By Nanette Littlestone
(Vist Nanette at her website, Words of Passion )
Beginnings of a glorious climax blurred the edges of her awareness. Long red fingernails scored her lover’s back in promised triumph.
The young male, poised and tensed, provided satisfaction once again, as he had for the past two weeks.
Ripples echoed inside her quivering flesh and she relaxed in pure pleasure, replete.
“Ah, cheri,” she sighed with a soft caress to his damp shoulders. She hugged him close, then closed her eyes, very pleased.
This one, her most recent inamorato, was different. An American, no more than thirty, she guessed. She knew her friends laughed at her choice. Mature men were preferred, they stated with self-assured righteousness, as if no woman could afford anything less. An older woman needed a man with experience, someone who understood female emotions, someone with sensitivity and a knowing touch. But Manon Chartier had tired of experienced men with their understanding winks and lecherous grins and the middle-aged love handles and hairy shoulders. Lately, she wanted unrestrained passion and youthful exuberance. And good looks. That was when she met Brett Peterson.
Brett rolled his shoulders and stretched his legs.
“Do not move,” she whispered in his ear, then delicately licked his earlobe.
He raised his head and gazed into her eyes. “But I have a gift for you.”
A seasoned coquette, she adopted an innocent smile. “A gift?” She played the game with exquisite artistry, as if each encounter were the first, each look, each smile arising from virginal emotions. Yet she demanded the game and set forth the rules.
While he retrieved the present she reclined in diffident luxury against mint green silk pillows and idly wound an auburn curl around her fingers.
He returned, holding out a small gold rectangle tied with gold string.
“What can this be?” she asked with a little laugh, letting her gaze roam over his tall, lithe body. He really is beautiful, she thought, already anticipating their next rendezvous.
Sitting next to her, he placed a kiss on her smooth, white shoulder. “Open it.”
Manon licked her lips, imagining the velvety rich concoction even before she removed the wrapping. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, crème-filled or nuts, she loved it all, as long as it was the best. French, of course. Her cultured tongue could differentiate between natural and artificial flavorings, tiny variations in the percentage of cocoa butter. Over the years she had tasted Dutch, Swiss, German, and Belgian confections. But she preferred the chocolate of her homeland and made sure to tell each of her lovers.
“Brett, you are so sweet to think of me.” Her fingers tugged off the string, then lifted the lid. Stenciled in white block letters on forest green cellophane were the words Pieces of Eight, made in USA.
How coarse, she thought. No poetry, no style. A lacquered fingernail lifted the cellophane to peer at eight thick foil-wrapped coins in pockets of plain white tissue.
“ This is not French,” she announced, her voice cracking with indignation.
Brett smiled. “I know. But they’re wonderful. You’ll love them.”
She shook her head, her cheeks stained with displeasure. “No.” She thrust the box into his hands.
“ Manon, try one.” He held out one of the gold coins, waving it under her nose like a reward for an obedient pet.
Auburn curls fell forward as she harrumphed, crossed her arms over her beautiful breasts, and turned her head away. “I let you take me out to dinner, I invite you to my apartment, I make love to you, and this is what you bring me?” She pointed to the door without looking at him. “Go.”
“ Manon,” he took her hand and kissed her fingers, “you’re being unreasonable.” He placed a lingering kiss on her palm.
She felt her body begin to melt under the heat from his mouth and ventured a quick peek at him. His deep blue eyes held her gaze for a moment, eyes that reminded her of Monet’s water lilies. She almost softened.
“ No. You have insulted me. I do not eat American chocolate.” Feeling petty and inexpressibly wounded, she stuck out her tongue.
Before she could resist, Brett captured her tongue between his lips, drawing it into his mouth, coaxing her mouth to open, to seduce and be seduced.
You are too clever, my young American, she thought, caressing his jaw with her hands as she willingly gave into the kiss.
When he lifted his head, she announced, “I will try one.”
Grinning, Brett unwrapped a piece of dark chocolate and held it to her lips. “You won’t be sorry.”
Such arrogance. Displeasure creased her forehead and exited her nostrils in an audible sigh. Yet it was too late to retreat. She took a bite. Luscious dark chocolate coated her tongue, followed by a subtle medley of raspberry, coffee and cognac. Her eyes closed in utter delight. Her head fell back against the pillows. Her body relaxed, drugged by euphoria.
“ More,” she whispered, her mouth open to receive the godly nectar.
The remainder of the chocolate coin slipped between her lips. This time she allowed it to melt in her mouth against the slow rocking movement of her tongue. Bliss. Heavenly bliss. She could lie here forever with that taste in her mouth. Nothing else mattered but the divine sensations from this chocolate.
Brett kissed her gently on the lips. “I have to go. Nine o’clock meeting. I’ll see you tonight?”
Her eyelids fluttered open. “Mmm,” she replied, barely able to think.
“ I’ll pick you up at eight.” He kissed her again, then grabbed his clothes from the chaise longue and headed for the bathroom.
Manon pulled the box of chocolates to her and unwrapped a second coin. She sniffed, trying to detect its essence, but the rich chocolate scent masked the interior flavors. With her first bite, an explosion of tangy orange and vanilla crème filled her mouth, followed by an afterthought of triple sec. Even though she sampled it slowly, it soon disappeared and she quickly popped in the second half of the coin.
Stretching in sated luxury, she wriggled her toes beneath the covers and contemplated the day. A simple breakfast at 9:30 while she reviewed the morning paper’s financial section to monitor her investments and scout for prospective gentlemen (one didn’t leave such things to chance), her weekly hair appointment with Georges, lunch with her best friend, Danielle, at Le Petit Chat near the impressionist museum, a manicure and body wax at 3:00, and some shopping before dinner. She had to have a new dress for this evening. No self-respecting woman wore the same clothes twice, at least not with the same man. She thought about something besides black. Brett liked bright colors. Although she looked superb in black – it brought out the luster in her hair and made her skin positively creamy. Perhaps something off-the-shoulder. He adored her shoulders, one of her best features. Mature women should always flaunt their advantages, her mother used to say, and Manon took her mother’s wisdom to heart.
Pulling back the covers, she stood up and walked to the window. The view of the Eiffel Tower never failed to lighten her heart. The apartment, however, came with a hefty price tag, as did the 650-count cotton sheets, Turkish bath towels, and the array of cosmetics and skin care from Orlane. But it was worth it. Her male companions, who wined and dined her and supplied her with fabulous jewels, never failed to comment on her appearance, saying she looked as good as any thirty-year-old, sometimes better. The chocolate… Well, sex was healthy, beneficial, a requisite. But chocolate lifted her spirits. A woman always needed a lift.
The front door closed with a click. He’s gone, she thought, recalling the last moments of their recent interlude.
“ How wonderful it is to be a woman,” she said, stretching her arms wide. She licked her lips, tasting chocolate, and turned to gaze at the gold box on the bedspread. “Just one more,” she acquiesced, reaching for a third gold coin. Self-indulgence led to coarse, wanton behavior, so her mother said, an attitude Manon could ill afford. But the chocolates were so good. So lush. Like stepping into paradise. Surely one more wouldn’t be that wicked. She peeled back the gold wrapper and popped the whole piece in her mouth. Cherries and ginger bathed in kirsch. “Ahhh.” Well, she acknowledged, maybe a little wicked.
Champagne flowed at dinner. Flushed and happy, Manon followed Brett onto the dance floor. Ensconced in his arms, she pressed her cheek against his neck and inhaled the subtle smell of cologne. “I forgive you, cheri.”
His low, hearty chuckle embraced her with masculine strength. “And what am I forgiven for?”
“ The American chocolates.” She slipped a hand around his neck and fingered the short hairs above his collar.
He pulled back and stared into her eyes. “So you liked them after all?”
She pursed her lips as if in thought, then hid her desire behind an innocent smile. “Yes, cheri.”
He laughed again and pulled her close, circling the floor with effortless grace. “Well, there’s more where that came from.”
Still masking her desire, she said, “I am so glad to hear that. You will buy me more, yes?”
“ Of course, darling. I’ll order some first thing tomorrow morning.”
“ And I will have them tomorrow night.” She caressed his cheek with a slender finger. “You take such good care of me.”
“ Tomorrow night? No. It’ll take at least a week.”
Manon stopped so suddenly they crashed into a nearby couple and knocked them off-balance.
“ Pardon me,” Brett apologized to a gray-haired man in a dark suit.
Manon paid little attention. “I must have them tomorrow,” she announced in a firm voice that carried across the room.
Patrons cocked their heads in her direction.
Brett turned back to Manon and attempted to gather her into his arms. “Is it so important?”
Unyielding, she repeated her demand. “I must have them tomorrow.”
Her behavior appalled her. People did not create scenes at Michel’s, especially a woman of her reputation. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the chocolates. She had thought of little else all day. She did not want to tell him she had eaten them all in one sitting.
Brett took her arm in his firm grasp. “Let’s sit down and discuss this.”
She moved her arm away and lowered her voice. Soft, yet steely, she said, “You will bring me another box of chocolates tomorrow night or we will not see each other again.” Head held high, she marched off the dance floor, grabbed her purse from the table, and walked outside where she hailed a taxi. After she gave her address to the driver, she leaned her face against the cool window and cried.
“ I am stupid,” she muttered through her tears. “So, so stupid.” He was perfect for her, exactly what she wanted. Eager. Passionate. And so adoring. And she was banishing him from her life over a box of chocolates. A simple sweet. Not even something tangible or long-lasting. Once they were eaten, all that remained was a memory of smooth, rich, divine, luscious decadence. She shivered, recalling the taste of each coin. No two were the same. If she had to choose a favorite, was it the raspberry-coffee, or the chocolate caramel with hazelnuts, or the white chocolate mousse with banana? She needed another box to decide.
The taxi stopped in front of her building. Manon paid the driver and walked up the steps to an empty apartment. Tonight the familiar furnishings offered no warmth, no comfort. Despite the mild evening, she trembled with cold. She sat down on the pale blue velvet couch and pulled a soft afghan around her shoulders. “What have I done?” she moaned. Even as she lamented her plight, she drummed her perfectly manicured nails on the side table in anticipation of tomorrow’s gift.
Brett did not visit her the next evening, or the one after that. There were no messages and no packages. Manon remained in her apartment for three days, afraid to show her face after the spectacle at Michel’s. She ignored all phone calls, took long baths, watched ridiculous soap operas on television, and existed on coffee and biscuits. A horrible diet, she knew, but what could she do? She had made a fool of herself.
She took her first call the afternoon of the third day.
“ Manon, are you all right?” Danielle asked. “You haven’t answered your phone. I’ve been worried about you.”
Danielle’s voice soothed Manon’s frayed nerves. “I’ve been so stupid, Danielle.”
“ Don’t be silly, cherie. Everyone is talking about you. You made life exciting.”
“ You’re just saying that,” Manon argued, unconvinced.
“ It’s the truth. You’re a sensation.”
Manon sighed. “I’m not sure I want to be a sensation.” She wondered how long it would take people to forget about her, although being in the limelight, even temporarily, had its advantages.
“ Come shopping with me,” Danielle urged. “I’m going to a new jazz club tonight and I need something daring.”
Manon laughed. “Everything you wear is daring.”
“ I have great style, cherie. You should come with me. It’ll do you good to get out.”
“ I don’t know.” She wanted to get out. Her cozy, little apartment had turned dreary. Suffocating. She needed a change of pace, liberation from her confinement.
“ Say yes,” her friend urged.
“ All right,” Manon agreed. “I’ll come.”
After the shopping expedition, she ate a large salade Niçoise at the café down the street (for stamina, she reasoned), then she returned home and bathed in milk powder to soften and enrich her prized alabaster skin, and lavender to relax the tension in her muscles. She applied her makeup with care, paying particular attention to her almond-shaped eyes and full mouth, swept her hair into a French twist with a few stray curls dangling in front of her ears, and slipped into a black silk halter dress that accentuated her shoulders and dipped low in the back. Surveying herself in the mirror, she gave an approving nod. “Magnifique,” she said to the woman in the reflection. Then she wondered what she was trying to prove. She was not in the mood for seduction.
“ This is ridiculous,” she muttered, her hand on the zipper at the back of her dress. “Who am I fooling?”
The doorbell rang. Manon opened the door to a beautiful dark-haired woman in a close-fitting gown with an alluring touch of cleavage.
“ Ready?” Danielle asked, swinging car keys from her hand.
Manon smiled, feeling a bit of her old energy return. “But of course.”
They walked into a dark, smoky atmosphere filled with slow-moving bodies and the sultry tones of Edith Piaf. Danielle led the way to a table at the back of the club and ordered champagne. When the drinks appeared, she lifted hers in a toast. “À votre santé. And to good food, good wine, and good sex.”
Manon smiled at their favorite saying. “To all that.” She drained her glass of Cristal and signaled the waiter for another. “Ah, such a lovely thing, champagne. The French are marvelous people. So intelligent, so creative.” She waited while the waiter set a new drink on the table. “I am finished with Americans.” Another sip added conviction to her words. “You were right. They do not know how to treat a woman.” She quickly finished her second glass.
“ Take care, cherie,” her friend cautioned. “It’s not like you to be reckless.”
Manon leaned back in her chair and looked around the club. Most of the tables were occupied by older customers, the majority middle-aged, some she guessed to be in their sixties. Definitely not the younger crowd, she thought. But that had been her mistake last time, an error she would not make again.
A lean-faced dark-haired gentleman glanced her way, his eyes alight with interest. She smiled. He smiled back. Within moments, he stood by her table.
“ Would you care to dance, Madame?” he asked politely, revealing very white, even teeth.
She detected a hint of roughness underlying the smooth, courteous exterior. An attractive man of passion, experience. A man who could demand and satisfy. As it should be. She’d had enough of youthful exuberance. She smiled again and nodded.
After several hours of conversation, dancing, and more champagne, Manon bid goodnight to her new suitor, Alex. They arranged to meet the following evening for dinner. Manon explained the rules, as she did to all her lovers, with special emphasis on French chocolates.
“ They must be French,” she declared with a touch of vehemence, directed not at Alex but her prior lapse of judgment.
“ Of course,” Alex replied. “They will be French.” He gallantly kissed her hand. “Until tomorrow.”
The next evening, Manon awaited his arrival, eager, yet somewhat nervous. Could she trust her judgment after the faux pas with the American? It was a slip, she told herself. A minor slip. A momentary distraction. Alex fit the description of her ex-lovers. He was what she needed to help her forget… No, she would not think about that now. Concentrate on Alex, she told herself.
At the sound of the doorbell, she smoothed her dress and patted her hair. She opened the door with a brilliant smile. “Alex!”
“ Madame Chartier?” asked a young man dressed in a white shirt and black pants. He held a small brown package in his hands.
“ This is for you. Please sign here.” He presented her with a clipboard, waited for her signature, then handed her the box. “Have a good day.”
She closed the door and set the box on the table next to the door. Her evening companion would arrive any second. The package would have to wait.
Curiosity forced her to open the package. Inside, she found a familiar gold rectangle. When she lifted the lid, a folded white paper lay atop the green cellophane. Her fingers trembled as she opened the note. “Fondest regards, Brett.”
“Oh,” she whispered softly as she carried the chocolates over to the sofa. She unwrapped a gold coin and sniffed, knowing she would smell only chocolate, but needing to delay the inevitable.
She leaned back on the sofa and bit into the delicious morsel. A symphony of new tastes cascaded onto her tongue – key lime with bits of coconut and coconut rum.
Her body relaxed in decadent luxury. She ignored the ringing of the doorbell, the knocking, the strident voice, and focused on the flavors that cocooned her in indulgent bliss.
Brett. Dear, adorable Brett. She reached for another gold coin and sank into Nirvana.