Down and dirty

IT’S ALMOST EMBARRASSING TO admit that this is my favourite fantasy. It is so commonplace, after all, and something plenty of women do every day and every night. If only I wasn’t such a freak, I’d have done it myself long ago. But I can’t bring myself to do it – I can’t get past the thought that he might be contaminated. Any amount of fungus might be blooming beneath his perfect skin. His broad chest could be full of deadly spores. I might put my lips up to his be kissed, only to find the sweetish stench of decay wafting from his mouth. Ulcers, sores, nail infections – all might hide inside a fashionable suit.

I sound mad, I know. I’m quite aware that my scruples aren’t normal. Not everyone wears surgical gloves to leave the house; not everyone flinches if a person comes within half a foot of them; not everyone has a weekly spend of £150 on household detergents. And other people have sex. They touch each other. They give each other pleasure. I have not had an orgasm other than by my deeply-disinfected vibrator in five years – not since Gerry left, citing irreconcilable differences. He said I should be cryogenically frozen because nobody would be able to tell the difference. He said I could cosy up to a bottle of bleach if that’s what I wanted.

It wasn’t what I wanted though. I don’t want to be this way. I want to feel a touch again, without fifty images of rotting flesh flashing before my eyes. That is why I dialled the Number. I suppose they are used to people asking for all kinds of perverted, disgusting stuff, but all I wanted was to pick up an attractive man in a bar and take him to bed. So simple, so dull in a way. But it would – perhaps – change my life.

I received an email a week later, inviting me to London to choose a suitable candidate and to witness the many, many tests I had stipulated in my initial contact. The address I arrived at was in Harley Street, at the back of a large private practice. I was shown to a rather nicely furnished waiting room, where I was introduced to a gentleman in a suit. At least, I say I was introduced – he did not give me his name. He simply said, ‘Mrs Davies – I’m delighted to meet you. I’m from the Number.’ Then he held out a hand, which I waved away as usual.

‘You must excuse me,’ I said. ‘This is all … a bit like a dream.’

‘I’m sure it must be,’ he said, with a friendly chuckle. He had kind eyes, which was a relief. ‘Your request was a very interesting one. We have had nothing like it before.’

‘No, well, I know I’m a freak,’ I said with a high-pitched laugh that did nothing to convince him that there was anything funny about it.

‘Not a freak, Mrs Davies,’ he said gallantly. ‘We all have aspects that diverge from the norm. I assure you, I am probably substantially less normal than you are.’

‘Oh, do call me Naomi.’

He indicated one of the chintz armchairs, but I did not want to sit down. This was a medical establishment after all. Who knows how many germ-ridden posteriors had brushed those floral cushions?

‘Our candidates should be here very shortly,’ the Number man said to break the awkward silence. ‘We have three – you choose your favourite, obviously. Then we may proceed with the tests.’

‘Ah.’ At that moment, the door opened again, and the receptionist showed in three men, all mouth-wateringly handsome and very, very clean-looking. I turned to the Number man, suppressing an almost irresistible urge to giggle.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘may I introduce Naomi to you. She is going to choose one of you to perform the scenario she has outlined to us.’

Perform! I actually laughed out loud. This had to be the crowning bizarre moment in a life full of them. They smiled warmly back at me, sizing me up, not that I minded. I’m a good-looking woman, still a long way off middle age, a trim size ten with long legs and unblemished skin. I wondered if they would look so pleasant and forthcoming if I was one of those slobby tracksuited types I see passing my window every day with their dirty-faced children. I supposed they were being paid for this … so they probably would.

‘Well, Naomi, the choice is yours. I’ll leave you to your decision.’

The Number man shrank back in his armchair, picking up a copy of Horse and Hound and flicking through it.

‘What are your names then?’ I asked bravely, trying to maintain a calm demeanour in the face of raging nerves and excitement. Was I really going to end up in bed with one of these dreamboats? Perhaps I should have asked for two … would that cost me extra though? This service was not coming cheap as it was.

‘I’m Liam,’ said the broadest one, a clean-cut, farmboy type in properly-pressed jeans and a plaid shirt. ‘I’m studying vet science.’

‘Oh, a vet. How lovely.’ I shuddered inwardly. Diseased animals – even worse than diseased humans. I flicked my eyes along the row to the next chap, a tall slight blond with a long nose.

‘My name’s Kai. I work as a chauffeur – paying my way through college.’

‘A chauffeur! That’s rather … unusual these days.’

‘It’s a limousine hire company. I drive hen parties around town.’

‘Oh, gosh, rather you than me.’ All those heifers in themed outfits vomiting champagne all over the upholstery. Ugh.

My final candidate was an elegantly-suited black man with glasses.

‘I’m Justus,’ he said. ‘I recently qualified as a lawyer.’

Oh, now this sounded hopeful.

‘What kind of law do you specialise in?’ I asked, dreading that he might say criminal or family.

‘Intellectual property,’ he told me. Perfect! His only contact would be with clever people with enough money to pay him to fight their cases. He seemed by far the safest bet, and the most confident of the three to boot. He might well know his way around a woman’s body, whereas the wet-behind-the-ears youth of the other two did not inspire such hopes.

‘Intellectual property.’ I repeated the phrase, rolling it around my tongue, eyeing his snow-white starchy collar and the way his gold signet ring gleamed in contrast to his matt skin.

‘Are you a lawyer yourself?’ he asked politely, perhaps a little confused by the way I was relishing his career choice.

‘Me?’ I laughed. ‘Oh no, not a lawyer. Though I have used them before. Not your type though – the divorce type.’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said with a formal nod.

‘Don’t be. If I was still with him … Justus, I’d like to pick you. If you’re absolutely sure … I mean, if you don’t fancy me, please walk away, but …’

‘I’m delighted,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to walk away! Just a moment.’ He fished in his pocket and brought out something I recognised only too well. Surgical gloves. After slipping them on, he held out a hand to me. I was captivated – it was such a strong and emotional feeling, it was almost like love. To think that a man could be so considerate … it was new to me.

The Number man had discreetly dismissed the other two, and now the three of us were alone, to get to the bare bones of the matter – the necessity for tests.

I watched through glass as Justus underwent a battery of examinations and swabs and needle pricks. I was impressed that he was willing to do all this for … OK, for money. Not for me. All the same, I thought, many men might have just shrugged halfway through the taxing afternoon and flitted off to find a normal girl and a bar job. Justus gave up every part of him, from epidermis to saliva to blood, just so that I could have this one shot at an ordinary life, with uncomplaining stoicism. This was a man, I thought. A real man.

‘We will have the results in a week,’ the lab technician told us.

‘A week,’ nodded Number man. ‘Very well. Naomi, we will be in touch. Be prepared.’

I laughed, a little miserably. I was always prepared.

I had a text the next week to say that all the results were clear, and I should wait for further instructions. Wait. Waiting is a thing I do well, walled up in my disinfected gleam-white haven. I see ordinary life through the screen of my television and I yearn for it, for the careless kisses and rough embraces I watch in the soap operas. I was watching one such soap opera – an omnibus edition – on the fateful Sunday afternoon. My telephone bleeped and I knew it was them. I never get text messages from anyone else.

I took it off the table and fumbled with the buttons, taking far too much time to call the message on to the screen in my anxiety.

‘Hotel Luxe Noir, seven o’clock,’ it stated. ‘Introduce yourself at Reception.’

And that was it. No more than that. I had four hours to get ready and get into London. The journey would take an hour, so I should allow two, I supposed, even on a quiet Sunday.

I spent two hours in front of my mirror, scrubbing my skin and taking my cosmetics out of their tightly-sealed containers to apply them. I had no idea what to wear – I supposed I ought to look sexy – so I put on the slinky black dress I had not worn since Gerry’s office Christmas party of 2002. That was my last night out, I think. It still looked brand new, and luckily I had chosen a classic cut and design, so it had not dated. Perfume. I should wear perfume, though I had a deep suspicion of scents, which I always suspected of being designed to mask the smell of rot. I was committed to appearing as normal as possible, though, so I took a deep breath and spritzed on a citrus thing from Jo Malone that my mother had given me for my birthday.

Before my mascara had dried, the taxi was at the door and I had no option but to grab my handbag and my cushion, shin on my surgical gloves and set off on my adventure.

All the way to London, I sat on my cushion and twisted my latex-covered hands in my lap. Every five minutes I had the urge to take out my phone and make a cancellation by text. All that money though – all the things I had sold on eBay to pay the fee. No. I was going to be brave.

I was much too early, arriving at the hotel with forty-five minutes to spare, so I took myself for a wander through the nearby park. Late-afternoon strollers, skaters, families hauling picnic baskets, lovers – normal people – passed me by and I felt the air on my skin, late-summer warmth and the scent of the flowers, which was a little too ripe and too rich, for they were past their bloom now. They were dying.

I felt giddy and had to leave the gardens, to catch my breath on the pavement, looking at the chalk art on the slabs. The hotel across the road looked reassuringly glitzy and pristine. I would go in now. I had only ten minutes before seven.

‘Ah, you need to go to the Oyster Bar,’ the receptionist told me with a smile. ‘They are waiting for you there.’

The Oyster Bar had a small cordon in front of the door and a notice ‘Closed for cleaning – will re-open at 8 p.m.’ I crossed the barrier and opened the door, looking in and frowning. The place didn’t look closed. There were people – about a dozen of them – lounging at the bar or in the booths. I caught sight of Number man, who smiled and raised his hand, beckoning me over to his booth.

I put my cushion on the cobalt-blue leather and sat down, my chest too jagged to force words from.

‘Don’t panic, Naomi,’ he said gently. ‘All these people are hired by me. They are all clean. And the bar was comprehensively blitzed before you arrived. It is as germ-free as your own home. We wanted to give you the illusion of a busy bar, so that you could have the experience of being picked up. The way you explained to us. We thought a bar empty of all but you and Justus would not give the right ambience. Do you understand? Is that all right?’

I let out a long breath, letting my chest rise and fall for a moment.

‘I see. Oh. That’s good.’

‘I’ve got you a drink,’ he said, pushing over a sealed bottle. ‘It’s a cocktail – it’s been in this bottle since it was mixed. And there’s a straw.’ He handed over a prepackaged straw in its paper sleeve.

‘You are very thoughtful,’ I told him, taking off my gloves and unwrapping the straw. I trusted him. I trusted that the room and the surfaces were clean. My hands came out to play, feeling the polished table top and the smooth cool glass of the bottle.

‘I’m going now,’ he told me. ‘Enjoy your evening.’

I wanted to reach out after him, to ask him not to leave me, but he didn’t give me a backward glance. Alone in the bar, feeling prickly and self-conscious, I concentrated hard on my cocktail. What was it? A Harvey Wallbanger, I thought, orangey but with a deeper note at the back. When I next looked up, it was to see Justus, leaning one sexily negligent elbow on the bar, eyeing me up with unmistakable interest. I pricked the bubbles of nervous laughter rising in my chest and gave him my coolest, levellest look back before flicking my eyes tactically sideways, the way I used to. I used to do this! I used to do it well! Perhaps, I mused excitedly, it really was like riding a bicycle, and everything would be smooth and frictionless, all the way to the afterglow.

I stole a quick glance back. Oh, he looked good. He looked better than good, all suited and booted, with gold-framed spectacles seeming to magnify the look of naked want in his dark, dark eyes. The flash of his teeth showed that I had been caught in the act of ogling and I riveted my eyes to the cocktail, wondering if the heat in my cheeks was giving me away. Seconds later, a rich, amused voice in my ear, closer than I would normally like, asked me if I was waiting for someone.

I resisted the strong temptation to duck away and put a hand over my ear. Justus was clean. He was tested. And his breath smelled minty-fresh.

‘No … I … um … I’m staying here alone. Just having a drink before dinner.’

‘Do you mind if I join you?’

‘Oh …’ I had no idea how to play this. My riding a bike analogy had failed. Should I appear reluctant, and make him work for the grand finale? Should I be easy? After all, I didn’t have to fret about him respecting me in the morning.

He made the decision for me, sliding on to the banquette beside me, putting his mineral water down on the table. He was close enough to smell and I took a lungful of the waves that radiated from him. None of them were reminiscent of decay and whatever cologne he was wearing was very light and fresh. Soap and mint and something piney – so reassuringly inorganic that I let him ease closer, close enough for his cuff to brush my bare wrist. That suit was brand new; it only lacked the tags. It had that brand new suit scent.

‘You didn’t wait for my answer,’ I accused, without rancour.

‘Didn’t I? I thought I had your answer,’ he said. ‘Besides, it offends my morals to let a woman sit alone in a bar.’

‘Your morals ?’

‘I have my own code, built up over the quarter century I’ve been alive. One of the most important precepts is to offer a lady company if she looks lonely.’

‘That’s very … good of you. What a big heart you must have.’

‘Yes, it’s very big. My heart, that is.’ He grinned wickedly. ‘What’s that eye shadow you’re wearing? It has a metallic look.’

Before I could move, he had put a finger and thumb beneath my chin, tilting it up for his inspection. I nearly screamed, nearly fainted, nearly … I remembered to breathe. This was what skin felt like on skin. There were people – lots of them – who would do anything for this, who were addicted to it. I thought his finger and thumb-pads must be burned into me, an indelible smudge mark on my face. His eyes were such discs of liquid chocolate that I could barely make out his pupils, but eventually I saw that they were wide and large, drawing me into them as if they had been enchanted to suck me into their blackness.

‘Beautiful,’ he whispered. ‘I want you.’

‘Bit sudden,’ I managed to choke out, ‘isn’t it?’

‘Life is short,’ he said, and a shiver ran straight up my spine and into the nape of my neck. ‘I don’t want to miss a second I could spend with you. Come with me.’

‘I don’t know …’

‘How can I convince you? Maybe like this.’

His breath, menthol and lemon, and then his lips, full and sweet, on mine, testing me for resistance at first and then … I did not want to resist, I could not resist, resistance was futile. He did exactly what I wanted him to, which was to take the option of resistance away from me so that my shrivelled, desiccated obsessions flaked away and what was left was the sensual woman I used to be.

He was gentle but assertive, easing me in, never rushing me, but never giving me the chance to withdraw. When his tongue began to flicker around my lips, I whimpered a little, into his mouth, but allowed him access. The thought flew through my mind that I needed a fanfare – this was a momentous thing. Instead, light R&B music continued to play in the background, accompanying my fizzing, floating sensations, until Justus released me and said, ‘Does that help?’

‘It was very convincing,’ I replied dreamily. ‘Very. Convincing.’ Nowhere in my mind – well, OK, somewhere, but at the very back of it – was the fear that a million bacteria were making their murderous way down my gullet. Instead, my main fear was that he would not do that again.

He dispelled the fear. Then he dispelled it a second time, just to be sure, this time forging into me with his tongue in the first few seconds. His hands were capable, strong at the back of my head and his aftershave was so wondrously subtle he could almost not be wearing any. Nothing to mask, everything pure and without veneer. Perfection.

Once he was finished with the fear-dispelling, he kept in close to me and, with a nuzzle, said, ‘Shall we take this to my room?’

‘Your room?’ My mouth felt full of cotton wool, thick and muzzy.

‘Uh huh. Or we could carry on just here, but I think the barman might have a word or two to say about that.’

‘I’m … not that kind of woman.’ It was a token effort which I knew he would ride over roughshod.

‘Baby, I’m not that kind of man either. But you have this effect on me – I can’t help myself!’

I loved the cheesiness, the predictability of it – these oft-rehearsed lines were never spoken to me before. I was normal! I was a normal woman, getting propositioned by a normal man in a normal hotel bar! It was so thrilling I wanted to scream.

Maybe some normal women would have batted him away with a string of scornful words, maybe some would have suggested another drink first. But not this normal woman. This normal woman had a normal itch that needed scratching fast.

‘Oh, well, if you can’t help yourself … poor man,’ I teased, running a hand over his cheek, which felt like velvet pile, almost too soft to be male.

‘I need you in my bed,’ he murmured, a subterranean rumble that made my senses vibrate. ‘I’m ready for you. I’ll turn your body inside out. You’ll beg me to stop and beg me for more at the same time.’

‘Ohhh,’ I half-tittered, nervous now. ‘Gosh. All right then.’

He stood and pulled me roughly after him, causing me to almost turn my ankle in my high-heeled shoe. I looked up at the fascinated barman and gave him a weakly apologetic grimace, though of course he must have known exactly what was going on. The amused faces of the customers struck enthralled guilt to my very core. It was so wrong, so swift, so immoral and so amazing I thought I might be flying.

I flew past the gleaming metallic fittings of the bar and into the lift (Justus pressed the buttons) and along the corridor, where he lifted me up so I really was almost airborne and into the room where it would all happen.

‘Just you and me now, baby,’ he crooned, kicking the door shut behind him and bearing down on me for another soulfully intense kiss. When I opened my eyes, set back down on the carpet, I noticed that the bed was sealed in polythene wrap, as were the easy chairs. The furniture shone so much it sparkled and everything smelled of divine nothingness.

The bed crackled as I put a hand on the clear covering.

‘This is all so hygienic,’ I exclaimed, impressed.

Justus, to his gentlemanly credit, pretended not to hear me. ‘We are going to rumple this beautiful bed,’ he told me. ‘Together, we are going to make it look as if Tracy Emin and all her artist friends have had a party on it.’

I laughed, enchanted. That Tracy Emin unmade bed thing had always made me feel sick, but, right now, it seemed to have lost a lot of its emetic power.

Justus held me by my elbows, gazing with serious intent into my rapt face.

‘You don’t think I’m serious?’ he said, dangerous as a panther on the cusp of a pounce. ‘I am very serious. Let me show you how much.’

He released an elbow and let a hand trace the outline of my neck and shoulders, doubling back over my collarbone, then reaching around behind me to the top button of my dress. He scarcely fumbled at all; it was undone in a split second, and he eased the straps down over my upper arms then bent to kiss my neck and shoulder with a lightness I would not have thought him capable of. I bent back my head, eyelids fluttering, the golden light of the room blurring. His hand steadied me at the small of my back before I crumpled and I swooned into him, making the most of his skin against mine, his lips against my throat, his close-cut hair prickling my cheek and chin. Now his nose was edging down towards the valley of my cleavage, its slopes exposed by the sudden downward shrug of the fabric. His mouth lighted on the crests of my breasts … untouched for so long … I began to shiver.

‘Let’s lose this, shall we?’ he whispered, chasing the straps down my arms until they were free and the dress began to collapse, the fluid silk rippling slowly over my ribs, my hips and whispering against my legs until I was standing – leaning – in my underwear.

Justus’ hands went to my waist – to be honest, I was really needing the support now – and he took a step back, looking me over from head to toe. I wanted to shrink from his gaze, but I could not step away, could not look away. Eventually, he shook his head and my heart plummeted. I was too fat! Too short! Too old!

‘Tsk tsk, Naomi,’ he said. ‘You have been keeping this hidden for how long? Five years, did you say? That is an unforgivable crime against the men of this world. How do you plead?’

I bit my lip, grinning coyly. ‘You aren’t a criminal lawyer!’ I reproved. ‘Nor a judge.’

‘I certainly am a judge. I’m a judge of a fine woman, and you, my dear, fall into that category. So I’ll ask you again, how do you plead?’

I said the word. ‘Guilty.’ For a moment, the emotions, the realisations it led to overpowered me. I held up my wrists. ‘What is the sentence?’

‘A stiff penalty for you, Naomi.’ He grinned, but there was compassion in his eyes. ‘I sentence you to an evening you cannot regulate or control. An evening of not being able to dictate what happens next. I bet that’s difficult for you.’

‘I haven’t done anything like it … in years.’

‘Shall we do it? Shall we … take you down?’

‘Take me down.’

‘I’m going to undo you.’

‘Undo me.’

He unclipped my bra, freeing my breasts, which were too small, would not do …

‘Lovely.’ He bent to kiss each nipple, anointing them with the tip of his tongue, holding them in capable hands. His buzz cut hair cried out to me to touch it, to feel the smooth curve of his scalp and the velvety fuzz that protected it. All these new textures and feelings were rioting together, striking me off-balance until I was tossing in a sea of unfamiliarity. People love the sea, but it is dangerous; I was not sure whether to melt or vomit. I gritted my teeth, took myself in hand, went with the melt.

He tipped me off my feet and lifted me into his arms, twirling me round so that the ceiling chandelier spun and fragmented into blurs of colour, then he threw me gently on the bed, which felt cold and tacky.

‘Oh, let’s get this plastic off!’ I exclaimed. ‘It feels awful!’ Laughing giddily, I got to my feet and helped him rip the sheet off to expose the luxurious silkiness beneath. ‘This is so much better.’ I lay back against the covers, rippling my naked spine against them, wanting to print my outline on the silver-grey silk.

Justus was appreciative of my disinhibition; he threw off his suit jacket, slipped out of his shoes and hurled himself over me, crouching with his knees outside my hips, his tie swinging over my face, his teeth flashing predatory intent from a great height. He was so big and so beautiful, I just wanted to strip him down and feast on him while I could. I clutched at his belt and he clamped a hand down over mine.

‘In a hurry?’ he enquired.

‘Yes, I’m in a hurry. I’ve been in the desert and you’re the biggest, coolest drink of water I could ever have dreamed.’

‘That’s nice, Naomi. But we’ve got all night.’

‘Don’t make me wait.’

‘The journey is the best part. Don’t you think? Reaching the destination can be overrated. Let’s have a good, long journey. First class. Great service. Great views.’

‘Take off your clothes!’ I yelped, tormented by the way his finger was travelling down my stomach to the elasticated border of the only garment I now sported. I wanted him to rip them off, to wrench my thighs apart and dive, clothes flying from him, into my canyon. Finally I understood the ridiculousness of my long abstinence; finally I knew what I had been missing. To make up for all those years, I would have to drain this poor man dry, to have him take up residence between my legs for the indefinite future, to have his cock lodged within me morning, noon and night. Oh, that would be fine. In the cab home, in the supermarket, cooking the dinner, with Justus joined to me at the groin. I could live like that. If only I could get him to take off his suit and fuck me in the first place.

‘Let’s take it nice and easy.’ He took a mouthful of tit again, tonguing it and making low, vibrating sounds of ecstasy like a gourmet masticating a rare truffle. I plucked at his shirt buttons, and, even though he tried to bat me away, I managed to get a couple undone. My hand slid inside the gap, meeting warm solidity, perfect definition, curves and lines where they should be. His knees pressed into my hips, warning me that I had taken more than he had permitted. One hand fished me out of his shirt and moved my exploring fingers to the rocky bulge beneath his belt.

‘Wow!’ I sighed. ‘Please …’

He finished his meal of my breasts and shook his head, tutting tormentingly.

‘All in good time, Naomi. I’m still hungry.’ He made a lunge for my knickers then dropped them on to the carpet. His lips were upon me, his tongue spreading me wider, feasting and salivating while I squealed my shocked approval.

Even in the Gerry days, this was not something I had done a lot of. Somehow, it seemed too intimate, too revealing. I could not fake my response, or tone it down – the tongue worked its magic and I was enchanted.

‘Oh, Justus, no, stop!’ I pleaded.

He lifted his head, eyes wide.

‘Really?’

‘No,’ I confessed. ‘Not really. Carry on.’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

And his tongue tripped along every little crease, covered every bump and mound with its bounty, never letting up until I gave it up, bucking into his generous face with no idea how to stop myself, and no care about how I looked, or anything but the blissful climax he had brought me to.

‘You have to promise me, Naomi,’ said Justus mock-sternly, kneeling up from his oral workout, ‘that you will get that done to you a lot more often. I could feel that wave coming over you right from the moment I went down. You needed that.’

‘Oh. Oh,’ was all I could say. ‘Oh God.’

‘No, I’m a mere mortal,’ he said. ‘I know it’s hard to believe. I suppose I should let you get a breath back before I move on to the next part of my plan for you. Or … no, OK, we’ll do it this way. Turn over on to your front.’

I obeyed, having no will whatsoever to do otherwise, and lay with my cheek against my arm, listening to the sounds of him undressing at last. I was not sure I would have the energy to do anything other than lie like a rag doll while he took his pleasure – but as it happened, that was not what he had in mind. Instead, he lay on his side beside me and gave me the gentlest of massages – not even a massage at all, really, more a sort of firmer, less irritating stroke. My shoulders, neck and back burned with the sweetness of his touch; I imagined his circular motions drawn on to me, like a map of his attentions, and my eyelids began to droop, my head to weigh ever heavier.

‘OK,’ he said, and he smacked my bottom so unexpectedly that my whole body leapt as if electrocuted. ‘I know I said it was good to wait … but I think I’ve waited long enough. Judging by the state of this …’

He placed my hand around his cock. It was joyously fat and hard; my untensed body began to tauten again at the thought of its intentions.

‘Turn over. Look at me,’ he growled. I scrambled on to my back and drank in his powerful body and imperious face. I felt intimidated, but not by his physical stature – more from a kind of quasi-virginal nervousness. I knew what sex felt like, but I had forgotten, and it was like losing my cherry all over again. He reached for the condom pack out of his jacket pocket and began to snap the rubber on, never breaking eye contact with me. ‘Tell me you want this, Naomi.’

‘I … I’m a little afraid … but I want it.’

‘What are you afraid of?’

‘I’m afraid I’ll like it. And then I’ll have to …’

‘You’ll have to?’

‘Have to stop … living the way I do.’

‘Have to start living again, you mean. Good. Because you should. You do want it, Naomi, and you should want it. And you should get it. As often as you want.’

‘Plenty of people live without …’

‘Don’t go back to that. Open your legs. Open yourself up to me.’

His gruff injunctions were kindly meant, I realised. They were for my own good – he just needed to put enough force behind them to ensure I took them seriously. Again, I loved him for it, in a way. And I opened my legs.

It did not feel the way I remembered. It felt much, much better. I was filled, for one thing, both length and width-wise. And Justus knew how to get the right angle, how to go in hard and how to ease off and how to speed up and how to vary the intensity and how to nudge against my clit and how to find my g-spot. What a lot of things this man knew. Intellectual property law wasn’t the half of it.

He knew how to take me from the front, from behind, from below and from on top. Also, from the side, over the side of the bed, in a chair, in the Jacuzzi, on the floor. He knew how to make me sigh, how to make me moan, how to make me crazy, how to make me come. There was nothing intellectual in it, but I would have liked him for my property.

By the time the hour the contract ceased had come, so had I, five times. I lay limply in the bath, half submerged in bubbles, raw, sore, chafed, satisfied, cured.

Well, perhaps not cured. Perhaps not as simply as that. But I still see Justus when I’m up in town, passing the Inns of Court, as I find myself doing quite often these days. I don’t wear a mask and I don’t wear gloves – or at least, not the latex kind. But I do wear a smile, and all the money I used to spend on Pledge now goes on underwear. Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.

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