The Art of Love: Origins of Sinner's Grove (32 page)

BOOK: The Art of Love: Origins of Sinner's Grove
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He waited until she was on her way before heaving himself up onto the deck by his arms and grabbing a nearby towel. When Lia was halfway to the dressing room she turned around and stopped to watch him dry off. He vigorously brushed the towel down his arms and torso, looked down at himself and then at her. She was grinning.

“See what you do to me?” he grumbled good naturedly.

“I cannot believe that was inside of me,” she said, shaking her head.

Gus reached for his pants. “Keep talking like that and I’ll have no place else to put it. Now go on so I can calm down and get dressed.”

A few minutes later Lia reemerged dressed once again in the lovely blue gown. Gus, back in his monkey suit, took her by the hand. Before shutting off the lights they took one more look at the vast swimming area. “I don’t think I’ll ever think of Sutro’s quite the same way again,” he remarked.

Lia shot him a smoldering glance. “Nor I.” She paused, her expression brightening as she teased him. “After all, it’s where I learned to swim!”

On the way back to the center of the city, all of Lia’s exercise caught up with her and she fell asleep in Gus’s arms. That was all right with him. Instead of dropping her off at her bungalow he instructed the driver to head directly to his place on the hill. She needed her sleep now, because in a little while he’d wake her up and make love to her all over again. The little voice in the back of his head kept chirping, “Tell her. Tell her everything.” But he ignored the words.
In for a penny, in for a pound
, he rationalized. He focused on all the ways he would have her, all the ways he would make her want him. He knew she would welcome him no matter what because she trusted him.

Trusted him
. He did his best to ignore those words too, and drew her more tightly against his chest.


he wondrous night at the Sutro Baths turned out to be the first of many such adventures for Lia. She’d awakened that night in the carriage to find herself not back home, but at Gus’s mansion. He’d asked her politely if she wanted to stay, and realizing from the look in his eyes what he wanted to do with her, it had taken her less than a moment to agree. Their night of passion turned into another day and night, and over that time he’d proceeded to show her what all the gossip rags had only hinted at. They’d stayed indoors for much of it; she was an eager pupil and he an experienced teacher. He quickly made himself familiar with the ways of her body—how to make her churn with passion and strain with ecstasy. But as he taught her how to please him with her hands and mouth, he also gave her a newfound sense of power.

She’d brought her ever-present sketchbook upstairs from the dining room, and when Gus took cat naps she often drew him. He truly could have posed for a life drawing class. His shoulders were broad and the muscles on his back and arms and chest were well defined, tapering down his torso to slimmer hips but still powerful thighs and legs. Michaelangelo’s
came to mind, and Lia smiled. Gus’s body had long outgrown the famous depiction of the shepherd boy about to slay the giant, although Lia had no doubt Gus could have done the same deed. Then there was the matter of David’s…um…“equipment.” There was simply no comparison.

No, Gus was more like Rodin’s
The Thinker
: big and tough, a bit world-weary, perhaps, but still willing and able to ponder life in all its complexity. Lia had shivered as she gazed at her lover, admitting with chagrin that she had brazenly ignored her own advice when it came to guarding her heart. What was going to happen now that she was well and truly in love?

Now, back at her bungalow at last, she tried to focus on the work that had drawn her home: putting the finishing touches on her portrait of Mrs. Mason, designing the still life for Letitia MacIntyre (she favored potatoes and pomegranates, for some reason), and revising sketches for the landscape James Caldwell wanted her to paint. Gus’s mural was almost complete, yet she found herself putting it at the bottom of her to-do list. Once it was finished she’d have no socially acceptable excuse to visit him at his home.

It was difficult to concentrate. Lia found herself spending time musing deliciously about all the “sins of the flesh” she’d learned from Gus over the past two nights. Memories of George popped up as well. He’d also been well endowed and more than capable of making love. With her, however, he’d always been somewhat perfunctory, as if having marital relations was a job he was duty bound to fulfill, but which he wasn’t particularly passionate about. She imagined that with Em it was a totally different story, and she was happier than ever that she had brought them together at last. If she hadn’t, she never would have met Gus and learned what “making love” was truly all about. Because it wasn’t just two bodies rubbing together, as nice as that was. It was about two people really connecting, at all levels and in all ways. It really was about creating love with each other.

Despite those and other wayward thoughts, Lia was able, through sheer force of will, to accomplish most of her morning tasks. While taking a light lunch in her studio, she heard a knock on the door. A deliveryman handed her an enormous bouquet of hothouse blooms, took her signature, and left. As if he hadn’t just left her that morning, Gus had sent her the flowers with a card that read,
Having a tough time concentrating today. Wonder why? Looking forward to focusing on you tonight. See you at seven. Gus

Only one thing about his thoughtful gift gave her pause: Gus hadn’t used the word “love.” Granted, she hadn’t said the word to him yet either; she hadn’t even expressed any expectations for their relationship. Still, it would have been easy to include the sentiment on the card, wouldn’t it? Maybe it just wasn’t his way. Maybe
should make the first move.

Prompt as usual, Gus picked her up at seven p.m. to take her to dinner. She wore the crimson gown she’d worn at the Firestones’ gala and by the look on Gus’s face, he remembered it with pleasure.

“I didn’t think you could look more beautiful than the night of your birthday,” he said. “But I was obviously wrong. Look at you.” He drew her into his arms. “I missed you, Amelia Ruth.” He took her lips in a deep, satisfying kiss.

“Thank you for the flowers,” Lia said breathlessly when they finally broke apart. “You don’t have to be so extravagant with me, you know.”

“I do know. Which is why it tickles my fancy to do it.” He turned and lifted her coat off its customary hook by the door and helped her on with it. “Come now, madam. We have a reservation at the Palace and I could eat a horse.”

The “Palace” was the great Palace Hotel on Market Street and Montgomery. It took up a full city block and reputedly had nearly a thousand guest rooms, each with private baths and buttons that enabled guests to ring for butlers. On a few occasions, Lia and Sandy had eaten lunch in one of the hotel’s cafes. Sandy particularly liked people watching.

“These people either have a lot of money or have no money but want others to think they do,” he’d declared on one of their Palace excursions.

“Which group do we fit into?” Lia had teased her friend. Sandy was for the most part right. The hotel catered to the wealthiest members of society, and yet it was so enormous that just about anyone could mingle in the crowd and not stick out. A discreet sign in the lobby said “You are standing in the largest hotel in the western United States.”

It was obvious Gus knew his way around the Palace. After dropping the car off with an attendant he steered her toward the Palm Court, an enormous, opulent lounge surrounded by several stories of white-columned balconies. Lia felt dizzy just looking up.

Gus bought them each a glass of champagne and while they chatted, several men, many with wives or at least “companions,” came up to them, seeking Gus’s attention. Gus, to his credit, always introduced Lia as his “very good friend,” the “up-and-coming painter” who had created the much-talked-about Firestone family portrait. Lia smiled inwardly at the deft way in which he touted her talent while subtly staking his claim to her.

Gus had reserved a table in the Tapestry Room, a luxurious, mahogany-paneled private dining room. A waiter even snootier than Louis handed them menus.

“After dinner I’ll take you up top,” Gus said. “The Palace has one of the best views of the city.”

Lia wasn’t sure about walking all those stairs in her current dress, but she held her tongue. “So, do you recommend anything from the menu?” she asked instead, a slight smile and hint of challenge in her voice.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Gus countered, his lips twitching. “But I’d order two of everything if I were you.”

“What? No bets as to whether or not I’ll finish my meal?”

Gus chuckled. “They do things a little differently here. They see how little they can put on your plate before you start howling about the high prices.”

Lia laughed and so began another wonderful evening with a wonderful man. They joked about the “three-bite steak” Gus ordered and the roast chicken for Lia that resembled more of a squab. But the flavors were heavenly and they didn’t mind the small portions because they’d already shared a number of scrumptious appetizers and each had a salad. To finish the meal they ordered two decadent desserts and as they tasted each other’s selections, Lia could tell by the looks Gus gave her that his appetites were beginning to shift in another direction. She shivered, feeling the familiar warmth begin to flow through her. Only Gus could do that to her; she reveled in the feeling.

After coffee, Gus said, “Come on, I promised you that view.”

Instead of taking the stairs, he steered them toward the “rising rooms,” the hydraulic lifts that would take them up to the penthouse level of the hotel. Halfway across the lobby Lia heard Gus mutter, “Shit.”

She put her hand on his arm. “What is it?”

Before he could answer, she heard a woman call out to him. “Gus, darling! Why, it


ia turned to see Angel Lindemann, the nationally-renowned opera singer. The photographs in the society pages of the local newspapers hadn’t done her justice: she was even taller and more exquisite-looking in person. Lia felt like a plain brown rug by comparison.
Do not do that!
she scolded herself mentally. You
are with Gus tonight, not her

Walking next to Angel was a well-dressed, middle-aged man, obviously successful and clearly smitten with the singer.

Gus let out a breath and gently put Lia’s arm through his own. “Hello, Angel, Walter. How are you two this evening?”

“Doing very well, Wolff…as you can see.” The man had a smirk on his face, as if to rub it in that he, and not Gus, was escorting the amazing Miss Lindemann that evening.

“Lia, may I present Miss Angel Lindemann, whom I’m sure you’ve heard of thanks to her…singing talent. And Mr. Walter Hawthorne, the managing editor of the
San Francisco
. Angel and Walter, this is Amelia Starling, an extremely gifted artist who I’ve been…working with on some projects.”

Angel sent Gus a sultry look. “I’ll just bet you have, darling.” She glanced dismissively at Lia. “Miss Starling, is it? So glad to make your acquaintance.”

BOOK: The Art of Love: Origins of Sinner's Grove
10.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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