Authors: Denise Townsend
To Julie, Sophie, and Rachael—some of my favorite naughty ladies.
Sweat dripped down Meredith’s back, tracing along her spine.
Like a tongue
, she thought, before pushing such silly notions out of her head.
Yet still she shivered at the sensation, so like the touch of a wet finger.
Of course I’m shivering
, she told herself.
It’s fall, and it’s Maine. It’s cold out.
In reality, it was her favorite time to run. Although she would never admit it to herself, Meredith loved the sensations she experienced during her autumn jaunts along the wooded trails crisscrossing her and her neighbors’ properties. Her limbs chilled by the cold rush of sea air that came in over Seal Harbor, coupled with the blood pumping hot through her veins, made her feel—at least for the hour she was outside—so very alive.
One more mile
, she thought, reveling in the pull of her muscles as she pushed herself. Her calves sang with exertion, her thighs felt tight—she could feel every part of herself working as she pushed both her body and mind to their limits.
She slowed only when she neared the private beach that was part of her immense estate. Beginning her cool down, Meredith walked toward the little pagoda that sat straddling a section of grass and a section of rocky pebbles.
Unfurling one of the yoga mats that lived in the pagoda, Meredith began the first of many Sun Salutations. Lengthening her already long body, she greeted the sun, inhaling a deep breath as she did so.
And to think I was so opposed to yoga in the beginning
, she thought to herself as she gracefully performed her Swan Dive. Letting her slender hands touch the deck, she stayed in Forward Fall for a moment, allowing her memories to drift.
She’d only researched yoga after Teddy had been diagnosed with lupus, and she’d been so desperate to find something, anything, to keep him healthy. They’d hired a private instructor to come in and teach them. Ironically, although Teddy’d never taken to it, Meredith had.
What would I do without my yoga?
she thought to herself, panting out a breath as she pushed her legs back into Plank, and then lowered herself down using her arms, only to arch her spine back up into Cobra.
Yoga had gotten her through Teddy’s long illness, with its various slow debilitations. She just wished he could have shared it with her.
But he was never a physical person
, she thought.
Not that it mattered. He taught me to love the life of the mind, which is worth far more than that of the body.
With that thought, she couldn’t help but remember Teddy’s face. She’d been only twenty-one when she’d met Theodore Casaubon—he, a faculty member in her graduate program; she, an eager young student of art history.
The attraction had been sudden and intense. His craggily handsome face and wild shock of sandy hair had instantly reminded her of Ted Hughes, the poet. She had read his engraved faculty nametag—Dr. Theodore Casaubon—and instantly imagined him ripping out her hair band and mauling her in public, just as Ted Hughes had upon first meeting Sylvia Plath.
As if Teddy would have mauled anyone
, Meredith thought with amusement as she again put her weight into her shoulders to push her hips up into Down Dog. She held back a groan as she felt that delicious ache in her back, thighs, and buttocks. This was exercise, not pleasure.
It was Teddy who taught me something more important than pleasure
, she reminded herself, remembering his intelligence, his kindness, and his propriety.
Torrid sex lives are for people who read
or watch HBO, not for people who take themselves and their worlds seriously
They’d married only a year after meeting. Teddy had been forty-four, but that hadn’t bothered her, as he’d seemed immortal. Then he was diagnosed with lupus only months into their marriage, and he’d died eight years later. That had been five years ago, last month.
Unwittingly experiencing the effects of a disease he didn’t yet know he had, Teddy’s courtship of her had seemed quaint, gentlemanly. While affectionate physically, their dating, their honeymoon, and even their marriage had been almost entirely chaste. They’d had intercourse, of course, in the beginning of their time together. But, truthfully, neither of them had found the experiences particularly enjoyable, and soon enough Teddy’s disease made coitus an impossibility.
Not that it mattered!
she told herself, settling her weight into her heels to deepen her stretch.
Instead of sex, they’d had discussions that had set her soul alight; instead of passion for each other’s bodies, they’d shared a passion for the arts, for literature, and for charity that was immune to the ravages of age and disease.
Teddy’s body may have wasted away
, Meredith thought as she breathed deeply, only to exhale as she extended one foot forward and then raised her upper body into Proud Warrior.
But his mind remained sharp and perfect till the day he died.
Long past the stage where such thoughts made her cry out in grief as they once had, she held and then deepened the pose.
He was my husband
, she thought.
His generosity of spirit and his force of mind made me what I am today.
Her abdomen pulled tight and her shoulders sang with the ache of holding her arms aloft before she finally moved her left leg to meet her right, raising her arms one final time before bringing them to her chest, palms together, in Prayer. Time to begin her Sun Salutation again, the first of many such repetitions.
Dylan sat in the shadows of a copse of pine trees, at the very edge of the woman’s property, watching her dark-haired figure bend itself into a series of ridiculously sexy poses.
Not that she has any idea how sexy they are
, he thought sadly. Wrapping himself tighter in his sealskin and his glamoured invisibility, he stood to move closer to the pagoda.
Dylan had been watching the woman for a few weeks now. At first, he’d come for the lovely expanse of her well-maintained beach, so very similar to those of his Orkney birthplace. Soon enough, however, she had been what drew him close. He’d taken to watching her during her outdoor exercises, then at her house, and finally he’d even followed her into town. Keeping himself invisible, he’d hoped to glean some indication of what made someone so strong so miserable, and why she felt it was important never to admit her pain, even to herself.
“You’re so sad, lass,” he whispered in his rich Scottish brogue, feeling the waves of emptiness and desolation flowing off her like waves. An empath, as were all of his people, Dylan felt her emotional turmoil like a knife.
“And the worst part is, you don’t ken how lost you are,” he murmured. She hid it well, under cover of a perfect posture, a constant involvement in the work and charity that took up so much of her time, and that placid expression she kept pasted on her face. To other humans she probably seemed perfectly content, but he saw the truth in her large brown eyes.
For the pain that beat off her formed in his own breast as an almost physical ache. She was grieving a dead husband, that much he knew. But the man had been buried five years now, and Dylan sensed something more…another loss, even stronger because it was unacknowledged.
“Aye, lass, there’s something more to you and to your grief,” he told her distant form, watching appreciatively as she raised her rear end high in the air with her hands still planted firmly on her mat.
“And you can be sure I won’t give up till I find out what it is,” Dylan vowed, pulling his sealskin a little higher on his shoulders.
“I’m sorry we had to call this emergency meeting,” Ron apologized as Meredith settled her briefcase on the table and sat, crossing her booted ankles primly before settling her long skirt over her knees.
“Don’t be silly,” Meredith told her and Teddy’s lawyer. “You know I’m always available.”
Ron smiled at her with an expression she couldn’t quite read. It seemed affectionate, but it was laced with…was it pity?
“Yes, Meredith. You have done an admirable job running Teddy’s affairs after his death.”
“There’s nothing to admire,” she said, in a voice sharp even to her own ears. “These are the things Teddy cared about…that we cared about. There’s no reason to let them go just because he’s gone.”
“Of course,” Ron said, his lawyer’s voice gone placating and smooth. “Do you think Mrs. Casaubon will be in attendance?”
Meredith kept a rein on her irritation, making sure to keep her face placid. “No,” she replied calmly. “Teddy’s mother is at her doctor’s today. Routine things, she’s fine. But she won’t make it in on time.”
Teddy could have lived to be one hundred, with the two of us married that entire time, and I would still never have been Mrs. Casaubon
, she thought, letting her mind express the annoyance she didn’t allow to show on her face. Meredith knew she shouldn’t let such petty things bother her, not with all that had happened. But for her entire marriage to Teddy, she’d been “Teddy’s wife,” while Teddy’s mother had always been “Mrs. Casaubon”. They’d even been introduced like that at parties by Teddy’s friends: “Dr. Stubert, I’d like you to meet Dr. Theodore Casaubon. And this is Mrs. Casaubon. Oh, and that’s Teddy’s wife.”
I’m not being fair. Mrs. Casau…er, Elizabeth is a good woman
, Meredith thought, purposely using her mother-in-law’s first name, something no one ever actually did out loud.
She loved her son. I’m lucky she wants to help me.
That little part of her brain—the part that was cynical—scoffed at the idea.
She doesn’t help you
, it said.
She just has to be involved. She never let her son go in life, and now she can’t let him go in death. And she hates you as the one person who nearly took him from her, so don’t try to be nice.
As usual when she had these internal debates about Mrs. Casaubon, Meredith couldn’t help but remember what the old woman had said at Teddy’s funeral.
It’s a good thing you two never had any children to be raised without Teddy’s influence.
Meredith kept her face carefully neutral, but as always her body shuddered involuntarily at the memory.
It’s like she’d rather have him dead than “lose him” to me. Not that I would have done that to her, or to him. He loved his mother. I would never have tried to come between them.
And she hadn’t. Not when Teddy was alive, and not now, when he was dead. After all, Meredith could have denied Mrs. Casaubon any access to Teddy’s legacy if she’d wanted. In an act that Meredith knew cut the old woman deeply, Teddy had left his entire estate, including the running of it, to Meredith and not to his mother. Meredith knew it wasn’t a personal dig—it was merely Teddy’s practicality asserting itself—Meredith was young and fit and could do the work for a very long time. Mrs. Casaubon was an elderly woman who might not outlive her son by many years.
As if mere death would touch her,
whispered the wicked part of her brain.
He’ll have to send the four horsemen of the Apocalypse when it’s her time. And they might want backup
. She couldn’t help but smile, if guiltily, at the thought.
Ron cleared his throat.
“Oh my, I’m so sorry. Off daydreaming again.” She blushed.
“It’s fine. You’ve had a lot to worry about with the market crash.”
“I know we’ll be fine personally,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m just so worried about the charities…”
Not that she’d known it when she’d met the rather shabbily dressed philosophy professor, Dr. Casaubon, but Teddy’s family had been enormously wealthy since time immemorial. And Teddy was the sole living heir to all of that wealth. Yes, he’d been a college professor at an elite university, but that had been more of a hobby for Teddy. His real work was here, in this bank boardroom, where he doled out his immense fortune to various charities and institutions run by the Casaubon family. As his heir, she was now solely responsible for overseeing the administration of that legacy, which included everything from art programs for underprivileged children in America to schools for orphans of war in the Balkans and Afghanistan. It was a full-time job, and it had become her full-time job upon Teddy’s death. He’d seen to that.
Promise me you’ll do this,
she remembered him saying on repeated occasions.
Promise me that you’ll run everything yourself. I don’t want boards, or CEOs, or ‘professionals,’ even if they are bloody experts. I want you to run everything, as I ran everything. I’ll still be there, through you…