Authors: Delphine Dryden
“You do too.”
“Are you sore?” He cupped her mound with his hand, a sweetly possessive gesture. Lindy bit her lip, struck with a sudden despair as she reminded herself not to take his affection too seriously.
“Not really.” It was only a little lie. She
sore, and she might regret it later, but it was only this one more night and she wanted him too badly to resist. She was already desperate to feel him moving inside her.
“Don’t move.” He got up quickly, leaving Lindy’s back cold, but returned in less than a minute. The telltale crinkle of the condom wrapper in the dark explained his errand and Lindy wished she’d planned ahead better and gone on the Pill before propositioning him. Then he was there again, warm against her back, sliding one leg between hers.
A dollop of cold fluid hit Lindy’s pelvis and she gasped. Richard chuckled, scooping the thick stuff up and reapplying it lower, slicking it inside her with two fingers. “Don’t panic, it’s just lube. I know you’re sore, and another round is probably a bad idea right now. If I were a nicer guy I wouldn’t do it at all, but I’m not that nice. The lube will help, though.”
It helped, although Lindy still hissed when Richard entered her. The sting only lasted a few seconds but a deeper ache persisted, a pain almost like a bruise. Lindy was surprised to find herself responding despite that. The new angle brought Richard’s cock up sharply against the front wall of her vagina, and his fingers never rested from teasing at her clit. She nearly cried as he started moving more purposefully inside her and she felt an orgasm begin to build. His touch was like a drug, sweetly luring her to her doom with pleasures she could never achieve on her own. Had she become an addict just then, she wondered, or had her downfall come the first time, and she was only just seeing it for what it was?
“So tight,” Richard murmured into her neck just as she started to reach the point of no return. “Feels so good. Come for me, Lind. I need to feel you come.”
She couldn’t have done anything else. She had already started coming, shuddering into a sweet cry of relief when her orgasm finally peaked. She squeezed Richard’s cock tighter inside her and moaned when she felt him pushing through that impossible pressure to reach his own climax with a hoarse shout.
He was already asleep when he slipped out of her a few minutes later, and she wondered if she should wake him so he could take the condom off. Instead, she stayed in his arms until the sun began to rise. And after she had watched the lights and colors of the morning long enough, she rolled carefully out from under Richard’s heavy embrace, gathered her clothes and walked back across the hall to her own home to get ready for her big meeting. She had never noticed before what a very long walk it was.
Coming from an apartment with no air conditioning, Lindy found herself growing chillier by the minute in the sleek and crisply cooled office of Paul Maddox. Everything in the space was smooth and polished, from the glass desk to the glossy black leather and chrome on the Barcelona couch where they sat discussing her designs.
“We would probably need to simplify some things for production,” Stephen Markham explained, “but you would have final approval of changes. Getting a source for the knitted stuff might be a challenge, especially now that we’ve stopped using those overseas suppliers. Sweatshops are evil, of course, I give you that. It was the right thing to do. But some of them did fabulous work.”
Red House’s creative director was examining a handbag as he spoke, turning it inside out to look at the seams. Lindy was glad she’d lined the purse so the back of the embroidery didn’t show. She had a feeling Stephen’s sharp eyes would catch any mistakes.
“Stephen,” Paul Maddox reminded him with a wry smile, “you promised not to reminisce about the sweatshops anymore, remember? I explained all that.”
“I remember you asking me to stop,” Stephen said with a shrug and a defiant toss of his bald head. “I don’t remember making any promises.” He pouted at Paul, who just shook his head. Lindy could tell they were teasing, but she still felt compelled to try to broker a peace.
“Well, I have a lot of pieces right now with no knitted sections at all. Scarves, in particular. I’ve been working with brocade quite a bit lately. Lots of monochrome, for some reason.”
She pulled a gray-on-gray scarf from the bag of samples she’d brought, and spread the fine fabric across the glass coffee table in front of them. As she’d suspected, the strong lighting in the office and the neutral background of almost-white carpet under the glass made the colors in the scarf pop. Not just gray, it was a thousand subtle shades of gray, a mosaic of hues and varying luminosity like a rainbow spun from spider silk.
“Oh! Exquisite!” Stephen immediately cooed and grabbed the pretty stuff for a closer look, prompting another smile from Paul.
“Well, that’ll distract him for a while,” he said, as if discussing a toddler who’d found a new toy. “I think we can add that one to the list. It’s looking like four handbags and about half a dozen scarves for this round, and I think we can pretty much work from these samples as prototypes. Well done, Melinda.”
“Lindy,” she corrected him. “My friends call me Lindy.”
“Lindy,” he repeated. “I like it. I may forget and call you Melinda from time to time, though. I sort of think of you as Melinda already, and I like that name too.”
Lindy was surprised enough to learn Paul thought of her as
that she didn’t catch Stephen’s question about one of the handbags until he repeated it. She had thought he was still absorbed in the gray scarf.
“The bottom of this? We could use a stiffer leather to give it a little more structure. I think it would hold the sides out more evenly, show off the design better.”
“Oh. Yeah, I agree. I usually don’t work with very hard leathers,” Lindy explained, “because I just don’t have the equipment for it. But I agree, that would be a good idea.”
“Mel—sorry, I mean Lindy,” Paul corrected himself with a grin, “I wondered about the silk in this scarf. It’s vintage, isn’t it? So we’d need to look into a more readily available alternative to that.”
She couldn’t help but be impressed that Paul knew the silk was old, and from the look on Stephen Markham’s face he was likewise impressed. “Yes, it’s vintage. From the thirties. I bought a trunk full of old fabric remnants and a few full bolts of upholstery silk at an estate sale a few years ago, dirt cheap, and I still use those a lot in my work now. But honestly, that was just a lucky find and I use it to save on costs, not because of any artistic vision.
is fine with me.”
“Okay, good to know. Stephen, maybe you should be writing this down?”
“Oh are we doing this right now, then? Talking about changes?” He was clearly pleased with the idea.
“I think so,” Paul confirmed. “Unless you had any objections, Lindy? We don’t have a contract drawn up yet, I don’t want to pressure you about it. But since we’re all here, maybe we can go ahead and discuss some possible ways to make things work for manufacturing purposes? It’ll be good for you to keep in mind from now on, anyway.”
“Absolutely,” she said, tamping down her pang of anxiety about moving so quickly. She didn’t want to lose the opportunity that was right in front of her just because she was too scared to reach out and grab it. “We’ll just keep it hypothetical.”
Within minutes, she and Stephen were bent over samples, with Stephen scrawling notes on a legal pad while Lindy looked over each of her pieces with a fresh eye. She learned a great deal in a short time about what types of changes might be needed—hypothetically, of course—to make her quirky, eclectic pieces more amenable to large-scale production. And she was surprised to find that, for all his deliberate flamboyance and vocally gushy love of fashion, Stephen was also almost encyclopedic in his knowledge of producers and suppliers, the intricate vagaries of sewing machines at various factories, the current market rates for leather and countless other details. It made Lindy’s head spin to see how quickly he could jump from squealing over a new shiny object—“Adorable!”—to rattling off a list of specific materials and suppliers that might be involved in its manufacture, sometimes right down to fabric catalog numbers.
The time went by quickly, and when Paul asked what type of sandwich she’d like, Lindy was startled to realize she was famished. And small wonder, since it was just after noon.
“Ham and Swiss? On rye bread if that’s an option. Oh, we’ve been monopolizing your office all morning! I’m so sorry, I didn’t even think—”
“Nonsense. I wouldn’t have dreamed of interrupting your flow, anyway,” Paul insisted, then spoke into the phone receiver he’d been holding. “Maggie? Add a ham and Swiss on rye to that.” He nodded, listening, then covered the receiver to speak to Lindy and Stephen again. “And besides, if you’d gone back to Stephen’s office or the workroom, it would have been nothing but interruptions and he’d have been far too distracted to be any use at all.”
“How well you know me,” Stephen quipped. “Better than your father ever did when he was in this office, I’m quite sure.”
“He taught me everything I know about you,” Paul assured him. “By the way, he emailed me earlier and said to relay his condolences, and that he’ll send a car for you at eight sharp tomorrow morning for golf.”
“Darling man, of course he did,” Stephen murmured, and looked a little bleary. Lindy suddenly felt as though she’d intruded on a private scene.
“Sandwich?” Paul asked Stephen, but the older man shook his head and patted his fingers over his chest thoughtfully, toying with his artfully knotted cravat.
“I don’t think so. Things to do. But enjoy your lunch with this talented, ravishing creature.” Turning to Lindy, Stephen took her hand in his and lifted her fingers to his lips briefly. “A rare pleasure, Miss Lindy Moore. I certainly hope it will not continue to be so rare.”
Then he was off with a perky wave and a spring in his step, and if Lindy hadn’t already seen the tear in his eye, she would never have believed he was having anything but the best day of his life.
“His father,” Paul said quietly after Stephen was out of earshot. He had apparently finished relaying the lunch order to Maggie as he was no longer on the phone. “Ninety years old, was dying of liver cancer. Stephen went to try to see him one last time and the old bastard wouldn’t even let him into the house. Died two days later. Stephen’s mother let him come to the funeral since he was already in town, but she wouldn’t talk to him.”
“That’s awful!” Lindy said, horrified. “Because he’s gay? I mean…I assume he’s gay?”
Paul laughed, somewhat bitterly. “Yeah, he’s gay. And yes, that’s why. You know, he may take it too far sometimes, joking about sweatshops, but he actually pushed harder for that change than anyone. Stephen’s one of the best people I know, and I’ve known him all my life. It still baffles me now, just like it did when I was a kid, that his parents didn’t see what a fine human being he is. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that.”
“I wouldn’t either,” Lindy agreed. “But he’s what, in his early sixties? Times were different when he was growing up, I guess.”
“Don’t ever let him hear you guess that close to his actual age, please. And yeah, times were different. But at least he never tried to hide who he was. Not that a gay man is so unusual in the fashion industry, of course. But still, a gay man who’ll give you the custom-tailored shirt off his back? Those people didn’t deserve a son like him.”
“How have you known him so long?” She started folding scarves, stacking them neatly, and Paul shifted from his desk chair to the couch to help. From his quick, automatic motions, she wondered if he’d done a stint in the retail side of his family business when he was younger. For somebody who almost certainly grew up with servants in the household, he looked like he’d had a lot of practice folding clothes.
“He’s one of my parents’ closest friends. He’s worked for this company since his early twenties, and my grandfather made my dad start at the bottom, so Stephen and my dad became friends and then pretty much came up through the ranks together. He introduced my dad to my mom at a New Year’s party. My middle name is Stephen after him, actually.”
After a moment, Lindy asked, “Should I know any of this about him? About his family?”
“No,” Paul confessed. “But I just felt like I had to tell somebody. I’m a little worried about him. He’s not holding up as well as he pretends to be, I think.” Patting the completed pile of scarves down neatly, Paul sighed and tried on a smile.
Concern for a friend was an oddly attractive quality in a man, and Paul was an attractive man to begin with. His handsome, blond, boy-next-door looks had a wholesome charm, a nice balance to his slightly stern corporate demeanor. Lindy was not immune to his appeal.
“Your secret’s safe with me,” she told him, and felt rewarded when his smile broadened.
“Thanks. And thanks for letting me unload on you.”
“That was unloading? Please,” she scoffed. “I have a sister and a cousin who’s basically
a sister, plus a brother who’s still a teenager. And I hang out with artists. They all unload more than that before they say hello on an average day.”
Paul chuckled. “Doesn’t that get exhausting?”
“Sometimes,” Lindy said, and as she said it she realized how true it was. And how refreshing it was to be around somebody who didn’t seem inclined toward that sort of drama. “I’m used to it, I guess. But I do sometimes feel like I’m becoming the official repository of secrets for the greater Indianapolis area.”
“Wow. I would not want that job.”
“It isn’t exactly something I applied for. I wouldn’t want
“Fair enough. I didn’t exactly apply for that, either, of course.”
The arrival of a tray of sandwiches interrupted them, but by the time the condiments were spread and the refreshments poured, the conversation was once again well underway.
* * * * *
The forecast called for cooler weekend weather, but by that evening it was still far too hot. Lindy could feel sweat forming a sticky film under the heavy weight of her hair. It dripped down and
in the space between her breasts, held there by her bra, with an occasional droplet sliding down her stomach to punctuate her discomfort. The fabric she worked with, silk and wool and cotton, was all warm and slightly damp to the touch. Humidity had crept in from outside to permeate the art gallery along with the heat. The floor fan did little to stir the thick air.