The buzz of voices in the hotel bar was almost loud enough to drown out Dave’s voice. Of all my colleagues crammed around this table, he was the worst—and so of course he was the one that would never shut up. I absentmindedly joined in with the polite laughter as I picked up my camera and pointed it around the group. Bev and Cherise instantly sat up a little straighter and flashed cleavage and toothy smiles. I tuned out Dave’s crude remark as I zoomed in on some ambience shots—dramatic close-ups of fizzing drinks, the flickering candles on the dark wood of the table—and then turned the lens to some wider shots of the room. The hotel was historically old, and the bar was sumptuously atmospheric. Captured through my camera, patrons were suspended in positions of varying intimacy, touching discreetly and laughing performatively. And there, half in shadow, I saw her sitting by herself at the dark oak bar, quietly running her finger along the rim of her glass. I lowered my camera without taking a shot.
I dimly registered a toast going on at my table, laughed vibrantly as we all clinked our glasses, then glanced back at her. Hair swept up in combs, a high-collar dress that accentuated all her curves. Every so often a gentleman clone would approach—do they buy these suits in bulk?—and she would speak to him for a moment, before he turned heel: some looking dejected, some annoyed, others feigning indifference. She slid her empty glass across the bar to ask for another, and I drank in the sight of her finely boned wrist.
“Well,” Bev’s voice registered to my left, “I don’t know about you lot, but if I want to be half-human at the meeting tomorrow, I’ve got to call it now.”
There was a genial mix of mutters and agreements, and I joined in the chorus—I didn’t want anyone thinking they could stay and drink longer with me. I fussed around with my camera bag, intentionally taking longer than everyone else, laughing and waving them off. With my colleagues out of sight, I stood, smoothing my artfully strappy dress as I did, and walked purposefully up to where the woman sat, noting her drink as I approached.
She glanced up as I reached the bar, but I didn’t look her way, not yet. I flagged the bartender down, leaning over the counter to just the right degree to show off my figure. “Manhattan, please,” I called, pitching my voice to its huskiest.
Then I glanced down and laughed a little, as if just noticing her. “Great minds,” I added. “Can I get you another?”
Her eyes were calculating, and the corners of her plum-coloured mouth quirked up. “How kind.”
I held up two fingers to the bartender—make it two—and then shifted my body so I was facing her. “Waiting for someone?”
“Not anymore.” She sounded pleased, and sighed luxuriously.
“That sounds promising,” I laughed, taking the drinks from the bartender and placing one in front of her.
“Better,” she confirmed, swapping her empty glass for the full with a nod of thanks. She took a healthy sip and then flashed a grin at me over the rim. “My divorce has finally gone through. I never have to see him again.”
I cocked my head and gave her a mischievous smile. “Well. That is cause for celebration.” I took a sip from my own glass before motioning to the empty chair I was standing next to. “Want some company while you celebrate? Drinks on me.”
“How can I turn that down?” She laughed, and I settled myself into the chair.
Up close she was even more striking—the way she held herself, the fine bones of her face, her impossibly dark eyes. I felt myself leaning closer, only half-intentionally, and found her leaning in to match me. A wave of vanilla, and something darker, more intimate, washed over me.
“So,” I asked. “What are you planning to do with your newfound freedom?” I ran my fingers along the stem of my glass.
“Big question.” She toyed with her lower lip, making it impossible to look away. “I suppose”—and her voice dropped conspiratorially, her brow arched—“anything I want.”
“Sounds fun,” I answered, not hiding the way my eyes kept dropping to her mouth. “Mind if I join?”
“Not at all,” she smiled, draining her glass. She made to motion for another, and I laid my hand on her arm.
“You know,” I said. “I believe I have some rather good champagne at my apartment. This bar is a little heavy on the suits and cologne, wouldn’t you agree?”
She gave me another knowing look, and my stomach tightened in excitement. “You’re quite right. That sounds lovely.”
I stood first, making space for her to weave her way out of the tight cluster of seats. I watched her body unfold as she stood, gracefully (despite her drinking), and gestured toward the exit. “Follow me.”
We made our way out of the warm glow of the bar, and up to the gleaming marble of the lobby. The silver door of the elevator exhaled as it opened, letting out a single, forgettable man who eyed us both up and down before walking past.
I motioned her toward the main doors. “I’m Anna, by the way.”
“Elise,” she answered, and she opened the door for me. The breeze of a summer-scented evening met us as we stepped through.
Once outside, the streetlamps made intermittent golden halos on her dark hair. She motioned to my camera bag. “Are you a photographer, Anna?”
We took the first left. “I am,” I answered. “For Epicurean Magazine.” I lived just halfway down the block, and within moments we were unlocking the door.
“Very nice,” Elise said, approvingly—whether about my profession or my flat, I didn’t know. I made my way around the room, turning on lamps instead of the big overhead. The bulbs repeated themselves in the antique mirrors I had hung about the room.
I made a noise of assent, and picked up two glasses and a bottle from the small adjacent kitchen. “Champagne?”
“Please.” She was moving around the room with a perfectly balanced sway, trailing her fingers absentmindedly along mantle and lamp, curtain and couch. I touched her arm, and she turned to accept the glass. We were only inches apart, and she stayed close as she took a sip, eyes locked. I thought of turning her around, slowly parting the long zipper of her dress, touching the bare skin of her back. I felt we were frozen like a photograph, in this pause of suspense.
Before I could move, she placed her glass on a side table, then took my own and did the same. Her hands found my waist, and she stepped toward me, all her curves and angles brushing up against me.
“Still want to help me celebrate?” She never dropped her gaze.
I nodded, leaning in, but before I could kiss her I found myself facing the plush couch, Elise at my back. She ran her hands up my sides, savouring my form, and my body pulsed at her touch. Then her mouth was on my neck, breathing softly in my ear, her hot tongue on my lobe. As she slipped my strap off one shoulder her mouth followed, a slow lick followed by a soft exhalation which made me shiver. Her mouth moved to the back of my neck, twining my hair around her wrist as she did so, and then off came the other strap.
I reached behind me, eager to touch her, but she raised my arms above my head, and I stood still, my whole body pounding with anticipation.
“What kind of photos do you take, Anna?” She slid my dress down over my breasts, then my belly, then my hips.
I found myself standing in a puddle of silk, wearing only thigh high stockings and silky black knickers. “Whatever strikes my fancy, I suppose.” My exposed nipples hardened as a shiver ran through me, impatient to feel her hands on me again.
“So it would seem,” she said, and I could hear a playful note in her voice. I turned, and saw she had picked up a book from the nearby side table: The Art of Erotic Photography. I snatched it from her, feigning shyness, and held the book in front of my breasts.