Derek Channing waits on no one. Tonight at Paprika’s, where Wentworth’s senior officers and I gather with him and the board for a celebratory meal, he turns a cold shoulder to his wife Colette. Too busy basking in the glory of his new promotion, Derek slips through the restaurant’s doors, totally unaware that Colette trails behind, fumbling with an umbrella and shaking off the excess rain.
I extend a hand to hold the door open for her and she flashes a bright smile at me.
“Thank you, Joan,” she says quietly.
I nod, smile, and continue to hold the door open for Vera, whose petite body moves past me in a dress perfectly fit for a night out like this. Behind her are Mr. Jackson and his plus one, as well as Mr. Fletcher. Once all are inside, I quickly time my step to be in line with Vera’s so she won’t have to appear at dinner alone. Although it’s a formality of eras past, I believe enough in chivalry to be a proper escort to Vera tonight. God knows Mr. Fletcher isn’t equipped to do it.
A darkened, private room waits for us at the back of the restaurant. The room brims with suited men and their pretty wives, but none so pretty as Colette. Her eyes, light and kind, seem to smile at me as I make my way round the table. I stake a claim on the chair across from her and pull out another to seat Vera next to me.
Vera smiles up at me and I feel a quiver of sadness inside. She’s let her hair down tonight, perhaps with the hope of catching Mr. Fletcher’s eye. Or maybe it is mine she aims to seduce. Either way, both her escorts have their sights on other prizes.
Mr. Fletcher has spent months edging his way into Channing’s good graces. And in his eagerness to impress the newest member of the board, he’s angry that I’ve snagged what he presumed would be his seat at the table. But I don't let his nasty glares and absurd mumblings get under skin. Besides, Vera serves as a good buffer for the evening.
I settle in at the table and take stock of the company I keep tonight. The man of the hour is aglow as he’s showered with polite smiles and offers of congratulations. Other faces convey a distinct distaste for the man. Only a handful of us seems to know Derek for the scum he is.
When I look to my right to Mr. Fletcher, I sense a man who would rather relish the strengths of another than recognize his own (whatever those may be). He smiles a crooked grin and revels in the success of a man he hopes will bring him along for the ride. Next to me, Vera is quiet, neutral. As expected.
No doubt my face betrays my disgust at the spectacle. Professional courtesy between Derek and I soured the moment he realized a man’s wicked charm couldn't sway me from my desk into his bed. That was years ago. Now there's something akin to rivalry between us. He seeks to dismantle me piece by piece. Luckily, I play a long game. In due time, I will ravage the fucker.
When my eyes meet Colette’s, she’s already reading me. “It’s all bullshit, isn't it?” she says in a whisper.
I can't help the smirk that spreads across my lips, nor can I help but wonder if she knows this restaurant is where Derek explored his extramarital curiosities earlier this week.
After a beat, Colette laughs and presses a glass of water to her lips. Her eyes never leave me and in them, I detect the faintest hint of corruption.
She isn't the good wife she pretends to be.
And so I think to back to all the times we've met before. In total, it amounts to only a handful, but even in our brief encounters, there was always something rebellious bubbling beneath the surface. The way she would pat my arm during polite conversation, for instance, knowing full well how much Derek despised the sight of me. And tonight, too, when she slowed her walking pace in the rain to walk just a stride ahead of me instead of alongside her husband.
I bite my lip at the thought and allow my eyes to take her all in. In the low light of the restaurant, she's a vision of Lady Diana. To the untrained eye, she's pure sugar mixed with a hint of spice. Something tells me there's much more to her than that.
The first courses of the evening present an opportunity to break bread and ice together. While Derek guffaws over jokes at the prisoners’ expense, Colette and I share our penchant for wine. She tells me of a winery she once visited while traveling overseas. I listen intently, half-heartedly wishing it had been someone else accompanying her instead of Derek. She deserved better company than that, I'm sure.
More than that, though, my ears prick up for any information I might use as leverage. Any hint, any detail of Derek’s personal life is as enthralling to me as this woman herself. But all I derive from her anecdotes is that she's unfulfilled. She doesn't need to say it for any person at this table to know it's true.
The conversation halts when Vera asks for my attention. I turn to face her and listen to her rave about the evening’s selection of cheeses. As I nod in agreement to Vera’s appraisal of the platter before us, an oddly pleasing sensation creeps beneath the hem of my pants.
A toe. Colette’s. From across the table.
I make no move, no protest. Instead, I continue conversing with Vera and secretly revel in Colette’s brazenness.
Moments later, she surprises me by making a move to leave the table. My mouth falls slightly open when I look up at her and she’s raising a finely arched brow my way. Our momentary flirtation is broken by Derek who places a firm hand on Colette’s arm.
“Where do you think you're going?” Derek's voice is as firm as his grip.
Colette snatches her hand away. “Ladies room. Before the main course.” She leans over to kiss his cheek before sauntering off.
After a minute or so I, too, excuse myself from the table. I stroll slowly and purposefully out of the room, so as not to raise suspicion that I'm leaving only to further explore Colette’s under the table antics.
She waits for me just outside the restroom, smiling coyly and covering her face with her hand in mock modesty. As attractive as I find her, this incessant need to cutesy up whatever this is grates on me.
No matter. I'm still intrigued.
Inside, I catch her by the waist in an empty stall and push her gently against the wall.
“Hold it there,” I tell her so I can take care to lock the door, quickly scan the stall, and ascertain that, yes, it's clean enough to for a dirty rendezvous. Then I look back at her and her blue eyes read pure hunger.
I draw nearer to her, taking in her sweet perfume, and gently pressing my body against hers. “What's this all about, hm?”
“I want you,” she says as if I hadn't understood that fact already.
I take a deep breath, inhale her scent again. “And why is that?”
“You intrigue me. Your intelligence, your strength, your iron resolve. You're unbreakable,” she says in a whisper, her lips edging ever closer to mine.
“Am I?” It's as close to an admission of weakness as I'll likely ever get. But in the moment, it seems right.
“I want to see you lose control,” Colette offers and it's enough to bring my lips to hers.
The kiss is slow, searching, and, dare I say, tender. I like it, want more of it, but there's only so much time. So, I break away and bring a hand to her shoulder, allowing my fingertips to trail the strap of her dress. With little effort, it drops and I pull it down to expose her breast.
She flashes a devious smile and I take that as my cue to cup the small mound of flesh in my hand, thumb over the nipple, and watch her bite her lip in delight.
I relish the contact between us for a mere moment before saying, “Show me what you want me to do.”
Colette lifts the skirt of her dress, then slips my free hand between her legs where it's hot and moist and ready for the kind of sultry therapy only I can administer.
“Good girl.” My voice escapes my mouth in a pur.
I tease and taunt her with my fingers, press my lips close to her ear. All the while, she clings to me, losing her breath faster than I anticipate and hooking a leg around my mine. She draws me in closer, cradles my head in her sweaty palms, and calls out my name.
I rest my chin in the crook of her neck. The scent of perfume mixed with sweat triggers an animal-like instinct within me and I can't resist the urge to taste her skin. The tenderness of my mouth elicits another gasp and with that, she brings her hands to my shoulders and compels me to lower myself to a kneeling position.
I don’t hesitate to lift her leg over my shoulder and lap up every ounce of her that I can. Tender hands stroke my hair, tuck it behind my ear, and rest gently on my face. Shallow, rasping breaths prod me along until her body gives way in a final, violent shudder.
When it’s done, she parts from me quite quickly. Before I reach the sink to wash my hands, she’s halfway out the door.
No skin off my back.
As I lather my hands with soap and water, I replay the encounter in my head, only I imagine it to be Vera instead of Colette. Never have I allowed myself the pleasure of fantasizing about Vera, but when the quiver of arousal sends a jolt between my legs, I know it is she who excites me most.
Voices from the hall outside disrupt my brief reverie. Colette. Derek. Traces of their conversation reach my ears. I move closer to the door to listen.
“Fuck, Colette! I heard you. Who's in there? Who were you running in there to meet?” Derek says. His frustration is palpable. One can almost sense he’s trying to maintain some semblance civility in such a refined setting. If only the other patrons knew what trash were allowed to dine beside them.
“No one, darling. You heard wrong.”
“How could you do this to me on a night like tonight?” Derek quiets his voice, but the hurt and anger sit right on the tip of his tongue. “You know how important this is for me, how hard I've worked.”
I smile to myself because the voice of a cuckold is small, insignificant. Completely devoid of power.
It is time to wield mine.
I stand tall, adjust my blouse, brush off my knees, and push the door open to meet Derek’s gaze full on. A purposeful smirk etches into my expression and I strut past him, down the hall, and back to our private room.
As I step over the threshold and into the room, I lick my lips. Colette's sweet taste still lingers. Somewhere in the distance, I hear Derek deliver what he must think is a fatal blow.
“That fuckin’ freak.”