly housekeeper, who failed to conceal her delight in the transfer of responsibility. Hilda bounced them, sang to them and let them drool on her new dress without complaint.
She looked at the watching mother. “When I took them they were both dry. Now they’re both wet. Are they always synchronized?”
Martha grinned. “Probably. Truthfully I never noticed. Should I call Ethel back to help you change them?”
“No thanks. This is a familiar chore, Martha.”
As part of the ritual of powders and cloths, Hilda blew flatulently into each small belly-button, producing gales of giggles along with a prominence of nearby penises that the father noticed. She saw the direction of his gaze and winked up at him. He smiled, noting first the happy little faces, then the competent snugness of replaced diapers.
“You have tended small children,” declared Martha.
“Lots of them,” Hilda responded cheerfully. She paused to regard the mother. “I lived in an orphanage until I was 19.”
“Then no wonder!”
When the afternoon feeding was warm enough in the electric boiler, determined by shaking a few drops on a wrist, Hilda demonstrated a technique for transporting both infants at once below her breasts, each with bottle held to suckling mouth, though with further hazard to her new garment.
“Won’t your arms soon tire?” wondered the mother.
“Not soon. Why don’t you show me my quarters? I’ll bring them along for the ride.”
“A short ride,” the man commented. “Your room is just through that door.”
* * * *
Waking to tension and sweetness, he asked “What are you doing?”
She unmouthed him long enough to answer, “What does it feel like?”
“Paradise. I can’t recall a woman ever volunteering to do that before.”
Again she raised her head. She grinned. “You mean for free. Should I keep on or had you rather talk about it?”
“You can’t enjoy it!”
“Yes, I can, just not as you do. It’s meant to tell you something.”
Her head sank again. The nightlight through the open nursery door was not enough to see her clearly, but he could feel her lips well down the shaft.
“Oh, god, Hilda! I don’t want you to stop, but you’d better — and soon!”
Her mouth only tightened. He tried half-heartedly to withdraw his hips, but her arms had enclosed them. Her tongue rasped on sensitive flesh. Holding back was impossible. Her mouth relaxed at the first spurt and the tongue withdrew but the lips did not open. She crouched beside him, unmoving as he gasped and shuddered. Her hair lay lightly on his belly and thighs.
When he quieted, she raised up to a kneeling position. He could make out her grin. He saw no remainder anywhere of his copious emission.
“How was that?” she asked smugly.
“Good god, Hilda!”
She chuckled deep in her throat. “I hope that means it was good.”
“I … don’t know how to tell you. Yes, I do. The word is ‘exquisite.’”
“‘Exquisite.’ I’ve heard a Ming Vase called that.”
“Yes. It means very finely made. Your mouth made a fine … Hilda, every kind of sex with you is the best.”
“My mouth made a fine what?”
She giggled. “Such language!”
“Who’s been teaching me the value of plain speech?”
“I have. Then which end of me do you prefer?”
He smiled. “Ah, what a choice! Seriously, if I had to analyze your two …”
“Cunts?” she prompted, grinning.
“Right. Hilda, damn it, that was the best blow job I ever got, not least because it was a total surprise!”
She turned and sank upon him, laying her soft breasts across his chest. Upper arms spread out on his shoulders, chin in her hands, she regarded him fondly from six inches away. “I’m glad. I meant it to be that good.”
“You even swallowed!”
His hand rose and pulled her face to his. He kissed her slowly and deeply, tasting himself on her tongue.
When he released her she asked, “That means you didn’t mind?”
He responded thoughtfully, “Hilda, that may be the most intimate act a woman can offer a man. In fact I’m a bit overwhelmed.” He took a deep breath. “To tell the whole truth, I’m ashamed.”
“Ashamed! For something I did?”
“No. For something I didn’t do. You’ve been here … what, two weeks?”
“Tomorrow. No. It’s already Sunday, isn’t it?”
“I’m sure it’s after midnight, if that’s what you mean. These two weeks have been paradise for me, Hilda, thanks to you. I’ve rushed home from the fort every night. Martha’s even remarked on it.”
“What did she say?”
“Oh, something catty. What I —”
“That since we have the same cook, the way to a man’s heart must actually be somewhat below his stomach.”
She giggled. He continued doggedly, “And I’ve returned to the fort late nearly every morning. Even though you seem eager as I —”
“Oh, I am!”
“I still can’t get enough of you! I begrudge even the necessary sleep. Every time I awaken I have to touch you. I don’t always do it; you need your rest, too. But —”
“Don’t you dare not touch me!”
He smiled at her vehemence.
She added, “As you just saw, you being asleep doesn’t stop me! But you’re not telling me why you feel ashamed.”
He took a breath. “Because I can’t make you my wife in law as well as fact.”
“Is that all? Jim, I’ve been a wife. Let me tell you what it means. Nothing, is what! I’ve also been your concubine for the last two weeks, and that means more to me than ten years as Arnold Jordan’s legal wife. A lot more! I love you, Jim, and I’m coming to love your sons as if they were mine. They are the sweetest, dearest children I ever saw. I don’t know how long it can be before you get tired of me, but while I’m yours I intend to savor you, and them, every way I can.
“I said the frenching was meant to tell you something. That’s it. I have no pride against you. I’ll do anything to keep your … affection.”
A tear sparkled on her cheek even in the dim light. He pulled her face down to his lips and kissed it away. “Hilda, my darling … Affection is only a small part of what I feel for you.”
He smiled slightly. “I know a way to give a bit back. Shall I wait till you’re asleep or … could you stand to start out wide awake?”
She cocked an eyebrow. “If you mean what I think you do, I’d love it right now!”
“It may not have the same impact as what you did for me. Swallowing is a hard one to top!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she disagreed gently, matching his smile. “It’s a very good way to lead into what we do best.”
“I’m sure of that!”
He slipped out from under her, in the process rolling her onto her back. He knelt between her legs, bent down and raised her thighs upon his shoulders. Then he hesitated. “Hilda, I have to admit I’ve only done this two or three times. Please tell me immediately if you need something different.”
“Oh, you’re off to a good start already!”
“The slightest little thing. If you want fingers, or less pressure, or faster, whatever it is, tell me.”
She quivered at the puffs of his breath. “I will, Jim.”
He said one last thing, voice thick with passion: “Oh, god, I do love your smell!”
She cried out involuntarily at his first taste.